We’ve all felt and witnessed the very real impacts of Covid-19, yet the effect it has had on our accommodation sector has been understated. Having spent more than 20 years of my life in the world of hotelling and, subsequently, hotel technology, my career has been founded upon the premise that we live in a world without barriers. That all changed this year.
From international travel barriers to the less visible mental barriers that we’ve all had to overcome in some way this year, the world could not be more different for our accommodation sector which, on 29 April, saw bookings plummet to just 3.95% of last year’s levels—their lowest in recent history. Less than three months before that, bookings were at 98.77% of what they were during the same period last year.
Indeed, the rapid change left so many powerless to external forces, without a playbook, and wondering if their guests would ever return.
The good news for accommodation providers is: their guests are returning. They just aren’t the same guests that they once knew. Just ask the 600-odd regular UK travellers that we recently spoke with about their current plans and perspectives.
Our learnings from that consumer research culminated in a crucial Changing Traveller Report for every accommodation provider, and here are the five key takeaways:
- UK travellers want flexibility
Despite two-thirds being impacted financially by Covid-19, their appetite for travel remains strong, with more than half (52%) of those surveyed planning to travel locally this year.
However, with ongoing uncertainty, and with the rapid onset of the initial lockdown bringing frustration to the many that had non-refundable trips planned, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the ability to freely cancel and modify a booking is more important than ever. For 37%of the surveyed population, it’s the determining factor as they think about where to stay.
Takeaway: To ensure that your potential guests are confident to book with you, consider maintaining relaxed cancellation and refund policies for the months ahead. Further to this, you can build loyalty and encourage rebookings by revising your outbound communications. Create a different email stream for customers who cancelled due to Covid-19, to ensure they’re kept up to date with developments.
- Clear communication around health and safety is vital
Even with the stabilisation of cases through July and early August considered, behind booking flexibility, the desire for accommodation providers to clearly describe their health and safety practices is the next most important factor for UK travellers when booking a trip (29%). It’s crucial to twice the number of people that gave low price the top spot (14%).
Takeaway: At this time, it’s important for guests to trust they will be safe at your property, and so communicating all of the measures that you have in place is central in acquiring guests right now.
Guest messaging apps are helpful in breaking down communication barriers between you and your guest, enabling your customers to converse with you on a familiar platform. This encourages guests, either before arrival or during their stay to highlight any concerns or ask questions that you can act on quickly and efficiently.
In terms of content, ensure that your website and social media marketing channels describe what you’ve done to make your property safe. Update your imagery, if necessary, and if you’re creating additional content such as a blog, this is a good time to list the local healthcare facilities that are close by.
- Bookings will come at the last minute
Almost half (48%) of those we surveyed will book their trip within a month of their holiday commencing, and almost 9% just days before their trip starts.
Due to both the late summer timing and ongoing uncertainty, domestic travel is increasingly being booked at the last-minute by those hitting the road, a finding supported by the World Hotel Index which shows that 67% of bookings made at UK properties in the last two weeks were for stays in August.
Takeaway: While the decrease of lead times certainly makes life more complex, for you to capture this market you may need to adjust your pricing strategy. Additionally you will want to understand your guest booking behaviour, ensure you’re visible to potential guests and have the right technology in place to easily capture last-minute bookings.
More so than ever, it’s also important to keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing and real-time market insights will help here.
- It’s important to be everywhere
In terms of how UK travellers will be securing their rooms, narrowly more (38%) will book directly with the venue, either online, or via phone or email, than use an online travel agency (37%). This illustrates the importance of being well prepared to accept bookings via a variety of marketing and sales channels in the months ahead.
Takeaway: A high proportion of consumers still use OTAs in the research phase of booking a trip, whether they end up booking via an OTA or not. So, it’s imperative to be listed on those and other channels to ensure you’re visible to the domestic UK market. The major channels will be just as relevant as they were before, however with the increase in domestic travellers, by connecting channels that cater to niche markets you can ensure your property is available to a broader range of potential guests.
When travel is restricted to mainly domestic guests, the share of direct is likely to increase. You should be looking to maximise on this. Ensure your online booking engine and social pages are connected to remove any friction in the online booking process. If you haven’t already adopted a booking engine, it’s a great way to streamline direct bookings and own the relationship with your guests. Booking engines are also valuable for setting up deals and packages that will appeal to the travellers you target.
With a greater number of people than ever booking on their phones, it’s mandatory for your property’s website to be optimised for mobile.
- Trips will be shorter bursts of new experiences
Due to less overseas travel and the high number of staycations currently taking place, trips in the coming months will be shorter for 33% of travellers in the UK, and much shorter for 7% of this number.
Takeaway: To capitalise on this market, consider relaxing the minimum stay policy that may be inhibiting bookings at your property. Additionally, expand your availability to encourage a broader range of domestic guests (pet owners, for example) and introduce packages that encourage longer stays.
Bookings at UK hotels now sit at above 65% of 2019 levels and if cases can remain stable, we can expect many regions to continue seeing an uptick in domestic travel through August. All of these changes may be small, but they’re practical ways that accommodation providers can show up for the new traveller about to arrive at their doorstep.
By James Bishop, Senior Director, Global Demand Partnerships at SiteMinder