All industries have been affected by Covid-19, but few have needed to pivot more than the travel and hospitality industry. As the pandemic wears on, consumers have shown they’re eager to travel, just not the way they’ve ever been open to it before. Their loyalty comes with fresh, sparkling clean conditions. It’s a logistical challenge first, then a marketing challenge, one that hotels and others are meeting with a little branding and cross-promotional magic.
The 2020 Traveler
Business travel has ceased, and it’s not expected to rebound fully for several years. Overnight, destinations that relied on business travelers were faced with the challenge of reinventing themselves. It was slow at first but then, suddenly, the regional, staycation traveler emerged.
Hotels and tourist destinations, in particular, have discovered the distance that travelers are willing to drive for a vacation has increased during the pandemic. While a 100-mile radius was once the norm for a regional family road trip, industry experts are seeing that expand to upwards of 300 miles for families itching to escape.
Group bookings for business conferences and large weddings are cash cows, but they’re gone now. However, rates for individual bookings (also called transient room bookings) are higher. It doesn’t take as many of those bookings to replace total room revenue for the year, so lower occupancy caps aren’t necessarily hurting business. Spontaneous new groups and segments are popping up as part of this cohort. Luxury hotels are seeing a profitable increase in micro-weddings this summer, for instance, which are booked at the last minute and all-inclusively contained within the hotel property for safety.
Clean Wins the Prize
Study after study has found that the top concern for these travelers right now is cleanliness. McKinsey & Company research shows intense room cleaning, with UV light disinfectant, for instance, is the top action U.S. and worldwide travelers want to see from hotels to protect guests.
The industry is listening and responding. But taking these actions is one thing. Proving it—and earning the travelers’ trust—is another.
TripAdvisor, the online review and booking site, has added filters to let travelers search destinations based on safety and sanitization. Airlines to gas stations to hotels to tourist destinations are trying desperately to find ways to communicate how seriously they’re taking their disinfecting measures.
Some have even started branding and cross-promoting their level of clean. A few examples:
- Hilton has launched an official Hilton CleanStay program in partnership with the maker of Lysol, featuring advanced cleaning protocols. Little touches within the protocol are meant to communicate peace of mind, like an official Hilton CleanStay Room Seal sticker “with Lysol protection” that’s placed over the door of a room to indicate that it hasn’t been entered since it was disinfected. (Other major hotel cleaning programs are listed here.)
- Great Wolf Lodge has created Our Paw Pledge, a commitment to health and safety, travel flexibility, and community commitment. Co-branded in this effort is Proctor & Gamble (makers of Spic and Span, Febreze, Tide, and Dawn), which is providing a CleanPLUS Experience with its products and with cleaning and sanitation consultation. Another co-branding partner under Our Paw Pledge is Chainalytics, a supply chain management and industrial engineering firm tapped to establish guest flow and capacity standards for social distancing.
- United Airlines has co-branded its initiative United CleanPlus in partnership with Clorox. The airline isn’t even exclusively using Clorox product yet (it needs to use up its current cleaning inventory), but it’s already banking on the brand recognition. United hopes that by branding with Clorox, the airline will show customers that it’s “leveraging the disinfecting expertise and suite of products from Clorox, the #1 trusted brand for powerful cleaning, to deliver an industry-leading standard of cleanliness.”
- Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have teamed up to launch what they’re calling the Healthy Sail Panel, a group of experts to help them meet coronavirus-related safety requirements. The fierce rivals—along with other rival cruise lines asked to be part of the effort—know that working together and providing a branded standard they can publicly uphold may be the only way cruise lines will be able to thrive again.
These branding measures give legitimacy to the industry’s efforts, but it also provides a lasting framework moving forward. After all, as experts like airline and travel industry researcher Jay Sorenson see it, “clean” will be a serious promise that will be expected for a very long time.
“Perhaps we will never touch airline tray tables, hotel television remote controls, and car hire steering wheels without hesitation again,” he points out. “Protection against disease will become an expectation in the same manner that protection from terrorism has been built into the travel system. In much the same way that travel companies seek to be rated for quality of hospitality or generosity of frequent flyer programs, so too will new surveys be introduced to grade providers on disease prevention.”
Unfortunately, Sorenson adds, “customers have been conditioned through a lifetime of broken promises to expect all of this is just a marketing ploy. Companies that prove otherwise will find themselves on top.”
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