The COVID-19 Vaccine Booking Wave
Can you hear the thunder forming in the distance? Can you feel the anticipation; the expectation that our industry is finally ready to turn the page on this dark chapter and return to something better. With the announcement by Pfizer this week that a vaccine may be imminent, we dare to imagine old colleagues returning to work, ballrooms once again buzzing with activity and delicious aromas wafting out of hotel kitchens. All initiated by the return of our guests. Especially our leisure guests whose leisure has indeed been limited, restricted, tortured and put out to pasture this year. They are pent up and dying to break free. We predict that that dormant demand will lead to one of the most prodigious waves of leisure bookings this country has ever seen. As consumers begin to envision a future without COVID, travel becomes something both aspirational and tangible to help motivate them forward. Worry will give way to wanderlust as people envision a better, more wholesome, more experiential not-too-distant future.
As idyllic as this all sounds, what can we do today as hoteliers to ensure we participate in this better future? Better yet, how are we so sure a tsunami of new bookings will materialize? GCommerce is not just throwing darts at a wall, but instead using our seasoned eye to read the collective tea leaves. Here is what we see:
- Saving Rate - Have you happened to see savings rates in the United States. There is no doubt that the last nine months have been heartbreaking, cruel and unforgiving for so many families. Full stop. For those fortunate enough to escape the direct perils of the disease, an unforeseen byproduct has materialized. Americans have saved more than at any time in recent, or distant, memory. For the last nine months, many Americans have limited their spending and, often times, received rent or mortgage relief. They have deferred or cancelled travel, absconded from eating out and reduced their transportation expenses. Long story short, many families find themselves flush with cash, ready and willing to spend a portion of it on a symbolic return to normalcy.
- Stress Free Booking - Virtually every competent hotel on the planet has removed cancellation restrictions on future bookings, and we don’t foresee them going away any time soon. When consumers are ready to dream of future travel, they can book without fear of any virus related disruptions.
- International Travel - Travel restrictions will be loosened unevenly over time, and it's not hard to imagine that international travel will take longer to recover than domestic travel. That provides hotels and resorts a captured american audience looking to properties stateside to satiate their travel desires.
- More Diverse Travel Drivers - While some may be willing to quickly return to traditional high-capacity tourist destinations like theme parks or enclosed resort destinations, our bet is that many will embrace their newfound appreciation for personal space and venture to new locales. The result is a whole new group of properties that, with the right marketing, will find themselves in the consideration set of leisure travelers.
- Expectation of Savings - Ask the average consumer if they believe travel is more expensive, less expensive or as expensive as it was pre-COVID, and their response will be overwhelming. Merchandising psychology has long proven that people are more motivated by the perception that they are receiving a great deal than they are by an actual price. What better time than now to get a great deal!
Now would be a pretty bold time to act aggressively; to leverage the above trends to the long term benefit of a property. As past down-markets have taught us, hotels that act aggressively during the early days of a recovery enjoy years worth of premium market share. To do so would take a few key steps and some intestinal fortitude.
- Re-Engage Digital Marketing Now - Many hotels have adopted a bunker mentality, suspending or severely limiting their marketing activities until brighter days present themselves. GCommerce has written an excellent playbook on re-establishing your digital marketing footprint. Now would be an excellent time to begin deploying those strategies to compete for consumer’s mind share. Chances are you will find yourself without much competition as others are slow to respond.
- Encourage Early Bookings - Do whatever you can to get business on the books. Instead of discounting, advertise easy cancellation policies, complimentary early booking upgrades or other pot sweeteners that might move the needle. Without sacrificing your rate integrity, build your base of early business.
- Hire Staff - Armed with advanced reservations on the books, successfully petition to be the first property in your comp set to bring back staffing to close to pre-COVID levels. The positive momentum generated from such a move will form a spring of goodwill in the community and will translate to a positive guest experience.
- Wow Your New Guests - Done right, and you will have guests when others don’t. Thanks to a grateful staff, you will have service opportunities that others can’t match. These guests will arrive with such anticipation, such longing for a fulfilling experience, that the property can be the critical catalyst for an unforgettable vacation. Those guests won’t soon forget the role you played, and will reward you with their loyalty long into the future.
Next year, guests will become forever loyal to the property that delivers them from darkness. Make sure that marketing puts you in the game, and proper staffing ensures you deliver.