The hospitality industry has been accommodating guests since time immemorial, and whatever the outcome of this current COVID-19 outbreak on the world economy, people will always need to travel and will need somewhere to stay.
I have every confidence in the industry itself, and in our own serviced apartment sector within it, to bounce back, to weather this storm and help on the global road to recovery in its wake.
Hospitality makes up, after all, one of the world’s biggest employers, and the people within it are resilient, well-trained and professional. And while many are finding their position in doubt, some are already finding at least temporary relief work in other industries, for those very reasons. We have ourselves today posted a story about a major UK retailer fast-tracking ex-hospitality workers into their vacancies, because they recognise the skills and attributes they will bring to their own business.
In the meantime, as a sector, we need to remain strong, collaborative and find a way through this, so we come out the other side even stronger. And a major part of that is how we treat our customers, our guests, so we bring them with us.
My first piece of advice is to keep communicating clearly and honestly with consumers. The messaging coming from governments around the world is often confusing, partly as nobody can really predict accurately what is coming next. But being transparent, at least as much as is practicable and in everyone’s interest, is a must. We can’t be seen as profiteering, panicking, confused or taking guests for granted. Keep updating those who have already made bookings on what the latest advice is around health and travel, inform them of cancellation policies but reassure them that their stay will be as enjoyable, efficient and as safe as it can be.
But if guests are thinking of cancelling, perhaps asking about terms and penalties, try to think ahead – if you can re-book those customers or waive charges, you will be instilling confidence and growing loyalty. We’re all in this for the long term, so how about setting current charges against a future booking, even if they’re actually being penalised they could then have accrued credits for a booking when travel is easier and safer.
Some regions are less at risk from the virus than others, and with countries around the world closing their borders to incoming tourists, is there a way to market your property to those from your own country? If you’re in a remote location, sell that as your special offering, try to catch people’s imagination who may normally only consider busy cities, around how they can avoid other people while still enjoying an amazing trip.
Start online communities among guests who have already booked, run a blog and invite guests to subscribe, update your social media daily with latest thinking – entertaining things as well as serious government advice. Personalise your brand to those who may be going stir crazy and thinking ahead to when they can start travelling again. Feature staff members or particular things about your area or building, if you’re pet-friendly try some blogs from a dog as though they’re a guest, get imaginative with the free time you may have if guest numbers are down.
Update and maximise your booking channels – once people start travelling again or find they have an essential trip in the meantime, it’s as easy as possible for them to find you and to make that booking. Some don’t like to big-up the OTAs and the rates they demand, but there are times the sheer power they wield means their route to the last-minute or time strapped traveller can be invaluable. And make sure for those who have the time to look ahead and plan far in advance that you are flexible around changes and able to give better discounts or early-bird benefits, so they keep coming back for more.
I’m not trying to teach anyone in the industry to suck eggs! But with the constant barrage of depressing and frightening news, and the sheer confusion there is around what the future looks like, it’s sometimes helpful just to know that other people are going through the same things too, and that they have your back.
We will get through this.
To paraphrase the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week – I think he surprised and shocked even himself! – there will be some in our industry who will go under, before their time. But as a sector, we can come through stronger and more resilient, if we pull together and stay resolute. As your trade body, we are here for you. We have been talking to government and to the wider hospitality industry to make sure we are part of anything that happens over the coming months. And we need to keep communicating and being positive – all of us.
Let’s do this thing – together!