The hospitality industry has adjusted well to the data revolution. Hoteliers rely on data to do everything from setting pricing to predicting occupancy to measuring their success against their competitors. But this year, predicting what the holidays will look like is more a guessing game than a data-fueled exercise since there’s nothing to compare the pandemic against.
Polls can help shed some light. An AHLA poll found that only 29% of Americans are planning to travel around Christmas. This is grim news for an industry that is suffering. The truth is that the holidays feel far off this year, even though they’re right around the corner. With the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 this fall and a vaccine not on the 2020 horizon, many people are either taking a wait-and-see approach to traveling or simply planning to stay home this year in an abundance of caution.
To uncover more insight, we asked some industry experts about their predictions for holiday travel and here’s what he heard:
There is no doubt that there is pent-up travel demand, but there are three factors that the travel industry has to overcome to see this pent-up demand turn into real demand; regulations, fear and finances. Many destinations still have significant restrictions in place that will deter visitors. (I say this as I am coming off my 14-day quarantine in NYC.) Fear of catching COVID or of having plans canceled due to last-minute changes is another inhibiting factor. With unemployment numbers at historic levels, many will have financial concerns, and barring something miraculous, these three aspects will continue to lead to limited demand this holiday season and beyond.
The hotels that will capture this demand will be the hotels that address these issues by creating effective messaging around safety, flexibility, and empathy (showing you understand concerns and are addressing them). Success is not just about messaging but also the operational execution of these messages. The deciding factors for those who are traveling will revolve around safety, flexibility, and empathy, NOT rate. This is why it is so crucial for revenue management, marketing, and operations to be working together to ensure effective and aligned messaging, rates & offers, and operational execution.
Holiday travel is going to be just fine. Or at least not as disastrous as the direst of predictions. We’re all ready to hug the ones we love — and we’re going to figure out the safest way to make that happen. Many of us are willing (and ready) to navigate our elevated risk with the understanding that life is short. Perhaps that fact of life is clearer than ever in 2020 — and that’s why I think many of us will travel to be near the ones that we love. We’ve been apart too long.
Nick Vivion, Principal, Ghost Works Communications
Lives? Or livelihood? Okay, maybe a bit dramatic. So let me ask… Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, what has changed since March? Only that it has become even more abundantly clear a vaccine is required before we are truly safe to again “move about the cabin.” The multitude of webinars in late March/early April presented by hospitality leaders could now be skits on Saturday Night Live. But early on, we all were optimistic, then pivoted quickly to denial; either sufficient facts were not known, or we refused to listen, process and appropriately adapt. Anyway, the global economy depends on travel and tourism, right! Fast forward to September and what else do we know? The lives of guests and employees placed at risk for near-term economic benefits are the very guests and employees who will be vital to recovery once a vaccine is widely available. My prediction for holiday travel? There will be a huge spike in air travel Thanksgiving weekend. COVID-19 reporting will trail, with inaccurate attribution geographically. No matter, as these stats are not likely to dissuade travel between Christmas and New Year’s. Those who travel will do so supported by some form of rationalization. While others demonstrate a willingness to give up what they want now for what they want most. Neither position is right. Or wrong. But each has consequences. And each of us is accountable for the consequences of our actions. To be clear, responsible travel is possible: Stay safe and stay well by driving, choose lodging (if absolutely necessary) that is under-occupied and embraces ALL COVID-19 protocols, mask up and maintain physical distancing. Let’s all be standing (and traveling again) on the other side of this pandemic!
Ed Schwitzky, Founder & Chief Storyteller, EDited mktg