Hoteliers have reopened their doors to a more competitive market than ever before. Travelers are spoiled for choice as every property (no matter what audience they previously catered to) is looking to win their business and keep revenue on the books. It will take a thoughtful approach to your hotel’s marketing plan to entice weary travelers in the era of COVID-19. With their heightened expectations for cleanliness, service, and a good deal in an uncertain economy, is your marketing strategy positioned to succeed?
Here is your new 5 step action plan to marketing during a pandemic.
1. Make decisions based on your market
This may seem obvious, but it’s critical to focus on what’s happening in your immediate area first. As infection rates and government restrictions may be hyper-local in severity, your property may not be as affected by the conditions one city, state, or country away. Start by analyzing forward-looking data regularly to see what business is coming in, and what channels (direct, GDS, OTA, etc.) travelers are using to book accommodations. This will inform your decision making on when and where to spend your marketing dollars.
2. Evaluate what new trends have emerged post-lockdown
In a recent Amadeus survey of global HSMAI members, 38% believe a change in health and safety will be the most significant trend we’ll see during crisis recovery, and a further 47% also see this as the most impactful long-term trend. Looking at how global brands like Hilton, Marriott, and IHG have responded to these concerns with their public “commitment to clean” campaigns, it’s clear this is top of mind for hoteliers and travelers alike.
To emphasize your property’s ability to meet the needs of “Generation Clean,” a new cross-generational segment of travelers with heightened expectations of health and hygiene, make sure your sanitization protocols are included in all of your marketing messaging.
In addition to maintaining cleanliness standards, the practice of social distancing and increasing touchless interactions will be key. As more travelers abandon urban and international escapes in the short-term in favor of staycations and road trips, marketing will play a significant role. Now is the perfect time to highlight your hotel’s unique selling points in a way that will resonate with locals looking for a safe, hassle-free vacation.
Do you manage a small boutique hotel and welcome a limited number of guests? Does your luxury resort own a private beach or have rooms with private plunge pools? Do you have pre-sanitized yoga mats available for the wellness guru or bicycle rentals for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy? Can you deploy robots or set up contactless pick up stations for food and beverage delivery or other amenities? Think about how grateful guests and potential customers would be to learn this level of detail about your on-site experience during the shopping or pre-stay phase. These not only provide extra incentives for guests to book but can bring in more revenue to counteract reductions from other parts of the business where operations may be limited.
3. Update key marketing materials, starting with your website
Your website influences 97% of a client’s purchasing decision, so it’s more important than ever to keep it up to date. Guests want to know if your operating procedures have changed, what amenities and services are still available, and what your booking policies are. Putting this information front and center on your home page will provide peace of mind to shoppers and give them the confidence they need to book.
This is just as important for your hotel’s other marketing and booking channels. Add your hotel’s COVID-19 policies to GDS listings, metasearch sites like TripAdvisor, and all your social media channels. If you generate automated emails pre, during, or post-stay, make sure those include relevant and timely updates, with empathetic language, to inspire repeat business.
4. Think about how to capture demand without lowering rates
In a competitive market with less business to go around, think about how to build a variety of promotions to support your revenue strategy without lowering rates. Since COVID-19 is keeping many leisure travelers close to home, try offering inclusions and bundles to local contacts in your CRM. Incentives like free parking, spa discounts, or a late check out will inspire them to book, while increasing satisfaction and perceived value.
Another way to maximize incremental revenue is through stay-based promotions. Create offers such as “Buy three nights, get one free,” to encourage more extended visits and subsequent revenue opportunities. All the while, emphasize flexibility by waiving cancellation fees to build brand loyalty.
5. Consider long-term ad campaigns to boost brand awareness and visibility
Use any available advertising spend on assets that will convert bookings. This includes pay-per-click (PPC) ads, display, and metasearch ads. With cost-per-click prices lower now as a result of the crisis, it’s the perfect time to invest in longer-term campaigns to maintain your brand awareness before prices rise.
Another top ROI generator is remarketing by using display and social ads to target people who have recently visited your website and engaged with your content. You can also remarket to travelers that cancelled during the crisis to see if they’d like to rebook.
Since 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, use metasearch wisely to drive direct bookings by including quality content such as images, videos, and traveler reviews. Review your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and keywords as well to increase organic search through sites like Google and Bing.
As bookings return, the GDS will be a valuable channel to connect with travel agents and show them why they should choose your property over a competitor’s. Run ads to promote relevant offers like a free breakfast to incentivize bookings or award travel agents with a bonus commission for choosing your hotel.
As the world adapts to life with COVID-19, take time to reflect on what’s working in your marketing plan, what can be improved, and how travelers perceive your messages. Use empathetic language whenever possible. How you interact with consumers during stressful situations can make or break your brand reputation. Be prepared to pivot your plan based on what your data is telling you. Only then will you find an effective marketing mix to win the hearts of travelers.
For more detailed insight into how to build a successful marketing strategy for the future, download our eBook produced in partnership with HSMAI, “Planning for Hospitality Recovery.”