By Geoff Andrew
People have been telling stories for thousands of years and still stories have a powerful effect on people. But how does successful storytelling work in the hospitality world? In the interview, Geoff Andrew explains why storytelling is particularly important for independent hotels and which hotels he believes have already perfected storytelling.
Why do you think every hotel needs a good story to tell?
With the growing influence of social media on people's booking decisions, hoteliers need to communicate as storytellers to stay relevant online. Travelers tell stories about hotels on social media and rating platforms. We can't control these conversations; however, we can influence them by bringing our own story into the game. The more interesting the story is, the more it will be shared and the more visitors will come to the hotels' booking channels. A story carries the promise of a good guest experience. It builds the canvas to something the guests will come to experience for themselves; to become part of the story. By carefully creating anticipation, we turn our audience from observers into guests.
How do you help your hotels with storytelling?
In today's competitive environment, only unique stories can connect with guests. That is why we have launched the "Start with WHY" program. We adapted our program from the bestselling author Simon Sinek, who asks: "Why do you get up every morning?" A hotel must therefore ask itself: "Why should people come here? Is it really just because of a certain rate and my great location?"
"Start with WHY" helps hotels create, explain and deliver a unified experience that reflects the local taste, brand values and brand promise. In the one-day kick-off workshop, the general manager, the owner and various team leaders – from department heads to concierges and bartenders are invited. In this workshop, we ask our hotels the following questions: What's your hotel about? What should your guests say when they leave the hotel? Then, the team has to create and develop a statement, which must undergo a 360-degree test. They could develop a statement like: Every day luxury. Upon creating a statement, the hotel continues to develop the meaning with questions like: Which facilities/environment do you need if you want to experience 'Every day luxury'? What kind of employees and what kind of management do you need to successfully implement it? The whole process goes through four to five phases, and it can take up to one and a half years before the new statement is permeated at all levels. Until now, around 140 of our hotels have already discovered their "WHY" in our workshops.
Why are stories so important today?
For years, independent hotels had no chance against major brands. That has changed. Today, hotels need local authenticity and a good story. And independent hotels are built for that. There is a direct relationship between guest ratings and turnover. A Cornell study has shown that even small improvements – for example from 7.2 to 8.3 points – allow a rate increase of five to six percent. In other words, hoteliers can increase their rates without making compromises on demand. With a good and authentic story, they can improve their guest ratings.
Can you give some examples of particularly successful storytelling?
The Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, Michigan has perfected storytelling. "Start with WHY" has helped its team to become living reflections of their hotel's "WHY." By allowing all departments of the team to participate in the workshop, everyone had a voice. The "Start with WHY" program can have an extreme impact on hotels when it comes to evolving and strengthening a hotel's inner culture. Royal Park Hotel has not only dissected their own hotel DNA, but has developed a new "inside-out" approach when it comes to sales and marketing. Their storytelling has had a positive effect on the property and the staff morale. The staff has taken a more active role in learning and sharing the story of the hotel and its surrounding community. The result of this? They received excellent reviews from their guests: they felt that "the staff went above and beyond"!
There are also hotels in Europe who have seen great improvements after going through the "Start with WHY" workshop. Hotel Balmes in Barcelona achieved a visible growth of positive, personalized guest reviews in which the employees were mentioned as a key element to the success of their holidays. As a result of this, its ranking on TripAdvisor went up by 79 places. In terms of revenue, ADR increased by 8%, obtaining a much better RevPar.
Do hotels need a rich history to be a successful storyteller?
They don't. Of course, it is easier if they have one. The Courthouse Hotel in London, for example, is a former Magistrate's Court which once hosted trials of celebrities such as Mick Jagger and John Lennon. They already have a great story and therefore can sell easily. However, even if a hotel does not have such a story, there will always be something to narrate. The story does not need to lie within the hotel, maybe the story lies within the surrounding area or the community. Hotels should ask their employees for ideas and suggestions, they often know best what makes the hotel stand out. It is not necessarily about the history of the hotel, but the people who work there. People define the experience, and experience is the marketing. It is also about the values, that are embraced at the hotel – if hoteliers can consistently communicate what is important to them at their properties, they are delivering a solid story, and a great experience.
Storyteller is probably one of the oldest professions of all. How do hotels become an expert in modern storytelling?
Be authentic – this is the most important element. Telling an impressive story that has nothing to do with the hotel will destroy credibility from the outset. Hoteliers should not pretend to be someone other than themselves. They need to speak in a way that suits their hotel and their ideal guests. Naturalness gives a story a strong appeal. Stories are the emotional glue that binds people to the hotel. Therefore, it is important that a hotel website gives a clear idea of what the guest will experience in the property. Does the website open the door to dreaming? If not, it's time for the hotel to tell its story. It is also important to tell the truth – people will know when someone is not being honest. The worst thing for a hotel is to be known as a dishonest brand. Storytelling experts know why they do what they do and what the purpose of their hotel is. The "Why" is the key to impressive storytelling. Hoteliers need to find out what makes the hotel special and create exciting stories about their special "Why". In today's world, storytelling is not an option anymore, it is who you are.