The global hospitality sector, one of the worst-hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic, is in a huddle to find ways to get things back to normal. According to researchers, humanising hotel brands can be one such solution to encourage tourists to return.
Hotels should build an emotional attachment with tourists when communicating during such crises to make their re-arrival smoother, according to researchers from the Universities of East Anglia (UEA), Bath and the West of England in the UK.
The crisis communication emphasising "shared emotional responses to risks" enables tourists to humanise the hotel, which can subsequently create an emotional attachment.
This attachment can then increase tourists' intentions to visit once the crisis ends, which is crucial if the industry is to recover.
Global hotel chains such as Four Seasons and Hilton publicly have emphasised their commitment to cleanliness to reduce tourist's perceptions of the risk to health. However, this approach only focuses on cognitive, or rational, aspects of risk perceptions and ignores "emotional responses to risks".
"Tourists experience fear and anxiety towards the health risks of Covid-19, while the hotel sector feels fear and anxiety about the uncertainty it faces," said Dr Haiming Hang from the University of Bath.
To dig deeper, the researchers involved 405 American participants whose travel plans were disrupted by the pandemic.
Participants were then randomly allocated to one of the three experimental conditions.
Participants in the control condition were not exposed to any crisis communication message.
In the other two conditions, the hotel's crisis communication focused on the same areas, commitment to cleanliness and cancelation policy, but they differed on why the hotel wanted to do this.
"In the cognitive (rational) condition, consistent with many hotels' current response, the crisis communication explained the hotel's commitment to cleanliness was to reduce health risk".
In the shared emotions condition, the crisis communication explained the hotel's commitment to cleanliness was because it shared the same emotions as tourists: the hotel employees and their families are susceptible to coronavirus just like everyone else, the authors wrote in a paper published in Annals of Tourism Research.
"We argue that crisis communication focusing on shared emotions during the current coronavirus pandemic is very important, as it can establish emotional attachment with tourists better than rational statements can.
"This can be crucial for tourism recovery, because emotional attachment can increase tourists' intentions to visit when the outbreak ends," explained Dr Lukman Aroean, of UEA's Norwich Business School.
The authors showed that "humanising the brand" underlines the impact of shared emotions on emotional attachment and demonstrates the key reason shared emotions can trigger emotional attachment.
The findings provide unique insights on the impact of crisis communication during a sustained global crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, whereas previous research on crisis and disaster management in tourism mainly focuses on recovery after the event.