Top Tips for hospitality businesses during the COVID-19 crisis

By Georgia Ward

These are uncertain times for the hospitality industry – and the tourism industry as a whole 

With the latest national lockdown for England being put in place, hospitality businesses will be preparing for hotel and meeting cancellations, the closure of their properties and the potential furlough of their teams. 

Take a look at our ‘Guide to Manage Crisis Communications’ for some practical advice on crisis planning. In addition, we have pulled together some of our top tips to assist with some communications priorities. 

Don’t panic and listen to advice from industry bodies

In any crisis situation it is important to keep a cool head and avoid knee jerk reactions. Take advice from industry bodies who back up opinions with proper research and knowledge. Follow their advice when deciding how to approach the situation:  

  • The Meetings Industry Association (www.mia-uk.org) has a wealth of information available on their website 
  • UKHospitality (www.ukhospitality.org.uklobby tirelessly on behalf of the whole industry   

Use them. Ask questions. Educate yourself on the constantly changing situation. 

Transparency is key – tell people what you are doing 

Keep all your stakeholders – customers, staff, suppliers and shareholders – updated with information about how you are handling the situation. Update your website clearly outlining your closure measures and current planned reopening or the measures in place that enables you to remain open safely. Update this as often as necessary in line with the current advice from Public Health England (PHE). Remember there are different restrictions across the UK so you need to be clear about who can visit or stay. 

If you have an email database, send out a similar note to your customer base, reassuring them that you are on top of the situation. This could be a letter from the CEO, a note from staff or a more general note from the property – whatever is most appropriate for your specific business. 

Don’t forget your staff! Make sure you communicate internally with all staff members, clearly outlining what your company is planning and be transparent on the potential changes. 

Re-evaluate current marketing plans 

Go through your planned marketing activities and re-assess. This includes any pre-planned social media content. Be sensitive to the current situation and remove any activity that can be deemed inappropriate or in bad taste. Now is not the time for the hard sell – it is more about communicating what you are doing to make your venue more accessible, more affordable and safer. If you are adjusting your booking terms to include late cancellation assurances, tell your audience.  

Remember confidence will be knocked so your marketing needs to focus on activities beyond January and February. Look to March and how you can upsell your existing products and services. Remember to build confidence through regular communication and highlighting the investments in making your building safe. 

Contact each of your customers with an existing booking and communicate that postponing a booking is an option to cancelling. To those on your database, let them know when you will be taking future bookings and share engaging, meaningful content to keep the lines of communication open.  

Your social media feeds need to be handled with care, so ensure only the most experienced team members are involved. Prepare responses to ensure consistent communication and try not to get involved in any debates online – direct them to the updated statement on the website instead. 

Alternative offerings 

A closed property doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to cease all activity from your premises. Can your kitchen team offer takeaway or food delivery services? Are you able to host masterclasses or webinars for your audience? Could you create and sell gift vouchers? Now is a great time to focus on Christmas vouchers and gifts. Are there any community initiatives or outreach programmes you can get involved with to show goodwill at this difficult time? 

Communicating your new activities is paramount. Use social media to engage with existing audiences and make sure your website reflects what you are doing in an appropriate way.  

Community initiatives are of interest to the local press who want to communicate what’s happening locally, so make sure they are aware of what you are doing. 

Plan for the future 

We can’t press the restart button on 2020, but we can move into repair mode and focus on the long game. We are currently in another ‘pause’ period and need to start looking at how to refocus PR and marketing efforts for when we emerge on the other side. 

What will those customers who cancelled need from you in order to rebook? What measures do you need to put in place to ensure any postponed events go ahead in the future? What should your focus be to get ahead of the curve?  

We hope this information is helpful and we are here to help should you need further advice. 

Top priorities and tips for those who are remaining open: 

  • Let your current customers know by email and phone that you are remaining open and their booking will go ahead 
  • Share a statement on your website explaining why you are remaining open during the lockdown and details of your COVID-19 measures 
  • Share details of the bookings and services you still have available, such as business stays or virtual meetings  
  • Keep up to date with the Government announcements and liaise with your industry body for further details and information 
  • Your team is likely to be concerned with their safety working during the lockdown, so remind everyone of the COVID safety measures you have in place and continual support you will offer during this worrying time  

Top priorities and tips for those who are closing: 

  • Share a statement on your website explaining that you will be closed and what your rescheduling/cancellation procedure is  
  • Contact all guests who have bookings between 5 November – 2 December in date order and encourage them to reschedule  
  • Update any listings that include booking functions or opening hours with your closure period to avoid customers booking for stays or meetings for the next month – don’t forget TripAdvisor, Google My Business and Facebook 
  • Ensure that your closing statement is shared across all social media channels and is pinned to the top of the profiles for full exposure 
  • Keep up to date with the Government announcements and liaise with your industry body for further details and information  
  • Develop a content management plan to outline a calendar of online engagement throughout lockdown 
  • Ensure your cancellation policy is up to date ahead of any guests booked in for post-2 December to review  
  • Plan ahead to beginning of December to ensure that you have everything prepared for reopening – review your key learnings from your last reopening to ensure the efficiency of the process  
  • Make your suppliers aware of your closure and outline your operation plan for reopening so they can be prepared with the goods or services you will need in December  

Visit our COVID-19 Resources page for the latest news, advice and tips from the industry and government.