Good or bad economy hotel operators continue battling the on-going occupancy debacle. Opinions and analysis vary over the factors that impact hotel revenues.
To steal market share, some say, it is all about the quality of service while others insist on the importance of perks and abundance of amenities and give aways. Other hoteliers tie it to sales performance but the majority feel it is the sum of all of these factors combined. While we agree with the last statement we feel that there remains some important elements in hotel operations that are often neglected but if addressed would make a significant difference in the overall occupancy and revenues of any property.
# 1. Knowledge of the competition. How much do hotels know about their competition?Investigating the competition is typically the responsibility of the hotel’s sales-team that is in fact dispatched to shop the competition within the property’s territory. The problem is that this practice is not carried out in an efficient manner.
Why? Most sales pros shop the competition one time only upon their first month on the job. Then their findings are stored in a pile of files. End of task! They are doing it only as a task on their to do list and once checked off they move on!
Shopping the competition requires an ongoing action of monitoring competitive rates, special offers/promotions, packages, amenities, product, staff conduct and etiquette, web representation, blogs, etc… on a regular basis. Awareness of general and specific patterns within the competition increases the chance of competing successfully..
In addition, there must be continuous follow ups with the acquired data. For instance, the occupancy of the competition needs to be correlated with their hotel facts and information. Then, the gathered competitive intelligence needs to be compared to one’s own property ‘s occupancy; seasonally or quarterly. These findings must become major topics in staff and strategy meetings.
Updated knowledge of the competition allows managers to better position their property in its territory and to differentiate their product from the rest of the pack. Please keep in mind that focusing on gathered intelligence is not to be used to mimic the competition but to help managers better define and outline their own operations.
# 2. Occupancy Reports. Another insightful tool to utilize in dealing with occupancy issues is hotel reports, such as those by Zip Codes and Feeder City Reports. These are great indicators of sources of business. Such reports enable the hotel manager to identify the property’s target areas that are geographically remote from the hotel’s territory. These reports allow sales to better concentrate their efforts in a given territory and help them craft the appropriate sales method so that management can spend wisely on their marketing campaigns.
Often those reports are not utilized as they should be. Analyzing bookings data must be done regularly and need to be part of the sales strategy. There are sources of business in these reports over which hotel salespeople do not have direct control but they can be easily captured due to the speed of email, twitters, linked, ins and others. The internal staff must build a strong and lasting relationship with these businesses before they are lost to the competition.
# 3. Knowing our guests. How much do hotels invest in getting to know their guests? Close to Nothing. Calling the guest by title and last name is no longer considered a special touch. It has become a common procedure and is expected from hotels of any tier. So for hotels that feel they have much accomplished by doing the usual, we say they are barely doing the minimum.
Forging relationships is the sole responsibility of the internal hotel staff. Getting to know the guest is pivotal to good business. Interaction between guests and staff creates a valuable tool for information gathering and relationship building. Managers today are found rushing through the day trying to cope with the needs of the moment. And staff is rushing through their responsibilities as well. A simple courtesy greeting is done quickly and robotically. It is not the quality interaction that generates results. Special staff training must be dedicated to guest engagement. We mean training that goes beyond the memorized jargon of check in/check out and the usual. We consider knowing our guests a major asset to hospitality providers. It paves the way to a partnership between you and your in-house guests. This then evolves into knowing guest preferences and anticipating their very own needs. More importantly it creates a welcoming at- home environment for the traveler. A property that genuinely operates based on guest need is a property that is aggressively competing and moving forward..
General questions such as how was your stay? Everything ok? Checking in? Checking out?? etc…. have become routine and generate routine answers that do not serve the management ‘s interest.
Questions such as what would you like to see on your next visit? Any special request? Did you visit us by plane or by car? How was your flight this time? etc…What made you choose this air-line? etc..Or moving on: Did you like our new addition on our managers reception menu? Or, was the bed comfortable? Were you able to smell our new scent in the bathroom, or even just non hotel conversation such as was your travel better than last time? These are forms of communication that engage and do generate expression of feelings.
Guest engagement exudes a concern for guests comfort and creates a feel -at -home atmosphere of genuine hospitality. The majority of travelers seek this type of service in their travel. However, conversations with guests must be well practiced to produce loyalty and attachment to the property.
More importantly, while employing public relation efforts in delivering the hospitality promise, hotel staff is also engaged in intelligence gathering guest feedbacks.
It is unfortunate that today a great percentage of hotel staff simply feel that all of this is unnecessary and irrelevant. They believe that brand surveys brought by modern technology is the most effective way to communicate as it interprets the guests feelings over their entire stay and eliminates the tedious time consuming functions of traditional methods.
While the Brand surveys are excellent tools for measuring guest satisfaction they are not designed to take over the role of relationship building. Public relations and guest engagement won’t be replaced by the technology of surveys.
Nonetheless in the next paragraph we will highlight how even brand surveys are not utilized as intended.
# 4. Capitalize on the brand’s resources. Perfect are the brand surveys which are designed to measure guest satisfaction, interpret the guest’s general feeling of his/her stay and articulate his or her willingness to return. However, even brand surveys are not utilized to their utmost by hotel owners and managers. Managers need to include brand survey analysis in their formal staff meeting and time needs to be dedicated to discussing its results and validity.
Yet we still feel that there is too much dependence on brand resources and not much creativity is utilized to capitalize on them. Hotel operators should create customized local surveys that are short and concise yet reflective of the everyday service, product and amenities of their property.
Unfortunately, some hotel brands are stifling the creativity of hotel owners with too many regulations.There are many hotel brands today that do not allow localized surveys for the sake of consistency and standards. Special touches that are designed to enhance the success of the franchisee without compromising standards and consistency should be encouraged by the franchiser and should not be policed nor regulated. Hotel owners fear the risk of getting fined by adding these unique touches to the standards and consequently creativity is stifled.
Nevertheless there are some brands that do expect hotel managers/owners to take initiatives and capitalize on brand resources.
And where brand allows freedom of operation we suggest that in conjunction with brand surveys, managers should create their own localized surveys; a brief and concise one. Whereas the brand questionnaire reflect the general statistics, localized surveys reflect the local statistics with a few relevant questions. It takes only a few seconds for the staff to hand it over and only few minutes from the guest to fill it out.
Survey headers such as: We value your input. We appreciate your thoughts. Your opinion matters., are a great way to invite the guest to participate.
Customized surveys, brand surveys and guest engagement are significant tools of competition. They allow managers to discover their operational strength and weaknesses. They allow them to take an inner look at their operation and help them identify areas in need of improvement. It is a very small investment with boundless results. But please do not tell us that these types of functions cannot fit in within the staff’s busy day, because modern technology has purposely freed the staff from tedious work in order to dedicate more time to guest interaction.
# 5. Sales reporting. Sales feedbacks are good trackers of occupancy. Market-feedbacks and inputs gathered by sales managers through prospecting and solicitation are down played and nearly forgotten today where most aspects of the operation are run on electronic data. Data must be part of the overall equation in planning and strategy building. However technology in hotels was not introduced to replace these important functions. It was rather designed to enhance, support and increase the chances of success. Neither function replaces the other and neither one should be ignored.
These reports shed light on occupancy questions provided that sales managers report the facts accurately. When prospecting or retracing accounts, sales pros learn facts that often explain important causes behind lost accounts. About 66% of hotel guests do not report problems nor their dissatisfaction nor do they respond to surveys. They just cancel their business and go elsewhere. And managers presume that it is the economy or lower rates or a tighter budget that led to their loss of business.
Loss of business could be the result of many broad and expansive reasons. In our work we have seen hotel staff guessing over loss of business. Facts gathered from territorial visitations or even a few phone calls or a simple email can be quite significant!!
Yes occupancy variances are tracked by data reports but awareness of the causes behind the variances remain the responsibility of the hotel staff. Surveys do a portion of the job, sales feed-backs-reports remain equally important and complete the job. The door-to-door reporting be it by phone call, email or just a visit is vital as it solidifies relationships between the corporate travel planner and the property. Identifying the glitches of the operation through these routine functions allows managers to strategize with more clarity as they move to enhance and remedy reported issues.
# 5. Are we allowing our managers to manage?
All in all management must operate to offset the competition. Running a business can be split into many main criteria; one is coping with the day-to-day, second is managing staff and time, third is planning and projecting. But while managing the business, all functions must be designed to compete aggressively and cleverly. There are no scientific rules for competition. The elements involved are endless and broad.
Competition requires focus, patience, speed, aggressiveness, insight, creativity and much more. Competition requires effective use of the tools existing at our disposal. Competition requires our managers to have complete control and a firm grip over their operation with an outstanding ability to prioritize. However, many managers today are not given the freedom to operate from a managers perspective. Hotel ownership in many instances interferes with major decisions managers need to make to grow and to mobilize the business. Many owners are wasting the talent and abilities of skilled general managers by their constant interference in their operational efforts and the decision-making process, insisting on running their properties solely from their own perspective. This practice is taking place mainly in mid and lower tier hotels rather than in higher end properties. Managers work 15 hours a day trying to keep things together to maintain a steady operation. Many times, they are ask to serve as desk agents, housekeepers, breakfast attendants in order to cut cost. They are given great responsibilities with very limited authority. Owners hire them for their outstanding experience yet do not allow them to utilize the assets they were hired for. This type of ownership is not running their properties with the industry’s perspective in mind. This leadership style is leaving the industry with depressed properties and wasted investments by minimizing the standards and altering the entire concept of hotel operations and competition.
Those managers who know the art of competition are not permitted to compete and take their properties into the lead.
In a troubled economy, travelers are looking for it all. We urge hotel owners and managers to run their operation with a competitive spirit. Managing the routine day-to-day tasks while successfully moving on to offset and overcome the competition next door. This is what makes businesses grow and prosper. We hope that hoteliers make the right choices in hiring qualified managers. And for those that are equipped with skilled managers, we ask them to let them get the job done , trust their abilities and give them the time needed to show success.
Adele G. Mourad
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