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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter


April 15, 2020

Why Hotel Marketers Must Think “Backyard and Bundle” When Demand Returns

April 15, 2020 | By | No Comments

Why Hotel Marketers Must Think "Backyard and Bundle" When Demand Returns: Guest taking a selfie while hiking

[Updated July 8, 2020]
I wrote something in the early days of the pandemic as part of HospitalityNet’s world panel to help hotel marketers think about their “Post-Crisis Marketing Action Plan.” And, while I’d definitely recommend that you read the fantastic advice offered by the entire panel, I keep coming back to one item again and again. That is the need to think “Backyard and Bundle” as you plan for your market’s recovery.

The piece on HospitalityNet explains:

Think “Backyard and Bundle.” While it’s possible that the economy might come roaring back, given the larger economic effects and potential for lingering concern on the part of guests, it’s also likely that they may want to stay closer to home, have less to spend, or simply want to keep a little money in their pocket for the next big shock to the system. There’s a clear downside to discounting your product. But you should also think about offering packages or promotions that allow guests to get the most bang for their buck, especially with drive and local customers.

As the pandemic, its related recession, and the recent attempts at recovery have evolved, that doesn’t just look like a good idea. It may be your only real option to attract guests and revenue for your property. Here’s why I think “Backyard and Bundle” increasingly makes sense as you plan for the future.

Air Travel Will Take Longer to Recover than Drive Market Business

The single biggest factor driving the need for Backyard and Bundle is that air travel to your destination is going to take longer to recover than drive will. Some experts suggest that it’s will be five years before air travel return to pre-crisis levels and that Covid-19 represents “an existential threat to airport business.” That seems overly pessimistic to me people are still booking cruises(!!!), for Pete’s sake,which seems much higher risk than air travel.

At the same time, it’s undoubtedly true that air travel is taking a huge hit. Demand during the first few days of July is still down 70% year-on-year. United Airlines has signaled they may lay off as many as 36,000 workers later this year nearly half of their staff1. And that’s before we get to the fact that most Americans are banned from flying to Europe and few would blame European travelers from avoiding America at the moment.

Of course, even if travelers could fly they may fear or lack the money to jump on a plane for a while even after the recovery truly gets started.

Consumers May Fear Risks of Air Travel and Want to Stay Closer to Home

As I noted the other day on our Covid-19 resources page, guests will absolutely need clear assurances of health, financial and emotional security before they’ll be ready to travel again. Getting in a car and driving a couple hours from home is less risky and less costly than flying in most cases. That suggests that drive market business will provide a greater share of your guests even as travel overall itself starts retiring to normal.

Government Restrictions Continue to Limit Air Travel

As I’ve already talked about government here, actions are going to play a role with regard to air travel for a while. Europe has banned Americans and Russians, some states require a quarantine depending on where you’re coming from, and all that. You obviously don’t want to wait for air to return to get your fair share of whatever travel demand exists or lose out on two-plus weeks of potential revenue.

How to Make “Backyard and Bundle” Work Best for Your Hotel

So, it’s pretty clear that you’re going to need drive market business to support your property as both your market and your feeder markets recover. But what would that look like in practice? Here are a few ideas from that same HospitalityNet panel article for putting a “Backyard and Bundle” approach to work for your hotel .

Sell Your Destination First

Anytime we face difficult times, it’s important to get back to the basics of why guests travel. And that starts with the fact that you want to sell your destination first. Data from’s Retail Pulse and Morning Brew show that overall consumer internet use is skyrocketing. While travel hasn’t yet started to see similar patterns, it’s a given that guests will want to start exploring the world around them once they feel it’s safe to do so. You can’t afford to be late to the party here. Your content and your website need to answer guest questions and sell the destination in an appealing, persuasive way.
You don’t need to go it alone, either. As noted in the article,

Partner with other local businesses all of whom will also be looking to dig out to create videos, content, and offers to help attract travelers to your destination. OTAs have invested heavily in content over the last few years. Don’t let them reap the rewards. Instead, demonstrate directly why your destination in special and the right choice for guests venturing out again.

This may work with folks a little further away too. Again, from my HospitalityNet writing,

Of course, you don’t want to think only of the “backyard and bundle” crowd. You also need to cast a wider net. This is a little bit “old school” or “Hospitality Marketing 101,” but before guests can choose your hotel, they need to choose your destination.

My recent piece on Hotel News Now takes this idea further, explaining why you need your digital presence to do the heavy lifting for your hotel in troubled times. OTAs and intermediaries are investing in these efforts right now so that they’re best positioned to capture interest and demand once it returns. They won that fight in 2001-2002. They won the fight in 2008-2009. How many times must we as an industry learn this lesson? We simply cannot allow OTAs to win this fight again.

Speaking of the OTAs: Why Expedia’s Partner Recovery Program May Be Bad for Your Hotel

So, yet another Hospitality Net World Panel asked whether Expedia’s Partner Recovery Program is a wolf in sheep’s clothing or real help? The fact that you have to ask the question ought to give you some clue as to the answer. However, if that’s not enough, here are my thoughts on the offering:

Maya Angelou famously said, When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Expedia is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. That doesn’t make them evil. They’re just doing their job. Expedia’s job the job their shareholders expect of them is to acquire as much inventory as possible to attract as many travelers as possible. Without access to all of the inventory from each hotel it displays, Expedia’s value proposition fades. Chains and independent hotels have increased their use of member rates and book direct offerings over the last couple of years, which hurts Expedia as the one-stop shop it must be to deliver on its value proposition. It’s no coincidence that Expedia has faced increased competition from Google at the same time that book direct campaigns have thrived.

Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, Expedia is using the existential risks facing many hotels right now as an opportunity to regain access to your inventory — all of it. Whenever Expedia says they’re doing something solely in the interest of hotels or the industry it’s a good time to keep an eye on your wallet. Just as we saw after 9/11 and the Great Recession, Expedia views the current downturn as a way to (re)position itself as the default choice for travelers by ensuring it has access to 100% of your hotel’s inventory.

Does that mean you should avoid their partner recovery plan? Yes, with one caveat. That one caveat: Your job during the current downturn is to survive. Do what you must to get through the current situation. Yes, it’s likely a short-term win at best if your property does well on Expedia during this recession. And there are almost certainly ways you can attract your fair share or more from the relatively small number of travelers in market at the moment without giving away access to inventory you’re better served keeping for direct channels. Using a backyard and bundle strategy to reinforce your property’s value proposition can offset many of the benefits you might achieve from OTA’s. That doesn’t mean you won’t use them. It just means you won’t give up more to them than necessary to gain the “benefits.” But, if you’re facing imminent financial peril, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to stay solvent. Ideally, you can manage that without letting the wolf further inside your doors.

The Bundle Component of Backyard and Bundle

It’s obvious what backyard refers to when we’re talking about Backyard and Bundle. But what about the bundle part? Really, it’s about how you package your product to show value to guests who are definitely stressed and potentially strapped for cash. For instance:

Focus on value-adds in your promotions and offers that help you hold rate, but show clear benefit to the guest. And target those first to the people for whom your property is closest to home.
It’s also likely that guests will want to spend time with their families and friends, many of whom they’ve been forced to isolate away from throughout this crisis. Consider offers that encourage and reward multi-generational travel, girlfriends’ getaways, etc. And it will be time to test geo-targeted mobile offers to increase share of wallet for folks already in market once they’re traveling again.

Use Paid Search and Meta to Harvest Demand

Of course, your content only works if your guests see it. And that’s why you must use paid search and meta to harvest demand that exists. Many of our clients are receiving ROI-positive bookings right now for future dates because they’ve continued to let their paid search and metasearch campaigns run. As I argued in HospitalityNet,

Keep meta and paid search running later and right now. Meta and paid search spend automatically declines as demand declines. The single biggest problem at the moment it’s that there’s limited demand. Shutting off meta and paid search removes you from consideration among anyone even thinking of travel. Or those looking in advance of when they can travel again. It also may hurt your ranking relative to those who’ve consistently kept their media running even at the lower levels that match current demand. Waiting until the downturn ends might put you at a disadvantage to those who’ve kept the lights on during the current period and takes you out of consideration of anyone who needs to travel right now.

The great thing about both paid and meta is that, if you run them properly, you’re paying in exchange for booked revenue. Guests who book cover the cost of getting in front of a wider audience. And with ROI’s currently running 8:1, 10:1 and greater, it provides you bookings at a far lower cost than OTA business.

If you’re looking for some specific details on how to target drive markets on email and paid search, you’ll definitely want to check out Fuel Travel’s excellent “how-to guide” on the topic.

“Backyard and Bundle” Conclusion

Travel isn’t coming back tomorrow. The best case scenario is that we’re still facing months of uncertainty before the overall travel picture clears up. But, it seems undoubtedly true that your first guests will come from local and drive markets.

Air will take some time to recover due to financial and emotional concerns from travelers and from government restrictions continuing for a longer period. Customers will choose to stay closer to home for reasons of safety and cost.
Your destination offers “backyard travelers” a way to get out of the house, explore a little, and earn a little relief during a troubled time. They’ll choose your destination, and your property, if your content and your overarching digital presence helps answer their questions and fulfill their needs. Your local partners can and should provide additional resources to enrich that content and the offers your provide your guests.

Build on your content with metasearch and paid search to affordably reach guests at time of need without relying heavily on OTAs. Adjust budgets where needed, but remember you’ll likely have more money available than demand at the moment. Put your money to use the right way to gain the greatest benefit.
Travel will come back. Guests will come back. Your business will come back. The key is to focus on where you can find that demand and how you can convert that into revenue for your property. Right now, the data shows that they best way to do that is to think about your local and drive market guests and to put together offers that provide a great value for their limited travel budget. And that’s why “Backyard and Bundle” offers you the right path to success as the travel recovery begins.

Note: I suppose it’s possible that United is threatening these layoffs at least in part to exert political pressure for some bailout relief. I’m not going to make any guesses on that one way or the other at this point, but I’ll be watching closely.

Previous updates about Backyard and Bundle:

Isreal’s Re-opening Plan

[Editor’s note: The following items were originally included, published April 15, 2020 and has been moved here for your reference. Any insights or items taken out of earlier versions of this post will be moved here unless they contain something that is factually inaccurate. ] For instance, Israel has released its plan to restart its economy, opening hotels and restaurants in Phase 3 of its efforts and loosening air travel restrictions in Phase 4. Given that there’s a two-week pause between each phase if Covid-19 cases spike, air travel can’t even begin to rebound until hotels have been back in business for a couple weeks. And I wouldn’t be surprised if other countries follow similar paths as they restart their economies and attempt to get travel back in business. [Editor’s note: This one was certainly on the money. All our predictions should go so well. ]
Tim Peter


March 3, 2020

Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: How Hotel and Travel Companies Can Manage Business Disruption

March 3, 2020 | By | No Comments

Coronavirus COVID-19 and Hotels: Guests checking into hotel

[Latest update: 12 June 2020
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Table of Contents – Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: How Hotel and Travel Companies Can Manage Business Disruption

  1. Overview
  2. The Latest on COVID-19 and Its Effects on the Travel Industry
  3. Key Headlines [Updated 12 June 2020]
  4. What You Can Do To Help Your Hotel Manage Through Coronavirus

Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: Overview

Travel and tourism make up about 10% of global GDP, according to World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). And that number grew faster than the global economy in 2018. Again according to the WTTC, travel accounts for one job out of every ten around the world and an additional "one in five new jobs were created by the industry over the last five years." So, travel is a huge deal. And anything that disrupts travel, by definition, is also a huge deal. Which brings us to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. For instance, GBTA (The Global Business Travel Alliance) stated that the impacts from the virus to business travel alone could be as much as $47 billion. Again, that's huge.

The Latest on COVID-19 and Its Effects on the Travel Industry

First, some background. To paraphrase Bones McCoy, here at Tim Peter & Associates we're consultants, "not a doctor." Lots of our clients are in travel, tourism and hospitality. It's an industry we're deeply passionate about. And we're trying to do our part to help our clients – and the industry as a whole – weather any storm around COVID-19. We're not making any predictions around what will happen with COVID-19, when its impacts will fade, or other medical information. For that, we recommend you check with the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or your local health officials. The CDC in particular also has a great set of resources and FAQs for travelers that are worth reviewing.

Similarly, we're not economists. However, we do know some really good ones. The Conference Board has a list of possible ways that we might "reboot an economy in free fall" that is worth a look. None of the scenarios pictured are necessarily rosy. But they offer several outcomes you can expect for each of the likely ways that the economy will recover once the immediate health crisis has passed.

We're also not looking to catalog all of the stories about COVID-19 and its impacts to the travel industry. The fine folks at Phocuswire have a great liveblog for all the latest stories and HospitalityNet is offering a fantastic round-up of news stories and advice that is well worth your time. The last thing we want to do is ratchet up fear about this situation. This situation is already disruptive enough; we don't want to make it any worse than it is.

Instead, our intent is to update this post regularly over the coming days, weeks and months with tips and insights to help you navigate the business impacts associated with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 so that you can:

  1. Understand the bigger picture around novel coronavirus COVID-19
  2. Properly assess the likely impacts to your business
  3. Mitigate the risks and manage your business appropriately through this (potential) crisis

Latest Key Headlines (Updated June 12, 2020)

You may have noticed that we’re updating a little less frequently over the last few weeks. Why? As mentioned in our update from earlier in June, we’re continuing to see data that suggests to indicate increasing demand among guests. But it’s a slow, somewhat steady increase. We’re not ready to call this a full-blown recovery — far from it — but the decline in reservations volume has stopped in many markets and is showing signs of improvement. In some cases, we’re even seeing booking outpace 2019 numbers — though that’s by no means the norm. Still, there’s less to report on a day-by-day basis than there was a couple of months ago.

Based on data from a variety of sources — including STR, The Conference Board, Cleveland Research, and others — we expect the recovery to make its way slowly with some markets doing very well and others continuing to struggle into 2021. However, regardless of where your market falls on the curve, we think it’s important to capture (at least) your share of market demand while it exists. Just because demand is soft overall shouldn’t stop you from marketing effectively and efficiently to attract guests to your property.

We’re also watching the number of forecasts that about a "second wave" of coronavirus infections coming this fall, which may mean we need to go through this all again. The question is how much we can claw back over the summer without risking the health and safety of guests and staff.

All that said, here's what we're seeing.

Forecasts for Hotels

  • For starters, the latest US hotel results from STR for week the ending 6 June show that occupancy is now up to 39.3% from its low point of 22% for the week ending April 11. That’s a 78% increase during that period and a 3point-lift from just last week. That’s progress. The numbers are particularly strong in beach, park markets, which likely reflects guest preferences for open outdoor spaces. If that holds, city centers may continue to struggle in some markets for a while.
  • Speaking of guest preferences, McKinsey has put together some outstanding research around COVID-19's effect on the hotel industry. Most interesting is that the consultancy has created a range of forecasts for how long you might be facing these challenges, including an amazing graph included here. McKinsey shows two scenarios -- one longer and one shorter, but still measured in months -- for hotel industry recovery Clearly, the most likely scenarios show recovery taking until 2021 at the earliest, with some pockets of optimism along the way.
  • McKinsey’s numbers are similar to research from Morning Consult that asks ”When Will Consumers Feel Safe Again?” Much like the McKinsey data, the news is mixed. Some customers feel safe right now (that’s where the recent demand surges come from), while others remain much more cautious (that’s why it’s going to take a while to fully recover). The net result is that you’re going to have to work hard to capture your fair share until demand returns to pre-Covid levels.
  • One bit of good news along those lines comes from recent TripAdvisor Covid 19 Research that shows about a third of all respondents have opted to reschedule travel instead of cancelling outright. They’re also seeing increased search activity, signaling that latent travel demand exists. That’s why it’s critical to ensure your marketing continues to run right now. You want to make sure that guests who are shopping see your hotel — and they won’t if you’ve gone dark. Guests will decide at their own pace when they’re ready to travel again. If you wait too long, you’re going to miss out on their interest.
  • Kalibri Lab’s latest Industry Health report highlights this reality, with demand growing in many rate categories across multiple markets. Group/corporate business remains very soft, but most every other rate category has seen solid if not spectacular growth.
  • In Kalibri Lab's data, by the way, OTA rates continue to climb, even though occupancy on that rate plan have declined. This is something that's a mixed bag on its own. As we have said throughout for years, OTA's aren't evil; you absolutely should take any revenue you can get right now. But, also, consider whether it's time to invest in your own content and marketing to ensure you're getting the most profitable revenue you can. If you can drive demand through direct channels at a cost per reservation of less than 14% – and our experience shows you can – you're better off than getting that from an OTA. Again, we can't emphasize enough that it may seem silly to debate where revenue comes from at a time when, clearly, anyrevenue is a good thing. But we don't want to see hotels put themselves in a worse competitive position with the OTAs if demand suddenly jumps. It's not "either OTA or direct" here. It's "OTA and direct" that you should be shooting for.

Interpreting Travel Economy News

What do these mean for your business? That's less clear. However, a few key trends have started to emerge. These are:

  1. The shutdown appears likely to persist for a while yet. While some markets, as noted, are seeing improvement, it's very likely that we're looking at 2021 (in the best case) before we fully recovery.
  2. Individual markets will emerge from shutdown at their own pace. Due to differing realities around infection/transmission rates and political pressures, it doesn't appear that every economic region will restart at the same time. That seems to reduce the likelihood of a "V-shaped" recession, with effects lingering through 2021. However, demand is already starting to return, so it’s critical you focus on gaining your fair share.
  3. In hospitality, local and drive market business will come back first. This tends to be true in any recession, but seems even more reasonable to assume this time around. We're referring to this strategy of focusing on economically challenged guests in your local market as adopting a "Backyard and Bundle" approach.
  4. When air travel resumes, it will take time to ramp up. This is simply a restatement of the prior point, but underscores why it's critical to focus on building plans for local and drive market now.
  5. Travelers' confidence will matter most of all. Of course, nothing will happen until travelers feel safe and economically capable of traveling. Watching confidence in those areas makes the most sense.

How Hotel Marketers Can Apply This Data

Even though it's going to take at least a couple more months before travel restarts in a meaningful way, doesn't mean you should sit on the sidelines now. As we've talked about, hotels that continue to market appropriately during economic downturns far outperform those that wait for the recovery.

In addition to our recent post about why hotel marketers must adopt a "Backyard and Bundle" approach to boost their revenues, our founder and president Tim Peter tackled what the topic of why you need your digital presence to do the heavy lifting for your hotel right now. Tim’s “Backyard and Bundle” post was recently updated to include some outstanding best practices from Fuel Travel on how to target drive markets directly that you’ll want to be sure to check out. And RevenueHub also put together A How-To Guide For Targeting the Drive Market that's worth a look.

We'll continue to focus on how you can put yourself in a position to succeed as the travel economy restarts in the coming days. And plenty of other great advice is presented below.

What Hotels and other Travel Businesses Should Do About Coronavirus COVID-19

Finally, here are a series of tips, techniques, and links to case studies to help you manage through the coronvirus COVID-19 crisis and the eventual recovery. We have been updating this section regularly during the last few weeks as the impacts have become clearer and will continue to do so as better insights emerge into how long the crisis will last.

Before the recovery can occur, at least three things need to happen:

  1. Each market needs to address any underlying health situation.The situation will not get better until medical authorities can control the disease itself.A full vaccine isn't likely until somewhere in 2021 — if ever. But we're starting to see some areas have success in controlling the spread and effects of the illness. As national, state, and local leaders learn from these successes and implement appropriate next steps we may see reductions in the extreme "social distancing" that is causing so much pain to the travel industry. Some markets appear to be reaching peaks in the health demand, so hopefully that signals a positive development.
  2. Guests have to have the money to travel. The forced shutdown of many "non-essential" businesses has created unprecedented effects on the economy. The Washington Post noted a couple weeks back that "a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits" two weeks ago and that "Many economists say this is the beginning of a massive spike in unemployment that could result in over 40 million Americans losing their jobs by April." For context, "During the Great Recession… the worst week for jobless claims was 665,000. Last week the nation saw five times that amount." Even worse, an additional 6.6 million workers filed for unemployment last week. These last two weeks combined are greater than the total number of unemployed during the Great Recession. How long it takes for workers to get back to work as local communities rebound will play a big role in how long it takes for them to be able to travel again. Hopefully, government stimulus and other interventions limit the downside economic effects enough to ensure sufficient demand exists. Obviously, time will tell. And, even if they're able to travel, there may still be one lingering effect
  3. Guests must not be afraid to travel. This represents the biggest wildcard at the moment. Even once the immediate health effects have been addressed and guests have the money to travel, travelers may still have lingering concerns about the risks. There's simply no way at this point to predict how it will take. In all likelihood, guests will split into one of a few sub-groups:
    1. More adventurous types who, tired of weeks or months of forced isolation, can't wait to get back on the road. 
    2. More cautious types for whom the current crisis will shape their longer term behaviors.
    3. A third set that falls somewhere between the first two.

I can't predict which one of these groups will be most dominant. Past experience suggests that we'll see recovery in luxury travel first though, so it will be worth watching those travelers as we get into late April or May to see which group(s) take a leading position — or if some other as yet unknown set emerges.  Watch your denials report and web traffic to see if there are any "green shoots" popping up out there. 

What Your Hotel Should Do During Coronavirus and to Prepare for Recovery

For now, here are some best practices you can follow to minimize the effects to your hotel or other travel business:

  • Don't cut your rates. Anytime business softens, an easy "fix" is to offer deeply discounted rates to your guests. The theory behind this action supposes that you can use lower rates to attract attention and steal market share from your competitors. Except that most of the time it doesn't work.

    While you may experience a short-term lift in occupancy, competitive hotels typically react swiftly and lower their rates to avoid any lost share – before you're able to gain any long-term benefit from additional occupancy. Instead, all you've succeeded in doing is driving down rates for the market as a whole. It leads customers to put less value in your product overall. And it reduces your ability to market or serve customers effectively. We call trying to capture share by lowering rates "the race you can't win." Our advice: Don't run that race.

    Underscoring this point, research from Cathy Enz, Linda Canina, and Mark Lamanno at Cornell and STR found "the best way to have higher revenue performance than your competitors is to have higher rates. A hotel should not drop its prices below those of its true competitors if it wishes to enjoy a RevPAR premium" [PDF link].

    Revinate also outlines some of the challenges that hotels face when aggressively cutting rates during a soft period. The bottom line is that you're not going to influence a non-economic decision with an economic solution. As noted above, two of the three big issues driving travel decisions are the current health crisis and, longer-term, any fears guests have as we begin to recover from that crisis. Wait on using rate as a lever until it's absolutely clear that only economics influences your guests' behaviors. Screen Pilot in particular offers some outstanding tips on how you can forecast RevPar and occupancy during this "era of uncertainty" that are well worth your time. One thing you can do, however, is…

  • Consider offering value-adds instead. Continue any promotions you have in the marketplace (unless of course, they reference "sick deals" or some other truly unfortunate turn of phrase). But also look at including value-adds in your offers to attract attention and interest from potential guests. They can help you differentiate your product from your competition, increase the perceived value your guests and travelers will receive, but also help you maintain rate in the marketplace. It's tougher for guests to place a direct value on a spa, dining, or event credit included in their stay – and tougher for them to compare your offering 1:1 with competitors.

    Value-adds allow you to drive interest in your property, but don't carry the same risks associated with cutting rates. They can make the difference for many guests while giving you more control over your price in the marketplace for the longer term.

  • Control your costs. This one is obvious, but it's important to remember how important it is to control your costs at any time – bus especially during a crisis. A few ideas that may help:
    • Operate efficiently using checklists. It’s tough to control costs if you’re continually reinventing the wheel. Make sure you have well documented SOPs for the various activities at your property. If you haven’t already documented your procedures, now is a good time to commit those to “paper” (or better, an internal website). And, if you’re not sure how to get started, the folks at Alice have produced a massive series of 190 digital checklists for hotel standard operating procedures. [Free registration required]. And if you’re forced to close your doors, Stephanie Smith and the team at Cogwheel Marketing, along with Kylie Chen of Twenty Four Seven Hotels have put together a Temporary Closure Digital Checklist for Hotels that's very well done, especially for franchised properties.
    • Have a zero-tolerance policy against sick employees coming to work. Make your sick employees stay home. Seriously. We fully recognize the challenges that exist in a tight labor market. But sick employees run the risk of infecting guests and their fellow workers, each of which introduces a host of additional problems. If you can afford to pay workers for their lost time, we'd recommend it. You'll engender greater loyalty and increase retention overall. But, in any case, make sure that employees who aren't feeling well stay home.
    • Take rooms out of service. This one's tougher for some properties, but if you have rooms that need renovation or repair, slow periods are the perfect time to get those done. You can improve your property's overall service and experience without sacrificing additional revenues.
  • Review your insurance and other financial tips. Is coronavirus COVID-19 part of your coverages? Are you able to recoup any losses from business interruption insurance or similar? While insurance is unlikely to cover all your costs, they may help lessen any economic burden COVID-19 places on your business.
  • Market efficiently and effectively. One cost you absolutely don't want to cut is your marketing spend. Yes, you absolutely must monitor and control your expenses during any economic disruption. But evidence shows that travel companies that continue to invest in marketing during a downturn significantly outperform their competitors in both the short and longer-term. Research from Amrik Singh at the University of Denver and Chekitan S. Dev at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration shows that "The results of this study show significant differences between winners and losers when measured by top-line indicators (Average Daily Rate [ADR], RevPAR, TRevPAR) and profitability (GOPPAR and NOIPAR). Winners were also found to spend significantly more on marketing than losers… total marketing expenditures are significantly and positively correlated with RevPAR, GOPPAR, and NOIPAR [during a downturn]. This finding implies that an increase in marketing expenditures has a positive effect on revenue and profit." [PDF link]
  • Tips for how you can market your hotel most effectively
    • Leverage your content marketing strategy to tell a great story about your destination and brand. Screen Pilot has developed a tremendous set of resources for hotel marketers working their way through the current crisis. Their "Hotel Marketing COVID-19 Resource Center" is one of the best I've seen. In particular, they've got an amazing piece on how to use content marketing effectively during this period that's well worth your time. Fuel Travel also has a great Crisis Management for Hotels Resource List filled with excellent insights and ideas.
    • Don't disappear from social. Screen Pilot also put together an outstanding set of recommendation on how to effectively be "aware, available, and agile" on social. Many of these include items addressed above such as "encouraging consumer confidence" and using your FAQ pages to reassure guests. But the whole set is excellent and truly worth your time. You can check out their advice here.
    • Use email effectively. Email is always one of your best marketing and communication tools. But what's the right way to use email right now? Revinate offered 6 fantastic tips forwriting a guest focused email during coronavirus that you should definitely bookmark and refer to often during this situation.
    • Think about adopting a "Fast Follower" approach to the recovery. This one is more of a suggestion than a recommendation. But it's likely someone in your market will be the first to try to commercialize and capitalize on the recovery… and will do that too soon. This remains a rapidly evolving and emotionally charged situation. Jumping the gun on selling risks a negative backlash from those still coping with the crisis or concerns around coronavirus. We'd strongly suggest you let someone else in your market be the first to take that step. As long as you put together the right plan and prepare to launch quickly when the recovery starts to take hold, there's little downside that anyone will beat you to capturing your fair share of the demand when it exists. Plan to be a "fast follower" and you should be fine.
    • Don't forget about past guests. Email, social, and targeted campaigns in search, display and YouTube all provide outstanding ways to reach guests who already love your property. Check out these outstanding tips from Screen Pilot for best practices on how to market to past guests during closure .
    • Cast a wider net. Yet another amazing post from Screen Pilot highlights 4 underrated channels to boost post COVID-19 brand awareness. Our two top favorites are leveraging Pinterest and thinking about digital radio/podcasts. That last item is particularly smart as part of a “Backyard and Bundle” approach to hotel marketing in the recovery.
    • Manage Google appropriately. It’s no secret that Google continues to play a huge role in the travel industry, especially during the Covid-19 situation. I’m sure that we’ll one day go back to talking about them as a bad guy, but for the moment they’ve put together a handful of excellent resources you should use to ensure you’re making the most of their tools during this highly disruptive period. These include:
      • Some handy guidance for updating info and temporary closures for businesses affected by COVID-19 on Google My Business. Along with your website, Google My Business is probably the best resource available right now for keeping guests and other customers up-to-date right now. Make sure you check out Google’s advice here.
      • This terrific article on navigating your paid search campaigns through COVID-19 from Google Ads Help. There’s an argument to be made — and I would make it in some cases — for keeping at least some paid search running right now. These Google Ads tips will help you manage most effectively regardless of what you do.
      • Google has also put together some examples of how brands are addressing the coronavirus. While it’s not specifically hospitality related, you can definitely learn some lessons that you can apply to your property’s connection with your community and customers right now.
      • Another very smart Thinks With Google piece uses search data to reveal how brands can help during the coronavirus pandemic. I love this. It’s a perfect example of how Google can use the extraordinary amount of data at its disposal to help businesses and consumers. For example, the data suggests that businesses can help customers adjust to the changes in their day-to-day lives. Do your F&B facilities offer takeout or delivery? Can you use your housekeeping or laundry capabilities to help those in need? As the article says, “Give people credible, detailed, and current information about your operations” to help reassure and assist them as needed.
      • Useful information from the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog on how to pause your business online in Google Search if that’s necessary. Think through how you’re managing your communication with guests around this situation and only pause what’s absolutely necessary. But follow Google’s advice in those cases to ensure you’re in the best position when you’re back in business.
    • Start planning ahead. It’s very early to start talking about recovery. At least forecasts suggest that we’ll be in lockdown mode until mid-June — or possibly later. However, even though we’re likely at least a couple months away from any recovery starting, it’s not too early to start planning for that recovery when it comes. To that end, HospitalityNet has put together a World Panel discussion around “Your Post-Crisis Top 3 Digital Marketing Action Plan.” It contains great advice from industry heavyweights including Max Starkov, Loren Gray, Osvaldo Mauro, and our own Tim Peter (here’s a direct link to his point of view). There are a number of excellent ideas in there for you to explore when you’re ready. Our company founder Tim Peter also wrote about why digital must do the heavy lifting in difficult times that is worth your time. Given that you likely have the time right now, it’s a good time to start planning ahead for the eventual, inevitable recovery.
  • Keep learning. The current situation requires an adaptable approach to the rapidly shifting marketplace. Anything that helps you keep learning is a good move. This post attempts to help there. And my friends Loren Gray from Hospitality Digital Marketing and Robert Cole from RockCheetah put together a fantastic AAHOA Webinar addressed to hotel owners in the age of COVID-19, "Creative Marketing & Messaging Strategies," that you can — and should — review here. And Fuel Travel has put together several excellent podcast episodes on dealing with the difficulties caused by coronavirus, including one with Loren Gray on "Applying Lessons Learned from 9/11 To The COVID-19 Crisis" and an interview with our own Tim Peter reviewing "8 Things Hotels Should Be Doing About The Global Crisis." (We've also embedded that episode at the bottom of this post). All are well worth your time.


Amazingly, it's still somewhat early days of novel coronavirus COVID-19, especially here in the Americas. But some things are starting to become clearer. It's increasingly less likely that this event will blow over with only short-term effects. And it remains possible that we will face a longer-term disruption or ongoing challenges every flu season from COVID-19.

What's more certain is that travel businesses and hoteliers who plan ahead, keep learning, control their costs, work to maintain rate, and continue marketing effectively will likely weather this storm – as well as any others that come along.

We'll continue to update this blog with additional techniques, tips, and strategies you can use to manage through this situation. And we'd love to hear from you. What's working for your business? Where have you found success in driving revenues and profitability? Drop us a line at We'll be sure to share that here and keep the conversation going.

Past Coronavirus COVID-19 Coverage

We originally put together the following items to educate readers on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. There's now lots of coverage out there about what's going on with the illness and its economic effects. However, we're keeping these following sections available for your reference if you need them:

1 June 2020 Update

  • The news right now, at best, is mixed. The forecasts that up until now have been positive, including Jan Freitag's update a couple weeks ago have started getting less encouraging (you can read all past updates below or via this link). Here's just a small sample of the headlines:
    • Hotel News Now says that analysts agree US hotels will take years to bounce back. Those analyses suggest we're looking at weak growth through 2021 and recovery not beginning in real terms until 2022. CBRE even has a "downside scenario" that "pushes back the jobs recovery to five years, which would significantly delay the overall recovery for the hotel industry." Um… yikes.
    • PwC's "Hospitality Directions US" lodging outlook [PDF link] "…currently expect[s] annual occupancy for US hotels this year to drop below 40 percent and average daily room rates to drop almost 20 percent, with resultant RevPAR declining over 50 percent from last year. RevPAR in 2020 could fall to a level not seen since 1994. [Emphasis added]" Again, not good.
    • Kalibri Lab's most recent Industry Health tracker (as of 1 June 2020) also shows either flat trends or declines in ADR and occupancy across the six rate categories they track.
    • Adding to the bad news, Sabre says its gross bookings are still down 90%. In this case, Sabre is mostly talking about air reservations. But, it goes without saying that significantly reduced air bookings will affect many markets that depend on air lift for its hotel reservations.
  • Now, despite these terrible headlines, there are some rays of hope here including SiteMinder's World Hotel Index (data as of 27 May 2020), which shows that global bookings are double where they were in April. That's a positive trend; let's hope that continues.
  • In less positive news, CBRE Hotels Research doesn't forecast full demand recovery until late 2022. This seems weird to us. The Hotel Business article we're referencing here makes that data seem like a positive; we're not so sure. What the data seems to show is that 2020, at best, will be a year of muddling though and that many hotels won't see real growth until 2021 – or even later in 2022. While that seems like the most likely outcome, that's hardly great news. None of this is to say you can't find successes along the way. But CBRE seems to be forecasting a longer, tougher slog than others.
  • This is more of a mixed bag than a true positive, but data from Deloitte's "Global State of the Consumer Tracker" survey has some kernels of hope. The good news, according to Lodging Magazine, is that "35 percent of people are still planning to fly domestically or internationally over the next three months, and that nearly a third (29 percent) of 18 to 34-year-olds are 'actively looking for travel deals.'" Additionally, the study found that "When you look at the cost of the travel products that we asked about-hotels, domestic and international flights, rental cars, renting private accommodations, taking a cruise, etc.-it looks like things will rebound the quickest domestically. " The bad news? That "…only a quarter of them [consumers in the survey] told us that they were feeling safe going to a hotel."
  • Whether this next item is good news or bad depends entirely on perspective, I suppose, but Skift reports that "Spirit Airlines finds even cheap fares can't help fill airplanes." This, when coupled with the data from the Deloitte study mentioned previously that shows, " the consumer is weighing health and safety concerns more than they are weighing their financial well-being concerns" strongly suggests that you can succeed holding firm on rate – as we advise later in this post – as demand returns. Discounted rates aren't going to drive demand; confidence about health outcomes will. The fact remains that guests aren't traveling right now because they're worried about their health, not because they're worried about their wallets.
  • Jamie Lane of CBRE released the company's latest (as of April 29) US Hotel Outlook Report [PDF download] and the data is more good than bad. For one thing, on page 8, the report notes that US occupancy levels have risen for the second straight week. Obviously, those levels remain historically low; however, it's good to see them trending in a positive direction. Lane also projects markets "re-opening to travel 8-12 weeks after peak" of new COVID-19 cases and shows that cases in many markets are peaking or peaked between 8 and 21 days ago (2-4 weeks as of this writing). So we're looking at the potential for some rebound in travel as we get into mid-June or perhaps early July. The rest of the report is worth reading, and to be fair, isn't all good news. But it's nice to finally see some positive trends on the horizon for travel.
  • The New York Times put together a well-researched article that outlines The Future of Travel that is worth your time. Among other things, they forecast increased drive market demand (much as we're predicting in our "Backyard and Bundle" recommendations) and increased focus on transient leisure, with corporate and group business taking longer to recover.
  • The Duetto Pulse Report for April 30, 2020 shows new bookings continuing to lag, but also says that "new bookings for 2021 are exceeding pace far more than expected." The revenue management company interprets this as "…largely due to groups rescheduling their events, and pushing them out a year." While the Duetto data and the CBRE data don't exactly line up, the variance likely reflects differences in the markets they're using for their data. In other good news from Duetto, they note that in, "…North America it would seem that cancellations have largely plateaued" which is a welcome sign. One other welcome sign in Duetto's data is that "…there was a slight week over week uptick in searches during the week commencing April 13. For North America this increase was for stay dates beginning as early as May 2020 through the end of the year." This is consistent with data we're seeing for our clients and represents, if not "green shoots," then at least a seed we can nurture.
  • In slightly older data, PhocusWire says that as business travel bottoms out, near-term optimism remains high
  • The Los Angeles Times also reports that coronavirus aside, cruise fans book trips for next year
  • Guests may have more reason to book direct both now and as travel recovers. In a somewhat positive development for hoteliers, The Points Guy lays out 6 reasons guests should book directly with an airline or hotel – and lays in to OTAs in the process. While we need to see more demand among travelers before this becomes a meaningful trend, it's far from inevitable that OTAs and intermediaries will return to their dominant position following the crisis. OTAs have cut marketing spend dramatically and – along with Google – are facing the same challenges as hotels. While I doubt Barry Diller is going to change his hard-driven ways, Expedia, and the rest of the intermediaries may need to adopt a more conciliatory approach with guests and hotels alike when demand starts to return.
  • And our friends at Screen Pilot break down 4 airline industry trends and what they mean for your hotel. The big takeaways, which we've discussed below and in our "Backyard and Bundle" post, is that 2020 may turn out to be "the year of the car." But you can learn a number of other lessons from airlines around giving guests flexibility with their travel options and how to engage guests who are interested in traveling. The full article is definitely worth a read.
  • Other data from STR shows that U.S. hotel construction pipeline hit an all-time high in March. Room supply is always a trailing indicator, so don't expect that number to hold up for long. Not all of the pipeline will come to market (and it's possible that some existing hotels may fold due to coronavirus). The article itself supports that idea noting,

    "It's worth remembering – in 2008, the projects that were in the ground continued to get built, while the projects that were in the planning or final planning stages were most likely shelved. We expect the current pipeline to follow a similar pattern and will continue the monitor the number of projects that are halted in the coming months."

  • Bloomberg offered a solid Coronavirus travel video where Skyscanner's CEO sees an uptick in interest for late 2020 flight bookings. This is from a few weeks back and we're looking to update soon.

Plenty of Less Positive Hotel Data Also Exists

  • James Risoleo, Host Hotels and Resort's CEO, said on their latest earnings call that, along with the cancellation of $630 million in group bookings in Q1 alone, "We feel group travel is not likely to start meaningfully coming back to hotels until mid-2021. At this point, with the need for cleanliness and confidence in consumer safety, I would say until we have a vaccine, it's not likely you'll see group come back in any meaningful way." Full story available at Skift.
  • Expedia chairman Barry Diller echoed a similar sentiment, telling CBS News that there is "no chance" of economic rebound by summer.
  • Those brutal assessments aside, you must not get discouraged. Freitag rightly cited a version of "The Stockdale Paradox," which states,

    The Stockdale Paradox really defines the optimism that is most important in becoming a resilient person and that is, when you're faced with a challenge or a trauma, you look at that challenge objectively. You might make the assessment, 'I'm in really big trouble.' You have a realistic assessment of what you're facing. On the other hand, you have the attitude and the confidence to say, 'But I will prevail. I'm in a tough spot, but I will prevail.' That is the optimism that relates to resilience.

    Times are tough. That's true. We need an honest view of that fact. We also have to know that we'll get through these tough times.

Forecasts Still Show That Air Travel Will Suffer For Years

One group of analysts suggest that air travel will be negatively impacted for as many as five years:

Data Providers Offering Real-Time Updates

The best data are those that simply show in real-time how travelers are behaving. There are a number of these and we'll update as more become available:

  • Lodging Magazine highlighted some great news from Duetto Pulse Reportthat give some insights into when travel might resume at scale:

    The first report, highlighting data for March 2-April 5, 2020, showed clear indications that travelers intend to resume travel as soon as possible. In the United States and Europe, cancellations flatten by August 2020 and bookings for October 2020 are already trending ahead of 2019.

  • Google has released a series of COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports that give a sense of when and where people are out and about. As these numbers grow, it should give a sense of renewed interest in travel.
  • There's a new Daily Travel Index from Arrivalist that's particularly cool because it focuses on the drive market (more on this in a minute).
  • Adara has included a Travel Trends Tracker in its ADARA COVID-19 Resource Center that may provide some guidance as well.
  • Our new friends over at have an outstanding Data Dive that aggregates the latest stats about coronavirus around the globe, plus rounds up much of the data from STR, Kalibri, CBRE, and others that we've previously recommended. Very helpful to have it all in one place.
  • And Boston Consulting Group continues to produce a series of COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Snapshot #3that focus more on how people are feeling rather than their behaviors. We tend to prefer behavioral data (it's more predictive and shows what's actually happening vs. what mighthappen). But understanding consumer sentiment will also help indicate when guests start to feel safe to travel.
  • 21 May 2020 Update
    • STR's Jan Freitag, has an update on COVID19 and the U.S. hotel industry: Five things we learned and five things we are still wondering on his LinkedIn blog. The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some key points worth considering:
      • The hotel revenue data from China provides some hope.China offers a decent proxy for what we'll see elsewhere in the world and, generally, that data strongly suggests this is still a temporary – if significant – problem. Travel demand is returning and will continue to grow. We recommend you focus on gaining share from that demand while also keeping some powder dry in case the virus surges in the fall.
      • The "end" of the pandemic is still next to impossible to predict. Part of this is due to the rapid growth of the pandemic, with data changing day by day. And part of this is due to the mixed response from state and federal governments. Though part of that is due to the rapid growth… you get the idea. (We're not saying that government did a bad job here. We're just not notsaying that either).
    • The STR data for US hotels week ending May 16 continue the trends seen in the week ending 9 May data. There's more good news than bad in relative terms, though absolute numbers remain extremely soft. Occupancy is now at 32.4%, up from 30% a week ago. For many hotels, though, that's a breakeven point, so hopefully you're on the north side of that line… and that you stay there. As Freitag notes, "The trend of 'less bad' data continued with occupancy and ADR on a slow climb driven by a fifth consecutive week-to-week increase in demand… Last week's data showed demand of more than 10 million room nights sold for the first time since the end of March, and this past week, the industry inched close to 11 million." Fingers crossed that momentum continues.
    • Even better, Freitag goes on to say "…slow weekly demand growth should continue with more leisure activity around the country. Weekend occupancies continue to increase at a healthy clip, especially in drive-to destinations with beach access like Florida, or national park access, such as Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The industry will remain largely dependent on the leisure segment as uncertainty remains over when hotels will be ready to accommodate large events and group business." We've been touting our "Backyard and Bundle approach" for some time now. It looks like the data further validates that approach.
    • The latest Kalibri Labs data (as of May 19, 2020) shows a couple of worrying trends when compared with their May 11 data. While YOY occupancy in the RACK/BAR and Promotion + Loyalty Member Rates categories have climbed for four straight weeks, "guest paid ADR" is either flat or down in both. Worse, OTA occupancy (and, to be fair, guest paid ADR) have climbed during that same period. We gave that a "Boo!" last week and continue to stand by that message. Why? Well, as we said last week, OTA's aren't evil; you absolutely should take any revenue you can get right now. But, also, consider whether it's time to invest in your own content and marketing to ensure you're getting the most profitable revenue you can. If you can drive demand through direct channels at a cost per reservation of less than 14% – and our experience shows you can – you're better off than getting that from an OTA. It may seem silly to debate where revenue comes from at a time when, clearly, anyrevenue is a good thing. But we don't want to see hotels put themselves in a worse competitive position with the OTAs if demand suddenly jumps. It's not "either OTA or direct" here. It's "OTA and direct" that you should be shooting for.
    • In less positive news, CBRE Hotels Research doesn't forecast full demand recovery until late 2022. This seems weird to us. The Hotel Business article we're referencing here makes that data seem like a positive; we're not so sure. What the data seems to show is that 2020, at best, will be a year of muddling though and that many hotels won't see real growth until 2021 – or even later in 2022. While that seems like the most likely outcome, that's hardly great news. None of this is to say you can't find successes along the way. But CBRE seems to be forecasting a longer, tougher slog than others.
    • Kalibri Labs Industry Health Report also shows a mixed bag, with overall occupancy trends still declining, but growth in transient leisure business. Additionally, the decline in major markets continues to shrink each week. Demand for Atlanta is still down 66% YOY; however, that’s significantly better than its bottom level of negative 140% YOY from mid-March. Other major markets show similar “lift.” Miami, for instance is still down 100% year-on-year. That too though is a huge improvement from its greatest decline (192%) reached late in March. I know it may sound idiotic to claim that year-on-year declines in demand of 60%-100% are a good thing. That only illustrates precisely how steep the drop-off has been — and how much room we have to make up before we see a true recovery.
    • Jan Freitag, STR's senior vice president of Lodging Insights, in his April 27 data recap for Hotel News Now said that there's no sugarcoating US hotels' record drops in March. Key quote: "If you could just insert in your head this half-sentence: 'which is the worst drop ever recorded' after every single percent change number in this document, that will save me some work. Demand declined 41.2%, which is blah blah blah you get the idea." While that may seem flip, it is, unfortunately, an accurate assessment of the current state of the industry. Worse, additional data from STR says that the US hotel industry still long way from recovery. In fact, Hotel News Now's writeup of the data quotes as saying, "The U.S. hotel industry likely hasn't reached the bottom of performance declines, and it will still be some time before it begins to climb out of this pit. [Emphasis added]"

    The Bad News About Coronavirus Covid-19

    Let's start with the bad news. And, I'm sorry to say that there's a fair bit of it. The disease originated in Asia and, as you might imagine, that's where the greatest impacts have been felt so far. But, health officials are tracking rising numbers of cases in Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas, with, for example, California monitoring at least 8,400 people for the coronavirus. This sudden spike – which is expected to get worse – is leading many businesses to restrict or cancel conferences and business travel. Some of these include:

    Again, Phocuswire's liveblog can help keep you up to date on additional cancellations that might matter to your business.

    Impacts to Travel Businesses from Coronavirus COVID-19

    A number of news outlets are also rounding up stories around the impacts from COVID-19 that may be worth checking out. We'll update these as needed over the next few days/weeks, but mostly these are to give a sense of the overall travel industry effects of the virus:

    The Good News about Coronavirus Covid-19

    Thankfully, it's not all "doom and gloom." Here are a handful of positive – or at least neutral – stories that show how some events and travel businesses are managing through the crisis. We'll highlight specific case studies where relevant:

Tim Peter


June 11, 2019

Hey, Hotel Marketers: What’s Holding Mobile Bookings Back?

June 11, 2019 | By | No Comments

What's holding mobile bookings back? Guest shopping for reservations on mobileLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.

If anyone you're talking with describes 2019 as "the year of mobile," or some other such similar statement, I'd like you to smile at them, nod your head politely, and casually walk away. Why? Because that individual has no idea what they're talking about. 2019 is decidedly not the year of mobile. Not even close. The "year of mobile" has already passed us by.

In reality, we're not in the year of mobile; we're in an era of mobile, of shifting behaviors and business models alike. Uber and Airbnb and Venmo and Instagram all grew up in a world where mobile is the norm, not the new. And if you're genuinely committed to driving direct reservations for your hotels, you must accept mobile as the norm too. Whether you work for a property owner, management company, or brand, you must focus on providing an outstanding experience to guests – current and potential – on mobile all throughout their journey.

In case you missed it, a key data point underscores this reality. Mobile internet activity exceeded desktop internet use in October…2016, over two full years(!) ago. In fact, according to Stone Temple Consulting, mobile traffic now accounts for roughly 63% of all internet use, which is truly astonishing. Most hotels are seeing mobile traffic represent at least 35% of their total traffic and my own experience shows mobile traffic accounting for well over 40% of all sessions. And this shift creates significant opportunities for hotel marketers. Because one area where mobile has not bypassed desktop is its success — or more properly, its lack thereof — in delivering reservations.

Data from SmartInsights suggests that mobile conversion rates average only around 0.7%, compared with well over 2% on desktop. That's a significant decline relative to desktop with real-world consequences for reservations and revenue.

Consider a hypothetical hotel company that receives 12,000 site visitors per period (that period could encompass an entire year for a small hotel or a single day for a decent-sized hotel group; you can choose whichever is appropriate to your situation). If this hotel received only 40% of its traffic from mobile, it would potentially give away 62 reservations each and every single period (for you math wizards in the room, 96 desktop reservations from a 2% conversion rate minus 34 mobile reservations from a 0.7% conversion rate equals 62 "lost" reservations to mobile behaviors). Obviously, these numbers would be higher if your share of mobile traffic is higher. Given an average reservation value of $200, that's the equivalent of $12,400 in lost top-line revenue every period. Even if, by some miracle, 100% of those guests end up picking up the phone or booking your property via an OTA — which would be amazing…and unlikely — you're increasing your cost for those reservations by either the cost of the call or the OTA margin. That's not good. Like, seriously, not good. And that also ignores the fact that you already paid for the performance media or SEO efforts necessary to get that traffic to your website in the first place.

So, why are we losing bookings on mobile relative to desktop? What's holding mobile bookings back? Several reasons come immediately to mind.

Ineffective Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Even with increasing competition from hotels and OTA's, organic search typically represents a significant driver of traffic for most hotel websites. But beginning in March, 2018, Google began splitting its search index into separate versions for desktop and mobile, favoring sites for mobile searchers that specifically take mobile usage into account and penalizing those that work poorly in a mobile context. In fact, mobile-first is now the default for new sites Google finds.

While this change doesn’t directly affect conversion rate, it impacts your business all the same. Google's split of its index has left hotels providing a subpar mobile experience in a sad state, losing traffic and, of course, reservations.

Slow Web Performance
Your website's overall speed also plays a significant role both in SEO rankings and in your guests' website experience. Research from Akamai shows that "…fifty-three percent (53%) of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load" and that "…bounce rates were highest for mobile phone shoppers." And Google has publicly acknowledged that they now use site speed as part of their mobile search ranking algorithm. The search giant offers more favorable placement in mobile search results to hotels featuring websites that load speedily and help guests find the answers they need quickly and conveniently.

Poor Mobile Web Usability and Design
Of course, poor mobile experience isn't a negative solely from Google's point of view; it's bad for guests and bad for your business too. Many hotels are seeing significantly higher bounce and exit rates from guests visiting their site on mobile devices. Wonder where your low conversion rates come from? It should be apparent that guests bouncing off your site aren't converting. Again, speed plays a crucial role. But the need to improve usability and decrease bounce rate overall should be equally apparent.

Lack of Trust
As has been true for the better part of two decades, trust continues to play a key role in influencing conversion online. Slow, insecure websites with limited or outdated content – or most any subset of these issues — frequently fail to convert visitors to bookers. Screen real estate on mobile is limited and valuable. It must be used wisely to assure guests that you are the right choice for their stay and a trustworthy partner who will protect their information and payment details. Along with other elements, Google has also announced that trust plays a significant role in driving SEO ranking. OTA's invest heavily in content designed to reassure guests at each stage of their journey, but especially during the booking decision. Clear rates, quality content, and high-resolution images focused on answering guest questions represent key components in helping site visitors choose your property. Great hoteliers make guests feel comfortable no matter the situation. Helping guests feel comfortable that you represent a reputable option for their next stay is key to providing hospitality online. It deserves your full attention.

Complicated Checkout and Few Payment Options
Even given the current woeful state of mobile usability, checkout and payments present a particularly vexing challenge for users. The checkout process on mobile for many hotel websites remains far too difficult. A recent review of mobile booking engines showed that hotel websites typically require guests to fill in no fewer ten to fifteen form fields across three or four separate screens while completing a reservation. Given that the average guest must manage this while holding their credit card in one hand, a several-hundred-dollar piece of aluminum and glass in another, and type in these fields with, I don't know, a third hand, that's hardly the height of positive user experiences. Why are we making it so hard to do the one thing we most want guests to do?

Further,'s head of product marketing Morten Larsen recently wrote that "…one in five customers don’t complete a reservation due to unavailability of their payment method of choice." Mobile wallets, such as those from Apple Pay, Google, Pay, PayPal and others can streamline the checkout process and can increase the options available for your guests. So, why are these so infrequently offered?

Improperly Configured Analytics
A fair percentage of guests visiting your site on mobile are likely to book via voice since, after all, they are holding a phone in their hands. But are your analytics properly configured to track clicks-to-call? For that matter, is your site properly configured to support click-to-call at all? Now, in fairness, this is less about improving conversion rate and more about measuring alternative reservations channels. But experience suggests that you may be receiving more reservations on mobile than you know, which can be skewing not only your metrics, but also any decisions you're making based on those skewed metrics about media spend or marketing efforts.

How to Make Mobile Drive Bookings for Your Hotel

Once you've identified the issues limiting your mobile website's effectiveness at driving direct reservations, you must establish an appropriate plan to correct these limitations.

First, focus on three key areas:

  • Site speed
  • Quality content
  • Rate parity

Why these three? Well, as discussed, site speed helps with both Google's mobile search index and improves overall usability — or at least perceived usability — by helping guests find the answers they need quickly. This often helps improve your search rankings and traffic, as well as helps lower bounce rate, retaining more of the traffic your site receives and lowering your costs for guest acquisition.

Quality content, both text and visuals, further enhances the guest experience. Content provides answers to the questions your potential guests may have and helps demonstrate the quality of your product. Clear, relevant content also builds trust among site visitors by addressing concerns they may have about your property and its fit for their individual stay. Content also plays an important role in overall search engine optimization and, if properly targeted and authored, may help your site rank better for specific guest queries.

Rate parity delivers multiple benefits for both you and your guests. The diffusion of disparate rates has taught guests that, if they keep looking, they're likely to find a better deal. Offering varying rates across OTA's, metasearch, and hotel websites damages trust in your direct channels by reinforcing the benefits for guests of continuing to shop around. And, when guests continue to shop around, you not only increase the likelihood that they'll book your hotel on a higher-cost channel, you also increase the risk that they'll book a different hotel altogether.

At the same time, make sure that your mobile site displays your reservations phone number prominently and that your phone number works correctly when a guest attempts to click-to-call. While many web browsers automatically convert phone numbers to clickable links, not all do. Automatically converted phone numbers may also fail to match your site's style and typically lack any tracking that shows whether they're being used. Work with your website developer and booking engine provider to put the proper code in place for your guests and for your business benefit.

Finally, work with your IBE providers to incorporate mobile payments and seamless checkout from digital wallets such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, and the like. Experience shows not only a better mobile experience overall, but also conversion rate increases for each new payment option added.

What's Holding Mobile Bookings Back? Conclusion

We've clearly entered "the Era of Mobile." Mobile represents a large and growing segment of your site visitors. And guests expect a quality, seamless, and, yes, hospitable experience when researching on mobile. They're not going to book your property directly on mobile until and unless you can satisfy their needs there. Google recognizes this fact and actively penalizes poor mobile experience. And OTA's have invested heavily to provide guests with the information and experience they demand. Your mobile web experience — in terms of site speed, quality content, trust, and usability — must meet or exceed their expectations. Or you can continue to muddle along and keep losing traffic and transactions to OTA's and others who do take mobile seriously.

Hotel owners, management companies, and brands alike have a vested interest in addressing these concerns if they're legitimately concerned with increasing direct bookings for their properties.

Mobile bookings aren't "next year's problem." They're not a trend you can afford to ignore. Lost mobile bookings dramatically influence your business right now, pushing guests towards OTA's as their first, last, and only choice for bookings, and driving up the cost of guest acquisitions both in the near-term and down the road. Fixing the problems takes work. But it's work that's well within your capabilities. Plenty of effective solutions exist in the marketplace to help you address these needs. But you've got to begin. Right now. Because if you continue to ignore the importance of improving your guests' experience on mobile, the thing holding back mobile bookings might just be you.

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

A version of this article originally appeared on Hotel News Now as "The Distribution Trend You Care About Most in 2019"

Tim Peter


May 10, 2019

The Hotel Marketing and Distribution Trend You Care About Most This Year

May 10, 2019 | By | No Comments

Looking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.

Hotel marketing and distribution: Why Google matters

Let’s talk distribution for a minute. Yeah, I know, distribution is one of the least sexy aspects of the hotel industry. It’s also one of the most important, especially for hotel owners and independent hotel operators. Hotel owners, operators, and brands looking for ways to reduce costs and increase profitability need to continue thinking about how they’re going to acquire guests in a cost-effective manner. Also, hotel marketing and distribution are joined at the hip. And the whole topic is about about to get much, much more interesting.

Why? What’s going on here?

In a word, it’s Google. Google is what’s going on here.

The Beast That Scares the 800-lb. Gorillas in Hotel Marketing and Distribution

Google isn’t the 800-lb. gorilla of the hotel industry. No, Google is a much larger and more ferocious beast that has all the industry’s 800-lb. gorillas running for cover. Google is stealing mindshare — and potential margins — from OTA’s and other intermediaries every single day. No less an observer than Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom plainly stated that Google represents his company’s biggest competitor. In his words, “The internet has been littered with the bodies of companies put out of business by Google.” Okerstrom’s job is to make sure Expedia isn’t one of them.

Okerstrom is right. It’s no secret guests increasingly use Google as the first stop in their decision-making journey. And with recent integrations of Google’s artificial intelligence-powered, travel booking capable Assistant into Google Maps on Android and iPhones alike, expect even greater use of the search giant when guests plan their stay. There are over 3 million searches on Google every minute, with more than half of those on mobile and roughly 20% of those using voice. That’s at least 300,000 voices searches every minute, many of them targeted towards travel. Everyone’s scrambling for share, further driving up the cost of acquiring guests.

For example, Expedia,, and others — OK, Expedia and Booking’s subsidiary brands and metasearch channels — recognize this shift, spending more on marketing and advertising with Google to drive more traffic to their direct channels. That’s a switch, huh? But it’s a fact. To drive traffic to its sites, paid Google in Q3 alone last year somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Nice neighborhood, eh?

At the same time, as Google increases the amount of metasearch and paid inventory in its search results page, it’s also driving up costs for individual hotel owners and operators. Worse, without solid connectivity solutions — which far too many independent hotels lack — hotels can be shut out of Google’s latest product offerings and miss out on direct revenue opportunities altogether.

How to Deal With Google’s Domination of Hotel Marketing and Distribution

So how can you ensure you earn your rightful place at the table and gain booking share without significantly increasing your cost of guest acquisition? Here’s how:

  • Develop a comprehensive distribution strategy that includes both search and metasearch. Search is a distribution channel. And the search landscape gets more and more challenging every day. SEO, paid search, voice search, metasearch, AI, schemas, and whatever else Google rolls out next can’t be considered in isolation. Each plays a role in driving guests towards your direct booking channels and in delivering flow-through — positive or negative — towards your bottom line. Similar thinking should shape your OTA agreements. Do your internal team, website development firm, and marketing agency understand how to best make these work together to deliver the lowest total cost of distribution for your property? This is critical question that your property must get right. Otherwise, you risk continuing to fund OTA’s bidding against you in search, driving up the costs of your hotel marketing and distribution, and further risking your property’s distinct value proposition.
  • Offer destination content to gain guests earlier in their decision-making journey. Data shows that guests who start their research on OTA’s book on OTA’s. I strongly suspect the same will be true for Google before long, most likely in the form of metasearch and partnerships. Already, Google displays a remarkable number of paid listings and metasearch results before getting to organic results. This is a huge problem for hotel marketers. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, guests who don’t come to your website never get the chance to book direct. It’s critical you use content about your destination to move deeper into the long tail of search, getting guests to your site early in the journey and for terms that aren’t flooded with paid/metasearch offerings already. Google’s AI-driven search results place significant value on quality content. Give them — and your guests — something worth finding.
  • Focus on increasing conversion rates on direct channels. Here’s a simple truth: It’s always going to cost you something to get guests to contact you. You’d damn well better make sure they convert when they do. It doesn’t matter whether guests come to your website or call your reservations line; every lost opportunity increases your cost. Take a close look at where your reservations come from, how effective your direct channels are at turning interest into action, and how to improve those results to get the best return on your spend.
  • Ensure your connectivity options support Google — and potential future competitors. Do your direct channels appear in Google’s metasearch results today? Or does your property only appear via intermediaries? The latter is a clear sign you’re paying more for reservations than you should — likely much more. Make sure your team is working towards placing your property’s direct channels front and center in metasearch on Google, as well as on other metasearch partners who offer the opportunity to challenge Google in the future. Or accept the fact that you’re always going to pay more for bookings than you should. But that doesn’t seem like a good long-term plan to me.


Distribution funnels through a limited number of chokepoints and gatekeepers. And, at least for the foreseeable future, the number of gatekeepers continues to shrink towards just one: Google. If Expedia worries about Google eating its lunch, you might want to given the search giant some thought too. And then you want to put those thoughts into action.

Google may be the beast that 800-lb. gorillas fear. That doesn’t mean it should scare you. Individual property owners and operators may not be 800-lb. gorillas. But unlike the big guys, they can run through the jungle much faster. Think about your hotel marketing and distribution strategically and you’ll be able to outrun the big guys for a long time to come.

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

A version of this article originally appeared on Hotel News Now as "The Distribution Trend You Care About Most in 2019"

Tim Peter


January 8, 2019

5 Key Insights into 2019’s Hotel Marketing Tech Trends

January 8, 2019 | By | No Comments

Guest using mobile phone to book, one of 2019's hotel marketing tech trendsLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.

A client recently asked for some high-level insights into the hotel marketing tech trends available to drive more direct business this year. While this is a bit of a laundry list, the following offers a number of significant opportunities to help you increase your hotel direct business. Check out the list below and let me know your thoughts:

Make your website work. Obviously, most hoteliers at the chain and property level are making a big push for more direct business. Four areas worth investing in to help drive that direct business include:

  1. Improve your website's speed. Google increasingly pays attention to speed in its ranking algorithms. They've explicitly stated that in a blog post. The key takeaway: Slows sites simply won't rank. Guest behaviors show the same thing, with bounce rates climbing as page load times increase. We've reached a world where instant gratification isn't fast enough. Look at investing in a proper CDN and getting your tech team to improve your website's code to lower load times and improve the guest experience.
  2. Switch to HTTPS. Security represents another critical aspect improving ranking within search engines. Google Chrome now highlights insecure sites and data suggests that if you're site isn't using HTTPS today, you're hurting your ranking — and your opportunity for sales along with it.
  3. Ensure an outstanding mobile experience. Mobile accounts for more than half of all pageviews online. And Google split its index into two this year, ranking your site's mobile and desktop experiences separately. Given how many guests use mobile as their primary device when browsing and booking hotels, a poor mobile experience tells Google and guests alike that you're not interested in their business.
  4. Invest in content. Finally, when it comes to the web, content is, was, and always shall be king. A fast, secure, mobile-friendly web experience won't matter if your content doesn't help guests understand what makes your hotel the right choice for their next stay. Talk with your guest-facing personnel to understand the questions your guests ask most frequently, then invest in text, images, and video to answer those questions for your site visitors too.

Continue improving connectivity. Metasearch continues to grow as an option for attracting guests and driving direct bookings. Do your connectivity partners help you reach the right guests, not only on Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Trivago, but also on Google Hotel Ads too?

Don't just preach rate parity, practice it. Your guests often know more about your products, services, and, crucially, prices than many of your employees. They have more incentive to. After all, they're the ones taking — and paying for — the trip. And metasearch makes it even easier for your guests to find the information they need. Rate parity ensures your direct channels have an equal shot at converting visits to revenue. By the same token, rate disparity causes two problems:

  1. Guest might find a lower price for your property through a more expensive channel, and, even worse…
  2. They might find a different hotel altogether while shopping around.

Don't teach guests to shop around for a better rate. Provide clear and consistent pricing across your channels to connect with the guest and convert them to a long-term advocate for your property.

Become best friends with your data. Your guests provide you enormous amounts of data before and during their stay. Spend some time next year on getting that data into shape so that you can deploy AI, predictive analytics, and personalization more readily as those tools mature. OTA's and intermediaries such as Google have invested in learning all they can about your guests. It's time you do the same. Relatively low-cost tools like Google BigQuery and its competitors can help you get your data in one place and use it to better understand your guests. Make some time this year to get to know your data better so that you can spend next year getting to know your guests better. Obviously, you'll need to pay attention to privacy too — as Facebook's struggles over the past year illustrate. But, in either case, data matters this year and demands your attention.

Don't forget the on-property mobile experience. Many guests today would rather leave home without deodorant than leave their phones behind. Think about how you can help them put those devices to use to improve the guest experience and grow your business to boot. Already Expedia has taken steps to get deeper into the guest journey, such as with its investment in Alice. We're already fighting to keep bookings; don't cede the on-property experience to OTA's too. Whether through on-property messaging, mobile keys, or simply improved Wifi, look to integrate the mobile experience and the on-property experience for guests during each stay — and help them remember why you should be their first choice for their next stay too.

Now these are just of few of the hotel marketing tech trends you want to watch in the coming year. Of course, you need to remember that even the best marketing technology won’t save you from a bad hotel marketing strategy. But these should point you in the right direction and give you a great place to start.

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success: