It has been six months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the U.S. hotel industry was faced with an unprecedented loss of demand. Since then we have been leveraging the advantage of being the world's largest travel platform to understand the speed of recovery, and driving critical insight into how, when and where consumers are planning their next trip.

For U.S. accommodations the story is one of steady, if unspectacular recovery. Over the summer, domestic travelers searching for U.S. accommodations edged closer and closer each week to 2019 levels of demand without ever surpassing those benchmarks.

This contrasts with the picture in Europe, where countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom saw August traveler demand outperform the previous year. Pent-up demand translated into a much needed surge in bookings. We have not seen the same surge in demand in the U.S. yet.

However, the green shoots may now be on the horizon.

Consumers are actively planning trips in the fall, and the proportion of U.S. accommodation searches on Tripadvisor that are for check-ins taking place in September is up compared to the same period last year. This is good news - when the proportion of accommodation searches in our traffic data spikes towards near-term travel, it is usually a good indicator that consumer confidence is rebounding.

We believe there are three key areas for you to look at as a U.S. hotel owner to make sure you can snap up returning domestic travel demand.

First: Ensure your decision-making is data driven. Consumer behavior is changing rapidly, and the trends are far from static. Staying up-to-date with the very latest market insights is crucial. Thankfully, this can often be done at little to no cost. Trade media titles like Hospitality Net have been doing a fantastic job of sharing the latest trends and research, and at Tripadvisor, we have been sharing tangible insights from our own site data via free webinars and industry trend reports. These are worth investing your time into so that you can adapt your plans at speed and capture the valuable traveler demand that your business needs.

Second: Be aware that consumer expectations are changing as a result of COVID. Focus on what you can do to make your customers feel confident about booking. Free cancellation offers are a good start, but don't underestimate the extent to which some customers still feel wary about venturing out. When surveyed, more than nine out of ten potential travelers (92%) said cleanliness is now the most important factor when selecting an accommodation. Reassuring potential guests that you will prioritize their safety will be key to maximizing booking conversion. This means not just implementing new hygiene measures, it means showcasing them to potential guests as well.

There are ways you can do this at no cost. On Tripadvisor, for example, our Travel Safe feature allows you to select the safety measures you have in place at your property by accessing a checklist in the Tripadvisor management center. Once selected, the checklist then appears on your Tripadvisor listing page, free of charge. Users have responded very positively to seeing this information - click-through rates to properties that have added their checklist are, on average, 16% greater than to properties that have not. Yet, the number of U.S. accommodations that have engaged with the tool is still relatively low - 55,000 and counting. Taking the time to add your safety information is a no-brainer, and could give you an advantage over the competition.

Third: Your direct booking strategy will be key to maximizing value, so carefully consider the risks associated with holding back on your marketing spend - cost savings now may only end up costing more in lost bookings and revenue down the line.

We hear time and time again from our hotel partners that direct bookings are at the heart of their strategy, and yet awareness of the new tools available to drive direct bookings remains surprisingly low across the industry.

For example, at Tripadvisor, we've made a number of enhancements to our Sponsored Placements solution to convert increased visibility into direct bookings.

  • You can now showcase your properties direct rates exclusively within the Sponsored Placement. This means that the only rate a traveler sees is the one driving to your own website.
  • The Sponsored Placements appear at the top of the search results and will only do so when your property has availability. This protects your valuable budget and provides a good traveler experience.
  • Once you have completed uploading your safety measures into Travel Safe, we can also highlight a link within Sponsored Placements to this information.
  • We have developed automated tools to safeguard your campaign so that travelers from countries that are restricted from visiting the U.S. will not be served your Sponsored Placements.

Sponsored Placements will therefore make your business discoverable to a new set of customers that may be planning to travel domestically for the first time, while at the same time enhancing your ability to drive direct bookings. With so much pressure on hoteliers marketing budgets, making these efficiency gains can ultimately give you an edge over the competition.

With the uptick we are seeing in domestic travel planning for the fall, now is the time for U.S. hoteliers to seize this opportunity and win much needed bookings.

Casey Brogan