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A Tale of Two Covid Guest Profiles

A Tale of Two Covid Guest Profiles

 

A Tale of Two Covid Guest Profiles

By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)

It was the best of times (for videoconferencing stocks and online retail); it was the worst of times (for practically everyone else).

We’re not stating anything new by highlighting how ongoing COVID-19 craziness have forced numerous business owners and workers to struggle in paying their bills, nor would it be revolutionary to touch upon how the virus has increased partisanship across several key issues. As hotels continue to search for new pockets of revenue within the leisure segment (and before groups restart in earnest), it’s worth discussing how various customer mindsets affect our current product messaging.

Before elaborating on this bifurcated guest profile analysis, let’s get one thing clear: this coronavirus must be taken seriously, and the safety of all property stakeholders (managers, frontline staff and guests) must be a foremost priority. You must abide by the government sanitization guidelines and travel advisories to prevent your hotel from becoming an epicenter of viral spread.

Our hunch, though, is that most guests this year already expect hotels to be compliant in this regard and that they aren’t particularly motivated by the continuous marketing efforts extolling new safety measure implementations. During the first few months of the pandemic – roughly March through May 2020 – we strongly advocated using Covid safety updates as a key marketing tool. But now, as we gear up for peak season in 2021, our predication is most people are satiated with this type of messaging and will be numb to your further use of it for topline marketing awareness.

Does Safety Drive Bookings?
Think of it like a health code inspection for restaurants. How many of us search for dining options based upon how clean a government agency rated their kitchens? Close to none. Instead, dining safety only ever enters the conscious mind when there’s a serious infraction, potentially resulting in severe and long-lasting reputational damages. In this sense, it’s a pass-fail, and Covid safety will inevitably reach a similarly mature point within our collective consciousness.

Correspondingly, a lot of the survey results coming out can also be misleading here. Broad, generic questions posed to consumers like, “Is viral safety important to you when traveling?” are inherently leading and biased because who in their right mind wouldn’t care about their own health? To reduce it to a nonsensical core, this is akin to rhetorically asking, “Do you value being alive?”

Instead, to discern more genuine answers about how much people actually prioritize sanitization, disinfection and viral safety above all other key drivers for selecting accommodations, we need to ask open-ended questions which allow respondents to rank what they deem significant, including other salient variables like location, price, F&B, technology, amenities, proximity to attractions and service.

Drilling down into what leisure guests really want from their post-pandemic vacations, what we’ve discovered from travel search and reservations data from the summer and fall of 2020 is that the majority of guests, while rediscovering their own backyards, are more motivated by seclusion and contactless experiences than by near-incredulous levels of cleanliness. Having some time to reflect on this trend, we ask whether this ‘pursuit of privacy’ as a top booking factor is driven by the desire for physical distancing or because guests just don’t want to be reminded of how loopy the world has become in the wake of the pandemic.

Our projection is that a significant portion of guests are exhausted from all the plastic barriers, the six-feet-apart floor markers and wearing marks everywhere. If renting a quiet, lakeside cottage for a week can help alleviate that anxiety then so be it. Hotels would thus be wise to consider this mindset and accommodate said customers appropriately with attractive packages and sound messaging.

The Safety-Above-All-Else Guest Profile
With this in mind, it wouldn’t be proper to play upon the seminal Dickens novel in this article’s title without highlighting the opposite side of the consumer spectrum. Notably, there are many people who are still freaked out beyond sane reasoning by COVID-19, and both your messaging and SOPs should attempt to mollify this customer archetype as well.

As one example, we meet a family friend for dinner last autumn here in Canada (and before the latest round of winter lockdowns) who not only insisted that we change restaurants so we could eat outside on a rainy night but who also refused to go inside to use the restroom, preferring to hold it in for the duration of the meal until she returned home. These types of running-scared customers do in fact exist and they will be exceedingly sensitive to all your safety features and even more so for any infractions.

Our no-sugar-coated opinion is that if someone is so completely unglued by the thought of an invisible virus lurking around every single corner of the globe, they aren’t going to be traveling anytime soon, regardless of a vaccine and how quickly we attain herd immunity. Even when a sense of calm returns to the news cycle and cases reach near-zero levels, you must then consider the 80/20 rule when dealing with guests of this archetype. That is, 80% of your problems will be caused by 20% of your customers, and you must therefore ask as to whether or not any further, and incrementally expensive, safety measure will ever be enough to satisfy these individuals.

Actionable Next Steps
Where does all this leave us? Coming out of the summer of 2020 which was led by local transients, we are now entering a nadir of revenues with no clear indication for the full resurgence of corporate or MICE guests to help buoy the weaker leisure travel months.

Hence, what we hoped to get across in our divisive words above is that you must ‘know thy guest’. If our assumption is correct and most people aren’t driven to choose your hotel versus any other in the comp set by your loftier cleanliness brand standards, then you should think about what other key features are actually motivating them to book.

Here are some thoughts based some of the emerging trends we are seeing:

  • Workcations. With videoconferencing firmly cemented into the work-from-home (WFH) office culture, there’s little stopping people from traveling and shoehorning in a few hours of inbox clearing while on vacation. But are your rooms properly set up for WFH productivity? For example, do you have ergonomic chairs at a desk, good WiFi and second monitors? How about when a couple is on vacation together, yet both have conference calls at the same time? A business center with soundproofed cubicles (rented by the hour even) or a banquet hall divided into office spaces using air walls would really help out here. Next, think about what services and the delivery timing of each that would appeal to these guests.
  • Young family vacations. As many schools have gone virtual, this has enabled families to forego the traditional summer travel season because children can attend from practically anywhere. Still, most parents won’t want to be in the same rooms as their kids when class is in session, thus making connected rooms a highly sought-after feature. Moreover, daycare and babysitting services are also beneficial for the parents who want to get a few hours of respite.
  • Private small groups. For work or for leisure, the inkling of rebirth for this segment will start with gatherings of under a dozen or so. There will always be a demand for corporate retreats (or what’s being coined as ‘hub and spoke’ regional conferences), family reunions, private nuptials and any other manner of celebration. Contactless service as empowered by technology is a must to both prevent viral spread and to optimize revenue capture from amenities. Still, such guests will be keen to learn about what new features you’ve put in place to further enhance room block clustering, private catering, in-room amenities and socially distanced activities.
  • Value-added explorers. Money is tight, and yet we cannot lose pricing power. This means that many prospective customers will be primed for packages that include additional nights, bundled services or credits. It’s a matter of looking back at what has worked and what’s distinguishable.

What we’re emphasizing here is that you must continue to look for ways to differentiate your product in order to generate sales in a leisure-centric travel ecosystem. We forecast that leisure will continue to dominate until at least Q3 2021, so you must adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

And this means not using the same cleanliness messaging as your competitors but instead discussing new operations you’ve set up to benefit some of the new behavioral profiles that are looking to travel. While this does not disregard the importance of Covid safety, perhaps this isn’t what’s actually top of mind for your primary guest type.

Larry Mogelsonsky
About Larry Mogelsonsky

One of the world’s most published writers in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” (2015), “The Llama is Inn” (2017) and “The Hotel Mogel” (2018). You can reach Larry at larry@hotelmogel.com to discuss hotel business challenges or to book speaking engagements.

 

 

Media Contact:

Larry Mogelonsky

HotelMogel Consulting Limited

Email: larry@hotelmogel.com

 

Website: http://hotelmogel.com/

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