Can You Charge For A COVID-19 Safety Feature?
The pandemic forced hotels to up their cleanliness game on numerous fronts. Much like how housekeeping costs were baked in the room rate prior to COVID-19, these new safety procedures must likewise be paid forward to the guest. But with price elasticity still very much crucial to getting bookings, at what point do these new costs (as reflected by an increasing nightly rate) become too much for the average guest? From this, is it possible to split off certain COVID-specific amenities from the base rate and offer them at an additional cost to the consumer?
A strong caveat must be stated before debating what’s obligatory versus optional for your guests. All hotels must ensure the safety of their guests and stay in compliance with any new cleaning and sanitizing standards that emerge from this pandemic. However, through what we are describing as post-coronavirus stress disorder (PCSD), some travelers will be more anxious than others in the post-pandemic world (regardless of vaccine inoculation and herd immunity), meaning that this niche cohort will continue to demand exceedingly high levels of physical distancing and sanitization while others will simply want to move on with their lives.
So, once you have the ‘basics’ covered to safeguard everyone according to the local and state guidelines, what’s needed to appease the PCSD-oriented guest might, in fact, make the nightly rate unappealing to everyone else, especially if a lengthy global recession emerges which will make the average guest even more sensitive to whatever BAR you offer. This presents the opportunity to split off the more excessive measures as additional fees that the PCSD customer can purchase a la carte in order to keep the sticker price as low as possible to stay competitive on the OTAs, in meta-search and against alternate accommodation platforms.
While I am indeed suggesting an eventual return to normalcy, albeit with permanently upgraded sanitization standards, the key word is ‘eventual.’ But within this next normal of 2021 and 2022, the divergence in expectations for PCSD and non-PCSD guests will present us with the opportunity to provide a safe environment for all while still preventing drastic cost overruns.
Here are some thoughts for items that can implemented as add-ons or bundled in a resort fee model to drum up ancillary safety revenues:
- Being assigned to a ‘COVID safe’ section or floor at the hotel where more extreme cleaning and sanitization protocols are provided;
- Verified 48- or 72-hour booking buffers (over, say, a more reasonable 24 hours in the new standard) whereby the PCSD guest pays for the extra pre-arrival nights from when their room is off-limits prior to check-in;
- Housekeeping and turndown services that are ‘COVID safe’ for stayover guests whereby the new standard may become no cleaning or staff entry whatsoever while a room is occupied;
- Superior, branded PPE and customized hand sanitizer units made available in the guestroom, with enough there for however many nights booked and guests registered;
- Upgraded F&B service delivered in a safe, overly sanitized method to the room instead of delivered at the restaurant or for pickup, and for all meal occasions;
- Guaranteed safe airport transfers in a sanitized car and other transportation services;
- With the trend towards décor minimalism so as to limit guestroom cleaning requirements, perhaps hotels can even charge for the presence of extra furnishings in the guestroom and soft goods that are not single use.
Of course, the upselling model for many of these additive amenities will depend on a property’s star level and target demographic. For luxury guests, they may expect most of these already included into the nightly rate and not bat an eyelash at the elevated price. Others may not be so blasé. And for hotels geared towards the older, more vulnerable demographics, the decision about what to bake into the nightly rate and what not deserves extra caution.
If you do decide to offer these debatably superfluous add-ons, know that selling them is just as important as the features themselves. In a ‘do you want fries with that?’ model, your first step will be to properly train your intake team to prompt customers about these options at the appropriate times during the reservation process. Concurrently, you must communicate to your loyalty base what you are including as standard and what will be available for a surplus cost.
After that, investigate how your existing technology suppliers can add in these upsell opportunities into the prearrival experience. At the very least, PCSD guests should be able to select these amenities from within the booking engine and via third-party websites. And then, what one customer selects versus another must be put through to the CRM so that you can better tailor the onsite experience to meet one’s anticipated level of anxiety.
What’s emphasized here is that like all things emerging from the pandemic, it is an opportunity to reinvent your business. But that model must be profitable or else it will fail, and so upselling the more egregious COVID sanitization procedures as paid-for amenities may be the way to keep your margins.