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COVID-19 Crisis Communications FAQ: Travel/Hotels Edition

23 March 2020

Last updated: May 19, 2020 – NEW QUESTIONS IN GREEN

As the situation with COVID-19 evolves moment by moment across the US, we’re fielding questions and providing responses as quickly as possible. We know how difficult it is right now and we are here for you as a resource and sounding board. 

In this series, we’re rounding up the top queries we’ve received and are openly sharing the counsel from our Crisis Comms team. We’ll continue to update the list as new questions [and answers] flow in. 

Want to ask us something directly? Email it to us at TheHotline@bullfrogandbaum.com and we’ll work to get you a response ASAP.

Need more resources? Check out our restaurants edition FAQ.

In terms of PR and marketing, what should we be thinking of putting in place?

Despite all the predictions and forecasts by research firms, economists, and the like, no one has a clear picture of what a post-COVID-19 world will look like. But we can and should prepare for the event of opening and be ready to receive guests. The following is a checklist that can get you give you a good grounding:

  • Put in place a recovery plan that has various scenarios mapped-out in the eventuality that travel restrictions ease, or a worst-case scenario to prepare for another lockdown (please email us for sample recovery plans)
  • Establish clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) and measures in terms of hygiene and cleanliness processes, then craft messaging around the SOPs so they can be shared with guests once ready
  • Be prepared to try everything and don’t assume the worst. Even while surveys and research reports are saying travelers may be hesitant to travel, it’s important to maintain awareness. Think about developing an incentive program to attract guests, such as a hotel gift card program which comes with perks (e.g. early check-in and late check-out; a food/beverage or spa credit), as well as introduction of new experiences (e.g. wellness experiences that incorporate social distancing)
  • Evaluate/audit your current marketing assets and update as needed so that it is appropriate for the current situation. Be prepared as well to collect digital assets for social media and online use as travelers will increasingly be looking for information should they still be cautiously staying at home
  • Immediately conduct outreach to customers and employees virtually to capture their experiences. This content may be potentially useful to repurpose for case studies, blog and social media posts, and more
  • Consider planning regularly scheduled webinars that guests and employees can join so you can update them on news regarding your property’s timeline for opening (applicable if you have time to do so)
  • Brainstorm, listen, roll-up your sleeves, and do not be afraid to take chances. Most importantly, be ever ready to come up with marketing ideas/campaigns that make noise in a positive way, and that also support your local community and the industry on a whole

Are there any other procedures or plans I should think of implementing prior to opening?

Ensure you have all the following in place as well to give guests peace of mind:

  1. Cancellation and refund policies in place (flexible policy is recommended, as travel restrictions may vary for each guest)
  2. Clear explanation of social distancing measures in place at hotel, and frequent sharing of updates
  3. Information on safety of employees is shared with guests as well, to ensure that they are aware that the entire community’s welfare is being safe-guarded, with no stone left unturned

Q: What are some of the steps I need to take for my hotel or tourism board organization, in light of COVID-19’s effects on my business?

A: With a pandemic like COVID-19, we’re entering into uncharted territory as it is a continuously evolving situation that is affecting everyone globally, while also challenging our very perception or pre-existing notions of crisis communications. However, we can still begin to develop crisis comms strategies both in preparation for potential impact, and in response to an incident. We need to be decisive, acting quickly and proactively, develop the following materials, to ensure we are equipped as best as possible for all scenarios. 

A core overview and checklist of what every organization should have set-up:

  • Developing a Crisis Communications Plan that includes a model for all potential scenarios on how this could affect your brand
  • Craft messaging (internal and external)
  • Ensure internal processes and guidelines are in place; the crisis comms plan is swiftly implemented; and all team members are trained accordingly, making them fully aware of their roles and have the right channels prepared to funnel queries directly to the crisis comms team to action upon

Q: How do we keep people updated on news about our organization or destination? How do we keep them engaged amidst all this chaos?

A: Share constant news updates if possible, to help you to cut through the clutter and remain relevant; keeping in mind, compassion, goodwill and inspiration is always a positive and relevant approach to adhere to.

By identifying your unique selling points especially, from a human-interest point of view, map-out key points you wish to share with your current fans as well as potential new audiences. By keeping your followers updated, they will become more appreciative of your transparency, and continue to stay engaged and invested in helping you to recover.

Consider sharing news and stories via social media, such as the medium of Instagram TV (IGTV), or perhaps regular e-newsletter updates.

Provide travel inspiration be it with photography or perhaps sharing advice/tips such as DIY home decorating that people can easily replicate at home.

For destinations and tourism boards/national tourism organizations (NTOs), especially, sharing human-interest POVs helps your audience get a firmer sense of what’s happening on-the-ground.

Q: What are some easy-to-implement models I can put in place to stay organized amidst all this uncertainty?

A: Consider a decision tree – A decision tree is the crisis comms model that allows for the most flexibility and nimble response, by outlining the possible scenarios before they happen; thereby rendering uncertain situations potentially more manageable.

A decision tree begins with a predicted scenario and outlines the different recommended actions based on how external forces react to each proactive measure, allowing hospitality brands to be ahead of the curve in the case of both the best- and worst-case scenario(s). The decision tree is a coherent, easy-to-follow playbook that can be easily adjusted as the scenario changes. In times of crisis, models that allow for foresight and flexibility can help give brands peace of mind.

Q: I am being inundated with information; how do I tell what’s real and what’s not?

A: With news organizations working fast and furious to share news quickly, especially during crises, there is a tendency to gloss over the veracity of a source – we have to act as an extra layer of filter and carefully sift through hard and soft facts as well as speculation. It is also important that when citing experts or specialists, we verify their qualifications, especially in this digital age where background information is readily available. Double-checking, triple-checking, is always a good practice when in doubt, and before sharing information.

Q: Should I align myself with other industry partners?

A: Yes, in most scenarios. Let’s do better as a global citizen and see how we can be part of a larger movement to help fight the pandemic, and also to develop co-operative movements that will last, and help each other in the future. With a larger coalition, we can be better prepared for future outbreaks and crises.

Q: From a consumer perspective, I am seeing a lot of cancellations. Are those consumers/customers ever coming back?

A: Yes, the consumers will return, and the travel agent and tour operator community is working to reassure travelers and also advising them on postponing their trips rather than cancelling outright. In addition, in a majority of instances, consumers can have any trip insurance purchased rolled-over as well when they postpone their trips to a later date.

Q: Markets such as Asia look to be approaching a recovery phase and should I move my PR and marketing dollars away from the U.S. and focus on other parts of the world for now?

A: Markets such as Asia are important, but the U.S. market is expected to rebound quickly once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. According to Oxford Economics, “while the world is likely sinking into a global recession that will result in a more than 10% drop in international travel, the recovery should be fast… Once the situation has stabilized, we expect a rapid recovery since travel demand has proven resilient in bouncing back from downturns in the past. Travel levels are expected to fully recover by 2023.”

The U.S. market is also a vast one and there will be pent-up demand especially among a growing Millennial and Gen Z demographic to spend on travel once we approach the recovery phase.

Q: What do we do next? What do we do after the situation has subsided?

A: It’s also important that during the pre-and-present-crisis phase, that we plan a recovery program for the future, ensuring that it encompasses earned media and PR outreach; paid media; and digital/social.

The Aftermath: “Things may never be the same again” … but you can be prepared

It is quite likely that the COVID-19 crisis will change our businesses and society fundamentally and we should adapt to the situation. We should carefully study what has changed and pivot accordingly (e.g. traditional sales and marketing channels, online retail, etc.).

It is likely that COVID-19 is not a one-off occurrence and we should be doubly prepared for a new wave including using past lessons to reflect upon and develop best practices for the organization.

For more advice on how to prepare for resumption of your business, contact B+B at thehotline@bullfrogandbaum.com. We would be delighted to provide a one-time complimentary consultation and to help guide you through a recovery and reopening process.