As travelers become more comfortable with new safety protocols and practices around COVID-19, we’re seeing travel start to rebound around the world. According to STR, hotel occupancy has been slowly recovering, especially in the US and Europe. While the travel industry is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022, current research shows that consumer sentiment towards traveling will continue to improve throughout the year. Yet due to the quickly evolving nature of the pandemic and the possibility of a second wave, this is subject to change.
In the US, a recent spike in COVID-19 cases has resulted in a decline in RevPAR and booking volumes. While it’s unclear if travel demand will ramp up again, data shows that people are more likely to plan domestic trips than international trips for at least the rest of 2020. In fact, a survey conducted by GlobalWebIndex found that 46% of US travelers are planning to take a domestic vacation, while 20% are planning a staycation.
As a result of the slow rise in travel demand, many destinations have restarted their marketing efforts in order to help hoteliers and businesses get back on track. However, it’s clear that different regions will reopen on different timelines. At NextGuest, we’re always keeping our finger on the pulse of the industry, and we’re closely monitoring the top markets in order to maximize marketing for our clients. Read on to learn about what some of the top destinations and hotels are doing to promote travel in their market.
New York City
What’s Happening: New York City entered Phase 4 of its reopening plan on July 20, 2020, with many businesses and attractions given the green light to reopen. However, indoor cultural institutions, malls, businesses such as gyms and movie theaters, and indoor dining are still on pause. As of August 4, travelers from 34 states are required to quarantine for 14 days due to a rise in COVID-19 cases across the US.
What Hotels are Doing: While many hotels have reopened, due to travel restrictions they are focusing their marketing efforts on targeting in-state and drive-market guests who are not required to quarantine. This is helping New York hotels secure advance bookings and leisure travelers who are ready to stretch their legs again.
What’s Happening: Las Vegas is quickly ramping back up and starting to promote its hotels and attractions. The majority of the city’s hotels are open for business and stepping up their marketing in order to make up for lost time. As a result of the reopening, search volume dramatically increased between early May and June. While Las Vegas continues to reopen resorts and restaurants, they have rolled back some pandemic rules. In July, the governor ordered bars and other businesses to close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but as of August 3, many businesses were allowed to reopen with restrictions including reduced occupancy, strict social distancing, and use of face coverings.
What Hotels are Doing: With drive-in markets eager to get out and explore, Las Vegas hotels are capitalizing on available travel demand. Many Las Vegas properties are tying in outdoor activities into their promotions and marketing messages to contrast with the largely indoor Vegas experience and promote social distancing.
What’s Happening: Similar to New York, Illinois is requiring visitors from certain states to quarantine for 14 days, but their list is limited to 22 states as of August 4. These states are predominantly south and west of Illinois, meaning Chicago is a viable and inviting travel destination for guests in many nearby states, especially those within driving distance. And while search volume for the destination started to pick back up going into June, travel demand has been unsteady as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many states.
What Hotels are Doing: As many Chicago hotels are open for business, they are ramping up their marketing accordingly and focusing on targeting local and drive-in markets. For example, Viceroy Chicago is promoting a “Stay Longer and Save” special offer of up to 25% off stays 4 nights or more to encourage last-minute summer vacations and increase length of stay.
What’s Happening: In California, there are currently no travel restrictions for people arriving from other states. However, due to a recent surge in coronavirus cases, the state has closed many businesses including wineries, bars, and some attractions. The pause in California’s reopening plan is reflected in the decrease in search volume for San Francisco in July, despite having picked up in June.
What Hotels are Doing: Despite new, stricter protocols in California, hotels are staying open and therefore doing their best to draw in business. Knowing that California is not attracting many out-of-state visitors, hotels are focusing on local markets by promoting short-term stays and parking offers. Hotels are putting their sanitation efforts front and center, such as Kimpton’s “So Fresh, So Clean” initiative, while offers such as “Book Now, Pay Later” encourage potential guests to pull the trigger on their booking.
What’s Happening: Similar to San Francisco and the rest of California, there are currently no travel restrictions. While hotels have begun reopening, many indoor businesses were forced to shut down recently following a surge in coronavirus cases. Due to this reversal in reopening, search volume for Los Angeles has declined.
What Hotels are Doing: As long as LA hotels are given the green light to stay open, they’re doing their utmost to drive advance bookings and in-state visitors. Hoteliers are doing this primarily by upselling luxurious amenities and spaces that guests can’t enjoy at home instead of focusing on F&B, local attractions, and common areas. In order to do this, they are promoting special offers that include upgrades to higher room categories and complimentary add-ons. A lot of messaging also revolves around “reclaiming summer.”
What’s Happening: While Florida is requiring travelers from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days, there are no other travel restrictions. As one of the earliest states to lift restrictions, many hotels, businesses, and attractions have reopened including Disney World. However, since June 8 there has been a steady decline in search volume for cities such as Miami, Orlando, and Tampa. This decrease can be attributed to a rise in coronavirus cases as well as other states reopening.
What Hotels are Doing: NextGuest works with many Florida hotels, many of which have been actively promoting their properties since late May and early June. Top destinations in Florida are highlighting their outdoor attractions and the opportunity to explore these places at a time when less tourists are visiting. While some hotels have closed again due to the surge in coronavirus cases, hotels that are still open continue running marketing campaigns to capture remaining travel demand as theme parks and other businesses have continued to reopen.
What’s Happening: Los Cabos reopened for tourism on June 15, and since then many more hotels have reopened. The destination launched its #LosCabosRules campaign, which reimagines how today’s rules of social distancing and healthy habits can be applied to the destination. For example, the campaign invites people to connect remotely, wear a (snorkel) mask, and wash your hands (in the cool ocean waters).
What Hotels are Doing: Hotels in the region are equally marketing their properties, prioritizing messaging about flexible cancellation policies, fresh air, open spaces, and amenities designed to relieve stress and help guests get the R&R they’ve been missing. As many US residents seek an escape outside the country’s borders, nearby destinations like Los Cabos are primed to get a great return on ad spend.
What’s Happening: Riviera Maya’s primary destinations — Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum — reopened to tourists on June 8 and many hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and tourist companies are now open. After the initial drop in search volume, traffic for the region started picking back up in April. While travelers arriving in Mexico face health screenings like temperature checks, these destinations are well positioned to secure late-summer and fall bookings.
What Hotels are Doing: In preparation for the planned reopening for tourism, many hotels have applied for the Mexican Caribbean Clean & Safe Check Certification in addition to implementing their own safety programs to reassure guests. Riviera Maya hotels are also upping their marketing efforts and targeting US residents who are longing for a getaway. Several hotels have turned their focus to wellness programs while promoting outdoor activities and facilities such as nature trails and outdoor dining that naturally accommodate social distancing.
What’s Happening: Aruba reopened its borders to several regions in July including the United States, Canada, and Europe. All visitors are required to complete an online Embarkation/Disembarkation card process and be approved in order to be permitted entry to Aruba. This process includes three options for COVID-19 testing — test prior to travel, test upon arrival, or a dual-testing process (required for travelers from certain states). Additionally, all visitors need to purchase Aruba Visitors Insurance.
What Hotels are Doing: In addition to following best practices guidelines distributed by the Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association, hotels have implemented a number of protocols to achieve the ‘Aruba Health & Happiness Code’ certification seal of approval. Hotels in Aruba are also increasing their marketing efforts to attract visitors. Messaging highlights the type of space, fresh air, and tranquility only found on the island.
What’s Happening: After opening and then closing to US residents in July due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Bahamas is once again open to travelers from the US. However, all travelers must apply for a Bahamas Health Visa including proof of a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in the country. On August 4, a national lockdown went into effect in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Bahamas remains open to international travel; however, all travelers must adhere to the national lockdown protocols. Due to the pause in commercial flights in July and the national lockdown, travel demand to the Bahamas has not shown signs of recovery.
What Hotels are Doing: While some hotels have reopened, casinos and nightclubs remain closed and due to the national lockdown they are focusing on driving advance bookings for the winter months and beyond. For example, Baha Mar, a multi-property resort in Nassau, is promoting a Look Forward and Save offer across its properties where guests can book three nights and get the fourth night free, with free cancellations up to 24 hours before arrival.
As the situation continues to evolve, there is no clear projection for when the pandemic will end and people will feel comfortable traveling further from home. In the meantime, we will continue monitoring top markets and keeping a pulse on the industry in order to help hoteliers with their recovery strategies.