By: Kristi White

Today’s travel and gathering restrictions have taken a toll on our industry. While we continue to see ongoing changes and brace for the next phase of potential constraints, we are tracking general occupancy while keeping an eye on the long term.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Katie Moro, Vice President, Data Partnerships at TravelClick, an Amadeus Company. She shared some data insights into what her team has been seeing recently.

A Strategic View of General Occupancy

If we take a look at overall demand, it sets the stage for a discussion on group business. Based on Amadeus data collected from the PMS or data warehouses of participating hotels, we can get a view of forward looking, as well as historic, data segmented by booking channels and market segmentation.

For October, occupancy was at 40%, while looking forward to Nov./Dec. the collective transient view for Q4 is 24% occupancy today, which is anticipated to go up as we move further into November and December. Breaking it down on the transient side, we have 19% of on-the-books occupancy, 28% retail, 24% discount and 10-15% negotiated business contributing to transient overall.

It is interesting that the discount channel is predominately OTA opaque – the second largest segment from a growth perspective according to Amadeus. That appears logical for the short term but from a strategic perspective, it is an interesting trend. Hotels need to grab business from where they can get it right now, while maintaining a long-term strategy on how they will recover that business from OTAs. One strategy is to let the OTAs spend the big advertising money to fuel demand, then be prepared to switch strategy when recovery picks up and shift back demand to “”

Managing Today’s Short Booking Window

We also discussed the unprecedented booking lead time trends. 43% of transient reservations for the last 6 months were booked on the day of arrival (that is double the amount from 6 months ago) and 91% of transient reservations are booked within 30 days of travel.

Basically, all transient travel is being booked within 30 days right now, so that is the most critical window for managing rate and occupancy. For holidays, most bookings are coming in the week before, but the 0-3 day booking window is the strongest.

So based on these short windows, how should hotels manage rate given the industry mantra of holding rate? You need to align your rate strategy with how travelers are booking. Given these short windows, you can’t plan to discount now and pick up enough rate later to make up for current discounts. It will only get worse. If you are going to discount, keep your lower rates inside of the 30-day booking window and maintain rate beyond 30 days as close to pre-COVID levels as possible.

The worst case is you may have people that booked further out, cancel and rebook at the lower rate as they get closer to their arrival date. As long as they rebook, it is better to hold on to that business.

Obviously, this strategy will affect your group business as well. What you don’t want is to get group on the books for 6-12 months later using today’s low rates. The key takeaway here is don’t discount out beyond 30 days.

Traveler Sentiment Is Sending Mixed Messages

In these times, we want to understand traveler sentiment as it informs decision making and help hoteliers optimize rate. When surveyed, travelers say they care more about cleanliness and health than rate today. But data does not match that story. Travelers do care about price and are makings decisions based on it. Transient travelers are booking in very short windows and using opaque sites, where you don’t even know what hotel you are booking much less their duty of care.

This is obviously a challenge for hotels because travelers’ actions are not matching their sentiments. So, manage your rate to match the booking window and be transparent about your duty of care policies.

Primary Markets Will Be the Last to Recover

Small and tertiary markets are driving the strongest occupancy in the U.S. today. Areas that offer bigger spaces for social distancing destinations such as South Dakota and Colorado have done well, especially over the summer.

For groups, secondary and tertiary cities are doing the best. We see small cities like Knoxville have had up to 800% increase in meetings over the last 60 days. These markets tend to be cheaper and can attract the drive market, so there is no need for attendees to get on plane.

It will be important to target your local businesses for small meetings that don’t require travel. Also, look to partner with sister hotels in other markets to offer a distributed hybrid meeting solution.

Sage Advice for Hoteliers

  1. Think differently – This is not your typical situation. Think outside of the box when creating your strategy. Leverage data to help you manage your rates across channels and shorter booking windows. Plan for the short term and have a plan for rate for 30 days, knowing that 0-3 days out is currently the biggest booking window.
  2. Be transparent – Put all your updated information on your website. That means what amenities are available – from restaurants and the spa to the fitness center and pool. Update information for groups in terms of how you are managing social distancing, how you have changed banquet service, new room configurations, safety protocols and more.
  3. Take a risk – Test rates in different markets at different booking windows and see what happens. Update your strategy based on the results. This is a daily exercise not something to fix and forget for weeks or a month at a time. This insight will inform your long-term strategy and help you optimize profitability.
  4. Start selling – Data shows there is opportunity in 2021. It might not look like the business we are used to, but there is profitable, repeatable group business to capture. Leverage the data you have in systems such as Knowland and Groups360 to go after it.
  5. Embrace hospitality – The best thing we can do as hoteliers is communicate and service our guests. Get back to the basics of giving guests what they need, information and the high level of care that they expect. That starts with answering the phones in the sales department so that planners can get the information they need in a timely manner. If you don’t, they will call the hotel next door.

We agree there is significant pent up demand for group business, with the likelihood of a strong rebound for small groups in Q2 2021. Remember, the majority of group meetings are 20-50 attendees. The large 1000-plus person events are outliers for the industry.

As 2021 continues, we see the pace getting better and better. This is all pending the positive direction of vaccine development and therapeutics that give people the confidence for safe travel. Small groups will dominate through 2021 and in 2022, citywide conventions with longer planning cycles will return.

Be Transparent and Communicate

There is opportunity for hotels. We agree that Q2 2021 will reveal significant pent up demand for travel. But hoteliers must start working to capture that demand now. Use your data to make better decisions. Start selling and answer your phones.

Tomorrow is a new day, so try to move forward with a positive outlook. Things will shift and when they do, will you be ready to shift with them?