Knowing where to devote time and energy as a business is difficult in even the smoothest of waters, with contrasting visions, timelines and notions of what’s “crucial” commonplace for teams of every size.
However, throw into the mix the greatest disruption to business we’ve seen in over a century, and for many hotel chains over the last 18 months, oftentimes what they’ve needed to focus on has been dictated to them. Now, as travel flows begin to normalise, and more expansive thinking is again possible, it’s important to closely scrutinise every new investment of time and energy being made.
Are your focuses actually currently where they need to be? And, is how you’re measuring your success as a business looking at all of the key metrics that it needs to?
Below are five priorities for hotel chains, which, at a time where a focus on the bottom line can feel all-consuming, may be escaping from view.
1. Evolve the brand to better support hotels
Something becoming ever clearer is the opportunity for large brands to act as better support mechanisms for their hotels, with the pandemic showcasing that simply being part of a brand is no longer enough.
One example of this is the desire for greater transparency, knowledge-sharing and insights to be passed downstream from the brand HQ to hotels, to help inform decision-making and improve overall performance. As massive hubs of intelligence, HQs increasingly have the chance to be the eyes and ears of their hotels, particularly during times of uncertainty, and help them to work smarter via the mountains of data at their disposal.
Connected is the notion that the relationship between a brand’s HQ and its hotels can become a more consultative one, based on a deeper mutual understanding and underpinned by greater flexibility. As a recurring example, for many of the hoteliers that I speak with, there’s the feeling that their brand is too prescriptive when it comes to the technology they use, which ends up disadvantaging those that have specific requirements. For hotels in a different region to where their brand is headquartered, or with a niche target market, for instance, creating the distribution stack they need can end up becoming a costly exercise. Additional local channels, tools and digital marketing experts can be required, simply because the head office isn’t willing to budge on their set strategy.
Being more supportive and flexible, and creating better visibility of data, will allow both brands and their hotels to more easily pull the levers they need, to achieve their set goals – whether those be driving more demand or saving on costs.
2. Analyse quick, test, learn, repeat
As a profit-centric business, it’s important for your team to be focused primarily on driving revenue, rather than over-analysing every decision – the by-product of a difficult 18-month period. Analysis is crucial to every chain, but being rigorous around the amount of time spent on it is equally so.
Ensure you have a cadence with your team set up around the time you want to spend on strategic analysis, in alignment to your goals, and then execute quickly. Treat it like an A/B test – check on the results, and then adapt fast again. Importantly, ensure you’re working with technology that allows you to be this nimble. If you’re putting up with clunky, outdated technology simply because the thought of moving away is too foreign to what’s been done at your hotel over the years, it’s time to reconsider that costly mindset.
One thing that hoteliers can learn from the tech space and work into their own revenue cadence, is the iterative capability and framework we’ve had in our businesses for a long time now around being agile and adaptive. Pleasingly to me, it’s something I’m seeing more and more of the hotels we work with now embracing.
3. Take a step closer
In every market, guests are becoming more accepting of their personal data being used by savvy hotels to either better their stay, or provide a personalised deal or experience. Our recent Changing Traveller Report for the U.S. recently made clear that 4-in-5 American travellers aren’t concerned by their personal data being used by a hotel if it means a better stay, so with ongoing unknowns around the return of corporate travel, it’s wise for businesses to continue focusing their efforts primarily on today’s leisure and largely-domestic traveller.
For a few of the hotels that I’m speaking to in other parts of the world, return customers are higher now than prior to Covid, meaning that if you’re able to create a stay that’s memorable and can be relied upon, re-engaging these guests is now more likely to be successful than ever before. At each communication touchpoint, look to provide a flavour of your brand, and make your message as targeted to your guests’ specific preferences as possible.
Obviously, personalisation is easier if you already know your customer segment, which for many has been a challenge of the past 18 months. So, building the awareness and capabilities to understand and then reach your potential customers, when they belong to a segment that you don’t traditionally service, is a vital challenge to be tackling. Again, technology is key here to building out a more robust and focused marketing and distribution strategy.
4. Guests leave with the moments
One way of building brand loyalty beyond carefully targeted personalisation, is creating a moment for your guests that they won’t easily forget. Increasingly, due to long lockdowns and pent-up travel demand, the hotels that are creating moments most successfully, are the ones that are being rewarded.
Being “Instagrammable” is (for better and for worse) very much the way hotels need to be thinking currently about their experiential offerings, given the heightened level of influence friends and family are having on where people are choosing to stay. So, creating those unique moments either via a new item on your menu, an unexpected partnership, art installation or even roving cocktail bar, is key to driving fresh demand.
5. Invest in your people. They’re at the core of it all.
Ultimately, above all else, it’s a hotel’s people that bring a brand, a property, an experience and everything in between, to life. And often, it’s a hotel’s people that help to create the most loyal of guests. Now, more than ever before, it’s vital for hotels to be investing in their people, and creating a pathway for them through the business.
When I initially came into hospitality, without any real experience, I truly couldn’t see a road to my success at the time. Not having a degree, it was incredibly demotivating to see that the only people that were going in at the senior level positions were the ones that had come straight out of university, or had powerful mentors.
If someone had created a clear structure for me those years ago, then without a doubt I would have stayed in hospitality for longer; an experience I saw time and again, as friends exited the industry.
As starting points to creating a better work environment:
- Support your people with additional training to ensure they fully understand their role, and beyond
- Build staff loyalty with special benefit programs for both them and their families
- Rethink roles so they can be more multifaceted and interesting
- Give all of your staff the chance to communicate with the company’s leaders, so that there’s an open dialogue throughout the business – and this might even mean setting up new modes of communication, if not everyone in the company has a work email address!
At its simplest, hospitality is about connecting to people, and given that the experience of your employees is fundamentally connected to the experience of your guests, they must never be thought of as a standard cost centre. Rather, they are the glue that makes all of the above possible – something that in the last 18 months has been far too often forgotten.
As originally published in Hospitality Upgrade.