Jennifer HawkinsJennifer Hawkins

It seems like ages ago that the travel industry came to a halt as the world locked down to flatten the curve of coronavirus. Yet, it’s only been four months. Now, with local economies reopening and summer shining down on the Northern Hemisphere, it’s high time for hotels, resorts, travel operators and other hospitality-related businesses to reach out and let travelers know they’re ready to welcome them again, albeit with considerations.

Hotels have long strived to play host to travelers under all kinds of conditions, but in this time of uncertainty, that role must be executed with an unparalleled level of attention. Guests are eager to resume traveling, visit their favorite hotels and explore new destinations. And with this increased demand, we’re witnessing an incredible transformation. Hotels are welcoming a new era of hospitality, reinventing themselves to ensure that today’s traveler is safe, and at the same time, having a genuinely enjoyable experience.

Many hospitality companies have turned this crisis into an opportunity, using our “pandemic pause” to address necessary protocols and details—from instituting and training employees on new cleanliness techniques and technologies to remodeling public spaces such as lobbies, restaurants and pool decks—in an effort to welcome back guests in search of a much-needed change of scenery.

For the hospitality brands that dove deep into their local communities and offered assistance to first responders and others who put their lives on the line in the chaotic early days of the pandemic, their initial generosity is paying off in brand equity and positive awareness. While we’ve taken notice of the room giveaways and commitments to loyal staff, not all consumers have. Without an effective communications strategy, many travelers aren’t aware of the incredible behind-the-scenes efforts that have taken place over the last several months, or the experience that awaits them in this new climate. We know from experience that one of the best ways to get the word out about your reopening plans is to embrace a smart and simple social media strategy from the C-Suite down.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '20 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine.

Interestingly, with everyone in lockdown for so many months, one of the many effects of the pandemic was the deepening of users’ immersion in social media at a moment when society had just begun to question it. Remember “screen detoxes?” Well, connection-starved users are now turning to technology to socialize, learn new skills, keep apprised of local announcements and tune into the never-ending 24/7 news cycle. What’s more, social media is the first stop for people to engage with their favorite brands. Worldwide, 44 percent of social media users say they’re now spending more time on social media platforms. In March alone, Facebook saw growth of over five million new active users, while Instagram gained four million. Your target audiences are growing online and it’s more crucial than ever to capture, inform and entertain them.

As an agency, we’re spreading the word about upcoming hotel openings to the “traditional” travel, food and lifestyle media. But we’re seeing that with things changing so rapidly, our hospitality clients are finding their social media platforms are the best way to communicate timely and immediate information—and their followers are rewarding them.

When relaying a reopening via social media, keep in mind that everyone has had their own personal experience with the pandemic. That experience may be ongoing and shaped by local policies in their state, so the details you communicate should be honed for general audiences. People emerging from lockdown are likely to be just as cautious as they are excited about travel, so there’s no need to push them into booking a room, table or tour. It’s always nice to offer some wanderlust travel content to get people thinking about their next getaway.

It’s important to be both honest about your hopes to draw guests, and realistic about the pandemic-aware hospitality you’ll provide them with upon arrival. If your resort now has socially-distanced seating around the pool or barriers to separate front desk personnel from arriving guests, let people know about it in a clever way that forms a connection and sparks a conversation.

There are a wide range of social media platforms that travel brands can utilize to grow and engage audiences, but the hottest at the moment—TikTok—isn’t necessarily the best bet for luxury hotels. While your guests might be using it while they visit—especially if they have teens with them—the platform’s demographic tends to skew very young. While the platforms your travel company used prior to the lockdown might seem like obvious choices given their already established audiences, the content you provide now has likely changed, so don’t be afraid to dip a toe into a different platform.

Start by identifying where the audiences you desire to attract spend the most time and engage most often. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular platforms and tips to build engagement on each of them:

Instagram is the darling of consumers and tastemakers and reaches everyone from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Successful Instagram accounts unfold like a brochure with seamless imagery and vocabulary in keeping with branding. Be sure to emphasize unique selling propositions that might cater to nervous travelers, and use Instagram Live for content to appeal to wanderlust or a desire for space, such as waves crashing on the beach at sunset, or recently acquired selections from the wine cellar. These moments of travel bliss will help inspire your audience to book their next trip and keep you top of mind.

Facebook is beloved by Baby Boomers and allows for lengthier posts and in-depth information. Typical posts that do well are articles and items that link elsewhere. Facebook Live is good for promoting personalities in action: say, the Golf Pro offering tips on sinking a putt on 11, or the Exec Chef demonstrating a new dish to go with a perfect wine pairing.

YouTube is good for short video content to offer travelers an immersive glimpse before they commit. Engaging, high-quality video is key to conveying your offerings, though it’s best to keep things under two minutes, as there’s so much else out there. According to Forbes, companies that use video content see a 41 percent increase in traffic through web searches compared with those that don’t.

TikTok has been on the minds of many of late for good reason: It’s all about entertainment. The platform’s popularity has skyrocketed among influencers trying to push themselves creatively during the lockdown. Though you may not want to allocate limited marketing and social media resources to a new platform now, you should at least be paying attention. Start by creating a TikTok account for your brand so you can reserve your brand handle and activate a content strategy when the time is right.

Twitter holds a special place for messaging on leadership and brand news, but Twitter accounts take time, and if you don’t have that time, your travel business could miss out on a lot of other opportunities. Nothing’s more off-putting to a traveler than an abandoned social media account.

LinkedIn is the platform to build a thought leadership profile. Best for industry insights, assuming you can post regularly, by which I mean weekly. It’s also a great place to see what others in your industry are up to and a place to share more formal company announcements.

Once you’ve selected platforms to invest your brand time toward reopening, plan your communications strategy. Start by mapping out FAQ documents, so when potential customers ask pointed questions about your business—“What’s your hygiene policy?” “Can you advise on cancellations?”—you’ll have ready and consistent answers.

It’s also important to remain transparent on social media. This means don’t delete comments (negative or positive). Instead, respond publicly with the facts and offer an invitation to continue the conversation. Figure out in advance who should be notified to handle crises comments, and who will have final sign off on public responses. Keep things honest and transparent, and defuse situations rather than drag them out on a public page. And be sure to update your website with new protocols and link the COVID-19 FAQ page within your social media presence for easy access.

Reopening a travel business in the midst of an industry-crushing pandemic is a new challenge, but communications pros, just like any seasoned hotel manager, have seen their share of crises and know what they’re doing.


Jennifer Hawkins is President of Hawkins International Public Relations.