With travel at a virtual standstill due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, it’s imperative for hotels to have in place an action plan to address the current state and the future rise in business and leisure travel demand.
Unsurprisingly (according to a special forecast from STR and Tourism Economics,) due to the COVID-19 pandemic the hotel industry is projected to report significant decline across demand, occupancy, ADR and RevPAR in 2020. The positive prognosis is that the global travel industry should regain its footing in the latter half of this year and into 2021.
Remember, travelling is a present-day lifestyle and business activity. Let’s stay optimistic that the demand for accommodation services will return to ‘normal’ (or perhaps ‘new normal’) levels as soon as the situation improves. Here are some basic survival tips and recommendations for hotel management at this time.
While COVID-19 is still impacting travel, and a hotel is either closed or experiencing a significant drop in bookings, the brand should remain connected to past guests and share valuable content for people to access whilst working from home. This is not the time to cease communication on your website, blog, social media, and email. During a crisis, people will remember how your brand made them feel, and providing the right content can strengthen the brand relationship long-term.
- Implement an emergency strategy for your property, as well as forecasting and productivity enhancements.
- Build a profit protection plan with your executive team; have a clear revenue management direction to avoid reckless discount actions to reduced demand.
- Consider ways to reposition your business and to prepare for what the market will look like post COVID-19 as it is expected to be vastly different.
- Focus on long-term good that, where possible, should include fair guest cancellation policies that engender feel-good sentiment.
- Focus on employee relations. Help staff and associated employees and partners apply for benefits i.e. debt relief, payment holiday etc.
- Focus unnecessarily on occupancy levels. Unfortunately there is likely nothing you can do to influence more guests to stay at this time.
As I’ve stressed, it is important to address cancellation policies and any prevention plans in place if the hotel is open. Your website and critical communication channels and collateral should address:
▶ Prevention plans
▶ Cancellation policies
▶ FAQS around COVID-19 specific to your geographical area
▶ How the hotel or brand is assisting the local community
▶ Contact information should guests have queries or concerns.
- Focus on those individuals who may need to continue to travel (essential workers, government officials etc).
- Maintain relationships with service providers to inform each other about epidemic-related issues.
- Promote to locals who understand the environment. Plus look at package deals especially to reduce seasonality. Locals will be more inclined to travel locally first.
- Look to introduce specials for post-COVID times and continue to entice people and business that are currently in isolation.
- Go overboard with discounting. Attempt to maintain pricing integrity as much as possible!
- Lay off core staff. They can assist in working on your future plans.
Think RECOVERY! Downtime, while hotels are closed, can be used as a vital time prepare for the next downturn and improve operational capabilities. Your long-term goal should be to recover and scale back up faster than competitors and adapt to the ‘new normal’ in terms of customer demand.
How to quickly and accurately capture the change in this demand, how to create a corresponding customer experience, how to turn crisis into opportunity and how to seize the opportunity for development…these are the key challenges for hoteliers to consider.
- Ascertain which customers are likely to return soonest.
- Maintain a relationship with the individual or company behind every cancelled reservation.
- Look to future group/conference bookings.
- Prepare future marketing and promotional collateral.
- ‘Future focus’ your sales and marketing teams. Brainstorm ideas, innovation solutions and special approaches.
- Consider staggering the opening of rooms and facilities.
- Reorganise department structures and workflow systems where necessary.
- Continue to emphasise measures you are taking to ensure the safety of guests from COVID-19 as it will take time for panic to die down.