Hotel Marketing: Are You Ready For The New Normal Traveler?

Is your hotel prepared for the New Normal Traveler? If you’re not sure, here’s what you need to think about to attract new customers to your hotel and reclaim lost bookings post-pandemic.

It’s been a tough start to 2020 for the hotel industry

As the world of travel—and, let’s face it, everything as we knew it—came to a total standstill, the hotel industry was suddenly confronted with one of the biggest challenges it has had to face in recent memory.

Hotels lost room bookings. Events (weddings, conferences, and seminars) at the property had to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

Leisure activities like hotel spa days were no longer permitted. And hotel restaurants and cafes, feeling the pinch, had to find creative ways to stay afloat—like turn to food delivery apps, fine dining delivery, or even craft entirely new ‘delivery-friendly’ menus.

In worst case scenarios, financial losses and market uncertainty have, unfortunately, caused some hotels to have to cease operations completely. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands around the world who have lost their jobs.

It’s been a tough start to 2020 for hotels and those employed in the hospitality industry.

The New Normal Traveler will seek out hotels that are proactive about protecting guest health and safety.

But after the last few dreadful months, many countries are slowly coming out of lockdown.

They’re easing restrictions, restarting their economies, and many are hoping to reopen borders for certain regional or international travel by summer or at some point this year.

So while it’s still much too early to breathe a big sigh of relief – and the future still murky at best – the silver lining is there: This pandemic and the downturn it brought with it will eventually come to an end.

That leaves hoteliers with the all-important question: Is your hotel prepared for the New Normal Traveler?

What will you do to win travelers back to your property? How can you recover lost bookings? How will you adapt to cater to post-pandemic changes in travel and hotel stays?

Focus on what will serve you well right now but always keep an eye on the long term—and your goals. Don’t make desperate choices that you’ll regret later!

Close up of a hotel's pillows. The New Normal Traveler will care more about housekeeping - deep cleaning - efforts than they ever did before.

Looking to the future: Attracting New Normal Travelers

While marketing budgets are often slashed in times of financial difficulty, wise hoteliers wouldn’t have wasted the last few months of ‘quiet time’ doing nothing.

Their hotel marketing initiatives would have continued, albeit adapted to the new environment.

(And they would have been consulting with specialists to devise and implement new hygiene management standards for the New Normal.)

Why? Because you can’t just wait for guests to reach out to you.

If you want to remain competitive in the post-pandemic world of travel and hotel stays, then you need a game plan.

That game plan involves anticipating post-pandemic travel behaviours and preferences then responding accordingly.

Here are a few things to consider and ways to prepare for the New Normal Traveler.

Changes at the Hotel

Social distancing is here to stay

The newly acquired habit of social distancing isn’t going anywhere—at least for the foreseeable future.

Avoiding crowded places and even opting against public transport could become the norm even on vacation.

How can you accommodate this need within the property and also with regards to the New Normal Traveler’s sightseeing needs?

The image shows a woman going on a mountain hike. New Normal Travelers will seek out less crowded attractions and activities for their holidays.

For example:

  • Will you need to rearrange your lobby and common areas to allow for proper distancing?
  • Are you going to install plexiglass barriers at the front desk, tour desk, or even in dining areas?
  • Find ways to alter any free shuttle service that you offer to allow for appropriate social distancing.
  • Provide guests with information about attractions or local destinations that aren’t crowded or even indoors, e.g. hiking paths, nature walks, less crowded beaches, etc.
  • Prepare for guests that want to walk places by curating a ‘walking tour’ map or guide that guests can use for reference.

If you can find ways to combine safety with convenience, practicality, and some semblance of ‘fun’ (in terms of their touristic needs), then you’ve got a higher chance of convincing the New Normal Traveler to choose your hotel and perhaps even return again in the future.

Housekeeping efforts will take centre stage

A slight exaggeration perhaps but the idea stands: Guests are going to care a whole lot more about what housekeeping is doing now – and how they’re doing it! – than they ever did before.

Housekeeping efforts will be a priority among New Normal Travelers. // This image shows housekeeping carrying folded linens.

A quick wipe down here, fluffing couch pillows there, and putting everything back in its designated place won’t cut it anymore.

Travelers researching places to stay will likely look into what you’re doing to ensure that common areas and rooms are not just spick-and-span but also highly sanitized.

Are TV remotes being cleaned? Have all door handles, light switches, thermostats been disinfected? Has the upholstery been sanitized?

What mattered most before, won’t be as important now

Instagrammable spaces, getting the best table (the one with a view) in the house for dinner, and the rooftop infinity pool might have been a guest’s top priority not too long ago but the New Normal Traveler is going to be pragmatic.

That is they’re more likely to focus on what really matters: Safety and hygiene versus getting the perfect photo. So make sure you’re doing everything you can to make guests feel comfortable and safe.

The New Normal Traveler can expec hotels to shift from buffet breakfasts to table service, room service, and even tray breakfast service.

For example:

  • Will you be offering contactless payment?
  • Are you temporarily switching to non-contact service, e.g. a tablet ordering system?
  • Will you start to offer room service if you weren’t before?
  • Are you shifting from a buffet breakfast to table service?

The show must go on, but differently

If your property was once a popular events venue, then you’ll definitely want to get back to earning from them as soon as possible. (When gatherings are allowed again of course…)

Outdoor dining and special events will have to be adapted to account for proper distancing measures.

In the meantime, find ways to tweak your offering to meet new distancing requirements and other disease control measures.

For example:

  • Could you offer outdoor weddings instead of indoor ones?
  • Is it possible to offer al fresco dining with appropriate distancing for events?
  • Will you need to have a doctor on hand even for small seminars?

Well-informed staff is a must

Customer-facing staff will have to answer questions they’ve never had to answer before.

Because while some New Normal Travelers may choose to ask their airline, travel agent, or tour operators, others will enquire with the hotel.

Questions like:

  • Are there any new entry requirements that they should be aware of? E.g. certificate of good health that they are COVID-19-free?
  • Are there suitable medical facilities nearby in the event one falls ill with the disease while on vacation?
  • What’s the safest way for the New Normal Traveler to get to your hotel from the airport?

Your team must be knowledgeable and always up-to-date with coronavirus-related local rules and regulations—just in case!

Marketing aspects

Flexible cancellation will be a non-negotiable

What travelers experienced earlier this year – having to jump through hoops to receive refunds (if any at all) on cancelled trips and room bookings – will stay on their minds for a long time to come.

The stress, hassle, and worries (about safety and finances) aren’t things they’ll want to go through again.

So if you aren’t willing to offer flexible booking conditions, you’ll be hard-pressed convincing the New Normal Traveler to stay at your hotel.

In other words: The option to cancel or make changes to a booking for free and as needed will be the decisive factor for the New Normal traveler.

Even asking for advance payment might be something you will need to pause temporarily to attract customers.

Your (favourable) new cancellation policy should be highly visible and transparent across all communication channels – hotel website, social media, and emails.

Find new segments for the time being

The segments you used to target or have the most traction with might not work for you post-pandemic—at least not right now. That means you’ll need to adapt and you’ll have to do so quickly.

So if, in the past, your guests were mostly seniors or families, you might want to think about how you can attract other types of guests. For example: Business travelers or brave and financially-independent younger travelers.

You might also want to temporarily shift your focus towards drawing in locals for relaxing staycations or getting domestic tourists – who can travel to your destination by private vehicle – with attractive packages.

Continue to monitor which segments end up cancelling the most and where your new guests are coming from.

The image shows a woman dressed in business attire and with luggage.  Hotels might temporarily have to target new segments like business travelers.

Note: Older Millennials could have families of their own and may even be responsible for their elderly parents. It’s not surprising that they’re particularly worried about their parents’ well-being.
That insight matters because it suggests that, that particular segment might want to avoid activities like travel that could expose them to the virus and get their loved ones sick.

Keep your guests informed

You really can’t ignore the (coronavirus) elephant in the room.

Even if you’re uncomfortable with the topic – you feel it might add to guest anxiety, create unease, or distract from the concept of a relaxing vacation – the reality is that the New Normal Traveler actually wants to know about the steps you’re taking to keep them safe.

In other words it’s one thing to implement new protocols and another to actually communicate them.

For example:

  • Airline companies have sent out multiple emails with updates on all the safety measures they’re taking pre-boarding and how their services on-board will change going forward.
  • Restaurants are showing how they’re adapting to change on their Instagram pages.
  • Department stores / retail outlets are sharing all their new safety measures with their patrons via Facebook.

That’s why there’s really no excuse for not informing guests of all the disease control measures you’re deploying at the hotel to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Pretending the pandemic doesn’t exist isn’t going to help you land more guests. If anything, avoiding the topic will just make you seem unprepared and incompetent. The New Normal Traveler will choose a hotel that is proactive about protecting guest health and safety.

A gloved hand holds a disinfectant spray. Enhanced cleaning will be expected by New Normal Travelers choosing to stay at hotels.

Here are a few details – in addition to the points mentioned above – that New Normal Travelers might want to know.

  • Are you changing check-in and check-out times to allow for deep cleaning before the next guest?
  • How will your pool and other leisure facilities be maintained for proper safety and hygiene?
  • Are there new rules involving the use of these facilities? E.g. will gym use be by appointment only?
  • How will you ensure highly personalized service with minimal interaction?
  • How often will towels and linens be washed?
  • Will you be offering free face masks or even ‘safety kits’ (e.g. with hand sanitizer and masks) for guests to use during their stay?
Hotel Dining Experience
  • Are chefs at your hotel using chin guards in addition to masks? Will they be wearing gloves when handling / plating food?
  • What can guests expect of the hotel dining experience?
Safety and Hygiene
  • Have you installed plexiglass barriers at the reception and other counters?
  • Are you shifting towards using hospital-grade cleaning materials?
  • Have you made hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol easily accessible throughout the premises, especially in high-traffic areas?
  • How often are you disinfecting high-contact surfaces?
  • Will you be placing sanitizing foot bath mats at all entrances?
  • Are all staff required to wear face masks and gloves?
  • Will they undergo daily temperature checks?

Make sure that this information is available on all communication channels for the New Normal Traveler – your website, blog, social media, and newsletters. If you haven’t been doing this over the last few weeks, now is the time to ramp it up with relevant messages.

(Personal anecdote: On a trip to Singapore during the annual haze period, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel I stayed at offered free face masks to guests every time they would leave the premises. It was a simple gesture that showed they cared — and that won my trust and loyalty.)

You don’t want to scare people but you also don’t want to sound flippant or dismissive. You want to reassure, so use the appropriate tone and wording to get your message across.

Update your website for the New Normal Traveler

It goes without saying that you’re most likely going to have to update your website – not just for your latest promotional offers but with relevant COVID-19 prevention measures and more.

A few things to consider include:

  • Could you benefit from changing some of your calls-to-action? For example: Instead of “book now”, would it make more sense to be less pushy and suggest that they “discover more” or “explore hotel”?
  • Do certain images need to be updated to better reflect the times? For example: Do you need to replace the photos of your busy buffet line with photos of the new dining experience? What about the new lobby layout?
  • Would you like to include information on less-crowded attractions or alternative activities that guests could enjoy at your destination?
  • What kind of timely, relevant, and interesting content could you update your blog and social media channels with?
  • Do you need to edit policies to reflect changes to cancellation, re-booking, and payment terms?
  • Will house rules need to be updated?
  • Would you want to shift the focus on highlighting ‘privacy’ (and therefore ample distancing) at your hotel? E.g. promote private villas that allow for seclusion more heavily than standard rooms in the main building.

Loyalty programme perks

Think about how you can inspire new loyalty programme sign-ups and encourage New Normal Travelers to consistently choose your property for upcoming travels.

You might want to offer:

  • Special post-pandemic perks for members beyond free WiFi and breakfast;
  • Allow points / free room nights to carry over;
  • Increase point earnings (e.g. 3x as many points) for stays within a certain period.

How quickly the industry rebounds – or even opens up again for business – depends on many factors. One is how effective containment measures are in your country.

But if there’s one thing to take away from this post is that you can’t wait for guests to find their way back to you. You need to be proactive.

In fact, these New Normal Traveler considerations aren’t just for large hotel chains or luxury hotels.

They’re just as important – if not imperative – for the survival of small hotels, boutique hotels, family-run hotels and B & B’s, and guest houses.