COVID-19 vaccines offer hope for the hotel industry in 2021
2020 was an incredibly busy year for hoteliers. Despite the fact that most hoteliers saw fewer guests last year than usual due to travel restrictions and shelter-in-place mandates, hoteliers worked overtime, and often with skeleton teams. They partnered with their local tourism bureaus to understand travel guidelines to their destination. They installed new signage to ensure social distancing. They rearranged furniture to avoid having groups congregating. They rethought their amenities and repurposed meeting space. They installed plexiglass in lobbies to protect front-desk staff. They helped guests cancel reservations and meeting planners reschedule events. And, even though the energy spent didn’t translate to dollars earned, it was amazing to see the agility and resilience of the industry. As we move into the new year, COVID-19 vaccines offer hope for the hotel industry in 2021.
Today, according to Bloomberg, “the biggest vaccination campaign in history has begun. More than 68.1 million doses in 56 countries have been administered. The latest rate was roughly 3.44 million doses a day, on average.” While it’s too soon to truly know when it will be safe to travel again, most experts think late summer or early fall is possible, although things won’t feel normal for quite some time. (I hope you love that mask!) But this is great news for an industry that was brought to its knees by the pandemic a year ago and had no visibility around when it would end.
One thing we know to be true is that people are ready to travel again. Survey data collected between January 22nd and January 24th by Destination Analysts reveal strong pent-up travel demand, with two-thirds of those whose typical travel patterns were altered by the pandemic saying they miss traveling “very much,” and now 22.2% of them saying they are going to travel more in 2021 to make up for a lost time—up from 18.6% last week. Meanwhile, 50.9% confirm they will return to their pre-pandemic levels of traveling. In fact, in the last week alone, 38.7% day-dreamt about leisure travel, 30.3% talked about travel with friends or relatives and 27.0% researched travel ideas online.
So with good news on the horizon, we wanted to reflect on the last year and share four things that we witnessed in 2020 that had us cheering from the sidelines because it showed that the travel industry was going to survive this disaster and be stronger because of it.
Hoteliers Changed Policies to Meet Guests Where They Were
One bright side of the pandemic is that hoteliers were forced to examine their policies through a new, customer-focused lens. They knew that to drive bookings during the pandemic, they would need to be as flexible as possible. This resulted in an almost universal change to cancelation policies which allowed guests to book their reservations ‘worry-free.’ This change resulted in a lot of goodwill from guests that saw the industry trying to do right by its customers.
Moving forward, we hope that customers remember the ease with which hotels allowed them to cancel plans and will choose to book directly with hotels on their next stay. Direct bookings are the most cost-effective booking and hotels that can drive their OTA business direct stand to drive far more revenue than those with lots of OTA bookers.
To continue to drive direct bookings in 2021, hoteliers should focus on their past guests, especially OTA bookers, and ensure that they book direct next time with special offers and promotions for booking with the hotel. Even if they’re unable to collect a valid ID during the stay, the OTA alias email address such as Booking.com or Expedia is valid for 30 days after the stay, so hoteliers can send an OTA win-back campaign to encourage the direct booking with incentives such as free upgrades or spa credit, for example.
Hoteliers Continued to Engage Guests
Even when it was clear that no one would be booking travel, Revinate customers kept their connection with customers. They shared their favorite lobby playlist, they provided their famous cocktail recipe and they posted updates from staff about what was happening in the local area. These emails kept the hotel top of mind with past guests and let them know how much they were missed.
The Betsy in South Beach sent a fun email about a virtual pizza making class and even invited local Miami residents to pick up a pizza-making kit for just $17. The email focused solely on this special event and didn’t even try to drive a booking. It positioned the hotel as friendly and accessible and undoubtedly raised some spirits during the pandemic.
To continue that goodwill into 2021, hoteliers should begin a regular email cadence with guests again. They should ensure the content is personalized for the recipient and reflects the state of travel to the destination. Looking for inspiration? Check out these examples.
Hoteliers Focused on Their Local Segments
When international borders closed and people were asked to avoid traveling between states, hotels got savvy. They knew that there was still an opportunity to drive bookings from local guests so they segmented their database and began campaigns targeted at their drive-to traffic. They promoted staycations and workstations and focused on this new, local traveler.
Brasada Ranch, for example, focused on local families. Knowing that families were trying to juggle WFH with distance learning, they promoted an after-school kids program and an office away from home. Resplendent Ceylon in Sri Lanka was forced to change its marketing strategy when the pandemic forced the country to close its borders. Chamindra Goonewardene, Director of Sales and Marketing, says, “Being able to market our experiences to our database of past customers has allowed us to avoid discounting, which is common in down markets. Instead, we have developed incredible packages at each resort and are able to add value with our wellness offerings, private dining, early check-in, and late check-out. These promotions have been resonating with our local guests.”
Segmenting by geo-location is easy in Revinate Marketing. Simply use the geolocation feature to create segments based on guest location information found in your PMS or uploaded contact lists. In creating your segments select the parameter Guest Location. Then choose from the first menu of options to distinguish if the location desired is within, is beyond, is in or is not in. For locations using the option is within or is beyond. Enter in a distance and select if the distance is measured in miles or kilometers.
Even when borders open back up, geolocation is a great segment to target for long weekends, staycations, and local promotions.
Hoteliers Used Their Down Time Wisely
With hotels at minimum capacity, hoteliers used the downtime to focus on their database and prepare for travel to return. We witnessed many hoteliers cleansing their database–a task that’s important, but often gets lost in the day-to-day shuffle. They looked for duplicate contacts, cleared out non-engaged emails, and made sure entries were as clean as they could be. They also created new segments (women traveling alone on Valentine’s Day, for example) and dreamed up campaigns for 2021.
If you didn’t get around to cleaning your database, don’t fret. Revinate recently announced a new feature that takes the manual work out of database cleanup. Advanced Profile Synthesis is an AI and machine learning process that automatically and continuously cleanses, deduplicates, synthesizes, and merges guest profiles across all your hotels. Best of all, it’s included with Revinate Marketing. That means that while you’re taking care of customers, your data is being cleaned in the background. It’s a huge time saver and will lead to more accurate segments and more revenue.
Now, let’s focus on the future!
With the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out internationally, it’s time for the hotel industry to look towards the future and kick-start campaigns for the summer and beyond. Because timing can be murky and you may see cancelations, it’s best to focus on your most cost-effective channel, email.
Of the various digital marketing strategies available, email has proven most effective for customer acquisition, awareness, retention and conversion. With over 70 percent of Internet users preferring email correspondence with businesses, it’s not difficult to see how this marketing channel can benefit hoteliers. Add in the fact that hospitality emails show the highest open rates from consumers, and you’ve got a winning tactic for increased customer engagement.
Ready to learn more about Revinate’s marketing and hotel CRM solutions for the hospitality industry? Book a meeting and learn how we can help you rebound from 2020 and drive more direct revenue than you ever thought possible in 2021.