Right now, it's like we're living in limbo. Quarantined, the world watches as the coronavirus continues its trajectory across the state, the nation and the rest of the world. Schools and universities have closed their doors, and nonessential businesses are either shut down or are operating solely online. Some of us haven't seen or hugged a family member in weeks.
It's OK to be concerned. The world has seen outbreaks like this before, but the majority of us have never experienced anything quite like this in our lifetimes. Everyone is feeling the impacts of COVID-19. There hasn't been a single industry that hasn't been affected by the pandemic, with everyone from CEOs to hourly workers feeling the uncertainty of what this could mean for the future of their companies and roles.
Headlines have been pretty grim. In March, more than 10 million Americans applied for unemployment. That was just the beginning. April is projected to be one of the roughest months on record yet, with millions of other Americans following suit. Major airlines, retailers, cruise lines and other corporations have also been hit hard by the virus.
If people can't travel, they also have no reason to book a stay at a hotel. And as occupancy rates fall, more hotels face closure. Some will open back up again once the dust settles, but others may have closed their doors forever. Those still lucky enough to be in operation are doing everything and anything they can to ensure their survival and prepare for normalcy again. All wait with bated breath to discover their fate.
But should we really be striving for normal? When a business goes through a crisis, I don't believe that the outcome is normalcy. Instead, you either come out on the other side better or worse than before. Don't sit back and wait until things feel normal again to plan your recovery. Start adjusting your strategy now so you don't jeopardize your future.
Promote Your Prevention Strategy
You don't approach any big-picture goals without having a strategy in place. Could you imagine planning for global growth without a global expansion strategy? Or increasing your leads without an effective sales strategy? So why would anything be different in the midst of a crisis?
A prevention strategy ensures that everyone who works for the hotel is on the same page and properly educated on what to do as the crisis unfolds. This shows your employees and your customers that you're prepared in the event of an emergency. Being transparent with your strategy gives employees peace of mind and empowers them to continue their work during these unprecedented times. At the same time, promoting your prevention strategy to the public also opens up a transparent dialogue between you and your current and potential customers.
When customers feel beyond doubt that their safety is your top priority, you've solidified yourself as their go-to place to book the next time they're in the area. As managing director of a hotel in New York, there were six key points I focused on: training, increased cleaning frequency, increased access to disinfectants, protective gear, physical and social distancing, and more health and safety signs posted throughout the back-of-the-house areas of the hotel.
These might seem inconsequential, but during a pandemic, they speak volumes.
Keep Your Standard Rates
Fear can influence rash decisions. As hotel profits drop, it might make sense to rethink your pricing when travel bans are lifted but taking an axe to your rates can often do more harm than good.
Let's rewind back to the 2008 financial crisis. Hotels that significantly dropped their rates ended up losing more in terms of revenue per available room than hotels that upheld their usual prices. Use your best judgment up against market findings in these situations to determine the best course of action for your hotel. In some instances, it may make sense to drop rates along with other hotels in your area in order to maintain a competitive edge. But that's not always the case.
If you are looking for ways to incentivize guests to consider your hotel, think about what makes sense in the current situation. In times of uncertainty, people still want convenience, so offer up more flexibility with rebooking and cancellation policies. Or perhaps you can try adding value through the creation of special packages that include amenities where, in the past, those might have been available at an additional cost.
Be Smart About Your Digital Marketing
If you can help it, don't go silent. Hotels that move more of their resources to their digital marketing initiatives during a crisis can actually earn 18.5 percent higher RevPAR than hotels that completely cut their marketing spend. If you can do this now, great. If you can reallocate your resources once the market recovers, that's great, too. Do as much as you can with what is available to you.
Rethink your audience. You're not looking to appeal to international travelers right now, so consider reaching essential parties like government agencies, public health officials and military entities who are still working and traveling across the globe to perform their duties.
Your marketing strategy isn't meant to increase bookings now so much as it is to encourage bookings once things have started to calm down. Once people can start traveling again, the majority of your bookings likely will come from your local community. Promote staycations at your hotel for residents who have spent the past few months in quarantine and want to be pampered. Or consider the industries that will be the first to recover out of crisis, like the legal sector.
The entire world may be isolated, but we are still connected by technology. Harness that power. You have a captive audience during this period, so utilize your digital platforms for more than just posting. You can offer up virtual site visits and host walk-throughs of your hotel, your rooms and the other amenities you have on site. Perhaps you can even have your executive chef create video footage from his or her kitchen as he or she prepares new dishes that will be featured on forthcoming menus.
These are unprecedented times. 'Normal' doesn't exist in this current climate, so don't strive for normalcy. Do you feel like you've been thrown out of your comfort zone? Good. Use this as an opportunity to be forward-thinking.
Prince A. Sanders is the managing director of Park Lane Hotel New York.