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Lessons from the Field
A Common Sense Approach to Success in the Hospitality Industry
By Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE, April 25, 2008

Identifying Your Customers


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"Achieve success in any area of life by identifying the optimum strategies and repeating them until they become habits."
Charles J. Givens {American Businessman Author & Trainer}

Several years ago, my friend and colleague Howard Feiertag and I co-authored a book titled “Lessons from the Field – A Common Sense Approach to Effective Hotel Sales”.  When we were first considering the approaches for this book, we tried to picture the probable audience.   We both had written columns and articles for industry publications and wanted to offer to-the-point, practical messages.  The end product was well received and we were pleased to have been of service to the several thousand individuals and management groups that purchased and use this resource.

Over the past several years, I have written for this and other industry publications a series of articles on operations, sales, training, revenue management, security and other “people” topics.

This is the premier of a new series titled LESSONS FROM THE FIELD that will address a range of topics.  The world of hospitality has changed in many ways since I first started working in this industry in an independent Vermont resort, but it has also retained much of the best of what has drawn so many people to the hotel segment of hospitality.

LESSONS FROM THE FIELD

Identifying Your Customers

I have found it astonishing over the years that when a hotelier, general manager or sales director is asked who their customers are, the response is frequently “everyone”.  While hotels do provide potential service to “everyone”, the reality is that there are very few hotels that can realistically and profitably cater to all markets.

The basics are this: hotels offer and rent overnight accommodations and services.  Since “everyone” needs some form of overnight accommodations at some point, then “everyone” is a potential customer, right?   No, WRONG!   While profit margins tremendously improved after the mid 1990s, the ongoing balance of maintaining profitability while facing increasing competition via both new business models (such as condo-hotels) and potential overbuilding is a growing challenge.  When one adds the options of internet resources, growing customer demands with the potential of economic uncertainty in global markets, the need to accurately being able to identify Your Customers becomes critical.

The internationally recognized companies have done their best to attempt to control markets by a saturation of brands within their portfolio to try to serve all markets.   As ten or so companies in 2008 own the better known brands, it is also apparent that they do recognize who their customers are by the launch of so many new sub-brands within their holdings in the past three years. 

While the mid-market brands seem to have a slight upper hand as that market is the largest in size of travelers, there is still a tremendous range of services, staff capabilities, product offerings and rates within these brands.   The ability to communicate notable distinctions between brands is becoming more difficult with options like TRIP ADVISOR and other consumer blogs that tend to compete with the national marketing campaigns of the mega-brands.

So, the question is Who are Your Customers?

  • Your Customers need to be identified (literally) daily, as most of our services are for relatively short periods of time of one to four days. (Resorts and extended stay hotels tend to have longer rental periods). 
  • Your Customers must have easy access to learning about your hotel, which is why your web site must be current daily.
  • Your Customers must be able to confirm all details of their potential stay in a wide array of booking sources from travel agents to the internet to central reservations to the online discounters, or else the potential first time customer may never use your hotel.
You also have one additional way of identifying and keeping Your Customers – though the direct contact at your hotel that is the first step to building loyalty.

There are more hotels in Las Vegas than any other city in the world. Many properties have some type of gaming, but the range of offerings goes from the Spartan to the opulent.   These hotels have recognized that “everyone” cannot be their market if they are to remain profitable and enduring. 

The most successful hotels anywhere, whether they are independent or brand affiliated, have learned they must match their customer needs with their hotels’ services.  This may mean adding services not available today or possibly recognizing that “everyone” may not be their customer.



In future columns, I will list a series of proven ways to identify your most likely customer and proven practices to entice and keep them. 

Feel free to share an idea or to contact me regarding consulting and speaking engagements at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime and remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication 

All rights reserved by John Hogan.   This column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John Hogan’s professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis.  He holds a number of industry certifications and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20 year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels.  He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness.  He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world’s largest hotel chain. 

He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.  He has conducted an estimated 3,100 workshops and seminars in his career.  He served as senior vice president for a client in a specialty hotel brand for six years.

He has published more than 350 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from a range of industry sources and AMAZON.com.  He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is finalizing his 2nd book based on his dissertation –     The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.

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Contact:

Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE
johnjhogan@yahoo.com

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