As a specialist agency in Travel and Hospitality marketing, given below are six things we think hoteliers should be considering during the COVID-19 outbreak. These suggestions stem from our own research, as well as learnings from marketing campaigns and engagements following the 2019 Easter Sunday Attacks in Sri Lanka and its aftermath on the country’s tourism industry. While the two scenarios are markedly different, there are possible ‘best practices’ to be actively considered.
For latest on ground updates on COVID19 in Sri Lanka please visit the link at the bottom of the page.
Update: 17th March 2020
Based on the temporary travel bans imposed, we are now seeing a significant drop in booking demand, based on a preliminary review of 40+ hotels for the period of 13th March 2020 to 16th March 2020. As such, we advocate a temporary pause in advertising efforts until further information is available. While the specific opportunities mentioned for search marketing is still viable, it is a brand centric decision.
As at 13th March 2020, temporary visa bans for 12 countries was introduced by the Sri Lanka Government for a period of two weeks, from 15th March 2020 to 29th March 2020.
Analyzing online rate search behavior in a less than 24 hour period post the Government imposed travel ban, we find a significant enough number of non-Sri Lankan rates searches (an indication of demand to book via an online booking engine) are still being conducted based on a preliminary analysis of 35+ hotels. A full report will be published shortly.
For a majority of our key source markets, Sri Lanka is a long-haul destination with a travel buying cycle ranging from four to six months. How the COVID-19 outbreak will evolve is still actively debated, but we see a small sliver of hope as we see active demand yet for Sri Lankan Travel, Hotels, Flights and similar. This article was written on the basis that an active presence through channels such as Google Search, while being sensitive to the global nature of this epidemic, may facilitate a faster recovery in the future.
Each brand is unique, please consider the above as possible actions to be considered with the information at hand. As the situation is currently developing, our recommendations will be updated continuously.
Most Sri Lankan source markets are long haul destinations. Changes in policy or quarantine measures in a transfer hub or changes in flight schedules could immediately impact our hospitality industry.
In crisis situations, typically ancillary considerations may become more significant in the travel buying process. For example, travel insurance premiums or outright non-issuance of travel insurance would immediately raise this secondary conversation into a major area of consideration as we saw during the Easter Sunday attacks.
A process to continuously monitor your macro tourist environment should be considered a top priority.
Platforms like Google News Alerts, Social Media Keyword Mention tools and similar should be considered to actively monitor a developing situation. We encourage the implementation of a source market audit process that can be reviewed daily / weekly.
Most hotels have a wealth of information available to them online which is rarely, if ever considered. A simple Google Analytics implementation and tracking setup for your online booking engine would allow you to understand in near real-time:
It can also offer a historical narrative and a basis for comparison against previous months / years.
A Google Search Console implementation is also recommended to understand your brand search visibility and number of impressions to better review if demand for your brand is fluctuating online. As most travel buyers use search at some part of the buyer journey, this information can be considered a great sample size to understand your overall brand demand.
With temporary travel bans implemented by the Sri Lankan Government, we are monitoring the changes in demand patterns, this article will be updated when further information is available.
FIT travellers, usually known for complete online independence during the booking process, are likely to now have questions and concerns. Creating channels of engagement and a dialogue with a potential guest is likely to increase booking confidence in these trying times.
We recommend immediate implementation of online chat and email inquiries on your website to offer immediate conversation opportunities for potential guests.
In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019, we noticed an 85% increase in visits to terms and conditions / cancellation policy pages on our hotel client websites (in Sri Lanka). With this in mind, reducing the financial risk for a potential guest will be seen as an attractive and tangible measure to increase booking confidence.
A policy to re-book based on availability on a later date if required could also be considered.
Inform potential guests of the actions taken and measures put in place to ensure their maximum safety. Provide information about the country’s situation at a glance, share updates from credible and independent sources, and keep them posted of considerations that may impact their travel bookings such as the recent on-arrival visa suspension in Sri Lanka.
Search is an intent driven advertising medium. It means we can gleam some measure of what the user is looking for based on the search terms used. For example, if a user is searching for a ‘luxury hotel in Colombo’, we are able to quantify their specific need at that time. Search advertising also works on a Cost per Click (CPC) model, which means you are charged only if a user clicks on your ad.
These two parameters, make search advertising an attractive proposition during a time of crisis as you are advertising only to those still interested in your brand (through brand keywords) or your potential target segment. While the volume of online searches may fluctuate, you are still investing in driving a relevant website visitor, who may eventually become a guest.
We advocate brand campaigns (advertising for your brand keywords) and destination specific generic campaigns (quantified demand such as searches online for hotels in a particular area) to be considered. Advertising messaging should be sensitive and brand relevant, we do not advocate safety or similar which an individual brand cannot confirm.
Share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Antyra Solutions has partnered with Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance to provide latest updates on the situation. Latest on ground updates can be found on LoveSrilanka.org