In times of disaster and social upheaval, such as the COVID-19 struggles today, hoteliers must be both adaptable and transparent with their guests. When we’re in a time of uncertainty, providing customers with a little clarity can go a long way to building a great relationship as well as being a servant to your guest.
One way you can help ease your customers’ uncertainty, and thus drive bookings, is by updating your policies and clearly communicating those updates to guests through all of your communications channels. This brief guide will help you create an emergency-version of your policies as well as a checklist for distribution.
Should I Update My Hotel's Cancellation Policy For A Disaster?
Having reservations on the books is obviously critical for any hotel or resort, and having strategies to keep these reservations is important for the success of a property. However in times of great uncertainty it is going to be necessary to make changes to your policies and be more flexible for your guests. The reason is simple…
If a guest can’t come to your property because of a large scale existential issue, they’re not going to be coming regardless of your policy. This is a hotelier’s chance to surprise & delight by going above and beyond. You’ll not only earn a customer for life, you’ll be shared with all their friends as well.
First, let’s take a look at two specific examples of how to handle your policies during a large scale crisis.
The Good: Hilton Hotels
Hilton Hotels has been the poster child for how to properly handle the Coronavirus issue with on-property persuasions and reservation policies. In the example below, they are consistently updating their cancellation policies to help their guests who are forced to make changes. They are waiving cancellation fees, even for non-refundable bookings. They are extending their rewards program benefits for guests who can’t travel, and setting their guests minds at ease.
Does Hilton have to do this… Absolutely not. However they are creating true fans, being great hoteliers, and will benefit in the long term by taking a more compassionate stance on their policies.
The Bad: REDACTED
The below example from an unnamed vacation provider is an example of an incredibly heartless and out-of-touch policy. This example, which the property is strictly adhering, offers zero refunds or rescheduling if the guest did not pay an additional 8% for a reservation guarantee. Guests who had bookings for large, multi-thousand dollar, rental properties and who are now required by law to stay home are completely out of pocket for their entire vacation investment.
Is this legal and playing by the rules… Absolutely it is clearly indicated in the booking process. However, this is the chance for a hotelier to go above and beyond and help their guest. And in the process creating a lifelong great relationship that will be shared with friends.
To Do: Update Your Policies
To start with you will want to update your policies for stays and cancellations. This is both a good time to make any needed updates that should be made regardless of an event, but also to highlight the specific short term alterations you are making to ease your guest’s minds.
The Right Way
- Update your existing reservation policies to make them as flexible as possible
- Update your new reservation policies to allow for generous cancellation rules
- Provide links from your policy pages to your disaster response pages
- Update your booking engine disclaimers to match your temporary policies
- Make your contact information very easily accessible on your policy page, people will still have questions
- Consider adding a FAQ box to your privacy page for disaster related questions and answers
The Wrong Way
- Remain inflexible because 'the rules are the rules'
- Bury your policy updates in a sea of text where they are not easy to see
- Cut and paste a policy from another site, you may be getting more (or less) than you bargain for
- Only update your policy and not your package and booking disclaimers
- Make it hard to contact you via phone, email, or chat
To Do: Share Your Policies
Creating a compassionate policy update to handle large scale disruptions show that you’re a great hotelier and good neighbor in your community. However if you don’t let your potential and current guests know, it’s not doing you much good. Below is a short checklist of how you can make sure everyone who wants to know is in the loop. Your goal here is to let customers know they don’t have to worry about the financial side of their stay decision. You also want to let everyone know that, “hey, we’re nice guys and we are here for you in good times and bad.”
On Site Promotions:
- Clearly highlight your policy updates on your policy page by positioning key updates at the top and differentiating in a different text treatment
- Create a home page alert to drive visitors to your updated policy page
- Do a search for 'your property' Cancellation and see what pages appear. Update those pages with the proper links and content
- Ensure your booking engine policies match your new policies you posted
- Ensure the policies on your email confirmations match your new policies
- Browse your entire site and highlight or link to your policies where it will help your conversion process
Off Site Promotions:
- Create a helpful email to your guests
- Include your policy updates such as 'free cancellations' on your PPC callout extensions
- Create a response plan for responding to social inquiries
- Share your temporary policies with local DMOs and portal sites
We May Be In Tough Times, But We're In Tough Times Together.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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:
- Master List of Crisis Management Resources for Hotels
- Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast: Episode 137 – 8 Things Hotels Should Be Doing About The Global Crisis (with Tim Peter)
- Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast: Episode 136 – Applying Lessons Learned from 9//11 To The COVID-19 Crisis (with Loren Gray)
- Free Navigating Troubled Times Whitepaper Download
- How To Adjust Your Advertising Strategy Right Now
- It’s Not Just Corona Virus, It’s Change
- Google My Business & Yext Best Practices During A Global Crisis
- Messaging and Promotions Examples During Crisis
- The Full Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast Library