As lockdowns start to lift, hotel bookings are beginning to pick up. Despite ongoing COVID concerns, people are eager to venture out again and this is very good news—as long as travel is managed responsibly, with effective preventative measures in place.
A recent Revinate survey found that 73 percent of global respondents plan to travel within the next year, with 70 percent expecting to engage in domestic travel first.
With positive signs now visible, lodging operators can look forward to and plan for increasing occupancy rates with more confidence.
However, we must also remember that while international travel is still on pause, the pool of travel consumers is much smaller. A hotel’s success during the recovery phase ahead will largely depend on their ability to adapt to the domestic market and to stay visible and relevant as the situation evolves.
Target domestic travelers
We recently wrote about marketing hotel stays to domestic travelers in the wake of COVID-19. In addition to making precautionary measures (sanitization and social distancing protocols) clear to customers, hotels can attract local and domestic guests by focusing on the kind of experiences that people are craving right now.
Looking to escape the pressures of daily life in a pandemic, travelers will seek accommodation that makes them feel safe so that they can relax a little in new surroundings away from crowds. They will be looking for conveniences, luxuries, and special moments they don’t have at home. So find your niche (outdoor adventure? Wellness retreat? Romantic interlude? Family fun?…), collaborate with like-minded local businesses, and package experiences that your domestic target market(s) can’t resist. Capitalize on existing demand by providing incentives to increase length of stay, for example free upgrades or extras.
Review distribution mix
As the bookings start to come in again, pay attention to where they are coming from. Focus on the distribution channels that are driving the highest ROI. Channels that historically brought in a large proportion of international bookings might not work so well for your property right now. Consider buying ads in price-comparison searches through metasearch brands such as Google Hotel Ads, TripAdvisor and Trivago to capture travel consumers with high intent—and their data.
You may find that direct bookings are increasing. This makes sense during a time when many cautious travelers seek reassurance through contacting the hotel directly. Run with it. Invest in your direct booking strategy to grow a loyal customer base and to help your bottom line by cutting commission costs.
Reinvest in SEM
SEM (search engine marketing) is key to any direct online strategy. Using paid search advertising to increase your property’s website visibility on search engine results pages, SEM is a great way to reach new customers while reducing acquisition costs.
The most popular paid search method is PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. PPC ads only appear when relevant searches are made, delivering qualified traffic directly to your website. Ad text can be updated instantly, allowing you to change the message customers see in real time.
Keep an eye on market data and your own booking data to identify demand trends and target those who are traveling. Use PPC remarketing to re-engage potential customers who have previously visited your property’s website but didn’t make a booking.
Keep in touch with email
Until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available, wariness will continue to surround travel so it will be important for lodging providers to maintain clear and open lines of communication with customers. Automated emails make it easy to deliver relevant, personalized messages to individuals at key touchpoints.
During these uncertain times, email marketing campaigns should focus on keeping customers informed about the protocols the hotel has adopted to keep guests and staff safe, any positive changes such as sustainability and community initiatives, as well as flexible cancellation policies and value-added promotions.
Target past customers and those with cancelled bookings due to COVID-19 with enticing offers to rebook.
Make sure you are taking advantage of your property management system’s automated email functionality, or consider integrating your PMS with your CRM for highly targeted data-driven messaging.
Take advantage of social media
Social distancing has turned more and more people to social media to stay connected, informed, entertained and inspired. From organic posts to paid ads, social media is a cost-effective marketing platform that offers highly targeted reach.
Things can change rapidly during a pandemic, including hotel protocols and offerings, and social media is a great way to share up-to-the-minute information with followers. The fleeting nature of ephemeral posts like Instagram and Facebook stories, which are only visible for 24 hours (unless saved), makes content inherently authentic and spontaneous and can create stronger relationships with your customers. Ephemeral content also relays a sense of urgency for viewers to act quickly and respond to the content while it’s still available.
Blogging is also a great way to keep customers informed of the travel climate in your area and can help improve SEO too. For social media messaging and blog post topic ideas during COVID-19, read our recent article on the topic, much of which is still relevant even as various areas begin to emerge from the worst of the pandemic.
As travel consumer confidence starts to grow and local bookings start to pick up, now is a good time to think about restarting your Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns. Allowing you close control over your advertising budget and target audiences, social media ads are a cost-effective way to reach your property’s ideal customers.
Experiment with video
Confined by lockdowns and travel bans, many of us have enjoyed “traveling” online via video these past few months. Video immerses viewers in an experience and is an effective way to re-inspire travel consumers.
Make sure brand marketing videos are up to date and relevant to your location’s current COVID climate. For example, while social distancing regulations and decontamination protocols are in effect, avoid promoting videos that show crowded events and buffet tables.
Consider experimenting with different video formats for new, refreshing and memorable ways to connect with future guests. Two noteworthy video trends are live videos and 360º / VR videos, which can be used on Facebook, Instagram (within Instagram Stories), and Twitter.
Going live may seem scary because mistakes can’t be edited out, but viewers will be able to connect to the authenticity of a behind-the-scenes video featuring your property and staff, whether or not there’s one or two bloopers. Additionally, your audience can react to and comment on your content in real time, allowing you to personally and directly address their feedback and thoughts. 360º / VR videos offer an equally immersive experience where guests can move the video’s point of view around and see their surroundings like they would in real life.
Manage online reputation closely
Online reputation is critical as the travel industry emerges from the pandemic. Extra vigilant travelers will be keeping a watchful eye on hotel cleanliness and preventative measures in place. They’ll also be extra sensitive to shortcomings and will feel it is their duty to warn other travelers online by writing a bad review.
Going forward, it will be crucial for hotels to implement and successfully manage visible sanitization and physical distancing protocols. And it will also be important to actively seek feedback from guests to both improve the guest experience and strengthen your online reputation.
Use automated check-out or post-stay emails/text messages to not only thank the guest but to ask them to write a review if they enjoyed their stay, providing a direct link to your property’s listing on your preferred review platform. Invite guests to contact the hotel manager directly if they were not satisfied with their stay so that their negative experience can be rectified.
As the travel industry navigates a “new normal” it will be important to keep a close eye on guest feedback online, responding quickly to any negative reviews. An automated reputation management solution like Revinate or BlueJay Reviews allows you to monitor and manage your property’s reviews from all over the web in one convenient place. For further guidance on managing and responding to online reviews, read this guest post from our partner BlueJay Reviews.
Make sure to share positive guest feedback on your website and social media channels to help reassure future guests. Social proof is one of your most influential marketing assets.
Keep your hotel website up to date
While the virus is still at large, uncertainty will surround travel. It will be important to closely maintain your property’s website to inform and reassure potential guests of your property’s current operational status and preventative measures, as well as special offers, cancellation policies, and safe local experiences.
Producing content that addresses your potential guests’ questions about your property’s COVID-19 status and policies (including adding a COVID-19 statement to your website, updating your FAQs and blogging regularly) will provide customers with the information they are searching for right now and will also help improve SEO.
As previously mentioned, now’s the time to push your direct booking strategy to boost consumer confidence and support your bottom line. Be sure to highlight direct booking perks on your website and offer customers an intuitive, secure direct online booking process.
While international and—in many countries—regional travel restrictions remain in place, travel demand will be limited. The goal for hotels is to increase their share of existing demand. Going forward, keep a close eye on where bookings are coming from, how your different channels and campaigns are performing, and what your competitors are doing. As travel continues to open up, adapt your strategy accordingly to remain visible, relevant and competitive.