A couple months ago, I went to Phoenix on a business trip. While there, I went to several restaurants. At many of them, it seemed as if the pandemic didn’t exist. People were welcome without masks, often without the familiar request to wear a mask until you get to your table. Yet, in one restaurant we visited, guests were turned away if they couldn’t produce a vaccination card—even in a private area of the restaurant, as well as in outdoor seating.
It’s worth noting that this last restaurant, while an outlier, was not a pariah. It was as crowded as any of its competitors. So the question on my mind was this: Was this restaurant popular in spite of its more rigorous safety standards or because of them?
When in doubt, do a poll.
It happens that Dave Brond, who heads up strategy and research at AB&C, was working on a similar question. He recently conducted an online travel survey of 200 consumers in the Philadelphia DMA and divided respondents into four categories: done with the pandemic, adventurous but cautious, safety matters most and no-go travelers. He found their views on safety precautions weren’t universal. The majority fell in the adventurous but cautious camp, but over 40% fell on either side of that range—almost evenly divided between done with the pandemic and safety matters most. (Read the complete article HERE.) To me, that squared with what I had observed in Phoenix—that there might be room in today’s marketplace for an additional vertical niche.
Steakhouses. Vegan restaurants. Is safety-conscious its own category?
For destinations as a whole and for event spaces, safety protocols are essential. As our own research numbers show, a sizeable majority of those willing to travel care about safety. You can expect one of the first questions out of any meeting planner’s mouth to be about safety precautions.
But, if you’re a business that caters to individuals in an area where COVID regulations give you some leeway, is there a benefit to falling on the cautious-about-COVID side?
In the hospitality business, there’s an expectation that everyone is equally welcome. But while that’s true in theory, it’s always been less so in practice. Exclusion isn’t overt, but people know when the welcome shingle isn’t out. Steakhouses aren’t for vegetarians. Fine dining isn’t for kids. If it looks $$$$, and you want to spend $, you shy away. Whatever your business, it doesn’t appeal equally to everybody—and if it does, it may lack special appeal to anybody. For an establishment that’s otherwise parity, special attention to safety could be a differentiator.
What steps might we suggest?
First, be realistic about whether you can lay any special claim to safety. If you’ve installed air filtration, created special outdoor seating or joined an organization that provides some form of the Good Housekeeping seal, you’ve got something to talk about.
Now, where do you address it? You might want to create a webpage dedicated to your safety message and reassure travelers by subtly referring them to it in the margins of ads or other vehicles.
Can you advertise it more overtly? For most, safety is a filter, not a decision-maker, so prime attention should be devoted to the differentiators that really make you special. That said, there may be verticals in which safety can
co-star, like if you have romantic and innovative outdoor dining options. And destinations may be interested in making
safety-consciousness a subcategory alongside more obvious divisions, the way we would subcategorize restaurants by types of food. That would pay dividends for both the perception of the destination as a whole and for giving individual businesses who have done more a boost.