After a devastating year that led to monumental shifts in traveler behavior, hoteliers must step back from day-to-day strategic planning and understand how the pandemic has created long-lasting change. While we keep a close eye on the bottom line, finding new ways to drive revenue in the current environment is critical.
While some hoteliers may sit back and wait for things to “return to normal,” the smartest owners and operators understand that the hospitality landscape has shifted – that new consumer behavior and new demand drivers have forced us to adapt our thinking.
To set themselves up for success in this new normal, hoteliers must evolve their post-pandemic strategies to meet new industry trends. Over the short term, our business mix will lean heavily toward leisure travelers. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start planning now for a return of business travel, meetings and events.
Simultaneously, hoteliers must be able to step back from day-to-day strategic planning and understand how the pandemic has created long-lasting change. For instance, guests are more receptive today to digital experiences. A self-service mentality has permeated many aspects of travel and the hotel industry is playing catch-up in many ways. In addition, today’s travelers are looking for accommodations that provide an experience rather than just a place to rest their head.
While we keep a close eye on the bottom line, finding new ways to drive revenue in the current environment is critical.
So, what are the most important post-pandemic changes that have forced hoteliers to adapt? And how exactly can hoteliers turn these new demand drivers into increased revenue?
Below, we outline nine post-pandemic revenue generating ideas, each with a step-by-step process for getting started.
Take a refreshed look at your channel mix
With regards to how travelers book your hotel rooms, there are some trends that we can say with certainty will be long lasting and there are others where the pendulum may eventually swing back in the other direction. For example, we know that as digital tools become more prevalent and new generations of travelers hit the road, more bookings will come online than through the call center or walk-in scenarios. We can also safely assume that mobile bookings will continue to rise in the future.
Understand which channels drive incremental demand as opposed to channels that are cannibalizing their own direct traffic.
In terms of the specific online channels, though, the percentage of hotel bookings across the industry that come in through direct channels versus third-party channels ebbs and flows just like the cyclical nature of the industry. Since COVID struck in March 2020, data from booking benchmarking companies shows that the number of bookings from direct channels – your hotel’s website and direct booking engine – have grown in share versus the OTAs. However, that is likely due to the fact that travelers were looking for the most up to date content and communications around COVID-related closing and restrictions, which would naturally come from direct channels. As the powerhouse of OTAs – Booking.com and Expedia – pour money back into advertising, we can expect to see the share balance back out.
Therefore, it’s important for hoteliers to understand which channels drive incremental demand as opposed to channels that are cannibalizing their own direct traffic. It’s also important to understand which channels have the highest cost of acquisition and factor these costs into decisions around where to place your inventory.
Focus on your direct channels first and drive as much business there. There are several ways you can accomplish this: Start by simply promoting your website more through advertising. Be sure, when a traveler lands on your site, that your booking engine functionality is optimized for the highest conversion.
Set up fenced offers – private rates that can be unlocked by guests who are willing to give you their contact information – and make these the lowest rates available anywhere on the web. Work with Google Hotel Search by providing Google with direct rates and inventory that they will list organically, driving more traffic to your site.
Third-party Distribution Partners
Use third-party distribution partners to drive incremental demand – bookings you may not otherwise get – by reaching segments you can’t reach on your own channels. For example, global OTAs will help you drive international demand and Hotel Tonight and other opaque channels will help you drive last-minute demand when your hotel is not sold out.
Maximum Booking Windows
When distributing inventory through OTAs, understand the maximum booking window for each channel and ensure you have rooms available all the way though so you can capitalize on travelers who are making plans far in advance. With the uncertainty around travel restrictions today, some leisure travelers are making vacation or wedding plans 18-24 months in advance.
Welcome old and new travelers with a modern booking engine experience
As more travelers go digital, hotels must ensure they’re welcoming guests online just the same as they would welcome them in the lobby—with warm hospitality, the right offers and upsell opportunities; basically, any tool that increases the chances of converting that traveler into a guest.
Traditionally, booking engine providers and website designers have been separate entities with separate focuses. Websites are created with beautiful content, imagery and descriptions, and then once the guest selects an offer and moves over into the booking engine—where real-time rates and inventory are served—the experience is clunky, or at least very different.
Today, much of this information can be passed between the two systems in a seamless manner. When a booking engine knows more about the guest, including their website activity, it can serve a more relevant offer.
Ensure your booking engine is presenting your property in the most appealing manner with high-resolution photos of each room type as well as the common areas, such as the lobby. And update descriptions of your hotel and each room type to accurately describe the differentiators.
Work with your booking engine provider to ensure it is tightly integrated with your Customer Relationship Management tool. When the CRM is integrated, hotels can recognize known and unknown travelers and use past stay history and preference to serve up even more relevant offers. Also work with your booking engine provider to ensure it is tightly integrated with your Revenue Management System. When the RMS is integrated, real-time data analysis can help hoteliers tailor rates based on individual preferences and value.
Consider implementing data from amenity services—should your guest regularly book spa appointments or make golf reservations, ensure this is available on the same booking engine as the room options.
Ensure this data is available to staff on property after the reservation is made. The last thing you want is for a guest to show up and have a front-desk agent who is unaware of the spa appointment that has already been booked online.
Shifting demand requires dynamic forecasts and pricing strategies
You’ve heard it time and time again: historical data is no longer relevant. That’s mostly accurate, particularly when it comes to making strategic decisions based on data. For the remainder of 2021, revenue teams will not be able to look back at how their hotel performed in 2020 as an indicator of demand or pricing strategy.
Instead, they can compare month-over-month or even week-over-week historical data to see how their hotel is trending. They can also look at forward-looking data, such as search data, web traffic and flight arrivals, to get a clearer picture of upcoming demand. Competitive intelligence becomes more important as well.
Make sure you are actively monitoring at least 6 months out. The remainder of 2021 will look a lot different than years past, even if you have not historically been as busy over certain periods.
Forecast at the segment level or, at the very least, by room type. A total hotel forecast is not going to provide the necessary insight into how your business is shifting to allow for accurate pricing and distribution.
With the current conditions, flexible cancellation policies are being looked for the way guests used to look for other key amenities on site. In the short term, offer free cancellation where feasible or offer to transfer the stay to new dates with no penalty. For domestic travel, you may begin to look at introducing non-refundable rates again, but you’ll have to be fairly aggressive with discounting, depending on the booking window.
Reign in your discounting strategy. Shift from using one static discount amount and applying a length-of-stay restriction or closing the offer out entirely. Dynamically managing discount amounts by things like day-of-week and forecast lets you keep your offers open while not leaving money on the table.
Refresh your segmentation strategy
As we exit the year-long pandemic and see a completely new group of travelers emerging, guest and business segmentation has never been more important. As a hotelier, it’s critical to know as much as you possibly can about who is traveling and who is booking your hotel – not only today but for the next year, at least. Educated guesses tell us it’s likely leisure travelers today with some business travelers and groups booking for dates in Q3 and Q4 later this year. International demand won’t likely come until Spring of 2022. But educated guesses aren’t enough – the data is there and hoteliers should be analyzing it to make accurate decisions to shape an optimal revenue strategy.
Business vs. Leisure
Looking at your pace and pickup by segment, when does it look like business travel will return? How can you shape your marketing and pricing to get in front of business travelers today?
What channel are most of your bookings coming from? If it’s an OTA, how can you put strategies in place to shift that demand to your direct channels?
By Day of Week
How does your mix of weekday versus weekend business look today versus pre-pandemic? Knowing this will help you determine which promotions and restrictions are a good strategy.
Where are travelers coming from? Domestic versus international will have very different booking windows and stay patterns, which will require specific distribution strategies and cancellation policies to capture your fair share.
What percentage of bookings are coming from guests who have stayed with you before? Knowing this will help you “score” repeat guests and make personalized offers to them.
Ancillary revenue sources
Are the travelers booking your hotel today also booking additional services, such as spa reservations or meeting space? Knowing this should shape your rate offerings, promotions, and upsell opportunities.
Begin your journey to personalization
One of the most impactful ways to drive more revenue and make the biggest impact on your guests is by personalizing their experiences all along their journey, from marketing to booking, all the way through their entire time on your property, and then following up once the guest has checked out.
Personalized and targeted marketing will convert at a higher rate.
Personalized and targeted marketing will convert at a higher rate. Tailored on-property experiences will “wow” the guest and lead to more revenue spend per guest. Personalized post-stay communications will increase your review scores. All together, these unique guest connections will drive loyalty, allow you to charge higher ADRs, position your hotel to lead its comp set in recovery and set your hotels up for long-term success.
Consolidate profile data and put it in a view that is meaningful for recognition, personalization and communication.
Know Your Guests
Know your guests, their behavior as it relates to what you have to offer, and customize your messaging or interactions based on that information.
Guest Profile Information
Share among systems guest profile information outside of a reservation record. This allows the guest profile to influence the rates returned from your RMS or can influence how a call center agent recognizes a guest.
Use Artificial Intelligence
Consider using AI to determine guest scoring for profiles based on activity.
Introduce day use and hourly rate functionality
Based out of Kennedy Airport, the TWA hotel is unique in that a significant percentage of its business caters to air travelers facing layovers. Because the hotel leverages hourly rate functionality through their cloud PMS, they can easily manage rates, operations and reporting at an hourly level, allowing the hotel to optimize the use of it’s inventory.
Similarly, at the Mint House at 70 Pine based in Manhattan’s Financial District, the hotel uses their PMS’ hourly functionality to offer guests a quiet and productive co-working space in the middle of a busy metropolis.
A PMS equipped with day use and hourly rate functionality allows hotels to redefine how they sell rooms
A PMS equipped with day use and hourly rate functionality allows hotels to redefine how they sell rooms, and reimagine the relationship with their guests. Originally designed for airport hotels that wanted to cater to travelers experiencing extended flight delays or layovers, the opportunities for this functionality are limitless.
The Co-working Trend
Capitalize on the co-working trend by offering rooms as a quiet and productive space for remote workers wanting a change of pace, or “virtual” companies looking for meeting space.
Consider utilizing a “space as a service model” to offer a private area to work or relax for individuals stuck in cramped and noisy apartments.
Consider booking your suites in 2-3 hour increments to offer a luxurious, socially-distanced dining experience, or for other private gatherings.
Consider using day-use functionality to make cabana and day spa reservations. By listing the spa/cabana as a “room,” and then reserving it through day use, setting rates by the hourly or hourly blocks.
Leverage mobile automation and self-service for ancillary revenue
Hotels are increasingly looking to put the control in their guests hands to choose their guest journey and capitalize on their impulse buying tendencies. The entire welcome and departure experience can now be delivered through a guest’s mobile device. Not only does mobile check-in break up long lines at the front desk, but it also empowers guests to personalize their guest journey through targeted offers for room upgrades and amenities. In the post-pandemic era, mobile check-in provides health-conscious guests with a welcome experience that is hygienic and socially distanced.
The beauty of mobility is that check-in and upsells can take place anywhere: prior to boarding the plane, in the airport, during the uber ride to the hotel, or indeed on property. And a mobile check-in is not the only option that guests have: The welcome process can also be completed at a strategically-placed smart kiosk, or through the aid of a friendly hotelier, armed with a mobile tablet that can display vibrant images of the upgrade and amenities.
Consider upsells that expand on your hotel’s vision of an ideal guest experience.
Instead of pushing the “best” kind of upsell, leverage data related to the guests’ likes, preferences and buying habits to personalize and enhance their welcome and departure experience.
Consider everything from monetized early check-in/late check-out, room upgrades, add-ons and packages, and loyalty benefits through a guest-facing mobile check-in platform.
Leverage a mobile PMS and untether your staff from the front desk so they can engage in an organic dialogue with guests 一 perhaps while serving champagne or tea in the lobby 一 and naturally transition to a discussion on enhancing their stay with a room upgrade or amenities.
Automatically trigger upsell/upgrade offers once the guest accesses the check-in link via email and begins the check-in processes.
Monetize early check-ins and late checkouts
With guests wanting greater customization and convenience, hotels are eager to keep visitors happy (and loyal). As a result hotels have become more flexible in regard to check-in and checkout times as part of their service personalization efforts.
With the right PMS, hotels can engage with guests prior to their stay regarding expected time of arrival. Housekeeping can update room status in real time on their mobile device. Responsibilities can be assigned for a particular room automatically after a guest checks-out while managers can quickly scan for tasks that need to be fulfilled prior to a guest’s stated arrival. Balancing early check-ins against actual arrival times helps hotels better manage room availability.
Tie availability for early check-in/late check-out dynamically to occupancy so that the early check-in option will not display if there are no open rooms. Automate and deliver early check-in/late check-out offers directly to the guest’s mobile device.
Optimize early check-in rates by integrating your PMS to your yield management system.
Determine your late check-out strategy and choose to send the offer the morning of check-out, 24 hours ahead, or configure it based on your most optimal conversion.
Ensure your systems are integrated and sharing data
The PMS is considered the heart of the hotel tech stack because it contains the foundational data for the guest profile, including reservations, stay and purchase history, room inventory, rates, and housekeeping/ maintenance information. This information can then be easily fed to third party platforms to streamline, personalize and enhance the guest journey.
Meanwhile, there are a number of other components that should be deeply integrated with the PMS that help a hotelier store and action data to drive the most revenue. A Central Reservation System helps you optimize your distribution strategy to drive incremental demand on channels where your guests are shopping; A customer relationship management tool leverages guest data to help build targeted offers that convert higher and tailor experiences that resonate with guests; and a Revenue Management System allows hoteliers to build accurate forecasts and use AI-driven pricing algorithms to ensure they’re capturing the most revenue on every booking.
Deploy deeply integrated, cloud-based software built in an open, API-first framework that reduces the cost, time and development work associated with connecting systems.
Integrate and Scale
Consider technology built on native-cloud architecture, making it easy to integrate and easy to scale.
Real Time Data
Deploy integrated systems that communicate and share data in real time.
Work with partners that have a proven track record. View relationships with technology vendors as long-term strategic partnerships; true strategic partners work closely with clients to address the challenges and opportunities specific to their market.