By Theodore Holloway, CHDM, Vice President of Digital Marketing, Remington Hotels, and vice-chair of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board
As vacation destinations begin to reopen along with the rest of the country, the pace is vastly different from one part of the country to another. HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) members shared their experiences thus far on a call on May 21. Here are key takeaways from our call:
1. On one end of the spectrum is Hawaii, which is struggling to get visitors. The islands are still requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine, both for visitors from outside the state and for Hawaii residents traveling between islands. This has led to several travelers being arrested for breaking the quarantine. “It’s been pretty wild here in Hawaii,” said one MAB member with properties in Hawaii. “Luckily, we don’t have a lot of cases of COVID, but the locals are very sensitive to keeping it that way.”
Because of the quarantine, which has been extended to the end of June, the member said it is more difficult for properties on the island to come back compared to their counterparts in the continental United States. “We’re kind of all in a holding pattern,” the member said. “We’re seeing all the good news on the mainland of people having a hunger to travel and even starting to travel. But for Hawaii, it’s more tricky. We don’t really have a drive market, and even if we did have some occupancy from locals, it’s not going to offset the 30,000 visitors we are accustomed to having every day. There’s a lot of uncertainty of when things will reopen, and it’s very complicated trying to figure it all out.”
Another MAB member added: “One key point that everybody could take away from Hawaii is that trying to enforce a 14-day average length of stay doesn’t actually work.”
2. Myrtle Beach is experiencing the opposite of Hawaii. Myrtle Beach is one of the top destinations on Booking.com and has been advertising heavily on social media throughout the pandemic, leading to an influx of visitors over Memorial Day weekend, with some hotels being completely full. One MAB member based in the Myrtle Beach area said that the rush of people led to multiple issues, with limited hotel and restaurant staff, food supply, and people not social distancing.
“From a PR perspective, it was really bad, because there were a lot of social media videos,” the member said. “And a lot of regional media picked up on the fact that people were not social distancing. It’s a large concern and it’s not going to be unique to us.”
The member predicted that this could happen in other destinations as well, especially ones that are easily accessible via driving. “On the one side economically, that’s a really positive sign that people are going to travel when they can,” the MAB member said. “But on the other side, it really makes me nervous that they’re not going to do it in a responsible way. We’re going to see a massive resurgence of the disease and it’s going to knock us back for the entire summer.”
3. Many factors in and out of hoteliers’ control will affect destinations’ recovery. Airlines play a large role in travelers’ vacation plans. For example, United Airlines recently announced that it will not leave middle seats unoccupied, but if a flight is 70 percent or more full, it will notify passengers, who can choose if they still want to travel or not. “It’s not the hotels that people are afraid of,” one member said. “It’s the airlines.”
Several MAB members said they don’t think companies will force employees to travel any time soon, and that leisure will be the thing to focus on. “Even if the airlines promised to not be crowded, businesses aren’t going to take the liability of forcing someone to travel,” one member said.
“There are too many companies that have already said they aren’t going to force travel until 2021,” another member said. “They don’t want to risk something happening. You’re going to see leisure come back long before corporate comes back.”
4. Digital strategy is more important than ever. As many companies have faced budgetary restrictions, social media and digital advertising have taken a hit, even as consumers are spending more time online. “It’s a shame, because I think we miss some huge opportunities to connect with our bases,” one member said.
“Travel’s the number-one interest on Instagram,” one member said. “People are really looking to continue to be inspired. But the challenge, obviously, is dealing with the stay-in-place things. As you think about coming back, lean into creative opportunities on how you can break through, but also make sure that your destination or your brand is being discovered in a new and different way as the world changes.”
“One of the biggest challenges we see in travel is called the ‘sea of sameness,’” another member said. “Everybody posts a beautiful palm tree and a beach, but you can’t really tell what destination it is. And so, I think the biggest opportunity to break through is to make sure that your brand or destination is breaking through that sea of sameness, and not only getting the credit, but also getting the booking.”
Another MAB member recommended focusing on mobile right now, because it is a larger driver of bookings than usual. “We’ve seen almost 90 percent of all bookings come in during this crisis via the mobile channel,” the member said. “It’s very important to understand how your rates are displaying on mobile, but also just to be competitive on the mobile channel because everyone’s booking two days or less, or 30 days out. There’s really no in between right now.”
One member said that even though her company has more resources than most, it is still struggling as much as many smaller ones right now. “If you’re small and you’re worried that you haven’t got it figured out, and if your company is big and hasn’t got it figured out either, just know that we’re all in the same situation,” the member said. “As an industry right now, it’s about locking arms and doing this together and building confidence for the consumer.”
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Resources page.