The pandemic that decimated most of the travel sector during 2020 has also impacted travellers’ booking behaviour. For instance, a look at Goa – India’s famous seaside state – gives us insight into how much impulse-driven behaviour hotels can expect from travellers in the near future.
According to Times of India (2020), hotel occupancy around the end-of-year holidays has risen to around 80%. This is a number reminiscent of travel’s heyday, in 2019. Having said that, the way the numbers have reached this 80% is vastly different. As Rajendran Menon, general manager at one of Goa’s resorts states: “Unlike earlier, the decision to holiday in Goa is taken at the last minute and so the booking window has shrunk.” In fact, the majority of bookings are now placed 24-48 hours before arrival.
Looking at the situation over in Spain, travellers show a 75% likelihood of booking their trip within 1 month of the actual journey. According to research from SiteMinder, online travel agents such as Booking.com and Expedia remain the most favoured booking platforms. With people now spending an average of over 3 hours on their phones, mobile-friendly and mobile-centred booking experiences are not only important, but critical.
With this in mind, hoteliers must now also look at their own ancillary services and start appreciating how travellers will be more comfortable with very little travel planning ahead of arriving on-site. Ultimately, this leads to two paramount factors to be taken into account:
1. Ancillary Services are Set For a Revival
This new last-minute mindset from travellers requires more flexibility, when it comes to ancillary services hotels have on offer. In other words, hoteliers can expect a more spontaneous crowd of guests. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for selling any additional services. Hoteliers will have to become digitally savvy.
If, for example, the weather changes and all guests can look at are dated compendiums that are neither interactive nor always relevant, hoteliers will most certainly miss out on additional dollars. What's more, guests will have received an inferior service. If, on the other hand, the hotel is already somewhat digital, but struggles to easily update their digital platforms in an instant, the opportunity to recover revenue will be equally wasted. So what should hotels do?
The key to success here, is a mix of real-time updates and direct messaging with guests. If the platforms you utilise don’t provide an easy-to-use backend for quick updates, go shopping for those that do. If you have no ability to stay in touch with your guests throughout their stay, find yourself a solution that allows you to do that – one without any personal disruption caused for the guests. It’s now critical to keep your guests informed and to be able to react to sudden changes digitally. This is not only driven by COVID-19’s unpredictable nature, but also by the way the pandemic has changed behaviour in our everyday lives. Without a doubt, this will continue to impact travel and hotel experiences down the line.
2. Guests Need Your Help in Navigating the Destination
The lack of planning on the guest’s part might lead to reduced inspiration when it comes to exploring the destination. For the romantic, this is a great trend – travel might regain a lot more spontaneity, with people seeking inspiration in-destination rather than making grand plans ahead of time.
For hotels, this simply means that 2021 is the most opportune time they will ever have when it comes to “taking part” in their guests’ journey around their destination. As a result, hotels will be able to gain more trust and improve their brand image, as well as gain a much larger share of travellers’ wallets. In other words, the Clefs D’Or concierge might be making a comeback!
Technology is the most critical factor at play here, if hotels want to take advantage of this trend. Technology must now assist hoteliers and their concierges in delivering a more personalised service via digital mobile platforms – one that delivers regular guest engagement but is also capable of propelling the hotel brand, and extending influence beyond the limitations of the physical property. With travellers becoming almost exclusively mobile-driven, a hotel's concierge has to stay in the guests’ palms at all times.
As the pandemic continues to have an impact on travel and hospitality, it’s important for hotels to focus on future opportunities. If guests who are now a lot more last-minute driven and spontaneous, return post-pandemic to environments that disregard their changing behaviours, the choice between hotels and alternative accommodations will continue to narrow. In fact, it might end up leaning a lot more significantly to the latter choice, and weaken hotels' chances at post-COVID-19 recovery.
As with many things under review in the hotel environment in 2020, technology holds the key. Technology is the one thing with the potential to help hoteliers benefit from these changing behaviours, rather than being consumed by them. If you read this and don’t think that 2021 is the year for hotel guest technology, you might already be fighting a losing battle.