Hoteliers from boutique properties share how they have come up with innovative tech solutions and have shifted social media messaging to connect with guests and encourage business after travel restrictions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have been lifted.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The current pandemic has led to changes in business for the hotel industry, and independent hotels have shifted the way they communicate with guests via social media and other virtual methods to give guests hope and attract business down the line when lockdowns and travel restrictions have lifted.
The Hotel at the University of Maryland is temporarily closed, but has some members of its sales team going on-site to give virtual tours of its meetings and event space, according to Jeff Brainard, VP of sales for Southern Management Corporation’s hospitality division, which manages the hotel.
“Getting people on-site to see the hotel and see the space is a critical part of the booking process,” he said. “We want people comfortable with the amenities, the level of product, the facility itself, where you're going to host your guests, and with the travel restrictions, having people getting comfortable with you on-site (was) basically impossible from mid-March until, you know, pick a date.”
Stacey Johnson, senior sales manager at the Hotel at the University of Maryland, association market, uses the hotel’s new virtual tour technology to show a client meetings and events space at the property. (Photo: The Hotel at the University of Maryland)
The Hotel at the University of Maryland wanted to come up with a solution that was more than uploading videos of the space to the hotel’s website, Brainard said. The technology the hotel is using for virtual tours is “kind of like FaceTime plus” because it allows sales leaders to walk around and talk to the client while giving them a tour of meetings and events space in real time, he said.
After the tour, the client receives a link and a recording of the tour.
“You're not necessarily taking notes (on the) tour, you're actually paying attention to the tour as you would if you were on-site,” Brainard said. “We felt the combination of being able to leverage that technology is the next best thing to an in-person site inspection.”
The hotel hosted its first three virtual tours for wedding-site inspections last week and clients seemed to be pleased with the experience, he added.
The property is using LinkedIn and Facebook to market its virtual tours right now, and the messaging of those social media posts focuses on how the hotel is leveraging technology and looking to the future, Brainard said.
“We've had so much focus on how we're dealing with the COVID-19 thing right now in the day for the day. I felt it’s very important for us to talk about what we're doing when this round of restriction is over,” he said.
The hotel debuted the virtual-tour tool on social media with a message showing the hotel is trying to be innovative, which Brainard sees as a positive message to guests.
“We know business will be back and we want to have business back and make people comfortable planning right now in an uncertain environment,” he said. “We're going to continue to be flexible, we're going to continue to work with clients and groups, but just because they can't be physically on-site doesn't mean you can't see and experience … our spaces and rooms so that they're comfortable with putting their guests with us.”
Social media messaging
The Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Illinois, has always used its social media channels to showcase the persona of the hotel and its team, and the hotel has decided to stick with that message in light of the pandemic to “stay in touch with our guests in an effort to maintain some continuity and a thread of familiar,” Matt Barba, GM at the hotel, said via email.
While Deer Path Inn wants to keep some familiarity with messaging on social platforms, Barba said the hotel has “completely changed course with content.”
“Our account has always infused a little cheek, snark and the unexpected alongside the typical ‘pretty’ and expected hotel imagery, but now we have completely leaned into the cheek and snark,” he said. “We've seen a lot of accounts go dark, some stay active yet sentimental, and others candidly be a little late to modify their content based on the situation at hand. We decided to embrace it, pull back the proverbial curtain while diving deep behind the scenes at the inn and offering some comic relief. We still always ensure that the content remains sensitive to the situation and the news of the day.”
Here's one example of the Deer Path Inn’s current social media messaging from the hotel’s Instagram page.
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Jennifer Jost, director of marketing strategy for Charlestowne Hotels, which manages the Deer Path Inn, said the company is using its social media channels to keep followers informed on cleaning procedures and cancellation policies at its hotels in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are also posting uplifting notes to help guests look forward to and plan travel for the future.
While Charlestowne hasn’t seen many followers on social media reach out about booking future stays just yet, it has received a lot of notes from loyal guests who have left encouraging messaging, which is appreciated and feels very personal, she said.