How to adapt your hotel recovery plan for today’s travelers

Understand what today’s leisure traveler wants, from enhancing health and hygiene measures to flexible booking policies, can help you prepare and adapt your reopening strategy.

The new normal. It’s a phrase we’re likely to hear many times in the coming months. At its core is a question. As the world begins to open up, what will the new world of travel look like, and how can you adapt your recovery plan?

We set out to help find you answers. CBRE, a global leader in real estate services, published a report, “Expectations for the Year Ahead,” exploring historical precedent and projections for travel in 2020.

Susan Spinney, formerly Vice President of Owner Relations for Lodging for Expedia Group, current Vice President of Ground Transport, sat down with us to dissect the report and bring critical trends back to you. 

Preparing for the return of leisure travelers

New babies. Grandchildren. Friends. Relatives. The people we couldn’t see during our time apart. The desire to connect with people may spur the first wave of travel.

“I think for a lot of people, initial trips are not going to be about places, they’re going to be about people,” Susan explained.

Should leisure travelers be the first to return, it will bring both challenges and opportunities.

Companies that traditionally focus on business travel will quickly pivot to the leisure market, adding to the pool of competitors.

The question for you: How will you stand out?

First, we need to understand how tomorrow’s travelers will think.

Understanding the mindset of tomorrow’s leisure travelers

Susan believes three key trends will impact hoteliers, innkeepers, and bed and breakfast owners, in tomorrow’s world.

  1. Need for flexibility. Seasonal destinations may see shifts in travel patterns, with demand shifting and changing in unfamiliar ways. In addition, travelers will crave security and flexibility when it comes to bookings. People will face financial insecurity, and uncertainty around the viability of travel, and will want insurance that their dollars are protected. 
  2. Focus on health and safety. Families will want certainty that the places they stay prioritize cleanliness, and their well-being is protected. 
  3. Ability to foster connection. The first wave of travel won’t just be about places—it will be about people. Visiting loved ones. Returning to favorite destinations. Connecting with the moments we missed. Those who thrive will find unique ways to foster connection.

Hoteliers that find success in this new world will understand these trends and adapt strategies, so that they stand out from the rest.  

What you can do to stand out 

The desire to explore the world is universal. The pull of travel will be strong after weeks of government-restricted movement. One of the ways we can help those who are eager to spread their wings is to build flexibility into our strategies.

Help travelers by being flexible and agile

History shows us that when people feel insecure about finances, travel suffers. 

CBRE’s study found that after 9/11, people were afraid to fly for months. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, cash flow and wealth uncertainties severely impacted travel. 

The COVID-19 crisis adds another layer of complexity. Susan explained, “I think the same constraints exist for travelers in terms of finances and uncertainty, but now you have that added layer, the fear of being sick, of being quarantined, of being stuck somewhere or having your plans impacted last minute.” 

To thrive going forward, develop a recovery plan that favors flexibility so that travelers feel confident in booking with you. 

Susan explained, “We all need to be ready to adjust and adapt very quickly.” This extends to four key areas:

  1. Policies. Offer flexibility around cancellations as well as incentives for early and advance bookings to inspire guests to act.
  2. Market conditions. Be knowledgeable about your market and know where you fit in. Learn what a good deal looks like in your market. Susan also cautions to think through your pricing strategy using market conditions from 9/11 as a guide to current market conditions. As one example, if you dropped prices to attract guests, but still charged $42 for a burger at your restaurant, you likely did not earn incremental revenue. Make sure to align your pricing across the whole of your organization—room rates, food, upsells and beyond to make sure the guests you attract will take advantage of all you have to offer.
  3. Inventory. Many guests are adopting a wait and see attitude when it comes to travel. Others are looking to book far out and are discouraged by the lack of opportunity. Make sure you’re offering opportunities for last-minute bookings and adding inventory through the first half of 2021 on your indirect channels, to maximize opportunities.
  4. Guest behaviors. As travel rebounds, traveler behavior may change. For example, driving may become more prevalent than flying. What does your parking situation look like? Can you accommodate the increased demand for spaces as well as facilitate a touch-free experience?

Think about all elements of your experience from room service to restaurants and think: How can I create a strategy that makes things more convenient for my guests? This will help you stand out from the crowd.

For a deep dive into brand strategy, see our article Resetting your lodging brand strategy in response to COVID-19.

Show and tell when it comes to health and hygiene

In today’s world, health and safety practices will be a critical differentiator—both the precautions you implement and how you communicate those initiatives.

Susan explains, “Today it’s about safety. I want to know when I’m going on that property with my children that there’s not a risk of getting sick.” Recommendations include:

  1. Go above and beyond. Hotels that stand out will take extra measures to make sure guests feel safe. One example is clean seals—stickers sealing doors after rooms are cleaned that communicate cleanliness to guests. As you think through your strategy, find ways to go above and beyond others in your market to make guests feel safe. Extra measures will help you stand out from the pack. 
  2. Communicate your precautions. While your hotel safety and health measures are important, your communication strategy around your precautions is equally so. Many of us have not stayed in a hotel, booked a car or air ticket in a while. The key here is to communicate confidence, both pre- and post-reservation, consistently across all channels. Use your website, OTA messaging tools, email, phone and other channels to reinforce the precautions you’ve taken and help inspire those on the fence to take action. Double-check the consistency on all your channels. Variances can cause confusion and may prevent guests from booking. In addition, deliver messages right after guests’ book, in reminder emails, as well during check-in. Overcommunication will ensure your guests feel safe. 
  3. Think beyond the room. Self check-in, common areas, viewpoints—the things that make you different than everyone else. Take care to put special hotel cleaning protocols into place to make these areas safe and secure for guests. 

For more thoughts on health and safety, read: Three health and hygiene measures to help your guests feel safe.

Foster connections with guests

While we’ve all seen trying times these last months, seasonal destinations have been among the hardest hit. 

Travelers missed trips during the March-May peak season and are shifting travel to later in the year. Now the time to make connections to recapture some of that lost revenue. Among the critical activities:

  • Reach out to past guests. In our new normal, seasonal trends will be turned on their heads. Susan explains, “If guests don’t stay with you this summer in Cape Cod, you can’t get that back. On the other hand, the people who didn’t take their usual spring or summer trips may create a new peak season by taking off in the fall.” 

Susan shared, “What I hear a lot from people is that there’s a sense of loyalty out there. They’ve gone to Aruba every spring break and they missed that this quarter. There’s a desire to go back to destinations where they’ve had wonderful memories and give back because they want to create future memories in those same locations.” Reach out to past guests and remind them that they can create wonderful memories—no matter the time of year.

  • Develop creative ways to create community. “We’ve seen car rental companies reducing their age restrictions and fees so younger renters could more easily get home. In New York, we’ve seen rental car companies providing free vehicle rentals to health care workers.” Susan shared. As another example, Expedia Group is introducing a hotel stay program for Singapore healthcare professionals. Called the Singapore Healthcare Heroes program, healthcare professionals can book discounted rates to self-isolate, rest and recuperate. 

How can you work to foster connections and community where you are?

  • Double down on what makes you unique. Now is the time to put your best foot forward. Pictures, reviews, amenities—revisit all your marketing materials. How can you help travelers picture the memories they’ll make at your property? Now is the time to double down on your emotional connection to the market. 

Travel is coming. Let’s prepare together.

Despite the tumult in our world, one thing remains constant: we all desire connection.

Connection to loved ones, places and experiences. 

Take the time to create a sense of community that caters to your customer’s needs as they are today—in your policies, rates, website, OTA listings and beyond—and you’ll be ready to welcome guests when the world opens up. 

For more COVID-19 advice for hotels, read: People will travel again. Will you be ready?