A quick search on Trip Advisor brings up 1060 hotels in London, 1844 in Paris, 432 in New York City and 434 in Milan. That’s a lot of hotels to be heard and seen over. How do you even begin to make a mark when you launch a hotel in what is an increasingly crowded market?
Let’s assume you aren’t relaunching an iconic and world-renowned hotel after a £220m restoration, such as the Savoy. Let’s also assume you don’t have a celebrity budget to die for and Kate Moss, Jade Jagger and Alexa Cheung attending your launch party, like the W Hotel in Leicester Square, London.
Instead let’s assume you are a ‘normal’ hotelier – someone with a vision for a hotel offering, a sense of style, a USP or niche market. Someone who has seen an opportunity and has gone for it, and is determined to make it work. Let’s assume you know your audience you know the business and you know how to run hotels.
That’s a pretty good starting point, so let’s assume you have a good team, a good product and the right price point – essentially, let’s assume that once you get guests and business in, it’ll come back because you’re good.
In this near perfect situation, you now turn your attention to launching; to being seen and heard about, to bringing in business. At this stage I would suggest you do seek the advice of a PR and/or marketing professional, who will help you devise the right strategy for your business and budget (and don’t think your budget needs to be six figures, or even, for that matter, five figures – there are ways to make your budget work harder for you and a good PR/Marketing professional will help you do this). In the mean time, here’s a quick top 15 tips to consider when opening a new hotel.
- You MUST engage: Whether this is through traditional or social media, incentive sites, partnerships, business outreach etc whatever the route, you need to establish a message and start to engage with your audience. Start the conversation as early as possible. Relationships get stronger the longer you’ve known someone.
- You MUST understand your audience: As I discussed in my last post, audience is key to PR & Marketing – understand who your audience is and you will understand what the product needs to be and how to communicate it.
- Get the product right: Do not open the doors until the product is right. A bad experience early on will domino and have a potentially catastrophic affect on business. PR and Marketing professionals are good barometers for whether you are ready – invite them and a small selection of voices you trust to experience the hotel pre or during a soft launch period. Get the product right early.
- Customer Satisfaction: I won’t preach to the converted but customer satisfaction is key to new openings. 1 in 4 consumers use Trip Advisors before they book their holiday. If the customer experience is not right it will be evident. Give one member of your team the responsibility of managing customer feedback and sites such as Trip Advisor and ensure that criticism is fed back into Operations and that all customer reviews, good and bad, are responded to quickly and efficiently. Montague on the Gardens, London, is a great example of success in this way (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g186338-d192036-Reviews-The_Montague_on_The_Gardens-London_England.html). They do not proactively PR their hotel however they have made sure that the product, experience and customer satisfaction is the best it can be. As such they are ranked 6th out of 1060 London hotels and have a 94% approval rating. This is PR enough for them.
- To party or not to party, that is the question: You do not need to spend £15k (or more, in fact very often much more) on a launch party in order to make an impact and create noise and stand-out. Don’t get me wrong, launch parties absolutely serve their purpose – the engage with press, influencers, VIPs, new business leads and partners, industry bodies and agents, and they enable you to set yours stall out from the very beginning, to let you make a splash and truly announce your presence. However, this is not always the best way – some markets are more crowded than others and so for a launch party to achieve what you want and need it to you may need to spend more than your budget allows. Be prepared to explore other routes. A series of mini events or one-to-one meetings is an alternative way to launch. Establish your audience groups and invite them to more intimate events and showcases. Enable them to experience the hotel under more controlled and sales-focused circumstances.
- Engage with media: Six figure budgets or not, one thing the W and Savoy launches must have in common with yours is their engagement of the press. Everyone was talking about them. Announce yourself to the press and engage with them. Find out what they want from you, how they want to work with you, what they want to tell their readers about you and get them on side! If your budget is limited I strongly recommend getting the product right and inviting press to come and review and tell your story for you. Invest your budget in covering an allocation of comp rooms, dinners and drinks for key press. Get them talking about you and the rest will follow.
- Talk Trade: The trade press are invaluable to new hotels. The hotel press are followed by the travel industry and inform consumer influencers, clients and media. The business travel and event trade are essential contributors to a large proportion of your business. Start talking trade early in the process.
- Look Long: Don’t forget lead times. This is something that a PR consultant can help you with. Media work on different lead times. So, a hotel opening in August will need to be thinking about its launch strategy six months prior to opening in order to fully engage with all media groups.
- Get social: Social media platforms are increasingly important routes to communicate with a key and multifaceted audience. Some restaurants and hotels have seen real success by launching almost exclusively on social media platforms. It is a real investment of time but it can certainly pay dividends.
- Engage with influencers: ‘Influencers’ are anyone who has the power to drive business to your property. They could be business VIPs, celebrities, personalities from the right crowd, influential journalists and editors, industry representatives, and brand or business partners. They are an important group that shouldn’t be forgotten.
- Agents: Agents are your bread and butter. Engage with them, incentivise them and get them selling for and with you.
- Engage locally: Engage with your local media and tourism bodies. Offer your services, and expertise and build a partnership. Become the first port of call for visitors to your location, and engage with what’s going on in your local area. Become a hotel partner, build relationships, be a home for the locals as well as the wider audience. Become the default choice and the natural destination in your area.
- Photography: Good photography is vital to selling your property to guests, influencers and media before they even step through the door. In fact, if the photography is poor or non-existent, they may never step through the door.
- Partnerships: The right brand or business partnership can be the best way to tap into a new business avenue or audience. The right partnership can create noise through association and generate new business.
- Your Product: You need to tap into business avenues across all aspects of your hotel: beds, bar, spa, restaurant, meetings, conference, local, international, leisure traveller, business traveller – the list goes on. You need to engage at every level.
For any other questions, drop me a line – firstname.lastname@example.org