As we slowly start to emerge from our houses, and businesses start to reopen around the world, things do not seem to be the same and life can appear very different from the one we said goodbye to before lockdown. Although I think we would all love to use the term “post-covid” for so many reasons, the reality, unfortunately, is that this is not the case, Covid-19 is still very much out there.
Nowhere is this “new way of life” more noticeable than in the hospitality industry thanks to the restrictions imposed to control the spread of the virus, and, in turn, the changes that need to be made to service offering.
Guidelines and legislation issued by governments and local authorities should be every hospitality professional’s first port of call, understanding what is now expected of you in this industry is essential. Re-thinking spaces to accommodate social distancing and reducing touch points with guests are a few actions on a long list of to-dos for hoteliers, not only for the guests’ safety and reassurance, but also for the safety of your employees. So once you have wade through what is expected of you legally, what do you do next?
Get to know what guests expect from you in post-lockdown conditions
GuestRevu recently conducted a study asking over 2500 travellers for their post-lockdown plans and opinions to assist the hospitality industry in preparing to provide a great guest experience whilst ensuring that guests feel safe. Some of the key procedures guests felt happy with included having their hands sprayed with sanitiser, virtual or contactless check-in and check-out and having rooms serviced while they were out (see the results here). 98.2% of people said they were happy to have their temperature scanned on arrival. Respondents' top suggestions for hoteliers included “Clearly displayed protocols” “Available hand sanitisers in all public areas and rooms” and “Room service availability without extra charges”.
With all the changes you will be making, communication is key in this current climate, letting your guests know what they can expect and what is expected of them is paramount, but how do you do that and reduce contact?
Communication is key
Having your tech stack in order now will help you achieve communication whilst reducing touch points between guests and staff where possible. Some key aspects to consider include:
- Your website – making sure that potential guests visiting your website can find all the information they need on what you are doing to mitigate the Covid-19 risk is definitely and step in the right direction.
- Your cancellation policy – Ensuring that your cancellation policy is easy to find, understand and has been reviewed and updated recently to take into account the uncertainty of the market is a must, 67% of all respondents to our recent survey said that this would affect their decision when booking.
- Your booking procedure – Making the experience of booking a stay as smooth as possible by having an integrated booking engine or PMS with built-in booking capabilities will help to increase your direct bookings.
- Communication channels – Pre-stay communication to set guests expectations as well as communication during their stay is more essential now than ever. There are a number of ways this can be achieved, Apps personalised to your hotel delivering live information and updated, QR codes in bedrooms that can be scanned, completed and sent directly to reception with requests, or even a radio station tailored to your hotel, such as those offered by Instore Radio, offering relaxing music and friendly announcements will help reassure and make guest feel safe in your venue.
The good news is that over 86% of travellers suggested that they would be looking to travel before the end of the year. 83.3% of respondents had not yet decided on where they would stay and said that cost, ease of travel and online reviews would impact their decision when making a booking. So how do you get potential guests to consider your offering?
Online reviews and guest feedback are vitally important
For the last few years – even before our industry was turned upside down by the pandemic – we have been seeing the impact of online reviews on buying decisions increase. People trust online reviews almost as much as personal recommendations, people visit online travel agents and review sites when deciding where to stay, and having a good online reputation has even been shown to correlate with increases in occupancy and RevPAR.
The reason that online reviews are so influential is because they provide something known in psychology, and marketing, as “social proof”. All of us look to others for clues on how to act and what to do. For example, when one person stands behind another at a counter, others will stand behind them and a queue will form.
Of course, none of us has a crystal ball, and we cannot peer with certainty into the future, but we can – as they say in mathematics – work from our knowns to our unknowns. What we know about social proof is that it becomes even more influential when people are unsure, and we know that people are unsure about travel now. In order to make sure people want to travel again, we must remind them why the experiences travel provides are worth the potential risks and that you are doing everything you can as the service provider to reduce the risks.
This means that now is the time to really focus on your online reviews and your online reputation, and making sure that you make the most of your social proof. During normal times, and of course we will get back to normal at some point, a healthy online reputation can be visualised with what we like to call the “virtuous circle”.
Ideally, after a guest stays at a property, they give feedback, the hotel analyses that feedback and implements changes to its operations where necessary, which leads to better reviews and improves online reputation, meaning that more travellers want to book a stay at your hotel.
At each point in the circle, you have the opportunity to improve your online reputation, become an active participant in how your business is perceived online, or capitalise on guest feedback for operational and marketing purposes.
Of course, you may be struggling with low occupancy at the moment, which will have an effect on this virtuous circle. Using Guest feedback and Online Reputation, what actions can you take to ensure you are positioned for a speedy recovery?
Use feedback from your guests to gauge effectiveness of new strategies and procedures
Ask each and every guest for feedback and reviews – according to a study by BrightLocal 76% of people who are asked to leave a review actually do it. This number varies from industry to industry, but we have seen definite improvements in the volume of reviews GuestRevu clients get when they ask for reviews and use our Tripadvisor integration.
Even if you did manage your guest feedback through surveys before Covid-19, you may want to consider changing or adding to the questions that you asked in order to focus on the changes that you have made. For example:
- Did you find virtual check-in and check-out easy to use?
- Please rate the hand-sanitiser provided in your room?
- Did you feel that the hotel did everything it could to mitigate / reduce the COVID-19 risk?
- Were you able to relax and feel at ease during your stay?
As the landscape of our industry changes – and right now, this can seem to be daily –reviewing and refining is essential. Once you have relevant feedback the next hurdle is acting upon the insights you have received, first by replying to online reviews. Showing you care about what guests think, have taken their feedback on board, and where necessary have made adjustments will show potential guests you take the guest experience seriously.
Of course, improving your online reviews will also help you climb OTA rankings such as TripAdvisor and with demand not as it was pre Covid-19, just yet, competition will be fierce. A recent study from TripAdvisor found that out of those thinking of future travel 92% said when looking at online reviews, cleanliness is the most important factor in selecting accommodation. TripAdvisor recently launched a “Travel safe” so that travellers can find the health and safety information they require and so that accommodation providers can display the safety measure they have in place (for free).
Understanding how the changes you have made in your business have impacted on your guest experience has never been more important. Tweaking and adjusting in this environment is the only way to move forward and find the synergy between what your guests want/need and providing a safe environment for them. None of us, including your guests, have been in a situation like this before and therefore we can’t expect that we will have it 100% right on opening night. But, what we can do is learn as we move through this, and understanding your guest experiences through feedback and managing your online reputation will keep you pointed in the right direction.