Lemonade From Lemons

The hotel industry isn't generally known for its innovative sales and marketing savvy nor for its ability to react quickly to changing market dynamics. It's not a criticism; it's a fact. Most hoteliers focus — probably correctly — on the blocking and tackling aspects of traditional hotel sales and marketing.

It was refreshing, then, to read the press reports about an Orlando hotelier (and his owner and management company) who last month was able to instantly turn a temporary embarrassment into a public relations home run that could reverberate for months and perhaps years to come.

Here's the story, although you may have heard it on The Today Show or in USA Today or elsewhere in the media: a 323-room Holiday Inn in the Downtown Disney area of Orlando closed for rebuilding after last summer's hurricanes severely damaged the property. In preparing for its August 1 opening, the staff incorrectly loaded the hotel's opening rate on the Holiday Inn website as 93 cents per night instead of $93.

For the 17 hours the rock-bottom rate appeared on the Net, about 400 savvy web surfers booked 1,208 roomnights at the property, resulting in $110,000 in potential lost revenues for the hotel — plus more than a little embarrassment. Because it's the right thing to do, the hotel will honor the 93-cent reservations made before the error was detected.

But instead of licking his wounds and returning to business as usual, GM Glenn Aycock (presumably with the OK from Interstate Hotels & Resorts, which operates the hotel), developed a special package that celebrates the boo-boo. In what Aycock calls “our grand reopening gift,” the hotel will give guests the fifth night of a stay for 93 cents after they stay four nights at the regular rate. That's a discount of nearly 20 percent. The package will be in effect from mid-September to Christmas, but it should generate a lot of positive PR and good will for the property as it reenters the market.

It's a classic example of making lemonade out of lemons, a way of doing business more operators should adopt. It will only cost you a few lemons.

Speaking of Disney, another press release that caught my eye concerns a luggage delivery service Walt Disney World inaugurated last month. Under the program called Magical Express, guests check their bags at their airport of departure. Disney picks up the bags at the Orlando airport and transports them directly to the guests' hotel rooms. Guests arrive in Orlando, bypass baggage claim and board a bus that takes them directly to their Disney hotel, where the bags are waiting for them in their rooms. The process works in reverse when the guests depart for home.

This service directly addresses the number-one concern for most travelers — particularly those who travel infrequently: the hassle of negotiating the anxiety-causing maze at the airport, especially upon arrival in a strange city. And for Disney, of course, it's a strong marketing tool to coax visitors to stay on property instead of at a non-Disney hotel.

Obviously, very few hotels could offer this same service, but it is another example of innovative thinking, which the hospitality business typically lacks. One final note: While Disney has the logistical and financial muscle to make this kind of program work on a large scale, it wasn't the first hotel company in Orlando to offer the service. Harris Rosen, the hotelier who is at least as creative as Disney, has been working with a baggage service company for two years. He's proof that imagination, not size, is all it takes to be a leader in this business.

Are you ready for some creative risk taking?

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