By Dr. Rick Garlick
Fall is in full swing and as businesses continue to face myriad challenges related to COVID-19 and economic downturn, brand trust continues to stagnate across the travel, hospitality and leisure sector. As such, several behavioral and attitudinal shifts will have long-term impacts across the industry and cause recovery challenges as consumers resume travel – but there are also some bright spots on the horizon.
Where does trust stand?
The Magid data shows that, despite significant investments to assure travelers that various venues are safe, the needle is not moving. In April, the first wave of the study showed that 42% placed either a ‘good deal’ or ‘complete’ trust in hotels to keep them safe from COVID. In the June wave, that percentage was 41%, and in the most recent wave, the percentage declined slightly to 40%. None of these shifts are significant from a statistical standpoint, but they are clearly not going in the right direction. The study found similar findings for everything from airports, rental cars, restaurants, vacation rentals, and 17 other sectors. Rideshare services was the only area where trust increased significantly from an abysmal 26% to a slightly improved 31%.
The good news is that hotels are being recognized for their efforts to sanitize rooms between visits, as the percentage that agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘I trust hotel rooms are sanitized/disinfected between guests’ increased from 43% to 55%. The bad news is that hotels are seen having little control over their guests’ behavior as nearly six in ten (59%) don’t trust others to properly wear a mask in common areas of the hotel. Two-thirds of consumers (66%) believe shared amenities at hotels increase the spread of viruses. This sentiment tells us that the lack of trust in this instance may be more related to other consumers, rather than the staff or hotel itself. Those in the survey placed responsibility on other guests vs. the hotel itself when safety protocols weren’t followed by a 3-to-1 margin (31% to 9%), although 50% blamed both parties equally. There is actually good reason to be concerned about other hotel guests as the percentage who refuse to wear masks at a hotel increased from 19% to 28%. A similar increase in ‘mask rebels’ was found in the airline data where the percentage rebuffing a mask on a plane doubled from 14% to 28%.
The desire to avoid people is helping VRBOs
Currently, four in ten (39%) believe that getting the coronavirus is more likely at hotels than VRBOs. The percentage who said they would rather stay at a private vacation rental than a hotel increased from 34% to 42% in the past three months. Given that you normally only have to interact with your own traveling party at a vacation rental, the appeal of VRBOs is very understandable.
What can a hotel do?
In addition to doing what they are already doing, the data suggest that most guests prefer stronger enforcement of safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing. Here are some practical steps a hotel can take to reinforce these measures.
Some hotels have already sent out well-crafted emails to their loyalty program members advising them that mask wearing is required when staying at their hotels. Our data shows this is the correct strategy and that strong enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing is strongly desired by the majority of guests. For the 28% who refuse to wear a mask, have complimentary masks available and take the bold step of politely asking guests to wear their masks in public areas as a requirement to stay at the hotel. Upon check-in, make sure guests are aware of the requirement to wear masks in public areas and politely refund money to anyone uncomfortable with this requirement with no questions asked.
The Magid data shows that once most guests stay at a hotel, they have a positive experience and are more likely to go back. Many people already expect a deal since they assume hotels need guests and will drop their rates to get them at all cost. This being the case, it may be prudent to run a nationwide promotion to get people to experience hotels and recognize the health and safety precautions that have put into place, and how serious they are about enforcement.
These times call for different behaviors. In the pre-pandemic days, the hotel experience was all about reducing guest friction. Now it seems like people find value in what may have once been seen as policing guest behavior. Of course, COVID has been an uninvited intrusion and needs to be addressed in strong ways that will retain the viability of the hotel business and protect the health and safety of all guests.