As vaccine rollouts progress and people feel more comfortable venturing out, the U.S. hotel industry is seeing a sustained uptick in travel compared to last year. In certain markets during peak demand periods like spring break, weekly hotel occupancy has surpassed comparative 2019 levels, a potential preview of the surge in bookings that experts are predicting this summer.
While the extent of this travel comeback varies across market types and hotel segments, much of the demand is still being driven by leisure trips and quick getaways. And while the return of business travel is looking more promising—STR recently reported a noticeable uptick in weekday occupancy, indicating an increase in business travel activity—a notable disparity between weekend and weekday performance levels remains for many properties. So, what can hoteliers do to fill more rooms mid-week? LODGING caught up with Jennifer Jost, director of marketing strategy at Charlestowne Hotels, to discuss the travel trends she’s seeing, her predictions for the months ahead, and the strategies Charlestowne is using to drive bookings to less busy nights.
What are your expectations around summer travel this year? What are you seeing so far?
There’s definitely a heightened, pent-up desire for travel that we’re expecting to continue this summer. We’ve experienced good momentum for reservations throughout Q1, which has given us confidence that this year will be a great travel year. Although the pandemic has led to shortened booking windows overall, we’re starting to see an increased lead time for reservations into the summer. The properties we manage in beach markets specifically—such as our hotels in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Newport, Rhode Island—are starting to see high numbers of bookings for this summer and later this year.
What was your approach to mid-week bookings pre-pandemic?
Mid-week bookings have always been a focus at Charlestowne as our independent properties are predominantly leisure-based. Rather than offering typical discounts, we create specialized offers or packages that further connect guests to not only the hotel experience, but to the cities in which they reside—whether it inspires them to check out that weekday paddleboarding tour just steps from the hotel or simply encourages them to stay a night or two longer—building brand loyalty while driving mid-week bookings.
What are some of your strategies for boosting mid-week bookings right now?
Since we work with such a wide range of properties in different markets, each location has a different strategy. Our in-house creative marketing team helps ideate marketing campaigns and programming for the properties. We leverage a mix of email marketing, targeted paid social media campaigns, and website tactics to promote the campaigns.
We’ve had seven properties year-to-date run targeted mid-week booking campaigns, which have been the top performing offerings during the time they were running, generating the most revenue outside of BAR (best available rate). One prime example includes Shem Creek Inn’s “Wine Down Weekdays.” We targeted younger travelers with a flexible schedule and offered 15 percent off mid-week stays with a $20 dining credit to the property’s onsite restaurant. Running from October 2020 until March 2021, the promotion accounted for 10 percent of total revenue and 15 percent of total transactions.
Another successful campaign currently running is The Collector’s “Grownup Savings” package targeting guests ages 55 and up who are now vaccinated and are likely to feel comfortable planning longer, more elaborate trips. The offer saves $30 per night and has made up nearly 9 percent of total revenue and 12 percent of total transactions—available through the end of the year.
Are you seeing any movement in “workations” (i.e., people booking longer stays and working remotely)? How is that impacting mid-week bookings?
Workcations have been a prominent trend over the past year and we’re continuing to see growth there. Many people have gotten used to working remotely, especially those in tech-driven companies, and are actively seeking new destinations to explore during the week to break up the monotony of working from home.
We’re anticipating mid-week bookings to increase in the coming months as schools let out for summer vacation and parents continue to work remotely. There’s now more freedom for family travel during the week than we’ve seen before. Extended stay offers are still seeing high bookings as travelers look to extend their remote work weeks into weekend getaways.
What other travel and booking trends are you seeing today?
Beyond trends that have continued from last year, we’re noticing people are becoming more comfortable traveling overall as the vaccine is widely distributed. This has led to a rise in multi-generational trips where families are reuniting after a year of social distancing. Travelers are also more open to larger market destinations now that they weren’t previously, seeking safe social opportunities to connect with others outside their quarantine bubbles. We’ve also seen that people have a lot of paid time off that rolled over into 2021 after not getting to travel much last year, which has been another cause of longer length of stays and increased mid-week bookings.
Is there anything you’ve learned over the past year during the pandemic that has influenced your approach to what you do?
Absolutely. The pandemic has allowed us to refocus on the importance of creating memorable experiences and developing personal relationships with guests, which is at the center of everything we do. We have always been focused on creating a great travel experience for guests, but the pandemic has made us get even more creative. We now look at safe yet adventurous outdoor activities to package with stays, unique ways to celebrate small yet special weddings and events, and helping a guest see the city in a whole new way. In a lot of ways, travel has become so much more intimate.