The hotel industry has largely gone quiet in terms of incoming sales calls, but here's how hoteliers can make the most of those calls when demand begins to recover.
DAVIE, Florida—Doug Kennedy has something of an optimistic take on the ultimate sales and marketing results from the ongoing pandemic slowdown.
While the previous downturn drove travelers to third-party booking engines like online travel agencies, Kennedy, president of the Kennedy Training Network, feels this downturn could be poised to drive a resurgence in direct bookings.
“We’ve really had to talk to travelers about what it really means to book through a third party or an OTA, and hopefully that’s going to come back to help us,” he said while speaking during a webinar run by Travelnet Solutions. “I think it will be a rebirth opportunity for direct bookings. People have found out the hard way what happens when somebody else has your revenue and deposit.”
How that incoming demand is handled—particularly by voice reservation agents—is especially important, perhaps the most important ever for the discipline.
“Starting this summer, I think you’re going to see voice return with a vengeance,” he said.
Here are some of the takeaways on how to best handle a resurgence of demand and incoming calls, according to Kennedy.
Court pent-up demand for those stuck at home with empathy
Most people who would traditionally be travelers are stuck at home, juggling working from home with caring for and even teaching their children, Kennedy said. Those people, assuming they avoided layoffs, are saving money typically spent on entertainment and could ultimately want to cash that in for a trip once that becomes an option.
Connecting with those potential travelers will be key, he said.
“We’re going to have people calling you up, and the more you can connect on a humanistic level and show empathy for their circumstance—and if we just check in and say, ‘How are you doing today, and how is everything in your home?’—if we take time to touch somebody in a conversation … having that humanist connection with a stranger, what a wonderful thing,” he said.
He said that kindness is a pillar of hospitality excellence.
Be prepared for new kinds of travelers
People who had predictable travel patterns, like regular trips from the U.S. to Europe or cruise passengers, might be looking for alternative arrangements when travel returns, Kennedy said.
“We’re all going to be displaced,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to visit the usual destinations that we go to.”
But that displacement means people will be going to new places and experiences.
Kennedy said messaging needs to answer questions from those travelers looking for “local area destinations.” The more those conversations are encouraged, the more appealing that type of travel will be.
Because those travelers are used to a predictable travel experience, he noted it’s important to help them deal with an overwhelming amount of choices and reassure them they are making a good decision.
“It is our job to help them decide that we’re the best place to book and now is the best time to book,” he said, noting storytelling will be particularly effective with visual descriptions.
Discount shoppers will be out in force
Kennedy said there will likely be a wave of “deal seekers” armed with the knowledge that it’s a “buyer’s market,” but revenue managers will have to do what they can to maintain rate.
He said finding ways to frame existing rates as a deal will be key in wooing this audience without triggering a race to the bottom.
“You want to reference the normal, traditional, prevailing rate” in comparison to current rates, Kennedy said, adding it’s important to note the difference as a discount.
If hoteliers don’t have that higher rate available for comparison, sales agents should express surprise with how low the current rate is.
To close with deal seekers, Kennedy said it’s important to create a sense of urgency and follow up proactively with them.