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How to elevate customer experience and differentiate your brand during COVID-19

guests checking in at front desk

Earning consumer confidence during the pandemic with a well-executed safety strategy is vital if hotels are to win back customers as the nation tries to reopen. With Covid-19 a major ongoing hurdle for the hospitality industry and consumers alike, the biggest opportunity for hotels is to protect and enhance their brand by implementing broad public health measures and communicating them effectively. A hotel’s health strategy will either put customers at ease and build trust or signal the establishment is disorganized and perhaps unsafe.

Brands that provide comprehensive safeguards – plus variety and flair – will position themselves well for the recovery ahead. Those that don’t risk dire consequences.

Basic personal protective equipment (PPE) is table stakes. Guests expect hotels to use masks, gloves, sanitizer stations, disinfectant wipes and other forms of PPE. But those that take this a step further will be the ones to earn trust and advance their brand.

Go the extra mile

Transcending the minimum health and safety measures can take many different forms, but the goal is the same: Build confidence in your hotel’s management of COVID-19 while simultaneously enhancing the customer experience.

The escalating demand for comprehensive health protocols across the industry has prompted a number of programs to certify certain sanitation practices to protect and reassure the public. Examples include the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s (AHLA) Stay Safe initiative launched at the end of April, Hilton’s CleanStay program (incorporating Lysol and the Mayo Clinic), Marriott’s Global Cleanliness Council and more. While some tactics like social distancing may go away as COVID-19’s effects diminish, the heightened focus on clean is the new normal.

Communicate your PPE strategy across digital and property channels

As business and leisure travelers begin planning for their next trip – and perhaps their first since the lockdowns began – they will be scouting out hotel websites. Once COVID-19 protocols are in place, it is critical to seamlessly communicate them to potential guests.

A homepage website banner should lead visitors to health and safety protocols – including safety measures, certifications and check-in procedures – with one click, and this banner should be mobile optimized so they can read the updates from anywhere. This not only helps potential guests feel better about their safety, but it also smooths out their visit by setting expectations and informing them about new procedures beforehand.

As guests arrive, make sure signage describes safety procedures and programs the hotel has implemented to build confidence and trust. If a guest will have his or her temperature checked before entering the building, for example, outside signage should warn the person before an employee presents themselves with a thermometer.

Another priority is consistent, ongoing staff training. Providing clear instructions, materials and diagrams to employees can help them understand the steps and routines for implementing safety processes. If customers see inconsistencies across team members, it undermines their confidence and detracts from their experience.

maid cleaning with PPE

Add value to the on-site experience

COVID’s silver lining is that it has opened up new opportunities to enhance the customer experience. For example, while the virus precipitated a national hotel occupancy rate of just 33 percent in May, more than 50 percent lower than the prior month, according to Statista, this excess inventory could be used to assure guests they’re staying in thoroughly disinfected rooms. Airbnb’s Enhanced Cleaning Initiative provides a 72-hour gap between reservations, adding an additional safeguard for visitors.

Other hotels might use excess inventory to reward those who continue to travel with upgrades – or lure consumers who may still be reticent. Operators might consider a “twofer” promotion to encourage guests to bring additional family members or friends or plan in-market staycations.

Additional rewards could include complimentary room upgrades, food and beverage combos via room service, minibar offers and gourmet boxed meals to go. (Be sure to emphasize safe food handling and serving practices.)

While safety is paramount, it is vital that these new procedures reflect the essence of your brand. When adding outdoor tables for social distancing, for example, make sure the umbrellas are logoed.

Follow up for feedback

In addition to the hard work of ensuring guests have a pleasant stay, surveying them afterwards provides an opportunity to identify satisfied guests and prompt them to leave positive reviews on rating sites such as TripAdvisor.

Online comments about COVID procedures are an important way to assuage the concerns of potential guests who might be leery of industry assurances. Reviews have been shown to have a major influence on travelers’ decisions.

Seek partners that add value

You can avoid reinventing the wheel for COVID-19 needs by harnessing the buying power of a single-source provider for a range of products and services.

For example, a top-notch partner can provide a flexible kit to cover myriad safety supplies with cross-sale savings. This can include the basics (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, signage) plus single-use menus, room stickers to certify clean status, employee information and more.

On the marketing side, a partner can provide insights regarding the pandemic and consumer behavior to help shape new offerings that can boost revenue. For example, themed email blasts can help brands stay top of mind with new offerings, promotions, loyalty perks, gift cards and more.

Looking ahead, there are still many unknowns surrounding the next stages of the pandemic and evolving new normals. How well hotel brands can incorporate wide-ranging safety and well-being measures will go a long way to convince people it’s safe to “start their engines” for travel – sooner rather than later.

 

Previously published in Hotel Online.

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