Where To Pivot Your Hotel Marketing Strategy During The COVID-19 Crisis

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We’re all following the coronavirus crisis closely. In many countries, the situation is still changing daily, even hourly.

Sadly, the hotel industry has been hit hard. Chains like Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt have taken big measures to staunch the bleeding, announcing layoffs, reducing hours, and freezing all hiring. To save their businesses, independent hotels face similar decisions around cost-cutting, opting to eliminate services, reduce staff, and slash budgets.

For the hoteliers still working — or independent owners left wearing new hats — the question of marketing is but one of many.

People are eager to travel again. When they can, hotels will want to welcome them back with open arms. Thing is, you can’t just disappear and hope for the best. It’s not “business as usual” anymore, but there are still things you can do right now to stay top of mind and ultimately, recover quicker.

Provide assistance to your community

In the hospitality industry, taking care of others is what we do. If you’re a hotel marketer unsure of what to work on, why not put your time and resources toward helping your community? Of course, if your hotel is in a position to help its employees at all, start there. If you’re able to do more externally, consider the below suggestions.

Can you donate perishable food items? Consider sending these goods to your local food kitchen or a charity. You could also try rallying other hotels in your area to do the same, and working together to increase the number of donations.

Many restaurants are trying to bring in revenue by shifting to takeaway/takeout services. Depending on your location, this could still be a viable option for your hotel while also providing a helpful service to your community.

Create care packages to help those in need. In addition to pantry items, you could include extra supplies that might otherwise go to waste, including toiletries.

There are more extreme measures to think about, too. Some hotels are being turned into temporary hospitals, while others are negotiating with local governments to provide shelter for folks under mandated isolation. The Four Seasons hotel in New York City offered free lodging to healthcare workers — several other luxury NYC hotels soon followed suit.

Touch base with your clients and partners

Now is not the time to bombard clients with sales offers, but it’s a good idea to check in. Make it a point to touch base and show clients that you care.

Fire off an email, pick up the phone, or even schedule a quick, “face-to-face” catchup using Zoom. There are plenty of ways to check in, just make sure you do it. Use this “downtime” to nurture those client relationships. While they might not be able to book anything right now, you want to be the first person they call when business picks up again. (And remember, it will.)

This doesn’t just apply to sales, either. Marketers, if you work with any outside agencies or contractors, you should do this, too.

Due to cost-cutting measures, you may have put outside contractors on pause. These relationships are still important to maintain! Make it a priority to check in often with your public relations firm, paid media or advertising agency, social media specialist, or go-to hospitality copywriter.

While you might’ve stopped their work temporarily, you’ll want to be ready to hit the ground running once things turn around.

Audit your website content

This is one of those marketing tasks that gets pushed to the bottom of every hotelier’s to-do list… Now’s the time to get it done!

While you’re reviewing each page, consider whether the content is up-to-date and actually useful. Ask yourself: Does your competitor have a similar page? How are they using it? Can you add more information to make your page better? Or, should you trim off excess content that doesn’t add value?

During these hectic times, you’ve probably made some hasty changes already. You probably added some copy about COVID-19 to your homepage or updated your booking policies to reflect changes due to current events. Your restaurant and outlet pages most likely had to be changed to announce closure or amended services, too…

I strongly recommend writing some refreshed “normal” copy for these pages. Open up a Google Doc and set aside this updated copy for your key pages. That way, you have it on hand, ready to go when things calm down.

The other piece of content I suggest you prioritize? Anything for the “Dreaming” phase of travel planning. Content marketing for hotels is a long game — the best time to start was yesterday and the second-best time to start is right now.

Write and publish fresh, relevant content about your destination: the art scene, great places to shop, top museums and attractions, beautiful nature, etc. Look ahead to the latter half of the year for what drives demand annually in your area. Write guides to those events.

Folks will be eager to travel when the restrictions ease up. They’ll be searching for ideas — make sure you show up.

Revisit your promotional calendar

If you started the year off with a detailed, quarterly marketing communications plan, well done! Now, go ahead and throw it out. Sadly, 2020 has taken us all in a direction no one anticipated. Whatever you were planning to promote in April, May, June, and most likely the third quarter, will need to be scrapped.

Salvage what you can — creative concepts, fun promotions, etc. — but put those ideas aside for another time. Focus on the reality of our current situation.

Chances are, your F&B outlets have closed entirely or pivoted to takeout/takeaway offerings. You might not even be open to room bookings right now. Weddings and corporate event planning will certainly be on hold.

It’s time to get creative.

Rather than using your valuable advertising dollars to promote sales offers, save it. Shift most of your ad budget into later in the year, when there’s at least some chance of a return to “business as usual.” If you can keep some budget aside for now, great. If not, don’t sweat it — focus your efforts on what you can do right now organically, like social media, content marketing, and SEO.

Create useful, virtual content

Most of the world is unable to travel right now. Even at home, social distancing measures mean we can’t check into a local hotel or dine out at our favorite restaurants. So how can hotels bring their services to you? Here are a few ways to put your amenities online:

  • Have your chef host a weekly cooking class and provide easy-to-follow recipes. Consider keeping the ingredients list basic, prioritizing simple recipes that use pantry staples.
  • Invite your bar manager to lead a cocktail-making class. (Again, stick to simple cocktails without too many ingredients!)
  • Are you a resort with a Kids Club? Share some at-home arts and crafts ideas.
  • Offer a yoga class or guided meditation.
  • Have your fitness trainers conduct one-on-one personal training sessions over Skype.
  • Consider shifting in-person seminars or talks into an online one, and stream it from your Facebook page. Invite a few local tastemakers to present.
  • Set up a live video feed of your most beautiful view.
  • Create a virtual walking tour of your property; inside, outside, or both.
  • Make a location-inspired Spotify playlist that folks can listen to.

Those are just a few ways to capture and share your hotel’s experience virtually. Think about the in-person services you offer and get creative!

Grow your email list

You can’t just rely on advertising and social media to reach your customers. There’s a lot of “noise” right now and the chances of your message getting through are slimmer than ever.

While it’s not a good time to be selling, you could be serving your customers with the useful, virtual content you’re working on. Email is the quickest, most efficient way to get your content directly to those contacts.

Make a plan to communicate regularly, whether that’s weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. This is how your hotel will stay top of mind with interested customers and repeat guests.

If you’re not sure of what to say/send, revisit the last point and get started on that virtual content! Once you’ve created a compelling virtual experience, you can use a simple opt-in form to deliver it and grow your hotel’s email list.

Send out a personalized offer

It’s important to tread lightly with sales efforts right now. You don’t want to slash your rates or go too aggressive with constant sales messages. However, if you’ve been communicating with your customers and serving them with useful (free) content, you might want to consider selling… a little.

Just be strategic about it.

The simplest suggestion is to send out a gift voucher promotion. Gift cards can be purchased now and used later, making them pretty attractive for folks who already know they’ll book with you at a later date. Just make sure you clearly communicate your policies around booking and date changes.

My other suggestion is to retarget past guests with a personalized offer. If you have the means to do this, I’d opt for personalization over a generic gift card email any day!

Look at what data points you have available in your CRM. You could target guests who previously stayed at your property in Q3 or Q4 and send them a personalized booking offer. Or, look for guests who make annual reservations, perhaps even for special occasions, and tailor your offer to that.

Get organized

Some hotel marketers are hyper-organized — others, not so much. Either way, it’s a good idea to make organization a priority during this downtime.

Run an audit of your social media profiles. Are they consistent? Are the profiles completely filled in? Are you tracking all traffic coming in from your links?

Have you claimed your hotel’s Google My Business listing? Is the information accurate?

Run an audit of your third party listings. Sites like Cvent, The Knot, and others all drive valuable traffic and new leads, so make sure they are in tip-top shape!

While direct bookings should be the priority, go ahead and audit your OTA listings, too. Have you filled in all profile information? Is it up-to-date? Do your room type descriptions look good? How are the photos?

While you’re doing this, start or update a running document with all of your logins. This is important to have for business continuity, should you need to make a quick handoff of responsibilities. It’s also a general best practice, given the sheer volume of logins we need to manage!

If you don’t love the idea of an Excel spreadsheet kicking around, LastPass is a great way to safely store your login info. You can also automatically generate and save more secure passwords, rather than re-using the same one.

Learn something new

There’s no time like the present to upskill. Online learning was already on the rise pre-coronavirus, but it’s now poised to really take off.

If you’re already pretty familiar with the basics, these free courses from Google are an excellent way to expand your general online marketing knowledge.

Another interesting course that caught my eye? Yale University’s popular “happiness” course, called The Science of Well-Being. It’s currently being offered for free online.


 

This public health crisis is unprecedented, but it’s still a scary time to be a hotelier.

I hope this article provided a little guidance in terms of what hotel marketers can work on right now. Remember, this too shall pass and when it does, travel brands will recover. Do what you can now to be ready when it does!

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
Jenn Zajac - Five Star Content
Jenn Zajac is an expert hotel copywriter and hotel marketing consultant with a decade of hospitality industry experience. Visit Five Star Content to explore Jenn's expert hotel copywriting services or to access free hotel marketing resources and guides, including new online hotel marketing courses: https://fivestarcontent.co/hotel-marketing-courses