By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
Much has been written over the summer of COVID-19 about the resurgence of the Great American Road Trip, as millions were forced to rediscover the hidden gems of their own state or nation, instead of taking an international flight. Now with the virus continuing to plague our news cycle and our ability to open borders, it’s not unreasonable to assume that many travelers will perpetuate the drive-to hotel trend we’ve seen thus far.
Many of you may initially scoff at this as the whole idea of the long cross-country drive is traditionally predicated on warm weather to make for a pleasant journey. But times have changed since the inception of this concept around when Kerouac wrote his seminal novel or Steinbeck his travelogue. Besides a yearning to travel as a means of escaping the hardships of an ongoing pandemic, there are many reasons to help motivate travelers to venture forth this winter.
Four of these that have nothing to do with hotel operational adjustments or marketing include:
1. Cars have better handling than decades past (think SUV’s with higher ground clearance and AWD) meaning that there’s less risk while driving on slippery streets or potentially snowclad freeways.
2. Better overall roads and weather forecasting for faster snow clearance ensure that driving conditions are as safe as ever.
3. The in-car experience is top notch with satellite radio, comfortable cushions, heated seats, noise dampeners, video screens in the back for the kids and a host of other features to make the trip enjoyable.
4. With a mobile phone on nearly every rider, no one is ever bored, and no one ever feels lost or afraid to push forward due to not knowing anywhere for a good pitstop. GPS and WAZE add further road travel enhancements.
Mind you, when I say winter, I mean more ‘three seasons’ as many northern travelers will be more inclined to act as snowbirds to escape the cold. Then again, if you can dress your property up to be a winter wonderland then you may still be able to draw in some local, or even national, crowds.
Knowing that this may be a trend, it’s next a matter of preparing your team and operations accordingly. Every hotel has a unique situation. Capitalizing on these sorts of vacations to help buffer off-peak occupancy numbers is not necessarily the silver bullet!
There are many seasonal properties for which previous travel behavior would dictate closing for the winter as there just aren’t enough guests willing to come to recoup costs. Take some time to review your guest profile data and your CRM from this past summer. What can you infer about the likelihood of customers from nearby markets being eager to visit your hotel when the weather isn’t on your side?
Next, are you planning any onsite events or are there any happening in the region that you can utilize as a core reason to visit in any winter packages? Should you decide to stay open, you may not have much time to promote, so looking at the last-minute traveler behavior is important.
For those properties’ further south, the approach is widely different. You know the snowbirds will be coming and it’s more a matter of creating a distinct value proposition so that they choose you ahead of the competition. How are you planning your rack rates so that you can stay ahead of the comp set and without years of data to bank upon? Next, ask yourself what guests who are driving to your property from long distances would want versus those arriving by air – perhaps something as simple as complimentary road snacks or bundled tickets to a popular attraction that’s close by. We all know that sanitization is critical during COVID-19, but much more along the lines of ‘privacy’ is needed to motivate top-of-funnel consumers.
Finally, while it may seem that this article is only meant for an American readership, know that many of the principles underpinning how to draw in guests over the quieter winter months may also apply to your own territory, wherever that is. People all over the world will be in search of a staycation this winter; it’s just a matter of using the tools at your disposal to find them and give them a good offer. Look to create experiences and unique points of difference that will encourage travelers in spite of the weather, or even specifically because it’s frigid outside. And, of course, chime in with your own hotel’s situation so that we can perhaps give you some ideas that may work.