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Covid-19, the recovery will be "Guest Experience Centric" [1/2]

The health crisis of Covid-19 has brought the world economy and especially travels to a halt for very long months, plunging the tourism industry into one of the biggest crises in its history. From reorganizing the production of an agile and adaptable service, to designing a 360° experience, to taking into account societal and environmental issues, today more than ever, is the time to reinvent tourism and the guest experience.

KEEPING EYES AND MIND OPEN AND COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY TO REASSURE THE CLIENT

The Covid-19 generated a crisis of fear, and a similar reaction to the attacks, reinforced by travel bans or restrictions. When it was released from lockdown, an entire machine had to be restarted, in a complex period given the uncertainty about the future. One of the challenges has been to communicate, not only to inform about the reopening of the property, but also to reassure staff and customers. The professionals were thus able to rely on the health charters and labels published by the operator groups and unions to draw up their own health protocols for welcoming visitors, adapted to the characteristics of their properties. The challenge was not so much in the drafting of these texts, but rather in identifying and qualifying the steps and conditions necessary to resume activity under the best conditions, in order to communicate effectively with the target clientele, with the aim of reassuring them.

With this in mind, Arnaud Poudou, Director of Quality and Development at Yelloh ! Village, explains: "We set up the health protocol of the Fédération Nationale de l'Hôtellerie de Plein Air (National Federation of the Outdoor Hotel Industry) and, with our communications agency, worked on a mailing and the creation of an infography explaining very clearly how we were going to implement the protocol in the fi eld, so that our customers could come in complete safety." In a context of hyper-solicitation of the public, the design of the communication visuals as well as the simplicity of the messages are powerful and important tools to stand out and inspire confidence. The other providers of tourist, leisure and cultural activities, especially independent and more isolated ones, encountered more difficulties, without a clear message carried by a strong group.

Confidence in the brand has returned to the forefront.

The need for reassurance before the stay resulted in a growing number of telephone calls for reservations within the hotels, and less use of online reservations. Thus, the Barrière Group had to call on the support of reception staff at its still closed hotels to back up the teams in place, "in the face of an exceptional National Federation of the Outdoor Hotel Industry for [their] properties, almost all of which are located in mainland France," according to Astrid Lelièvre, the Group's Quality Director. The main questions concerned the conditions for cancellation or postponement in case of necessity, as well as the services and facilities available, in addition to health regulations. The same feeling was felt in the campsites: "the independent campsites kept the reception and telephone services open to answer customers. We are fortunate to have 91 franchisees who were very involved and concerned about handling customer requests," according to Arnaud Poudou, from Yelloh ! Village.

MOBILIZE AND EMBARK TEAMS IN A NEW PROJECT

The success of this communication also depends on the mobilization of the teams, on the front line in customer relations. First of all, it is a question of ensuring their protection, by integrating new processes, in order to ensure that the physical distance requested does not become a social distance. As such, team training is essential. Some have chosen to do it online, including during the containment period. Others, like the Barrière Group, have favoured face-to-face training, mixing films presenting the new postures and role-playing games.

The challenge is also to maintain the customer promise and experience. So, for Caroline Piel, Director of Hôtels en Ville brand, properties in which design plays an important role, it was essential to leave the decoration in place, while making arrangements to comply with health regulations: distance between tables, plexiglass windows at the reception desk...

The Barrière Group created the Barrière welcome gesture, proposed, voted and adopted by all the group's employees. "This gesture is carried out in all our properties to welcome our guests. Because of our businesses, our knowhow and the French art of living, our group is all the more affected by this imposed distance," according to Astrid Lelièvre.

The customer journey has been rethought to preserve and even strengthen the guest experience, in compliance with these new health rules. The principle is to offer a more fluid itinerary, particularly during the checkin and check-out phases. In campsites, the drive is set up; when this is not possible, only one person can go to the reception. In hotels, express check in or check out is preferred. On the other hand, the emphasis is placed on the strong elements of the guest experience: decoration and design, service, entertainment in the resorts and campsites, etc.

RETHINKING ITS OFFER AND ITS COMMUNICATION TO ADDRESS A LOCAL CLIENTELE IN SEARCH OF MEANING

This is an opportunity to evolve and innovate, to offer a new guest experience, to a different, closer clientele, in a period that is likely to be marked for a long time by travel restrictions.

In the summer of 2020, dissuasive measures and repeated calls from governments have encouraged local tourism: the majority of French people have spent their vacations in France, a trend that is likely to continue. The main beneficiaries have been regions and properties offering a tailored service and a real guest experience.Thus, tourists are increasingly looking for meaning, which can be brought to them by the destination or by specific policies implemented in hotels.

According to a 2019 TripAdvisor study, 30% of the world's travelers are citybreakers, with 62% of urban travelers between the ages of 35 and 65. This trend has increased as a result of the health crisis, with a search for destinations with historical and cultural offerings, to visit and discover while having fun. It is true that the communication about people stranded on cruise ships at the beginning of the year, as well as on crowded beaches, has had negative repercussions.

Likewise, decisions that seem far removed from the tourism business, such as ecological considerations, which until recently were dear to visiting customers, can also contribute to a responsible brand image. The hoteliers of the Parisian boutique hotel group "Hôtels en Ville", for example, decided, during the lockdown period, to launch a fund to support the health professionals of the Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris (the public healthcare institution gathering all the university hospital centers of Paris), which was generously donated by customers and employees. This social action was particularly appreciated by the people involved, according to Hôtels en Ville's Brand Director Caroline Piel.

ANTICIPATE THE REPERCUSSIONS OF A PREDOMINANTLY FRENCH CLIENTELE

The predominance of a French clientele is not without effect on the activity of the properties, as well as their mode of communication. Destinations accustomed to welcoming an international clientele have had the cruel experience of this, with reduced spending in the summer of 2020. The French are very sensitive to the notion of "bargain", with one in ten having no idea where they are going before they start their search. While price is certainly an important criteria, it would be simplistic to summarize the "bargain" as a "low price". Clients who are forced to travel for business reasons have a smaller budget than leisure tourists, and more than 70% of their budget is usually spent on transportation and accommodation. According to a study conducted by Tripadvisor, 90% of them said they intend to "Bleisure", with 49% already practicing the practice in 2019. The experience thus remains an essential component of the stay. On the other hand, some operators accustomed to working with an international clientele are beginning to perceive a downward trend in their reputation rating on sites such as Booking or Tripadvisor. Indeed, unlike some foreigners, especially Americans, the French do not like extremes and are culturally more reluctant to leave excellent ratings online (5/5 on TripAdvisor or 10/10 on Booking.com); on the other hand, they do not hesitate to put average ratings and use irony in their comments when they are not completely satisfied. Consequently, the lack of foreign customers capable of being enthusiastic weighs on the rating.

With more than 90% of travelers viewing photos and reviews online before booking, E-reputation should no longer be seen as a separate item that simply requires you to respond to online reviews. Although it is by definition only at the end of the chain, it is an integral part of the perception of the value proposition of the properties. It can now only be measured through specialized sites such as Booking.com, Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, because social networks have been integrated into the equation thanks to the need to live "Real Experiences" and especially to privilege "peer feedback". Photos posted by clients and influencers now have almost the same power of conviction as promotional offers. An efficient and regular monitoring of the quality delivered allows to identify potential weak signals in terms of experience to raise the awareness of the operational teams while serving as a potential basis for the next evolutions of the product. These upstream quality measurements are an excellent tool for identifying actionable levers before they impact the product and brand E-Reputation.

On a more positive level, the predominance of a French clientele induces new relationships. Thus, according to Caroline Piel, from Hôtels en Ville, "Some hotels were not at all used to seeing a French clientele; this amuses the team a lot because there are more exchanges, people communicate much more. Today, 95% of our guests are French."

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