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How to Even the Playing Field, As Independents
Suspiciously Eye the Chain Hotels

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By John R. Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc., April 2005

Goliath, of the Flags, meet the hordes of Independent Davids, and they are wary, looking at you askance, knowing that the landscape has changed for ever.

Every Destination area faces this “intrusion” at some point, and the plight of the Independent Lodging operation can be very real.  Some understand that competition is actually good, and the arrival of the Chain hotels spells further growth and success for the Destination.  However, many just acquiesce, self flagellate and deteriorate.  They give up in despair!

Independents know that they were there first – they helped establish the Destination, the reputation and the reknown. They are proud of this accomplishment and should be.  However, the “Flags” migrate to where there is traffic, and, as business men and women, who can blame them.  They are now part of the fabric of the Destination and are typically good citizens, contributing to further Destination prominence. 

Many Independents loose sight of the fact that Visitors do not come to a Destination just because of a Flag property.  Visitors plan their trips based upon the Destination area itself, and what it offers as an entity, the Sum rather than the Components.  A lodging decision is the byproduct, and this does give the Independent the opportunity to present their uniqueness and particular “gifts”, intelligently and persuasively. 

Admittedly, it appears that the Chain operations have a huge advantage.  They have purchasing clout, a substantial marketing budget, pervasive reservations systems, and standards.  The Independent operation can only sigh, looking at this monstrous edge. How can the Independent possibly “chip away” at that advantage and make the playing field more even.

One answer lies with your Destination Marketing Organization (CVB, Visitors Association, Chamber or Hospitality Group).  There is strength in numbers, and, certainly, this provides a significant opportunity for a purchasing power over all those Vendors who serve the Hospitality Industry. You do not need NAFTA to set this up.  A collective or co-op approach reduces expenses for every one, particularly for standard items and supplies. It is an evener.  Secondly, your DMO promotes everyone, no matter your status, size or affiliation.  A Visitor usually looks at the Destination website first, then makes a lodging decision from that long list of property types, Independents as well as the Flags. This is an evener.  Everyone has the chance to promote themselves equally, and, as most Destinations have a reservations system in place, there is equal opportunity for booking rooms. Plus, there are all those marketing associations you can join to represent your property.

So, the texture of the field is changing here a bit, but the Flags do have one decided advantage that Independents do not.  They have the “recognition factor”, which provides some reliability and comfort level for the Visitor. They are a familiar commodity. Travelers know that their experience in Chain X will not deviate a great deal, whether they visit Tupelo, MS, Provo, UT or Virginia Beach, VA.  Simply stated, Chains have Quality Standards, which are practiced, maintained and known.  Most Visitors to the Independent properties are “flying boldly and blind”, no matter how descriptively or authoritatively you paint your product, service or facility.  You have little reliability!

You would think that a Industry which prides itself on Hospitality, the memorable Visit and the full diversity of experience within the lodging, restaurant, attraction and retail segments would have some universal Quality Standards.  Europe does quite well.  Indeed, there are rating and assessment companies, who are helpful, but typically only represent the lodging segment and sometimes restaurants.  And, not everyone chooses or can afford to participate. What about the rest of the Destination components? Just picture the marketing magnitude a Destination would have with all their Hospitality businesses Quality Assured. Myrtle Beach is moving in that direction.  It is awesome to behold. 

This is by no means a diatribe against the Chains.  They basically get it; they understand the value of Standards. Rather, this is aimed to the Independents, who really need to adapt and create Remarkable Hospitality experiences for the Visitor, who is reeling in uncertainty. 

No wonder the Visitor and the Guest is suspect and cynical.  They have been thwarted far too frequently during their travels, and that is why Chains will always hold the advantage, unless the Independents or the DMO community embraces some type of Quality commitment. And, this needs to go beyond a simple pledge, which is not verifiable, except through complaints.  But, by then the damage is done, collaterally to the Destination.  The differentiation between the Flag and the Independent is not purchasing, pricing, marketing or reservations – it is Standards!  James Carville would state this in a more compelling fashion.  

Most Independent properties are wonderful.  They are unique, they have the personal imprint and attention of the operator, and they should be experienced.  But, put yourself in the shoes of the Visitor.  Would you rather take a chance on the known or the unknown?  Raise your Hospitality bar of performance and desirability through Quality.  

Contact:
John R. Hendrie, CEO
Hospitality Performance, Inc.
www.hospitalityperformance.com
978-346-4387
Also See: Oh, What a Web We Weave! Pitfalls with Descriptive Language / John R. Hendrie / April 2005
Woe is We! We in Hospitality Have Lost Touch and Share the Responsibility for Consumer Cynicism, Angst and Ennui / March 2005
Moving the Guest Comment Card from Paper to Paperless / John Hendrie / March 2005
Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association Launches 'Total Quality Destination' and Presents 'Gold Star of Excellence Awards' / March 2005
The Evolution of Guest Room Amenities / John Hendrie / February 2005
Advertising Integrity; Framing the Visitor's Expectation Through Print, Signage & Internet / John Hendrie / February 2005
Hospitality Trade Associations:  What Have You Done for Me Lately? / February 2005
I Would Like to See your Hospitality Standards. Where Are They? Anybody Seen Them? / John Hendrie / January 2005
Remarkable Hospitality - the Road Map to Excellence; Exceeding the Expectations of our Guests / John Hendrie / January 2005
Are Your Guests Expecting Mediocrity with Your Hospitality Services? Move Your Level of Excellence to the Remarkable / John Hendrie / December 2004
Guest Services - A Tradition Diminished / John Hendrie / December 2004
Rescue from Mediocrity; The Decline of Service Etiquette - A Sequel / John Hendrie / November 2004
Offering Crushed Pepper Before Tasting the Entrée; The Decline of Restaurant Service Etiquette / John Hendrie / October 2004
Destination Marketing – How to rebuild your Reputation and the upcoming Season after the Hurricanes / John Hendrie / September 2004
Six Factors Which Dictate Success in Performing Destination Marketing / John Hendrie / September 2004
Influencing the Consumer to Book Business through Your Commitment to Quality / Aug 2004
Major Hotel Operators Have Rediscovered Hospitality Fundamentals by Revisiting the Guest Room / John R. Hendrie / July 2004
Destination Marketing 101: Take Care of Mom / John R. Hendrie / June 2004
Service Unions Combine, Presenting Huge Challenge to Hospitality Industry / John R. Hendrie / March 2004
What Value Quality? Most Hospitality Operators Use the Term “Quality” In their Advertising. What Exactly Does that Mean? / John R. Hendrie / April 2004


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