By Robert A. Rauch
This article is designed to include the keys to business planning and development success but there are changes occurring in our industry that require monitoring. These include disruption (is it really disruption or is it innovation?) and changes that have transformed our industry from an art to a science. Before we complete our business plans for 2017, a review of macroeconomic data is in order. China’s growth is slowing, Europe remains suspect due to the Brexit and limited growth signs but we do not anticipate a recession in the U.S. economy in 2017. Despite the economic uncertainty and global terror threats, we believe a soft landing will keep the U.S. slowing to about a 1.5 percent GDP growth rate in 2017.
Why no recession? Unemployment is low, consumer confidence is solid, the Institute of Supply Management continues to give the economy a vote of confidence and interest rates and oil prices are still down. All of this information bodes well for the hotel market in the U.S. which should lead to our estimate of 3 percent RevPAR growth in 2017. Naturally, the caveat is that unexpected “event” that could stimulate a precipitous decline in demand. We believe that can be averted in 2017 despite the craziness in the Middle East and the turbulent economies abroad. Beyond 2017 is in slight question due to the number of new hotels in the planning stages in major cities. We assume not all will be built and the growth patterns will continue at the pace estimated for 2017 but that will be monitored closely going forward.
As we are now in the final third of 2016, this means budget and marketing planning time is here. While many operators merely look at last year’s numbers to budget and forecast, the only meaningful way to budget is to analyze the market thoroughly. Whether you are opening a new business or getting ready for 2017 budgeting, now is the time to complete the planning process.
The following action needs to be taken:
- Review trend report and competitive set information from STR. This will provide a baseline. Ghost call primary and secondary competitors to obtain price points, features and benefits. Obtain sales collateral and start a competitive information file. The process of “elicitation,” coined by John Nolan in “Uncover Your Competitors’ Top Business Secrets Legally and Quickly-And Protect Your Own” discusses the importance of this area.
- Meet with general managers and marketing team members of primary and secondary competitors. Site tour each business and establish a referral program. Coordinate a market review with your franchise* marketing manager if appropriate; obtain a franchise national media schedule. Discuss opportunities for digital advertising to promote your business with your extended marketing team.
- Develop a 2017 sales and marketing budget; do not assume growth from last year. Review the STR report and other market intelligence and market pace reports carefully. Review quality and quantity of sales collateral and ensure your email lists are updated for newsletters and blasts.
- Review customer information guides whether electronic or printed. Plan a sales blitz. Order blitz giveaways and mementos with your logo, address, web site and phone numbers. Choose items that will stay in contacts office such as candy jars, post-it notes or coffee mugs. Review central reservation database property information file. Forward to central reservations database supervisor.
- Meet with key contacts at your Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chambers of Commerce. Obtain a list of advertising and trade show opportunities for budgeting. Contact local Chambers of Commerce and obtain lists of your area’s top businesses and employers. Qualify key companies and individuals to create or update your own emailing or mailing lists/labels. Business Journals also have great lists.
- Contact guest loyalty rewards program administrators at franchise headquarters to arrange to promote your business in the next member newsletter. Solicit articles on your business as a feature story. Develop possible press releases for the coming year along with a public relations plan and contact each segment specialist for the franchise worldwide sales staff to see what opportunities are available to promote your business at upcoming trade shows, future segment specific directories or sales missions.
- Create a strong database for electronic mail promotions and ensure your website is not a brochure but rather a focused, customer-acquisition medium. Create website awareness, i.e., create some “buzz” via pay per click and unique offerings. And if your website is not mobile optimized by now, this needs to be corrected immediately.
- Continuously create and deliver “can’t-resist” content. Traditional advertising is rapidly losing out as marketing professionals realize the advantages and effectiveness of digital content marketing. Marketing’s new mantra of “brands must now act as publishers” has arrived in part because of social media and its potential to engage in meaningful conversations with their loyal fan base and potential clients alike.
- Develop a permission based electronic marketing program. This is a type of marketing whereby the target audience is solicited by e-mail and his or her approval is sought before marketing to them. By investing in the sharpest media tools like blogs, social media, newsletters, webinars, e-books, photo-sharing or videos and shared media, you will drastically reduce the hefty investments in traditional paid media that are becoming substantially less effective with modern consumers. Simply put, you need to create and share content while being of interest to lots of people to be a player!
- Calculate the lifetime value of a new customer. As an example, if a traveler stays with you two nights per month at $150 per night for 5 years, that is $18,000 in today’s dollars. This data is helpful in determining the value of a new customer. Include calls to action in all advertisements and measure the result of every email marketing blitz and test new approaches periodically. And please remember, a customer that books directly with you saves you that commission!
Use this process now or risk losing your competitive edge! Enjoy this time of year despite the crazy political environment—it is not the end of the world, just a turning point in American politics.
Note: I referred to franchise in this article and by that, I mean franchise, membership organization, brand relationship or your own branding.