By now, the reality of what we are facing has set in and COVID-19 is part of our everyday lives. Schools are closed. Non-essential workers are staying home. Businesses are boarded up. And, many hotels that have never locked their doors have closed until demand returns. While we all wish we could see into the future, the truth is that no one yet knows when things will return to normal. But here are eight predictions we are making, based on expert guidance, past experience and gut instinct.
Corporate travel restrictions will remain in place, even when the government relaxes the shelter-in-place directive
Skift recently published poll results from the Global Business Travel Association that state that 40 percent of companies are unsure when business travel will resume. Federal governments are eager to get economies working again but it’s still too soon to say whether social distancing has curbed the COVID-19 threat to our healthcare infrastructure. But, all signs point to restrictions being relaxed in democratic nations before we’re out of the woods. Trump, for example, said that he would like businesses in the US to resume on Easter, although medical experts warned it’s too early.
But companies won’t return to business as usual as soon as restrictions are relaxed. We expect that only critical travel will resume and employees will need multiple levels of approval before they can book trips. We saw this following 9/11 and the SARS scare. Employers are protective of their employees and will err on the side of caution before allowing them to travel as before.
Loyalty will be tested
When hotels began releasing information to the public about their COVID-19 policies, loyalty members took to social media to praise (or lament) their brand of choice. Most were looking for flexibility in spending their points and wanted date extensions for tier qualifications. Not all brands had answers.
While criticism from loyalty members might appear tone-deaf in a time with an uncontrollable virus around the globe, it’s a good reminder about the importance of contingency planning and staying engaged with your best customers. If you can keep them close during a disaster, they will be there for you when things bounce back.
With lower occupancy, you also have an opportunity to focus even more on the guest experience. Maybe try some things on-property that you normally wouldn’t have time or resources to execute.
Cleaning standards will change and hotels will market cleanliness
Guests booking hotel rooms will want assurances that hotels are clean and safe. We expect that hotels will put more emphasis on keeping public spaces clean and will actively market their cleaning procedures to their guests.
Before COVID-19, an unsanitized remote control was gross. Today it is a deadly weapon.
Guests will spend more time in rooms and less time in public spaces
Over the past decade, many hotels have adapted to how millennials prefer to work, creating public working spaces for the generation that loves to be social and surround themselves with others.
When people begin traveling again, we expect them to once again spend more time in their rooms versus hanging out in the lobby or bar. Feeling safe in crowded spaces will take some time.
Many events will move online, for good
Trade shows and events are being canceled or postponed across the board. We expect to see fewer conferences and events over the next couple of years as people become more comfortable working and learning from home. ZDNet is tracking event cancellations and it’s clear that many companies are rethinking their event strategy in light of COVID-19. Perhaps we will see smaller regional events coupled with online events but we will be surprised if large-scale events take place in 2020 or even 2021 for that matter.
Reviews guidelines will cover COVID-19 accusations
On March 20th, Yelp’s founder and CEO issued a statement saying, “We’ve also implemented special review content guidelines to protect local businesses from reputational harm related to these extraordinary circumstances. For example, we have zero tolerance for any claims in reviews of contracting COVID-19 from a business or its employees, or negative reviews about a business being closed during what would be their regular open hours in normal circumstances.”
We expect other review sites and OTAs to follow suit and ensure that hotels and restaurants aren’t unduly punished for incidents beyond their control.
Consumers may temporarily turn to AirBnB due to social distancing concerns
When people begin to travel again, they may opt for private AirBnB homes rather than hotels, which ensure they will come into contact with other travelers. For weeks, we have been warned to distance ourselves from other people and it’s going to be hard to feel safe in crowded spaces for a while.
Treatment of employees may play a role in consumer spend
One side effect of COVID-19 is that the plight of hourly workers was thrust into the public’s view. As consumers, we received letter after letter from restaurants, hotels and businesses talking about their response to the pandemic. Many notes described how businesses are taking care of their workers. Here’s an example excerpt from a small restaurant chain, Mixt:
- We have reinforced to our team members the importance of staying home if they are showing any signs of illness. This is already a standard operating procedure for our company, but it is being amplified. To support this, MIXT provides paid sick leave to all employees accruing from day one of employment.
- In line with our core beliefs, MIXT sponsors health insurance and One Medical benefits for all employees. Over 70% of our team members elected health insurance coverage through our plan which gives them access to the Aetna network.
As we learn about skyrocketing unemployment and workers being laid off and/or furloughed, will consumers choose to spend their money with employers that take care of their workers during hard times? While layoffs are inevitable in times like these, how employees are treated will be watched closely from the sidelines.
For more insights like these, please visit our new coronavirus resource center. We’re here to help you develop strategies to move forward in uncertain times.