By Theodore Holloway, CHDM, Vice President of Digital Marketing, Remington Hotels, and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board
HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) met on a call March 19 to discuss how hospitality marketing professional are handling the impacts from the coronavirus now that budgets are being reduced and many people have been laid off or furloughed. Here are key takeaways from our discussion, including what marketers are doing right now — or can be doing — to remain productive.
1. Customer communication is key. Instead of trying to attract visitors to their hotels, many marketers are now forced to contact customers or potential customers about cancelation policies and hotel closings instead. Social media is a great way to update customers on the changing situation, one MAB member said. Another important way to communicate is through an FAQ page that gives customers information regarding what to do when the hotel is closed and what they can do once it is reopened.
One MAB member sent out a mass email to every person in their database — current and past reservations and loyalty guests — letting them know that the hotel would be temporarily suspending its services. Another member added: “I think if you can segment that list and market to them in an appropriate way, you’re building that relationship with them.”
2. Employee communication is also important. When everyone, or close to everyone, is laid off at once, it can lead to a lot of confusion. One MAB member’s hotel set up a hotline for employees to speak to HR directly and a Facebook group for employees to join, stay updated, and have their questions answered. The member also gathered all employees’ personal cellphone and email information, so they could easily contact them once business starts to ramp up again.
Another MAB member said that they are focusing their energy on providing tangible, tactical advice to hotel clients through a podcast for hotel employees and management to take advantage of.
3. Everyone has a different pricing policy. Some hotels, remembering patterns that followed 9/11 or the recession in 2008, are holding firm to their rates, hoping to stay afloat. “Rate is not the reason people are not traveling,” said one MAB member whose hotels experimented with dropping rate. “And we got a lot of local heat from residents saying, ‘How irresponsible of you, trying to encourage people to travel right now.’”
Others said that since this is a different situation, they are dropping their rates, hoping to build loyalty. “This is not the time to optimize your rate,” an MAB member said, “it’s the time to say, ‘We’re here for you. We’re not trying to make money, you shouldn’t travel, but if you need a place to stay, we’re here for you and we’re going to make prices reasonable.’”
4. Explore new options. One MAB member mentioned that they had heard of several hotels working with the government to use the properties as quarantine centers for sick or exposed patients. Another member’s hotels were actively reaching out to hospitals to make their rooms available. If the government or hospital were to take over a hotel, they would pay a per diem rate, typically 100 percent of the market room rate, the member said.
However, several MAB members said they did not agree with this idea, citing staffing concerns and fears about the future. “What does that look like coming out of this?” one member asked. “How do people feel about that? We want to do the right thing for the market, for the property, and for everyone out there, but at the end of the day that hotel is our property that we have to use when all is said and done.”
Another idea that was brought up: Some hotels are offering day rates to people who are working remotely but don’t have a conducive working environment in their homes.
5. Be flexible. Some hotels are still seeing people searching for and booking rooms in late summer and beyond. “It’s lighter than it would be, but it does exist,” an MAB member said. However, as several members pointed out, we still don’t know what the state of the world will look like at that point in time. But if there are flexible cancellation policies in place, customers could book a future stay now that they don’t have to worry about losing money on.
One member’s sales team has been calling everyone scheduled through mid-May to rebook them; the member said that 90 percent of people want to reschedule rather than cancel. “The ones that jumped on being flexible and fair and treating people like people, those are the ones that are reaping the benefits,” another MAB member said. “We’re seeing a lot of guest feedback from social media and email saying, ‘We really appreciate your flexibility. We know you didn’t have to let us cancel without penalty, and next time we book, we’re definitely going to book with you.’”
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Resources page.