On February 28, Messe Berlin announced the iconic ITB Berlin will be cancelled, for the first time in history. Then on my Facebook, LinkedIn, the majority of industry associates were upset about this news, mainly very rationally based on data that we should not fear COVID-19 and also if we industry people stop travelling, how can we convince others to travel.
I think Messe Berlin has made the right decision. Okay, many of you are loading bullets now and want to shoot but listen… my business is China-focused, working with independent hotels which see impacts right away and my China IT office is in Wuhan, so I feel the pain more than many of you. Not just business-wise but how is the team doing in Wuhan, how are our independent hotels managing during this difficult time. I want more than anyone to say “don’t worry, be happy” but I can’t. It is obvious countries are taking the “Fight over Flight” approach so I would rather face the reality and get prepared.
I am not going to talk about COVID-19 as I am not a doctor. Instead, I am going to talk about something I do know about, hospitality marketing. And, here I hope I will be able to give my colleagues, clients and the industry at large ideas on how to make the best of a challenging situation, especially in terms of Chinese outbound tourism.
Focus on Chinese FIT as it will bounce back first
Back in January 25, when the world began to be aware of some kind of a virus outbreak in China, China announced “no more package tour” right away but individuals can still book on their own. Credit source: Professor Wolfgang @ COTRI
So now, if the situation improves and Chinese can travel again, it is logical to assume that they will open up for FITs well before package tour or tour groups. Hence, if your hotel focuses on group tours from China to fill your rooms in the past, you should start focusing on the FIT segment and start planting the seeds now.
Don’t be short-sighted and stop the China social media marketing efforts because they are not coming tomorrow
Do you know the DAU Daily Active Users and the Daily Time Spent Online on the top 5 social Apps have increased in 2020 Chinese New Year Vs 2020 Normal Days Vs 2019 Chinese New Year? Credit source: QuestMobile. And other than looking at up-to-date info on COVID-19, Chinese especially young Chinese travelers are spending a fair bit of time playing online games, watching online videos and reading online articles, etc.
Hence, you are missing a good opportunity if you stop your social media marketing efforts now. However, it is important to create relevant content. For example, if your country imposes travel ban to the affected countries like China, it will not be effective to promote short-term tactical offers at this point. In fact, because Chinese cannot travel now, the urge to travel or dream to travel is higher. It is a good time to send positive vibes to build up the goodwill of your brand now.
From our own experience, our marketing team reported the following 5 of our articles have seen a significant increase in readership even some articles were first published about a few months ago. These articles are not COVID-19 related at all but more resources-related such as “KOL recommended hotels in Phuket”, “The latest check-in restaurants in SE Asia”, “Explore Cebu”, “The WOW hotels swimming pool to welcome Summer” & “How to get the best of SE Asia in low season”, etc. We are happy to report that good content on social media has paid off during this difficult time. And this is why it is not recommended for hotels to stop the China social media marketing efforts now.
Engage the audience when we have time now
You have the contact info of the Chinese who had stayed with you before. What’s better than to send them a personalised message (WeChat will be best as Chinese do not use email much) to ask them how they are doing and wish them well and healthy and to show your support. An authentic caring message goes a long way. No need to be overly pushy to send them “repeated guests offer” right away. They will remember you and this is another way to build goodwill for your brand.
Bonus idea. In addition to the preventive measures (like regular cleaning schedule in public areas, hand-sanitizer provided at the lobby, antibacterial in-room amenities, etc.), you may consider to waive the room service delivery charge and ramp up your room service menu so your guests can have a nice in-room culinary experience.
If you have good restaurant space, since the occupancy is still below normal, you may consider rearranging the restaurant seating with the distance between each table to be 2M so people feel it is a “safe distance” to comfortably dine at your restaurant.
As the situation is changing daily, we just have to deal with it. Rather than biasing ourselves that we ought to travel to send the “right message”, I think we should use our expertise to provide updated travel information, to help to “contain” the spread so we can be back on track sooner. This is why I think it is a good call for ITB Berlin to be cancelled. Now, you can shoot me if you want.
Compass Edge is a company offering online solutions to independent hotels. It is a niche service provider offering cost-effective branding solutions for overseas hotels to establish an online presence for the booming Chinese FIT market. It can also provide customers with an Internet Booking Engine, meta-search integration, GDS distribution and Channel Manager in its portfolio of solutions.
This article was written by Anita Chan, CEO of Compass Edge. Anita has extensive travel industry experience and has worked all over the world with leading companies such as Four Seasons Hotels and Delta Hotels, as well as in corporate offices and technology service providers. Before joining Compass Edge, Anita worked as Regional Director for a leading OTA in Asia, as Global VP for a leading digital agency, and as VP Asia Pacific for Small Luxury Hotels of the World.