Naked bootleg is a term used in football whereby the quarterback runs counter to his blockers and tries to create a run or pass opportunity with no help from his blockers. The Great Recession forced us to operate our businesses naked because until the last few years, we had no “wind at our backs” from a strong economy and no “compression” from other areas such as conventions or events. We had to build our businesses from scratch during those difficult times and even now, it is incredibly competitive in the sales market.

Management today must include creative leadership that stresses the urgency to work as a team and find ways to entice corporate travelers and groups to our hotels and restaurants. Gone are the days when we just responded to leads from our brands and convention bureaus. Also gone are the days when we posted our “vacancy” signs outside the hotel and guests would just check in because as I have written in other articles, our industry has gone from an art to a science.

We need to develop revenue sources in a whole new ballgame. Consumers are vigilant at finding the absolute best value out there. They shop multiple websites and rely on social media to get input from friends or those who think alike. That means that we as operators must know what keywords to use to get potential guests to find our websites and we must proactively utilize social media to market our products. TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are just a few of the platforms that we can use.  Restaurants and other retail tourism businesses should also be conscious of Yelp along with their ratings and reviews.

Moreover, we must be very responsive to any requests for information by providing clear, concise correspondence that highlights our competitive advantages and shows where the value is in staying at our properties. Our proposals must be both attractive in appearance and easy to read and (though it seems like a given) have flawless grammar and no spelling errors or typos.  It is also important to pick a few platforms and excel at them before trying to tackle too many platforms without devoting enough time to them.

Those of us with restaurants, spas, and ancillary businesses must be extra aggressive in targeting repeat users via digital marketing. In our case, at the Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Del Mar, we created our own events including seminars on college funding, health and fitness, and more. We also host special events such as wine and food tastings on a regular basis. Our bar specials are never ending with specials seven days a week.  These prove to build strong relationships with not only hotel guests, but also local neighbors.

Once we are able to get guests to our hotels and restaurants, we must provide “wow” customer service. When we look at service today, there are four levels: basic, expected, desired and wow. Basic service can be found at the post office. Expected service can be found at most fast food restaurants and many businesses today. Desired service is often found at good hotels and restaurants but “wow” service is the only way to ensure repeat business.

How do we provide wow service?  It is all about training, that first item in the budget to be cut by many companies. Good training coupled with strong leadership makes for a good start.  To retain customers and get a viral marketing effect for your business, travelers must feel that they are receiving value. Add in a “wow” customer service level and that viral marketing grows exponentially.  Relationships with clients and guests can be developed much more easily when the combination of value and wow service is apparent.  That combination of high value in traveler sentiment and wow customer service is paramount.

Leadership is showing the management team how critical this concept is by “walking the talk.” We all have something that we can do that is different.  In our case, we have run with our guests and offered personal training sessions.  My personal passion and knowledge of running and fitness motivate me to coach our guests into a healthy lifestyle.  Relationships can be improved dramatically with genuine, individual interaction and that is my goal, to build these relationships. “Run with the owner” is popular with our business travelers, especially those who do not yet know the neighborhood.

For better or worse, it takes more than driving revenues to thrive today as a hotelier or restaurateur. Hiring the right people is certainly part of it but there are responsibilities that we have that cannot disappear even when the economy threatens to cripple us. Good insurance policies require diligence. Safety and security of staff and guests, an up-to-date emergency plan and a very clear set of policies is at the heart of preventive management.

Speaking of preventive, staying on top of capital expenditures and routine maintenance projects is difficult even though the most difficult of times is behind us.  There is a delicate balance of rigidly tight expense control and prudent investing in key areas. Let’s hope the balance of 2015 and 2016 continues to have more positive “wind” to be blown our way.

2016 Business Planning Guide Lodging Forecast 2016

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