Use the extra time you and your sales team have on your hands to improve your digital sales strategy so that once the recovery begins, you’ll be ready to compete with the online booking heavyweights.
If there's one fact the coronavirus (COVID-19) has demonstrated, it's the limitations of face-to-face. We're seeing in real time what people can't do. And we're seeing in real time the opportunities that digital enables both now and during the recovery when it comes.
Now, don't get me wrong: I will never argue that digital can or should replace trained, effective hospitality professionals. But professionals and platforms can, should and must work together so much more effectively than they've done until now.
Your sales team can't work 24/7. Your phone agents can't anticipate every need. Your front-desk folks can't follow guests wherever they go on-property or around your destination. Guests have questions they need answered. Who's going to answer their questions now that they're stuck at home and when they're traveling again?
Well, they carry the internet in their pocket. Digital provides an easy, cost-effective way to help guests and answer their questions—and allows your team to focus on the work that only they can do.
This is not an either/or scenario. This is a "yes, and" scenario. Trained, dedicated phone agents are far more successful at upselling than digital. Your sales team is great at accommodating special requests, at finding the perfect solution and at closing the deal. But even when times are good, these outstanding professionals must spend too much time early in the discussion answering questions guests are better served answering themselves.
Do you think OTAs and intermediaries don't recognize this fact? Their entire business model is built around supporting the guest throughout the customer journey. Google has built its entire arsenal of capabilities around harvesting customer intent. Expedia and Booking.com have spent the last few years investing in getting deeper into the travel value chain. They call it the "connected trip," and they're likely to focus heavily on that once travel begins to recover. They've all built content and functionality to intercept the guest at critical moments of need … and direct them away from you.
What can you do about it? Start answering those guest questions yourself. Use your digital channels as a true 24/7 sales team—one that allows your trained professional team to focus on the things that only they can do.
Identify the most common questions your sales team answers. Maybe they’re questions about meeting space dimensions, adjoining room availability, local restaurants within walking distance. Then put together the content—text, images, video—for your website that answers those questions. Invest in improved search capabilities and an FAQ to make it easy for guests to find the answers they need. Partner with other local businesses—who will need the help just as much as you do as the recovery begins—to develop destination content and packages that set you apart from intermediaries and from your competition. Then, craft effective calls-to-action to drive that interest to an online booking tool or to your sales professionals who can convert that interest into a stay.
There's a big myth in digital that content is expensive. Content that doesn't convert is expensive. Content that doesn't help your guest is expensive. Content that requires your team to answer the same questions again and again and again is very expensive.
Your team is less busy right now. Their skills, their knowledge and their insights can't help guests because guests aren't calling. But when the recovery starts, it won't start with phone calls or in-person meetings; it will start online. In fact, it's happening right now. Leisure guests, corporate travelers and meeting planners are conducting searches, viewing images and watching videos. And they're beginning to dream. Your property can only enter those dreams if your digital presence does its job. It can only funnel those interested travelers to your sales professionals if you've engaged the guest in the first place. And it can only work for your hotel if you let it. The intermediaries put tons of effort into making sure they're the right answer. Shouldn't you do the same?
Will this lack of face-to-face be "the new normal" forever? Of course not. Someday—hopefully sooner than later—your sales team will travel again. You'll be able to meet with travel advisors and meeting planners and wedding consultants to put together the perfect accommodations and events for your guests. And your digital presence can continue to help your team focus on the areas where they excel.
The recovery is coming. Maybe it’s not today but it will happen. And those hotel owners and marketers that make the effort to improve their digital presence now will find they will recover faster and more effectively than their competition. Your digital presence should be a key part of your sales team. Let it do its job so that the rest of your team can do theirs, no matter what happens.
Tim Peter helps hotels and resorts put digital to work to grow their business. He has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs designed to increase sales and revenues. Prior to founding hospitality consulting firm Tim Peter & Associates in 2011, Tim led the world’s largest hotel franchisor and the world’s premier independent luxury hotel representation firm in driving billions of dollars in revenue for hotels and resorts around the world. Contact him at timpeter.com/hotelmarketing or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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