It’s a whole new world for the hospitality industry as it begins to slowly regroup in the wake of COVID-19. No one is certain what the recovery phase will look like, or how long it will last…we are definitely in uncharted waters. We can look to what happened in the wake of the SARS outbreak of 2003 to uncover some clues, but COVID-19 has been much bigger and will have farther reaching implications.
Although some areas of the globe are still seeing a spike in cases, we are beginning to see the pandemic slowly easing and consumers tentatively dipping their toes back into life outside the home. As this emergence begins to build, the hotel industry has much to consider. The truth is, we will not return to our pre-COVID processes, in fact, things will look very different than they did prior to the outbreak. Not only are there government mandates and interventions to consider, but there will also be a change in the expectations of our customers and possibly a change in their ability and willingness to spend their money.
What are consumers thinking?
Popular travel site Tripadvisor conducted an online Consumer Sentiment Tracking Survey every two weeks from 3/27/2020 to 5/18/2020. Respondents included those from the US, UK, Australia, Italy and Japan and 1,180 responses were captured. Tripadvisor also analyzed how visitors have been using their site to help create a picture of current consumer attitudes and trends.
According to the Tripadvisor survey, 34% of consumers said, rather than canceling their trips due to COVID-19, they rescheduled them for a later date. An additional 27% said they planned to reschedule at some point. What was even more interesting was that 40% of those surveyed said they didn’t change their travel plans by choice…they did so because their destination was closed for travel. This is heartening news as it shows a large portion of the population still plan to travel and are looking forward to rebooking.
The survey showed a steady week-on-week increase in traveler search activity which bodes well for a solid bounce-back for the hotel sector. Their survey revealed an ongoing consumer demand for travel that is likely to be realized as travel restrictions lift. The report also showed a clear positive trend in restaurant searches on their site in all major markets including the US. All things considered, the company believes the first signs are positive.
Perhaps the most important thing hotels can do to attract post-COVID travelers is to show them they will be safe and protected with every possible precaution being taken. In the Tripadvisor survey, a whopping 86% of consumers said cleanliness will be very important when selecting an accommodation post-COVID. Most important to consumers was the availability and use of hand sanitizers, sealed amenities, frequent room disinfection and mandatory temperature checks for all. Those hotels who implement a clear and transparent COVID protocol will likely benefit most from early increases in travel. It makes sense to put your hotel’s COVID safety plan at the forefront of your marketing as this is going to be a hot issue for consumers for the foreseeable future. Do everything you can to reassure prospects they will be safe at your property.
What should hotel owners do now?
It’s important for all hotel owners to become familiar with the WHO’s Operational considerations for COVID-19
management in the accommodation sector. Of course, it recommends following all the basic safety protocols (proper hand hygiene, physical distancing, etc.), but the recommendations go much further than that. For example, the WHO recommends each hotel work with local health authorities and industry associations to establish an action plan for their particular property to prevent cases and mitigate impact. The plan should include teleworking where possible, protocol for disinfection of rooms occupied by ill persons and more. In addition to a clear action plan, hotels have been instructed to install hand-disinfecting stations throughout the hotel – this includes all restrooms, restaurant waiting areas, lobby, bars and other public gathering places.
But savvy hotel owners will strive to go above and beyond the mandates to offer prospects the utmost peace of mind. Those hotels that raise the bar of cleanliness, conveying the highest levels of safety, will be the big winners as we emerge from the worst of the COVID pandemic. One hotel brand is leading the way by clearly establishing customer-facing COVID standards. Marriott is leading the way with its Marriott Cleanliness Council and its Commitment to Clean which outlines exactly what they are offering to keep guests safe. Marriott’s plan includes electrostatic sprayers to sanitize surfaces throughout the hotel and more, painting a picture of safety and peace of mind. Whatever you can do to ease the minds of consumers, do it, and shout it from the rooftops to grab back your market share in an uncertain world.