Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to 127 hoteliers, many of whom are friends and peers from my 14 years in the industry. I wanted to understand how their business has really been affected. Not just the obvious operational and financial challenges, but rather the true issues, fears and opportunities Covid-19 has dragged into our industry.
Naturally there’s a range of hotels in my relatively short sample, from 250-bed golf and spa resorts through to 12-bed B&Bs, and everything in between. Despite this mix, five areas of difficulty and frustration kept cropping up. Here are the seemingly universal challenges faced by every hotelier in the country right now and some of the ways they’re tackling them.
1. Unrealistic guest expectations
For operators at the higher end of the market, this is nothing new but the scale of the problem seems particularly large due to COVID-19, most notably when it comes to serving breakfast. Guests eager for a much needed getaway are filling our hotels across the land, for which we are immeasurably grateful, but many are seeming to forget that their break is not a ‘pandemic holiday’. As such, the leisurely buffet breakfasts we all enjoy simply can’t happen at the moment and whilst our hoteliers are doing their utmost to meet their legal obligations and guests expectations, it seems the latter is a losing battle with many.
- A detailed summary of breakfast items and where they were sourced to add a little more prestige to the meal
- A personalised note awaiting the guest in their room explaining how the breakfast will be served
- Scrapping breakfast all together and offering room-only rates!
2. OTA commissionable bookings higher than ever
Across the sample of hoteliers interviewed, there were varying levels of OTA dependency, but one common theme was evident across the board – more and more guests are preferring to book via an OTA, most notably Booking.com and Expedia, than through direct channels at the moment. The overwhelming consensus was that guests are feeling more comfortable booking with a global agent than perhaps an independent property where their perceived chance of being issued a speedy refund is greater should the booking be cancelled.
- A clear and overt statement about the hotel’s refund policy on the website to encourage bookings direct
- Incentivising guests to book direct with added value or a lower rate than the OTA rate
- A remarketing ad campaign targeted at anyone who visited the hotel’s website but didn’t complete their booking, stating the key benefits of booking direct through a combination of image ads
3. Losing staff to furlough
The general feeling of the financial support offered to businesses, especially in hospitality is positive, especially the VAT reduction which many consider generous and unexpected. An unforeseen challenge however has been the amount of staff who were originally furloughed, have decided not to return, preferring instead to choose a different career where working from home is a viable option.
Many hoteliers cited that the lengthy weeks of more or less full pay for doing nothing has given many staff a taste of life outside the often long hours associated with a career in hotels. This drop in workforce has led to many hoteliers unable to operate at their full capacity before the social distancing factors are even considered, making an already difficult challenge even more so.
- Many hotels have added a ‘we’re recruiting’ page to their website, encouraging both hospitality workers and those with hospitality experience who’ve been made redundant from other industries to apply
- Facebook Ads with a relatively small budget (circa £100) to promote current roles
4. The 3 Types of Customer
In one form or another, many of the hoteliers interviewed claimed they were having difficulty managing the varying levels of respect individual guests were showing to the social distancing and hygiene advice. Customers could broadly be categorised in three ways:
- The Flouters - not adhering to social distancing, not wearing masks when requested and failing to sanitise hands regularly
- The Terrified – guests who are very concerned about being in close proximity to members of the public, seemingly to the detriment of their ability to enjoy the experience.
- Everyone Else – Observe the rules but are able to enjoy the experience as well.
When these three types of guests inevitably intermingle with one another, it is seemingly a recipe for disaster. At best hoteliers witness mild disagreements, at worst full-blown shouting matches in communal spaces. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about!
- Encourage guests to show empathy to each other’s situations, advising on check-in that some guests may be exempt from wearing masks for medical reasons for example
- Gentle reminders dotted around the hotel to respect the rules, offering continued thanks
5. The fear of being overwhelmed by refunds
Whilst most hoteliers in the more rural settings claimed they were seeing the strongest summer they’ve seen in years, there is a very real and present danger that a national or local lockdown could be just around the corner, which would inevitably see a surge in refund requests. One hotelier described the current situation as a ‘false boom’; money is flooding in but it could just as easily pour out again.
- Cutting back on all non essential outgoings
- Many hoteliers are seeing September as the month to look ahead and plan for the future, in particular their marketing investments to facilitate a strong start to 2021.
Overwhelmingly, hoteliers are battling tough market conditions right now. The hope is that the peak summer season continues well into the autumn, that guests start to become a little more accustomed to the ‘new normal’ and as a result become more realistic in their expectations, and above all, that a vaccine is announced soon, giving us all hope that there is indeed light at the end of this very gloomy tunnel.
Having achieved 96% direct bookings in his own hotel, Adam Hamadache founded digital marketing agency DHM in 2013 to help hoteliers achieve similar results.