How COVID Has Changed Travel Behavior

Of all the things that the pandemic disrupted around the hospitality business, nothing has been affected so deeply as guest behavior. From how guests book and travel to hotels, to what they expect in terms of service and amenities, to how they define value or approach loyalty — everything is not just different, but different for each individual guest.

In analyzing travel and booking patterns throughout the pandemic, experts in hospitality sales, marketing, and loyalty identified several key developments — some of which have long-term implications for hotel companies, especially as it relates to the importance of adapting quickly to changing guest behavior:

Leisure first: “A much higher percentage of our guests are leisure guests,” said Elizabeth Schultz, vice president of guest experience, strategy, and innovation for Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “They’re just a different makeup as it relates to not only what they’re looking for but also how they find us. They’re looking for value and they’re staying closer to home, so they’re more likely to drive. We did a survey asking people how far they were willing to drive pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four hours. Post-pandemic, guests were saying that they were willing to drive up to eight hours to go on a trip.”

Tighter booking: “We’ve seen a pretty significant shortening of the booking window,” said Eliot Hamlisch, executive vice president of loyalty and revenue optimization for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. “Whereas customers used to be more interested in booking further out, just given the uncertainty of COVID spikes and pandemic-related trends more broadly, that booking window has shortened to a pretty great extent.”

Suburbs vs. cities: “The drive markets have continued to see more business than the markets that are dependent on airlift,” said David Fleuck, senior vice president of loyalty for Marriott International. “And it’s also changed a little bit by brand tier. It’s not quite one size fits all, but typically, your suburban hotels are seeing more guests than your typical big box. Your big-box urban centers are most severely impacted.”

Cautious and savvy: “It was one thing before COVID-19 struck that maybe something was outdated or something was inaccurate on the website, but now, accuracy is key because the traveler really needs to trust in the hotel and what they’re providing,” said Valerie Castillo, vice president of marketing for TrustYou. “They need to know exactly what amenities will be open, what will be closed, what their COVID-19 procedures are. We were always dealing with savvy travelers in the past, but now this particular traveler is even more attuned to being careful and to carefully selecting their accommodations. I think we’ll see that not just during the pandemic but immediately afterward, too.”

Added Sabrina Lillew, vice president of loyalty programs – North and Central America for Accor: “While health, safety, and wellbeing have always been important to guests, it’s something that they are placing further emphasis on. Guests are looking for assurances that the necessary cleaning and hygiene protocols are in place.”

Excerpted from Do You Know Your Guests?, a white paper from HSMAI and Trust You.

Categories: Sales
Insight Type: Articles