Developing new business is something we all must be ready to do. Start with this simple idea, which just about any hotel can tie into: Create overnight packages that combine a special event scheduled for your area with accommodations at your hotel.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • When a special museum exhibit such as the King Tut show is scheduled for your city, put a package together that includes tickets if needed, a welcoming gift, accommodations for one or two nights, and breakfast each day. I price the welcoming gifts at cost to keep the package as inexpensive as possible.

  • When the circus comes to town, develop a family package with tickets and welcoming gifts for children. Work with the circus to see if you can arrange a visit by some of their performers to enhance the experience.

  • If you have a theme park in your area, it's a perfect element to consider for this kind of package, even if yours isn't the closest hotel. If there is a hotel in the theme park or very nearby and yours is five miles away, you can price a package accordingly that gives real value and takes the distance into consideration.

One suggestion on price is to set the room rate low enough that if the package doesn't sell, you'll know the rate wasn't responsible. Once the packages are successful, the rate can be increased.

Defining the market area

Look at your registration cards for past weekends or other times being promoted. Find out where the weekend leisure travelers are coming from. Usually, they come from less than 150 miles away. Then promote the package within your local market through advertising and contests.

In one hotel, the prime market was covered by a major local television station. We worked out trades for advertising that gave free rooms throughout the year in exchange for ads. To build excitement, we created a contest that rewarded packages for correct answers to questions asked over the air throughout the day.

Cultivate repeat customers

Develop a list of ones who have bought special packages and promote return visits by sending them a monthly newsletter also distributed throughout the hotel. After you have held a few special-event weekends, the routine becomes quite simple, particularly if you appoint a part-time person to coordinate these activities. I suggest you appoint someone who doesn't have selling responsibilities so selling time doesn't suffer. Then find out what kinds of activities are scheduled in your area in the next several months. Figure out the ones that coincide with your low occupancy times and otherwise make sense.

If someone on staff is familiar with promotions of this kind, great. But if not, consider hiring a person with the right background on a project basis to coordinate the writing of a plan and lead the effort until a staffer can take over.

This is a call to go out and grab new business where there is none, rather than sitting back and waiting for it, as most do. Go get it!

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-931-0757.

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