9 min read

Managing Unpredictable Booking Lead Times & Occupancy

The hospitality industry has gone through a lot in the past 18 months. And while travel has increased during the 2021 summer season, there are still difficult months ahead. The biggest reason — unpredictability in bookings. Let’s take a closer look at why this is happening, hear from a hotel that experienced a shocking fluctuation in occupancy, and learn how hotel operations technology provides the tool to prepare and conquer chaos.

A few trends have recently emerged that are affecting the hotel industry both for the short term and long term as guests’ travel style and needs have changed in ways that are likely to be permanent. Several key leisure travel trends include:

  • Increased occupancy: According to data STR from the week ending July 24, 2021, weekly hotel occupancy in the U.S. reached its highest level since October 2019. This increase is apt due to a combination of vacation days that were accumulated thanks to travel restrictions in 2020, cabin fever, and travelers needing to use credits for travel they cancelled in 2020 by the end of 2021.
  • Longer length of stays: The overall length of stays increased 11% from 2019, which is likely due to travelers being able to work remotely. This trend may continue as remote work remains the norm.
  • Shorter booking lead times: Because of the uncertainty that lingers across the world, travelers are booking trips much closer to departure than previously to avoid traveling under increased restrictions or forced cancelations. 

Pandemic likely permanently decreased business travel

With the increased use of video technology, business travel has significantly declined, the WSJ estimating a permanent 19% to 36% decrease. Glenn Fogel, CEO of Bookings.com, says the share of business travel will be forever lower than pre-pandemic levels. Because video does not completely replace in-person meetings when it comes to working with customers, however, customer-facing business travel is expected to rebound. Intra-business travel, such as people working for the same company traveling for an internal meeting, is likely to permanently remain much lower. 

The decrease in business travel significantly impacts properties that relied on business travel to fill rooms during the week. Hotels must proactively plan to replace the income they previously received from business travelers, as well as gain the loyalty of business travelers so their hotel is the property of choice when those people do travel.

By using operational software, hotels can provide a higher quality service for their guests. With guest messaging, hotels can more quickly respond to guests’ needs as well as gather data for their guests’ future travel plans. With decreased business bookings, it’s even more important to ensure that guests feel loyalty and seek out your properties when they do travel for business.

For example, a certain business traveler always requests a second lamp to use for video meetings during their stay. After noting this repeat request, the employee uses the hotel’s operational software to add the preference to the guest’s profile. Then, the next time that person books a room, housekeeping automatically sets up a second lamp for extra lighting. Because the guest’s needs are proactively met and they receive personalized service, they are more likely to book with the hotel whenever they travel to that location.

River Inn uses ALICE to go from 0 to 100

Hotels of all sizes and in all locations are increasingly turning to operational management technology to manage unpredictability, whether it stems from a pandemic, economic downturn, or natural disasters.

River Terrance Inn, owned and managed by Noble House Hotels & Resorts, experienced an abrupt, extreme fluctuation in 2020 due to California’s wildfires. At 3 am, the hotel was at 5% occupancy. Within a mere two hours, the hotel had zero vacancy due to emergency wildfire evacuations. Over the next days and weeks, the hotel met many challenges related to the sudden demand — including not enough staff and housekeeping issues from extended stays. However, it wasn’t just the initial rush that was overwhelming, but the constantly changing situation and needs.

When this unexpected surge in occupancy occurred, hospitality operations platform ALICE was already in use by the River Terrace Inn. By using ALICE, the hotel was able to optimize room assignments and ensure each room met the guest’s cleanliness expectations. 

Because the inn did not have enough staff on-hand to meet the increased demand, employees had to quickly jump into other roles to help. Management quickly focused on cross-training, and then used ALICE to assign staff to roles based on the most pressing current needs. The inn’s staff also used the messaging feature within ALICE to communicate with each other in real-time to make sure each team member had the most up-to-date information to provide the highest possible level of service.

Using ALICE hotel operations platform to manage unpredictability

It’s tempting to try to create a plan for every possible scenario that could potentially lay ahead, but it’s also not practical. Instead, focus on adopting technology that helps handle both the expected and the unexpected. By turning to operational software, such as ALICE, you can become prepared for whatever comes next — even situations you never could have imagined.

When a situation arises, ALICE provides an organized, real-time hotel operations platform integrated across departments to guide hoteliers based on workflows, as well as the ability to communicate with the team from a range of devices in real-time.

With increased visibility and data collection provided through ALICE service management, all team members know the status of their tasks at any given time. You can also ensure that assets are in top condition by tracking preventative maintenance. Unpredictability in bookings often means quickly changing housekeeping priorities, but - when utilizing ALICE - staff always knows their next highest priority to optimize both room assignments and housekeeping tasks.

While the chaotic booking trends related to the pandemic and changing travel patterns will eventually level out, your hotel will always face unpredictability. Taking time now to implement the technology needed to deliver the best service and experience to guests will pay off in increased guest loyalty and optimized operations preparedness.

Interested in learning more about ALICE? Schedule a demo!

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