The global hospitality industry has been one of the heaviest hit by the current coronavirus pandemic.
According to global hospitality data company STR, occupancy as at March 21 was down by as much as 96% in Italy, 68% in China, 67% in the United Kingdom, 59% in the United States and 48% in Singapore. In Sub-Saharan Africa as at April 5, 2020, for the same period last year occupancy rates were down by 88% in Cairo, 86% in Cape Town, 81% in Casablanca, 77% in Accra, 58% in Addis Ababa, 54% in Nairobi and 35% in Lagos.
As Coronavirus cases decline, occupancy rates are improving. Data from Hotstats as at June ending indicate that while Total Revenue Per Available Room (TRevPAR) is improving, profitability is down by an average of about 89% for same period last year.
The key question is; how can Ghana’s hospitality industry bounce back strongly?
A key strategy is the effective deployment of a comprehensive marketing communications strategy using the tri-component attitude model as a framework.
One of my favourite definitions of Marketing Communications is that of Fill (2006) who defines it as the management process through which an organization enters into a dialogue with its various audiences based upon an understanding of the audiences’ communications environment.
Fill adds that the objective of this process is to (re) position by influencing the perception and understanding of the organization and or its products and services to generate attitudinal and behavioural responses.
Currently, occupancies are down due to a myriad of reasons; i.e regulatory reasons (lockdown which has restricted movements, cancelling of public gatherings which have affected events, conferences etc), rational (need to obey regulations and stay safe, fear of contracting coronavirus through contact), emotive reasons (fear of catching the virus), financial reasons (reduced earnings which will reduce purchasing power, leisure trips etc).
After all the restrictions are lifted, it may take time for the industry to bounce back, but the industry ought to adopt a more aggressive and proactive marketing communication strategy to encourage Ghanaians to patronize their services.
A key approach is to understand the consumers’ attitude to develop the right strategies. However, to change an attitude you must first understand what it is and how you can change it.
Boone and Kurtz (2004) define an attitude as a person’s enduring favourable or unfavourable evaluations, emotional feelings, and action tendencies toward some object or idea. Fill, for example, argues and rightly so that the fundamental role of marketing communications is to change attitudes!
The tri-component attitude model (Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004), indicates that an attitude is made up of an interplay of three key elements; Cognitive, Affective and Conative.
Figure 1: Tri-Component Attitude Model
Cognitive (logic & belief system)
This relates to an individual’s belief system. What do individuals know and or what’s their belief about coronavirus? Logically, if someone shares the same space with an infected person, the person can contract coronavirus. This is a decision that should inform the creative strategy of any marketing strategy the industry devices to assuage the fears of the public.
Therefore, communication across all channels should deploy rational-based appeals to communicate all processes deployed to ensure that every space the customer is exposed to within the confines of their hotel is thoroughly disinfected. There must be that conscious communication focused on HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES.
A week before the lockdown, I was tempted to take a road trip one weekend but the feedback from friends wasn’t positive with several “what ifs” i.e what if the bedsheets or desks or surfaces were not properly disinfected?
Such thoughts killed the idea of the getaway, and these are the real issues hotels, for example, will have to deal with and they ought to develop communications that speak to these issues ready!
Message and actions should focus on “re-assurance of continuous adherence to top-notch Covid-19 protocols as an integral part of the facility’s operations”
Affective (Heart & Feelings)
This refers to the feelings we have towards an act. Cognitive-focused communication can take care of the fear aspect, therefore what affective or EXPRESSIVE-based communication ought to do is to focus on communicating to the hearts of people.
Communication designed around the devasting effects on the industry and why the industry needs the customers to come back.
Other fun themes also ought to be developed centred around;
Therefore, the industry needs to appeal to the emotions or sentiments of the target audience. It’s about touching their hearts. Telling stories or using messages and illustrations that appeal to the sentiments of the target audience.
This refers to one’s predisposition to take a particular course of action. For example, one may believe that it’s okay to do that leisure trip, but they may not be motivated to take action for various reasons. An example could be financial reasons.
How do hotels incentivize or drive people to take action? i.e patronize their services.
It will be therefore important for hotels to develop sales promotional campaigns targeted at their target audience. This can be targeted at their database (that’s if they have it) or a defined target market.
Examples could include;
In the first few months, the key target of brands in the sector ought to focus on pulling people from their homes into their facilities at all cost and to build positive experiences to drive brand affection and encourage strong word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations and repeat patronage.
The various tactical execution for various players might be different but all marketing communication efforts ought to be strongly integrated. In all these, digital marketing ought to be a key tactical communication tool.
Ghana is also made up of a bunch of happy people and we may forget our fears when things start to normalize but brands within the hospitality industry ought not to take anything for granted by ensuring that their marketing communications strategy is proactive and hard-hitting to help turn around the fortunes of the industry.