How to make sure your favorite hotels make it through this.
Unless you’ve been totally off the grid for the last month (ahem, Jared Leto), you’re probably aware that there’s a coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, completely disrupting the travel world as we know it. The hotel industry, in particular, has been hit hard financially, leading properties to lay off or furlough staff, or simply close their doors—potentially for good. “Despite the big brand names you see, most hotels are owned by small companies or individuals. Hotels are operations that employ lots of people. They have very high fixed costs to operate, and competition is severe,” wrote Standard Hotels CEO Amar Lalvani in a press release. “Profit margins are thin, and have been getting thinner even before this crisis. What that means is modest drops in revenue from things like weather hurt profits. Big drops like the financial crisis, bite hard. Epic drops like the past week, kill.”
Given the shelter-in-place mandates that are in place around the world, most travelers can’t (and shouldn’t) book a stay right now, even if hotels are still open. There are, however, some ways you can help from afar. We’ve spoken to dozens of hotels about the best ways to keep business moving—and to help out their staff—without stepping foot outside your door. While we couldn’t share all their responses here, we urge you to check a hotel’s website or social media profiles to see how you can chip in. “It’s been a tough few months for the industry, but it’s important to remember that the travel industry is resilient and has bounced back from hard times in the past,” says Jade McBride, general manager at Vermejo, a Ted Turner Reserve, in New Mexico. “At its core, travel is all about connecting with communities and cultures and it’s inspiring to see how people around the world are staying connected right now.”
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Don’t Cancel Your Booking Outright—Postpone Your Stay to a Later Date
Postponing your travels rather than canceling them entirely allows hotels to keep your much-needed fees, which can help alleviate some of the financial burden of the lack of bookings. “Those current guests scheduled to come soon, instead of canceling, please reschedule your stay for the future,” says Cathy Ballone, owner of the Long Neck Inn in New York’s Catskills. “We have already lost so much income from COVID-19, and refunding people can be crippling. If you reschedule, we can, of course, put your deposit towards your future date.”
Book a Future Stay
Though many hotels aren’t accepting new reservations for the next few weeks, now’s the time to look much further ahead. Many hotels are offering impressive discounts on or added freebies to bookings made now for dates later this year and early next—plus flexible rates and cancellation policies, which negate the uncertainty about when this pandemic will end. Booking a future stay not only boosts the finances for the hotels but also gives you something to look forward to.
Buy Gift Cards
Some hotels are selling gift cards or vouchers for their restaurants, their spas, or for future stays. “If you’re the overly cautious type–which I totally understand–and don’t want to make specific arrangements without knowing exactly when travel will feel safe again, you can always buy a gift card to your favorite hotel,” says Drew Mailloux, Director of Marketing at InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile. “That way, making plans can be much more flexible and it will also give you something to look forward to when this all ends.”
Chip in to an Employee Fund
With in-house teams losing their jobs, either because their property has closed temporarily or they have been furloughed or laid-off, hotels have been setting up relief funds for their employees through sites like Gofundme (cases in point: Ace Hotels and BodyHoliday in St. Lucia). Check out a hotel’s website and social media profiles to find out if they’re passing around a hat.
Shop Hotels’ Online Boutiques
Many hotel brands sell bedding, robes, spa products, and other souvenirs via online boutiques that are very much open for business during the pandemic. The Four Seasons, for instance, sells everything from its mattresses to its towels online—there’s no better time than during a lockdown to turn your home into a hotel-like sanctuary. And the legendary Raffles Hotel Singapore, which just underwent a head-to-toe renovation over the last two years, sells various goods on its site: loose-leaf teas, vintage-style posters, and even a jigsaw puzzle that’s perfect for #StayAtHome time. Need some aromatherapy to help quell your anxiety? Shop COMO Hotels and Resorts’ collection of essential oils. And some of the more historic properties around the world sell books about their lore, too, so you can at least daydream about traveling there as you flip through their pages.
Donate to Hotels’ Partner Organizations
Hotels often partner with charities and nonprofits, but given the financial situation at hand, they may no longer be able to do so. Take Volcanoes Safaris in Uganda and Rwanda, for instance, which runs the nonprofit Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust. “Without clients, we cannot fund programs such as supporting Batwa children going to school at Gahinga, the Bwindi Bar training school for local youngsters in hospitality, conserving the Kyambura Gorge Buffer zone, and providing water tanks for local householders at Virunga,” says owner Praveen Moman, whose company is taking donations to the trust.
The economic downturn in the industry is also affecting wildlife conservation efforts. “Gorilla and chimpanzee tourism brings much-needed revenue to the national parks, conservation organizations, and local people,” says Moman. “If that tourism stops, as it has done overnight with the coronavirus, all these elements are at risk. The park authorities cannot perform the vital work of safeguarding national parks, preventing poaching, and maintaining infrastructure.”
In some cases, hotels are even the primary source of revenue for certain organizations the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York. “The Gray Barn inn was funded by a foundation to be a sustainable stream of revenue for the animal sanctuary, who is a nonprofit and 100 percent donor-based,” says the sanctuary’s executive director Rachel McCrystal. “Each stay at The Gray Barn goes directly to the 400 rescued farmed animal residents that live at Woodstock Sanctuary.” (You can donate to the sanctuary here.)
Order Takeout Meals From Hotel Restaurants (If They’re Open)
Even with a stay-at-home order by the government, you’re allowed to leave your house—while practicing safe social distancing, of course—for certain reasons, including buying food. If you live near a hotel with a restaurant, see if you can order take-out or delivery from it. “The margins in restaurants are thin to begin with, and pivoting to become a to-go-only restaurant is challenging and expensive,” says Joe Bartolomei, co-owner at the Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma County, California. “Support the local guys that are really trying to make it work and keep a few of their team employed.”
Some hotels are even offering specials through their restaurants. “We recently launched curbside takeout called ‘Mansion at Home,’” says Keith Chouinard, director of sales and marketing at the Chanler at Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island. “For the first time ever, people can enjoy our restaurant’s dining experience in the comfort of their own home. Each day, executive chef Jacob Jasinski creates a new three-course dinner menu. Ordering takeout allows us to support our culinary team and local suppliers.”
Leave Positive Reviews Online
If you’re not able to help a hotel financially, you can still leave a positive review online, which can have a lasting impact. “If you’ve ever had a great experience at a property but never had the time to submit a review for it, now is the perfect opportunity to do so,” says Mailloux. “Reviews help how hotels show up in certain search engines, like Google or TripAdvisor, with the highest-ranking business displaying at the top. Reviews also allow hotels to give team members praise, which in today’s climate can be the difference between a bad day and a great day. Never underestimate the power of your words.”
Engage With a Hotel on Social Media
Given that many people are in self-isolation to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, social media activity has picked up more than ever. Hotels encourage former guests to share their memories online, not only as a way to keep people’s spirits lifted but also a way to spread word-of-mouth about their properties, which could lead to future bookings.
“Any user-generated content is what we welcome right now,” says Christine Gaudenzi, Director of Sales and Marketing for The Family Coppola Hideaways. “We’re encouraging our guests to post stories, photos, and videos on their social platforms and tag our properties. We urge them to share fond memories from visits, whether it’s interacting with our staff, our local culture, the unique experiences and sharing that they look forward to returning.”
There might even be a special perk for people who engage with hotels on social media. “In terms of hope for travel after the pandemic, we are executing an Instagram competition called #StayInsidewithSorrel, which encourages guests to post what they would wear for a ‘day of hiking at neighboring Canyonlands National Park,’ all while staying inside,” says Dan Waters, Vice President of Hotel Management and Development, at Sorrel River Ranch in Moab, Utah. “The winner of the competition will receive a complimentary two-night stay at the hotel when it’s acceptable to travel again.”
This is utter bullpucky. Hundred of thousands, if not millions, of people have lost their jobs to COVID19, and frankly none of us can afford to float a trillion-dollar industry by allowing them to hold our cancelled trip money.