What Resorts & Boutique Hotels Need to Know to Differentiate Their Properties to Guests
Following the pandemic, there’s been a huge disruption in consumer trends and behaviors. As an industry, we understand that leisure tourism will rebound much quicker than business travel will. It is important to recognize that people are traveling, whether it’s driving to regional destinations or flying to far remote ones. These guests not only desire to discover the natural beauty of the destination, but to experience the local culture and activities as well. The trend of activity-based travel has greatly increased in the past decade as families and individuals want more and more to experience local activities such as golf, scuba diving, yoga, tours, and more depending on the destination. Guests are craving for a hotel that will provide them with beautiful infrastructure, a seamless customer journey, and personalized interactions with the staff. Finding the balance between accommodating guests that want an all-inclusive experience and also to those who want to explore the local scene and culture is key to differentiating the hotel from competitors. It’s critical to present these opportunities and activities to future guests that want to see the value of the hotel. In this article, we’ll look at key components and some common criteria for differentiating your hotel and to better stand out in the hospitality industry.
Service a Niche (scuba, eco, yoga, golf)
A key way to differentiate the hotel or resort is to serve a specific niche. It is critical to lean in on and tailor the hotel to any local attractions and experiences that the guests might desire. This could mean yoga, scuba diving, golf, local tours, wine tastings, or even culinary classes offered at the hotel. Offering activities for specific kinds of guests and crafting the brand identity around it will earn the hotel a positive reputation and guests will become brand advocates. Doing so will draw referrals and recurring guests because of the experience you provided and the accessibility to local activities they are traveling for. The guests attracted will have common affinities and interests which will lead to more connections made on property and will garner a greater sense of community. By creating an exclusive feeling around the type of activity and experience offered, guests will seek out the hotel as they travel to the destination for that particular interest.
Build Unique Local Partnerships (beyond alcohol, tours, bars, DMOs, etc.)
Other hotels are going to have similar opportunities to build the same sort of strategic partnerships with local distilleries, local bars, and tour operators. It’s critical to look outside of the box as much as possible to differentiate the brand in a meaningful way to customers and to add value to both the business and to the consumers. Think about what else guests might be looking for and how to further tailor and customize the hotel to the experience they are seeking. Building strategic partnerships with local real estate agencies or companies that help with planning international travel can be very beneficial in adding value to guests that need a referral. Partnerships with local culinary companies or chefs can be great for offering guests cooking classes and the chance to further immerse themselves in the destination’s culture. Not only do these partnerships differentiate the hotel but they also help in building better connections and enhancing the guest experience.
Don’t Mirror your Competition to Sell Just Amenities
Certainly, the amenities are the comfort zone for travelers and can be a great way to showcase what the room and the hotel have to offer, but it’s important to remember that people aren’t staying at the property because of them. Although some guests may come to relax and enjoy amenities, trends show that more guests are desiring experiences beyond the gates of the hotel. Skift Research reported that activities and tours have been one of the fastest-growing categories for venture-capital investment and raised $935 million in 2018. Duplicating what your competitors are doing and merely selling features and benefits will create a transactional experience with guests rather than showing the hotel’s personality and how it’s different in a meaningful way. Integrating the brand personality into the hotel operations will tell a story to the guests and will attract the right type of traveler. This means creating an emotional experience for guests, beyond just providing a place for them to sleep like a Motel 6 would. Showcase and bring to life the depth of the customer experience, more than just with amenities, features and benefits.
Market to your Most Profitable Guest
We see more often than not that the hotels we work with have some consistent marketing strategies that work yet they’re unaware of who their most profitable guest is and where to reach them. The most profitable guest is usually the least tailored to, though they drive the most performance to the hotel. Understanding who these people are and how to attract them will enable the hotel to stand out, boost brand equity, and will ultimately allow the hotel to charge more because of the reputation created. Because of the psychographic and demographic of these individuals, servicing this niche will cause a ripple effect of referrals and repeat visitors. Showcasing the brand personality and attracting the right type of guests will also help weed out high maintenance, less profitable guests. Taking a deeper dive into who these profitable guests are is critical to being able to market to them and similar audiences.
Personalize your Marketing to Each Customer Persona
That most profitable customer might have multiple customer personas from the individual female, to the married female, to the empty nester. We need to acknowledge that people are at different points of inspiration in their life and not all marketing needs to be one size fits all. If not, only one customer audience will be reached and others will be ostracized. Tailoring the experience for each of them enables the brand to attract and retain each guest to meet them where they’re at, and have their needs be heard. Because the hotel will be able to serve multiple needs, it’s important to emphasize what that looks like for each of these different customers and acknowledge that can happen at different inflection points through the customer journey. Creating four to seven customer personas for the most profitable guests and revisiting the customer journey micro-moments will ultimately yield a higher conversion rate as a result of understanding your audience. The second benefit of this is the ability to acknowledge that everyone has personal needs and that the brand will be able to tailor their online experience for them before they even step foot on property. It’s essential that the same attention to detail is carried out through the entire customer journey so that everyone doesn’t receive the same generic experience. Ensure that the same intentionality and purpose is carried over offline and to the property.
Lean into your Brand ID & Aesthetics
In order to create a cohesive aesthetic throughout the customer journey touchpoints, carry out the designs of the hotel property architecture across platforms. Consider the stylistic elements that were chosen for the hotel whether it be color, aesthetic themes, textures, boxed versus curvy lines, etc. We have found that carrying out these design elements to the online experience is one of the best ways to increase brand affiliation. We recommend potentially honing in on two or three of these stylistic elements and translating them digitally without overdoing or diluting them. Because human nature is visual, the brand, menus, and brochures are immediately associated with the hotel and everything that stands behind the brand, without needing to necessarily see a logo. By aesthetically translating these components to have consistency and congruence, customers are able to identify and continue to build that brand story with each and every one of those impressions. Carrying the hotel’s design elements into the menus, elevators, and welcome packets really helps to reinforce the brand and the customer experience for visitors.
Support Local Efforts & Harness Cause Marketing
Guests want to feel involved and like they’re contributing to a bigger impact. Doing so by supporting local and harnessing cause marketing will create visibility and transparency. Showing that the hotel donates $5 of every booking or even every night to a local charity is a great way to show that the hotel is giving back to the community. These local charities could be agricultural efforts, sustainability programs, beach cleanups and more. Supporting the local ecosystem and culture is undoubtedly a way to pull on the heartstrings of customers and to make a larger impact beyond just the footprint of the hotel and employees itself. You’ll find more brand equity and buy-in from the community at large by supporting these initiatives. Choosing a cause that is near and dear to the hotel will perpetuate wanting to create that impact and see the business grow to further amplify those efforts. It’ll drive the hotelier and the team to reach those goals and there will be increased motivation from staff as there’s a bigger impact to contribute to.
Leverage Video to Share Your Story
Video is a great way to effectively and simply share the brand personality values and to build transparency and trust with guests. We’re so diluted with messages that now customers are really able to intuitively decipher what is within their brand alignment and what is quite frankly not true. Because people are now saturated with spam and messages, their radar is insanely acute to what is real and genuine. Video is incredible at being able to translate that sentiment, emotion, and transparency of who the hotel is to a guest and can tell the brand’s story on its behalf 24/7. It’s important to be very clear and intentional with video because if done poorly, video can be detrimental and will negate the brand in the eyes of the guests rather than enhance it. Having a clear strategy and a desired outcome for the viewers of the video will help prevent that from happening. Having the end in sight before even the pre-production process is critical to effectively sharing the brand’s story and differentiating it from others in the landscape.
Make Social Media “Social” Again
The initial intention of social media was to be a two-way street to create a dialogue and social engagement between two parties, and to have media, photos, videos, podcasts, or otherwise be the means at which to keep in that conversation. Over time, it’s become diluted and without intention and strategy, it very easily becomes a one-way conversation where brands are speaking to customers instead of with customers. Taking the time to draw out what a social media strategy looks like that is able to engage the customer to buy in and to solicit that feedback to have them share their experience on the property with their network will increase the hotel’s exposure and is really critical to differentiating the brand. If all hotels just posted the same beautiful shots of their rooms, it wouldn’t matter where customers really went. Social media is an extension of the brand to tell its story or about the impact its making. It’s also an invitation for the guests to share and do the same on its behalf. Engagement is the most critical component for social media to further drive the brand equity and buy-in of the brand.
Build & Harness Your Employment Brand
A great way to showcase the hotel’s culture and to differentiate from competitors in the industry is by building a strong employment brand strategy. Employer branding is how a company or hotel presents itself to current and prospective employees. Creating an employer brand strategy will filter employees who resonate and align themselves with the same company values. Clearly articulating the hotel’s values, mission, and culture will help attract these like-minded employees that care about the brand and who are excited to come to work each day. This will ensure the hotel retains top talent and it will also encourage referrals from employees who love their job and are advocates for the brand. Creating a positive atmosphere and culture within the workplace will also increase staff motivation and morale. Implementing team-building activities are a great way to create a sense of community among the employees and to provide opportunities for open communication. Not only will employees be more efficient, but they will invest more of themselves into the customer experience and will be more personable with guests. An employer brand is key to differentiating the hotel within the hospitality industry to not only guests but to prospective employees as well.
Market & Service the Remote Worker
With the increased flexibility for people to work from home and away from the office, there’s an opportunity for international resorts and boutique hotels to offer an extended-stay option for guests to enjoy all the perks and benefits of a hotel’s amenities, local culture and community, all while working remotely. If done so correctly, accommodating to the remote worker will greatly differentiate the hotel from other competitors in the region. The demands for someone to successfully work remotely differ from those of short-term leisure guests and it’s critical for the hotel’s marketing strategy to reflect the needs of people interested in extended stays. In order to outfit the demands of extended stay guests, hotels will need to modify their current infrastructure. This means extending WiFi throughout the resort, offering community kitchens or kitchenettes for guests to cook, converting conference rooms into office spaces, adjusting wall insulation for privacy, and offering classes or activities for guests to connect and create a sense of community. The hotel and operations will need to modify and adapt if it wants to be relevant and meaningful to this valuable customer but you will see a ripple effect with both its reputation and profits. This trend isn’t going anywhere and it’s an excellent way to differentiate from other hotels in the industry as well as locally.
Get Local Support from the Community
This is different from local partnerships and cause marketing. Getting local support from the community means exploring how and where the brand can really immerse and integrate itself into the fabric of the local community for that long-term sustainability. Things like farm-to-fork sustainable agriculture programs or other small businesses show community support. Through Covid, we saw this with delivery & pickup food package offers. Going forward, what are other kinds of creative ways to have events that encourage local buy-in. Consider how certain spaces could be used to host events or conferences and take advantage of any local holidays that you could position the brand around to be able to offer a local staycation for people in the region to come and connect. Offering staycations to locals will garner referrals when their friends and family come to visit. Building a positive reputation in the community is critical and when times are tough they’ll be there to support the hotel. It will create a mutually beneficial circle of reciprocity amongst the community. Because of the brand experience and support from the community, it’ll leverage a larger voice at the table and will grow the brand’s social capital.
Customers have so many options these days that not differentiating yourself in a meaningful way only dilutes the brand and is going to deter customers elsewhere. It’s important to recognize that a little bit of planning and intention goes a long way towards building the brand. Differentiating the hotel is critical to the company’s growth and ultimately to the impact it can have on the guests, staff, and local community. We recognize that this can be a very tough exercise for brands, especially for owners and investors that can be too close to the brand experience. It’s important to look objectively, from an outside perspective to find the key differentiator. It’s almost impossible to do everything at once but SoCap uses a gradual exercise to help our companies work through this process.