7 Virtues and Sins for COVID-19 Hotel Advertising

Recovery for the travel industry has varied widely based on differing responses to the virus and the pace at which restrictions have been lifted. Some countries in the APAC region, for instance, began easing restrictions in May, permitting some local travel. Also in May, European countries began lifting restrictions on businesses, and we are already seeing increased user demand for domestic trips in this region. In the Americas, major markets, such as the United States, are easing their lockdowns on a state-by-state basis, and user demand has been increasing steadily over the last five weeks.

As the early signs of recovery begin to unfold, Koddi has identified seven virtues and sins of hotel marketing amid COVID-19. While the pace and specific recovery trends vary by region and by brand, broadly implementing the strategies below can aid recovery efforts.

SEVEN VIRTUES

  1. Promoting flexible cancellation. As recovery begins in some regions, travelers may be initially uneasy when booking again. Offer a flexible cancellation policy so that travelers have peace-of-mind. To help instill trust in the booking process and to build brand loyalty, consider allowing customers to reserve their stay without immediate payment and permit flexible cancellation up until the arrival date. Aim to process refunds as swiftly as possible, should travelers’ plans change due to unanticipated restrictions.
  2. Encouraging domestic adventures. The largest increase in demand we have seen is through domestic searches. Domestic searches generally comprise the majority of searches, even prior to this global pandemic. Hotels should still focus their initial recovery efforts on domestic travelers, particularly resort destinations, that typically rely on international visitors.
  3. Reinforcing accessibility and transportation amenities. Hotel stays are expected to recover faster than airline travel, which may take longer to fully ramp up. Bearing this in mind, domestic travel will continue to be a dominant trend around the world, making accommodations like ample parking, shuttle services, and access to public transit important considerations for prospective travelers. Reinforcing these benefits as part of your messaging strategy could attract travelers who are planning to drive to their destinations.
  4. Leaning into alternative destinations. Social distancing has become an integral part of daily life during the past three months. Most major world events have been postponed or canceled. Traditionally crowded destinations will not be as desirable if travelers feel that they are in danger. Smaller destinations – small cities, villages, national parks, and other nature sites – will allow travelers to maintain a safe distance from one another. Alternative accommodations, such as camping, or hotels offering kitchenettes that minimize the need to dine at restaurants, may also feel safer to travelers. In both the United States and Europe, we are also seeing an increase in demand for domestic beach destinations and nature sites, as well as a heightened interest in road accessible destinations. Marketers can leverage this behavior to encourage safe domestic travel.
  5. Leveraging booking window trends. With demand recovering slowly, travelers are changing their search windows by searching closer to the arrival date or further in advance than is typical. For both the U.S. and Europe, searches for short windows (5-7 days) have declined throughout May, while search windows from 15-40 days have increased. While immediate stays still dominate the search share, these weekly changes indicate a slow return to typical data. Monitor your brand’s direct booking data to assess when travelers are searching and how far out their arrival date is. This data can then be deployed to craft future marketing efforts, which may focus on same-day travelers, same week travelers, or perhaps, travelers looking to book a full year in advance.
  6. Communicating cleaning protocols. Cleanliness will be a top priority for travelers in the age of COVID-19. Hotels, regardless of their rating, should make cleanliness paramount in their new marketing efforts. Hotel brands have implemented new processes, including contact-free check-in and room service, to minimize the risk of infection between guests and staff. They have also adopted aggressive hygiene standards by keeping doors sealed to indicate that no one has entered a room after it has been cleaned and removing extra pillows and bedding from rooms. Share these new hygiene standards with your customers by adding them to your website or mobile app. Clear communication around sanitization best practices and reducing face-to-face interactions can help both your customers and your staff feel more comfortable.
  7. Managing occupancy to align with state and local policies. Regulations will likely be in place for months or years to come, potentially restricting the number of guests that stay at a hotel at one time. To capture as many bookings as possible, without exceeding max allowances per local regulations, hotels should be extra diligent when sending inventory to all marketing channels. Advertising the safety measures referenced above and strict adherence to social distancing efforts will put guests at ease.

SEVEN SINS

  1. Not leveraging the right metrics. For example, cancellation rates are an important consideration in gauging recovery – but the data must be analyzed effectively. Are you measuring cancellation rates based on all stays, including those booked pre-COVID – or, are you calculating cancellation rates as a percentage of new bookings? We recommend the latter, as it gives a healthier depiction of the net impact of activating today and identifies pockets of opportunity more accurately. Determining the right time to ramp up visibility should be based on current cancellation rates and current return on ad spend. We can leverage bid multipliers, like advanced booking window, to target lower risk cancellation segments as we keep a close eye on the data.
  2. Not showing up when customers are ready. When customers are ready to book, be there. Where there are pockets of demand and unprecedented auction dynamics, it is easy and extremely profitable to show up. Don’t let your competitors steal market share now. Nearly all top metasearch publishers have introduced adjustments to the auction dynamics that have significantly reduced the associated costs and maximized return for metasearch ads. Showing up builds trust with consumers and shows confidence that the hotel can deliver the experience the traveler is looking for.
  3. Leading with “cheapest rate” messaging. While an affordable stay is always attractive, travelers’ top concerns amid the pandemic are health and safety. If not framed appropriately, this type of messaging could be misconstrued or interpreted as tone-deaf. Ultimately, a “cheap stay” may not be the best leading message when customers have other concerns – particularly during a pandemic.
  4. Not communicating. Now is the time to be over-communicative with your guests – past, present, and future. Be vigilant in communicating any changes to your hotel policies, particularly when it comes to health, safety, and cancellation. The last thing a customer wants is a surprise at check-in or check-out as they ease back into travel.
  5. Over-servicing. During this pandemic, ensuring a healthy distance between your staff and your customers is paramount. Many hotel brands have already begun to limit housekeeping and face-to-face interactions with concierge and other staff, opting for contactless check-in, if possible. This is a transition from typical best practices, which prioritized personalized attention and frequent touch points throughout a stay. Ensuring that all customer needs are met without unnecessary interactions is key.
  6. Assuming consumers are ready. Every traveler will have a unique take on COVID-19 and the perceived risks and, therefore, a unique threshold for travel readiness. Recovery will happen slowly. For higher funnel tactics, focus on messaging that suggests that when prospective travelers are ready for their next adventure – whether it be today or next winter – your hotel is the best place they could possibly be. For lower funnel tactics, be there.
  7. Losing hope. This isn’t the travel and hospitality industry’s first crisis. We’ve endured 9/11, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, nuclear disasters, economic recessions, and more. While we’re currently one of the hardest-hit industries, travel and hospitality have proven time and time again to be extremely resilient. Take advantage of opportunities as they come, and don’t lose sight of the impressive ways the industry and its workers have continued to go above and beyond for their communities:
    • Hotels today are hosting essential workers, operating as makeshift hospitals, and uprooting processes to protect their guests.
    • Metasearch publishers have supported advertisers by ensuring that the cost to advertise is the lowest it has ever been.
    • Delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub have waived their fees to support local businesses.

Koddi continues to monitor shifts in demand throughout the globe as countries enter their recovery phases. While a return to previous market conditions is unlikely in the immediate future, hoteliers and OTAs can prepare for the new normal by implementing marketing efforts in line with traveler expectations in a post-COVID-19 world. Stay up to date with the Koddi blog post by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.