What Sets Your Hotel Apart?

In a world full of copycats, customers appreciate features that set your hotel apart from your competition.

A few years ago, a bowl of beautiful apples at the front desk was one of those, until every hotel in town copied the idea and you had to look for something else to set you apart. Doubletree Hotels may have become famous for the world's best cookie at check-in because the brand wanted to come up with something memorable to replace the apple. It succeeded.

The point is that the most successful hotels remind us of clear points of difference between them and their competition.

Some features that set hotels apart in a memorable way:

  • Philippe of the Waldorf=Astoria, who was vice president of all food and beverage of the hotel, came down to the ballrooms every night at reception time to meet and greet the host of each party and thank them for their business. To be greeted by this famous New Yorker made each feel very special. I never saw this done as consistently as by Philippe, who seldom missed a night.

  • A general manager I knew sent 15-20 bud vases with long-stemmed flowers, accompanied by personally signed welcoming cards, every day. Instead of sending three or four fruit bowls, he made many more people feel special at a very modest cost. I'm sure the recipients remembered that kindness long after their visits.

  • In one hotel, the general manager would drop by and meet every major prospect on their initial visit. Many meeting planners never meet the GM, so you can imagine how they feel to meet him or her on the first visit.

  • We used to pick up important meeting planners at the airport on their site visits. That is one of the best impressions you can make as a sales person, well worth the extra time. And don't forget the trip back to the airport. Life-long relationships start with this kind of treatment. This extra time spent with top prospects gave us an opportunity to know them well.

  • A bellman in a hotel I visited three or four times a year would introduce me to key staffers as he took me to my room — the bartender in the lounge, host in the restaurant and any others we passed on the way. It was always a great experience, and I never felt more welcome in my life.

Hopefully, you have begun to think of how you could show the positive differences between your product and the competition.

A good way to get started is to list the key weaknesses of your top competitors and then improve your product to invite comparison with them in these areas.

For example, if your competitors don't have an aggressive program to call regular customers by name, it would be a great one to concentrate on.

I worked in a restaurant when I was in college that owed its success to calling every regular customer by name. I believe that if a person is called by name by four employees during a visit, that person will be deeply loyal. Customers may try a new hotel once but will be back when they realize your hotel is special.

Two other favorites to work on are staff friendliness and impenetrable voice mail. If you can change your telephone program so prospects can reach a sales-and-catering person on the first ring, customers notice the difference quickly and respond to it.

Developing discernible differences is a worthwhile use of your time.

Send me examples of your success and I'll devote a column to them.

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 a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at ttmccarthy@cox.net or 703-931-0757.

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