The coronavirus has already caused a significant impact on the travel industry in just a few short weeks. Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Markets estimated that the financial loss on the tourism industry in Europe would be more than €1 billion per month – given that around two million lost hotel nights in January and February (Skift). No doubt you’re experiencing the same, with risk of closure.
With this in mind, we want to share some advice on how to deal with your guests and expected guests at this time – so you continue to deliver them an exceptional service without losing their custom. There’s still a chance they will rebook and return to you in the coming months – the whole world has had to cancel and postpone trips, and I’m sure we’re all just as eager to start travelling again.
Once restrictions are lifted and the threat to our health diminishes, we’ll all be on the road. Then we’ll be busier than ever – so it’s worth sorting out your back-office, and front desk so you’re ready – and even more prepared.
Dealing with the pressure of guest communication
We are all facing a difficult situation as we have to manage cancellations and postponements without being able to make any definite plans. And no doubt you have customers trying to contact you, perhaps even struggling to get through. Communications and operations is severely hampered – a testing time for your hotel-guest communication system and processes.
– Guest inquiries are skyrocketing
It can be estimated that the number of guest inquiries on all channels will keep rising, including on the website, telephone, email, and social media, etc. In fact, tour operators have already seen an increase in concerns and questions regarding the booked and new trips (The Guardian).
– Cancellation and change requests pouring in
Expedia is facing an extremely large number of inquiries. According to Expedia, “We are doing our best facing an extraordinarily high number of inquiries and requests for assistance, which have led to long wait times and delayed responses.” To speed things up, Expedia is also allowing customers to cancel or change hotel and flight bookings through self-service tools on their website or app (Business Traveller).
– Rising concerns about in-stay health & safety
Many international hotel chains, hotel groups, and independent hotels have provided information regarding hygiene and measures that they have taken to protect the health and safety of guests. To name a few, Marriott, IHG, Hilton, Radisson, and Scandic have made a statement on their website posting related information. Guests are showing more and more concern about how hotels ensure a healthy environment during their stay. One hotel customer of Bookboost states that they are getting more and more inquiries regarding the hygiene and safety in the hotel.
What you can do to manage guest communication
Regarding where your hotel is located, the situation of the outbreak may differ. But it’s always good to keep your guests informed about the current situation, what is the government guidance, and how the hotel is complying with these instructions.
1. On the website
You can post a general statement on the website if you feel the need. The website is a formal and official channel for guests to collect information.
If you have a website chat, you can set up automatic answers triggered by keywords, which are related to most frequently asked questions; Or you can provide information in the form of automatic conversation flow, from which guests can get sufficient information via clicking the buttons. This can help your hotel increase efficiency in answering similar questions. Plus whenever they have a question day or night it is being answered, providing 24/7 service.
2. On social media channels
If your hotel is present on social media channels, it’s good to use these channels to post updated information in time, such as current cancellation policies, measures, and situation. If your hotel can be reached via messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, then it will be helpful to have staff overlooking all these different channels and react quickly.
For those who have the set-up, options to cancel or make changes to reservations directly can be provided on messaging channels, website chat, or through SMS, email.
3. Proactively inform your guests
Website and social media channels are reactive channels because you post something then wait for guests to see, and it takes time for guests to find information by themselves. If hotels want to proactively reach out to guests, including pre-stay guests and in-stay guests, email or messaging can be a choice. But messaging is comparatively better to convey instant messages.
Pre-stay guests may want to know about the situation in the destination, is there any government guidance issued, and how is the cancellation and change policy right now. Meanwhile, In-stay guests would like to be informed about changes in the travel plan, any specific rules that they need to comply with, and what are the measures hotel taking to ensure the health and safety of inhouse guests, etc. Choosing the right channel to communicate with guests can help to ease their concerns and relieve the pressure to some extent.
4. Guests quarantined
You may have guests, and some may have to self-quarantine in your hotel rooms. So how can you communicate with them? It’s worth offering them a number they can text, or your social media account they can message you directly for anything they need – rather than having to call you from the in-room phone (that’s if you still have phones). Make yourself accessible while protecting your employees health and continue to deliver service to these guests and make the experience as best as you can under the circumstances – I mean, who really wants to be stuck in a hotel room 24/7 for 2 weeks?
Empathy – thinking about how our customers are feeling
Anyone who has paid for travel from their own back pocket will be concerned and worried, either they are missing out on a trip they’ve been looking forward to, a well-deserved holiday, or really don’t have funds to be throwing around. They’ll be stressed and panicked, and will unwittingly take it out on you if they are unable to have a conversation with you, potentially causing damage to your hotel reputation though negative reviews.
So be prepared to deliver service across all communication channels and build a plan for when things do – eventually – start getting back to normal.
In general, these are some of our own thoughts on handling the current crisis.
Bookboost is standing together with the travel industry to manage the current situation. If you want to ask us questions or need our help, leave us a message, we are ready to help.