Hotels and Covid-19: What Now?

I started writing this article on Sunday 15th of March, almost a full week after Italy’s lockdown.

“Before sharing”, I said to myself, “you should listen to what it is really going on”.

In Italy, there is what I believe is the biggest (and best) community of marketers called, guess what, Marketers.

Part of a charity event, the Marketers family quickly arranged a 2-day online training with the best representatives of the national and international scene.

Completely for free.

An initiative to collect donations in support of our hospitals and people.

And an opportunity to learn what to do in these times, mainly from a marketing perspective, and more importantly, how the future scenarios will possibly unfold.

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” – Lao Tzu

Differently put: I believe we’re past the point of no return.

What I’ll explain later, in fact, can be seen as a brand new beginning, rather than a return to the past.

And, in full honesty, this is what I desperately hope, with all my heart.

Beside what it will be, I guess we are all asking: “what can we do now?

In my opinion: just one thing: be honest, be real, be vulnerable… and show it to your customers.

 

Hotel Industry Now. In a word: a disaster!

Whilst we all may have different opinions on many things, this is the one single topic all marketers agree upon: Tourism and Hospitality industries are the worst markets to be in now.

Hotel Industry: Disaster

Scaring, empty hotels…

In a word: there’s no much to do, other than wait.

People simply don’t travel. Period.

And I get it: you want solutions. In fact, there are many, that I’m going to talk about in a moment.

None of them, though, will jack up your revenue and customers overnight. Those are shortcut scams we usually and persistently seek, but never work.

 

What to do now, practically.

Let’s get this straight: wait doesn’t mean do nothing.

Learning, reading, training… those are all things that many others already suggested.

However, I personally consider the learning-reading-training topic as a recurrent task everyone should be regularly persisting, covid-19 or not.

Besides, there is one and only thing I would suggest you doing: send a newsletter to all your customers, telling them what the situation is, and what you have been doing to deal with it.

How the hell could this kind of newsletter help me sell my rooms and/or avoid getting new cancellations?“, you might argue.

You are right, a message like this does not bring any immediate revenue. Nor does it prevent other travellers from cancelling the remaining rooms that can be cancelled.

So, what is such an email good for?

This is the worst time for selling. I repeat what I said before: people simply don’t or can’t travel now. Punto.

But it’s the perfect time to build relationships. And trust.

Here’s the thing: likely, most of the newsletters you have sent out so far are, in essence, sales letters.

Differently put: no matter what the copy and details, the message always includes a Book Now link, a discount, a promo code… or all of them.

What if, instead, this time you use this fantastic tool to simply stay in touch with your guests, as a human being, in the most honest and open way?

The words Book Now and Discounts should be banned.

In which way would guests benefit from such an email?“, you might ask.

You are right again, in none.

This is an I-dont-expect-anything-in-return sort of email. Because of this, it is going to be much appreciated.

However, in what kind of emotional statement are people all around the globe? Would you agree that everything people talk about, brings along a huge amount of emotional charge?

Thus, talk to that emotional charge with the same amount of emotional charge.

Be honest, be real, don’t make things up just to tell a story. And please, don’t start with something like “The safety of our guests are of our utmost priority“.

I mean, I get it, of course it is our your utmost priority. So much that, obviously, guests give it for granted. It’d be scaring if safety was not, your priority.

I’m saying so because sooooo many hotels now have such a statement published somewhere on their sites. Not only hotels, airlines and other travel operators, too.

Here’s the first Airline that popped up to my mind and how their site looks like:

airline safety

Air Asia: home page

This statement is simply what it is: a copy/paste from other identical sites, all saying the exact same thing, all using the exact same words.

Succinctly put: inauthentic, contrived, abused, boring, pretentious.

If you pretend to sound as someone who cares for their guests and staff… that’s exactly how you are being perceived: someone who pretends to care for their guests and staff.

No matter how far your guests are, something like this smells like a dirty sponge whose smells makes it through the internet: everyone gets it.

Show your human side instead by sharing whatever it is going on there at your location: there are no better times than these (how weird referring to now as good times…) to storytelling.

Here’s an easy one I’ve just come up with, assuming I was the owner or a GM of a hotel in my home country, Italy:

Dear Gianbattista,

let me just ask: how are you? How is your family?

As our loyal Guest, I just wanted to drop this message to send you a virtual, yet warm hug, from me and my team.

This curse virus is putting a huge strain on all of us.

As you know, Italy is being placed on locked down, nothing is moving and everyone is simply asked to stay home.

I'd lie if I tell that we are running the business as-usual. 

However, whilst the necessary precautions to keep our hotel secure and protected from the recent outbreak have been taken, following the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), I'm here to tell you what we have beed doing for you in this difficult times and how we are preparing for what will be a new beginning.

In fact, we believe that even the worst tragedies always have a positive side, too.

Here's a few things:

1) We turned our Reservation department into a remote office.

Exactly, our agents Clotilde and Carletto are now working from home.

It's still weird, as we are getting more cancellations than reservations, but we know, though, that everything will be over soon. And C&C will soon be super busy again.

2) Wanna see our freshly painted restaurant? We took advantage of this time to make some minor renovations all over the hotel. Still ongoing, but we will get there.
//picture of the restaurant//

3) Have you seen the Italian Flash Mob?

Here's one of the hundreds video you can find on YouTube:


It's been amazing, our way to respond to this virus and, more importantly, our way to say Thank You to all those doctors and medics who have been working, tirelessly, to guarantee the safety of our people.

Gianbattista, this is it for now. What about you? How's the situation in your country and region?

I'd be glad to hear from you, so feel free to drop me a message by responding to this email.

If there's anything my team and I can do for you, we're always a message away, wherever you are.

Stay safe.
Big hug from silent, yet beautiful Bergamo.

Alessandro Crotti
Atalanta Hotel Bergamo

Narrowed down to the specifics of the hotel, so that you can’t simply copy/paste it ❌.

If you like the idea, use this time to toss out whatever comes from your heart.

Without getting into many details, here’s just a few suggestions:

✅ Don’t make it look like a newsletter. It MUST be and sound personal, as if it’s been handwritten by the GM of the hotel, one-by-one for each and every guest.

✅ Use “I” rather than “We”, it makes it even more personal.

✅ For once, don’t use graphics. Just plain text. Remember? You are not selling anything.

✅ Start by asking how is (s)he. The goal is to build relationships and open conversations.

✅ Keep it informal, keep it human. Even you, 5-stay super luxury hotels. Show your human side by speaking to your past guests as if they are your best friends. This is what they will appreciate most.

✅ Don’t hide your vulnerability, conversely, show it. Pretending guests to believe that everything is fine, is like covering a piece of rotten meat with roses.

 

Be prepared.

In the last couple of weeks the following report was floating around in the social media, source str.com:

STR.com: Hotel Industry after SARS outbreak

STR.com: Hotel Industry after SARS outbreak

By the time I’m writing this post, optimistically, it will take months if not years to recover.

SARS and many other similar diseases didn’t impact the entire world like the covid-19.

However, this report may proportionally represent a valid future scenario: a big climb after the big drop.

It also makes sense, logically.

Consider, in fact, that most people around the world and, especially now, in Europe, are not moving from home.

Smart-working, whenever possible. So, what do you think people will want to do, after being forced at home for such a long time?

I have already seen an interview that surveyed people by asking what they would do first, right after the emergency.

The answer leaves no rooms for misinterpretation: travelling.

Thus, the above report not only does it represent our biggest hope, it probably translates in the most realistic scenario we will be assisting (we just don’t know when).

Travel is part of the purpose of most people’s lives. Take it off them, and their lives will no longer be worth living.

Who’s talking to you right now is one of them: I made travel not only an occasional event that occurs once or twice a year, but a persistent journey that made me get rid of a permanent place to live in and a permanent office to head to, each and every morning.

Digital-nomad, location-independent, call me the way you want, the essence doesn’t change: travel IS my life. And there is no amount of money that would ever make me change the way I live it.

The point is: for most, travel is a necessity, not a luxury.

Just like the food we put in our plate and the water in our glass.

I have no doubt that Hospitality will flourish, even more than before.

The question is… no, wait, the questionS are:

✅ Will it be the same as before?

✅ And when will that happen?

To the first point, I’ve already told how I see it.

To the latter, who knows when. But it will happen and, by then, we better be prepared if we don’t want to throw, again, a huge amount of money out of the window, where out-of-the-window is represented by the OTAs.

 

B.com has already prepared the ground, but…

At this page: https://partner.booking.com/en-gb/help/legal-security/important-information-regarding-coronavirus, B are stating the rules of how hotels should behave with all those customers who have to cancel their trips and reservations.

Booking: Information regarding Coronavirus

In a nutshell, besides the nuances of each update to reflect the most recent news re covid-19, B has one-sidedly decided to reimburse every single guest even if the guest had accepted to freeze the credit for future stays.

And this decision was taken way BEFORE any National Government’ lockdown or travel-restriction decree that, by nature, forced many hotels to temporarily shut down, till further notice.

(By the way, the above communication and approach from B dynamically changes based on each country).

Let’s get this clear: this cancellation topic is so delicate that it is not my call to say whether hotels should accept free cancellations, no matter what, or negotiate, case by case.

What I just want to say is: Guests shouldn’t be the victims of this situation. Nor should hoteliers.

So why is B taking side in this discussion? Clearly the side of who ultimately generates B’s revenue: Guests.

I had the opportunity to chat with many hoteliers in these days and read hundreds of evidences from other hoteliers who are either refunding all reservations, or dealing a credit freeze with those customers who said that they will simply postpone their stay.

A one-on-one communication hotel-guest, no matter which channels the reservations were made from.

Do you think B could ever accept to be overridden?

This is the tip of the iceberg of a strategy B meticulously planned to prepare the ground, for when the virus situation will be over and people will give vent to their desire of travelling, booking flights and hotels as if there is no tomorrow. Or course, using B.com as their preferred site.

From the perspective of B, that’s what I call a plan that comes together.

Perfectly-executed plan

A bit more in details:

✅ B has been imposing hotels to refund all travellers who can’t and couldn’t travel due to covid-19. This move automatically puts B as the defender of justice, in the eyes of all those travellers.

✅ What is the main reason why, generally speaking, people usually choose an OTA as opposed to booking directly through the hotel site? It’s purely psychological: people feel safer when an external intermediary is in between, because the intermediary, a.k.a. OTA, can make their voice feel heard in case something goes wrong or in case they need help.

✅ Now, all those travellers think that they successfully got their refunds thanks to B. Thus, they will likely go back to B as soon as all these lockdowns will be over.

You know what would make me laugh, if the situation were not so dreadful?

The fact that B keeps referring to hotels as their partners.

 

… Is the situation though now slipping through B’s fingers?

We contacted B and got ‘well, it’s not us, it’s the property owner

says a traveller who found information on the B.com website suggesting he call the hotels.

The properties all come back and say ‘well, it’s B, it’s their policy.’

So, apparently, even B underestimated the gravity of what was and still is going on.

To be fair, I’m now talking about B as my lab-rat, but you can find similar evidences about any other third-party site.

The result?

For instance, travellers contacting me, personally, asking for help!

travellers-who-cant-cancel-their-bookings

Traveller who can’t cancel their bookings.

In a way or another, this lady came across some of my articles re Agoda, B or B.basic, desperately looking for an answer she couldn’t get in any other way.

I got 5 like this. In 5 days.

On the flip side though, it is difficult to accept hoteliers saying “well, it’s B, it’s their policy“.

In such a scenario, everyone loses.

Starting with the hotel, who loses the chances to get a customer back for when this whole thing will be over.

The way I see it, this “well, it’s B, it’s their policy” is typically from hoteliers who don’t care about their customers as human beings, they only care about what is in their wallet.

And yes, I’m aware that after this last statement, I’ll be attracting the dislikes of many of you.

Point being, are you one of them telling guests “well, it’s B, it’s their policy” and, at the same time, one having the “The safety of our guests are of our utmost priority” somewhere published on the website?

Like covering the smell of a piece of rotten meat with roses…