It is a frustrating time.
Traditionally, the cornerstone of Hotel Nation is one of dynamic professionals armed with light speed drive, a get it done at all costs attitude, a sense of urgency on steroids. We are proud of the fact that there are competitors that lay in the wake of our success. Technology advances are all rooted in faster is better.
Yet, our current market conditions in most cases provides a customer base that either financially, or due to policy decisions, do not have the willingness to buy. We now know that for most, this recovery will be over several more months, not weeks.
Over the last year, most segments have suffered greatly, and only recently are we seeing signs of life with Individual Pleasure travelers. If you operate your hotel in a destination area, or a State that has safely lifted many restrictions, you have benefited from customers that are very eager to travel. Also, there are more out there that will travel soon in the future. Summer is now upon us and families will break out. International Travelers, not willing or unable to deal with suffocating restrictions, will join others and be part of the leading edge of domestic travelers, which will give shape to the great American comeback of 2021 and 2022.
So where does that leave the Sales and Marketing efforts for all other segments outside of Leisure? What about that mental health of all those supercharged professionals known for crushing the competition while obtaining group business, and other?
First and foremost, if you have not adopted a long game, and embraced the skills that go along with it, you must start today. By now you may have learned that those dynamic marketing efforts to make something happen this very minute, have met with only marginal success. Many hotels remain closed or are troubled…..but this will change very soon as markets become economically healthy again.
The success of the Long Game will start with you and your organization. Steps and action plans can still be helpful in organizing your efforts. Winging it will not, and it will not inspire others that you lead in a effective manner, including ownership. Develop your plan over at least 12 months, and discard or modify it should we benefit from a bounce forward earlier.
Addressing Digital Marketing is a good start. Do not let your web site go stale while business is at a lower level, it is your visual centerpiece with customers, your electronic brochure. Change pictures for sure, and if you are an independent hotel, look closely at your content with an eye on SEO. Keep your blogs current and relevant, do not let your last one be dated March 2020. Speak to your customers through the blogs, again with the assistance of your SEO professional.
Updates on your Covid Cleaning efforts are important to your customers, make them important in your marketing by selling both features and benefits of your sanitation standards. The customer wants to know that they will be safe. Remember our history – We are an industry deeply rooted in excellent sanitation practices as you market the property. Our industry is battle tested in this area, and we adapt.
Another very inexpensive way to reach past customers is through effective E-Blasts. Your properties PMS system is data rich, and those e-mails should be harvested. Many companies are now available that will assist you to interface with your property management system and retrieve this valuable information. These same companies will provide management resources and training to you for a nominal monthly fee.
The resources include templates and advice on how to shape an effective message that will generate transient room nights, targeted to when you need them. The best part is you are reaching customers that have already experienced the benefits of your hotel. Your reminder, via a promotional offer, may be just enough to motivate them to return. Should you not have such a company and will be looking for one, be certain that your selection will be one that will also provide you with backend reporting. These reports will tell you the activity of each E-Blast campaign and identify those past customers that showed interest by clicking through. A link can be embedded into your E-Blast message that can be connected to a specific rate code or category, allowing you to further track the results.
Another great benefit is that it will not dilute any other captured room nights booked through other channels. You control the content, the time-period, the rate, the package, all based on your promotional offer, and your brand standards. All of this, without paying the commission of Opaque and On-line Travel Agent web sites.
The most important efforts you can make however, is solidifying your relationships with your group segment and LNR customers. Many contacts have changed dramatically over the last year. Existing contacts have in some cases added or combined responsibilities. Other have departed and been replaced by others key leaders. Keeping aware of those changes with decision makers is more important than ever, as changes are more active than ever. Stay ahead of this as it will be your competitive advantage once the rebound begins.
Welcome and congratulate these decision makers, and sincerely make them a friend. They will decide your future success. When you outreach to them, always make it relevant and meaningful, do not force it. Sometimes just a small gift, a hello, I was thinking about you, or a how are you doing – in the long run will be powerful. Uncover something meaningful to them in their life outside of work. Get other senior leaders in your organization involved when appropriate. It is powerful for a customer to hear from others associates, if nothing else to show your appreciation of the past business and how you look forward to seeing them return.
Account Management Systems at most hotels have been established based on customer volume, which would then dictate the frequency of call visits. With corporate travel and group down, those traditional rules are certainly gone temporarily. All customers should get a planned, steady dose of your friendly attention, if only to only say hello. After all, you are the selling weapon of the organization. As things recover, if you have done a great job on those personal and sincere relationships, past customers will think of you first.
Please do not fall into the trap of solely thinking an electronic relationship is, well, a relationship. E-mails and E-Blasts are fine and a good start, but closure rates are much higher whenever you can visit with or speak to the customer, especially as a friend. Keep the system updated always with every service exchange, no matter how minor. Remember, if it is not in the system, it never happened.
It is also vital that you do not overlook any new business coming into the area and remember your aggressive and dynamic selling skills. There is activity out there in targeted sub-segments. The medical industry in most markets is flourishing, and even some industrial markets are inviting clients back into showrooms. Large infrastructure project planned years ago continue to move forward. Keep in mind that current group lead time is short, but they are booking.
If your hotel is still imposing self-restrictions related to groups, you should have a plan to safely lift those, yet still be in compliance with Government guidelines. Many event and function facilities are at least at 50% capacity, do not miss an opportunity.
One word of concern when negotiating with Groups. Many are still concerned about future events and continuation of Government restrictions. It is a valid concern. Some groups will engage the hotel with extremely attractive pieces of business. However, they will then try to negotiate a 30-day cancellation clause for their protection. That also is a valid concern.
In addition to booking groups, you will have to protect the hotel. Do not allow a group to tie up your inventory only to cancel 30 days out, unless ownership, or leadership buys into that. An option that should be part of this discussion, if this topic comes up, is a mutual 30-day cancellation. It allows you to agree to the customers request, but also allows you to legally book over the same days with a group that is a better fit for the hotel should you wish.
Lastly, with each week that passes, we are one week closer to the full recovery of our industry. Stay humble, steady, and work the long game of strengthening your personal relationship during troubled times. Be fearless and do not have call reluctance. We are seeing so many positive signs that will help our industry. The vaccine and those that have suffered and recovered gets us closer each day to herd immunity.
Careful Courage……is being used now by many Government leaders as Free States relax some past restrictions. MLB opening the baseball season with some parks at full capacity, and the NFL vows to do the same at all venues. Outdoor events and festivals are beginning again. Those examples of Careful Courage will inspire Retail, Corporate, and Banking organizations, as well as other traditional Group, Athletic, and City-Wide segments to travel again soon. Be prepared with your strong relationships for the greatest comeback in our industry’s history.