For an industry that has experienced its share of downturns and financial crises, lodging suffered a disproportionate impact from the pandemic. Hotels were one of the first industries affected and will be one of the last to recover.
Operators initially struggled to comply with stay-at-home mandates and federal, state and local COVID-19 directives. They furloughed staff and implemented safety and cleanliness protocols. Promotional campaigns were put on hold, and hotels shifted to social media and email marketing outreach. With the current workforce shortage, many hotels are opting to work with an outside team to help enhance their reputation and bottom line.
As business slowly begins its rebound, hotels are seeing and responding to subtle and substantial shifts around guests’ changing behaviors and expectations. Understanding those expectations is essential to the recovery. One tool in helping hoteliers capitalize on these new trends is a robust analytics platform that can track guest spending, preferences and priorities, potentially revealing opportunities to add value.
Hoteliers have been in an extended cycle of crisis management. As with all crises, effective oversight and strategies can help hotels reduce negative impacts and shorten recovery time. Consider regularly informing guests regarding what the hotel is doing for guests and employees, and highlighting positive things the hotel is doing to cope with the crisis. For instance, a hotel may update its cancellation policy or send guests’ elite status and reward benefits and points. And it’s important to set the strategic direction regarding how the hotel is moving forward.
Hoteliers also are reimagining how to deliver a unique experience and strengthen the guest relationship. They’re rebuilding loyalty programs, improving communication with guests before and during their stays and re-evaluating guest priorities in terms of safety, costs and services, particularly given the shortage of workers.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in that respect is restoring the balance between self-service and traditional service. Personal interactions have traditionally played a key role in the guest experience. Staff cutbacks during the pandemic and the reluctance of many workers to return to the workforce has undermined the industry’s ability to provide that personal aspect to hospitality. In response, hotels are deploying a range of creative strategies and tactics.
In addition to deploying new hygiene measures, hotels are implementing contactless check-in and check-out and restaurant and room service ordering, all to minimize the need for face-to-face exchanges and labor they require. Some are replacing printed in-room directories and menus with digital platforms that guests can access with their phones, pads and laptops. Digital systems can enable guests to find what they need quickly, make information accessible to the handicapped, and reduce the expense of updating printed documents.
Because the pandemic caused periods of isolation, returning guests who enjoy a positive experience tend to feel more loyal to a hotel and its brand. Hoteliers are finding ways to build on that phenomenon by expanding loyalty programs to include more instant gratification, including personalized offers, upgrades and amenities.
In an effort to recover lost business, hoteliers are rethinking a broad range of communication programs to attract and retain guests. Personalization is key, including such low-cost tactics as sending messages from the general manager and other key staff. On the other end of the cost spectrum, the hotel’s website may need to be refreshed to ensure it is easy to use, secure, and mobile-friendly. Web-based videos can help prospective guests get over their fear of the unknown by virtually bringing them inside your hotel to show them what they’re missing.
Finally, hotels should expand their notion of guests to include people who have traded long-distance travel for nearby staycations. More targeted messages and channels are needed to reach that new audience. It may be less expensive and more effective for hotels to replace some or all traditional advertising with direct marketing by email and postal mail.
A myriad of challenges remains for the industry, but the pandemic has permanently changed the way hotels operate and communicate with guests. But these challenges also offer hoteliers great opportunities to differentiate their property, streamline costs, and thoughtfully curate the guest experience.