Carol Verret Consulting 
and Training
Training Seminars

The Challenge of Marketing
Independent Boutique Hotels

Carol Verret / August 2002
by Carol Verret, Consulting and Training

We all have wonderful memories of a charming hotel in which we stayed that was free of the cookie-cutter image, had an intimacy that made us feel special and nooks and crannies that invited us to linger and relax. Hoteliers often harbor a retirement fantasy that when the mainstream career comes to a close, they will walk into the sunset and operate an inn or a bed and breakfast and will have gone to hotel heaven. Well, let me tell you that hotel heaven can turn into hell very quickly. 

Because of their size, small boutique properties often do not have the clout in the market to recruit and retain good line employees. Seasonality can have the happy retired hotelier making beds, doing laundry and unstopping toilets in the off-season when he/she has had to lay off the seasonal staff. Any furloughs due to seasonality pretty well guarantee that the quality labor in the market will go to a property with the mass to offer them year round employment. 

Budgeting and forecasting can be a nightmare if accurate records of the previous years are not kept. Benchmarking performance in the market is difficult due to lack of access and the expense of Smith Travel Research reports. Overhead and expenses can run high when the market dictates rate ceilings. The PMS systems available to independent hotels often lack the sophistication of those available to franchise properties. Inventory management is critical to maximize revenues in smaller properties and the available tools often reside in the manager's brain. 

If this scares you off then you should doing something else. The rewards are the opportunity to create a guest experience based upon hospitality rather than efficiency, to implement customer service that makes memories rather than horror stories, to truly be in touch with guests rather than seeking to avoid them because a guest contact usually indicates a problem.

Marketing an independent boutique hotel requires a certain finesse and accountability due to the restrictions of size and budgets. As there is no franchise driven marketing program and its accompanying contribution to occupancy by virtue of a GDS system and 800 numbers, nor is there a frequent guest program, the marketing plan has to be developed and executed with precision accuracy to reach the potential guest with a true appreciation of a boutique hotel and the ability to pay the price for this level of service and intimacy. 

There are several key factors to develop a lean and targeted marketing plan for boutique hotels:

Begin by developing a client profile for each market segment by season. This should also include the F&B outlets. The profile should be developed demographically, geographically and fiscally. Only when you have a clear picture of your guest can you target both sales and marketing efforts and media placement.  Sign up for the reservation and marketing systems available to independent hotels that best reach your client profiles. Track their production so you can review performance and make adjustments in your selection if necessary.

Use electronic distribution channels and manage the heck out them. Have a dynamite but easy to navigate web site that is capable of accepting reservations online. Ensure that your web master has you entered in the search engines by key words that appeal to your guest profile and pay for them to regularly refresh your web site positioning with the search engines. Use email to advantage when your site includes an email response capability. 

Develop a Public Relations Plan within your marketing plan. The GM should be the point person for this so the sales person(s) can be dedicated to selling. The GM should be heavily community involved and serve on key committees where the visibility is highest for the target guest and/or can have access to and participate in the formulation of civic and tourism policies that benefit the hotel. Become a patron of a key charity that has a high profile with your potential guests.

Develop your own Customer Relationship Management program. Collect as much information about your guest as possible. Not just the name and address but the kind of wine they had with dinner, events or attractions that they booked through the hotel or the hotel's concierge such as theatre tickets, special events or festivals and last but not least, whether they liked feather or foam pillows. Many years ago I was a Sales Manager with The Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal when the company was still small enough that Isadore Sharp would come and sit in your office and ask how things were going. The reservations department staff took all reservations by hand but we had a computer with a customer relationship management program (although we didn't know to call it that) that was state of the art. We knew the answer to the pillow question and if the guest preferred Evian or Perrier. These things were done prior to the guest checking in.

Develop cost effective mailing pieces targeted to past guests and potential guests that your profile for the period of time or promotion that you have developed. Back to the bottle of wine in you CRM system. If your or F&B outlet or an organization in your community is sponsoring a wine festival, search the CRM for the information and mail your promotional piece to them. 

This may sound trite but MAKE SALES CALLS BASED ON YOUR TARGET CUSTOMER PROFILES. For example, what segment of travel within a company appreciates and has the travel budget to utilize your facility. Who are they and how can you gain exposure to them. Which types of associations match your client profile in terms of demographics, geographics and the fiscal resources of their members?

There is so much I could say and do! It is fun marketing these independent boutique hotels because it does require a certain creativity and finesse to reach those target markets within budget. The rewards are in knowing that when the hotel is successful it was a team effort not reliant on the power of a franchise. 

The next six to nine months could be difficult for independent boutique hotels. As many of them do not have access to deep pockets, let us all sincerely hope that we don't loose too many to closure or franchising. It is these unique qualities and the experiences that they enhance (as well as the retirement fantasies) that make the contribution of boutique hotels to the industry so valuable.

Carol Verret is a twenty-year veteran of the hospitality business, having begun her career with Four Seasons and Westin Hotels in Montreal, Canada.  She most recently was Vice President Sales and Marketing for Sunstone Hotels before she left in 1996 to start her own business.  Carol Verret Consulting and Training provides consulting and training services to the hospitality industry in the areas of customer service and sales.  For a complete description of her services, access her web site at   Comments and feedback are appreciated and can be
communicated via phone at (303) 618-4065 or email at Be sure to subscribe to Carol's free monthly newsletter: ResultsWoW Customer Service by sending an email Put Subscribe in the subject line. 

© 2002 all rights reserved 

Carol Verret
  3140 S. Peoria St, PMB 436
  Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 618-4065
Web Site:
Also See: The General Manager’s Role in Sales -Chief Marketing Officer of the Hotel / Carol Verret / April 2002
100% Market Share Penetration is Not Good Enough / Carol Verett / January 2002
The Key to REVPAR Recovery –  New Business Development / Carol Verett / December  2001
Trash the 2002 Marketing Plan - And Just Start Over / Carol Verett / September 2001
How to Use Consultants Effectively –  A View From the Other Side  / Carol Verret / August 2001
How Soft Is Your Hotel's Economic Landing?  / Carol Verret / Aprl 2001
The ‘Value Proposition’: Marketing Yourself to Prospective Employees / Carol Verret / January 2001
Generation Y:  Motivating and Training a New Generation of Employees / Carol Verret / November  2000
Why Customer Service Seminars Don't Work / Carol Verret / October 2000
Creating a Culture of Customer Service / Carol Verret Consulting and Training / Sept 2000 
FAT, DUMB AND HAPPY – The Seasonal Boom and  Bust Cycle / Carol Verret / August 2000
Surf's Up - Ride the Wave or Miss the Boat -The Effective Use of Technology in Hotel Sales / Carol Verret / July 2000 
Measuring Effectiveness of  Hotel Sales Departments / Carol Verret / June 2000
Hotel Sales Training - The Need for Immediate Results / Carol Verret/ May 2000

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