Resetting your lodging brand strategy in response to COVID-19

Learn how hotel industry leaders are changing their marketing strategy during COVID-19 and explore what brands can do to get ahead.

Many industry leaders have come together to tackle the big question; What can we do to recover? We had a conversation with Hari Nair, senior vice president of Expedia Group Media Solutions, to discuss what he’s learned from industry leaders and advice that’ll help lodging partners recover from COVID-19. 

With over 18 years of experience, Nair has overseen global business development and marketing and lodging strategy at Expedia Group. In that time, he has helped travel partners through a variety of crises and has gathered key learnings along the way.

Along with his experience, Nair brought insights from the Skift livestream forum, The Long View, on ways travel brands can navigate COVID-19 and begin to prepare for recovery. 

Here are some of the key takeaways Nair has learned that brands can consider exploring today.

Create a strategy

You’ll need to create a marketing strategy to prepare for travel to return. We recommend asking yourself a few questions to understand your approach.

  1. Who is your target audience? Has this changed as a result of COVID-19?
  2. How will you position and message your property to attract your audience?
  3. How will you reach your target audience? What channels?
  4. What will your commercial model look like with vendors and suppliers?

As you prepare your marketing plan, remember travelers’ expectations have changed because of COVID-19. We pulled recommendations you can use to be ready for travelers, and ensure your property is ready to meet new traveler expectations. 

Focus on supporting travelers

Recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 could last anywhere from three to four years, based on historical travel trends highlighted during Skift’s session. With a long recovery period ahead, the travel industry must continue supporting travelers.

We expect travelers will continue to look for company updates on policies. Already, we’ve seen the industry respond to COVID-19 by offering travelers full refunds on cancellations, waiving cancellation fees or giving travel vouchers. They’ve also enhanced cleaning practices to reassure travelers that their safety is a top priority. 

“What you gain from this is a rebuilding of trust and credibility of your brand with your customer base,” Nair said about the industry’s response. “Companies are also taking this time to reassure travelers about what they’re doing to make travel in the future safe.”

Young travelers, baby boomers and corporate travelers may be the first demographics to return, according to the recent Skift session. These are typical trends for these travelers. 

“Perhaps young travelers because they’re healthier and not as worried about the risk. Maybe baby boomers because they have time and income at their disposal. These seem like the categories that will likely jump first with both feet in,” Nair explained. Still, hotel partners should stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 traveler trends as many regions will have to adapt their policies.

The Skift session also revealed that while it’ll be hard to guess who will travel first, there are already new trends emerging. Recent data from Phocuswright showed travelers associate flying with a higher risk of infection. This data suggests more travelers will drive to nearby destinations first—within markets such as the US, Australia, Canada and Europe—so expect more road trips in the future. We also expect that domestic travel will be the first to open up, as countries minimize the potential risk of opening their borders to international tourism.

Positioning your marketing strategy to capture domestic bookings, especially those taking road trips, should be your priority during and after recovery. You can reach these potential travelers by having data on your competitive markets, especially within driving distance, and understanding areas of opportunity and travel intent. When travel returns, keep up to date with the latest consumer research and booking behaviors to reach these travelers at the right time. 

Reach travelers at the right time

Right now, we’re in a period of understanding. We need to listen and watch traveler behavior and motivations during this time, so we are best prepared to engage with them when travel returns. Nair shared how, right now, he’s seeing travel brands post experiences and memories on social media, creating optimism for travelers for the days ahead.

Once travel returns, the industry will focus on driving bookings and using trends in the marketplace to understand how to recover. Nair shared that for Expedia Group Media Solutions, that means providing our advertising partners with access to Expedia Group’s data and insights, so they can see the changing behaviors and motivations, and know they’re talking to the right audience, with the right message, at the right time. 

“We’re such large aggregators of data that we’re able to see trends in a marketplace much earlier than individual providers,” Nair explained. “We don’t make predictions, but present the information as we see it so properties can make informed decisions.”

We encourage those interested in advertising opportunities to visit our Media Solutions COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more about future recovery.