27th May 2020 | The Hospitality Industry is Getting Ready - Are Our Guests Doing The Same?
HOSPA Webinar - 27th May, 2020
The Hospitality Industry is Getting Ready - Are Our Guests Doing The Same?
As the hospitality industry gears up for re-opening - are we sure our staff will be happy to come to work? Will local neighbourhoods welcome visitors? Would guests prefer to stay in a hotel or a rental property? Is it worth the cost of re-opening? Get the answer to all these questions based on the research into consumer behaviour from Rare: Consulting's Ben Pask and industry guru Steve Lowy.
(JP) Jane Pendlebury - CEO, HOSPA
(BP) Ben Pask - MD, Rare Consulting
(SL) Steve Lowy - Board member for the Hotel Marketing Association, CEO of Anglo Educational Services + The Residence Apartments (a luxury, serviced apartment brand)
02:00 Coronavirus UK consumer research
Ben: Rare Consulting has conducted research over the last 10 weeks, which involves consumer tracking, looking at engagement across a variety of sectors.
We’ve been measuring how well brands have responded to the pandemic in the eyes of consumers, focusing on richness behind patterns from the macro data.
On a broad theme, we’ve looked at; what are consumers looking forward to the most once lockdown restrictions are lifted?
The data shows that people are consistently interested in spending time with family and friends, as well as wanting to see things and experience things. There’s a clear desire for a sensory, emotional experience.
From this, we can determine consumer patterns. There’s not much movement in retail sentiment, but travel has moved well since the start of lockdown. For instance, there’s been a jump from 4% up to 8% in the last few weeks - indicating it’s one of the things people are looking forward to most, when compared against others.
We’re seeing that levels of worry peaked around the w/c 13th April, with this feeling having started to subside. Now it’s being replaced by people feeling content - those are not wanting to go back to how things were before, and are happy with the current circumstances. This seems to be particularly the case in rural areas, in the South East and amongst younger people.
The level of restlessness amongst consumers has also increased.
We can see that the UK is split. Not everyone is worried, some are content, while others can’t wait to get back into work/their normal life.
08:00 As part of the research, we asked people where they would like to travel once lockdown lifts. 24% said that they’d only be interested in international travel, while most, 42%, wanted to stay in the UK.
Emotionally, the people wanting to travel in the UK are the most likely to say they’re content, while international travellers have a higher level of sadness and anger at the ongoing situation.
The sentiment here influences guest service etc, and how guests are going to react to measures in place.
It seems that people are more inclined to stay in regions they’re familiar with. So the West Midlands, for instance, are looking at going to Wales and South West - fairly traditional holiday destinations for that part of the world.
77% of Scots have said that they don’t want to travel to England - certainly at this point in time.
Looking at the types of accommodation that travellers would prefer, 39% said they were willing to stay in hotels (largest share) while 19% said in holiday cottages/second homes.
More chaotic accommodation options are the least popular (hostels, camping, caravanning etc).
What are your thoughts, Steve?
A lot of it is based on trust. For instance, in our (luxury) serviced apartments in London we’ve charged people to cover the additional cleaning costs. That’s what people see as needed and are happy to do, but that’s at the higher end and in a city.
There’s a difference in consumer perception though when it comes to rural and coastal areas, with people not wanting to travel too far.
The new norm, from a marketing perspective, might see hotels need to target a different audience. Perhaps geo targeting for local audiences, as people are not likely to travel too far at present - lets say a limit of up to 100 miles. Marketing then probably needs to be skewed towards those audiences within that radius.
Youth travellers (the under 25s) tend to be the ones wanting to travel first. With coronavirus though, this could actually be under 40s, due to the low number of deaths within that demographic seemingly reducing the risk. So, targeting a younger audience is more beneficial. Marketing personas of the target customer then, needs to change and evolve over time, as people become more open to travel in the coming months.
In Spain, for instance, restaurants started opening to great excitement - but you need to proactively maintain this. Hoteliers, restaurant owners, pub owners all need to talk about the positives they’re doing to overcome any fears and anxiety amongst their customer base.
For operations such as hostels, it’s going to be a particular challenge. Multiple beds in shared rooms, and catering for school trips makes things difficult in the current climate. Individual backpackers may be willing to travel, but not in the same numbers as before the crisis.
We’ve also looked at the sentiment of trust, where we measure how much people trust brands based on their reaction to the pandemic. TK Maxx as an example outside of hospitality, was criticised by a union for lack of staff care. As a consequence of that positive sentiment towards the brand has plummeted.
Within travel, airlines in particular have been impacted by corporate reaction towards employees (such as Virgin and BA), which has then negatively affected people’s perceptions of the brands.
Those that do create safe working environments for their staff though are more favoured, resulting in a 66% driver of choice amongst consumers.
20:00 Steve: In our apartments we’ve housed around 30 doctors/nurses, which has seen a lot of positive reactions, including care boxes being sent to them from the US.
Our staff have stayed working during the crisis, catering to around 200 students and corporates. Looking after our staff has been important. As part of this duty of care, we surveyed staff to see how safe they feel travelling into work (we’re based in Holborn, London), which offered some interesting insights. I’d encourage hotels to ask their staff, as this helps to offer a reflection of consumer opinion too.
We already had lots of hand sanitiser, and PPE for cleaners, in place. But we’ve had to extend that to all areas.
Perception is also important. If you ask them, many people are happy to sit in a beer garden with their friends, yet not happy travelling on the tube - however both are crowded environments, with associated risk.
However, establishing staff sentiment is particularly important for city centre hotels with limited car parking. Would they want to travel in if limited to crowded public transport?
One option is to perhaps review current check-in time policy. Staggered check-ins could be a way of easing pressure on the commute. The 9-5 is probably a thing of the past - therefore reducing crowded commutes, alongside more home working.
We’re asking people where they’d be willing to stay, and they’re leaning towards the more remote options rather than city/town centres.
Key considerations are how do people get there? What modes of transport are they most comfortable with? Walking, getting the car, and cycling are favourites. Tube, cruise and aeroplane are least.
With a 14 day quarantine, how will it affect hotels? After 9/11, in October, I had to fly to New York. There was a, noticeable big change. I couldn’t take water, shoes off, bag checks - it took 10 times longer than previously. After 6 months though, people got used to it. I imagine it will be the case here.
The cruise industry though will have to adapt differently, dealing with different challenges.
On land, we could see a cycle revolution in the offing, helping people avoid the confines of the tube and public transport to get about.
Restaurants/pubs will struggle to operate under normal circumstances. In 4 or 5 weeks though, things will no doubt look different. With retail outlets opening soon, this might work to change perceptions towards hotels and restaurants. If retail’s reopening goes well and the public feels safe, it could have a knock-on, positive impact.
As people see other people move around, it helps with herd mentality. People will take confidence from others and be more willing to embrace it.
Touching on cycling, lockdown has seen people take on new skills and learn new things. Cycling is becoming one of these. For instance, taking a ferry followed by a cycling holiday could become an increasingly attractive option in light of changing trends with hospitality businesses having to adapt to cater to it.
Yes, ‘Cycle accepted’ could be a way to encourage people to enjoy hotel/restaurant/pub food and drink offerings, helping to attract a new audience.
34:00 Webinar Audience interactive Poll:
43% happy say they’re happy to go to hotels, 29% say visitor attractions, 16% say restaurants, 12% say pub.
I thought pubs would be more popular, given beer gardens etc. I thought hotels would be less so, given family commitments and logistical issues around travelling.
We also asked consumers if these places were open, what would you be willing to do? Drink in a pub (30% strongly agree) eat in a restaurant (37% strongly agree) stay in hotels (37% strongly agree). This is possibly reflected by fear of people’s physical movement within the confines of a pub as they drink more, making social distancing harder.
Asked what distance in a restaurant would be acceptable? 28% say less than 2m (split by 14% 1.5m, and 14% saying they’d be happy with 1m), 44% say needs to be 2m. 28% say need to be 2m plus.
The results suggest that those within 2m, are happy to trust government guidance, while those looking for 2m plus fall within the worried bracket, as discussed earlier. Offering ‘family zones’ for individual families might be an option here to ease fears.
2 metres probably isn't feasible for restaurants and pubs to open. It boils down to trust. If you try to change parameters now, people will ask, why wasn’t this the case all along? Again though, this is something that could change over the next few weeks.
People are looking forward to engaging with travel. This isn’t the case with retail. Garden centres and DIY outlets are seeing engagement though, as people work on home improvements. People are becoming more family focused, and this also reflects that. It’s fascinating to see what happens to retail though once it opens. Many retailers are nervous about reopening. Positive perception of supermarkets has dwindled over the weeks, as people have become frustrated with the experience. Retailers fear the same will happen to them.
45:00 Question - Gill Whittaker.
She lives at the seaside. Over the weekend it was crowded, with people gathering in big groups. Is this a trend or isolated incidents?
Ben: I believe that people will still continue to want to holiday in the UK. Spend on this may decline over time, but I think that sentiment will carry over for the foreseeable future, so yes I see crowded beaches continuing.
Steve: It’s very difficult to police. Especially people with limited space and no gardens. Getting to the beach has been something they’ve looked forward to for weeks. Speculating, but people on the beach may have been a younger demographic who are less fearful of becoming seriously ill. Health/death is a difficult thing to talk about, but people’s perception of it changes depending on their demographic.
Ben: When people talk about their target audience, they usually fit specific brackets. Now, these will have to change.
Steve: Marketing is important here. Adapting to reflect new audiences is key.
49:00 Question - What’s the usual % of people that would stay in hotels? How much has this changed since the advent of COVID?
Ben to find answers.
50:00 Question - How do you think the stats would change if a second wave hits?
Steve: A difficult one. I spent too long watching the news initially, which gave me anxiety. A lot of people read the headlines to determine an instinctive view. At the moment, we don’t know, but it could be a killer for hotels and the wider economy. Consumers decide when pandemics are over, not scientists. Once people are comfortable with returning to normal, that’s when it will end. As the risk profile changes for individuals, they’ll be happier to embrace more activities. Using track and trace to control spikes, could help to reduce the chances of a second wave, but we simply don’t know at present.
Ben: In the first month of the pandemic, a strong sense of community and shared endeavour emerged. However, this has died down over the past few weeks. People will start to exercise individual choice. The scenario around Dominic Cummings for instance, will have an influence on that as people will start to make their own decisions. Predicting it is difficult though.
54:00 Question - Do you have any indication on how people will meet within business meetings? Will the trend move much more digital?
Ben: We’re not seeing evidence yet that people are excited to return to the office and for face-to-face meetings. People aren’t necessarily rushing out to meet face-to-face from what we’ve seen across professional services.
Steve: People will want to make sure that the meeting is relevant, and really focused on “yeah this would be much easier to do face-to-face.” Digital meetings make things more complicated and difficult. But I do think flexible working and learning will be definite short term trends. International students won’t want to come to the UK though if it’s done online. The reason for them coming is to meet more people - something they won’t be able to do online.
Our board meeting worked exceptionally well online, removing travel time and maximising efficiency. So, from a HOSPA point of view, we’d see that as a success.
56:00 - Jane:
Should hotels offer their food and beverage solely to residents to reduce people roaming? Would this help build trust?
Steve: Whether it’s marketing, operations or training. Your plans will need to be reviewed and changed every week. People will change, and you’ll only know when people are in your restaurant. In terms of working out if your operational side works well, doing residents only to start with is a really good way of having a test case. Financially that might not be viable, so it’s going to be very different depending on how a hotel operates in terms of if their wet or dry sales in their restaurant are based on visitors to it or hotel residents. It’s very important to monitor and tweak as things change. Maybe tweak marketing periodically, from targeting local residents, to 50 miles, to 100 miles as things change and develop over the next few weeks and months. A normal two or three year plan or a seasonal plan - everything has to be tweaked and changed.
Ben: I would encourage just listening. Asking customers and staff what their view is, how they’re feeling and making sure those metrics are in place.