Ty Warner, owner of the Four Seasons in New York City, is letting doctors and nurses battling the new coronavirus stay in the 368-room luxury hotel for free. The city has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. “There was no other option for us but to do whatever we could to help,” Warner said in a statement. Acts of kindness and community support go a long way in building travelers’ trust in the hospitality industry, say marketing experts.
While many of the country’s 57,000 hotels have closed and face steep losses as RevPAR last week declined 70 percent, thousands of property owners are finding ways to help their communities weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Marketing and communications experts say now is the time for lodging owners and managers to toot their own horns. There is no shame in self-promoting the good deeds of hotels and their staff during a crisis. It builds trust among consumers and shines a positive light on the industry.
Once the crisis abates, hotels will literally cash in on that goodwill.
“This is unlike any other crisis we’ve ever had to deal with before. Marketing can come off as very inauthentic,” said Jennifer Barbee, co-founder of Destination Innovate in Chandler, Arizona. “From a marking message standpoint you really should be focusing on what’s happening in your community, how can you help.”
LISTEN: Lodging Leaders podcast Episode 259 features Jennifer Barbee of Destination Innovate, Andressa Chapman of Trigger Hotel Marketing and Robert Cole of RockCheetah sharing tips and advice on how hotels can send positive messages during the COVID-19 crisis and build trust for when people start to travel again.
Hotels Step Up
Hotels throughout the country are staying open to care for first responders and health care workers who do not want to go home and chance infecting family members with the new coronavirus.
The Four Seasons in New York City has invited doctors and nurses battling the new-coronavirus to stay at its luxury digs for free. Owner Ty Warner said many of the health care workers are coming from long distances and don’t have the time or the energy to drive home after 18-hour workdays.
Conde Nast reports Ocean House Management, which operates hotels in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, has set up a food truck in Westerly, Rhode Island, to serve free meals to school children.
The Line D.C. in Washington, D.C., has converted its lobby into a pickup spot for Friends & Family Meal, a nonprofit that collects food from restaurants and overstocked suppliers. Laid-off hospitality workers can get free bags of groceries.
The Galt House hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, has created a free pantry for people who’ve lost their jobs or have had their hours reduced because of the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo: Walkers Exchange/Conde Nast)
Owners also are volunteering their hotels to serve as quarantine centers for those exposed to the virus as well as vulnerable populations including people in nursing homes, the homeless and non-violent prisoners.
American Hotel & Lodging Association is coordinating a nationwide effort to connect hotels with health care systems in need of rooms. On Wednesday, the association said it signed up 6,500 hotels under its Hotels for Hope initiative.
States such as Washington, California and New York are teaming up with hotels to satisfy the dearth of hospital beds. In San Diego County, for example, officials are leasing whole properties to either quarantine people exposed to the virus or to care for less serious cases. You can find Long Live Lodging’s report about that effort here.
LISTEN: Listen to Lodging Leaders podcast’s Episode 257 where Darshan Patel of Hotel Investment Group tells of his experience in transforming his family’s hotel into a health care facility.
In Pennsylvania, news outlets report that health care officials said hospitals have 3,400 ICU and critical-care beds, but officials say the state needs 2.5 to seven times that number if the COVID-19 infection rate continues its upward trajectory.
In Illinois, officials have tagged 12,000 hotel rooms.
For hoteliers stepping up to help the health care industry and their communities, this is an opportune time to craft a new message and build a culture of credibility with consumers and employees.
Andressa Chapman of Trigger Hotel Marketing in Eugene, Oregon, said the goal of marketing during the coronavirus crisis requires hotel adopt a new mindset.
“I don’t think our goal right now should be on stimulating demand. The demand for travel, at least leisure transient, will be there, it always is post crisis.”
Many states and municipalities have declared states of emergency and ordered residents to stay home. This gives the hospitality industry an opportunity to reach out to a captured audience.
“Where I think hoteliers have a real opportunity right now with their marketing is more in the humanitarian effort and helping to build community,” Chapman said.
“We typically think of marketing as a revenue generating department, but we should be thinking about this resource right now as more of an ops department where the top priority is caring for our guests.”
Make connections with people to show them you care and that you empathize, she advised.
Such an outreach does not cost a lot of money and hotels already have the marketing and communications systems in place to share their unique messages.
Check out Chapman’s tips in Trigger Hotel Marketing’s blog.
Robert Cole, founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing and technology consultant in the Dallas Fort Worth area, said hotels should be messaging across all channels to get people to start dreaming of and planning for their next trip.
“These interactions at least for the foreseeable future should not be about booking,” he said.
Cost per click rates are down 75 percent, said Cole. So obviously people aren’t buying. But they are sitting at home and browsing hotel websites with thoughts of future travel.
The site design should “give visitors what they need and moves them along,” Cole said. Get rid of the popups that invite conversions. “Forcing them to create a booking and popping things up is not what this is about.”
AT A GLANCE
Here are some updates regarding the impact the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Long Live Lodging will continue to update this chart as well as other information as part of its Special Report on Coronavirus and the U.S. Hotel Industry.
Lodging Econometrics has tracked the hotel industry since 1998. Its global database includes new-hotel pipelines as well as renovations and brand conversions. Hotel franchisers once eager to launch new brands are focused on converting existing hotels because it’s a faster way to recover revenue lost to the COVID-19 pandemic than through new construction. In Episode 346, Lodging Leaders explores the increasing number of conversions in the U.S. hotel industry and what owners and operators need to consider before repositioning an asset.
In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., financiers anticipated a swell of distressed hotel businesses. Some raised rescue funds to respond to what they thought was a pending crisis. Though there are financial rescues taking place, the level of such activity is far below what industry advisers and fund managers expected. Commercial real estate investors positioned to act in the early days of the pandemic held off and are now just beginning to unleash their cash hoards totaling billions of dollars. Episode 345 of Lodging Leaders podcast explores the state of capital investment in the hotel industry.