The panel featured Sally Richards, Managing Director Raspberry Sky Services Limited, Shona Whitehead, Managing Partner Cogent Blue, Doug Greenwood, Director of Sales and Marketing, Cheval Collection, Alan O’Riordan, Co-Founder Apaleo, Claire Rowland, Director
The Afro Marketer and was moderated by Maarten Edelman, AVP & Head of UK RateGain®. The agenda consisted of the current market situation in Europe and UK, changes in distribution landscape, revenue strategies, trading through the pandemic, evolving technology and essential marketing for a successful relaunch.
The Current Scenario: Market Insights from Europe and UK Market
Recent figures on net bookings show an upward movement that brings to the industry a huge sign of relief. A 175% rise since the lowest point in net bookings in mid-March is witnessed. Though both show a positive incline, OTAs lead the way ahead of GDSs in terms of net bookings growth. Gross bookings continue to be stagnant in Baltic, France and Monaco while the rest of Europe observes an uptick. Much of this stems from the leniency of the government in each of these countries and how effectively they have re-instilled a sense of trust in their people in such uncertain times. CRC reveals Germany, UK and Netherlands as the top 3 markets for intra travel.
Distribution Landscape Changes: Diversification, Content and Technology
For distribution strategy, one must understand the geographic source markets and segments before determining the hotel distribution channels and products. We are now witnessing the international travelers moving towards Staycations. Companies will continue to work from home but there will be an emerging demand for local company getaways and retreats for strategic meetings. GDSs and corporate booking tools must continue operating to pick up all domestic and international business. As source markets and segments shift, it is critical to align products with customers. Highlighting key information like flexibility in bookings, lenient cancellation policies, revised rate plans and descriptions are of utmost importance. As advance purchase rates hold no significance anymore, hoteliers should look into special packages and rebuild loyalty with value-based products. To narrow down on distribution channels, understanding the acquisition costs and the true costs of sale by each channel must be done. The motives of an interacting customer have changed from conducting transactions to now simply exploring and dreaming. Content and marketing should reflect that. As voucher-based OTAs garner popularity, they present an opportunity to Hoteliers as they look for inventories and packages. Companies like Expedia and AirBnB have already launched programs like the Expedia Review and Relief Program. This time should be taken out to review and update textual content and ensure a sense of sensitivity and thoughtfulness to the needs of the customer. Right connectivity can enhance customer journeys and reduce costs.
Revenue Strategies: Best Practices & Plan
Technology will spearhead the powering of the revenue management systems as the industry adjusts to the new normal. However, the need for human capital persists. The revenue manager is needed to truly grasp the nuances of this constantly evolving industry. RMS Data continues to be relevant now. The eminent opportunities presented by staycations in domestic markets must be capitalized. Automating the process, recalibrating systems and eliminating maximum manual processes will be the way forward as the industry adapts to a pandemic stricken world. Establishing a well-defined medium and long term pricing strategy should be the basis of making revenue management decisions. Time must be taken to reinforce team confidence and trust. Enthusiastic testing and learning from different pricing strategies and using upselling tools can be rewarding. Identifying the new customer and staying customer-centric will help in avoiding knee jerk reactions to the evolving scenario that would otherwise prove to be very costly.
Trading through COVID-19 and lessons learned
Rewinding to March, there were still some long stay and transient customers in the market looking for fully equipped service apartments. Cheval Collection was one such company that took on a lot of this business. The people from initial repatriation and people with a terminating lease looking to move as soon as possible turned towards service apartments. A significant portion of the work-from-home population that wanted to ensure better working facilities also became their clientele. Managerial decisions to handle the influx of guests in these trying times involved breaking the teams into two and allowing alternate weeks off. The welfare of customers and staff was maintained as the priority. In these times, the Cheval app proved to be extremely useful as it gave the customers an option of remaining contactless. Health and safety continue to be of paramount importance because of which several measures like quarantining of delivery boxes, digital check-in and out etc. should be offered. Reassuring customers, working collectively and safely is going to allow the industry to power through Covid-19.
Technology Changes due to COVID-19
In the last few years, deliberations around introducing new technology to help with the guest journey and improving efficiency have been on the rise. Making the guest experience contactless, digital, efficient and simple is the need of the hour. Though debate around the feasibility of kiosks and screens that require constant cleaning persist, the option to go digital must be offered to all guests using new technology. Providing guests with the ability to opt-in or out of cleaning as per their requirements, isolating deliveries, maintaining digital interactions etc. should be looked into as we approach normalcy. An increase in demand for real-time trending data to be used as analytics tools has been observed. While upgrading to newer technology, one must keep in mind the ability to manage their systems and the capacity to scale up and down as per their requirements.
Marketing: Digital Essentials for a Hospitality Relaunch
Safety and health must be prioritized. Communicating safety policies and measures must be done effectively and distinctly. Reassuring the customer, instilling a sense of collective responsibility and highlighting safety protocols is essential. Once open dates are announced, there will be a leap from negligible activity in the market to a saturated market that is going to cause hotels to make a lot of noise. It will then be critical to differentiate which can be done by effective communication with the people, not just customers. Invest time and resources into understanding the people’s problems, concerns, views on eating out, travelling etc. Specialized and unique packages like those targeted around family reunions, pet owners and corporate retreats are a good idea to market your business. A hotelier’s focus must always be on direct sales. They should capitalize on what OTAs lack that is clear and concise information on cancellation policies, booking flexibilities etc. and gain the consumer’s confidence. It is also the time for them to switch back on their online presence. Be real, be relatable and share. People may not be ready to jump the gun and buy but it is a crucial time to inspire them. Homing in positive reviews that are fresh and pertain to current situations can be very beneficial. Old reviews will not hold the same weight anymore so customers should be encouraged to review and share and BCV, a RateGain guest experience cloud platform will help in it to manage all these things.
In these difficult times, the industry must work collectively and make effective decisions. Working towards building safe and functional strategies and ensuring their immediate yet careful implementation can allow the industry to make a successful recovery and set in motion a promising trajectory.
About the Author
Certified Business Administration & Management executive from Hotel Management School Maastricht, Ex Micros Fidelio and TravelClick. Business leader with detailed knowledge around the complete Hospitality Guest Journey along with expertise in growing distribution, business intelligence, & implementing social media optimization.