It’s hard to know exactly how fast hotel occupancy levels will bounce back as COVID-19 cases drop and travel restrictions lift around the globe. Will travel consumers, confined at home for so long, burst out of the gates as soon as borders reopen? Or will they cautiously hang back, waiting to be sure that it’s safe to go out into the world again? Either way, travel demand is resilient and occupancy will recover, but uncertainty and fear of reoccurring outbreaks is likely to inhibit consumer confidence for a while.
To maximize occupancy and revenue in a post-COVID-19 world, it’s important for hotels to prepare for evolving demand and guest expectations.
Demand driven by domestic market
Health and safety concerns and financial hardship due to the pandemic will deter many travelers from air travel even as international borders open. In the short- to mid-term aftermath of the crisis, a large portion of travelers will likely avoid airports and crowded urban centers, in favor of cheaper, safer domestic trips to less-populated, drive-to destinations.
This initial trend will bode well for boutique properties in quieter areas that can adapt their marketing strategy to the domestic market. Good food, outdoor activities and self-guided or small-group tours will be attractive inclusions in staycation packages during the pandemic recovery phase.
Large chains and convention hotels that typically cater to international travelers will probably experience a longer path to recovery, however luxury resorts situated off the beaten path may see a near-term resurgence in international bookings, especially those located in regions less affected by the virus.
Stricter health and safety measures
The virus’ high infection rate and the resulting promotion of physical distancing and handwashing has made the public keenly aware of sanitization protocols. Going forward, stricter, visible health and safety measures will be required to reassure and attract guests back to airports, hotels, restaurants and other public venues.
Cleaning has always been extremely important to hotel operation, but, unlike before, it will no longer be a hidden process. Instead, guests will expect and desire to see sanitization measures in practice in order to feel safe, perhaps permanently.
Visible demonstrations of health and safety measures may include regular cleaning of surfaces, official clean certification, frequent accessibility to hand sanitizer, temperature screening of guests and staff, furniture placement for increased physical spacing in common areas (including restaurants and gyms), signs requesting physical distancing compliance (like limiting elevator use to one party at a time), removal of shared amenities like breakfast buffets and in-room minibars, implementation of self-check-in and other self-service apps, and promotion of less visible policies like the deep-cleaning of rooms and 48-hour room holds between stays.
Flexible change and cancellation policies
Many hotels have implemented flexible change and cancellation policies during this crisis to help preserve customer loyalty. Going forward, it would be wise for properties to maintain flexible policies that give customers confidence to book during the recovery phase when fears of a resurgence of the virus are still very real.
Consider temporarily reducing or eliminating cancellation and change fees for both existing reservations and new bookings on all rate types until the situation stabilizes. For cancellations, offering credit or a voucher in place of a refund will help secure future business.
Flexibility should be applied to rewards programs too. Extend point expiry dates and status validity accordingly to make sure your loyal customers don’t lose program points and benefits due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Lockdowns and travel restrictions around the globe have given our planet a bit of a breather, and the positive effects on the environment are obvious. As a result of the reduction in pollution, the canals in Venice and the sky over Beijing are clear for the first time in decades and smog levels are down over several major cities around the world. Seen by many as a silver lining and evidence that the environment can indeed heal given a chance, there may be renewed vigour for increased sustainability efforts following this crisis.
While pollution levels will likely return with a vengeance as economies push to make up for lost time, consumers may be more motivated than ever to take action by making sustainable choices. It makes sense there will be a focus on local, environmentally friendly and socially responsible business practices as we emerge from a world of highest caution.
As this global crisis subsides, businesses that have a positive impact on their community will shine.
COVID-19 has had a deep impact on our daily lives and will continue to impact the way we live, work and travel for some time to come. Be prepared to meet evolving demand and guest expectations as we emerge from this crisis. A focus on guest safety, flexible policies and community involvement will help contribute to a positive guest experience that wins loyal customers and maximizes occupancy and revenue in a post-COVID-19 world.