Kingly comeback VS. lose-lose bloodbath

How restaurants and hotels can survive and even thrive despite the curse of COVID-19

Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone globally. Thailand, as much as it is praised by other nations for its ability, as we speak, to contain the spread of COVID-19, is no exception. Undeniably, the tourism and hospitality industries were the first to experience a significant drop in business from the very early stage of Covid-19. Though the situation has seemed to improve in Thailand the number of infected patients around the world has been on the rise and growing.

The top questions for most everyone now are, ‘how long can Thailand stay in its own bubble for?' and ‘Will there be a second wave? (or when?)'.  While those questions remain unanswered, businesses and their employees have had to react and to adapt to survive on a monthly, if not weekly basis.  Some have succeeded, some have failed, and some got lucky.

It is definitely not too late for restaurants and hotels to take another strategic swing at the ‘comeback' action plan in order to get back on track as quickly, and sustainably, as possible.  Though having heard repetitive talk of ‘the new normal' (or ‘the current abnormal') and the 2nd wave that has been hidden underwater for three months, we in the hospitality business know that we are naturally one of a few things closest to the people's lives, if not their hearts.  People have still got to travel, to eat, and we know that Bangkokians dine & wine in style passionately as a way of life.   Hence, restaurants have been known to bounce back 'quicker'.  Hotels, on the other hand, depending on the location in order to accommodate the domestic travel hype.  Yet, coming with the quick comeback is fierce competition, and mostly in desperate ways.

Hoteliers & Restauranteurs  VS.  Customers: ROUND 1!

What feels like business as usual for restaurants for the past month or two may have left restaurateurs blindsided by the bottom-line numbers.  Top-line numbers such as covers, likes, or calls do not matter at the end of a payroll day.  The promotion war is taking over the entire country.  Customers are beyond spoiled.  They would not push that ‘order' button without having applied some sort of deals or promo code.  Great for consumers, but sellers…..S.O.S.!   Well-planned and tactical branding and marketing communications plans are urgently in need.

Comparably, hotels and resorts have developed a similar quick-fix approach to things.  Many are drowning in the Staycation Discount campaigns, some of which unarguably help with brand awareness within the local market while hotels hopefully wait for the Travel Bubbles to form so that room revenues will slowly crawl back up.  

Many hoteliers seem to lose track when situations are uncertain as their priority is to focus on this month's P&L.  Instead, they should look ahead, focus, and prepare for the today's travelers' needs when hotels can open up and welcome them; be it an unprecedentedly flexible cancellation policy or an understanding that a clean and safe stay has become one of the expected features now, similar to in-room amenities, and nothing to be overly proud about.   Non-Bangkok hotels can get creative with mid-week travel campaigns as there still are affluent groups of people out there that can work from anywhere, or do not work at all. They have the luxury of time and money. Tap them.

Financially, with the touchless technology that some hotels are implementing throughout the guest's journey within the hotel, the number of staff can be reduced.  What can hotels do with that leftover fund? Better communications? Investment in technology?  Something to think about.  Hoteliers, too, require serious marketing planning and budgeting with these things in mind.  The hospitality industry, especially hotels, is sadly known for applying the same approach to marketing for decades. Perhaps now it is an opportunity to disrupt.

Must-Must Before the Rush

Some pieces of advice from five months of research, brainstorming, and listening hard to the actual pain and gain out there in the market.

First things first, THINK 'today's customers'.  If you still think that they will be reached the same way, and react to your so-called promotions or social media posts the same way, you're already packed to go out the door. By today's customers, this means touchless, prompt, convenient, deal-centric (but it doesn't always have to be Buy 1 Get 1 Yikes), and of course safe and clean.

Then, before you start on any marketing campaigns (or spending), evaluate the current situation first; both internally and externally.  The key is to identify your unique selling points (or create one) and look outside to see what the competition is doing.  DO NOT just dust off your previous marketing plan and ‘go with it'.

  • Take an opportunity to re-align the marketing communications structure during this comeback period in order to move quickly.
  • Construct an executive summary with emphasis on re-launching your hotel or restaurant after COVID-19 and related communications plan.  An executive summary will involve several parties that could help the comeback more effectively.
  • Re-establish overall business plan integrating marketing communications with other departments' plans.
  • Brush up on branding and brand positioning on hand and enhance them to adapt to the new era of marketing communications that will surely evolve after consumers have familiarised themselves with during the Covid-19
  • Think up a BIG Bang comeback campaign involving BIG bang communications for BIG recovery.

Basically, get into the consumers' shoes, hitting their pain points and their needs, and create a very specific and targeted marketing plan both online and offline to promote hotel offerings both local and international.  You are a consumer, too.  You know it!

About the author: By Panasporn (Pam) Nopasri, Managing Director & Founder of PaM++ (Pam Plus Plus), a leading Branding and Marketing Communications agency.

Pam is a veteran in the hospitality industry specializing in effective, connected, and realistic marketing plans and strategy. She has led PaM++'s team in working with various international hotels, hotel brands as well as lifestyle products.  Her success stories involve new hotel and restaurant openings and/or re-branding projects, project launches, branding & brand positioning strategic consultancy.  

About the author: A winner of CMO Asia's Thailand Women Leaders 2018  and The Most influential Global Marketing Leader 2019, by World Marketing Congress, Pam is a keynote speaker at prominent associations, corporations, and universities in Thailand on topics relating to branding and marketing communications.