Did you know that there are 88 recognised constellations in the sky, of which 48 are known as ancient or original? At a time when maps were non-existent, these constellations (and other stars) were used by sailors to navigate the sea. They provided a way of navigating (literally) uncharted waters or a way of returning to a favourite land.
At a time when travellers are saturated with choices, getting your hotel to stand out in a sea of competitors is a challenge. First you have new hotel brands sprouting up like dandelions. These projects are backed by shrewd investors, driven by savvy marketing teams, and (not surprisingly) unabashed in their quest to take up oxygen. I’m talking about brands like Standard, Artyzen and HIP. Brands that waited patiently as the hospitality landscape changed, carefully planning their brand identities before a single brick was laid.
Then you have the megaliths – Accor, IHG, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt – who possess the resources to float new brands into the market like many toy boats. The existing big box brands operated by these giant companies, even if they’re performing just fine, might not be able to capture the imagination of a new generation of travellers. The answer is to create new brands that reflect the values of developing market segments. Moxy (Marriott), Tru (Hilton), Centric (Hyatt), Indigo (IHG) or Jo&Joe (Accor) are just a few examples.
Then there is You, the boutique hotelier, who is caught in the middle. You’re not part of a big brand with global reach, and you’re not part of a new brand that just finished a fresh round of funding. How do you protect (and even improve) your market position in a sea of hotel brands? Here are three starting points.
1. Reef your sails
The time and attention you put into essential back-end tasks – things like pricing strategy and market analysis – directly affects the time you have for other areas such as branding, marketing, and the guest experience itself.
Independent hotels have previously been disadvantaged in terms of tech implementation or access to market data. The best technologies were expensive to implement, and therefore only accessible to hotels and chains with more resources. This remains true to an extent, but intelligent digital solutions are quickly becoming more accessible to independent hoteliers. In terms of technology, the gap between global chains and independent boutiques is closing. Leverage this phenomenon and free up valuable time to work on your brand identity.
2. Take your customers on a journey
Modern business pundits love to talk about how the human brain was built for stories, and this idea is now reflected in countless corporate strategies across the world. One thing that many boutique hotels have going for them is historical and cultural flavour and the best way to communicate this is not via a dry press release, but via a story.
This is something that new hotel brands can’t always embody in the most effective way. For example, if your hotel is located in a building that has a unique background, it’s worth leveraging. The same is true for your neighbourhood, your city, or even the people who founded your hotel. If you can carve out a story that offers guests a unique connection to local areas and stories, you’ll have an advantage over hotels that seem to be drifting with no real story to anchor them. Creating Instragrammable moments – another modern theme in travel and hospitality – is the modern version of painting a picture and is an important part of this process.
3. Skilfully navigate social media
There are a million things in hotel management that are more important than social media – namely the fundamentals of the guest experience, and the development of thriving work cultures. Assuming those fundamentals are strong, neglecting social media is like sitting in a beautiful boat with your sails tightly furled.
Consider Instagram’s recent implementation of “action buttons.” This allows guests to initiate bookings without leaving the popular platform, and it underscores the relevance of social media to modern hotel branding. Instagram users are already substantial drivers for the hospitality business, and big hotel chains have responded by pumping more resources into social media. But if you pay attention to what other hotels are doing on these channels, and if you make an ongoing study of how to strengthen your own reputation and visibility through savvy social media efforts, you’ll be leagues ahead of those who don’t engage.
Sailing by the stars
Before maps, sailors would use the stars to navigate, and we know that the various constellations were recognisable by their names which in turn made them easier to identify.
While there is no universal map for how to make a boutique hotel stand out in a sea of hotel brands, a carefully crafted story with social media adding the stars should make it at least a little easier for guests to find you.
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