Front desk guide: How hotels can handle guest calls for OTA cancellations due to coronavirus
As part of our Virtual Coffee Chats with hotels, we’ve learned that many hotels, particularly in Europe, have had increasing calls from travelers that want to cancel their non-refundable reservations made through OTAs due to coronavirus travel restrictions. As OTAs are currently overwhelmed with such requests, many travelers are unable to get a hold of the OTA customer service lines.
After not being able to reach the OTA, the would-be guest then calls the hotel to try and cancel directly. In many cases, the hotel simply can’t make the cancellation on their end, as it would still incur a commission fee from the OTA.
The would-be guest is already frustrated, and it can become even more frustrating to hear that the hotel can’t help them either. These calls must be handled with utmost sensitivity, but that can often be difficult to do as many hotels are either closed or working with reduced staff.
We’ve put together a quick guide for your front desk team to help address these OTA cancellation requests. In this guide you will find a phone script, messaging for your website, and how to handle the guest complaints with your OTA account manager. Watch our video, or read on for more information.
Phone script for front desk team
When a guest complains about not being able to reach the OTA to cancel a reservation, it’s important to always react first and foremost with empathy, before you explain why the cancellation isn’t possible.
“I do see your reservation here. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, I know how frustrating this is, especially during this time. I wish I could help you, but unfortunately bookings made through this OTA can only be cancelled through them. If we cancel on our end, you will still be responsible for the reservation, and we will still need to pay the OTA a commission fee.”
Try to be as helpful as you can, and use this as an opportunity to collect guest data so that you can make a direct relationship with them in the future. While you can’t make any promises, an offer of help will build goodwill with these potential guests.
“Other guests are also having trouble reaching this OTA as well. If it is ok with you, can we take your name and email address? We are going to try and reach them to let them know that you would like to cancel. We can’t promise that we will be able to get a hold of the OTA for you, but we will do the best we can.”
And last but not least, take the opportunity to remind guests to book direct the next time they want to visit your hotel.
“If you are able to visit us in the future, do not hesitate to call us or book directly on our website. We can ensure that you have an extra special stay, and that you won’t have to worry about this hassle happening again.”
If your hotel is working with a reduced staff at the moment and cannot train front desk staff to handle these types of calls, it may also be beneficial to have a section of the website that helps explain the situation to guests.
If possible, create a designated coronavirus or COVID-19 page with a simple and easy to remember URL, such as www.yourhotel.com/coronavirus. On the page, we would recommend including:
Message about how the outbreak has affected your hotel’s operations, such as closures or reduced staff
If the hotel is open, the measures it is taking to ensure the safety of all guests and employees
FAQ section on cancellations, rebookings, and refunds
Form to collect guest inquiries about cancellations, rebookings, and refunds
Set up the inquiry form to require the full name and email address of all guests. Make sure that form is either connected to your hotel CRM, or at the very minimum to a database or spreadsheet where you will be able to access the guest information later.
Bring guest complaints to your OTA account manager
Whether you’re collecting guest complaints over the phone or through the website, it’s important to keep a consolidated list of them.
First, you may want to reach out to your OTA account manager on a regular basis to let them know of the guest complaints and ask them if they can help contact the support team to facilitate the cancellation requests. Although they may not be able to, it’s worth showing to your account manager how you are trying to resolve customer complaints on their behalf.
You can potentially use these complaints to negotiate more favorable terms with the OTA. Leverage your position to obtain some concessions in your contract, such as no bidding on your brand name or reduced commission rates.
Entice travelers to book direct
Hopefully the guest is able to properly cancel and receive their refund. You now have a list of potential guests that you could market directly to in the future via email or remarketing through search ads or social media. Of course, you should wait until the timing is right to reach out to them, as they may not be able to travel for awhile.
In your future communication with them, be sure to reference their canceled trip. For example, “We regret not being able to host you in April, but we hope you will choose to visit when the time comes. Book through our website to get a free upgrade for your next trip.”
Other potential offers could include an extra free night if they stay longer, or free breakfast or board. Be sure to reassure them in their booking by offering a flexible cancellation policy.
The way you treat these guests now during difficult times will pay dividends in the long run. Leave a lasting impression by showing them what true hospitality means.