Interactive online specials, special events, amazing and genuine customer service, leadership required to weather the storm.
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. Well, we are operating our hotels naked but not by choice. We have no “wind at our backs” from a strong economy and no “compression” from other areas such as conventions or events. No, we must build our hotel businesses from scratch during these times.
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. 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…yes, I was around in the 1970s when that is all that was necessary to fill a limited service or mid-market hotel.
Today, we need to be developing revenue sources in a whole new ballgame. Consumers are vigilant at finding the absolute best value out there. They shop multiple web sites and rely on social media to get input from friends or those who think alike. That means that we as operators must know what key words to use to get potential guests to find our own web sites and we must proactively utilize social media to market our products. This medium includes but is certainly not limited to Trip Advisor, Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In.
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.
Those of us with restaurants, spas, and ancillary businesses must be extra aggressive in targeting repeat users via electronic marketing. In our case, at the Hilton Garden Inn, San Diego/ Del Mar, we actually create our own events including seminars on college funding, health and fitness, and more. We host winemaker dinners and wine and food tastings on a regular basis as well. 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 basically 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’s 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 they are getting 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 my case, I run with our guests at the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites, Del Mar, and offer personal training sessions for others. My 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. Our “run with the GM” 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. 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 during these tough times. There is a delicate balance of rigidly tight expense control and prudent investing in key areas. To make profits in these times is much more difficult than when the proverbial “wind is at our back.” To achieve profits or any return on our investment, we must look to our lenders for help in some cases. This may mean requesting a deferral of payments or a reduction in principal and/or interest rates. They must be made aware (if they are not already) that today’s occupancy and average rate levels are at an all time low for the decade and will not be bouncing back anytime soon.
Robert A. Rauch, CHA
Rauch is a hotel owner/operator (he serves as General Manager of one of the hotels) in San Diego and founder of the web site www.hotelguru.com. He teaches a course in hospitality entrepreneurship at the college level and sits on multiple boards of directors.