Leading the Conversation: Hotel Marketing during COVID-19

Cancelled flights. Mandatory quarantines. Months of lockdowns and restrictions.

Even as malls, shops, and markets begin to re-open around Thailand, the sense of cautious optimism they bring is not necessarily extended to the hospitality industry.

In a typical year, tourism accounts for over 17% of Thailand’s entire economy. But in the midst of a global pandemic, with people around the world hesitant to leave their own homes for any reason – let alone travel by plane to Southeast Asia – hotels and other tourism-based businesses find themselves in a very precarious position.

We now face a situation where supply far outweighs demand. The question at this moment is what we intend to do about it.


Khao San Road hasn’t been this quiet for a very long time.


The scope of the problem

The tourism industry in Thailand is currently on life support. Year-on-year arrivals fell by 76.4% in March, and the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand says the country won’t likely see pre-pandemic tourist numbers until a vaccine is widely available. This diagnosis is sobering; although science has advanced greatly in recent years, and the entire world is focused on solving this problem, the fact remains that no vaccine has ever been produced and approved in less than four years.

In the meantime, the country does have plans to support the hospitality industry here – which includes boosting domestic tourism. From there, however, the ball is in our court. Hotels will have to get creative in their messaging in order to convince Thais and expats alike to come stay with them. Only an effective digital agency in Thailand can raise awareness in this way while remaining sensitive enough to strike the right note during this delicate moment.

Most hotels and resorts have been quiet during the last couple of months – their marketing efforts effectively muzzled by COVID-19. This was understandable: People didn’t want to hear about travel promotions and luxury holidays during a global health crisis that also brought grave financial losses.

But at this stage of recovery, silence sends exactly the wrong message. Silence says that you’re closed, or you’ve given up, or you don’t have confidence in your product.

The next few months will be extremely competitive, as hotels vie for a limited number of travelers. With COVID-19 still very much on everyone’s minds, the key to success will be delivering a confident, compelling message while also striking an understanding tone.


Take control of the narrative

The hospitality sector is used to selling experiences: romantic candlelit dinners, endless ocean views, exquisite culinary adventures, a luxurious home away from home. In normal times, hotels wouldn’t dream of including anything even remotely negative in their messaging. But these are not normal times.

For the next few months, there will be no honest way to advertise hotels without mentioning the coronavirus. Hotels that avoid the subject risk being seen by potential customers as either unsafe, disingenuous, or both.

The only real choice is to tackle the subject head on.

Hotel and resort managers should make themselves as visible as possible, getting the message out about what their hotel is doing to ensure the safety of guests and employees. This means publishing blogs, making videos, and appearing on podcasts to discuss how they have responded to the pandemic.

Each hotel and resort should have a dedicated microsite detailing all the precautions they are taking: social distancing planning, disinfection of common areas, special measures for food preparation, PPE for staff and guests, temperature screening, and whatever else is being done.

The subject is serious, but the tone need not be negative. Your hotel can have its own branded masks with a playful design, for example. In a situation so unusual, a bit of humor (in good taste) can go a long way toward breaking through people’s reticence on the subject of travel.

Your messages should furthermore be based on information that can be confirmed independently, so that you don’t need to ask people to take your word for it. Remind your audience that Thailand has thus far done an excellent job at flattening the COVID-19 curve, and staying at a sterilized hotel with carefully enforced social distancing measures may very well be safer than a trip to the local mall.


Give people what they need

In all of your messaging, the most important thing is to be 100% honest and transparent with the audience. Any risks should be communicated clearly, as people are not looking for false consolation. They want – and deserve – the facts needed to make an informed decision. If being thorough involves giving people information not directly related to their stay at your hotel, such as tips on how to keep safe during an international flight, then you should certainly mention that too.

Where possible, focus less on your hotel, and more on how you can add value to a person’s entire holiday. Talking exclusively about your hotel or resort could sound slightly desperate, and too much like an advertisement. On the other hand, open and transparent commentary, if delivered with charm, lets you come across as a winning and good-natured expert who will be straight with people – and who has the situation well under control.

Of course, while you are working to make the hotel as safe as possible, you may not have time to craft all the content needed to get the word out. Fear not: Our digital agency in Thailand can help with that.


If you build it, they will come

Everyone knows these are extremely difficult times for the hospitality sector. Unless you take decisive action, your brand may become associated with that sense of struggle and uncertainty.

The way forward is simple: Start telling a different story. Get involved in the COVID-19 conversation, and take charge of how you are perceived. Remember that reputations need to be built, and rebuilt – and then get to work.

Sunshine and relaxation will still be key draws for your guests, but only after their primary concerns are dealt with.

The hotels that address the pandemic with a well-crafted message will have the best chance of attracting people who are looking to finally venture outside their homes again. As Thailand was recently ranked second in the world, and first in Asia, on the global COVID-19 recovery index, this may happen sooner than expected.

The coming months will offer hotels an excellent opportunity to establish their reputation for COVID-19 preparedness. A generous investment in safety and responsible messaging will earn you increased local interest now, and pay off in spades when the throngs of international tourists return to Thailand.


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