Getting Hotel Bookings Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
There is no denying the fact that the spread of COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the travel and hospitality industry as well as the hotel bookings amid Coronavirus. With so many people canceling their travel and accommodation plans as well as hotel bookings amid coronavirus and with several non-essential services closing down, the outbreak has assumed its pandemic form infecting more than 116,000 people and killing about 4,000. Thus it has become more than challenging for the hoteliers to cope with this situation, sending the industry reeling.
As per the research, “Online travel agencies, airlines, and cruise lines all saw double-digit US sales declines in the week ended March 2, compared to a year earlier…Hotels, a category that includes chains like Marriott and Holiday Inn as well as home-sharing apps like Airbnb, saw a small decline in the week of February 25 to March 2.” Still, it has been deemed that the hotel bookings amid coronavirus are not as bad as those in the travel segments but the losses might get worse due to certain precautions. President Trump has also restricted travel from Europe for 30 days and several cruise lines have also put their voyages on hold till the unforeseen future. Again, in the hotels, occupancies are down and tourist arrivals have dropped to a great extent.
Again, with guests sweating over the endless worries on the internet regarding “what happens if you have a hotel booked during the Coronavirus outbreak?” or “do hotels offer refunds for cancellations?” the urgent question on their part is “What’s the statement on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
But travel hasn’t stopped completely. That being said, people are still taking trips for both business and pleasure. Crisis Management is one of the essential components in any business, to which the hotel industry is no exception. Hotels need to come up with a swift, well-thought and effective plan of prevention alongside communicating with their staff and guests in order to make careful and critical shifts in their strategies and revenue management to combat such difficult times and to facilitate more hotel bookings amid Coronavirus.
With sources reading something like “Coronavirus: Hotels face drop in ococupany, revenue amid coronavirus outbreak,” hotels in crisis can still win by adjusting their strategy.
So, the hoteliers have two options at their disposal when it comes to hotel bookings amid Coronavirus:
a) Acceptance of situation (negative): that the future is bleak and there is no hope of recovery; an attitude of giving up.
b) Fight the catastrophe (positive): Certain strategies and action plans can still be implemented to tackle the situation with extreme care, awareness and precautions and to keep the business going.
First & Foremost
Reassure your upcoming and in-stay guests:
• Inform guests that all frequently touched surfaces in the rooms such as the remote control, light switches, bedside lamp switches, the alarm clock, the phone and the bathroom sink have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Assure them that similar standards have been followed in all the public areas.
• That housekeeping is using proper disinfectant products and/or disposable cleaning tools to avoid spread of contaminants to multiple rooms.
• That special care has been taken to clean and disinfect pillows, comforters, towels, bathrobes, sofas, chairs, etc.
• All staff are following the strictest hygiene and sanitation standards, and have been asked to consult for travel advice before going on personal and business trips.
Social Strategy and Prevention Plan
1. Respond Positively to the Outbreak
2. Get a Prevention Plan Ready
• Chalk out a prevention plan: This is to ensure the safety of all your employees and guests, which, in turn, will make sure that your guests have a safe and positive experience at your hotel.
• Train your employees: This is a crucial time and if the prevention plan is not communicated properly, your employees might just fail to realize the full significance of it. Entrust each of them with specific responsibility and supervise at every step to ensure that each of the departments is aligned on the measures that are required to deal with the situation. Prepare an internal COVID-19 communication hub and provide access to each of your employees to give them adequate training about the virus and its prevention.
• Reach out to your existing and potential guests: You can definitely take the help of social media or social handles, newsletter, and emails, and even your hotel website to communicate to the guests the mandatory measures that you will be taking to make sure that their safety is not compromised in any way. Give them a genuine assurance that you have a prevention plan ready for them and if possible, do share a preview of that plan.
• Consider waiving cancellation fees for the highly impacted destinations: You can accord this where the worst impact has been witnessed. Remember, the well-being of your guests is of paramount importance. Recently only, the Marriott hotel chain announced in a press release that the customers staying at their property over the next few weeks will be able to change or cancel their reservation without a penalty. In cases or destinations where you can still save and make the most of it, communicate your prevention plan to the upcoming guests.
• Spread awareness and put your guests at ease: For upcoming bookings, spread awareness through emails by informing about the prevention plan along with attaching a few tips, infographics, and illustrations that can also prepare the guests for their personal safety. Luckily, if you are in the area where not many cases have been reported, such statistics can work in your favor by putting the guests at ease.
1. Implement some effective marketing tactics: They say content sells and with the right words in place, you can actually influence your customers’ decision. In cases of cancellation, draft an email in a way that lures your guests to stay with you at a discounted rate in the future.
2. Offer special services to save on bookings: While discounts are fine, you can also change your guests’ minds from cancellation by offering some special services like in-room relaxation, free breakfast, or any other offer which can make them feel safe and sound with you. Thus the experts advise not to cut down on your marketing budget and instead use it proactively for promotions and packages with the focus being the existing customer base.
[Note: Be cautious of broad-scale discounting as it might take years to recover from it. In such cases, it is generally advised to use the retail rate as the yardstick for discount rate programs and to keep the repercussions at bay. Again, this makes sure that you are not really lowering your retail rate.]
1. Evaluate the impact of the outbreak on your business: Assessing the key metrics like revenue, occupancy, ADR, etc. and various macro trends of similar such outbreaks in the past will help you forecast the future scenario and will also allow you to tweak your existing state by making a careful study of various market trends from tourism to your property, business from top feeders, etc. So before you proceed with any plan or strategy, start with a careful revision of your business.
2. Give more perks for direct bookings: Focus on your more cost-effective booking channels and make sure that direct booking perks are displayed prominently on your website.
3. Penetrate deep into the domestic market: With bans on international travel for some, it might be sagacious to target more of domestic travel. Reach out to local feeder markets and lure domestic travelers with developed packages and promotion of staycations. Locals might consider the idea of a local getaway and this can work in your favor by allowing you to combat the problem of occupancy rate. Even Google has advised that “search traffic for ‘staycations’ are up 50% YoY so far in 2020.”
4. Upsell your services: Everything in business is based on trust and this is the right time to upsell your services to enhance the customers’ trust level. Use this opportunity to upsell special services by offering more amenities, delights along the way, and upgrade. But remember to be unique in your approach as any accommodation out there can afford to provide an extra night for free (at least, during these times). So, personalize the needs of the customers but at the same time, make sure that you are not ‘giving away the house.’
5. Focus on pragmatic, customer-centric service: Alongside promotions and giving out packages, focus on more value-added services and nothing can beat the excellent customer service or treatment meted out to your guests during such difficult times. Again, rather than chasing a non-existing demand, be considerate when it comes to cancellations on the part of your guests as your attitude might attract them back in the future.
6. Use ‘Flexibility’ as your essential marketing strategy: Keeping in mind the state of your hotel cancellation policy in light of Coronavirus, you can also offer the incentive of allowing the guests to move their bookings to a new date if they wish to. Again, this can win the confidence of the prospects too.
The very first thing that can increase their confidence and faith is if you give them the incentive of the much needed and emphasised upon “social distancing.” This means providing the guests an easier way to communicate with your staff without really leaving their room. For instance, if a guest wants something to be delivered to their room, power your guest messaging feature in a way that facilitates easy communication with the staff. This ensures that guests can request things seamlessly by having no or minimal physical contact with the hotel staff.
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*IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ENSURE A STAY SAFE FOR ALL OUR GUESTS*
These are the steps we’ve been taking to fight against Coronavirus and to provide a healthy stay to our guests:
During COVID-19, Gym will be closed temporarily. Breakfast will be delivered to the guests in their rooms. Sanitizer and hand wash will be available at all the major points in the hotel”
And so on…
Remember, you can always customize your message as per the measures you have implemented.
Again, we have pulled together a list of a few things you can do to lessen the impact and impart some confidence in your guests to ensure that their stay at your hotel will be safe.
Here are a few safety and hygiene tips that you can implement and, in turn, can communicate them to your guests:
• Remind your staff about washing their hands every day and properly (as they say for 20 whole seconds).
• Provide soap and sanitizer to your guests.
• Make sure that the sanitizer has been kept at every important point in the hotel (especially the entry/exit points, washrooms, kitchens, breakfast room, lobby, rooms, conference areas, business centers, gyms,etc.)
• Inform your guests about the availability of sanitizers at these places and also communicate to them about how you have introduced certain risk mitigation measures.
• Strictly avoid handshakes.
• Provide masks to the guests in need of it.
• Disinfect anything that a traveler can touch, from the call buttons in the lift and door handles to the toilets, taps, telephones and the reception counter.
• Make sure that your staff at the reception is well-versed in overall hygiene and protocols to be followed if a guest develops symptoms.
• Use high-quality disinfectants and cleaning tools to keep the risk at bay.
• More than anything, it is best if you welcome the travelers in a safe manner. It is advisable to check the temperature of the incoming guests and staff, alongside other revamped safety measures. Hotel Chains like Marriott (Reference: Marriott starts furloughing tens of thousands of employees,” The Economic Times) are encouraging the temperature screening of their guests by using thermal scanners and/or infrared thermometers to monitor the temperature of each person entering the premises.
Again, starting from April 1, Hyatt will be rolling out tools like in-room relaxation offerings which it feels are “particularly well-suited to dealing with the worries of fearful guests. Anything you can do to limit contact with other people but still have some sort of experience related to wellness is especially good in the immediate climate,” said Ms. Jenna Finkelstein, a director at CBRE.
1. For the week of March 8-14, hotel occupancy was down 24.4% to 53% year-over-year.
2. Revenue per available room fell 32.5% to $63.74
A drop in the 3 key performance metrics (8-14 March 2020) during the Corona outbreak
• Seattle, Washington, saw the steepest declines in each of the three key performance metrics: occupancy (-55.0% to 32.9%), ADR (-24.7% to US$109.28) and RevPAR (-66.1% to US$35.97)
• San Francisco/San Mateo, California, posted the week’s second-largest drop in RevPAR (-63.3% to US$68.56), due to the second-steepest decreases in occupancy (-51.6% to 38.9%) and ADR (-24.2% to US$176.38)
• New York, New York, experienced the third-largest declines in occupancy (-43.9% to 48.8%) and RevPAR (-54.6% to US$88.29)
• New Orleans, Louisiana, posted the third-steepest drop in ADR (-22.8% to US$138.11)
American cities showing a steep decline in the key performance metrics (Occupancy, RevPAR. And ADR)
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• Reduce cancellations by assuring pre-arrival guests of steps taken for their safety.
• Inform guests at the check-in about the possible upgrades, upsells, and safety information.
While the economy is getting hit and the hotel industry is in a crunch, the hope that the travel industry is resilient and that there will be a bounce-back once the situation subsides is an important mindset to be cultivated. We started the article with an optimistic approach and while still maintaining an empirical or pragmatic tone, we close it once again on a more positive note by stating that the demand would soon return. For now, the hotels can focus on maintaining their retail rates, promotions plans, effective communication with the employees and guests, revenue management and more importantly, a fruitful prevention plan, as nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of the guests in the face of such an ordeal!