While countless trips had to be cancelled because of COVID-19, recent consumer surveys show that people will want a chance to make up for those missed travel opportunities after the crisis.
That’s why many hotel and tourism professionals now hope for a surge in demand due to ‘revenge travelling’ – people going on trips or spending more during their post-corona vacations because security measures kept them from it for several months.
But today the question is: how quickly and strongly will demand bounce? Will the way we travel change significantly after the pandemic? And how should hotels get ready for the arrival of their first guests?
We spoke to Clément Dénarié – Head of Sales at Oaky to find out more.
Recent consumer surveys give hope
After the end of Wuhan’s lockdown, people slowly started travelling around China again. Demand has been growing slowly but surely, creating a sense of hope and optimism among local and international hoteliers.
Marriott, for example, reported that 60 of the 90 hotels it closed temporarily are back in business now. Yes, they are running at low occupancy, but at least things are moving forward again.
Fliggy, Alibaba’s travel platform, recently conducted a survey, which echoes this trend for China. 55% of respondents who had to cancel trips due to COVID-19 said they were thinking of rebooking.
US-based hotel software provider Fuel Travel got a similar response from over 10,500 participants in another survey. 59% of participants claimed they wanted to travel in 2020, 14% were keen on a trip in 2021. Only 3% said they had no desire to travel any time soon.
But even with travellers getting ready to go, will they be able to travel post-COVID-19?
How will COVID-19 change the way we travel?
With the virus progressing differently around the world, some countries will have restrictions in place longer than others. These differences can apply even within a country if governments allow regions or states to decide when to reopen businesses and welcome visitors again.
While it’s certain that travel will be possible again, new requirements will be introduced. Nobody knows what they’ll look like yet, but they could include proof of immunity for COVID-19 (or proof of vaccination, once there is one), mandatory testing and/or quarantining upon arrival (already practised in Hong Kong and South Korea among others).
This means domestic travel will start again first because it will not be subject to these restrictions which increase added cost and hassle for travellers.
People may also start thinking differently about flexibility when booking trips. If your property uses a strict cancellation policy, now is the time to add more flexible options (possibly for a surcharge or as an add-on).
How to prepare for post-COVID-19 business as a hotel
Right now, nobody can say when and how strongly demand will recover. Regardless of that, it’s important to be ready when the time comes.
One thing is certain: people who have been housebound due to lockdowns will want to get out and live a little once restrictions ease. But keep in mind that guests will have varying expectations and needs.
Here are five ways you can prepare for renewed demand during your hotel’s downtime.
1. Highlight new in-house safety measures
Right after the COVID-19 crisis, stringent hygiene measures will be extra important to travellers. To show how seriously you take this, tell guests what you do to ensure a sanitary environment.
Talk about staff training, how often you sanitise public areas and encourage everyone on-site to stick to hand-washing guidelines via clearly visible PSAs. Prominently feature this information on your website and social media channels as well as in pre-arrival emails to make guests feel safe.
2. Create services built around health and safety
Guests will look out for their health more than before in the coming months. This means they will show more interest in health- and safety-related products and services, even if they may come with a price tag.
For example, room service breakfast could become much more popular because it lets guests avoid busy dining rooms where they might feel at risk. Promoting a paid upgrade to this service will therefore lift both your F&B revenue and provide and option guests are more at ease with.
Hand sanitiser and masks could become part of your in-room amenities or you could drive ancillary revenue by selling them as a (reasonably priced) add-on. Services like airport transfers in sanitised cars are another way to make guests comfortable while boosting incremental revenue.
3. Create an unforgettable experience
People are ready to get their freedom back after having to stay home due to travel bans and lockdowns. Others faced more stress and higher workloads in the past months and now finally have a chance to go on a hard-earned break (think essential workers and healthcare staff).
Whatever their last few months looked like, as a hotelier, you need to fulfil these guests’ dreams and more. Here are two ideas on how to get started.
A selection of ‘treat yourself packages’ invites guests to spend a little extra on an extravagant dinner or a spa treatment. Letting them tailor their stay with these add-ons will mean they can enjoy their time with you to the max and it lifts the average spend per guest.
Other guests may be looking for extra value now. But you’ve probably read that revenue management experts advise against slashing rates. So, what’s another way to offer value? Especially those who’ve been hit financially by the crisis will enjoy 3-for-2 offers or bonus vouchers. Too boring for you? Then get creative – now is the time for it!
While personalised and attentive service is always important, it plays an even bigger role now. If you manage to wow your first post-crisis guests, they will eagerly share their experience and inspire others to travel again too.
4. Get your marketing game on
Everyone agrees: this downtime is a challenge. However, it’s also an opportunity to review processes, test new hotel tech tools or implement an improved system, so you can come back strong.
Especially where marketing is concerned, you want to keep things going instead of letting your competition hog the spotlight. Why? Because that way you will attract guests from the moment they can travel again.
For starters, monitor restrictions and regulations in your area and source markets. That allows you to create a timeline for preparing your ads and promotions. Then, put out localised content to get domestic travellers’ attention. Finally, use your existing (or new) social media presence to connect with guests and share the latest news about your property.
Your F&B outlets can also help you gain traction in your city. Use apps like UberEats, Deliveroo or your local equivalent to generate F&B revenue and grow your local client base for post-COVID times.
5. Concentrate on ROI and average spend per guest
Even though consumer surveys show strong demand, it will take time for occupancy rates to go back to pre-corona levels. This means you should concentrate on lifting the average spend per guest to help your hotel recover post-crisis.
Start by identifying which OTA or agent brings you the most profitable bookings. Focus your marketing dollars on this channel to get more of these high-ROI bookings.
Next, increase the average guest spend by offering relevant deals and upgrades. The more you personalise the offers, the better they will convert and the more they will boost your ancillary revenue.
For the best results, use segmentation to optimise offers for different groups of guests. That may seem difficult, but when you use a good up-selling tool, it’s quick, simple and can result in a great ROI.
Now, over to you… which of the things above are you already doing? And which ones could you implement next?
Always remember: this is not an ‘all or nothing’ situation. Every action you take can help your hotel get through this crisis a little bit better and make the most of returning demand. All you need to do is get started.