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With the summer now in the rearview mirror, there are many challenges ahead for hotels as the weather turns cold and leisure peak season ends. Coronavirus still dominates the headlines and guests of all segments are still afraid to travel, especially groups which have yet to properly return. While there are myriad of other issues to address, in focus today is how to get the most out of the upcoming holiday season.

Despite all the reasons to not travel – fear of viral spread and cooler weather among them – it is still important to remember “travel debts” as a positive driver for bookings. Even without conferences, corporate guests or other segments restricted from hotel reservations, there remains several prominent reasons for FITs and small leisure groups to book rooms during the traditionally higher occupancy weeks of American Thanksgiving through just past New Year’s Day.

These motivations may include:

– Romantic getaways, customary for the holiday period
– Traveling with kids, given that school is virtual and they are more flexible for midweek stays
– Delayed corporate retreats, put off from summer or early fall due to COVID
– Bleisure, where remote work makes hybrid travel all the more likely
– Extended family reunions, maybe the first time that relatives have seen each other since March
– Small groups of friends, taking advantage of winter activities or the spa.

Surely, these drivers would mean brisk business come late November and throughout December, especially as leisure guests tend to promote more ancillary capture over customers from other segments. But there’s a catch. With so many hotels looking to recover some semblance of revenues lost in Q1 through Q3, expect a voraciously competitive market come late Autumn and early Winter. If you haven’t already, you should be putting your programs and packaging together now.

Going back to the above list, some items to consider right now include:

– Are you equipped to handle family reservations and small groups by assigning adjacent rooms or whole room sections as well as private dining setups? Are you incentivizing these types of bookings through sliding scale room rates? What videoconferencing technology can you supply for those unable to attend?

– Is your online booking engine equipped to plug in restaurant, spa, in-room arrival amenity or activity reservations right from the room booking portal? How are you going to maximize ancillary capture during the prearrival stage of the customer journey so that you are best forecast revenue and staffing?

– With privacy as a key consideration at or above sanitization, how are you enabling and promoting guest anonymity so that direct contact with visitors is limited? What touchless technologies have you deployed to automate onsite services and ensure that staff visibility is minimized to eliminate guest anxiety?

– For the restaurant, do you have an established holiday meal program that you can revitalize? Can this be adjusted for safe in-room dining while keeping costs under control and minimizing contact with staff? Do you have any ‘laissez faire’ F&B abilities, such as a Covid-safe grocery delivery service or guest-accessible kitchens?

– Notwithstanding any forced governmental closures, will your spa be open for the upcoming holiday season? How can you promote safe and socially distanced spa getaways?

– On the marketing front, what have you learned from the summer of staycations in terms of where customers are coming from? How do you see this changing for the upcoming holiday season? Would it be worthwhile to start advertising now with an early booking bonus?

– Has your sales team been actively keeping their Rolodex of leads warm by inquiring about fall bookings? While it may be too early for many to decide upon a gathering for late Q4, it wouldn’t hurt to develop your offer now and get it out there. Corporate and group clients will always appreciate you reaching out to pick their minds about what they’re looking for in travel for the near-term, especially if you aren’t pushing for the immediate sale.

– What services and amenities do you provide for couples and groups who want to have a bit of entertainment in their rooms and away from others? Could you augment your holidays revenues through the creation of bespoke (and sanitized) gift baskets to be used as either a welcome amenity or sold as a deliverable present? Are there any winter-themed outdoor activities you can offer? How can you put a holiday spin on all this?

In the face of so much uncertainty leading up to December, it’s up to you to determine what a good plan looks like. Get creative in your offers and packaging to stand out. Much of this goes beyond marketing and sales negotiations, so start implementing the required operational adjustments now.

About the Author
Larry Mogelonsky is the Principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting and is one of the world’s most published hospitality authors. His writing reflects more than 35 years of experience working with hotels of most every size, segment, affiliation and brand. Larry also sits on several boards advising hotel technology companies.