As a nation we’ve weathered the storm of COVID-19 lock-down and subsequent travel limitations, and we are now facing a significantly different tourism market in the Taupō district. As the focus turns to domestic tourism, many of you may be facing challenges around managing cancellations and refunds for COVID-19 affected international bookings.
As with all booking extensions and changes, always keep in mind your legal obligations around refunds. The Commerce Commission has issued updated guidance for operators and you can find this here.
It’s crucial to ensure you are not breaching your obligations, not just for legal reasons, but also from a business reputation perspective. As we have seen from recent high-profile examples, no business wants those highly visible social media posts from frustrated customers venting about a failed refund.
If you’re a member of a network such as AirBnB there are extensive guidelines in place to cover COVID-19 based cancellations. You can find out more here.
Here are our top tips for managing cancellations and refunds:
Triple check your T&Cs.
Whatever terms and conditions you had in place at time of booking still apply. You can’t impose a new policy due to circumstances such as the COVID-19 outbreak. This is also a great time to make sure your T&Cs are easy to understand and can be readily found on your website and booking documentation.
Communication is key
It’s really important to keep the communication flowing with your guests and clients. Avoiding the hard questions is not a good strategy. Make sure you stay in regular contact about their booking, and consider contacting your scheduled reservations for the coming month to confirm their travel plans. This will give you much more certainty, and will reinforce with the client that you’re a great, proactive operator.
You could send a quick automated email to say “Hi we’re checking in on your booking for next month. We’re offering all our existing bookings a discount on … / voucher for… / complimentary breakfast. To lock in this great deal and to help us manage our bookings please send us a message to confirm your arrival time “ (see below for more ideas).
Phone a friend
We’re a supportive bunch here in the Taupō district. Sharing our experiences and helping each other will strengthen our whole tourism community. If you know someone else in a similar business to you, why not get in touch and see what options have been working for them. Ask how they’ve been managing things like booking deferrals, partial refunds, and transferring bookings.
Keep your eye on the cash flow
Often a booking deposit ends up in the accounts as “general funds” rather than being tagged to a booking or activity. That means when it comes time for a refund, you may no longer have these funds available. Strong internal financial controls and management are vital for sound business operation. Now’s the time to put these in place if you don’t have them already. Ask your local bookkeeper for more information.
Play it forward
When you are first contacted by your guest to discuss a refund, it’s a good time to ask if they would like to transfer the booking (rather than cancel it completely). Just make sure they know a transfer is a choice, not a requirement. This should also be covered in your Terms and Conditions.
You could let your guest know of some upcoming events in Taupō, and remind them of the benefit of booking outside the busy periods. We’ve got some amazing events planned to entice more Kiwis to Taupō this summer. Check out what’s coming up here.
Do you want fries with that?
It’s such a cliché but it’s also true. The “McDonald's upsell” ('do you want fries with that') is one of the classic examples of great marketing. Look at what you can include as a thank you to the visitor for keeping their booking. Can you upsize their experience, from the basic river ride to a half day? Can you upgrade the booking to a bigger room, or add in a complimentary breakfast?
Many of these will be very low cost to your business, but they’ll make the customer feel valued and more inclined to keep their booking. There are a range of innovative examples here on Love Taupō: add a free extra place on a kayak trip, offer a special discount with booking transfers, promote “stay for 4, pay for 3” deals.
Finally, make 100% sure that whatever you’re offering, you’re complying with the Commerce Commission Guidelines. A reminder that you can find those here. The government has also offered a range of support options to tourism operators impacted by COVID. You can read more on the Qualmark site.