Coping with Coronavirus. A COVID-19 Pep Talk for Hotel Marketers.

March 19, 2020


This is a loose text transcript of what I said in the podcast. Hello thanks for joining me on this innspeak podcast… I know it’s been a while – a few interviews fell through, the holidays snuck up on me, some family stuff happened, and then conference season hit. Frankly – the podcast kept taking a backseat. That said, I’ve actually got a couple new podcasts recorded and was about ready to start posting those, but since this thing started – it all felt a little tone-deaf. I’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming in the next week or two. Today, I thought it was more prudent to get a dialogue going about the impact everyone in our industry is feeling from the Coronavirus. Add your thoughts to our posts on Instagram or Facebook – keep the dialogue going there: I’m not even going to pretend to have the answers. I’m not going to give you advice on how to stay healthy and safe during the crisis. I don’t have an effective trick for your online marketing to all of a sudden start getting reservations. What I will offer is some bigger picture thoughts and a little advice. But know this. We’re in this together and we’re struggling with this at my company Odysys which is also a small business and 100% of our customers are independent lodging properties. We’ve already taken steps to protect our team by implementing a work from home policy. For our customers and the industry, we’re working on resources to help deal with this as best we can. This podcast is a start to that.

On a personal note – I’ve found the following things really helpful:

  •  Stay positive – this will get better.
  • Limit your intake of news – I’ve found that just flat out ignoring social media has done wonders for my anxiety. But trust official health information sources like the CDC, your city/county/state official sites & accounts.
  • Look after your neighbors – not just those next door but your community.
  • Get outside if you can. My wife and I have been going to the park down the street, going for walks – there’s all sorts of people outside enjoying the weather in Portland. Walking dogs, playing tennis, running the track, etc. The grass is still growing, my allergies can attest to the fact that the trees are still blooming, etc.
  • Spring cleaning/DIY projects/interior design – idle hands…
  • Lastly: Take advantage of this time: work on your brand, work on your website, write those blog posts you’ve been putting off, create those ideal guest personas, figure out why you’re in business and look to that motivation to figure out what exactly you can during this time to exemplify your brand
For those who want to spend time working on their marketing – I’d like to offer up the Odysys Academy to any and all properties in our industry. This content is typically only available to customers. It is a roadmap to driving direct bookings to your property. It is essentially a collection of lessons. This is now available to you whether or not you are an Odysys customer. We will make this content available free of charge through the month of April. [updated: I stated April 1 in the podcast but decided to extend already] Get access to Odysys Academy at https://www.odysys.com/academy Marketing & branding may feel like a dirty subject in a time like this. But hear me out. Now is the time to focus on your brand. Now is the time to be a leader for your staff, your partners, your peers, and your community. As the crisis runs its course, it is important to remember your brand values in the face of pressure. Now is the time to think long-term about your marketing. Promotions & deals will likely be ineffective in the short term. You can’t reach a market that’s locked inside and panic scrolling social media or obsessively watching the news and convince them to come and stay at your property right now. Likewise – don’t start discounting your rates to unsustainable levels. Rates are not the issue right now. That’s not why people are not travelling. This isn’t the right lever to pull or dial to turn.  Sooner or later this crisis will pass – hopefully sooner than later – and guests will start to return. After being denied the activities they love – travel, experiences, restaurants, culture, social interaction – they may even come out in droves. So how do you invest in your brand in these times. How do you prepare for a return to business when you don’t know when that’s going to be? These are big questions and uncertain times indeed. One thing is certain – great brands build equity during a crisis like this. Stand out by exemplifying your brand values. Let’s just start with the practical stuff. Let’s be factual and not emotional right now. Let’s offer empathy without reinforcing panic. 

Update your message, communicate to your list & social media and on your website:

I believe the new reality is that cleanliness and healthy social distance has now entered the public consciousness to the point where the traveler will be hyper aware of these items. Not just now – but in the future as well. Everyone is going to have Coronavirus PTSD. Everyone is going to walk into a lodging property or conference or sporting event or conference and think to themselves: “how much Coronavirus is in here?” So first – when you are ready to take guests or communicate with customers – you’ve got to showcase your commitment to cleanliness.
  • Let your past & potential guests know how yours is a safe destination.
    • Highlight your cleaning efforts & standards.
    • If you have them,  highlight your property’s options or amenities that meet social distance guidelines like ingress/egress that doesn’t involve common areas etc.
    • Do you already offer cabins or camping options on your property? These are great examples of options for traveling and maintaining social distance
    • Alternative check-in procedures that don’t require close contact
    • B&B – deliver breakfast to room instead of in common area etc. Allow dine-in delivery, feature the local restaurants you partner with.
  • Updated policies: Don’t punish guests for cancellations.  Make it easy/free to rebook for a later date or to exchange for a gift certificate. Reward this behavior?  Lift deadlines & restrictions as you can, emphasize direct booking, etc.

As a hospitality brand – promote travel, wellness, and supporting your community.

  • Encourage travel & getting out – this is in your lane… even if it doesn’t drive business to your property.  There are ways to responsibly travel & practice social distance right now. People will want to get out of their houses and change things up. 
  • Be charitable: if one of your values is to be involved in the community, use some of this time to help out. This might mean different things to different people. That may mean offering rooms to folks that need to isolate themselves. Making food for those working at hospitals etc.
  • Offer gift certificates as a way to support your business during this time
    • On that note – perhaps get together with other local businesses you partner with or your local chamber/association to create a page or an entire website for purchasing gift cards for local businesses. Your fellow businesses can post a link to their gift card page and you can all promote it to your lists/social accounts/local media together.
And yes – you can get creative with getaway promotions like “get away from it all” / “social distance” “coronacation?” offers or ideas. I had a friend pack up his entire family and take them to the coast this week so his kids wouldn’t be tempted to go to friend’s houses, to get away from the madness, to tune out, etc. If you have a way to offer peace of mind to guests – this may be it. 

Your communication strategy may include

  • Your website: Creating and linking to a blog post from various places on your site is a simple way to post an update or create a Covid FAQ page etc
  • Your email list: Send your update to your email list.  If you’ve ever talked to me about marketing or been to one of my webinars, you’ll know I’m a big advocate for building your email list and sending out monthly newsletters. It’s times like these where that approach can pay off. Email is your best pipeline to communicate with your fans, followers, past and future guests. A one-off email is appropriate in this situation but other than that, don’t overwhelm your list. Stick to your monthly cadence.
  • Your social media accounts: Weekly updates are fine. Don’t be promotional right now. Focus on information, updates, and promoting travel, wellness and your community.
  • Your associations & local media: There’s power in numbers. There are stories to tell. Work with your DMO’s, associations, chambers etc to promote healthy travel.

Some resources I’ve come across:

I will continue to update this list as much as I can and is practical – more & more content is coming out and we’re all learning as we go. I do believe that this is an opportunity to focus on your brand. Stay true to yourself, focus on what’s important, wash your hands.

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