HB Exclusive: Looking for Local Business is Key to Recovery

NATIONAL REPORT—Smart decision-making can help the hospitality industry get through the current pandemic, according to advice and research from Knowland, a provider of meetings market data and analytics for hotels, convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), convention centers and other meeting venues.

“Each day brings new challenges as organizations cancel conferences, businesses suspend travel and airlines cut services related to the spread of the coronavirus and its new official label as a ‘pandemic,’” said Kristi White, VP of product management, Knowland. “These strategies are proactively trying to manage the situation. It’s more about taking control to prevent community spread and halt the dissemination of the virus than panic. So, let’s treat it that way. It’s good decision-making. If we all do our jobs, we will contain the virus, stop it in its tracks and return to normalcy quicker than expected.”

White said the best way to do this is stay calm and prepare for local, smaller business. “Today, many of the restrictions established are around cross-border travel and with an expiration date of approximately eight weeks,” she said. “Obviously, this could extend but it does show companies are hoping for the best outcome.”

History Sets the Stage: Global vs. Local Views

To offer some perspective on the possible recovery, Knowland looked at data from the SARS outbreak of 2003. The full cycle from alert to recovery took just around four months. “After the World Health Organization (WHO) issued the global alert on March 12, 2003, occupancy bottomed out in May of 2003,” said White. “However, by July of 2003, the market had stabilized and was within 11 points of the prior year, and by August 2003, the market had exceeded the prior year occupancy.”

As the chart below indicates, the recovery period was a perfect “V” shape.

“If this same pattern were to repeat, we should see the Chinese region begin to recover sometime in May,” she said. “Currently, new cases in China have dropped to less than 0.10% per day, while cases outside of China have continued to grow with the seven-day average of new cases hovering at 15.6% day-over-day increase. This means there is cause for caution but not panic. Looking at the global numbers makes it easy to overreact, but realistically, we should be looking and responding locally.”

Knowland examined the number of events by global region in the weeks since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic (Jan. 30, 2020), then compared those to the same day pattern from the prior year (Monday – Sunday). Additionally, the company only considered hotels it collected data from during the same period in 2019.

The table below displays the percentage of change for each week by region. In the first week after the announcement, each global region is either flat or well ahead of the prior year. Performance then weakens as the news and the virus spread with each progressing week.

“We also looked at the performance for January by region to see if the trends of the last five weeks were part of a larger pattern or related to the pandemic,” said White. “The bottom row of the table below reflects the percentage of change in January 2020 by region.”

These numbers set the stage by region, but what does this look like when you unpack it into individual markets? For its purposes, Knowland focused on the last week in the range. “Our first task was to look at performance based upon the type of market: gateway, primary, secondary and tertiary. Europe was the only global region with growth,” she said.

Market Type Americas Asia Pacific Europe Middle East
Gateway -35.4% -76.2% -41.5% -54.5%
Primary -34.3% -9.5% -57.3% N/A
Secondary -29.2% -52.9% -48.1% -77.8%
Tertiary -32.2% N/A 12.5% N/A

“Furthermore, we examined individual markets,” she said. “Some 115 of the 179 markets (compared to 130 for the week of March 2 – 8, 2020) we track were down for the week of March 9 – 15, 2020. On both sides of the spectrum, the losses were mixed across the type of market. This is indicative of the first flush of panic from companies. We anticipate this will stabilize in coming weeks.”

Impact by Business Type: Corporate Business May be Recouped

Knowland looked at what types of business drove the declines. “Corporate and social business were the primary culprits,” said White. “Social is not surprising as much of it is discretionary spending. However, this business will likely not be recouped.”

She continued, “On the other hand, corporate should be tracked carefully as it has more potential to rebook, whether exactly as-is or as smaller versions across multiple markets. Capturing that potential lies with each individual property.”

How Hoteliers Can Prepare

With the above trends and indicators in mind, hoteliers have the information to make good decisions.  Here are the questions to consider:

  • How many cancellations have you received?
  • What’s the timeframe for the cancellations (90 days, greater than 90 days, etc.)?
  • What’s the average size/value of those cancellations?
  • Are they canceling or rescheduling to later in the year?
  • Have you received any short-term bookings during this timeframe?
  • What’s the nature of those bookings?

“Chances are, your hotel has experienced a run of cancellations, especially if you are in a gateway or primary market,” said White. “Those cancellations are likely within a 90-day (or less) horizon. Now is the time to focus your sales teams. Focus on local meetings and the business that still exists.”

There are three things guaranteed to happen in the coming weeks:

  • Inbound RFPs will slow if not trickle to a halt
  • Passive hotels dependent on those RFPs will struggle
  • Hotels with the strongest local relationships will prosper during and beyond recovery

“The major events will cancel, and hotels have no control over that,” she said. “Now is the time for your sales teams to focus on developing what will replace those large events.”

White offered sales strategies that can help capture the business in local markets:

  • Many larger events will likely be replaced with smaller, regional meetings. Companies will choose to have meetings within drive markets that allow them to limit exposure for their employees, but still offer face-to-face meetings that foster collaboration and team engagement.
  • Add a Live Stream to a local event; hotels can partner with A/V providers to create virtual meeting environments that are interactive and safe by bringing in remote attendees using video technology.
  • Enable speakers to present remotely; no need to cancel if you can help your planner facilitate a remote speaker with Skype or Zoom meetings over WiFi.

“Think small, act local,” she said. “This is where your team will need to focus. Companies with offices in your market will be the epicenter of these meetings. Fostering your local relationships with those companies will position your hotel to benefit from these events.”

Develop a specific action plan geared toward uncovering, researching and targeting all local businesses in the area, she said.

“Panic at times like these is somewhat inevitable. Misinformation and general trepidation will drive early cancellations,” said White. “However, as the situation stabilizes, companies will settle and allow business to return to normal. Hotels who don’t panic and prepare with local strategies will benefit the most.”

Keep Calm and Prepare for Local, Smaller Business

Conditions will likely worsen before they stabilize, White cautioned. “The most important strategy hotels can employ is to focus your sales teams on the right type of business for the environment we are in,” she said. “That means sales teams should still be selling, developing relationships and prospecting. The only thing to consider changing is where you focus. Localization in your sales processes is the key to minimizing COVID-19 impact to your meeting business in the short term.”

She continued, “Developing local business will not only give hoteliers the cushion to survive the coronavirus scare, but also provide a foundation for long-term business relationships that will grow beyond this blip in hotel industry growth.”