Lodging Hospitality mobile web

Time For Hoteliers To Wake-Up To Changing Travel Preferences

Uniform Consistency Has Become a Competitive Disadvantage

Thinking about how to attract more guests to your hotel? Fill your hotel by stealing rooms from your competition with one word: “individualization.” Trying to identify what the new demographic of today’s travelers wants as a whole misses the point. What matters is, you will lose market share if you’re not trying to connect with guests by implementing an individualized approach.

This one word represents the most important marketing change in the past 50 years. The modern brand movement, which started with Holiday Inn in the 1950s and was perfected by Marriott in the 1970s, was focused around one word “consistency.” Today, a uniform consistency is a disadvantage.

Today’s Internet-savvy consumer blurs generational and economic lines. This is the era of customization and personalization. Everyone has a ticket to this new age of consumer choices, and like the Television Era of the second half of the past century, there’s no going back to the way things were.

It was simple for hotel managers back in the 1950s, wasn’t it? When travelers wanted a place to stay the night, they stopped by the side of the road at the place that looked the cleanest. A greasy-spoon diner with a sassy waitress provided the ambiance. Then, chain hotels came along and were able to guarantee that cleanliness. Now, brands no longer focus on promoting consistency and predictability across the chain; consistency and predictability are boring and outdated.

Imagine you’re in a hotel room—treat yourself, it’s a decent hotel—with a 32-inch flat screen, desk and wheeled chair, too many fluffy pillows on the bed and art purchased in bulk. By looking around the room, can you tell what brand of hotel you’re in? And even with strong brand identity, there’s not a hotel room on this planet that’s not a sort of emotional wasteland—you’re away from home, you’re isolated, you get up at night and you can’t remember which side of the bed is nearest the bathroom.

Today’s ultra-picky, customize-to-my-liking guest is driving major brands to branch out to new customization frontiers, with new boutique properties better able to cater to each guest’s whims. For example, the Hard Rock Hotel brand asks guests about their favorite type of music, and can have it playing on the TV in their room when they walk in. Hilton and Wyndham properties offer similar customization concepts like having a guest’s favorite drink bubbling on ice when they arrive. The last time I stayed at a Starwood hotel, they even had a framed picture of my sons in the room. Now that’s customization!

The hotel and chain that will win the hearts (and wallets) of this generation will be the one to set a system for recognizing and embracing the preferences and needs of each traveler individually, instead of relying on the old mantra of consistency.

Think about it: Today, with just a few simple clicks, travelers can pick their exact seat on an airplane, and websites such as TripAdvisor can show if their “friends” think a hotel has great rooms and service, or just a half-hearted marketing plan and a couple of dated suite pictures.

Today’s Digital Age consumers want immediate change, even on items that can take years for a hotel to correct. Many owners are just finishing costly, brand-demanded project improvement plans, and guests are already flocking to new concept and property ideas. One prominent example is the discovery that guests want spacious lobbies more akin to a Starbucks atmosphere, so they can flick through their iPads around other people, rather than being stuck in a room. And this phenomenon isn’t just for the trendy brands like W; even more traditional brands like Marriott Courtyard are catching on, creating a lobby that’s more of social gathering place.

The problem for the industry regarding this ever-evolving change in travel preferences is that hotels are still not very malleable, and a lobby renovation is costly. So how can you attract these guests while not breaking the bank on rearrangements? Marketing. Hotels must create an enticing and effective method of showcasing their unique offerings, and communicating with perspective customers in the places and forums they frequent.

As my Vice President of Marketing Allison Handy explains, “Marketing is no longer limited to some splashy ads and traditional sales brochures selling the building and the location. Now the messaging needs to highlight the experience the guest will receive in your building at your location, the ‘what’s in it for me’.”

If you don’t have a well-thought-out online marketing plan today, you might as well fire your accountants and managers, too, as you won’t need them for long. Allison is always telling brands that in addition to a general Internet marketing strategy, they need an organic, paid, advertising and social media strategy to build their online reputation. This can seem intimidating, but don’t let it be, start small. Master one channel and then move on to the next.

In addition to marketing, every successful hotel excels in guest interaction, and that starts with your people. A staff has to be empowered to make decisions on filling guest needs. Most top-down companies fail to tap that critical resource, when really the best ideas come from the front-line employees. How are you reaching out to gain their insight?

Steve Van is president & CEO of Dallas-based Prism Hotels & Resorts, one of the fastest growing and most experienced hotel management, advisory services and receivership companies in the U.S. The company currently manages more than 55 hotels for multiple owners, including urban, suburban and resort destinations. Prism is approved to manage all major brands.

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