By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
As part of its Confronting Coronavirus: What’s Next? webinar series, HSMAI hosted a marketing-focused program on April 8 called “Staying Focused on Messaging and Tactics.” Dan Wacksman, CHDM, CRME, principal at Sassato LLC; Stuart Butler, CDHM, COO of Fuel, and Tammie Carlisle, head of hospitality at Milestone, offered insights and advice for hospitality marketing professionals in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with each giving a brief mini-presentation of their own. All three presenters are members of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board, with Wacksman serving as chair. Here are some of their key recommendations:
1. Update your web presence. The first thing to do to update your website with accurate information, including an FAQ section. FAQs are especially important, Carlisle said, because they allow Google to pull the answers to customers’ common questions in a zero-click format or via a voice-activated search. Butler further recommended adding a banner to the front page of the website that links to the FAQ page, which should address people’s concerns and highlight any policy changes. “People that come to your website are actively looking for you,” he said. “And they’re looking for reassurance.”
According to Carlisle, there are several more steps that you should taken to ensure that customers are accurately informed on the status of your business. This includes updating your hours — not just on your website but also on Google and Facebook — as well as updating on Google if you offer takeout/delivery and, if applicable, marking your business as temporarily closed. However, she said, check that marking the business as temporarily closed does not cause any legal issues, which can come up in some jurisdictions.
“Mobile is especially critical in a COVID-19 setting,” Carlisle said. “Look at the mobile version of your site and make sure you elevate the call to action to the earliest engagement stage, create a lightbox for offers and news updates, and, if you can, add a multi-option booking engine and geo-targeted content.”
2. Focus on clear communication with guests and partners. Butler encouraged proactive outbound communication through social media, email, and phone calls, including letting guests know about future specials, what the property is doing to help protect guests and the local area, and other positive stories. “People are looking to hear from you,” he said. “You just have to figure out what to say that will have the biggest impact.”
When you talk to partners to renegotiate contracts, Wacksman said, do that via phone or video call. Understand they will be under similar stress. Explain your current situation and thoughts, and discuss options with an open mind. Before even speaking to them, make sure you know what is in every contingency clause, your current and projected future needs for the partner’s service, and your preferred outcome of the conversation. “How hotels treat their partners will matter,” Wacksman said. “Make every effort to be a good partner.”
3. Be practical and proactive. “You need to be ready for recovery,” Wacksman said, “and you need to focus on your strategy and create new campaigns and assets.” He suggested conducting market analysis to learn more about competitors in addition to preparing messaging and campaigns that reflect the new reality. “You need to have your creative campaigns ready to run,” Wacksman said, “on your website, social media, emails, and search results.”
As workers are still being laid off and furloughed, Carlisle advised making sure that multiple people know logins and passwords, and how to run campaigns and do the essential marketing functions. That way, if someone leaves, the business can still easily be run by someone else.
Wacksman predicts that restrictions eventually will be lifted one by one, but even when travel is allowed, guests might not be able to because of financial limitations or lasting psychological implications of the pandemic. “Our lifestyle will change because of this,” he said.
Butler said that even though it’s tempting, we can’t encourage people to travel yet and shouldn’t drop rates unnecessarily. What’s more important to guests, he said, is flexibility to cancel and the overall approach of the hotel. “Be sincere, helpful, reassuring, and empathetic,” Butler said. “Avoid hastiness, insensitivity, tone-deafness, and being self-serving.”
4. Don’t be afraid to have fun. “Levity can be really powerful right now,” Butler said. One example he gave was a resort that gave potential guests a chance to relax at home with a video of the ocean that they could watch and pretend to be there.
Carlisle said that social media can be used effectively in this way. She suggested that hotels could highlight specialty drinks from their bars, show how to make a fun hand scrub, and share tips that customers could use at home to stay safe. “It’s not just for being salesy,” Carlisle said. “Give practical advice and have fun interactions.”
Watch the entire HSMAI Confronting Coronavirus: What’s Next? webinar “Staying Focused on Messaging and Tactics” here. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Resources hub.