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21 tips to help hotels through the coronavirus crisis

Peter Boermans

The coronavirus outbreak is hitting the accommodation sector hard. Many companies have stopped all but essential business travel and worried consumers are reluctant to book holidays. Hotels now also face an ever-growing list of border closures and travel restrictions. In some locations, it’s essentially a complete shutdown.

Photographer: redcharlie | Source: Unsplash

A compounding factor is the virulence of COVID-19. Adjusting operations for the safety of guests or responding when a recent guest tests positive for COVID-19. All-in-all hospitality management and staff are under incredible pressure.

The travel industry has, of course, faced difficult times in the past. Think back to 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Most hotels survive these tough patches, but you need to prepare and adapt to the current situation.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of 21 tips that will empower your hotel and your guests to get through the coronavirus crisis – and to thrive when things return to normal.

Keep your guests and staff safe

The new coronavirus is highly contagious and as a public venue, your hotel plays a big role in limiting its spread. You have a responsibility towards your guests, and a reputation to maintain – so follow these tips:

1. Understand routes of transmission

Humans may have a natural way to react to the possibility of catching a virus, but the real routes of transmission can be a bit different than expected. That’s why it’s important for accommodation management to fully understand how transmission works, and to pass this knowledge on to staff through formal training so that everyone operating in your facility practices appropriate hygiene measures.

2. Train staff on hygiene

We’ve all heard the same advice over and over – wash your hands for twenty seconds, don’t touch your face if you can avoid it, and sneeze into your elbow. Make sure all your staff members are fully aware of this advice, however – human behaviour requires reinforcement. Where possible you could also encourage staff to touch switches and door handles indirectly, whether with a closed fist or a knuckle.

3. Stipulate safety measures to your guests

Your guests can also contribute to ongoing safety, but they need to know how to go about it. In-room notices will help, and advance communications are key too – getting your guests in the right mindset. You can use tell Charlie to push hygiene messages to your guests, using one of the many templates on the internet – this template from guest data platform Revinate is a good start.

4. Be hyper-vigilant about cleaning

We know our accommodation partners already practice top-notch cleaning measures, but COVID-19 requires a huge step up. Again, it comes down to understanding how the virus is transmitted. Lisa Harvey of INNsight.com published a great list that you can use to dramatically enhance your cleaning – yes, it’s a long list but take notice of tips like correct glove practice, frequently cleaning commonly touched areas and removing shared items that are not essential.

5. Social distancing and clever use of space

Hotels often have relatively large spaces that can be adapted to ensure that there’s plenty of space when serving guests. Adapting these spaces will leave ample room between people which makes it harder to transmit COVID-19. Think about the two-metre rule when planning. Michael Vaughan suggests that ballrooms could be converted into dining areas, for example, and that hotels might want to insist on room service only.

6. Reconsider staff, guest interactions

Hospitality means a warm reception – but in a coronavirus environment you might want to ask staff to be a bit more careful about guest interactions. Needless to say, a handshake is out of bounds and should be traded for something else, like an elbow bump. More exclusive properties may want to cut back on services that involve close personal interaction – but which are not essential for a comfortable stay.

Stabilising your bookings and cash flow

Let’s be frank – under current conditions holding on to existing booking revenue and growing future bookings is a tough task. Demand is low, and your competitors will be fighting over the same limited number of bookings.

Experienced hoteliers will also know that cash flow is king, which is why we lead with this section: your hotel will need to seriously up its game to secure the revenue that ensures survival through a couple of tough months. We think you should consider the following:

7. Stay calm in the face of the storm

Rash, unconsidered decisions will not serve your hotel or your guests well – nor will it protect your booking revenue today or in the long run. Take a step back, understand that circumstances are radically different, and move on from there. Considered, thoughtful approaches will help you through this difficult time.

8. Make your hotel the best option by reassuring guests

People will still need to travel and book accommodation. Today’s travellers are also very anxious travellers, however – worried about catching COVID-19, of course. It’s up to you to take the lead in reassuring your guests. This post on RoomPriceGenie provides some great tips, suggesting that you should be clear about hygiene practices and measures. You can also avidly communicate your property’s preparedness for the crisis. Using tell Charlie, for example, to highlight the virus mitigation measures your hotel is taking.

9. Consider running unique offers

Empty rooms earn no revenue but still carry associated fixed costs. Hosting a guest may not mean that much more in additional costs, so consider just how low your property can go – or how many extras you can throw into a booking to convince anyone sitting on the fence. Full board free of charge, two days for the price of one or family offers – anything that will boost cash and bookings.

10. Publish flexible cancellation policies

Nobody is sure how the novel coronavirus will affect travel and economy in the broad – right now, or in the future. So, make it easy for your customers to change their bookings – making bookings fully refundable might be sensible. If your peers are insisting on holding to up-front payments, you may just find that you draw more bookings by being more flexible. Another option many hoteliers suggest is to allow guests to re-book for the same price before the end of the year. That way you don’t completely lose the booking. It also makes sense to look at future (temporary) cancellation policies as Hilton is doing in this example.

Hilton Cancellation Policy

11. Don’t halt sales and marketing efforts

Yes, now is the time to keep an eye on costs, and it might be entirely sensible to cut back on advertising expenditure – but completely stopping all sales and marketing activities is short-sighted, according to Louis Escoto – hotelier. It makes it more likely that the bookings that are around will go to your competitors – and you risk losing out on a future rebound. Persist with skeleton marketing, at the very least.

12. Earn revenue through food delivery

If you have an F&B outlet you can also consider offering your food and beverage through delivery websites like Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Especially in countries where restaurants are closed but where food delivery is still allowed – the Netherlands, for example. This is also a great opportunity to get your name out there in the local population.

Safeguarding your hotel’s operations

Now that you’ve done what you can to ensure bookings are maximised and that the guests that do book are kept safe you should think about other ways you can ensure that your hotel continues to operate throughout this stormy period:

13. Minimise operating costs as far as you can

Cash may be tight for a period of time – the less you spend, the better. Consider asking staff to work fewer hours (in some countries you can legally do so) and evaluate carefully which expenses you are fully committed to – and which expenses you could potentially put on hold. You don’t want to inconvenience your guests, but you could probably bargain on a degree of understanding if certain facilities are unavailable through a period of low occupancy.

14. Consider cross-training staff

Low occupancy alongside the inability of many staff members to get to work due to travel restrictions or indeed illness might mean you rely on a smaller group of people to cover the same range of duties. So, while you have the opportunity, try to train staff members in duties outside their usual remit.

15. Plan for contingencies – before they hit

There’s a fast-moving aspect to COVID-19 that’s caught everyone, including us, by surprise. We think it’s a good idea to map out everything that can go wrong, including worst-case scenarios such as full travel bans and curfews. It may not come to the worst – but if it does you will have little time to prepare. Forward planning will help you to react the best way you can.

16. Stockpile responsibly

Supplies of certain goods might become a bit tight. However, that’s not to say that your hotel should stockpile relentlessly at the cost of others. Do take a good look at essential items and any stock that is running low and make sure you’re not accidentally missing out on re-stocking on essentials in the midst of what may seem to be bigger concerns.

17. Look out for government loans and programs

Know this – you’re not alone in struggling with an unexpected slowdown in demand for travel and accommodation. The entire industry is facing a tough time. Governments around the world have already announced support for small businesses, ranging from delayed tax payments to loan guarantees. It’s worth seeing what’s available to your business.

Positioning your property for the future

There are valid concerns about the new coronavirus and it’s right that society responds to contain the outbreak, but matters will return to normal and businesses of all shapes and sizes will be competing for customers just the way they used to. Here are a few strategies you can take:

18. Consider a deep clean or accelerate refurbishment

Refurbishing is tough when a hotel is running at full occupancy, it inevitably means sacrificing revenue to make improvements. Consider making use of the coming period of low occupancy to complete projects that you never found a good time for – cash reserves permitting. Whether it’s cleaning, tweaks and updates or a full-on refurbishment now might be the time to do it.

19. Extend vouchers and loyalty points

You don’t want to lose your most loyal customers once matters return to normal. Customers often attach a lot of value to the vouchers, points and perks they’ve earned across many stays at your property or your network of properties. Consider extending the validity of certificates, points and any perks to last beyond the current travel-light period.

20. Be careful with discounting

We suggested earlier in this article that better deals and discounting can help your hotel pull in bookings even when demand is low. However, we want to caution against dropping rack rates and other published rates – you’ve worked long and hard to build a reputation for your property, and broadscale discounting can undermine this hard work – as this Hospitality Net article suggests.

21. Don’t forget the long view – this crisis will blow over

It might be difficult advice to follow given current circumstances but don’t forget that in due course your hotel will be booking as usual: signing the same businesses, booking at the same occupancy levels. Max Starkov, hospitality strategist, makes an important point in saying that, in no time, your hotel will be chasing after the same customer base – so consider what impression you leave with those customers right now, and make sure you’re prepared to take advantage of growing bookings once business and leisure travel returns to normal.

Hotels are in for a challenging period and all of us here at tell Charlie stand at the ready to help your hotel get through this tough time. We hope these coronavirus tips will help. Of course, at tell Charlie, we know how important it is to communicate with guests – so we encourage our partners to make use of the extensive tell Charlie features to communicate with guests about the COVID-19 situation.

So, take the time to inform your guest on the status of your hotel and the local policies and possible restrictions in place. Explain the measures your hotel is taking to keep guests safe. Finally, don’t forget to publish your updated booking and cancellation policies so that your guests can book with confidence.

If there is anything we can do to help during this unprecedented time, please don't hesitate to let us know.

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