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Vaccine Mandates & Flexible Cancellation: Making Guests Feel Comfortable In Uncomfortable Times

“So for check-in we’ll just need a piece of photo ID, a credit card for incidentals…and your vaccination record.”

It’s the new normal for some hotels: requiring proof of vaccination for visitors and staff. In some places, it’s mandatory. In late August, The New York Times reported that destinations from Portugal to Puerto Rico legally require guests to show proof of vaccination (or, in Portugal’s case, a recent negative COVID-19 test) before checking into a hotel. Other hotels are adopting similar policies on a voluntary basis—one of the ways they’re signaling to guests that they’re taking great care to keep them safe and well.

Barriers to Comfortable Travel 

After all, many are still apprehensive about travel, particularly to international destinations. Even in July—when vaccinations were ramping up, Delta had yet to take hold, and people were proclaiming an (unfortunately premature) return to normal—research by STR Tourism Insights uncovered pervasive negative sentiment toward travel. Even as borders opened and quarantine restrictions were removed, many reported delaying travel “due to lingering anxieties around factors such as infection and complicated and costly testing requirements.” Around 95% of these respondents cited COVID-19 as a reason for not booking or undertaking travel.

Respondents indicated a number of barriers related to their comfort, like concerns about their own health, about flying, and about the cleanliness of accommodation. They feared that their experience might be negatively impacted by the pandemic. And North American respondents in particular cited “unvaccinated fellow travelers” and “fellow travellers not following the rules” as their top comfort barriers. More than half identified these concerns as impediments to travel in the time of COVID-19.

Growing Support For Vaccine Mandates 

For a hard-hit travel industry desperate to recover, vaccine mandates are one way to allay travelers’ concerns about rubbing figurative elbows with the unvaccinated. And while vaccines—and in particular mandatory vaccination—remain controversial within some demographics, a recent Gallup poll suggests that the majority of Americans support them—though it’s not an overwhelming majority.

The study found that, in August 2021, 53% of respondents approved of vaccination being mandatory for staying in a hotel, compared to 44% approval in April. 

To Mandate Or Not To Mandate?

Of course, 53% approval of vaccine mandates means 47% oppose them. Implementing a mandate could mean turning away potential guests; not implementing one could result in apprehensive travelers staying away. 

And what about staff? 

Though wariness of hotels is still high, STR Research indicates that upscale or luxury class hotels are the most palatable to respondents. They suggest that’s likely attributable to “factors including perceptions of cleanliness and property size associations.” Luxury hotel guests also tend to expect more. Over the past year, we’ve heard of luxury hotel guests requesting that they only be served by fully vaccinated employees.  

And while many hotels may be happy to oblige, having an additional requirement of staff may prove challenging in an industry that has struggled throughout the pandemic to recruit and retain staff. 

Perhaps a reflection of this, the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s COVID-19 safety guidelines, which have also been adopted in Canada, “encourages employers to consider implementing a workplace vaccination program, making it easier to get a shot but not requiring them,” according to analytics firm CoStar. “The stance shows how tough decisions are required by companies across the industry.” 

Like all things COVID-19, these considerations are complex, challenging, and at times political. Every property or collection of properties will have to make these decisions as a team, in accordance with local policy. But there are some measures hotels can consider implementing in the short-term to ensure guests are as comfortable as possible—and therefore more willing to book travel.

The New Meaning Of Guest Comfort

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to encourage guests to feel comfortable booking with you is to give them the flexibility to cancel. Given the unpredictable nature of travel in the COVID-19 age, cancellation policies have never been more important. STR found that 30% of survey respondents indicated that “an accommodation provider’s cancellation policy was a main factor that influenced booking.” Guests don’t want to be left out of pocket if policies change, borders close, or—even worse—someone gets sick.

Another factor that’s important of late? Space. As we’ve indicated previously, rural destinations with lots of wide-open space are particularly appealing at the moment. And the same goes for hotels. More than 60% of STR respondents agreed that they preferred accommodation with more open spaces and better use of outdoor areas. If your property has underutilized outdoor space, or cluttered or crowded communal spaces, now would be a good time to make these spaces comfortable for your guests’ use. 

And finally, guests identified wifi as being particularly important to their booking decisions. Perhaps driven in part by people working from home—or anywhere—47% of STR’s panel said they expected improved wifi in the hotels they stay in, compared to pre-pandemic. So it’s a good time to make sure you’ve got the bandwidth to keep your guests happy.

Of course, flexible cancellation, increased space, and better wifi will only impact booking if people are aware of them. Be sure to communicate any measures you implement—including vaccine mandates, if you go that route—in your marketing campaigns. 

If you need help with that part, we’re always here to help. Get in touch with us here