COVID-19 has had deep and far-reaching impact on the tourism industry. And, while the world waits for a universally-safe vaccine, most businesses – especially hotels – are starting to plan for the future. How will consumer tastes change as a result of the pandemic?
The “new guest” of the immediate post-COVID era will have different needs and expectations of their hotel stay. Property managers can start building services and amenities that meet the demands of the first influx of travelers to arrive after the lifting of COVID travel restrictions now – because only by investing in the right tools and technology today can you get an edge on your competition then. Here’s how traveler expectations have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and what your hotel needs to do to win more bookings in the future.
Who is the Traveler of the Future?
Travelers are paying close attention to how all brands – and especially hotels – are communicating and reacting to the pandemic. Brands that are perceived as “insensitive” to keeping guests safe, or seen as not taking precautions seriously, will be punished in the post-COVID era.
There are a few data points from RateGain that demonstrate this point. First and foremost, guests are putting health and safety first. Hotels can expect to see a 4x increase in questions around property restrictions and safety procedures. If your property can’t give a satisfying answer to how it’s keeping guests safe, your brand will suffer: 60% of travelers punished brands for being insensitive in their response to the pandemic.
The guest of the future is also turning to social media to learn more about your hotel’s safety protocols, as well as room availability. RateGain found that 65% of Indian travelers prefer getting brand updates on Facebook. In fact, few travelers are turned off by brands that advertised during the pandemic – 92% of those surveyed by RateGain said they could understand the economic stress the pandemic caused and didn’t feel that it was inappropriate to advertise during the crisis.
What does this mean for your hotel? The post-pandemic guest is looking for balance in the way your property communicates. More communication is definitely preferred – guests want to hear from your hotel regarding availability, safety protocols, and opening/closing restrictions. This guest wants your property to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and to show how your team is taking every precaution to stay open to travelers responsibly.
This guest is open-minded when it comes to marketing messages; they won’t punish your property for continuing to run promotions, so long as you demonstrate you’re putting the guest’s needs first and foremost. On social media especially, your marketing team must strike the right balance between promotion and precaution.
Building the Digital Experience
Before the pandemic, guests interacted with a hotel brand primarily through the physical experience (e.g., how comfortable was the bed?) and the service experience (e.g., how easy was the check-in process?). Now, there’s a third layer through which the hotel will leave an impression with a guest: the digital experience.
All three pillars will be important to meeting the needs of the post-pandemic traveler, but hotels are currently least equipped to capitalize on the digital experience. The digital experience incorporates technology and online platforms to meet guest needs virtually – before, during and after their stay. The digital experience is the primary way to make a post-pandemic guest feel seen, heard, and cared for by the hotel’s physical and service experiences. Here’s what this means in practice.
Drive Revenue by Prioritizing Guest Safety
Integrating this digital experience with a property’s amenities and service offerings is key to driving revenue. For a general manager, winning the guest of the future starts by clearly following global health and safety standard operating procedures – and communicating these measures as transparently as possible using social media and email to win guest trust.
Digital tools can simultaneously reduce variable costs at the property while meeting guest demand for social distancing measures. In your operations, implement touchless check-in and contactless room-service for your F&B team. Shut down buffet-style dining options and add healthy meals to your menu. Augment the service experience with immunity-boosting in-room snack options. And, evolve the physical experience by creating a safe in-room experience and offering a digital concierge. These measures both personalize the guest experience and drive revenue by supplying amenities that guests actually want.
Sales and marketing teams should focus their effort on improving your hotel’s reputation using guest feedback. This team must communicate what is being done to improve safety at your property as well as to promote user-generated content, providing social “proof” that your hotel is being honest and transparent in its effort to keep guests safe. Harness positive customer reviews to win trust with travelers by showing, rather than telling. Make sure you’re regularly updating your social media profiles, OTA listings, and website with all precautions your property is taking.
Finally, revenue managers will play an outsized role in attracting new travelers following the pandemic. New data from RateGain shows how the market has become much more dynamic since COVID-19 started:
- A hotel changes its room rates 5x per day
- 60% of users seek to access content via mobile
- 45% of activities can be automated using technology
- That technology can lead to 50% cost savings
- 26% of work is accomplished outside traditional work hours
What do these numbers mean for revenue managers? The digital experience isn’t just for guests: revenue managers need a reliable rate intelligence platform that can integrate with your existing Revenue Management system to optimize rate shopping and monitor real-time rate changes, improving your price strategy accordingly. You also must be able to capture mobile-first guests – otherwise, you’re missing a massive competitive advantage.
Three Ingredients to Attracting Post-COVID Travelers
It’s hard to know when the pandemic will be over, but it’s possible to start pivoting your hotel’s operations and outreach to be prepared for that inevitable eventuality. The new guest will expect to have consistent, positive service, physical and digital experiences with your hotel. Focus now on three key investments which will help your hotel win more bookings from post-pandemic travelers:
- Cognitive revenue management: how can a digital revenue management tool help you optimize pricing in a dynamic market? Can you improve competitive intelligence and use booking data to show the guest you know and anticipate their needs?
- Smart distribution: how can your brand partner a channel manager to simplify room distribution? How can you improve discovery with OTAs and other new channels?
- Targeted social media: how is your brand listening to customers on Facebook and other platforms? How are you sharing your safety measures transparently? How can you build your brand reputation using customer reviews and other user-generated content?
By focusing on the digital experience, your hotel can drive revenue and increase brand trust with the first post-pandemic travelers.
About the Author
Executive Vice President – Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa