Industry Update
Opinion Article 8 March 2020

Coronavirus: Train Your Front Desk & Reservations Team To Respond To Guest Comments & Questions

By Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network

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Much has already been written about the impact of the Coronavirus on the travel and lodging industry, and I'll leave it up to the experts in each field to talk about how this impacts revenue, distribution and cleaning procedures. Right now, I'm in the middle of two straight weeks of delivering workshops on hospitality and sales training throughout Hawaii, and so I'm going to address a question my participants are asking.

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"What should we say when guests mention coronavirus?"

This question comes in various contexts, but it's the most challenging when guests are calling about booking, or when they are calling to ask about the cancellation options for an upcoming stay. This article will address both. From what I'm hearing, this is a typical comment, followed by a recommended response.

Guest: "We've been looking forward to this trip for a long time now, but you know this Coronavirus thing is really scary."

Response: "Yes, it sure is scary for me too. From what I'm seeing on the news, it seems like pretty much anytime you go anywhere there's a risk, even at the grocery store or fast food line, not just airplanes and hotel lobbies…

"From what they're saying it seems the best thing to do is just keep washing hands frequently and to go on with our lives as best we can, so for me, that's what I'm going with."

"What should we say when guests ask about cancellation policies?"

When guests ask about cancellation policies, the response will vary according to your deposit and cancellation penalties. At most traditional hotels, guests can cancel up until 72 hours or less in advance. However, for resorts, vacation rentals, and off-shore destination properties, the cancellation will typically be further out such as 14 or even 30 days. If the guest's arrival date is outside of that window, I suggest just adding the following to the  recommended statement listed above:

"Why don't we just lock this in now for you, as the deposit is fully refundable up until X date, that way you can secure this (special rate/package/ room type) while still having the option of canceling up until."

If the caller is calling for dates far in advance, you might even add:

"Once we move past this virus situation, I'm guessing there's going to be a lot of people anxious to take vacations at the same time."

Finally, for any revenue and distribution managers at hotels with 30+ day cancellation policies, you may want to consider making a temporary change, such as "For any reservation booked between today and (4 weeks from now?) the cancellation window will be shortened to 10 days out and deposits will be fully refundable."

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