Do you ever feel like time can go by at different speeds? While on vacation, an entire week may go by in a few hours, whereas, at work, a bad day can sometimes feel interminable. This is often described as the elasticity of time, which is strictly a matter of perception: your brain either produces stimulants, which cause an overestimation of the flow of time, or depressants/anesthetics which have the opposite effect. However, in the last few months, it seems like this feeling took a literal turn.
The COVID-19 outbreak warped the concept of time, both subconsciously and literally. Early 2020 already feels like a decade ago, not only because we perceive it that way, but also because the world underwent changes that normally unfold over multiple years, not months. This swift and global shift took everyone aback and forced every company to enact concrete adaptation measures. In the process, the deck has been reshuffled and redistributed, which leaves room for opportunities in many industries. Hospitality is no exception.
In this article, we will analyze how the COVID-19 pandemic casted doubt on many of the agreed-upon principles in the travel industry. In this new, uncharted territory, we will explore reflection paths that pave the way to success. For every suggestion, we will put forth a checklist of measures you can adopt to work towards that goal. Finally, we will try to paint a picture of what the hospitality market w-ill look like in the years to come.
Back to the drawing board
The last few months made a clean sweep of the past decades of hotel strategies. As of today, almost all of the experience acquired during these years has become nothing more than castles in the air. While it can be frustrating to dismiss such hard-earned and valuable insights, it can also be invigorating to start anew. By elaborating the right strategy, you can reopen your hotel on rock-solid ground and differentiate yourself from the competition. While doing so, it is paramount to stay in the right mindset:
- Stay as open to new/disruptive ideas as possible
- Remain optimistic and confident that you are going to make it through this crisis
Once you manage to achieve this kind of agile thinking and glass-half-full mentality, akin to the startup mindset, you can start working your way to the top.
The next step is to start building this strategy. Ever since the pandemic hit the reset button in the travel industry, a wide array of matters have been climbing up hoteliers' to-do lists. Between cleaning protocols, marketing solutions, and new technologies it can be hard to evaluate which qualifies as the most pressing concern. In the next lines, we list our suggestions on what should be your top priorities to ensure the continued and long-term success of your hotel.
Invest in your digital future
Digitalization has been a recurring issue in the hospitality industry for a few years now. In the past, hotels have chosen to delegate this key strategic concern to other actors, such as Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and Review platforms, which in turn took control of the online hospitality world. Most hotels have, since then, recognized the value of having a far-reaching digital presence, notably in order to boost their direct bookings.
Since the COVID-19 hit, digital booking has become an even bigger part of the overall volume. As we see physical travel agencies closing one after the other, it is easy to understand that the already declining traditional ways to book hotel rooms are now doomed. Eventually, digitalization will take over the whole hotel booking market. In order to take advantage of this new status-quo, you should absolutely pull every string you can to optimize your hotel's digital presence. We listed a few tips below on how to improve on that particular issue:
- Have a regular digital media schedule: Dedicate some time every day to posting content online. Use a social media scheduler to improve efficiency and save time.
- Look after your customers and let their opinions shine online: Get listed on review websites and social media to improve your online reputation.
- Diversify your online distribution channels: Even though OTAs' conditions are less than ideal, it is still important to be present in many of them to optimize your hotel's online presence. This kind of window can be a gateway to more profitable selling platforms, particularly your own website. Indeed, almost half of the users that see your hotel on OTAs check your website for more information and possibly secure better deals.
- Invest in your own website: Far too often hotels neglect the importance of a visually pleasing and efficient website. Aim to have a well-organized platform, with the right tools and pictures, that ultimately convince your users to stay at your hotel. All the investment put into enhancing your online reputation is hardly ever wasted.
- Work on a direct booking strategy: In line with the last recommendation, having good incentives for users to book directly on your website can significantly increase your margins. Make sure you have an efficient conversion funnel and let your clients know the best way to book is
Rethink your marketing strategy
In the last few years, outbound marketing (looking for clients outside of your current guest database) has seldom been a priority for hotels. Especially online, where the competition with OTAs is fierce, marketing can feel like throwing pebbles at a tank: a waste of time, energy, and money. Moreover, hotels could often take advantage of other tactics to bring in customers, such as word of mouth, loyalty programs, and business partnerships.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken away the desire of many people to travel and stay at hotels, which caused the hotel customers base to drastically shrink. In order to refill this clientele, hoteliers need to go back to basics and seek to make people want to travel again. This is no small task in today's world. But with the right message, directed to the right people, hotels can start rebuilding guests' trust and the ascending path. Here are some of the ways you can prepare your new hotel marketing strategy:
- Work on your own digital marketing campaigns: Contrary to popular belief, it is far from impossible to outbid OTAs in the online advertising playing field. By targeting the right audience, through a wide range of channels (social media, search engines, …), you will likely drive significant and qualitative traffic to your hotel's website. Make sure to also take advantage of all the different options offered by these mediums, such as remarketing, qualified audience ads, etc. If you do not have a dedicated marketing person and/or are unfamiliar with these kinds of campaigns, you can try collaborating with a digital agency or take tips from more experienced hoteliers.
- Find the right message for your audience: In the post-COVID-19 hotel world, it is paramount to communicate the appropriate marketing message to your potential clients. Its content will depend on your hotel's strategic positioning but will likely include words on safety and inspiring sentences to restore your clients' desire to travel.
- Establish synergies with other businesses: This kind of extraordinary situation calls for all businesses to collaborate. This could mean establishing partnerships and packages with local restaurants, fitness clubs, and spa institutes, … You can also consider sharing your customer database and starting joint marketing campaigns to promote said packages.
- Take advantage of tourism promotion initiatives: Many countries stepped up in the face of the crisis and launched programs to promote national tourism. Check out what your country has to offer and try to be included in this communication.
Make bold moves toward innovation
As we have seen, the global hotel customer base was significantly reduced by the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to stand out from the competition, your hotel needs to show how it differentiates itself for the better. Aside from outpacing the competition in the marketing and digital fields, you can also distinguish your hotel by implementing innovative solutions and strategies.
Innovation is often a gamble, as new solutions are not widespread and it is impossible to say with full assurance that the idea will pay off in the long run. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak triggered the great reset, now is the best time to take risks. Indeed, it is a level playing field where nobody knows for sure what shape the future will take. One of many particularly disruptive solutions could be the difference your hotel needs to fit into this new environment. Let us take a look at some of the latest trends and innovative systems in the post-COVID-19 hospitality market:
- Adopt touchless technology: Ever since the COVID-19 started spreading, contactless technology has experienced a big boom. Some areas of the hotel experience, such as reception and room service, have been made contactless in order to avoid the spread of the virus. This kind of innovation can be a great selling point when promoting your hotel.
- Optimize your revenue with day-use services:
Let your guests book around the clock and open your hotel to local guests for ancillary services. One way for hotels to reinvent themselves is through the provision of new services. With lower international tourist activity, hotels need to cater to a different kind of clientele (especially locals) who is looking for a different kind of services. For example, these customers could be interested in booking a room only for a few hours to turn it into a home office. They could also be interested in booking only some of the services your hotel offers (SPA, fitness, parking, …). Try diversifying your array of services in order to optimize your revenue and serve more customers.
- Put the guest at the center of your strategy: Personalization has long been a burning topic in the hospitality industry. And for good reason: listening to your guests and adapting your services accordingly, can do wonders to differentiate yourself from the competition and to build customer loyalty. Since the climate in the post-COVID hotel industry remains uncertain, trusting your guests on key issues such as room pricing can give you a head start.
- Stay on the lookout for new trends: As things are evolving very fast amidst the pandemic, it is important to keep your ear to the ground for upcoming technologies.
The future of Hospitality and parting words
In this article, we saw how the COVID-19 tsunami wiped out a lot of the old ways of thinking about hotel strategies. In the face of one of the biggest crises in recent memory, the hospitality market needs to rethink how it operates and build anew. We suggested a few pathways hotels can take to start thriving in this brand-new world. In the long run, hoteliers will need to adapt to fit the new status-quo and forgo any hope of going back to "normal". The expression "new normal" is being thrown around a lot lately, echoing that feeling. However, the new normal in the hotel industry is not what we are currently experiencing: it is what hoteliers choose to do with what they are being given. Aim to be part of this new normal by thinking like a visionary and making bold moves to adapt your hotel's strategy.
As closing thoughts, I would like to quote Andy Grove, founder of Intel, who said in 1994: "bad companies are destroyed by a crisis, good companies survive the crisis, but great companies are defined by a crisis". Make sure your hotel is part of the latter.