If there is any silver lining in being in a very significant down market is that there must be a recovery on the horizon. And in these times we can work to refine our systems to engage every possible customer in every possible way. Waste can not be in our vocabulary right now, and as a result the efficient systems we put in place now are the ones that will work best long term, well after the down times have passed.
Every hotel on the globe has seen cancellation rates skyrocket and vacancy approaching 90%, that is if they are not physically closed. In fact, we surveyed approximately 10,000 travelers and over half have cancelled a vacation, or rescheduled. Here is the specific breakdown from our COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Study and the full study can be found on FuelTravel.com here.
This leads us to the salient question of the day, “How can I get those cancelled reservations back?” To take this question one step further, “How can I get those cancelled reservations back, before my competitor takes them from me?”
Before we even begin trying to win our cancelled reservations back, as a hotelier you must put your guests’ travel uncertainty at ease. Things such as flexible, 100% refundable, cancellations and modifications have to be clearly communicated before you can even attempt to win back your stays. You can learn more about here and once you are set these six strategies will help you win back those cancelled hotel rooms, and likely earn a guest for life.
Once you have your policies and plans set it is time to come up with a compelling, worry-free, offer to bring your guests back. This does not necessarily mean discounting. What it does mean is creating an offer that alleviates all the worries a guest would have in a post COVID world including:
- Worry-free 100% refund policy
- Added values for booking direct
- Flexible booking windows
- Highlight your hotel or resort’s cleaning policies
- Nail the messaging that will resonate with your potential guests. Need help, check out Podcast Episode #139
Now on to our list of the top five things you can do to recover your lost hotel bookings, starting at #5 and working our way to the #1 way to prevent lost bookings.
#5: Target Your Drive Markets
So number five is not technically going to be targeting “just” your cancelled reservations, however it is going to be a rich environment where your cancelled reservations and potential new reservations are going to be coming from. This strategy is designed to focus on making the most of your limited marketing budget, attract guests who will likely be able to visit your property with the shortest lead time, and bypass the need for air travel.
Setting the proper geotargeting can be done across most of your current platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft Ads. A proper geotargeted hotel campaign also extends to your local portal sites (MyrtleBeach.com would be an example in our local market), chamber sites, and even your popular local news sites.
#4: Proactively Calling Your Cancelled Reservations
Picking up the phone and reaching out to your guests may be one of the most effective means of converting a cancelled reservation back to a booking. Hopefully you are taking advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and have the staff available to begin reaching out to all your cancelled reservations and seeing what you can do to bring them back. This is a very manual process, but like all things that can be hard to do it is absolutely worth the effort.
Keep in mind, you’re not just making a sales call, you’re making a wellness check, you’re making a relationship. Your call strategy give your staff flexibility to chat with your customers. A stay often begins with a relationship and that takes time. Consider that Zappos, who is known for amazing customer service recorded a record 10 hour 43 minute service call. That is obviously a little extreme, but if you take the approach to get to know your guest and work with them one-on-one you will make bookings and true fans.
#3: Find & Reengage Your Guest Throughout The Web
One great advantage you have with engaging your cancelled guests is that they once booked and you have their data. This means you have access to information that will allow you to find them again and reach out with an amazing, personalized, message across the web. Within most platforms such as Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook, and others you are able to create a custom audience based on an upload (email, name, etc).
If you’re using a CRM, like the Fuel AI-Powered CRM for Hotels, you’re not going to have any problems building a custom segment of guests who made a booking, but cancelled. This will give you just about everything you need re-engage these guests online.
- Your Remarketing Segment: All entries with stay dates between X and Y that are also marked as cancelled. This segment should include as much detail on the guest’s canceled stay as possible.
- Secondary Segment to Consider: All guests who had a stay date last year within the same time period who have not yet booked.
Step one for creating your custom remarketing audiences actually begins with loading the guest history list/segment above into your marketing platforms and then let the intelligence of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others find the guests who cancelled (or didn’t book this year) and deliver them a hyper-targeted message. Please also note that both Google and Facebook require at least 1,000 records in your custom audiences.
Step two is to create your campaigns, and ads within the platforms specifically targeting these guests to return. These will typically be display (creative) ads, unless your audience is well above 1,000. We won’t go in to the details of this step here since it is a bit too complex for this article, however you can learn all about retargeting/remarketing for hotels here.
Finally, as with all marketing efforts, it is critical to ensure your tracking is setup properly so you can begin to test, optimize, and track conversions.
#4: Engage Your Potential Hotel Guests With A Personalized Email
We have found that email is the single most effective tool for engaging (and re-engaging) your guest history. It is practically the only asset you have that allows you to proactively reach back out to your guests. To begin, you will be using your CRM system to send your cancelled guests a powerful message, personalized just for your guests based on their folio information. Before we begin what this message should include it should be noted that we are recommending two segments, listed below:
- Email Segment #1: Guests who have stay dates between X and Y that have cancelled. You may be able to use the same segment you created above as part of your remarketing efforts.
- Email Segment #2: Guests who booked last year, but not this year. This one is incredibly important because we don’t want to forget about the guests who “should” be staying with you but never made the reservation. As a disaster, such as COVID, extends, this segment becomes more and more important.
Once we have our segments created we can begin building out an ideal re-engagement message bring these guests back in house. Some recommendations for a generally great hotel email can be found on Episode #109: Sending An Amazing Marketing Email. For these specific cancellation re-engagement messages though, we recommend the following:
- Create a personalized subject line making the connection
- Directly acknowledge COVID and why they would have cancelled (or why they didn’t book in the case of segment 2)
- Build an aspirational emotion of a recovery period and well-deserved vacation
- Touch on your properties hygiene steps to ensure a safe stay
- If possible, show images of the guest’s chosen room type
- Offer a great deal for their return
- Highlight your worry-free cancellation and modification polices
This layout above would be a little different for the guests who stayed last year, but did not book, however that same strategy of a personalized welcome back will work well.
#1: Don't Lose Your Hotel Guests to Cancellations In The First Place
Did you know that the best way to have a low cancellation rate is by not having a lot of guests cancel their stay? That’s obvious, but does need to be stated. If you can help your guest modify their stay, they won’t cancel in the first place. And when you are dealing with an existential threat to travel, like COVID, you are not going to be able to convince a guest to keep their original travel plans. You are going to have to come up with creative tools for your team to use to retain your guests, just at a later time. Follow some of these suggestions to keep your guests, and hopefully ignore the other four tips above!
- Give your staff latitude to keep the guest when they try to cancel. Moving a reservation to a premium time, upgrading a room, this and more should all be on the table.
- Consider offering guests a voucher for their future stay at some premium to their booking. An example would be a cancelled $100 stay, becomes a $125 voucher toward a future stay.
- Make sure your guest’s know about your easy, worry-free cancellation policy. If their stay is still a few months in the future they should know they can cancel at any point up to their date of stay with no penalty
- Have a cheat sheet for your agents that address as many of a guest’s potential concerns, and add it it often.
- In the event that you allow for online cancellations, make sure you have the right tools in place to nudge the guest toward a modification (incentive to reschedule, etc).
- If your guest absolutely has to cancel, make the process so enjoyable that they are sure to book again.
We're Weathering The COVID-19 Storm & The Recovery Is Beginning. Together We'll Be Ready
Tough times are here, there is no doubt about that. But tough times are easier when we band together, work as a team, and make the tough times a little easier. That’s why everyone at Fuel is stepping up to help our friends and industry to get through to the other side. We can help you too, even if you’re not a client. Just message us at email@example.com and let us know how we can help you.
If you’re just looking for more resources here’s a few that you will educate and motivate check out our Master List of Crisis Management Resources for Hotels. This contains all the articles, downloads, podcasts, and tools you need to not only weather the COVID-19 storm but to also thrive in these early stages of recovery.