The first Innovative Marketing in Hospitality conference, organised in London last week by Caterer and Hotelkeeper, was packed full of tips on how to boost your business, both on and offline. Janet Harmer reports
BE AWARE OF YOUR COMPETITIVE MARKET
The number of hoteliers which have a lack of awareness of competitor businesses is astonishing, hotel industry consultant Melvin Gold (pictured above) told the conference.
"A competitive environment should be the key to a hotel's marketing plan," he advised. "It is vital that you have a basis of comparison as to how the market is doing, and how you are doing against the market."
Melvin Gold's tips for keeping abreast of the competition
â- Consider the online reviews of competitors - what do customers like and dislike about them?
â- How does your business compare?
â- Research feedback on what others think of your business.
â- Benchmark your business against other similar operators in the market - read data from STR, TRI Hospitality and tourist boards.
â- Segment the market by the product area (rooms, food and beverage, conference and banqueting, weddings) target clientele (corporate, leisure, conference, weddings), time of the day/week (midweek, weekend, bank holidays, breakfast, lunch, dinner) and by source of booking (internet, telephone, contract, agent, promotions) and focus your marketing accordingly.
DEAL OR NO DEAL?
The explosion in the past two or three years of the "deal of the day" websites came under discussion during the conference.
Martin Evans, managing director of the Tourism Business, said that the growth of companies such as Groupon, LivingSocial, My VoucherCodes, Travelzoo and Voyages Privee meant that daily deals were now here to stay and the hospitality industry needed to assess the benefits and pitfalls of their offers.
"The benefits of discounting via the daily deal sites include enticing new guests and diners when you need them - but look at the cost of acquisition and return on investment," he said. "You can beat the competition, be seen as innovative, have a direct channel to customers, achieve good advertising coverage and an immediacy which entices customers.
"However, there are pitfalls. There is the danger of eroding rates, you could discount to existing guests, the business might not recover, the brand could be cheapened and you may end up attracting the wrong type of clientele."
Nick Stafford, general manger for Europe of LivingSocial Escapes, advised that any deals set up between hospitality operators and companies like LivingSocial should "generate new demand, tell your story and strengthen your brand, provide measurable results and protect total revenue".
Stafford highlighted the success of a LivingSocial Escapes deal with London's five-star hotel, One Aldwych. "The hotel has very strong rooms business, but wanted to boost its food and beverage offer. As a result we put together an offer of a Champagne afternoon tea for two for £35, which represented a 50% saving for the customer. A total of 1,292 deals were done," said Stafford.
DEVELOPING A SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY
Hotelier Anthony Lloyd impressed the audience with an account of how he has developed one of the UK's most successful social media strategies for an independent operation. The 10-bedroom Fallowfields country house hotel in Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire, which last week was named Tourism South East Small Hotel of the Year 2011, currently has more than 15,250 followers on Twitter.
Lloyd said that regular postings on Twitter have boosted revenue at the hotel since 2008 by more than £150,000 and resulted in appearances on numerous local and national TV programmes, and in countless numbers of newspapers and magazines.
"It has also resulted in the recruitment of five members of staff, increased traffic to the hotel's website by 20% and improved my profile in the industry," he explained.
"Twitter is like a 1950s cocktail party - it is lots of fun and full of short conversations," he explained. "It is best used as a two-way communication tool to trumpet the brand, but not to sell."
Lloyd said he was now beginning to get to grips with Facebook, which he described as "twitter on steroids", and LinkedIn, which he regards as being most useful for recruiting staff and liaising with industry colleagues.
Anthony Lloyd's rules of engagement for social media â- Have a strategy
â- Don't sell
The conference heard how Vanessa Scott, director of the 14-bedroom Strattons hotel in Swaffham, Norfolk, has used its commitment to strong environmental ethics to work with the locality to build up a destination business.
"We are situated in an area suffering social and economic deprivation due to the decline in agriculture and as a result have had to make Strattons somewhere people really want to come to," said Scott.
Connections with the local area which are both sustainable and drive business to Strattons include:
â- Engaging with the Brecks - a local area of natural beauty which can be used for walking, jogging, cycling and horse riding.
â- Commissioning local artists to work on hotel projects.
â- Purchasing food from local suppliers. A dish made from local pests - crayfish and rabbit - tells a positive story.
HELPING CUSTOMERS MAKE A DECISION TO BUY
Hospitality business and leadership coach Caroline Cooper, of Zeal Coaching, shared her thoughts on the three things that staff can do to help customers make a decision to buy. "Your team knowing the theory and spotting opportunities is one thing, having the chance to practise the sales conversation to build confidence is quite another," she said. "This takes time, feedback and sometimes a little patience."
â- Help them identify what is different, unusual or unique about what you're offering. As a minimum, knowing the distinction between, for example, a superior room and a standard room, or the difference between your spa treatment and the competition?
â- Few buying decisions are made purely on logic, we need to evoke emotions. Provide the opportunity for your team to experience services and products first hand as it will make it so much easier for them to convey positive feelings and emotions.
â- Help customers recognise the benefits - what's in it for them, what makes a deal good value, what will they be saving, what is included in the package? Encourage your team to spell out the benefits.