The weather is warming. Vaccination rates are increasing. And hopes are flying high for travel.
After a year of lockdowns, work from home, and remote learning, Americans are ready to go on some new adventures. Nearly 95% of the respondents to a Hilton survey plan to travel as soon as restrictions are lifted, while two-thirds vow to make their bucket list trips a reality.
At the end of the second week of March, Over 10% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated for the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. is administering more than 2.1 million shots per day.
The CDC still recommends that Americans not travel at this time and maintains this page for travel recommendations by location. Even with 1 out of 10 Americans being fully vaccinated -- experts say that number is far below the approximate 70% to 90% of the population that is needed for herd immunity. However, the situation is fluid, and things could change for the better in the coming weeks and months, according to the CDC.
Spurred by the hope the vaccine is bringing, people are planning what some are calling "vaccination celebration" trips. More than a dozen travel companies and organizations told The Washington Post that their bookings for the second half of this year are steadily picking up and that reservations for 2022 travel are surging.
On March 3, CNBC's Jim Cramer called the travel industry's expected recovery a "sky's-the-limit situation." On the program "Squawk on the Street," Cramer predicted,
"It's going to be a boom here in this country, and I don't think people are ready for it." - Jim Cramer, CNBC
These studies and headlines are welcome news for the travel and hospitality industry, which is among the hardest hit by the pandemic. But after months of setbacks, how can these companies prepare for the new post-COVID traveler? In this article, we will offer some guidance for three segments of the travel industry: vacation rental marketplaces, hotels, and small businesses in tourist areas.
Vacation rental marketplaces
According to CNBC’s Cramer, even people who have been vaccinated and want to travel again may still feel more comfortable staying in rental lodgings for the near future. That's good news for vacation rental marketplaces like Airbnb and VRBO.
Yet, these companies will need to attract more inventory to keep up with the new demands. And scaling the photography for many new listings can be challenging. Snappr, the online professional photography service, can help you accomplish this task with ease.
During the pandemic, virtual tours have taken off as a safe way to see properties without actually being there. Vacation rental marketplaces can set themselves apart by including professionally-taken virtual tours of their premium listings.
In an interview with the Today show, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said that cleanliness has been a top concern for U.S. travelers during the pandemic. Last year Airbnb instituted a rigorous cleaning protocol and asked owners to include a minimum of a 24-hour between guests. Images and videos that clearly show a rental home's cleanliness will continue to be crucial for post-COVID bookings.
The short-term vacation rental industry was booming before the COVID shut-downs put it on hold. According to a January 2020 report by CBRE, the industry was set to expand to 650,000 actively rented units in the U.S. last year, equal to 12.2 percent of the country’s hotel-room supply.
By the time the summer of 2020 rolled around, many families were once again turning to short-term rental to take domestic vacations. “The vacation rental industry is positioning as social-distancing friendly,” Joseph DiTomaso, a co-founder of the rental search engine AllTheRooms, told The New York Times in a May 2020 interview. “A lot of renters don’t even meet the owner. You get a security code instead.”
Although bookings still lag begins pore-COVID levels, the vacation rental marketplace is poised to rebound this year. “Airbnb has capitalized on increased vacation rental consumer demand and is outperforming its peers," according to Alisha Kapur, a travel industry consultant, in a February interview published in The Street. “More importantly, the start of 2021 has proved that Airbnb is poised for a stronger recovery than almost any other travel brand.”
Even after widespread vaccination and the longed-for herd immunity has taken hold, many travelers will still be leery of hotel common spaces -- like elevators and lobbies -- for some time to come. Hotel managers need to find new ways to entice vacationers back to their rooms and other facilities after things have opened up again. Many experts believe that hotel owners need to emphasize their cleanliness and spaciousness.
Updated photos of attractive but socially-distant pool decks and spacious outdoor seating will continue to have appeal to vacationers for some time to come. Other ideas might be offers of free face masks and hand sanitizer to guests upon check-in.
But hotels can go the extra mile by being generous with cancellation policies and upgrades and by putting excellent customer relations into action. “Job number one for travel brand managers is to be kind,” Chekitan Dev, a professor in the hotel school at Cornell University, told The New York Times in an interview.
Guests also will appreciate hygienic perks like apps for contactless arrival and check-out and digital keys. New technology will also help guests feel safer in their rooms. For example, some hotels are allowing guests to connect their phones to room TVs, eliminating the need for a shared remote. Others are removing all non-essential items like shampoo, magazines, and decorative pillows.
And virus-killing robots may even be part of the hotel cleaning regimen! The Westin Houston Medical Center now has two germ-killing robots "on staff" to help clean its 273 rooms. The robots use ultraviolet light to disinfect room surfaces and amenities.
Tips to win travelers over
Whether you are a hotel, vacation rental marketplace, or mom-and-pop B&B dependent on tourism, here are some ways you can set yourself apart from your competitors as the world moves closer to normalcy.
• Create positive energy – Stay on top of the news in your area so you can let guests know the latest about their entertainment options as things continue to open up. Create a guide with hours and health and safety guidelines for nearby attractions like museums, aquariums, zoos, and parks. Update your list frequently with news on what locations are currently open and projected dates for others to re-open to help guests plan their trips.
• Double down on social media posts and images. Vacationers will continue to want assurances that the places they visit are safe. High-quality photos are the best way to show them what health and safety protocols are in place in these locations. You also can create interest and excitement by making frequent upbeat social media posts accompanied by professional images. No matter what your travel-related business is, you'll want to create a "wow" factor for potential visitors.
• Whet their appetites. Let's face it -- people are sick of eating at home. Everyone is eager to try new foods and new restaurants. Promote the outdoor dining options at your hotel and the ones close to your rental location. Feature quality photos of mouth-watering meals served at socially-distant tables in beautiful, relaxing settings. Food is a big part of travel, so you’ll definitely get some attention with these images.
• Partner with other local businesses. Think about some of the nearby businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Why not combine promotional efforts with them to entice vacationers to your neck of the woods? For example, you could attract people who have been longing for adventure over the past year by marketing small group tours and experiences along with your bookings. Or you could help out a small cafe by including their picnic lunches as part of the excursions you offer.
• Make offers too good to pass up. Encourage travelers to book early with enticing package deals and discounts. Of course, the events of the past year have made everyone reluctant about booking too far in advance. Those fears are bound to stay with us for a while. So, promote your flexible refund and rebooking policies as a way to boost your guests’ confidence in making reservations.
Let's face it -- people are sick of staring at the same old four walls. All of us long to "return to normal,” but it's safe to say that vacationing in 2021 and even into 2022 will be different than vacationing in 2019 and earlier.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg.com, Brooke Lavery, a high-end travel consultant, said that destinations that offer outdoor settings and activities that are naturally socially distant are proving to be popular with her clients. "People want to start out with remote places, where they can be outside most of the time," she explained.
As of mid-March, the CDC has not released updated safety guidelines for Americans who have been fully vaccinated. Current guidelines urge everyone to wear face masks, social distance, and avoid crowds. And, although many Americans are ready to spread their wings after being fully vaccinated, many travel restrictions still exist.
Like many other industries these days, tourism is at a crossroads. The companies that succeed will need to remain nimble and adjust to their customers' needs as we move further away from crisis mode.
If you'd like to learn more about how professional photography can help you boost your travel- or hospitality-related business, contact Snappr today. Our team of international photographers and image editors is second to none. And, the best part is that a photographer can be at your door ready to go for a professional photoshoot in as little as two hours!