The global hospitality industry has been through every perceivable calamity over the past decades: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, major floods, terrorist attracts like 9/11, SARS, global recessions, epidemics and pandemics like SARS, MERSA, ZIKA, swine flu and now COVID-19. After each crisis, the industry came roaring back and I believe it will recover very quickly after the current COVID-19 crisis and will prosper like never before.
Naturally, each region and destination has had and will have its own decline and rebound curves as far as hotel occupancy, ADRs and RevPARs are concerned. Recovery post-COVID-19 will also be unique to each region, destination and property and will greatly depend on a) the underlying economic conditions in each region and destination, and b) the preparedness of each property for the post-crisis period.
This downtime of low hotel occupancies or property closures is the perfect time for post-crisis planning, digital marketing action plan development, product and marketing campaign ideations. The question to the digital marketing community is, which specific action-items SHOULD be included in a hotelier's Post-Crisis Top Three Digital Marketing Action Plan? In addition, please suggest one creative, OUTSIDE-THE BOX idea... something we have not seen yet in hotel digital marketing. Just an idea... big or small.
While it's tough to say when the current crisis will end, the important thing is that it will end. Here are a few ideas to help you when the time comes — and provide value right now, too:
- Think "Backyard and Bundle." While it's possible that the economy might come roaring back, given the larger economic effects and potential for lingering concern on the part of guests, it's also likely that they may want to stay closer to home, have less to spend, or simply want to keep a little money in their pocket for the next big shock to the system. There's a clear downside to discounting your product. But you should also think about offering packages or promotions that allow guests to get the most bang for their buck, especially with drive and local customers. Focus on value-adds in your promotions and offers that help you hold rate, but show clear benefit to the guest. And target those first to the people for whom your property is closest to home. It's also likely that guests will want to spend time with their families and friends, many of whom they've been forced to isolate away from throughout this crisis. Consider offers that encourage and reward multi-generational travel, girlfriends' getaways, etc. And it will be time to test geo-targeted mobile offers to increase share of wallet for folks already in market once they're traveling again.
- Sell your destination first. Of course, you don't want to think only of the "backyard and bundle" crowd. You also need to cast a wider net. This is a little bit "old school" or "Hospitality Marketing 101," but before guests can choose your hotel, they need to choose your destination. Partner with other local businesses — all of whom will also be looking to dig out — to create videos, content, and offers to help attract travelers to your destination. OTAs have invested heavily in content over the last few years. Don't let them reap the rewards. Instead, demonstrate directly why your destination in special and the right choice for guests venturing out again.
- Keep meta and paid search running later… and right now. Meta and paid search spend automatically declines as demand declines. The single biggest problem at the moment it's that there's limited demand. Shutting off meta and paid search removes you from consideration among anyone even thinking of travel. Or those looking in advance of when they can travel again. It also may hurt your ranking relative to those who've consistently kept their media running even at the lower levels that match current demand. Waiting until the downturn ends might put you at a disadvantage to those who've kept the lights on during the current period… and takes you out of consideration of anyone who needs to travel right now.
As for a big idea: There are two key learnings to take away from COVID-19. One, in times of crisis, guests appreciate flexibility in their plans. Two, hotels depend heavily on revenue that only exists if people are able to come to your building. How can you use digital to integrate those two realities and eliminate risks for both travelers and your bottom line? Can you look at subscription models for your rooms or meeting space to offer guests both flexibility and cost controls, while generating consistent revenue for your property? Amazon Prime, Stitch Fix, Fabletics, and lots of other innovators are using digital subscriptions to drive revenue and loyalty among their customers. Is it time for hotels to learn the lessons from the coronavirus and do the same for guests? Additionally, is it time for hotels to monetize public spaces for virtual events and tours? How can you use digital to provide guests a great experience even when they're not on property?
COVID-19 won't last. And hotels who take action now have greater opportunities to succeed when the eventual rebound occurs. Don't wait for that moment. Take advantage of the time you have now to rethink how you connect with guests… and position yourself for greater success in a post-corona marketplace.