During CYBER HITEC on October 29, two Preferred Hotels & Resorts executives presented strategies for marketing and delivering on new guest expectations in 2020 and beyond. Bob Van Ness, executive vice president, Americas, and Kristie Goshow, chief marketing officer, each shared their perspectives on the current crisis and how hotel teams can attract new and past guests, as well as leave memorable impressions that drive repeat business.
Van Ness began by acknowledging that while times are tough and most people in the industry are focused on survival, “These are the times when we can be our most creative and most productive,” and, “That you have reason to question the status quo and leverage this time as an opportunity for improvement.” The uncertainty around what the future will hold for travel and hotel businesses has created “a crisis of ambiguity,” Van Ness explained, which is especially challenging in an industry that relies on historic metrics to predict future outcomes. “Many of us are not skilled in managing through ambiguity; however, there’s evidence that those who can innovate and manage through this crisis will be rewarded,” he said, adding that companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Venmo all launched during the last economic recession.
Van Ness explained how certain challenges can become opportunities for hotel businesses. For instance, as sales move online, any member of a hotel team can participate in a sales pitch. In the current environment, hotels can rethink their product and offerings to meet emerging demands—whether providing flexible office space, offering long-term stays, or even providing homework assistance for virtual learners.
Through all of these changes, Van Ness stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with clients. “We’re all doing what we can to manage costs in a terrible time. However, we cannot stop speaking to clients. Wherever possible, this is the time to be strengthening existing relationships and finding new ones. This is a unique time to be making your team and your hotel more memorable than ever before.”
Ultimately, Van Ness said, maintaining one’s competitive edge in this crisis requires taking some risks and acting right now. “It is not a matter of waiting until the pandemic is over,” he explained. “Our industry and business are changing. We, too, must change. We cannot wait for the economy to come back. I hope you’ll take advantage of these unusual times as the opportunity clock truly is ticking.”
To tap into the business that’s out there right now, Goshow shared what she believes hotel teams can do to attract guests and drive revenue in the current environment. “While travelers are in short supply, many in the hospitality industry now find themselves needed to focus on backyard demand and past guests,” she said. To do so, she suggested four key pillars: retool, simplicity, transparency, and trust.
When retooling, Goshow suggested meeting customers where they are and evaluating how the competition has changed. For instance, hotels may now be competing with luxury RV companies and even the comfort and safety of people’s own homes. In addition, “We have to challenge the concept of our real estate being a hotel,” Goshow said. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What could happen in those spaces? How could we use them differently?’”
For instance, hotels can add subscription pricing or time shares, offer meal delivery, and open up amenities to local communities. “What do people need? What are their concerns? What solutions can we offer using everything that’s already in our armory today?”
Simplicity is another key pillar, Goshow said, particularly when it comes to hospitality; in today’s socially isolated world, enhancing human connection is more important than ever. Goshow suggested proactively engaging with guests and clients on video or even through mail campaigns in local markets.
Transparency is also crucial in today’s world, Goshow said. “There is no back of house for us anymore—there is just the house, and it’s all open to scrutiny,” she explained. For instance, hotels should review and update their visual images across their digital marketing platforms to ensure they are up-to-date and depict how properties operate today—for instance, showing a socially-distant meeting room layout. “If we want [customers] to be able to truly see us and trust us, we have to make sure that the story we’re telling on screen, on social, when they [connect with] our teams—whether that’s through video or over the phone or even in person when they come to the property—we have to be able to tell the right visual story,” she explained.”
That trust is the final key area of focus, Goshow said. “Every image you use, every word that you choose and articulate, you are building blocks of trust. And those building blocks—as we all know—can be undone in a heartbeat if we take a wrong move,” she explained. “We need to make sure that we recognize the problems that we have to solve; that we have simplicity in our outreach; that we are doing that in a way that is relevant, sensitive, ultimately unforgettable.”