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Hotel Advice: Villa Buena Onda, Costa Rica

Seven Things for Hotels to do During Lockdown

Costa Rica travel and hospitality expert Richard Bexon offers advice for hoteliers during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s no time for hotels to panic, he says. It’s time to take stock, reevaluate, rebuild, and get ready for life on the other side of lockdown.

As a co-owner of both Central America’s Namu Travel Group and Costa Rica’s Villa Buena Onda, I spend a lot of time in hotels. Well, I used to anyway, before COVID-19.

Nowadays, I’m at home in Costa Rica thinking about hotels rather than staying in them. I’m thinking about how we can get a head start when things open up for guests again.

Here are seven things hotels could be doing for the next 30-180 days while the lockdown lasts.

1. Replace your property management system (PMS)

Replacing your entire property management system is no light task. So if you’re unhappy or frustrated with whatever you’ve been using, what better time than now to do it?

Think of it this way – replacing your PMS while you have no guests means you won’t impact their experience at all.

In the hospitality industy, a PMS is software designed to help take care of a hotel’s general administration. PMS software makes running a hotel easier. Its functions include front desk management, reservations, occupancy management, and payment processing among other tasks that used to be handled manually.

Hotel marketing and revenue expert Maria Jose Perez says choosing the right PMS isn’t difficult if you know your strengths and weaknesses. It all comes down to your specific needs.

Think long-term when choosing or changing your PMS. It should carry you and your business for the next 5-10 years and help you stay on top of technological improvements.

2. Implement or change your channel manager

If you’re working with an online travel agent (OTA) like Booking or Expedia, you might want to look at a better way to manage your rates and availability automatically through a channel manager.

I recommend looking at Siteminder.

Also if you have a channel manager and they havn’t given you a break or helped over the past couple of months, you may want to look for a better partner.

3. Optimize your website

This is the most important part of any business as without it you don’t get any clients.

Although many hotels are dependent on OTAs, now could be the time to optimise your sales and marketing funnel. What I mean by this is look at your website and optimize it. Get an SEO audit and apply the changes they advise you to. Do some A/B web testing and make sure you get to your inquiries fast to sell the client.

If you want more direct clients (other than those through OTAs), you’ll want to optimize your website to drive people to contact you and/or book directly online with you.

For a free website audit I recommend Neil Patel. He’s a great resource for anyone even remotely interested in optimizing their sites. 

4. Data tracking

“It’s amazing how few hotels and tourism companies have good data,” says data analyst Daniel Myers.

“Data on who their clients are, how efficient their processes are, and how much they’re spending to get a direct client.”

Now is a great time to either build a data lake (a database where all your data sits and you can pull reports from) or start using data analytics tools like Power BI.

5. Build more rooms/expand

This may sound crazy right now, but think about it.

When you do construction work in normal times, you often have to close or partially close, causing significant loss of income. 

Construction work also negatively impacts your guest experience. No-one wants to sit by the pool with the sound of a jackhammer in the backgound, no matter how discreet you think you’re being.

So why not get that work you’ve been meaning to do over and done with now, while there are no guests to annoy?

The Springs Resort in Arenal, Costa Rica decided there was no better time than now to build, and construction has never been cheaper. They’re adding over 20 rooms during the downtime.

6. COVID-proof your hotel

Okay, okay, I know that’s not possible. Not unless you bubblewrap your hotel in PPE and don’t let anyone in or out for, like, forever. But here’s what you can do. 

You can take a look at post-COVID travel trend forecasts and see how they match with your hotel right now. I realize none of us have a crystal ball, but check out publications like Skift to see what others are doing.

Network with other hoteliers around the world. See what they’re thinking. What will post-COVID travel look like?          

Maybe you’ll want to make your rooms easier to clean. Maybe you’ll want to rethink your breakfast buffet or the mini-bar. Can clients “socially distance” at your hotel? Should you provide fewer guests with a better experience? What can you do at your hotel to put future guests at ease? 

Travel on the other side of this pandemic will look different, at least initially. Prepare for that and make your hotel as welcoming as possible to people who want to travel again, but might be nervous about it.

7. Build up your reviews so there’s no gap for the next few months

Go back to your past clients and ask them for reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, and social media. You could even offer them, say, $50 off a future stay for their review if they book in the next few months. This way you get reviews and new bookings.

Make it look like you’re the only hotel active during this crisis. It’ll pay dividends going forward. That also goes for keeping your social media active. Don’t disappear. 

I hope these thoughts have given you some ideas on what you can do as a hotel owner to improve your business in the coming months.

Although we don’t know when this crisis will end and people will travel again, we know that it will and they will. It’s worth using this time to not rest on your laurels. Get active on your business and your hotel can bounce back on the other side of this stronger than ever.

What other things should hoteliers be doing during this time? I’d love to know. Drop us a line in the comments with your suggestions.

Richard Bexon has lived in Costa Rica since 2002 and is a co-owner of the Namu Travel Group.

Richard Bexon

Richard Bexon

Richard has traveled all over the world but has called Costa Rica home since 2002. He's an avid cyclist, football player, and triathlete, competing in races and competitions all over Central America. When he's not training or competing in triathlons, Richard looks after all aspects of operations in the company he co-owns, the Namu Travel Group. He also owns the cycling franchise Bicibox Costa Rica.