Last minute availability: curse or opportunity?

A - cancellations

Most tourism and hospitality businesses have to fill last minute gaps created by cancellations or dips in demand. This year it looks like there may be more cancellations than usual as visitors switch-book or have to change plans to fit their changing circumstances.

The way you try to fill those last minute gaps can really affect how your business is perceived by potential visitors.

When faced with a space to fill, the knee-jerk reaction is often to post a panicky message on social media, typically along the lines of “due to last minute cancellation, special offer for [insert dates] price £x”.

There’s no doubt this approach does fill those last minute gaps. But at what cost to your credibility and profit margins?

This year there will be plenty of people ready to pounce and snap up last minute availability. It’s worth just thinking about what happens when a business posts that message, and the opportunities that might be missed.

Visitors learn from others. They get tips for places to go. They look out for recommendations. They also follow behaviour. I’m sure you’ve spotted trends that just grow and grow? Some are good trends. Some behavioural trends are less desirable.

You’ve probably seen posts on social media from restaurants bemoaning the fact that they’re getting so many no-shows? Restaurant managers understandably want to talk about this horrible tendency and to commiserate with each other. Journalists pick up on such stories and write about them.

Some potential diners will see these posts, think it’s despicable and resolve to never be a ‘no-show’ themselves. But others will absorb that information. No-show behaviour quickly becomes normal and spreads. While some cancellations are inevitable and unavoidable, some are simply due to thoughtlessness.

A business that posts about last minute cancellations may unwittingly increase the likelihood of it happening more frequently.

Social media messages that talk about last minute cancellations focus on the price: the message is effectively book this date, it’s this price.

There’s no mention of why it’s a good time to visit, what’s also happening in the area, or any key selling points.

An alternative post might say something along the lines of: [date] is a great time to enjoy the xxx in zzz – book now to take advantage of one of our last slots before [date further in the future to show availability is rare]. Or you could use some of your other selling points to fill a specific date, so you’re raising awareness of your business, not just stating the price.

As I’ve said, there are plenty of people ready to take advantage of last minute availability, which may mean you fill the space but people are still responding.

Instead of just saying ‘sorry too late’, do you have a system to get people to sign up to a mailing list so they can find out about other availability (don’t just say ‘special offers’ as it can devalue your business and just attract the bargain hunters) and find out more about your business?

Building your mailing list has two other benefits. You’ll be able to offer last minute availability more as a ‘reward’ for repeat or interested visitors than as a price-led offer. It also means your social media posts aren’t filled with mentions of cancellations and special offers, encouraging others to do the same.

You could post on social media that when you have last minute availability (you don’t need to say ‘due to cancellations’), you give priority to people on your mailing list. This will help to build your list, show you value people on it, and convey the message that you’re generally full – which in turn makes visitors see you as successful so they’re less likely to expect discounts…


Jennifer Fawcett

Thank you Susan.  There are some really good suggestions in your above piece.  I shall keep them in mind when the need arises.

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Sheila Mitchell

That's really useful advice and I will try and remember when the need arises. 

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