2022, too, began with COVID-19 as a major killjoy. Everyone in the hotel industry thought that December was the moment to make up for a dramatic year, but the new lockdown in the Netherlands put us all in our place. Even the relaxation of the measures on 15 January did not provide any relief for the hospitality industry. Our reality is truly depressing: how do you hold yourself in a market over which you have no control? How can a hotel owner anticipate rules that appear to change at random?
And yet the start of a new year is a moment to step back and zoom out. What can be changed, what is still possible, and above all: how do we move forward after all restrictions have been removed? How do you move from survival mode to having control over your business? Prepare yourself for a running start, because as soon as people are allowed to book hotels again, there will be a stampede for rooms. Everyone is itching to go out and travel.
However modest our position as channel manager and software supplier may be, we try to help hotel managers and owners to prepare for this moment. Not because we are trying to take advantage of the situation and to bring our sales numbers back up to standard (if our customers are in trouble, then so are we!) but because we feel involved and concerned. We are happy to share our knowledge and experience, as a partner rather than as a supplier. Luckily, we notice that an increasing number of hotel owners - customer or not - make use of what we have to offer.
For now, I would like to offer four tips that each hotel owner can use to their advantage.
Tip One: Load your sales channels now, before you are too late
The most important advice that I can give on the subject of channel management is the following: make sure that your availability and rates are up-to-date and optimised in every sales channel you use so that your rooms are for sale and findable. That’s because, once guests are allowed to book holidays again, they are going to do so in great numbers. You have to make sure that you are available for them once that happens: on Booking.com, Voordeeluitjes.nl, Weekendjeweg.nl, and every other channel that you make use of. If you only act once customers are already booking, you’re going to have a hard time squeezing yourself into the crowd, and you will certainly lose your spot at the top.
The period in which people can book in advance is different for every booking site; put your rooms on that website for that entire period. Now is really the time to put in some extra effort in that area: smooth everything over and ensure that you are readily visible in every place where your target customers are going window-shopping.
It might also provide you with the opportunity to critically think about the channels on which your rooms are available. Please don’t hesitate to call me to see if you are perhaps overlooking channels and therefore opportunities. We do so for thousands of hotels, and we know what does and doesn’t work.
Tip Two: Perform better with a favourable cancellation policy
In uncertain times like these, guests always better appreciate the cancellation policy. If there is going to be another lockdown on the day of departure if one of the travellers in the group suddenly has COVID-19 if there are additional demands regarding vaccinations or boosters, does that result in people losing their money?
That fear can be a reason for people not to book with your hotel if they cannot cancel their reservation free of charge. That doesn’t automatically mean that your cancellation policy should be a free-for-all - we all know that such a policy would be abused. But make sure that your policy is clear for all guests.
Do not be tempted into making your policy more favourable for reservations via booking sites than for direct reservations, either. Even though those channels push on free cancellation by offering you a better position in their search engine in return, it might be more sensible to do it the other way around: offer a better policy to customers who book directly with you. This invites people to make their reservations with you and saves you the commission fee for the booking site. Alternatively, you might offer your guest the opportunity to purchase a cancellation policy, or to move the date of arrival, for a small fee on your website, just as you can do with air travel agencies. At least some of the travellers will gladly pay such a fee in return for the extra freedom.
Tip Three: Make smart use of your staff for an optimal guest experience
It is very challenging for a hotel to keep the team complete. Staff is a scarce commodity; it seems as though everyone who used to work in the hospitality sector has vanished. Where have they gone? If you have good staff and a strong team, then you don’t want to lose them. They are, after all, the backbone of your company, and indispensable for offering good hospitality.
Think about which positions and work are truly necessary. Service is the top factor in providing optimal guest service. It is a shame if one or two of your employees are wasting time with administrative work such as copying out reservation information and (virtual) credit card details. Such repetitive labour can be very easily and efficiently automated by your channel manager and PMS against a fraction of the employee costs.
Tip Four: Let software work for you - not the other way around
This brings me to the fourth and final tip: take a critical look at the software that you are using. Does that software work for you, or are you working for the software? I am well aware that software can’t fill your hotel during a lockdown, but with the right choice and application, the software can make you agile and flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. It can also give you the insights you need to make your business better and more profitable.
You may be stuck to a subscription, but if it turns out that your software doesn’t work optimally - and therefore costs you time and money - then this period of survival may be the best time to evaluate your situation and to make new choices. Because practice proves that there are always improvements and savings to be had by making sure that your software is properly interconnected. And I would love to help you think about this, too.