Hotels’ Covid-19 Messages Need More Emotion: Study
One of the most difficult things for people to grasp when it comes to crisis communications is that emotion counts a lot more than appeals to reason or even being in the right. A new study focusing on hotels (but obviously applicable elsewhere) argues that these businesses would be better off if they would pump some emotion into their COVID-19 communications.
The study, “Building Emotional Attachment During COVID-19,” by three UK-based academics, argues that hotels’ crisis communications concerning the pandemic have been “cerebral”: The messages have focused on the companies’ cancellation policies and commitment to cleanliness. The researchers specifically cite statements from Hilton and Four Seasons.
This approach may seem to make sense because it appeals to consumers’ rational fears about health risks. But the researchers say the pandemic has been an emotional event for the companies, too — both because of health risks to their employees and because there’s no telling when they’ll be able to re-open and if they’ll survive the shutdowns and travel bans.
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.
— Lukman Aroean of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School
In other words, the hotel companies and their potential customers have a shared emotional experience that the messaging should tap into. The study even finds that such an emotional attachment may improve consumers’ willingness to patronize these establishments.
“Understandably hotels wish to reassure customers about the practical precautions they are taking,” one of the researchers, Lukman Aroean of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Business School, said in a July 23 press release. “However, 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.”
(Instead, it appears hostelries are pivoting to emotional appeals to nostalgia for the family road trip, according to an article this week in The New York Times.)
The study queried 405 U.S. consumers whose travel plans had been disrupted by the pandemic. They were divided into three groups: a control group that received no crisis communications, a group that received the typical “rational” communications related to cleanliness and cancellation, and a third group that also received those messages but laced with emotional appeals about employees and the survival of the fictitious middle-market international hotel chain created for the exercise.
The results showed that the shared-emotions group felt a stronger emotional attachment to the chain — in part because the company was humanized to the participants. They also found that the shared emotion led to higher intentions to visit the hotels than for the control or cognitive groups (admittedly, this is about reported intentions, not actual behavior).
The study is another illustration of the importance of connecting emotionally with audiences in a crisis.
It was published in the Annals of Tourism Research. In addition to Aroean, the researchers were Zhifeng Chen of the University of the West of England and Haiming Hang of the University of Bath.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons via Facebook
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