Hotels and vacation rentals are reeling from COVID-19 slowdowns. But history is clear: travel is resilient. So savvy hoteliers and owners ignore fearful impulses. They “prepare for the upturn” – finding opportunities to maximize people, processes and marketing strategies for when travel recovers.
In our recent webinar, NAVIS’ Director of Enterprise Sales, Stacie Bushaw, was joined by Caryl Helsel, CEO of Dragonfly Strategists and Chris Jackson, Principal & Chief Evangelist at GCommerce to discuss revenue-boosting strategies for hoteliers and vacation rental owners.
The webinar covered three broad themes: marketing, revenue management, and people and culture. Within each, we discussed lessons and how to move forward despite the unknowns. Watch the complete webinar.
Here a few key takeaways from the webinar:
1. When is it OK to start marketing?
Now, actually. Acknowledge the situation and be thoughtful in what you say. Consumers are pent up and restless. They are glued to social and dreaming of future travel. Remarket using social media or YouTube, with curated late summer and fall messages that align with likely stay dates. People can’t travel now, but they can “virtually travel.” Consider sensory content that lets people experience a destination – even if they’re stuck in their living room.
Expect crazy “revenge travel”. Just like 9/11 when people said ‘we’re strong, resilient and we’re going to travel.’
Goodwill PR matters too. From meal delivery, to offering free stays for health care workers, good citizenship is calming and reassuring. It reminds your market that “you’re all in this together.” Just don’t urge someone to “book now.”
2. How and when should you leverage OTAs when re-stabilizing?
OTAs are a marketing and advertising partner. Period. Their data will illuminate bookings trends far earlier than yours. And their bigger budgets will kickstart the eventual regeneration of travel. You need to stay connected.
The billboard effect is real, so leave your hotel open on OTA channels. If travelers see you closed on a travel site, they’ll never jump to your website. Now is not the time to abandon OTAs to preserve margin. Your direct booking strategy can’t grow until OTAs spur the market. Use them for guest acquisition, just don’t use them for a second visit.
Invest in metasearch, too. Travelers use these sites extensively and it’s where OTAs are picking up marketing share on many hotels and VRs.
3. What book direct strategies are most important now?
A big issue right now: hotels don’t offer a compelling book direct reason. This needs to be front-and-center on your website. Consider a banner message showcasing a flexible cancellation policy, F&B credit, or free parking. Regularly evaluate this to stay relevant based on variables like travel advisories, bookings trends and traveler mix.
Also, invest in yourself and maximize your paid search brand name term campaigns. Studies show that 50% of consumers will click on the first thing relevant to their search term – even a sponsored site. Use downtime to build out a direct bookings plan. Extend it from the dreaming phase to the post-departure, honeymoon phase with bounce-back offers.
Don’t give up on outbound calling. Capture info on non-booked, or those credited for cancelled travel. Add shopping cart abandonment to prepare for when the market is ready to travel.
4. We’re closed down...how can I connect with prospects?
The worst thing you can do is go dark. Put a message on your homepage to explain the situation. Stay closed, but accept bookings and post when you expect to re-open. The more info the better. Someone needs to be available to accept future reservations, or help with rescheduling events like weddings and meetings. You can’t lose sight of the future, even with cash flow issues today.
5. Any booking engine tweaks?
Create a positive spin. Don’t let guests see a bunch of “X”s when they search for availability. Consider a default view with next available listed, or promote first day dates. Add a custom popup booking message, if possible. Share why a date is unavailable and capture emails to notify visitors of re-opening or availability. Turn the disappointment into a future marketing opportunity.
6. How will people play a role in travel’s rebound?
Front line staff make or break brands. If you don’t hold on to staff, it may cost more in the long run to replace and retrain them.
Use this time to optimize a remote workforce and assess telework cost savings. Many are now exploring remote reservation sales agents. This flexible agent model can balance your fixed and variable cost mix.
Ultimately, how you treat people now will impact whether they come back. Treat them well to prepare for relaunch.
Here Are Some More Highlights
► “Expect crazy revenge travel. Just like 9/11 when people said ‘we’re strong, resilient and we’re going to travel.’”
► “Shutting down OTAs is the completely wrong thing to do right now.”
► “The OTAs may not be buying your keywords, it’s a chance to float to the top.”
► “OTA market managers are a wealth of information on your market or micro-market. And they’re being terrific right now.”
► “Be careful: rate flows about 100% to the bottom line, but occupancy doesn’t. ADR rebound time is nearly 2x the decline.”