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Accelerating into 2011
What a climate we all worked in this year, many sectors tasting recovery and revenue boosts, while others saw swift demise or grappled with debt. This "Brandscape" was volatile, yet wildly opportunistic for those with liquidity and foresight. Properties changed portfolios, new Brands were announced, old favorites faded away. Loyalties and Brand identification became confused and diminished. Investment and expansion aimed towards Asia, the new Hospitality frontier.
Our Guests became a different kind of consumer. Having gone through significant economic introspection themselves, restraint trumped aspiration. What they sought for a Hospitality Experience changed dramatically. They looked for value, common sense purchase, and authenticity. Meetings and conventions showed a modest up-tick, and there is still conflicting positions on who will lead the recovery into 2011 - the business or leisure traveler.
Facilities had not changed much, as little was reinvested in our properties. Renovation and planned maintenance had slowed to a trickle, continually pushed out. With service we merely tried to hold our own, as we drastically downsized, slashed schedules, and entirely stopped training initiatives. Our product remained bland and dated.
Technology advances did not stop, however. Internet applications and creative systems abounded with new approaches to all aspects of our business. Sadly, many operations simply did not have the Budget to invest in these State of the Art advances. Most just stayed with their current approaches, figuring the status quo was better than nothing. Of course, nothing from nothing is nothing. Market advantage became illusive.
The year 2011 practically screams for clarity, definition and distinction. The "Brandscape" has become homogenized and your Guests far more savvy. Starting with the prominent Hotel Corporations, like a Marriott or Starwood, most have a slew of Brands under their tent. Their message to the marketplace is garbled. Next year, the largest hotel operator, Best Western shall try to formally guide the Consumer to three types or tiers of lodgings with every member actually already somewhat distinct in their own right. This will be a momentous task. Management Companies with several brands in their portfolio will strive to maintain some balance and profitability, as their various hotels seek a market and marketing niche. Independents will continue to move towards the larger marketing organizations to represent their properties, recognizing that as a sole entity their presence is lost. Devalued properties and those in the depths of debt will continue to be attractive to deep-pocketed investors. In short, the rich will continue to get rich, and those who have been timid are on the back end of the recovery cusp.
The Phoenix (our hotels and our Guests) has arisen from the debris of the downturn, and we do not know what that really looks like yet. There is real disagreement on the "New Normal". We may think we know what we are, but how do you translate that to influence Consumer behavior and purchasing power? "Build and they will come" no longer works (except in China), as went "free HBO", "Continental Breakfast" and "complimentary newspaper". However, clever operators will present a holistic picture to their Guest, recognizing that it is all about the whole, full Experience, rather than one segment, "here is your room". Marshall McLuen still is correct, the "Media is the message".
And, that is the starting point - how do we reach that audience with the message (or promise) that we have concocted (because we are still not 100% sure) about our Brand or hotel. This whole exercise is wrapped around an honest appraisal of the operation and the validation of the picture you wish to project to the public.
You need to seek Feedback - from your staff, your Guest, your vendor and community. QA and Mystery Shops can also provide that extra layer of information, particularly as you assess your Operational and Service Standards, which have probably lapsed in the last several years. You now can begin to realign resources, processes, and people - investing appropriately and strategically. Your message begins to take shape, and you have learned that it continuously needs to be refreshed and verified through Feedback strategies.
Like a broken record, "Service, service, service" is the mantra, no matter your ATR, your chocolate on the pillow, your Internet connections in the room. Service shapes memories and drives the Guest Experience. Dedication to care, attention, courtesy and effort has not been devalued in the last few years; the need has been heightened. Service makes you different and distinctive. Those who deliver for you (staff) need to be reengaged, for they have suffered just as much as the business.
Technology is the road to supremacy, with the caveat that you have paid attention to invigorating your Brand. Everyone is connected, with too much data and drumming really the enemy. So many new and exciting products and choices. Cell phones to open your Guest room, the ability to use actual customers to provide precise feedback on how you execute your protocols (the ultimate Mystery Shopper), kiosks replacing the Front Desk, back-of-the-house wizardry - every day a new product or application - hard to select the solutions with all these choices. We may have been dormant as an industry, but those technology entrepreneurs and shakers have not. The Consumer we wish to influence has choices, as well, and the test is matching our message to their medium.
With this as a preface, what does 2011 hold? Probably more of the same, as the market sorts and shakes out. Expansion in Asia will be significant, because that is where the money and the energy lie. The rest of the world will tussle with defining the "New Normal" and continue to experiment through marketing. Hoteliers will still need a practical means of expression, grounded methods of measurement, and a consistency of delivery. Every exchange ("touch point") with your Guest must emphasize that you will care for them, attend to their needs and that their business and concerns are valued. All your staff will need to reflect this behavior. And, you must be prepared to reward those employees who excel with this value proposition.
We need to better embrace the simple concept of engaging our Guest, gaining their loyalty, and better than meeting their expectations. We need to better manage the experience, frame expectations, create real value and then market our uniqueness. This dictum has not changed!
The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience. Seek solutions at: www.hospitalityperformance.com.
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