Few events in history have impacted the hotel industry quite like the COVID-19 pandemic, with over two-thirds of the world’s population going into lockdown, borders being sealed, local and international flights grounded, and businesses forced to close their doors for months on end. For our guests, the crisis has changed their behaviour in meaningful and lasting ways

When looking to the future, it will be critical for hotel marketers to reassess their previous assumptions and look more closely at what it is that their audience is now seeking – and how they can resonate and connect with their audience in a completely new world. I’ll posit that storytelling will play a more critical role than ever in this process.

How Hotels Have Been Affected by COVID-19

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the pandemic will cost 100.8 million hospitality industry jobs and US$2.7 trillion – 30% – in lost revenue. In the United Kingdom alone, international spending in the hotel and tourism industry is down 78%, amounting to over £22 billion in losses.

The extent of these losses are no surprise when considering that hotel occupancy in many COVID-19 affected countries dropped into single digits. McKinsey currently predicts that post pandemic recovery for the sector will take 3 years or longer to achieve. This will be impacted by several less-than-predictable factors, including the widespread availability of an effective vaccine and the ability of major tourism countries to control and eliminate COVID-19 infections.

How Storytelling Can Help Your Hotel Recover Post-Pandemic

During the pandemic, Netflix subscriptions surged with a massive, record-breaking additional 15.77 million new subscribers worldwide in the first quarter. Similarly, people started reading more books than ever before. And it’s easy to see why. Escapism is a strong and effective salve for the stress of dire economic conditions, of stay at home orders and concerns about health. 

People have been searching for a mental escape not just from their own homes but from a world of increasing anxiety, and storytelling can play a key role in offering this soothing escape. Here’s some insight into how it can play a central part of hotel recovery post-COVID.

#1 – Storytelling Sets You Apart

Independent and boutique hotels have always had to compete with large chains through unique offerings and experiences, and storytelling strategy for the remainder of this crisis and the post-COVID-19 recovery is no exception. Storytelling allows your business to talk directly to your potential guests and show them how you are different from your competitors and the big chains. Your story is about far more than price, it’s about the feeling you can offer to your guests.

Maybe your rural setting allows people to escape the bustling crowds and pandemic risks of crowded cities, offering them freedom that they haven’t had while on lockdown at home. Maybe your smaller guest numbers mean increased safety and one-to-one guest service where they won’t be just another number to be scanned and tested. Maybe supporting your local business is an opportunity for your guests to support an entire community of families that rely on local tourism to put food on the table, send kids to school and build a stronger community. Look deeper into what messages are resonating with your market, and focus your marketing strategy around that.

#2 – Focus on Authenticity

With the economic pressures surrounding, and strict regulations controlling, the world of travel and tourism, travellers are searching more for hotels and experiences that are unique, authentic and worth their trouble. Storytelling plays the key role in how hotels tell their customers who they are, while also showcasing their most appealing features. 

When activated correctly, it allows your business to connect with your guests’ values and interests in a meaningful and genuine way, building a relationship with them that can transform them into your brand champions. Build your brand story based on your business’s authentic passions and values and it will not only be easier to create the story content, but it will resonate far more strongly because it will be honest and true.

#3 – Storytelling Creates a Safe Way to Escape

Hotel and hospitality industries around the world have long relied on inspiring escapism and wanderlust in clients, and storytelling allows guests to envision themselves in this different, unique life your business is offering. It’s not just about telling them about what you offer – it’s about creating a way that they can picture themselves within it. 

The art of storytelling is about showing your guests how you can give them more out of life; of showing them a new way of living that captures the imagination and activates the senses. There are more ways than ever to convey your story, with social media, video and even VR becoming mainstream. But before you invest in content creation, you need to have a clear narrative built around your core, meaningful messages. 

#4 – It Demonstrates Your Values

People travel to escape their everyday stresses, yet they also look to support businesses that align with their values. Today’s customers want to feel as though they are on the same team as the brands they support, and storytelling gives your business a way of showcasing your values-in-action in an appealing and emotional way. 

For example, if your hotel has focus on any local community initiatives, a feel-good video about the projects you undertook during the pandemic, how you supported your staff with this community project and how you continue to work in the community to create a hopeful, positive future could make an incredibly powerful tool for connecting with an increasingly socially-conscious market. Or simple, short video interviews with some key members of your team could help to build that human connection with your audience, showing them your business’s human, empathetic side.

Storytelling Creates Unique, Emotional Connections

Storytelling is one of the oldest and most revered professions of all. When correctly integrated, it can inspire us to change our lives, realise our dreams, and become the people we want to be. The hospitality industry has always been a powerful player in creating opportunities to experience an aspirational life – and it’s these opportunities that people are yearning for so much now after a year of restrictions, stress and worry.

About The Author

Our guest writer this month is Colin Hannan.  Colin is a Principal at Proven Partners, a hospitality consultancy that specialises in helping hotels adapt and reposition for more effective growth. Colin combines a wealth of hands-on development and operational experience with deep marketing knowledge to support Proven’s hospitality partners on their growth journeys.

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