Coronavirus: What Does This Mean For Your Hotel Digital Marketing?
With coronavirus now officially confirmed as a worldwide pandemic, we ask digital marketer Kirsten Howarth what this could mean for hoteliers looking to market their hotel online in tumultuous times.
Hotel marketing online can be difficult enough at times - offers to consider, those unexpected cancellations, the neverending revenue meetings. However, with coronavirus spreading across the globe at an almost unprecedented rate - and the rates of confirmed cases continuing to climb(1) - the impact that this has had on global travel has been next to catastrophic.
President Trump declared a travel ban for all European residents travelling to the United States(2), while hotels around the world share similar stories of closing entire floors - or even more drastically, their doors - to keep their businesses afloat during the spread of the virus.
However, not all hope is lost for hotels and travel, with many businesses finding novel ways to keep their doors open and reassure guests that they're fully up-to-spec with the latest WHO guidelines.
If you're a hotel marketer, hotel manager, or in any way in charge of getting bums into seats and guests into rooms, then this article is for you. We've condensed our top 5 tips to keep people coming - and not cancelling - to your hotel, so you never have to worry about losing out.
1. Pick Your Battles
First and foremost, if your hotel is running any form of paid ads campaign, either through Google or any other search engine, it's important to consider the demographics of your audiences. For instance, if you're a London hotel, the last thing you'd want to do is appeal mostly to US audiences, while ignoring your UK audiences.
Usually, it would be foolish to put all your eggs in one basket, but with various travel bans in place and a lack of incentive to travel for obvious reasons, it may be prudent to cut back budgets on overseas audiences, and instead focus more on your customer base back home.
2. Localise Your Efforts
Similar to the above, but equally important - now that overseas audiences will be dropping considerably, it's time to focus your energy on the nearby area. If your hotel has a restaurant, this may be a prime opportunity to promote this instead through radius targeting or F&B campaigns. In addition, it may be time to speak out to any returning guests through email marketing or retargeting to promote the business in other areas, such as events or meeting rooms. People still have to eat and meet, after all!
3. It's A Long Way Down
It might seem that in the panic, the first thing you should do is to drop your rates and try to get as many people in the door as possible, no matter the cost. Try to avoid doing this. While you may see some pickup in bookings, you may also not - and once your rates are so low, it will be very difficult to build them back again from scratch - particularly if your hotel has the OTAs snapping at your heels each month.
Instead, treat this period with extreme caution. By all means, lower your rates if you are convinced that this will help maintain revenue (or at least keep it from crashing). BUT, don't lower by any more than you would usually feel comfortable doing during a promotion or sale, for instance.
4. Reassure, Reassure, Reassure…
This is key for helping to make sure that your guests will always feel comfortable booking a room with you, and not have the worry lingering over their heads as they scroll through your booking engine.
Reassure them that your hotel is dedicated to maintaining your current high-standards of cleanliness, that your laundry and washing processes are in line with World Health Organisation guidelines, and promote any new or existing methods to prevent the spread of the virus (such as room service, in-hotel activities or facilities, or even fast and reliable WiFi).
Important to note: please do NOT say any of these things unless you actually are following these guidelines. Perhaps that goes without saying, but there will always be those sneaky few.
Some nifty software that allows you to publish messages as callouts on your website - Sweetnr is one great example - detailing what your hotel is doing to alleviate the concerns of your guests in the times of coronavirus, would be a slick alternative if you're reluctant to create a whole new landing page.
If your hotel already offers free cancellation, then that's smashing, but seriously consider this as a policy for the short-term if not - otherwise, any bookings that you DO receive during this time will come through commission-based OTAs that offer this already, rather than booking direct, losing you more money in the long-term.
5. ...And Retarget
It's inevitable that not all people will be 100% reassured by any messages of reassurance they receive from your hotel, and you're likely to face cancellations and no-shows - it happens. However, their intent to book with you was already there when they originally reserved a stay with you, and likely as not they would have kept to this in different circumstances.
Keep any guest cancellation details on file (sticking within GDPR conduct, of course), and add them to their own mailing list for future retargeting with a new discount or promotion once the all-clear has been given. For example, a quick "Sorry we missed you, we'd still love to see you - here's a 15% discount on your next stay with us to welcome you back!" wouldn't go amiss by very many people!
6. Direct Is King
If ever there's been an opportunity to showcase what you as a hotel can provide over the OTAs by booking direct, it's now!
Whether it's a free upgrade, an extra discount on food and beverages, or even providing new services - a contact-free room service breakfast would be an excellent idea - use this scenario to encourage guests to book direct, use the services in your hotel and choose you above all others.
Show them what you've got, and don't lose out precious revenue on commission to the OTAs!