The spread of COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and with every industry, right from travel and hospitality to media and entertainment is bearing the brunt of it. Hoteliers around the world are seeing a drop in occupancy and tourist arrivals. With low demand, lowering the rate seems like a feasible option. But most of the customers are canceling their trips and reservations and are desperately reaching out to the OTAs to help them with Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund.
Tourists traveling to countries highly-impacted by Coronavirus have been “canceling reservations with some countries experiencing up to 50% reduction in bookings week on week.”
Again, the hoteliers are getting certain negative reviews about them not being able to cancel a reservation for a guest or providing them with a refund. On the other hand, there is also an influx in the reviews which are mostly query-based with customers relying on the hotels to assist them with cancellation and refund through the OTAs.
While the hoteliers wonder how to deal and respond to these reviews, it’s important to first be clear about what steps have the OTAs taken to combat these issues. Are they even responding to people’s requests for coronavirus cancellation and refund and if yes, then in what frequency?
What’s the Instinctive Solution to Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund Requests?
It has been opined that in such cases, the OTAs can quickly adapt and help their partner hotels by getting market insights and identifying new source markets that have relatively fewer cases of the virus. This can help drive demand to such markets to make up for all the lost bookings or at least, most of it. With this, they can combat the problem of Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation.
What’s the Solution With Regard to Handling Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund Reviews?
As discussed above, it is important to understand the OTA policies with regards to waiving charges and providing reimbursement before we dive deep into the Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund review-handling.
To be honest, the policies and terms might vary somewhat from OTA to OTA. “Most of them are now being slammed with cancellation requests and change requests,” said Scott Keyes, a budget travel expert and the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. To help process the sudden onslaught of requests, Keyes notes that most agencies are asking travelers to wait until just before their trip to call.”
As is commonly known, the OTAs are the intermediaries who earn money by charging a commission from the hotels on every booking. But in times like these, if you have booked through an OTA instead of booking directly through the hotel website, chances are that you will have to go through a bit longer process for cancellation. However, it does not mean that the refund won’t be granted as Keyes emphasizes that “The good news, he says, is that travelers may still have recourse to refunds.”
How are the OTAs Dealing With Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund?
As noted above, every OTA has its own policy for Hotel Coronavirus Cancellation and Refund:
1. The Expedia Group (Expedia, Orbitz, CheapTickets,Hotels.com, Hotwire, Travelocity, etc.)
Here are a few clauses mentioned by Expedia on its page entitled Coronavirus travel advice: Everything you need to know:
Customers with Lodging Bookings (non-package/bundle):
• For customers who booked and paid for a non-refundable rate prior to March 19, 2020 for stays between March 20, 2020, and April 30, 2020, we will email you in the coming days to ask if you wish to keep or cancel your existing booking. If you decide to cancel, you will be eligible for a full refund or, in some cases, a voucher allowing you to rebook the original property at later dates. There is no need to call us, however you must cancel your booking a least 24-hours before check-in to be eligible for this offer.
• For customers who booked a non-refundable rate for stays after April 30, 2020, with the evolving situation, we will continue to work with travel partners as necessary to implement flexible policies.
• For customers whose accommodation plans have already been impaired by COVID-19 and whose travel date has passed, we want to assure you that we are working to attend to your needs as well. We appreciate your patience.
• For customers who have booked a refundable rate, please visit our Customer Service Portal to change or cancel.
• For those looking to make a new booking, we strongly recommend choosing a rate that allows for free cancellation.
(You can check out the same page for more information.)
2. Booking Holdings Group (Priceline, Booking.com, Kayak, etc.)
Booking.com has extended its Force Majeure/Forced Cancellations policy to some area having coronavirus-related travel restrictions. In these cases, Booking.com expects partners to refund prepayment and cancellation costs, and the OTA will waive its commissions. However, the domestic travel purchased through Booking.com is not covered by Force Majeure.
An OTA owned by Airbnb, HotelTonight is offering a special exemption in terms of its cancellation policy. Reservations made on or before March 14, with check-in dates from March 14 to April 14, may be canceled for a full refund.
How Hotels Can Respond to the Reviews Regarding Corona Cancellation and Refund?
• In the reviews where clients are asking for a refund by having booked through the OTAs, educate them about the policies and the time-frame within which they will have to request for the cancellation and refund.
• With the OTAs following their partners’ policies, you can waive cancellation charges by giving a refund.
• In the reviews where customers are asking for cancellation, you can also present the option of shifting their bookings to a later date.
Educate Your Guests
Some responses might look like this:
“The staff was nice and they gave me almost a full refund.”
Thank you for reaching out to us. We appreciate you booking your stay with us and are extremely pleased to hear that our staff could leave a positive impression on you and accommodate your request for full reimbursement. We understand that it is a difficult time for all of us. But as service providers, we are always there in case you need to book with us in the future. We hope that you’re safe and we look forward to having you here with us once things get back to normal!”
Thank you for reaching out to us. We’re sorry to hear that you will have to cancel your booking and the reason is completely understandable. We would like to inform you that Expedia has a policy of prioritizing customers with travel in the next 72 hours to avoid getting bogged down by all the requests at the same time. We suggest you wait for some time and then apply for cancellation. For further assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.”
With this, there is a common query posed by most of the hoteliers:
“What if a guest canceling their stay leaves you a bad or a one-star review without even having experienced their stay at your property?”
As per Booking.com’s Guest Review policy, a dedicated team verifies guest reviews, making sure they are legitimate. This gives you credibility and helps future guests make the decision to stay with you. However, it is not exactly similar to what Airbnb does. Airbnb has a review policy whereby no reviews are shown until the Guest reviews the Host and Property and the Host reviews the Guest. If one chooses not to review the other then no review is posted.
If you report about the ‘no-show’ as soon as possible, it is quite possible that Booking.com will take a look at the review in question and might decide to remove both the comments and the score from their website. Just be aware that it may take them up to 48 hours to remove it completely.
If nothing works, you can request Booking.com to simply delete that review for you. Here is how to do it.
It is only under the following conditions that Expedia will remove a review:
• The review contains the full name of a property staff member
• The reviewer’s photo(s) include nudity, or other inappropriate photos
• The review contains evidence of violence to a child or child pornography
• The review contains evidence of serious injury or death of any guest
The removal of reviews is at the sole discretion of the Expedia Group.
Discouraging Cancellations By Providing Reassurance to the Upcoming Guests As Well As the Prospects Through Your Review Response
Hence take your current review responses as an opportunity to instill faith and confidence in the customers by talking about the COVID-19 measures and prevention plan that you have implemented to ensure that they have a safe stay. Given the situation, it is likely that the guests will be receptive or prone to panic. So, a word of reassurance from your side can help put them at ease and might also help them in reconsidering their decision. So take your responses seriously and use them as a platform through which to showcase your safety measures, cleaning and disinfecting routines to harden the guests’ belief that you are their safe haven.
-Be authentic about posting your safety measures. Advertise only what you have implemented.
-Give timely responses to your reviews. Up your time management game as these are the times when the guests will be frantically researching about how safe they can be with you.
Travel companies combined are trying their best to help customers navigate these tough times by giving the options of cancellation, refund and changing the booking dates. It is expected that the hospitality industry will certainly come out stronger by giving a tough time to the ordeal.