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Webinar Recap: Hotel Budget Planning During a Pandemic for 2021

Sep 02, 2020   |   Covid19, Hotel, Post-Covid-19, Webinar, Webinar Recap
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Webinar recap: Hotel Budget Planning During a Pandemic - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

In this webinar, Milestone experts Tammie Carlisle and Keith Brophy discussed key trends impacting travel consumers and the opportunities which still exist for hotels.

2020 has been challenging yet offers opportunities to attract local business, staycations, or leisure travelers. With the right cleaning protocols in place you can still communicate your value and attract travelers to your hotel. Hotel budgeting for 2021 offers opportunities to enhance your digital presence, showcase new experiences and become technologically savy.

Key topics in this recap video:

  • Key trends and review industry stats through the summer season
  • Digital transformation and rebuilding your foundation and creative tuning
  • Digital storytelling and enhanced customer communication opportunities
  • Advanced digital techniques that can give you an advantage: Local, AMP, voice search, schemas
  • Case studies of hotels doing it right

Listen to the recap and download slides

Watch the Video Download Slides

Hotel Budget Planning During a Pandemic - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

Hotel Budget Planning During a Pandemic

“This is not a typical year. To every person that we’ve talked to, this is not a typical budget season. And so I think today’s not going to be a typical webinar. The goal today is really to give you guys questions, ideas, tips, strategies. Things to help you think and survive budget season.

At basic level for hotels, that means we want to help you get eyeballs in front of those consumers who are actually going to stand a chance of booking and making a reservation at your hotel, or filling out an RFP or eating in your restaurant or all of the things that drive conversion.

We do a lot of omni-channel services, so everything from website design and SEO to software, we have our whole presence, cloud analytics, schema, local, and reviews. On that note, we are going to ask a couple of questions from the audience throughout.

The first question we have, because it’s probably the first thing you should be thinking about for budget season – Is your hotel open today? If your hotel is not opening until March of next year, you probably are going to have a little bit different strategy than a hotel that’s open today versus your brand or management or from the likes. So that’s a little over 70% of the audience. You guys can see that 46% are open, 27% multiple properties that are open and another 14% have some properties open. So only about 14% of the audience is not currently open, but definitely, something to be thinking about as you go along for the budget season.

It’s kind of what I was hoping to see that more of the properties are open because that has been an ongoing challenge for a lot of our partners, but it’s great to hear that some positive news, but it doesn’t line with the fact that we still have some that are struggling, but it’s great that everybody is opening and doing what they can.

Do More with Less

Let’s talk about 2021. Let’s be real. Resources are going to be tight. When we started putting this together, we started joking around with a lot of things around, do more with less and decided that that’s probably where we just needed to head and then stop joking and get serious. As you guys probably have fewer people, you’re doing more things. Many of you are doing jobs that you never anticipated you’d be doing on top of what you’re currently doing. Maybe trying to find ways to automate, so you can do more things with less people. Are there things you can do to speed up processes, to make it easier to interact or to automate things so that you don’t have to interact?

We talk a little bit about, you know, how do you improve efficiency and yield. If you look at a year versus 1% to 2% improvements, trying to make sure you’re generating an ROI and a return in all this, and then thinking through some legal compliance issues. So obviously, some different bullets to be thinking about.

There’s a lot of different ways hotels can be positioning themselves it’s also important to recognize that in 2021, there’s going to be fewer people to convert. It’s all the forecasts that it’s going to be a while until business fully bounce and everybody’s back to the pre COVID performance numbers. So the audience base that you’re going after is going to be much smaller. So part of your strategies for 2021 should also be, what am I going to do to make sure that everybody finds me and books me, because I can’t afford to let a customer go. I’m not going to have the ability to fall back on corporate business.

Do More with Less - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

I’ve got to really go after everybody who shows up and says they want they’re interested in and looking at me. The other thing, when you think about fewer people is there’s fewer competitors as well, because we’re saying, particularly in the digital sector, while you guys may have had to pause your paid campaigns. So did everybody else. Sometimes it’s the first one out who’s raising their hand saying, look at me, look at me, pay attention to me. Those are the ones who are actually performing very well and seeing very strong returns. So there’s a lot of different ways that you can look at that fewer people is not necessarily a negative. It could be how you craft your strategies and it could be an opportunity to be very aggressive.

Automation is going to be part of your revenue efforts, but it’s also going to be a way to make everyone’s life easier. So, people don’t burn out and tired every day of doing the same work over and over.

Digital Transformation

There has been a ton of things that we’re in the midst of a digital transformation. COVID has accelerated so much change. If you think about the way we shop or the way we do business today, that in-person exposure has decreased quite a bit. Groceries get delivered a lot more than they did six or nine months ago. And so the more you can educate and communicate through digital, the better off you’re going to be because digital will continue to be a large revenue generator.

If we were do a quick survey of how many people had a food delivery app on their smartphone on March 1st versus how many have had it on May 1st, I’m pretty sure you would see a pretty significant spike because with restaurants being open and life being, Footloose and fancy feet, we didn’t necessarily always need grub hub or Uber eats. This hits and you can’t go out to a restaurant. You can’t even go in and you don’t want to spend any time waiting for your food to be delivered. You want it brought to you with as little contact as possible. So the digital experience of basically having your entire restaurant dining experience in the Palm of your hands has significantly altered the dining experience going forward.

Digital Transformation Accelerated by COVID - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

That’s just one of the many ways in which the landscape has changed. Now everybody is so much more reliant on that digital interaction to give them all the information they need, because there is hesitation to go into a hotel and into the restaurant.

You think about these things and how they’re changing our industry. You should really be mindful of that as you’re putting together your budgets.

So with that, we’re going to move on to our next poll question. And this is it, how’s your budget process changed for 2021.

Thinking through how you’re going to address strategies for next year should be starting right away. Even though you may not necessarily be filling out your spreadsheet of what your mix is going to be and what market you’re targeting, you should be thinking about how you are going to get customers and how you are going to integrate the experience that my team has been operationalizing just to get people in the hotel. How am I going to convey that from a digital experience?

thinkwithgoogle.com, is a great website by Google that has lots of fantastic training data. Looking at some search interest over time in the US you can see things like weekend getaways, day trips, weekend trips, vacations near me, Lake trip are not only in most cases kind of back to the levels they were at in December or January.

Content and Messaging

Content and Messaging - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

So, how do you highlight those unique selling points or the things that are drawing people to you? Maybe you’re not an extended stay property, but there’s dining nearby or things that you can communicate. So make sure that as part of your budget process for next year, that your you’re budgeting for content updates, you’re budgeting for communication. I mentioned website content here, but this could also be social media. This could also just be messaging and email.

I’m looking at this image of New York and I can’t wait to go back. But all those people really just give me some anxiety right now. So if you’re in a city destination and you’ve got photography like this all over your site, you may want to budget for some newer photography, with less people and more open space.

Putting content and thinking through your safety messaging, you don’t have to necessarily say, this is what we’re doing for COVID, and hopefully at some point as a vaccine, or like, you’re able to kind of shift away, but your safety messaging, what are you doing to make people comfortable and feel safe so they can travel with you and updated videos, updated images, new offers, and think about your current audiences today, how they’ve changed since this time last year. And then also think about the future because your audience that’s going to book short term today may not be the same folks that are going to book the year from now. Make sure you have information to really help both that customer that’s going to book tomorrow and then that customer that’s going to book longer term.

A great example here is New York city. If you think about there’s 20 plus markets in which right now the entire NBA season is not taking place in that location, that venue is dark. It doesn’t have anything going on. And that’s events that people would rely on for demand in business, all of it’s happening in Orlando in a bubble, right? So if you are spending time optimizing for walking distance from Madison square garden right now, that may be good from a legacy search perspective, but that’s not what people are looking for. So just, you know, you could change a couple of sentences. You can change a caption on an image. You can change an image to focus on something else. One of the things that I would kind of go back to is enabling customers to self-educate.

They have time to get information. They have time to spend time on your website to learn everything there is about you. And prior to COVID, there was already a growing trend of meeting planners, corporate planners, wedding planners, who did not like the model of, I will look at your website and then submit an RFP and come in for a site inspection. They wanted you to give them everything that you could on the website. They wanted it to be all the information here and after I get it all, I will narrow it down. And then I will tell you that, yes, I’d like to come in and do a site inspection. And now even more so with nobody wanting to come and do a site inspection because of contact, the updates you have on your meetings, information you have on weddings, the opportunities that you have for highlighting the different elements in your rooms is huge opportunity for people to really tell everybody all about your hotel and answer all their questions.

A lot of partners don’t have that information. They want you to call and ask, or they want you to get to the hotel and ask, but I’m not going to book right now. I’m not going to go ahead and make a reservation. And then hope when I get to you, you might have connecting rooms, I want to know now.In looking at that, either looking at the content that you have to make sure it’s rich full and helps answer people’s questions and solve their problems is one of the biggest areas that we would recommend people focus on right now. Content and answering questions are so important.

The more questions you’re answering, the more content you have on the website. And you don’t have to spend millions of dollars on this, but really make sure that you have a strategy on how you’re going to add content and answer questions both on the website and your social channels, your email will able you to increase visibility.

So now there’s a, there’s a bit more to here than just adding some FAQ’s to a site. There’s some technical prowess as well and happy to chat about that offline. But as you can see an example on the left, does hotel Niko allow pets? There’s this great box, there’s a picture of a Buster, the dog there’s a whole answer about it. If I were to do this search with Google Assistant and voice that should read the same questions on the right-hand side, similar style hotel. And, you know, these are both hotels in San Francisco and the answer is coming from bringing fido.com. So there is an answer it’s just not coming from the hotel. And so really it’s about, you know, making sure that you’re answering those questions. So you’re helping your guests, but also keeping them from getting the answer on sites like the Expedia app or in this case, bring Fido and really making sure that you are giving them as much information as possible to help them in the decision process.

And I would say, you know, one of the things you can do here that would really I know sometimes we get very blinded, then we’re looking at our own websites and looking at the things we do is maybe ask a friend or two who isn’t in the hospital palliative industry to take a look and give you some feedback. Were they able to find questions and answers? I know I’ve been doing research on a couple of different vacation options and have actually been very frustrated by the lack of information that I’d been able to find. So the more you can add this information and add things like this to your site, the better off you’re going to be. So thanks Keith, I’m going to kind of move a little more technology side and, and talk a bit about mobile strategy. And he probably heard, you know, there’s definitely some things to consider.

Mobile Strategy

Consider dollars towards technologies like AMP to improve site speed - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

There’s accelerated mobile pages, which we believe very highly and there’s lots of content on our site and to help improve your site speed, help improve your visibility, maybe even if you can budget for that at a simple level, you should be looking at things like a tool called page speed insights. It’s a Google tool and it’ll give you your score on both mobile and desktop. And we always tell people, you want to try and get to 90 and above.

That’s important because site speed is a ranking factor, which means if your site speed sucks, you’re going to struggle. You’re not going to rank as well as if you have good sites feed, and it’ll tell you the things you can do. You can take that screen grab to your developer, your partner and ask them how much it will cost to fix these things and then put that into your budget.

Going back to the fact that customers are going to have more time to shop online and they’re spending more time trying to figure out where they want to go. There’s going to be comparing your online presence, your online experience to everybody else in town. It may very well come down to be a fashion show, which one looks better. Hopefully the way they’re finding you is going to be how it’s built and the technology behind it to help them find you better. But when they find you, you have to have a product that conveys we’re up to date. We are the quality that you’re looking for.

Conformance

One of the things I would highly recommend is you should be looking over your site. Is it ADA conforming? Does it conform to the WCAJ guidelines? One of the latest things we’re seeing is ADA conformance challenges around PDFs.

ADA - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

It seems from a technology perspective, this is almost like pushing the rock up the Hill and that just when we think we’ve got it, the folks that are driving these lawsuits find yet another loophole to be able to send out more losses. So, for those that are following the update, what’s been happening historically is previously lawsuits were going out to hotels because the websites were not providing the same level of online experience to somebody with a disability as they would be to somebody without a disability. A lot of them were stemming from the technical aspects of the website. So the buttons are too close together for somebody who is digitally challenged or the color backgrounds were a little blurred or doesn’t offer enough contrast for someone with a visual impairment, or it doesn’t allow for somebody to be able to use a sight reader, to actually read the content.

Local Performance

From a local standpoint, we always recommend to have a little bit of budget set aside to do things like optimizing your profile. If you’re thinking of Google My Business or being local, and even if you’re a branded property, looking at what the brand is doing for you, making sure your information is accurate. Just as recently as last week, I have found in accuracies for businesses when I go to either Google maps or Apple maps, looking for some kind of, whether it’s a restaurant, whether it’s any kind of service business and their hours are wrong, it says they’re open, but they’re not. These are things that will really help from a guest experience. It can help with that local search, especially as audiences are shifting to more local or regional travel.

One of the things we’re hearing from our partners a lot is people are waiting till the last minute to book. And in many destinations, people are traveling to where they’re going without even having a hotel to stay. They’re like, we’ll figure it out when we get there, because we want to see who is open and what’s not.

Budget to optimize profiles and listings and make updates as needed - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

Email and CRM Platforms

Invest in CRM, database and hygiene - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

Email is still strong, and it’s one of the best ways to get messages in front of people to give them a reason to book with you, to give them a reason to come to town. And one of the things that we often forget about is because it’s a conditional offer, you don’t have to give out an offer that is entirely through an email campaign. You can give special offers and discounts and enticements to people through your email audience to come stay with you, that you don’t have to publicize.

The big annual festivals and the big annual activities that we all relied on are temporarily gone, and what is popping up is people filling the void to come up with new activities. So one of the challenges that partners have found ways to overcome is finding these unique opportunities that’s happening locally. And the downside is you don’t have six months to prepare for the festival to start messaging. You sometimes have six days because we just found out about it. So depending on your market, one of the things that I would encourage you to incorporate into your strategy is an intention to go for speed to market. I got to come up with something that’s got to be fast. So that’s where something like a social media post and email campaigns can work really well because here’s something fun and exciting and a reason to come back to town since you probably don’t want to be sitting in your house this weekend.

One last poll, where are you focusing your dollars in 2021?

I would encourage everyone to put a lot of emphasis and effort and focus onto their reputation management for next year, because nobody’s going to be able to afford to have a really bad review sitting at the top of your TripAdvisor page for four weeks while you’re waiting for the next review to push it down. What are you doing at your property level to encourage, inspire and drive? More TripAdvisor bookings, more online reputation, engaging with people and responding to reviews.

How do I get my budget plan approved?

So now that we’ve got this plan, here’s the $50,000 question. How do I get my plan approved?

I wish I actually had the answer for that, I tried for years and put together the spreadsheets. Honestly, I think probably the reason I sailed was I wasn’t as successful as I would like to be. The fact that there were too many other things to compete against. And too many of the cases that could be made. Maybe it’s more important for us to invest in raising the linen par level or there’s an opportunity to improve some of the on-property elements. But right now, I think the case can really be made. And one of the great things about digital is every action, first off is trackable, measurable, reportable researchable and you can go back, test, redo it and revise it.

It’s going to be very important. Digital is going to be vital for your performance. Nobody’s going to grow any business without a strong digital presence. Because that’s how you’re going to get sound. And that’s how your customers right now are going to come in. Because again, it’s going to be a while to corporates back. Group’s not coming back anytime soon. The other thing that digital does provide is, it’s very difficult to have a negative return on investment for any dollar you invest in digital, everything can directly point back to for every dollar you spent something should be able to be offset, right? So for every dollar we spent to increase bookings through our website, you should be able to offset commission expenses.

Everything is directly correlated to a positive. And in some cases, you might just have to make the case a little harder. And I think that’s something that we can help with, but just to give one example, in preparing for this, I randomly pulled a hotel out of our performance for last year. And just like, I’m just going to do a hotel here in Washington, DC. And I looked at their performance and I said, what would happen if we increased their conversion rate. 1%? So that was for every visitor that went to the website. Could we get people that visit the website to ultimately collect and make a purchase? This property had a 2.2% conversion rate, which is a little lower than the industry standard, but you know, not bad.

If we just invested in a 1% increase to get that to a 3.2% and this property would have had a 40% increase in their revenue compared to where they ended which attributed to an $800,000 increase in their revenue. So, for a fraction of that, if we had invested a little bit more in increasing some imagery, if we had put a little bit more into some of the other channels or done some more social categories, we could have generated an extra $800,000 in a room revenue.

Lastly, the takeaways and from our perspective, double down on digital, really think through where you can be spending your dollars that are going to generate a return and digital, we know can do that for you, make your content current and then continue to budget, to update content as things change.”

Webinar Recap: Hotel Budget Planning During a Pandemic for 2021 - milestoneinternet.com, Milestone Inc.

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