By Associate Professor Justin Pierce, Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability
From last July borders within the European Union reopened to tourism for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Tourists from some countries outside the EU considered safe are now permitted entry. Many in the hotel, hospitality and tourism industry see this as the beginning of a much-needed recovery.
The initial outbreak saw countries such as Italy and Spain dealing with some of the highest rates of infection and mortality in the world. As borders shut hotels emptied, occupancy rates for hotels in Europe dropped to just 11.1%, from over 60% on February.
Now, the European Union is essentially running an experiment in how to resume international tourism during a managed (but still active) pandemic.
Tourists are being tested for the virus at airports in many countries such as Greece and Spain as they enter, while sanitation and social distancing restrictions still remain in place for the foreseeable future.
The next few months will serve as an example and potentially a roadmap to the hotel industry in other regions and countries that are similarly re-emerging on the right side of the health data.
Here are some of the approaches that hotels in Europe are already employing in order to recover, respond to changes in the market, and adjust to the ‘new normal.’
1. Focusing on regional domestic tourism or ‘microtravel.’
Forward-booking data in Europe has highlighted a rise in local, regional travel or ‘micro travel’, from nearby city centres, to destinations within a four-hour drive.
- Domestic tourists wanting to escape the cities they’ve essentially been trapped in during lockdown, and spend time in rural and coastal retreats.
- Hotels and Airbnb’s reporting growing demand from the major cities specifically the smaller operators and boutique properties in rural and coastal areas compared to major city-based hotels.
2. Hotels have lowered their prices
Data collected by Protourisme, the French accommodation booking company, shows that visitors to French towns such as Nice this month will find prices for hotel rooms significantly lower than normal.
Discounts appear to be the new normal across Europe at present, with most hotels still at less than 25% occupancy. Luxury hotels in Rome are reportedly advertising for as little as $50-70 per night.
In hotels and Airbnbs, travellers currently expect cheap deals, and until occupancy climbs properties will have to be competitive with pricing. However, it is important not to undercut your business too much, while staying competitive. It’s a fine balance.
3. Flexibility is essential during recovery.
Flexibility with refund or cancellation policies is also a key strategy for reassuring guests who are still uncertain about booking.
The Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and all the major global hotel chains with properties in Europe have extended their cancellation and refund policies for the remainder of the summer season.
For extra consumer confidence, some hotels are partnering with banks to offer special deals. In Greece, the Greek Villas luxury holiday rental company recently formed a corporate partnership and created a tailor-made travel insurance package with Lloyd’s of London, guaranteeing that guests won’t lose their money if they can’t come.
4. Marketing your hotel and destination as ‘coronavirus safe’.
Of course, a hotel can’t control where it’s located, but they can promote their region as ‘coronavirus safe’ in their marketing, if it has been less affected.
Tourism has picked up more rapidly in regions that are known to be less-affected areas (such as the French Cote d’Azur). Safety and freedom from lockdown restrictions have become selling points, in the post-pandemic market.
Hotels are also investing in stringent sanitation and safety procedures, and leveraging strong marketing around how they are keeping guests safe.
Marriot publicly announced that the company is significantly broadening its cleaning protocols in Europe and worldwide, stating that they are “requiring that public space and guest room surfaces are thoroughly treated with hospital-grade disinfectants.” The company is also testing new technologies such as ‘electrostatic sprayers’ to disinfect entire guest areas.
5. It’s not social distancing; it’s an exclusive isolation getaway.
One way to make lemonade out of lemons is to turn social isolation into an exclusive boutique holiday deal, where tourists can enjoy the small crowds and the full attention of staff. After all, who doesn’t want to be the only guest on the entire Greek island? Or maybe this is the only time in your life you’ll get to see Rome without the crowds.
Marketing rooms as a more intimate, ‘club style’ experience with personalized service, and adding unusual perks or deals to your social distancing measures will ensure guests feel privileged, rather than inconvenienced.