While drive-market (local tourism,) couple and family retreats have dominated the summer of COVID-19, new challenges will present themselves as the weather cools. But, hotels may still realize brisk business for the upcoming holiday season.

In much of the country, come October many will want to move their dining inside and away from physically distanced patio spaces. In addition, the typical return to normal job responsibilities will prevent many people from taking more vacation time, while ‘post-COVID-19 stress disorder’ means many will still be afraid of attending group events long after the borders have opened and international flights have returned. Combine all this with more hotels looking to re-open during the end of the calendar year and you’ll see yet more competition added to the mix.

Given all the factors contributing to a slow recovery through Q4, the pent-up demand for corporate retreats, romantic getaways and postponed reunions amongst extended family members may result in a frenetic holiday-travel season as customers look to get a trip in before 2021. That is, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day may be the proverbial line in the sand where guests decide to travel no matter what.
While formulating an initial plan for the holiday season typically begins in earnest in the latter half of September, with so many hotels looking to recover some semblance of revenues lost in Q1 through Q3, expect a voraciously competitive market come November. This implies the time to start getting a program together is now.

In the face of so much uncertainty around a second wave and the economic conditions leading up to December, what does a good plan look like? Even though it’s quite early, you’ll need to get creative in your offers and packaging in order to stand out and go beyond marketing and sales negotiations to implementing operational adjustments.

Some items to consider right now include:

  • Are you equipped to handle family reservations and small groups by assigning adjacent rooms or whole room sections, as well as private dining setups? Are you incentivizing these types of bookings through sliding-scale room rates? What video-conferencing technology can you supply for those unable to attend?
  • For F&B, do you have an established holiday-meal program you can revitalize?
  • What have you learned from the summer of staycations in terms of where customers are coming from? How do you see this changing for the upcoming holiday season? Would it be worthwhile to start advertising now with an early booking bonus?
  • Has your sales team been actively keeping their rolodex of leads warm by inquiring about fall bookings? While it may be too early for many to decide upon a gathering for late Q4, it wouldn’t hurt to develop your offer now and get it out there.
  • What services and amenities do you provide for couples and groups who want to have a bit of entertainment in their rooms and away from others? Could you augment your holiday revenues through the creation of bespoke (and sanitized) gift baskets to be used as either a welcome amenity or sold as a deliverable present? Are there any outdoor activities you can offer? How can you put a holiday spin on all this?

Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. You can reach him at larry@hotelmogel.com

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