It’s difficult to succinctly describe how hard the travel industry has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism is a sufficiently-powerful force that it’s the biggest source of revenue for many areas, and even some countries, and the lockdown measures implemented to flatten the curve of the virus spreading have ground it to a halt.
Not only do hotels currently have desperately few tourists to covet their rooms, but they also don’t have many professionals on business trips — and even the people living nearby who want to change up their living conditions most likely can’t afford to be spending money on hotel stays at the moment. So what are hotel chains to do in this situation?
Well, there’s no way to stop the pandemic-induced downturn, but they can look ahead to the future. At some point (however we get there), the spread of the virus will be sufficiently under control that the hotel industry can get back to work. Here’s how chains that are patiently waiting for that point to arrive can make the most of it when it does:
Have their websites fully optimised
When people finally feel comfortable staying at hotels once again, they won’t simply show up at front desks asking for rooms, nor will they call them. They’ll visit their websites, expecting them to be updated, easy-to-use, and informative. Keep in mind that the complicated web of hotel booking — the web of comparison sites and package services that book on behalf of customers — won’t be in perfect health by that time: no hotel will be able to get away with a weak website.
Since they’re currently seeing little interest, hotels should take this opportunity to completely overhaul their websites. Any given hotel can upload a “Website in progress” page, then take as long as it needs to smooth things over. Here are some things that warrant a lot of attention:
- Hotel images. Having hotel images that are high-quality and consistent is extremely important for perception. With areas empty at the moment, new shots can be taken in ideal conditions — or old photos that are still decent can be redeemed through some basic editing and/or resizing (easy to do online). All luxury brands should understand the immense importance of perception: average photos suggest an average hotel.
- Promotional copy. A lot of thought needs to go into the textual content of a hotel website. It needs to be steadily promotional without going overboard (seeming too eager never helps), and brief without cutting off too early. Redraft the different sections and approach them from the perspective of a visitor. Do they inspire trust and excitement?
- Booking functions. Any high-end hotel that still has a clumsy manual booking system needs to address that as a matter of great urgency. Booking needs to be slick, making it abundantly simple what rooms, nights and configurations are available. Customers looking for great experiences won’t put up with mediocre booking systems.
- Mobile design. There may well be hotel sites out there that have never fully pivoted to mobile design because they’re been in steady operation for so long without seeing the right time to change. This is the right time. Any website that doesn’t look great on mobile devices needs to be radically redesigned or replaced entirely.
Implement smart safety procedures
How are hotels going to work after the industry starts to wake up from its slumber? It isn’t realistic to simply pretend that COVID-19 doesn’t exist: that genie is out of the bottle and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which it disappears entirely. There’s a very decent chance that it will remain a problem in perpetuity, albeit on a much smaller scale.
To address this, resurgent hotels will need to be extremely safe: disinfecting anything that warrants it, keeping guests spaced out, testing staff (assuming fast-acting tests will be in widespread distribution by that point), and following best practices in general. If they don’t do this and make it clear to possible guests that they’re following the rules, they’re unlikely to get much interest — people might feel safe enough, but they won’t want to take unnecessary risks.
Promotionally target their local markets
We just don’t know what’s going to happen to the air travel industry after the worst of the pandemic has subsided, but it’s difficult to see things reverting to type. Long-haul flights in particular will be tricky because airlines will be essentially required to space people out, leaving many seats empty, and that will ultimately need them to raise their prices.
Despite their nature, luxury hotels will still be affected by this. Those with generous budgets (or private planes) will be fine, yes, but it’s hardly the case that all guests at luxury hotels are wealthy. Someone with an average income might save their money so they can splurge on a spectacular trip — but with flight costs soaring, that’s going to be a much harder sell.
Due to this, the sensible move will be to promote locally to begin with. If a luxury hotel can turn itself into a local hotspot for anything from corporate retreats to much-needed family holidays, it can tap into available wealth without needing to worry overly about spiraling flight costs — and if air travel somehow starts to recover, they can broaden their horizons when it’s healthy again.
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