Last Updated 18.03.2020
As we write this, the Coronavirus outbreak has taken over news channels, social media and conversations everywhere. Things are changing on an hourly basis, and the Government has issued advice not to travel outside the UK. This, of course, will have a huge and potentially long-lasting effect on the hospitality industry. We’ve collated some of the best advice for hotels, resorts and self-catering lodges during Coronavirus, and offer it up here to help our colleagues get through this time.
1. Communicate with your guests
We can’t emphasise enough how important communication with your customers is, now more than ever. If you are expecting arrivals, make sure they know exactly what is happening and what they should expect when they get to you. Create a Coronavirus Policy, and share this online (on your website, on social media). This should tell customers; The status of coronavirus in your area. Are you offering self-check in? Do you have hand sanitisers they should use? Where should they go for advice? How near is the closest hospital?
Please also don’t forget your future customers – those following you on social media. They will be watching carefully to see how you react. If you are able to tell them what precautions you are taking in your Coronavirus Policy and in individual posts. Be honest about any problems you have had to overcome, you will help build trust. For example, have you had to shut down any public areas in your hotel/resort? Are you spacing guests out in your restaurants? Are you still offering your regular dining? How are you keeping food, plates, rooms and public areas free from contamination if they stay?
Be proactive about contacting those who have booked and try to confirm / land a future date / exchange the stay to a gift voucher. Better to capture and keep the sale than wait to the last minute, once they have their mind set to cancel.
Use all channels available to communicate these messages. Newsletters, social media posts and your website key. And don’t try to share normal sales messages to stay in the next month. We can’t pretend this isn’t happening. But do keep marketing hard. Even if they won’t travel today, more people than ever are online at present, stuck at home and researching. Market to them for tomorrow.
Use social media to update your guests. Ask for their support to get you through this. Ask them to buy gift vouchers for a booking (tell them how much a booking ranges from and to). Advise that they can redeem this voucher for an extended period of 2 years.
2. Open your rates
You need money to keep coming in, so open your rates up until the end of 2021. Use your marketing to drive sales bookings for later this year and next year. For example, we can share messages with pictures of spring to brighten their days at home. If they can’t be with us now, encourage them to join us later in the year and next year. Tell them you need their help and tell them how you will reward them. This is an awful time, you need bookings. So keep abreast of government advice for hotels, self-catering and guesthouses during Coronavirus.
At Present (March 18th 2020):
- Travel is not banned: so share your Coronavirus Policy and make people feel comfortable to come and stay and self-isolate. Keep them posted on the outbreaks in your area and how your local hospitals are coping.
- Offer to move stay dates/postpone stays free of charge should they book to stay in 2020 with you which is affected by coronavirus in anyway.
- Tell them of your cancellation policy – do you charge or is this free.
- Tell them what you will do to support them in your Coronavirus Policy should they fall unwell on their stay.
- Push gift vouchers:
- To those who have booked but may cancel
- Mother’s day is just around the corner, but people can’t celebrate now and want non-contact gifts.
The government have opened measures to support hospitality businesses. These have been put in place as a first step, and are guaranteed to all businesses in need. They have made £10,000 grants available for small businesses. £25,000 grants for medium hospitality businesses. Apply for this using the information below and build this into your costing/budgeting exercises as detailed further in this article:
Get business support online, or over the phone.
Find Business Support Scotland
Telephone: 0300 303 0660
Textphone: 0800 023 2071
Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm
Don’t forget to gather evidence of your cancellations and other negative impacts the virus has had on your business such. For example, reduced hours/redundancies, cash flow issues/concerns and productivity. This will be crucial when it comes to making insurance claims and accessing gouvernment grants.
Also, contact your bank and lenders to increase your overdraft, lending and credit limits. All are looking to support customers through this short term crisis.
Look to gather in any owed or outstanding debts. Cashflow is king, so start to encourage debtors to pay their dues.
4. Cutting the Fat…
“Hope for the best but plan for the worst” is an apt saying here. We just don’t know what is going to happen day to day, so work out the worst-case scenario for your business then at least you can be prepared for anything. We are in a better position than other countries – we have some foresight to help us plan. Look at other countries further ahead with the virus. China was hit terribly hard, were unprepared, and unaware of timelines. They have been on shutdown for two months.
Our advice for hotels, self-catering and guesthouses during Coronavirus here is clear. Put an action plan in place for the coming two to six months. Two months of shut down (or almost in our case at present), two months of building confidence back up, two months of trying to reach some travel normality. These timelines may need to extend, but from what we have seen from China, this is the time frame we expect.
- How can you cut your costs in the short term – don’t immediately make staff redundant, you will need them when times improve. Instead can you look to support staff as far as possible, whilst keeping your business afloat? Look at reducing hours or temporary pay holidays. Share advice and links with staff. They are entitled to relief at present. Reach out to your local Citizens Advice Bureau or see Citizens Advice Scotland for advice. More advice can be found from ACAS here. Tell them to contact their debtors for a payment holiday (most are offering free payment holidays at this time). Also, keep abreast of the government support schemes in place for employees due to lose work/pay. 3 months mortgage relief is being offered to all in difficulty – this includes staff up to business owners.
Many will be worried that they will lose out on pay if they self-isolate. Reassure them that they will, at the very least, be entitled to statutory sick pay. You can keep up with the latest guidance for employers from the UK Government here. Remember, your staff are your lifeblood and keeping them safe from harm is of utmost importance.
Look at all your outgoings – where can you trim fat, without hindering your business. Remember:
- Don’t drop your suppliers. Try to find an agreement with them to help them stay afloat whilst reducing your costs. You will need their businesses to be there for you when this turns around. E.g. if you can’t get hold of fresh produce for your kitchens or clean laundry for your bedrooms when business comes back, you won’t be able to open your doors when business floods back. And we do expect people to be desperate to travel when given the all clear.
- Maybe you and your suppliers can support your community and help each other in the next 12 weeks. Can your venue adapt into something else for the short term or have a dual focus. Click and collect, offer essentials you can get through your wholesale suppliers, if really empty can you become a testing centre / medical facility if this becomes needed? Can you offer a social setting whilst keeping people separate. Set up non-contact experiences such as hotel rooms converted in to a private dining room with no contact for you and your family. Games room bookings for an evening. Support businesses, Teachers and those needing self-isolated working spaces – could your rooms become this? Anything you can do to keep people separate but offer something of benefit in this difficult time.
- You need to be selling and talking online as much as you possibly can. So don’t scrimp on marketing. This is the time you need to be fighting hardest to keep money coming in. if not now, in two to four months’ time when the government reopens the gates to travel. You need to be fighting as hard as you can for your share of the market.
- Focus on any systems costs – can these be paused? Sustenance costs. Travel costs. Or take a short term holiday. Centre Parks announced all of its parks will shut from Friday 20th March until April 16. People who had booked to stay between those times would be able to rearrange their stay or claim a full refund. This sends a clear message to the public that they will be open for business again in 4 weeks. It offers some hope and cuts their costs for this period.
5. Be Prepared
And be prepared for the turn around to welcome guests. Some expect a flooding of the market upon travel restrictions, others think it may be slower. We just don’t know, but be prepared so you can capture as much revenue as possible when the market comes back. Be ready to run a minimal service in case your staff have to self-isolate too. Everyone will need to multitask, from chefs to chauffeurs. How can you keep your staff supportive of the situation? Communication is key.
Stay up to date with the latest news and how it will affect the tourism industry in Scotland. The Scottish Tourism Alliance are sending our regular email updates on this topic, and it is worth signing up for them now.
6. Adapt Your Business
Look for ways to adapt during this time. If you run self-catering accommodation, they could be thought of as isolation pods. Are there ways you can use spare bedrooms for the greater good to support your local community? If you provide meals, can you offer a delivery/pickup service with minimal interaction (and high anti contamination procedures)? What can you do to keep revenue coming in and brand awareness strong through this time. The country needs knights in shining armour and your business could be a shining beacon through this. People, whilst scared and not traveling, do want some sense of normality. This need will only grow in the coming weeks.
7. Staff Training
Just as important as letting your guests know what’s happening is keeping your staff up to date with the latest news and your business strategy. You want everyone, from domestic staff right up to top management, singing from the same sheet. Everyone needs to follow the same protocols, including handwashing, social distancing and self-isolation. If they aren’t showing your customers the measures you have in place, customers will panic. Train your staff for these new times, and put your customers at ease now and in the future when business starts to return. Travel needs and expectations are going to be different, in the short term at least, after the lock down period. People want social spacing. They want the ability to sanitise regularly. They want minimal personal interaction and touching of their food, credit cards and personal items. But they do still want to travel and experience.
8. Plan for the future
Now is a great time to take stock of your internal systems and processes. Make sure everything is working as effectively as possible. Do you have a particular revenue stream that is particularly successful at the moment? If so, then work hard on it. Cut back on anything non-essential.
This might also be a good time to generate social media content for the future. Videos, interviews, stories. Get it in the bank now when you have time to keep your online presence active over the next few months when you get busier and things start to pick up again.
Try to prepare for potential problems. People won’t want to touch things unnecessarily, so organise non-contact check-ins and restaurant service processes. Perhaps people would rather porters did not take their bags to their room. Be prepared for whatever the day throws at you and to be adaptable. And keep your Coronavirus Policies clear online, and in public areas and rooms etc so people feel safe and informed.
9. Stay focused
Now is not the time to drop prices and panic. You offer a quality service, so maintain your professionalism. Remember that people will always want to visit Scotland – this is a blip, not a dead end. Perhaps now is the time to focus on a more local market? And, as previously mentioned, can you do anything to help your local community at this time? If we all stick together and offer assistance wherever we can, we will pull through, and be all the stronger for it.
10. Moving forward
Hopefully our advice for hotels and self-catering during the Coronavirus outbreak will be useful, and help you to channel your thoughts and time productively. If you would like to speak to us about anything, remember we’re always only a phone call 0141 278 6702 or contact form away.