Hotel Online  Special Report


Small Lodgings Must Seek Niche Distinction
Selling Authenticity, Intimacy, Customer Service
by John R. Hendrie, August 2006

“We must hang together, or surely we shall hang separately”, stated Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  He was of course referring to the need for solidarity amidst a Revolution.  There were unknown risks, inspiring dreams and complex personalities and priorities in that colonial mix.  The adversary was well known, controlled the marketplace, and had a historical, dominant success rate in manifest destiny and compliance for the realm.  A leader was needed to bring these disparate entities together.  And, thus, one of the first Associations was born and branded – the United States of America. 

A little liberty (shades of Patrick Henry) has been taken in this analysis, but, the Hospitality Industry has one segment – small lodgings – which fits the profile above.  This segment is roiling, in decline rather than adapting to the marketplace.  In major cities and well known Destination areas, we are experiencing a condo-ization process, where many hotels are losing Guest rooms in a rush to perceived prosperity. A building “boomlet” also has taken place.  Our Resort areas are becoming multi-use facilities. The Small Lodging group is disappearing for a variety of reasons.  For example, on Martha’s Vineyard, former B & B’s are being converted back to private residences. In other areas, the B & B’s, country Inns and motels cannot be operated profitably.  The market may have shifted, business plans were fool-hardy, Guest expectations expanded, or the dreams of a retiring couple to operate such a venture were crushed with the reality.  This group also was reluctant to take advantage of automation, particularly the Internet.  They relied upon generational traffic and word of mouth – essentially, the status quo was fine and would always deliver.  There was some complacency involved, but mostly hubris. And, when the more progressive members of this community tried to pull everyone together as a block with common interests, the room would reverberate with indecision and acrimony. What a difficult crowd to rally about anything, but they must to survive.  Referring back to our friend, Ben, the noose was nigh!  

Small Lodgings are totally unique in comparison to other lodging operations.  They are not the same year, make and model type of accommodations.  They sell authenticity, intimacy, Customer Service – the real deal for the Guest Experience, which simply cannot be duplicated by larger operations and chains.  Yet, they are in jeopardy, because they cannot agree upon representation in the marketplace and have little Consumer reliability for their product, for no matter what the expectation, every Guest anticipates a safe, clean and comfortable environment.

How to best serve this niche is nettlesome, but a sound Association affiliation is a positive step forward to serve their best interests.  These alliances may be civic, cultural, fraternal, professional, personal, trade or even marketing.  They are publicly funded, quasi, or private.  We look to these Associations for leadership, innovation, representation and “bang for our buck”.  We anticipate our needs to be met and our expectations exceeded.  Instead, we find many are struggling for relevance and solvency.  In many cases, I think all types of representative organizations have lost some touch with their audience.  They chase delinquent dues too long, sponsored events and programs are not well attended, and there is difficulty filling Committee positions, much less Board of Director slots.  These are examples of a poorly managed organization, which you should avoid.

There is no magic silver bullet here.  Most of us have served these groups in some capacity.  We recognize what they face:  competition for the member dues, sensitive community, regional, and national issues, a tight economy, internal and external politics, restrictive policies, unenlightened management and directors, and perhaps the worst enemy – ennui. But, it all comes back to worth and reliability!

The successful representative organizations are not static.  They continually assess their resources, realign the process, people, products and services to maximize value.  Regularly, they survey their constituency, evaluating satisfaction and seeking input.  This effort also includes their Allied members and the organization’s staff.  Communication is constant, reliable and germane.  They are always connected, imaginative and decisive, recognizing that flexibility and adaptability make for progress.  It all starts with knowing their stake-holders – their needs, their aspirations and their expectations.  They are member-centric, and they do raise the Hospitality Bar. Typically, they also have a means to intertwine the diverse members they represent, which allows for a Branding Advantage.

These groups challenge the trade association mentality and move towards a professional Network design.  Here, there is a prescribed scope for their focus, guiding principles, agreements which shape the expectations of the network and the required participation, and accreditation procedures, thereby defining membership.  The “price of entry” is very clear.  There is no longer high risk, due to the targeted message and required activity.  Profitability is the goal for all parties. Here the Value and membership requirements are demonstrably stated.  

For Small Lodgings and the unique delight they bring to the marketplace, the common thread and binding relationship is accomplished through a Hospitality Assessment process, where the Quality factors of the product, service and facility are quantitatively evaluated.  This establishes benchmarks for performance, clear recommendations to the owner/ operator for continuous improvement, and most importantly, a compelling message for the Consumer, who often is “running blind” when making their lodging decision.  You have verified your distinction for them and now can compete on any level in any market.  Ben would be proud, as you swing with the times!

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal for the memorable Guest Experience.  Consider the resources for your solutions at:

John R. Hendrie, Hospitality Performance

Also See: Now is the Time for independent Hoteliers to Exploit the Changing Market and Maximize their Advantage Over the Global Chains; Hotel Market Embracing Individuality / August 2004
A Smile is Really a Simple Thing – an Expression of Welcome, No Cost Involved / John R. Hendrie / July 2005


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