Guest behavior is changing rapidly in response to COVID-19. Fortunately, digital tools help us understand and respond to those changes in real time.
In a previous column, I wrote about how you can use digital to do the heavy lifting for your property during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given all the changes we’ve seen in just the last few months, it’s entirely fair for you to say, “Great, how do you do that in practice?”
The key is to use digital to gather data about what’s important to guests and then to use that information to create helpful content that attracts interest and action among potential travelers. As my friend Mark Schaefer says in his “Pandemic Business Strategy Playbook”: “If you’re not absolutely relevant to the world as it is right now, simply putting your business online … isn’t going to help the situation.” The current moment demands that we focus ruthlessly on relevance for guests.
It shouldn’t surprise you that your guests are not asking questions like “where is the best beach vacation?” Their concerns rightly focus on health, safety, cost and flexibility, more than anything.
The way guests use digital in their lives tells us. Simple, low-cost (and sometimes free) tools like the Google Ads Keyword tool, AnswerThePublic, BuzzSumo and SocialMention help your marketing team stay up to date on the questions your guests have. For instance, we’re seeing significant interest in queries like “countries open for tourism,” “coronavirus travel advice,” and “coronavirus travel restrictions.”
Terms in the set we’re watching have hit their highest levels since mid-March. There has been massive growth in terms related to “travel insurance” and “refunds” related to hotels and travel. As much as I rant about the risks Google poses to the travel industry—and believe me, I will again—the data they make available provides crucial insights to help you understand guest desires. Of course, your guests also want a great experience at a fun destination. They also need reassurance that they’re not going to get sick while enjoying their trip.
Most hotels aren’t doing enough to provide that reassurance on their websites and social media pages.
The worries your guests have—and the content they need to address those worries—can be largely grouped around a small handful of concerns:
- Safety. Are there any travel bans or advisories in place for your market? Are COVID-19 cases falling or rising in your community? Provide information or link to public health resources that help guests understand and navigate the current situation in your market. Highlight how you’re sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces in your guest rooms and public spaces. Help guests see that they can travel to your destination and property safely—assuming that it is safe for them to do so—and you’ll improve the likelihood that they will do that.
- Money. With unemployment at or near record highs—and true recovery still sometime in the future—your guests are keeping an eye on their expenses. That along with restrictions on travel are forcing many guests to stay closer to home. That’s key to why I recommend a “backyard and bundle” approach to marketing your hotel. Start by creating packages that emphasize value without explicitly cutting rate. Look at offering value-adds such as “3-for-2-night” or “4-for-3-night” stays with resort, restaurant and F&B credits, or partnering with others in your market to create packages that provide guests great value no matter what they have to spend. Then, make sure you promote those packages with content on your website and social media presence. Chain properties must work with your regional and corporate marketing teams to promote these packages and to encourage direct bookings.
- Flexibility. Just like you, guests face massive uncertainty in their lives. Address their concerns. Make your cancel and refund policies clear and, ideally, flexible to increase guest interest in your hotel. Also look for ways to drive new business from guests whose prior travel plans no longer make sense during a pandemic. For instance, many couples have been forced to alter wedding or honeymoon plans. International travelers can’t choose their preferred destination. Think about ways you can accommodate these needs—“honeymoon near home”?—and then promote those as distinct offerings to attract potential travelers to your property.
We’re a few months into this pandemic and its related shutdowns, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. Guest behaviors change rapidly in response to news about the virus. But your marketing team can utilize simple, low-cost digital tools to stay up to date on the questions your guests have. Your team can use those insights to provide clear answers to those guest questions—and drive guest interest in your property. Do you want digital to do your heavy lifting and help your property survive these trying times? Then you must let it do its job for your property and, more importantly, for your guests.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concern.