Covid-19 Hotel Crisis Management Marketing Advice and Solutions

Marketing During Corona Virus Adversity

Advice to Help Mitigate Impact

Author: Mark Sean Elliott – Managing Director at Sparks4Growth

The impact of the recent emergence of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) is being felt worldwide, with some countries for example Italy and China in a ‘severe state’ with lockdowns and curfews in place. Limiting peoples’ movements, jobs and daily life.

The travel and hospitality sector are not unique in feeling the financial, human, operational and logistical ripples from being directly or indirectly affected. However, we are mainly a service partner to this sector and are focusing on efforts to help sustain our customers during this period and of course our own business.

In this article we have put together some suggestions on how to secure bookings, engender consumer trust and information. Predominantly using social media marketing for your hotel, alongside of course other marketing such as email. Ensuring that your establishment not only protects revenues but builds a bond with your customers. It may not ensure you have ‘business as usual’ levels of turnover, but secure more than pulling back, reducing communications and capitalising on opportunities in available niches.

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Standard Strategic Options

As revenues are impacted by this current impact and other adversity it is always a challenge to make the decisions on which areas of the business have priority.

 Options may include:

  • Reducing services
  • Reducing prices / rates
  • Reducing resources e.g. temporary or casual staff
  • Reducing costs

And so forth. The purpose of this article is not to assume that these aren’t obvious nor to consultant on which are the best routes for your organisation, that would be highly presumptive and not our remit. I also think that ‘cutting room rates’ should be a last ditch resort, as the ramifications for RevPar are evident.

With sales down and forecasted to be lower than forecast the temptation is often slice marketing budgets or other areas to save on costs. As such deemed as ‘unnecessary’ costs. Focusing instead on core operational costs, resources and overheads.

This is a perfectly reasonable strategy and one that ensures that the remaining business is protected until the ‘storm period’ is over.

5 Alternative Marketing Strategies

Alternative options include:

  1. Adjusting booking terms e.g. adding late cancellation assurances/terms
  2. Diverting some marketing airtime to ‘customer assurance’
  3. Targeting niche customers
  4. Trimming marketing
  5. Stop marketing

Of course, I am bias and would suggest these alternatives but not without good reason (rather than just purely to retain your valuable business to us). The ‘threat’ of this adversity period can also be turned into a marginal ‘opportunity’. Especially if your competitors are not flipping this situation on its head to their advantage.

All the above alternative options require adjustments, and some may be out of reach/reasonable e.g. reducing room rates. However, we have seen already hotels and restaurants start to adopt these approaches as a means of securing revenues and forward bookings. Mainly communicated via Social Media channels to reach their optimal target audiences.

1. Adjusting Hotel Booking Cancellation Terms

The most common approach I have seen so far is to continue with a blend of ‘business as usual’ content (promoting events, offers etc) mixed in with some booking assurance posts e.g.

“Book rooms/packages/space directly with us and we will honour late cancellations up to XXhrs/days with no quibble”.

I feel this is a strong and reassuring message to customers, as it de-risks their booking. In turn it secures more forward bookings for the hotel or resort.

Whilst securing increased margin per hotel room via the direct booking route. Softening the reduction in bookings and peak that will no doubt follow but meanwhile a hard impact on revenues. This could be bolstered by advising to book by credit card so that their card company can offer their relative assurance/insurances.

2. Diverting some marketing airtime to ‘customer assurance’

I mention ‘some marketing’ could be diverted, as there still needs to be an air of optimism, that ‘we’re on top of this and here for you’, business as usual.

  • Before the adversity fully impacts – there is a window of opportunity to rest assured potential visitors and guests to the area that all is well. This of course has to be carefully managed and worded to avoid the risk of any liability but using 3rd party (highly trusted) sources, this message can be projected. As I write today there are a handful of cases of infections per region in the UK and virtually no impact on daily life. The media are not getting this point across well, fuelling the anxiety of travellers and in turn impacting the hospitality sector.

 

  • During a peak – there is no guarantee that one or another geographical area or community will be impacted. That said, there will be stranded travellers seeking accommodation, particularly if airports, ports, trains, car travel is limited or halted. They will need to find a warm welcoming and clued up safe haven to reduce their anxiety, stress and concerns – outlining facilities, measures to protect guests and the fact that there are available rooms, place to eat etc. will attract this niche.

 

  • After the peak – as mentioned it is forecasted that there will be a few weeks, perhaps months, where the peak of infection takes hold. However, it is also emerging that soon after people recover, life can start to go on ‘near to normal’ and demand will increase again.

If forward bookings are secured as previously mentioned, communications prepared ready, then revenue generating services can be capitalised on more swiftly and before the competitors choose to do so.

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3. Targeting niche customers

Bookings from travellers from affected countries are, no doubt, down compared to forecasts and previous years. However, with a deep dive into previous booking data and segmenting this information are there niche groups of customers that could be directly targeted to encourage bookings, F&B, conferences, events?

This could be a harder focus on local businesses, e.g. marketing to UK consumers for Easter Break, events targeted at locals and others who may have travelled further afield normally but are looking for more localised breaks (staycations).

The same may be true of businesspeople, who rather than travelling to conferences or meetings need to book high quality space in London or across the UK to host a meeting, whilst conferencing in to other regions around the world.

Promoting Wi-Fi, video conferencing facilities, special rates on food, drinks etc. to entice their decision.

Whatever the niche, we can help to adapt communications to reach these customers, more narrowed and targeted even than normal to maximise potential from these niche groups. Working with you on data would help unlock these areas further.

4. Trimming back marketing

If current marketing is ‘too broad’ to hit niche groups, as is often the case with the booking engines, then targeting more tightly could be an opportunity. As per the section above.

This is what I refer to with trimming the marketing, so for now, if the 25-35yr olds are not making bookings or even likely to, then I suggest ‘pausing’ our activity on Instagram. Whilst retaining Facebook to reach a relevant audience and one that partially overlaps into that demographic still.

I mention ‘increasing marketing’ and from a financial perspective this may not seem viable.

What I mean here is that as your competitors opt for ‘reduce’ your opportunity to ‘secure’ more share of voice and potential revenues increases. As a marketer we were always taught to ‘market harder and more during a time of downturn or adversity, as the competition rarely do’.

5. Stop Marketing To Save Costs

The reality is however that costs,I understand need to be trimmed during a significant downturn in hotel business bookings and performance.

However I strongly recommend against ‘stopping’ marketing where it can be used to drive in crucial revenues in niche areas and services for the business.

 

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