As a company and brand it can be hard to know what to say when the whole world seems to be grinding to a halt and business is far from usual. For the time being, travel restrictions and physical distancing have devastated demand for travel services, including airlines, hotels, restaurants and attractions. While COVID-19 is a unique challenge, we know from past global tragedies and recessions that the travel industry will recover. Humans have always traveled, and once we beat the threat of COVID-19, we will travel again with enthusiasm and renewed appreciation.
In the meantime, it’s important for businesses to maintain a connection with their customers. Take this opportunity to strengthen your customer relationships so that your hotel will be top of mind when travel bounces back.
Focus on your property’s social media channels and take advantage of organic traffic. Social media, including your hotel blog, is the least expensive form of marketing and—right now—may be the most effective. People are turning to social media more than ever to stay connected, informed, entertained and inspired during this time of lockdowns and physical distancing.
But, what do you say to your customers who, like you, are experiencing varying levels of fear and uncertainty as our daily lives have been disrupted to the core? Content you scheduled before this crisis is probably no longer appropriate, so hold it back for now or at least review it from our current perspective to avoid coming across as insensitive, irrelevant or, worse, exploitative.
Now, more than ever, the right message is key to building customer relationships as the focus shifts from selling to caring.
During these uncertain times, we all have a lot of questions. In relation to your property, customers want to know about your COVID-19 status and how you are helping to keep people safe. The clearer you can be, the more helpful and reassuring you are to your customers. Is your property open for bookings or temporarily closed? What procedures are in place, or will be in place, for keeping guests and staff safe? What, if any, are the ramifications of canceling or changing bookings during this time?
If your hotel is able to support the community in some way, get the word out. Hotels in areas under lockdown may be open to frontline workers and members of the public needing to self-isolate. Some properties are adapting to current needs by providing services such as meal deliveries, food donations and laundry services. Providing real solutions to current needs will be noticed and appreciated by customers—both those who require the support and those who don’t.
Even properties that are temporarily closed can stay connected to customers with helpful suggestions about how to stay positive and healthy under stay-home orders. Sharing recipes from your restaurant or at-home relaxation techniques from your spa, for example, can provide a welcome distraction for customers in quarantine and allows them to enjoy elements of your property in their own homes.
>> Provide updates about your property’s status (open/open with limited services/temporarily closed/opening soon…)
>> Outline or demonstrate protocols and precautions you are implementing to keep guests safe when staying at your property, for example, enhanced housekeeping measures.
>> Highlight safe places and things to do in your city that comply with physical distancing rules and other restrictions in place, for example self-guided outdoor activities, viewpoints, scenic drives.
>> Share your efforts to support the community during this time.
>> Promote (sensitively) special offers, amenities, and flexible cancellation policies available for immediate or future bookings.
>> Share recipes, work-out routines, at-home spa treatments, and kids’ activities from your property’s experts that people can use at home.
There’s enough bad news out there at the moment. We all need some positive input to help see us through to brighter days. Be a part of that light for your customers with messages that comfort and inspire, and reinforce the feeling that despite physical distancing rules, we are all in this together.
This doesn’t mean that we should make light of the situation, and we should definitely not ignore it. This is indeed a grave situation that we are in, and many are dealing with significant loss. Messages should convey a compassionate and hopeful tone, highlighting the good coming out of this crisis and reminding customers of what there is to look forward to.
>> Introduce/interview your employees; what do they love about their job, how are they staying positive, and what are they most looking forward to when the COVID-19 crisis is over?
>> Remind customers of what makes your property special and that it’s waiting for them when they return (the dazzling sunset views from your patio, private hot tubs, or exquisite menu…).
>> If your property is open, share positive reviews coming through at this time.
>> Share interesting or little-known facts about your city to drum up inspiration for future travel.
>> Share feel-good news stories about your local area, from acts of kindness to community initiatives to positive impacts on the natural environment.
>> Share livestreams, webcams or virtual tours from local venues and attractions that allow people to share in experiences from their own homes, for example, Shedd Aquarium’s penguin walk.
>> Ask guests to share travel memories (photos) from past stays with you.
Show customers you care
Now is the time to stand behind your brand values and show customers you care. Reinforce your commitment to their wellbeing and to customer service. Be sensitive to their needs and emotions and show them you understand the issues they are facing.
Review all messaging before publishing, carefully assessing how it may be perceived. Position your offerings as providing value to customers and relevant to real needs in the current climate. Modify calls to action (CTAs) to downplay urgency and excitement in favor of a more helpful tone, for example, instead of accompanying a package promotion with a “Book now!” button, consider choosing a less urgent CTA like “Learn more.”
Focus on strengthening existing customer relationships through messaging that empathizes, supports and inspires. And be responsive. Responding quickly and thoughtfully to comments and questions is one of the best ways to show your customers you are there for them.
Whether your property is able to remain open or has had to temporarily close, maintaining a connection with customers during these uncertain times will help set properties on the right foot when the industry recovers. As the focus shifts from selling to caring, the right messages will earn loyal customers who will stick by your business through this crisis and beyond. Don’t go dark. Be there for your customers and they will be there for you.