The last year has been turbulent for us all, and especially the hotel industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up our way of life, forcing many into some form of isolation, and having a devastating economic impact on businesses and private citizens alike.
Between fear of contracting and transmitting the virus, and financial uncertainty, is it any wonder that some consumers are hesitant to commit to engaging with businesses as openly as they had previously?
Hospitality in particular has been hit hard as a result. Not only have stayed at home orders prevented the people from taking trips, but the public is — rightly — wary of the potential for unnecessary exposure. This puts hotels in a precarious position, with an American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) study reporting that 82% of hotels have been unable to secure debt relief, and 59% of respondents face the possibility of foreclosure.
Part of the solution here is to put time and energy into regaining the trust and confidence of customers. At this unstable period, hotels must demonstrate that they have taken the safety and peace of mind of their guests seriously. Let’s take a look at some of the elements the hospitality industry should be placing focus on, and how to prevent their enterprise from becoming yet another casualty of COVID.
Health and Sanitation
Perhaps the most immediate action that hotel management should be taking at this time is emphasizing healthy operational practices. This doesn’t just mean putting in place the bare minimum of measures to apply the letter of the law. Rebuilding the trust of customers requires that hotels demonstrate they are continuing to go above and beyond to ensure that guests and staff can visit safely not just through the pandemic, but also following it.
Steps here should include:
- Hygiene Maintenance
Insisting upon high standards of personal hygiene for guests and staff alike is essential to hotels’ response to COVID-19. This should be made easy for everyone involved. Place hand sanitation stations throughout the hotel — the lobby, the elevators, the restaurants, and room hallways. At check-in, provide guests with complimentary hand sanitizer. Ensure staff has portable hygiene kits to take around with them to clean door handles and surfaces.
- Restriction Application
It may seem counterintuitive, but limiting capacity at times of high infection rates and politely yet firmly refusing service to those who may have been exposed can improve your reputation. It sends a clear message to customers that the safety of guests and the community is paramount. As such, it is vital to ask guests questions about recent testing, and exposure to those with symptoms both during the online reservation and at the point of checkout.
- Visibility Focus
You can’t rebuild trust with customers if they are unable to see the additional health and safety measures you are taking. Therefore, you should make efforts to improve the visibility of safety protocols. Display prominent safety advice signs and cleaning schedules in public areas of the hotel. Inform customers about procedures in place to ensure housekeeping routines are safe for guests and staff. Talk them through the contactless procedures staff are taking, and encourage guests to also utilize them.
Rebuilding trust with guests doesn’t happen in a vacuum. One aspect of this pandemic that has shaken the confidence of the public is the inconsistent and confusing messaging, even from ostensibly official sources. Therefore, there needs to be a continued, consistent, and meaningful dialogue between hotels, the industry, and the general public.
Committing to a transparent public relations (PR) strategy can be helpful here. PR is a vital tool specifically aimed at strengthening the bond between customers, the business, and the services offered. Create a campaign that uses both digital and traditional marketing tools to reassure and inform an already tense public about your measures. Be open about what the challenges are, and how you’re seeking to address them.
Intelligent utilization of trust signals throughout your communications with guests and the wider industry is important. Many hotels have formed partnerships with trusted industry disinfection and sanitation experts. Make sure these relationships are highlighted, and include any certification or branding logos, on your website and booking pages.
Produce content — videos, social media posts, blog articles — that features the expertise of hotel staff and leadership, and invites customers to have conversations with them if they have any concerns.
This pandemic caught so many of us off guard. Whether due to apathy about the possibility of disaster, or belief that there were robust government resources in place to safeguard us, we were not ready for the scale of it. Hotel staff and customers alike have experienced a type of trauma as a result. The hospitality industry’s response to such trauma should include the assurance that establishments have taken steps to fend off future crises.
Community is key, here. Hotels should arrange to engage with other local hospitality and tourism-adjacent businesses, alongside city government and emergency services. These meetings should be aimed at understanding how they can all work together to better serve, inform, and protect customers when the next crisis occurs.
Create videos of these meetings, and produce blog posts for your website. Show customers they can trust that strengthened community bonds ensure they will not only benefit from a unique holiday experience but also robust emergency procedures.
The majority of businesses also create disaster management or business continuity plans. Traditionally, these are used to identify the potential for crises to disrupt companies, and what processes should be put into action to ensure the swift resumption of services. They take into account issues that can affect all industries, such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, and utility outages.
Disaster management details also prepare for more location-specific threats — flooding in ocean cities, avalanches at ski resorts. However, hotels should also publish these plans on their websites to help rebuild trust with the public, by showing that there are tools and processes in place to minimize disruption, damage, and inconvenience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive to the hospitality industry and has shaken the confidence of consumers. As we emerge from this crisis, hotels must start the work of rebuilding trust. Through an ongoing commitment to healthy practices, clear communication, and robust disaster preparedness, the industry can start to mitigate its losses and strive toward success.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to the hospitality industry, business productivity, and marketing strategies. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Related article: What a COVID-19 Vaccine Means for the Travel Industry
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