COVID will shift summer travel into fall – are you ready?

As we have recently witnessed with the surge of travel into states like Florida and Texas that lifted their lockdown restrictions ahead of other territories, people are eager to start exploring the world again. Unfortunately, it may have been premature, and statistics supporting a second wave may force many to put their summer vacation plans on hold.

This will leave much to be desired for autumn; hopefully at that time we have surmounted any second wave hiccups. Moreover, travel restrictions are still in effect for international flights, and this may result in numerous travelers holding out until September when they are able to safely visit other countries.

As has been made clear by now, the gradual ending of the lockdown means that the post-pandemic revival will come from drive markets or regional air travel. In other words, don’t expect international travelers for a while and focus your marketing efforts on locals for staycations as well as those territories where flight routes have been brought back to some semblance of their pre-pandemic frequency.

Getty Images
Getty Images

But even if sanctions are relaxed by late summer, you still have to take into account people’s unique path-to-purchase behaviors. On the one hand, there will be customers chomping at the bit to get away as soon as possible, making them receptive to deals or promotions with a short booking window – that is, less than 14 days from arrival. This is especially true for families with young kids who may only have the month of August to rush through their vacations before the school year starts in September (assuming there is a school year this fall).

Yet on the other hand, many will plan ahead three to six months out, particularly as money may still be quite tight for numerous individuals who are only now getting back into full-time employment. This group will need time to re-secure their savings before they consider any superfluous expenditures. Finally, what about corporate guests or groups who postponed their meetings to fall or delayed them a full year?

All these repercussive travel trends may make for a very busy autumn as much of the canceled spring and summer bookings are shifted to this period. Unique times such as these will ultimately require an adept hand from senior hoteliers to align operations accordingly, both in terms of staffing as well as giving guests a reason to choose your property during this traditionally off-peak period.

What to consider

Such sweeping trends like this don’t have a silver bullet and there will be regional or property-specific considerations. However, here are some broad thoughts to help you prepare for this forecasted glut of reservations so that once autumn hits you can still deliver exceptional guest service.

How are you handling reservation inquiries? Just because a hotel is at low occupancy right now does not mean that people aren’t searching or planning for the future. Consider shifting to an outsourced hotel call center so you can effectively manage this operation remotely and cheaply without letting any calls or emails go unanswered.

Have you examined where your guests will be coming from if there is only a partial travel reopening? Given this, what are you doing to generate drive market awareness? The top origin location profile of your guests may change month over month.

Did you have any leisure-focused events planned for this fall? Even though guests will be looking to travel, they will nevertheless have a ton of options, and even more if flights to sunny destinations are restored. What singular reason can you give them to generate appeal for your property? Are there any local events that you can piggyback on?

What about welcome back packages as part of your loyalty program? Now is the time to deep dive on your CRM to see how you can segment customers and identify guests who are local and more inclined to buy your staycation promotions.

What new housekeeping SOPs are you putting in place to give guests ‘cleanliness peace of mind’? Sanitization and fear of diseases will linger, so travelers will look for hotel brands that continue to value increased hygiene protocols even as COVID-19 fades away. Be sure to also communicate with them the exact steps you are taking to ensure guestrooms stay virus-free.

How are you adjusting restaurant operations for social distancing? Do you have takeout and delivery options clearly monitored to review success on these ever-crowded platforms? Do you have new training procedures in place for servers to deep clean tables and chairs after each use? Have you explored your options regarding ‘ghost kitchens’? Are you prepared for a significant increase in room service?

What new technologies have you put in place to better enable a remote workforce? Yes, we will inevitably go back to our respective properties, but you can nevertheless take this time to investigate software and platforms that can help to automate various tasks, particularly though that can help to limit unnecessary staff-guest contacts.

How will you manage staffing for an autumn period that could have unseasonably higher occupancy than previous years? Where will you source temporary labor, and how will you train them to ensure quality service delivery?