What do we do next?

Despite our social distancing and self-isolation over the last couple of weeks, it looks like we are yet to hit the peak of COVID-19, and this means continued uncertainty for the travel and hospitality industry.

Now, for the good news: Keeping yourself busy with meaningful work is the best way to get through this. Simple advice, and for your sales and marketing organization, there is lots to do. Here are my recommendations:

Activities Now

  1. Most hotels continue to receive group and catering leads for Q4 and 2021. Be sure to have someone responding to these in a thoughtful, accurate and relationship-building manner. Your hotel may be closed, but you need experienced group-sales people responding. If they can’t get back to the customer right away with the requested information, they should at least send an e-mail acknowledging the lead and an approximate timeframe as to when they will provide the information. They should be sure to show that they’re grateful for the lead and empathize with whatever impact the virus has had on the potential client’s organization.
  2. Flip your reservations team from being exclusively reactionary to being proactive, touching base with frequent guests of the hotel. Even call centers should be trained on how to do this in a meaningful and natural way. It starts with identifying who the top guests of the hotel are. This in itself might lead to another project: cleaning up the system and finding the contact information for these valuable customers.
  3. By now, all of your proactive social media posting, public relations and advertising should be ‘dark,’ meaning that there isn’t any. Why spend money on these marketing activities when the customer is not interested in buying at this time? The exception to this advice are actions the hotel takes to show goodwill toward the community. A big shout-out to the Beverly Hills Hotel, which has been giving away food to frontline workers; such as hospitals on a regular basis. Another hotel was offering complimentary staycations for health-care workers as a respite from all their hours on the job. These heartwarming gestures will go a long way to help your customers remember your hotel positively.
  4. Continue to monitor and respond to comments on TripAdvisor and all social media channels, especially those that are unfavorable. Former guests have time on their hands to post their thoughts about their stay, whether it was last month or last year. The comments need to be responded to in the same positive, non-accusatory tone as when the hotel was fully staffed.
  5. If you furloughed your employees, be sure to stay in touch with them, especially the top performers who you want to make sure come back rather than move to a less-volatile industry. It’s better if this is done on a personal level (versus a mass e-mail) and is important as a periodic ‘check-in.’

Recovery Plan

  1. The pandemic has impacted our business not only for the next few months; it will probably trigger an economic downturn afterward. This means that each hotel needs to revisit its strategic plan and, in some cases, develop an entirely new direction to find and generate revenue for the remainder of the year. This becomes the foundation of the recovery plan.
  2. As much as we would like to have full hotels the day we open, that is unlikely. Operations can predict what positions will be needed based on business volume, but the sales and marketing department re-staffing needs to be more strategic. While group and catering leads continue to come in, leisure travelers are expected to be the first to return to hotels. This is being seen right now in China as affluent leisure travelers start to return to hotels there. Have sales managers who are covering the local transient market return to work weeks before the hotel opens to get ahead of the competition. The strategy will also determine when each sales and marketing position returns to work in a phased-in process.
  3. With the expected lower occupancy for the first few months, develop a plan to capture more revenue from each guest who arrives to your hotel. Turn every employee into a salesperson by promoting all revenue-generating areas of the hotel. How do you motivate them to take this step? What are the talking points? Here are some examples:
    1. The bellman enthusiastically talks about the on-property restaurants.
    2. The front desk upsells to suites.
    3. The concierge promotes the spa.
    4. Room-service menus feature comfort food.
    5. The reservations team increases conversions.
  4. It’s probably going to take longer for customers to get back on planes. They’ll likely choose to drive in their vehicle rather than share space on a plane with potentially looming germs. Yet, there will definitely be pent-up demand as the public welcomes the freedom and ability to travel anywhere again. Focus on the drive-in market for leisure travel that is 2 to 3 hours away for staycations. Identify travel agencies and zip codes for geotargeting advertising.
  5. Develop a stepped-up plan for social media, PR, advertising and e-mail communication that includes specific messaging that captures and acknowledges how the public is feeling.

If you would like help figuring out what to do next, schedule a 30-minute confidential session with Jo-Anne. This offer is complimentary during the months of April and May 2020 for all subscribers to the Strategic Hospitality Report. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, simply reach out to Jo-Anne at [email protected].


"Hotels in the United States must not just focus their efforts, energies and resources on getting through the pandemic but, most importantly, they must prepare for the recovery from a financial, operational and marketing standpoint."
Michelle Russo, Chief Executive Officer of hotelAVE, hotelAVE COVID-19 Hotel Outlook

Take the Next Step Now

Need help? Hire Jo-Anne to help you

  • Turn all your employees into revenue drivers
  • Train your reservations team to be proactive and increase conversions
  • Develop a strategic plan to manage today’s uncertainty
  • Optimize your sales and marketing organization
  • Have a trusted advisor available to you for consultation and recommendations

If you would like to hear more, simply reach out to Jo-Anne at [email protected].

About Jo-Anne Hill

Jo-Anne is an industry expert who founded JH Hospitality Consulting to help hotels around the world dramatically improve revenue and profitability in creative ways. Her strategic thinking, skill, and practical approach to problem-solving come from hands-on experience at companies such as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Mandarin-Oriental Hotel Group, Dorchester Collection, and Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts.

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