Written by Pamela Carvell, with contributions from fellow HMA Committee Members Julian Ebbutt, Martin Evans and Stephen Moran.

I have been involved in marketing for long enough to have experience of how it inevitably changes after major incidents. The current situation is exceptional, in that it is global, whereas previous things we have experienced in the U.K. like IRA bombs in London, Foot & Mouth and recent terrorist attacks in London, have been very ‘local’. I only mention that because after U.K.-based incidents, certain nationalities deemed the U.K. an unsafe place to travel to and traffic from certain countries plummeted as a direct result. However in the current pandemic, we are all in the same position.

Hospitality & Travel

I can’t talk about how I see Marketing changing without first considering how hospitality and travel will change. Will ‘hospitality’ actually be able to be hospitable, behind masks and Perspex screens? Will people have any appetite for international travel, or even leaving the safety of their own homes and local communities? How many existing airlines will actually survive? Will large hotel chains carry out a major culling of their estate? Will visiting a Spa be considered a dangerous activity, rather than a pampering experience? And how will small cafes and restaurants survive when they don’t have room to put social distancing measures in place? We all know that in most F&B operations, if you have to reduce covers by say 50% they will no longer be viable.

How many people will have either the desire or the income to dine out? How much will business travel be reduced now that Zoom calls etc have become an accepted way of conducting a team meeting? And will people ever want to attend a conference again, when we have adjusted to gaining this kind of content from webinars etc.?

No matter what your opinion on these matters is, the reality is that we will be dealing with dramatically reduced demand and dramatically increased costs, both as an initial investment and as an ongoing percentage of the operating costs.

Product, Price, Place, People and Promotion

Everyone knows these as the 5 P’s of Marketing. Post-Covid19, fear and safety will be driving forces of all of these.

Underpinning the 5P’s is Target Market and this is something that Marketers will need to redefine for their business in a way they deem most appropriate. Society is already segmenting itself into 3 major categories:

  • The vulnerable, who are either over a certain age, have underlying health issues, or are close to someone who is / has.
  • The cautious, who appreciate the severity of the situation, and accept that there will be a ‘new normal’.
  • The gung-ho, who have already had Covid-19 or simply value their freedom more than the wellbeing of others.

Product

Safety will be at the top of everyone’s mind, but the degree and kind of safety you deliver is key. Does a guest want to be checked into a hotel by someone wearing a visor and mask, and behind a Perspex screen? Of the 3 groups I’ve identified above, the first most definitely would, the second would probably accept it, but find it annoying and the third group would dislike it. We will all expect a much higher degree of cleanliness and we will expect to see evidence of this or some sort of certification.

The even bigger question about product and services in hospitality is to what extent people will play a part in our future, as opposed to technology? Will a future customer prefer to place their own order in a restaurant from their own phone, sitting at the table, receive an alert when it is ready and then collect it from a freshly sanitised area in the restaurant, making waiters redundant? Will a hotel experience be minus any personal hospitality, based on the fact that we are all at most threat from other people?

Marketers need to play their part in defining the ‘product’ of the future, and extensively researching this with their target market.

People

As I mentioned above, people may go from being at the heart of the hospitality industry, to being a very minor part, as customers prefer to have as little interaction with staff as possible. As Marketers we have to consider the many technology options, which customers would have rejected a few months ago, but which may now make them feel comfortable using your services.

Price

It will be interesting to see how Revenue Management software handles this exceptional situation. Demand will be very flat for a long time, but lowering prices will not stimulate demand, in my opinion. Customers will want you to deliver exceptional cleanliness & safety and they know that comes at a cost. I believe that they will trust places that are charging a premium, and very importantly believe that such establishments are also taking care of their staff.

Promotion

Recent research has shown that the public trust the media LESS than they trust politicians! Many people are weary of fake news, misinformation, a strong political bias and conspiracy theories. I believe that customers will want to hear directly from hotels and restaurants, and as such that personalised emails will be the principle marketing tool in the foreseeable future, whereby customers can trust both the content and the sender (eg General Manager, owner). This also presents businesses with an opportunity to encourage customers to book direct.

I also believe that businesses will benefit from communicating with customers via channels such as IGTV. Such channels give a business a unique opportunity to talk direct to many people in a somewhat informal way, and give them reassurances re safety, as well as fielding questions. I think that customers will want to use businesses that demonstrate strong leadership and a huge degree of caring, and this type of broadcast can achieve just that.

Stephen Moran of InterContinental London Park Lane adds, “It’s important to review your content with a ‘Covid-19’ lens. We may be saying goodbye to breakfast buffets, sharing concepts and group experiences for the foreseeable future so make sure your marketing channels reflect this. Content created to show atmosphere might now be off-putting to potential diners so now is the time to review all of your marketing assets.”

Julian Ebbutt, the HMA Chair, believes that another ‘P’ is key in the future. He says, “For me the key element of any ‘post covid’ marketing will be all about adding the 6th ‘P’: personalisation.  As Pamela rightly indicates, throughout the UK there have been many different responses to the current regulations, and everyone will have their own interpretation of them and take actions accordingly. I think all hospitality businesses must take this time now to consider their different market segments and understand how they might behave/react post lockdown and ensure that any marketing that they do to these different audiences is tailored accordingly.

Clearly as we move into unchartered waters every business must have a clear strategy/plan as to how they will reach each of the different segments (email, social media, direct mail, advertising etc) and be very clear on the messaging they are sending. 

It is my view that customers will react in a different way ‘post lockdown’ and will be much more responsive to clear, well thought out, personalised communication – this may take owners/managers more time/money in the short term, but I am sure that the long term benefits will be worth the effort.”

Marketing Budget

Martin Evans of the Tourism Business believes that when it comes to re-setting marketing budgets, naturally there will be pressure from hotel owners, CEO’s and Finance Directors onto the marketing department to curb spend, not just this year but next year too.  But that could be a costly mistake.

He points out that according to HotStats figures, in recent years the average marketing budget for hotels’ upfront spend on advertising, digital marketing and promotions has grown from 3.7% to 4.4% of total turnover.  And adds “That’s £44,000 pa for every £1m of turnover.  Rather than having a post-Covid “no-spend” or “low-spend” mentality, why not do three things.  First, use the current downtime to properly evaluate your past spend and what has worked to bring visitors to your website, bookings to your business and give you a decent RoI.  Second, don’t forget the value that you can unlock by using bedrooms, meals and spa experiences as “marketing currency” through fam trips, media and third-party competition prizes, etc.  And third, use this time to strike up partnerships to take your relationship marketing to a new level.  Reciprocal and joint marketing between a hotel and its local visitor attractions, shops and theatres, can be low-cost but hugely powerful.”

Conclusion

The hospitality industry needs some joined-up, strategic, blue-sky thinking. It also needs customer research, more than ever before. People are very fearful, and fear creates all kinds of unrealistic expectations, that need to be met if the industry is to thrive. Also, as Stephen Moran says, “never before have organisations such as Visit Britain, London & Partners and UK Hospitality been more important in lobbying the government to support our industry, share insights and give guidance to the tourism industry.” 

Written by Pamela Carvell, Lifestyle Consultant and President of the HMA, May 2020.

With contributions from HMA Committee Members:

  • Julian Ebbutt, HMA Chair
  • Martin Evans, The Tourism Business
  • Stephen Moran, InterContinental London Park Lane

This article may be reproduced in part or in full, so long as credit is given to the authors and the Hotel Marketing Association.


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