Coronavirus has reached the U.S. and people are starting to worry. Amidst the stockpiling of toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, innkeepers are starting to get cancellations. In the case of places with large events that are being cancelled, this can be a massive hit. What can you do to protect your business during this time? Here are some suggestions:
Cancellation policies - You need to decide what you're going to do if someone cancels outside your normal cancellation policy due to Coronavirus fears. Some inns have a strict no refunds within 2 weeks policy, some offer vouchers, some allow refunds - each inn is different. If you are going to do anything different than your normal policy, you must put it in writing on your website. For example, Marriott has announced special cancellation penalty waivers for guests traveling from some areas. Some airlines are allowing refunds for cancelled flights. AirBnB and Booking.com have polices for refunds for cancellations based on specific criteria. One of our innkeeper clients has decided that if a large event in his area is cancelled, he will not offer refunds. Another innkeeper believes that the bad reviews coming from such a decision would affect him far longer than trying to work with the guest and make them happy. However you decide to handle it, get it in writing on your website and reservation system.
Travel Insurance - Most travel insurance policies do not cover cancellations over Coronavirus fears, but policies will generally cover travel losses due to illness. If a guest purchases travel insurance, and becomes ill, they can file a claim for the lost deposit/booking fee. TravelGuard has recently issued an advisory covering frequently asked questions. Some policies that offer CFAR (cancel for any reason) will pay in the event of fears over the virus.
Hotel Business Insurance - Whether you can claim losses for Coronoavirus cancellations will depend on your policy. You should check with your agent and read your policy. You may be able to add coverage for business interruption, or catastrophic coverage- make sure, however, that those polices cover losses for cancelled bookings from Coronovirus. After the SARS and Zika epidemics, many companies precluded those types of losses from their business interruption coverage, or specified that the losses must be direct, physical losses.
Prevention Program - What are you doing to keep Coronavirus at bay? Transparency is important. Let potential guests know what you do to keep your inn safe. Most innkeepers live on the property, which means this is their home too, and they’re going to do all they can to keep their home clean and sanitized. Let prospective guests know about your cleaning regimen, including which products you use, like disinfectants, hand sanitizers, gloves and masks, air purifiers, cleaning procedures for meal prep and housekeeping, etc. Include this information on your website, in a blog post, on social media, on the phone, etc., explaining steps you are taking to reduce contagion. For example, that you clean all non-porous surfaces with a 10-1 water/bleach solution, or you wear gloves to prepare breakfast or provide hand sanitizer in common areas. The Beachmere Inn has posted a notice on Facebook explaining what they are doing, with a very positive reaction from current and potential guests. For your website, consider adding a pop-up that says, “Covid-19 Precautions: Cleanliness and sanitary practices have always been a priority at our B&B. However, since some coronaviruses can survive on surfaces for up to nine days, we’ve taken the following extra precautions…”
Cleaning & Sanitizing Tips:
- Offer hand sanitizer in every room.
- Offer hot sanitizing wash cloths before breakfast each morning.
- Air out each guest room between guests, and air out common rooms daily.
- Run a diffuser with antiviral and antibacterial essential oils.
- Switch from a buffet counter to serving breakfast, snacks, drinks, etc.
- Run an air purifier in each room.
- Sanitize every surface and object, including easy-to-miss spots like light switches, alarm clocks, curtain/blind wands, remote controls, etc.
- Use mattress and pillow protectors and wash after each guest.
- Use the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher.
- Wash shower curtains and liners after each guest.
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and discard after cleaning each room.
Add-ons, Not Discounts - Local travel will be less affected than international or even in-country travel. Rather than discounting your rates, consider add-ons to promote stays at your inn.
Don't Stop Marketing - In anxious times, you might think the first thing to go should be your marketing program - but consider that this too shall pass, and then you will be left with no program in place, and struggling to catch up. Consider local ads in Facebook or Google, and keep doing what you're doing.
Acorn Advantage Plan Clients - If you are an Acorn Advantage Plan Level 2 and up member, we will be discussing all of this at the next Club 60 webinar. If you are Level 3 or 4, discuss with your project manager - Level 1 or 2, if you have questions, contact Brandi Neely.
If you would like to do some additional reading on what to do during the outbreak, here are some resources:
AH&LA - The Facts About Coronavirus
Sherri Kimes - How Can Hotels Survive the Coronavirus?
HotelBusiness.com: Updated: COVID-19 Impact Deepens
Coronavirus: How Google is Helping
Suggested Resources from ALP (Association of Lodging Professionals)