A return to ‘normal’ may still feel some way off, but as vaccines continue to roll out and various governments begin to share details of how restrictions may start to ease over the coming months, we’re beginning to see both search and booking volumes gradually increase worldwide.

And the sudden shift in booking behavior in the UK this week can be taken as a blueprint for what many countries might start to experience ahead of the coming summer.

Hotel bookings in the UK have quadrupled following the UK government’s recent announcement that domestic overnight stays will once again be allowed from April 12th, and international travel from May 18th.

UK searchers and bookers over time (all values are indexed to Jan 1st 2021).

What hoteliers everywhere can take from this chart is that demand for travel is already there - people are just waiting for the signal that tells them it’s safe to book.

Search volumes in the UK might have doubled following the UK government’s announcement, but booking volumes quadrupled. Proportionally, more searches are resulting in bookings. People are ready and waiting to book.

Conversion rates of UK searchers doubled on the day the easing of restrictions was announced (February 22nd).

Even if your hotel is located in a country which is not yet quite ready to begin easing travel restrictions, you need to consider the fact that potential guests are already on your website (and those of your competitors), getting ready to book once they have the green light.

What are you currently doing to give those searchers every bit of the reassurance they need that you’ll be ready to welcome them as soon as they’re able to travel? How can you convince them that your property is where they want to spend their first trip out of lockdown?

Whether your hotel is seasonal or otherwise, you need to act now to warm up potential guests on your website so they’re ready to book when the time comes. To provide some inspiration, we spoke to hoteliers around the world who have taken advantage of their enforced downtime to fill their rooms during the high season. Read on to hear their advice.

Keep your brand top of mind

Even if guests in your region aren’t ready - or allowed - to book a stay right now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t searching and planning for their next trip. So whilst bookings might be quiet, it’s important that your hotel’s marketing activity remains visible and compelling.

One hotelier based in Saint Lucia told us at our Direct Booking Masterclass in December that maintaining an active social media presence during lockdown was pivotal to their strong performance in the summer of 2020.

Our hotels are 70% reliant on foreign tourism. From April to July, we had to shut down completely. But while other resorts near us ‘went dark’ on social media, we never stopped posting - and our ‘Can’t wait to have you back!’ campaigns delivered huge returns once we were able to re-open.

- Hotelier in Saint Lucia

Alongside an active social media presence (if you know that’s a platform that resonates with your target audience), make sure you have a retargeting strategy in place that reinforces your direct site as the best place to book. While searchers in your area might not be ready to book right now, we can see from the UK’s example that they’ll act quickly once circumstances change - so it’s crucial for not only your hotel but your direct website to be top of mind.

“Although hotels might be closed, you have to continue certain activities as if you were open,” explains Carole Hauser of Hotel Belvedere Grindelwald in Switzerland.

“A physically closed hotel does not stop people from wanting to come to you in the future. Core website maintenance and digital marketing activities like metasearch, retargeting and SEM are important to continue during any downtime.”

Have a plan ready - but be prepared to adapt

The past twelve months have definitely taught us not to trade in certainties. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use reasonable assumptions - combined with plenty of willingness to adapt quickly - to prepare for the summer ahead.

“Planning is key, and of course remaining agile,” explains Robert Speirs, Marketing Manager at the UK’s Cheval Collection of luxury serviced apartments. "While none of us has a crystal ball, we were not expecting international travel into the UK to resume in any volume before the 3rd quarter of 2021 at the earliest - so had already begun planning to target the domestic market for the medium-term future.

“We’ve spent the last eight weeks or so reviewing all our plans and building in as much flexibility as possible. We have also spent some time revisiting our website content and the online customer journey, particularly with the domestic market in mind.”

Those eight weeks of preparation and focus meant Cheval Collection was able to react quickly and effectively to the UK government’s announcement.

“We launched our luxury summer staycation offer the day after the PM’s announcement, to capitalize on what we were hoping would be a more optimistic national mood (in England at least). Since that launch we’ve definitely seen an increase in future bookings. At one property in London we had almost as much booked in the three days since we launched the campaign as in the first three weeks of February.”

We had almost as much booked in the three days since we launched the campaign as in the first three weeks of February put together.

- Robert Speirs, Cheval Collection

Whether you’re in a region still under lockdown or a seasonal property waiting for summer bookings to pick up, make sure you use some of this time to prepare the offers that will make you stand out when guests are ready to book.

Understand which segments of your source market are showing willingness to book, and keep yourself informed of any official updates that could influence their decision.

If you’re a Triptease client, you can use the ‘Performance by Visitor Country’ chart in your platform to get a sense of how different segments are behaving on your website and booking engine.

Performance by visitor country in the Triptease Platform

You should also consider setting up Google Alerts for announcements regarding travel restrictions in your major source markets, so you can keep an eye on situations like the UK’s recent roadmap announcement and prepare accordingly.

If, like Cheval Collection, you’re expecting an announcement about lockdown restrictions easing but don’t yet have the exact details, you can still prepare your marketing ahead of time by deciding which offers you’d like to run once guests are given permission to travel.

You can set these up as Targeted Messages on your website and booking engine and schedule them to start running after a certain date - or simply save them to your drafts until you have more information.

An example of a Targeted Message showcasing a post-lockdown offer

"Question the status quo!"

Whether your property is highly seasonal or closed due to the pandemic, it might be tempting to ‘put on pause’ any speculative or exploratory projects right now. But this might just be the perfect time to shake things up, suggests Carole Hauser of Hotel Belvedere Grindelwald.

“Due to COVID, we’ve been closing our hotel twice a year again, which we usually don’t do,” Carole explains. “But the good thing about that is that it means we’ve now got time to investigate and acquire new technology.

“We changed our booking engine at the beginning of December 2020 and since then our direct booking share has increased even more than we could have predicted. When we close again this spring, we’re going to use that time to find a new PMS provider. During high peak times, it’s impossible to find the time to make new investments and especially to make the right decisions - so this downtime is super important as an opportunity to question the status quo and make necessary changes.”

During high peak times, it’s impossible to find the time to make new investments and especially to make the right decisions - so this downtime is super important as an opportunity to question the status quo and make necessary changes.

- Carole Hauser, Hotel Belvedere Grindelwald

If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your Direct Booking Coach at Triptease to take you through our new Direct Booking Playbook. This resource is designed to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement in a hotel’s direct booking strategy.

If you’re not currently working with Triptease, take inspiration from the resources available from our recent Direct Booking Masterclass - including instructions on how to audit your current mobile experience and guidance on how to review your strategy through the eyes of a guest.

Need help deciding where to focus your attention during this period of unpredictable demand? Get in touch with the Triptease team below for a chat with one of our market experts.