Communications Strategy during COVID-19 for Hospitality

When full-scale lockdown measures were introduced by the Indian Government on the 21st of March, hotels, restaurants, and leisure venues were left scrambling for survival. The lockdown had a devastating impact on the sector, with people in the industry predicting that a third of the sector was at a risk of closing down and millions of jobs were at risk, particularly with the ongoing social distancing restrictions meant that business was unlikely to return to normal any time soon.

When the coronavirus first came and the lockdown was announced, the hospitality industry went into a panic and didn’t know how to act. But now people are looking to the future and a situation where their businesses are going to have to live with coronavirus. The reality of it is that coronavirus is going to last for years and the hospitality industry is going to be the last industry to open out to the public.

Hence, it is important to develop a communications strategy that assumes that the virus is here to stay until at least the first half of 2021. Keeping this in mind, hospitality business owners need to first understand that PR and social media will play a pivotal role in a crisis of this magnitude and keep the communications of their business-focused, timely, and trustworthy.

Firstly, social media and PR for all restaurants must stop all communications such as brand pitches and brand building, and focus on COVID-19 related communications, that speaks about employee well-being, customers, partners, and public safety. The underlying message should be to avoid profiting from the pandemic and more about showing the humane side of your brand.

This kind of communications for hospitality can be created in a number of ways, by providing your customer with factual and trustworthy information, communicating with transparency, maintaining empathy and clarity, and keeping employees and customers inspired.

As hospitality has always been about ‘customer first’, your customer will always remember how you treated them when times were tough, hence it is important, now more than ever, to inform them about what safety measures you are taking as a business to make sure that the food they ordered from your restaurant/bar has been handled. This information can be passed onto them effectively through your business social media page, your personal social media page, and through appearing in major publications that are speaking about health and safety measures for hospitality.

This also means restaurateurs need to ensure that their staff from the ground up has the most up-to-date information regarding customer interaction guidelines, campaigns and current offers. So when a customer does call to order and has queries about hygiene, health, and safety your staff is competent enough to effectively communicate to them about all the safety measures implemented by your establishment.

Secondly, if your marketing budgets very largely spent on on-ground communications, it is now time to invest that money in digital. Now more than ever people are spending more time on their devices and are more connected through digital media. Create digital campaigns that demonstrate your ability to serve customers during this time and provide an incentive to drive action. Paid promotions on social media will go a long way when reaching your customers in this uncertain time, and being active in the public eyes through thought leadership articles will also give you more creditability and create trust with your customer when ordering from your restaurant.

Thirdly, if your restaurant has not been in operations for the last two months and you are in the process of opening out for delivery, reach into your customer database and communicate with them to gather and measure customer feedback to keep a pulse of sentiment and expectations that your customers have from you. This can be done through, not just social media channels but also by crafting a very transparent and clear message that goes out to your customer database through email, text, and push notifications.

Lastly, if your establishment is currently not serving the public in any way or form, it is still important for you to engage with your customer. This can be done by being active on social media and assuring them that once you have safety measures in place, your establishment will be up and running. If not, you can still keep your social media active, by providing customers information on things to do and not to do when ordering from outside, or share recipes that they can make at home, and ways in which they can have a restaurant experience at home till the time your businesses open up.

During this time of uncertainty, it is important to adapt your communications and marketing strategy to the best of your ability in order to retain your customers’ interest and hold a strong brand voice. And, the most effective way to do this during this time is by leveraging your social media and all available digital channels, whilst also communicating effectively and appropriately through all internal and external mediums available to your business.

Inputs by Nikita Nikalje, Founder, The Communications Room – a full-service Social Media and PR agency