During the COVID-19 crisis, it is vital for operators and agents in our sector not to lose sight of future recovery.
Consumers are looking for someone to tell them what’s happened; what is being done to fix it; that it won’t go on forever; and what can realistically be done in the meantime.
Your customers want to hear from you. If you share information and facts in real time that will help encourage trust and loyalty. At present, they’re being starved of news other than stories about coronavirus. Meanwhile, with half of the public isolating at home, there’s even less to read or write about.
Businesses across our sector will need to set and follow a consistent, transparent strategy for all communications with the very consumers and buyers we will rely on once we are through this developing situation.
Don’t forget; if we’re confused by the conflicting advice and the situation that changes by the day, consumers are exactly the same. They will appreciate your guidance and your confidence at times like this. Remind them (and yourselves!); we will get through this.
There is inevitably going to be a slow-down in online searches for accommodation while people are effectively confined to their own homes in most countries worldwide – or at the very least, being advised not to go out unless travel is essential. And different countries are treating hotels in different ways: Spain is about to close all hotels, for instance, while in the UK, only key workers and those using the apartment for their primary residence can be accommodated at this time.
However, analytics show there is still a good deal of online search traffic for most forms of accommodation by those doing their research for future travel, whether that’s leisure guests planning holidays or corporate clients planning assignments.
We have reported in the past that the average lead time between booking a reservation and a guest’s arrival date has for a while sat at around three months. And worldwide, many government departments are currently looking between an optimistic three weeks and as much as 90 days for the pandemic to continue to affect public behaviour. So we should look to those people already planning future travel as part of our recovery strategy.
We need to be catching the eye of those people now – but set strategy around flexibility when it comes to re-booking and cancellations, should the situation go on longer than hoped.
Social media and web
Your social media channels offer a fast, cost-effective and accessible way to reach, entertain and reassure future guests, and set your messaging without inundating them with constant emails. If you have in-house employees responsible for your social media, allow them to be creative – within your brand guidelines – and never forget that people have 24/7 access to social media and getting a message shared with the wider industry can make your brand take off exponentially.
Meanwhile your social media can also inform the corporate buyer or travel manager that you’re taking every piece of advice with the utmost professional consideration, understanding and complying with every new development, and that you’ll be hitting the ground running and when restrictions are lifted.
Your website is obviously an entire shop window for what you’re doing. If you need messaging to be constantly updated, you can set landing pages with latest news, or have areas of your site that you update regularly. People may be overwhelmed by the barrage of information they’re receiving from everywhere – make sure yours is the latest, clearest and most credible.
Encouraging a feeling of security
Advice for the whole hospitality sector should include looking for ways to reduce, or even waive, penalties for cancellation, or to offer different options such as changing bookings to future dates, or accruing credits towards them, to encourage travel buyers and guests to feel secure in making forward bookings. And while this is tricky and affect cashflow and planning, it will put your brand in a good light.
If any of your properties are currently closed, make sure that is clear across all your online and telephone channels – ideally with messaging saying it is temporarily closed in line with government advice, but that you’re optimistic about opening as soon as official clearance and public and staff safety allow.
Connecting with your locality
Put some focus on domestic travellers looking for staycations, and short leisure stays. We are told many airlines will struggle to stay afloat, and the climate change emergency is pushing many travellers away from long haul, so take advantage of reconnecting with your very local and national consumers looking to stay in their own country.
Remind them – or be a pioneer, for those unaware of our sector as yet – that serviced apartments and aparthotels are ideal for professionals, couples and families looking for the freedom of flexible space that comes with self-catering and laundry facilities. Target your messaging appropriately to different groups. Some may appreciate not having to leave a room with children while housekeeping comes in, others may like the ability to stock the fridge with Prosecco, rather than raiding a hotel minibar!
And remind your own country’s travel buyers and agents that your accommodation is ideal for their employees on longer stays or looking to add a ‘bleisure’ element to their work trip. The whole world is much more aware now of personal hygiene in the wake of COVID-19. If your apartments offer washing machines and dishwashers, for instance, those have to be flagged up as an ideal offering for tip-top health, along with kitchens that save them being forced to mix with others in order to eat.
Feeling a bit inactive?
Don’t forget that, following periods of forced inactivity in many countries, people will be more than ready to explore the outside world, so concentrate on the area your property is set and promote that.
Is it based in an historical city, on wild moorland, or a stylish waterfront? And try connecting with outdoor activity businesses operating in your area. Packages that offer outdoor or cultural activities could become a new offering for your brand. Get creative with those solutions – even ask the public what they’d like you to offer, and reward them for their ideas. Is it pamper packages or Couch-to-5k that matters to them? You might just find a brilliant new route to market.
Meanwhile we’ve written for years now about executive burn-out for professionals living away from home for some time and constantly ‘on duty’. These people too need access to engaging downtime activities – and if your accommodation offers on-site gym or spa facilities, again, this is worth focusing on for the buyer looking out for employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.
Keep on communicating!
Everyone’s inbox is crammed with messages about the virus – the latest official advice, the latest figures, the latest horror stories – lots of bad stuff. And as a serviced apartment professional, your past and future guests would expect you to be doing everything you can to keep them and your staff safe – this is pretty much a given, and not really news.
If you’re sharing official reports and advice, by all means include summaries of these and links to external stories. Some people may find this hugely important and very helpful, and be grateful; but others will already be swamped by everything.
What will be personally engaging and an antidote to a lot of the lock-down news will be up-beat and unique content from your brand itself.
Comments and pictures from staff members about looking forward to the summer, how they’re finding creative ways to stave off boredom, your CEO’s Dog Blog or Cat Chat, ideas you’ve had about how to make a guest stay better, or quotes from regular visitors – contact some of your past guests you had good feedback from, and see whether you can start up some kind of regular communications channel with them.
Good news about your brand makes it easier for travel buyers to promote work trips to employees, so build relationships with the agents and corporate buyers – they’ll pay off in the long run!
And finally .. brush your hair!
Alistair Campbell, advisor to previous UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, recently wrote very wisely about how to present yourself and your message during crises. And one part of that was, if you’re appearing before cameras of any sort, to pay attention to being professional and calm at all times.
Even if you’re not putting out public videos, your team may be communicating via one of the many online sharing platforms, which allow as many as thousands of people on one call at a time.
So make sure spokespeople for your business who are appearing on camera remain professional and credible – no pyjamas, no comedy backgrounds, and a tidy appearance, will count for much – and avoid your video going viral, for all the wrong reasons!
When stories are in short supply – create them! There are football teams giving free tickets to frontline healthcare workers for when the season starts again, and one of our own Members is offering free stays to NHS staff. It doesn’t have to be anything major or dramatic; but if you can find a way to make news, especially if it makes a difference at this time, tell us about it. Please let us know – contact Becky in the communications team here.