It’s no secret that tourism businesses have been hit hard by COVID-19.
Stay-at-home orders. Uncertain travel conditions. Timelines and guidelines that are constantly changing.
The hospitality industry is looking for any good news as we look forward to tourism returning to something resembling “normal.”
Food for thought, though: 45% of US travelers still have travel plans for the second half of 2020.
And so rather than dwell on the “what ifs,” hospitality businesses should consider what they can do right now to start winning guests over in the near future.
In this guide, we’ll highlight ten proactive steps that hotels, tour guides, and destinations can take in the wake of COVID-19.
1. Communicate regularly with your guests
Keeping in touch with past guests should be a top priority for anyone in the tourism industry.
Whether it’s through social media or your email newsletter, it’s crucial to remind past customers that you’re still up and running.
Everything from daily updates to responses to how you’re complying with CDC guidelines is fair game. The goal here? Keep yourself fresh in your past guests’ minds and give them something to look forward to when it’s eventually safe to venture out.
Anything you can do to be positive and empathetic toward past guests is a plus. Although tourism businesses are taking a hit, note that your customers are likewise dealing with the crisis themselves.
With so many other businesses in tourism and hospitality impacted by COVID-19, remember that you’re competing for your past guests’ attention. Consistency counts, but so does your messaging.
Rather than post about all the gloom and doom, consider how you can spread some much-needed optimism. For example, check out how Florida’s Historic Coast promotes their #spiritoftravel hashtag on Instagram:
Encouraging past guests to upload photos of their favorite attractions not only is a positive way to engage with guests, but also gets them thinking about their eventual travel plans when COVID-19 passes:
Don’t be shy about communicating with your past guests, by the way. People tend to want to support smaller, local businesses compared to chains, and it’s no different in the tourist industry. In the wake of so much negative news, being a positive voice in your followers’ feeds is a breath of fresh air.
And on a related note, make sure you’re consistent in not only posting updates and messages to your guests but also responding to them. Keep a close eye on your social and email inboxes to ensure that you’re never missing out on questions and comments.
2. Emphasize safety throughout your marketing
Many travelers are itching to take a vacation, especially after being cooped up for weeks on end.
That said, the public at large is likely to be cautious when the time comes.
Don’t expect social distancing practices to totally disappear just because stay-at-home orders end. Likewise, guests are rightfully going to expect a whole new level of cleanliness when it comes to the businesses they support.
This speaks to the importance of highlighting how safe your destination is for travelers venturing out for the first time post-COVID-19.
For example, put the precautions you’re taking front-and-center on your website. Check out how Cave of the Winds has a dedicated COVID-19 FAQ where they break down what they’re doing to keep employees and guests safe. These details are crystal clear and provide visitors with peace of mind:
Beyond precautions, make a point to promote attractions and activities that allow guests to practice social distancing. Something like a nature hike or solo kayak tour, for example. These sorts of activities empower guests to explore safely—a nice change of pace from being stuck at home.
For example, the Wall Street Journal recently featured a variety of rural tourism businesses that have managed to use “isolation” and “empty” as a sort of selling point. This messaging appeals to those who really just want to get away from it all:
Highlighting these sorts of solo activities is especially useful right now. Sure, any sort of vacation sounds nice when travelling is banned around the world, but that said, you can still give your guests a unique low-key experience that they otherwise may not have considered.
3. Reduce in-person interactions as much as possible
Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 is poised to change the hospitality industry forever.
The most obvious change? Reducing in-person interactions and meetings with guests that aren’t totally necessary. While this doesn’t mean that you’ll never shake a guest’s hand again, it does mean that you need to start thinking about how you can transition your face-to-face interactions to the digital space.
For example, can you accept online bookings and check-ins? What about virtual meetings with your key vendors, contractors and supply chain partners to keep them updated and ready to help?
4. Let guests purchase gift cards for future stays
The concept of a gift card is simple: allow guests to commit now to a visit to your business in the future.
We’re seeing more and more customers hop on the gift card bandwagon as a way to show some much-needed love to small businesses that might be struggling.
Gift cards aren’t just a show of good faith, though. They also give hospitality businesses an opportunity to score bookings while they’re not currently hosting any guests.
We’re also seeing creative initiatives on behalf of bigger hotels such as Buy Now, Stay Later. The idea here is that the gift cards purchased by travelers to hotels actually increase in value over time (think 60 or 90 days). This encourages guests to commit to their purchase and also makes them feel like they’re getting an awesome value.
Here’s a breakdown of how the process works. Small businesses and smaller hotels can adopt a similar sort of system for themselves:
If you think that nobody’s going to be interested in gift cards, think again. Coming off of the recent stimulus package, many tourists will have discretionary income to spend. (Oh, and remember the near-half of the country that already has travel plans booked?)
5. Reconsider how you handle current (and future) reservations
If you already have existing reservations or you’re on pins and needles as you wonder what’s going to happen with the bookings you already have, don’t panic.
Many major hotel booking policies include waiving change or cancellation fees right now. They’re also flexible in allowing current bookings to be pushed off to a future date.
Given that stay-at-home orders and other state-wide decisions are changing week-to-week, being flexible is something that guests will definitely appreciate.
Additionally, anything you can do to keep current bookings somewhere on your calendar is a win-win. Your guests get to look forward to their trips as you get a grasp on how much money will be coming in through reservations in the coming months.
And again, don’t freak out if your calendar is looking a little bare or you’re expecting cancellations. Talk to your guests and encourage them to move their bookings back versus canceling outright. Don’t overlook monitoring your digital social channels to keep your customers and prospects fully updated!
6. Partner up with other local businesses
Tourism businesses obviously aren’t the only ones being impacted by COVID-19.
Consider partners in the hospitality industry (such as restaurants) that you can work alongside to promote offers, contests, and giveaways. This helps boost your visibility and shows that you’re active in your local business community:
Local businesses can likewise band together to put on events and organize emergency funds and virtual tip jars for workers.
These sorts of initiatives are crucial for local small businesses, especially if you’re a hotel or resort. Think about it: from restaurants to attractions and beyond, your business’s recommendations and word of mouth can go a long way toward helping others.
7. Start brainstorming offers and packages for the near future
Right now you might be laser-focused on saving as much money as possible—and rightfully so.
But the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 means that you need to start thinking ahead.
For example, what sort of offers will you put out once tourism is back in full swing? What are you doing to stand out from competing companies in your space looking to do the same?
From flexible family packages to discounts for healthcare workers, planning your offers and creatives (think: ads, marketing copy) now will make your rollout go more smoothly down the road. As news seems to change day by day, it can’t hurt to at least start brainstorming.
8. Don’t slash expenses out of panic
Cutting costs is a no-brainer during a pandemic.
Still, that doesn’t mean everything needs to come to a grinding halt.
Again, no one knows what’s going to happen with COVID-19, which makes planning tough. Tourism businesses obviously need to save money now, but you also don’t want to be shorthanded when it comes to staff or marketing. This is especially true if recovery happens sooner rather than later.
Regardless, a solid starting point for cutting costs is looking at your current needs in terms of advertising and digital content for the coming months. For example, what marketing technology needs to be pivoted or maybe paused for the time being? (Do you really need to be running paid ads on social media right now if your ski shop is shut down right now?)
Pro-tip: Take a second look at expenses related to your food supply chain. Fewer guests mean less frequent orders and likewise an opportunity to temporarily size down your menu and offerings. When business picks back up, you can reassess your needs.
9. Think about creating a product you can send home with guests
Just as many restaurants have pivoted to exclusively takeout orders, we’re seeing more hotels and B&Bs do the same. Here’s an example from The Wayback Austin, a boutique hotel in Texas:
Putting together food packages for special occasions or “just because” is a creative way to engage your guests—and drum up a bit of extra business in the process.
10. Look into assistance programs to stay afloat
If you haven’t already looked at existing resources for small businesses when it comes to COVID-19 guidelines and financial assistance, you should at least review the options available to you.
Whether it’s a potential loan or figuring out what precautions your business needs to take, knowledge is power during these tough times. Below are some quick links that can help:
- CARES Act Relief Resources and Eligibility
- The best small business loans
- CDC Guidelines for Communities, Workplaces, and Events
How are you getting through COVID-19?
Nobody can predict the future when it comes to the COVID-19 situation.
That’s why it’s so important to be proactive and set yourself up for success when the tourism industry gets back on its feet.
What might be a crisis can also be an opportunity to creatively pivot your business into an area you may not have considered before. How will you navigate tourism’s stormy seas?