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Building Consumer Confidence in the Tourism and Hospitality Industries

By Julie Glover, Professional in Residence

Worldwide, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the tourism and hospitality industries, and the length of economic recovery is still unknown. Tourism and hospitality play an important role in the local economies of many communities. As businesses start to slowly and cautiously reopen, how can you and your local businesses inspire consumer confidence again?

Communication is crucial to the public right now. They want to know what procedures have been instituted to keep them safe while they are visiting your local establishments.

The findings of a recent study by Datassentials and the National Restaurant Association showed that of consumers coming out of the pandemic, “the number one criteria for choosing a restaurant or dining establishment right now is safety and sanitation (this is well above the variety or quality of the food or service).” Forty-seven percent of the study’s respondents rated it as their top concern.

As managing Director Jay Coldren of Streetsense wrote in a recent blog referring to the study: “Beyond just being accepting of inconvenience, consumers are demanding that cleaning and social distance protocols are being followed and enforced — 85% of consumers surveyed reported they want to see distances of six feet or more, and 83% reported they want to see the maximum capacities enforced.” 

What does this mean for your community’s tourism and hospitality establishments? The following outlines best practices you can encourage at local destinations.

Best Practices Local Governments and Tourism Agencies Can Encourage to Rebuild Confidence in the Tourism and Hospitality Industry

Key entry points should display signage which lists the establishment’s cleaning procedures. While cleaning and disinfecting was once done behind the scenes, it must now move to the front and center of operations. Lapses in cleanliness, staff grooming, and lack of social distancing, now more than ever, will be met with greater scrutiny from the public. Messy is the same as dirty in many people’s opinions.

Clean uniforms, personal hygiene, hair restraints, clean fingernails, and proper protective gear, will add to consumers’ feelings of safety. Add hand sanitizer stations by elevators, the front desk, entrances, exits, and any high traffic areas. Have employees use different colored gloves, so customers can see they are changing them between interactions. Pre-shift meetings should take place virtually, or in an area where social distancing is possible. 

Now more than ever, tourism and hospitality destinations should monitor their social media comments and when they are tagged by consumers. It’s smart to respond to any detrimental comments immediately; apologize and let that person (and all their friends) know what the business will do to address the problem and welcome them to return.

Make and post videos that show how the business or destination is responding to the crisis. If a business is taking employees’ temperatures, cleaning hotel rooms in protective gear, or using gloves and masks in their commercial kitchens, they should share that with the public. The safer people feel, the more likely they will be to visit the establishment and share their experiences with friends.

Help customers maintain social distancing by placing tables six feet apart and leave enough room for servers to pass while distancing. Even though this will reduce a restaurant’s indoor seating, you may be able to pick up some space outside. If the restaurant is adjacent to wide sidewalks, or plaza areas, encourage them to check with the appropriate local government department to see if they can access some of that space. Local governments should also confirm and communicate whether permitting processes are in place, and whether they can be expediated during this crisis. Signage or decals can be used to assign seating to restaurants that may be sharing public spaces. Local governments can also remind restaurants to make sure to follow the Americans Disability Access (ADA) guidelines to keep sidewalks clear for wheelchair access.

Lower risk groups may be more anxious to return to “normal” than high risk groups. By addressing how, and how often, locations are being cleaned, local businesses may appeal to the group that is more hesitant to return.

The economic impact of the virus is another reality. Layoffs and furloughs have impacted many people and their vacations may become “staycations” or shorter getaways this year. People will likely be staying closer to home or taking trips within reasonable driving distance of their homes.

Hotel guests should preregister online and be asked to wear masks in all public areas (lobby, elevators, hallways, etc.) at all times. Hotels may consider providing an amenity bag during check-in containing masks, hand sanitizer and a COVID-19 awareness card.

Remind people of the things that they once enjoyed and are now missing. Your local tourism and hospitality businesses could put together a “Living Local” package for customers within a certain range of the community. Offer weekend specials for family getaways or “frequent diner” rewards.

The Bottom Line

The psychological impact of this pandemic will stay with people long after it is resolved. You must communicate cleanliness and safety to your community’s guests at every point of their visit to inspire confidence and build return customers.

For more information about these tips and other strategies, contact your Buxton account manager. Not a Buxton customer yet? Check out what we offer the public sector.

Journey Awareness Persona Economic Development/Elected Official Tourism/CVB City Government