Marketing Matters: your reopening checklist…

Our regular Hotel Owner column this month looks at your reopening checklist as lockdown begins to lift

Following Boris Johnson’s announcement that hotels, B&Bs, pubs and restaurants can reopen on the 4 July 2020 with 1 metre social distancing, many businesses will be finalising their reopening plans and getting things ready to reopen as soon as possible. Not every business feels ready for 4 July, particularly as the announcement feels somewhat last minute, but whenever you plan to open, here’s my handy marketing checklist to help you get those bookings…

Sooner rather than later

Marketing is often an afterthought or ‘in a minute’ activity which gets done once everything else on your to do list is complete, but this time it really needs to be tackled sooner rather than later. The quicker you let your database know that you are reopening, the earlier they can get planning and the quicker you’ll get bookings. I’d be prioritising your marketing now, including social media (and potentially some social media advertising), email marketing to your past guest database, updating your website and your booking engines, and using any other medium you have for approaching guests. You don’t want to bombard the same contact hundreds of times, but you can use all the channels at your disposal at the moment.

I’d also be thinking about how you plan to attract a potentially nervous traveller and what might give them a reason to visit. I had a snoop around some of the hotel websites local to me, and one was charging a whopping £756 for opening week, despite very limited bookings. Most likely, this is automatic, dynamic pricing, but you need to balance recouping some of your income, with having enough bookings to remain viable.

Be clear about standards

As you can imagine, I am subscribed to a lot of hotel newsletters. I like to see what people are doing and I travel a lot which means lots of places have my data. I have had hardly any correspondence from the majority of these contacts over the last few months, but in the last few days I have suddenly had a deluge, and in fact in the hours following the announcement, I got a huge stack of them. I’ve skimmed them all and they vary massively in effectiveness and particularly clarity around my safety.

The biggest mistake that many are making is assuming I have any idea what you are talking about. I do, but only because I work in industry, so telling me you have implemented ‘all the government guidelines’ doesn’t really help to reassure a guest of what you specifically are doing. Start with a webpage or blog and then clearly and specifically list the changes you have made within your business and most importantly, how that is helping to keep me safe. Sometimes more is more and at the moment, many guests will be nervous and will certainly be more reassured by having more information to consider.

The same applies if you have an independent accreditation like the Safe, Clean & LegalTM scheme from my fellow article author Quality in Tourism. These marques are excellent at demonstrating your commitment to standards, but don’t just display the marque, tell them why it demonstrates your commitment too.

Be comprehensive but succinct

I know, this probably sounds like a contradiction, but in the many hundreds of correspondences I’ve received in the last few weeks, there are very few that have struck the right balance between giving me enough information and / or over or underwhelming me. I’ve had emails with a pretty picture and a ‘we’re reopening’ message, and I’ve had emails which list each and every tiny change the hotel has made, neither of which do what I (the guest) need it to do. Here’s how to strike the right balance:

  • Decide on the key points: what will your guest want to know and what do you need them to know? Reopening dates are key, but so too is guest safety, any special offers, any updated terms and conditions and plenty more besides. You need to cover all of these key points somehow.
  • Prepare permanent homes for the content: within the body of your email is not the place to share 500 words on guest safety. Instead, set up a web page or blog post and use this to share the bulk of the information. It has the advantage of reassuring guests that find your site organically, but it also provides a home for lots of text heavy info. Then, within your email, include short, snappy sentences that give a one- or two-sentence overview and which link through to the content in full. The guest can then decide how interested they are and what they want to read.
  • Use clear design: too much text will send anyone to sleep, so spend time getting your design right. Use sub-headings to split and specifically highlight key information and if you can, use illustrative imagery to subconsciously guide the user to the most relevant section.

Ask for business

Us Brits tend to shy away from asking outright for people to book, but the personal touch may well swing a potential guest away from a corporate brand towards your independent offering. Don’t be ashamed to ask guests to come back, and highlight how much it will mean to you. It’s exactly the reason I always try to stay in an independent place when I travel; I like to engage with the business owner, and I know many others who do too.

Sell the dream

We’ve all been dreaming of beaches and glamourous travel, so now more than ever is your opportunity to sell the dream holiday or short break with you. Dust off your best pictures, perfect panoramas and unique bits and use them to entice, inspire and encourage travel. Big pictures, aspirational copy and a sale of your area can all help to capture attentions and don’t forget, you have the unique opportunity to capture those who usually travel abroad; who knows, they might become longstanding annual visitors too.

Call to action

Don’t ever forget the call to action. Why are you telling them this and ultimately, what do you want them to do next? I have seen so many beautiful pictures, lovely prose and fresh email designs, only to reach the end and think what next? Include messages like ‘book now’ and ‘check availability’ so that guests are clearly and subconsciously guided to the next step.

Don’t stop at the booking: think about the pull back

You want bookings right, so getting them is where you need to focus. Except you’re not taking advantage of the opportunity to sell once your guest is there. Encouraging them to bring a friend (before their visit), or refer a friend (after their visit), as well as rewarding repeat custom and providing incentives to return before the end of the year, can all help you to build your bookings back up, not just now, but for the remainder of the year. Don’t just plan how to build July and August back to near-peak; think about all the other months you have ahead of you and think just how valuable repeat custom can be.

All that’s left to say is good luck. I know times have been touch and I know reopening does not directly equate to recovery, but I also know there is still an appetite for travel and many people who normally go overseas will be coming here instead.

Angie is a former independent hotelier turned marketeer and supports hospitality and tourism businesses to maximise their potential. She runs apt marketing & pr and you can send her your questions to angie@aptmarketing.co.uk. She’ll be more than happy to help!

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