Written by Martin Jordan – Director of Marketing & Innovation for Equator following our recent webinar.
It’s all back to business for the hotel sector, hotels and guest houses have opened up in all four corners of the United Kingdom. But as we are all so painfully aware, it’s far from back to normal. Let’s look at what’s around the corner for the sector and what we’re likely to see, hear and feel for the rest of 2020.
A bleak outlook
As you will likely have read recently, hospitality trade body UKHospitality (UKH) recently surveyed a wide panel of its members which revealed a prediction of a “lengthy and painful” recovery post-lockdown, with trade levels expected to be “significantly suppressed” for many months.
Certainly, it seems that the sector as a whole is not feeling positive for with low expectations across the sector for the following quarter and towards Christmas. And even with the new 1m distancing rule we now have, trade is still substantially lower compared to the year before. Overall, the survey reports and expected slow recovery in the second half of 2020. Assuming we get to keep our 1m distance, the expectation is for a 65% decline in trading into August.
A challenge to overcome is the perception of risk, the fear in the consumer. In almost every survey we looked to, over half the audience polled were uncomfortable / not keen / reticent to return to, restaurants, aeroplanes, pubs, bars, hotels.
It seems that, certainly, regardless of industry positivity, right now, there’s at least half the possible audience that are going to keep their distance. And many brands right now are shutting up shop in anticipation of this.
In the F&B space, Bella Italia, Pizza Express, Zizzi, Ask, Café Rouge, Las Iguanas, Chiquitos are all brands who will either not return from this crisis, or return in a far smaller form. And many hoteliers large and small have continued to state their intentions to keep their doors closed right now as the market is not strong enough for them to profitably reopen.
But positively, they are in the minority and the current COVID trends show a continued march towards normality with cases waning across the UK and only minor local issues that, we hope, can remain localised. And if the we all demonstrate best practice, do not bend the rules in the interests of profitability and ruin it for everyone else, we will rebuild consumer confidence quicker.
But alongside that, we need to keep modernising, evolving, and improving. There’s lots of things brands and hoteliers can be doing right now to make sure you bounce back strong and weather the fallow months ahead.
Think differently about your destination
It’s time to think different about your destination. We are not talking about how you change how you deliver food, clean rooms or deal with the basic necessities of social distancing. We are talking about the repackaging of your location as somewhere that could be a new tourism hotspot. All the signals in our research show that the UK marketplace will be a fiercely fought space in the coming weeks and months.
As we return to normal, marketing channels are rapidly shifting from the cheapest they’ve been in years to, in some markets, the dearest. And for many brands, especially in the hotel space, the product, which may have previously served a corporate, transient market will need to fill its inventory with short break leisure. This will need coordination with local tourist boards, attractions, hotels and other accommodation providers.
Peripheral locations will need to be discovered. And now is the time that the discovery needs to take place – when people have time on their hands, when they’re furloughed, when overseas travel options remain limited and whilst the prospect of even getting on a plane is enough to keep people local.
Use this time to experiment, test market locations as destinations, small budgets and multiple messages, perhaps even test product packaging with local tourist destinations. Not enough travel brands A/B test – and yet it’s never been cheaper or more straightforward to test interest and messaging. Of course, to do this effectively you’re going to need one thing first…
An even bigger focus on your data
Regardless if you’re a chain, a solo or a franchise owner there’s gold to be had in your website right now. People are coming back to your business and they’re researching more than they ever have done previously. Look to discover what products, services and content are working and what’s not. Where is their time going on your site, because they have the time right now! This will help you answer the question – is my content right for the NEW world of today…
A rigorous revisit of all your content
With the new consumer in play, your location, rooms, services and other content is likely in need of an overhaul. Much richer content about your locations, about the local attractions, accessibility, suitability, cooperation is called for. Many brands skimp on this, having seen their locations and secondary or more serving a corporate, transient traveller market. Build content to suit families, couples, solo travellers, for weekend breaks or mid-week stays, we will be taking our traveling when we can.
And keep on top of your COVID content. But don’t rely on core pages just on COVID preparedness, weave it right throughout. Again, we have seen strong evidence across our client base that people are consuming such content, looking for this content and taking the time to read it. And the consumer appreciates not all plans are solid, not everything is sorted, but the more it is spoken to, the further it reaches as many look to speculate before the market becomes crazily overwhelmed.
Modernise or fall far behind
If our own experience as a business with many of our travel clients has proven, there is an incredible demand to modernise and enhance the hospitality tech stack – to get ahead whilst things fall behind.
Contactless and touchless approaches to business are swelling massively. In the days leading up to lockdown the use of cash dropped by half. In app stores, self-service apps by major brands are hitting the top 20 downloads regularly. We are switching to self-service and contactless at an unparalleled pace.
Our clients are looking to app and progressive web app solutions that enable interactions with their businesses without physical content. They are looking to integrate smart screens, beacon technology, app API integrations and other approaches to better inform, enable and reassure their customers. For hotels, the smart brands are already ahead. Brands like Village have been investing in contactless digital technology for almost five years, with in-room Alexas delivering room service and customer engagement, a rich app which allows F&B ordering without contact and lobby screens informing and guiding guests without the need for face-to-face engagement. From PWAs to full apps, a contactless digital approach will become a prerequisite
The winners are not stopping their march to digital. To being truly digital hotel brands. Digital transformation is achievable right now. Equator has seen no drop in demand for our digital development and many of our clients have upped their digital investments both internally and with us. Resource is available in your businesses and within the agency community. Look to invest now before market pressures take their toll.
And finally – we need to unite to succeed
This is a big challenge –the biggest our industry has faced in our lifetime. Your consumer has changed. Their perceptions, needs, wants, desires, aspirations. What you knew about your brand, your product and your service has changed. The clock has been reset. We are almost starting afresh
For those not on furlough, you’ll likely be the busiest you’ve ever been trying to stay atop of this ever-changing world. And for those returning from furlough you’ll need to be getting up to speed with a new workplace, new rules and new ways of delivering value.
With new trends in play, new aspirations and new ideas, we have a lot to learn. And smart marketers will be testing as we said. There’s lots to share, and the HMA is a great, safe place to do that.
Yes, we’re competitors on a day-to-day basis and we’re fighting for our business but we can do better as a collective and work together to share learnings, package locations as destinations and avoid failure. None of us want that. Share your ideas, pose your questions and join in the debate here on the HMA website and across social media.
Written by Martin Jordan – Director of Marketing & Innovation for Equator – a full service digital transformation agency that’s been working in the hotel and hospitality sector for over 20 years. Clients include Village, Frasers, Gleneagles, Butlins, Covent Garden, Cameron House, Belfry and many more. Equator & Martin Jordan have been delivering webinars for the travel & leisure sector since March. Equator were kindly invited to partner with HMA and we would like to thank them for our inclusion.