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June 2005

Too Many Options?

Jim Miller

 

The new realities:       

 

  • The post 9/11 reluctance to travel is over, and the media is warning of summertime airline delays.
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  • Gas prices are staying steady at over $2 per gallon, some predict costs may go as high as $4 by June of 2005.
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  • And, age 50 is the “new 30” as millions of healthy, active baby-boomers define growing older differently.
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These realities are having a major impact on corporate and leisure travel, but other news is cause for concern among innkeepers and hoteliers across the country.  For example, a recent study by the Maine Tourism Department reported the following:

Despite innovative marketing, there has been little success attracting more visitors since 2000.

 

  • 80% of visitors into the state are day-trippers.
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  • Visitor spending was distributed as follows:  31% for retail shopping, 28% for restaurants and the remaining 41% was split fairly evenly between recreation, transportation and accommodations.

 

In other words, only 14% of visitor revenues are being spent on lodging, and B&B stays represent just a fraction of that amount.

So, what’s really going on here? People want something new.

Everyone agrees that travel trends can be influenced by the weather, economic factors, and terrorist threats, but a recent study by the NH Tourism Office indicates that there is more going on.  An area expert explains:  “Nationwide, we’re seeing stagnation in attendance at historic attractions like Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village.”  A recent article in  American Way describes this in detail, while noting that, in contrast, “The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, has added a four-star inn, a winery, seasonal special events, horseback riding, events for children, and outdoor activities including river floats, biking, and hiking.”  According to the Biltmore’s marketing VP, their strategy has increased attendance at a time when attendance declined at other heritage sites nationwide.

So what are travelers doing? And what are they looking for? 

Experiential tourism is the new thing – people want to get out and try things themselves.  They don’t just want to look anymore.  They want to get out and touch, feel, ride something new.  They are looking for “soft adventure,” where a day of hiking or biking ends with a great meal and a delightful B&B.

 

And therein lies part of our challenge.  Unless you are in a destination-driven location and can benefit by some of the upsurge that comes from a new amusement park, a new outlet mall, a new technology based – interactive – “Star Wars”-type exhibit, or even a wild-life adventure trek, you’ll have a harder time capturing the attention of families, couples and retirees alike.

 

Additionally, more prospective innkeepers are opening new inns, adding to your area’s inventory, or are refurbishing, renovating, or adding features that make them new, too.

 

You can address this issue, however, without even spending any money.  This concept of experiential tourism means different things to different people.  For me, it meant a trip to Anchorage, Alaska to run a marathon; for others, it might be attending a wine-tasting seminar or a pottery class.  Let’s be pro-active about this trend, and tempt our discriminating guests with discriminating tastes with information about more than bed sizes, whirlpool tubs, and fireplaces. To be pro-active, our staff – at the desk, on the phones, serving the breakfast, need to raise their antennae when they sense an interest about an activity outside the inn. They need to qualify that interest, then extend an unexpected offer to help make arrangements.  Even if the prospective guest shows not a hint of interest in outside activities, simply asking about other interests, besides the room type, conveys a sense of genuine hospitality and an awareness of this experiential trend. It also puts you in an advantageous position over competitors who don’t offer this level of hospitality.

 

Three Basics of Hospitality

 

What to do? This is not a “keep up with the Joneses” solution.  Rather, this is a time to be absolutely sure you and yours focus on the basics of genuine hospitality in the following areas:

 

Answering the phone and replying to email:  You’ve allocated lots of money to get the phone to ring…and then what?  Is your staff well versed in good clear communication while handling telephone inquiries?  Are they good listeners, looking for clues on what the prospective guest is really looking for, or are they treating the call as if it is just one of the hundreds that come in every day.  And let’s remember, when people call or send an e-mail message, they are fully aware that your inn is not one of 1,000 rooms and so their expectation – for the phone and the e-mail reply – is certainly within 24 hours, preferably the same business day.  This first impression sets the stage for persuading the guest to actually make the reservation, and also sets up expectations for the actual visit.

 

In-house contact:  If your guest wanted six swimming lagoons and a 50-yard-long breakfast buffet, there are plenty of alternatives for them to consider – yet they choose your inn.  Why? Part of the reason and rationale is to enjoy the comfort that comes from staying in a friendly, homey atmosphere of a genuine B&B or inn.

 

  • How is your staff ‘extending’ themselves during the visit? 
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  • What sort of priority do you set and establish for guest name retention and utilization?
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  • What sort of standards have you set for on-going contact, checking and interaction with your guests?
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  • Don’t presume that everyone on your staff sees the practice of service exactly as you do.
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  • Don’t presume that everyone on your staff delivers their version of hospitality as you would.
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  • Inspect what you expect and see what sort of rating you would assign to your staff in this important area of In-house contact.

 

Follow-up:  Everyone agrees that the cost of attracting new customers is much greater than the cost retaining satisfied ones and making them repeat guests, right?  So why does the essential task of timely, appropriate and creative follow-up tend to get lost amidst all the other duties that need to be completed? Inconsistent follow-up costs you money by reducing repeat and referral business. Use some of the following to express appreciation for your guests’ business:

  • Take a guest history, then act on some celebration dates to invite guests back. Offer returning guests free flowers and chocolates if they celebrate their anniversaries or birthdays at your inn.
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  • Use thank-you notes to convey the personality of your inn and remind guests to return.
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  • Create a regularly scheduled calendar of communication and send it to targeted parts of your past guest list at appropriate times of the year.

 

Will these suggestions – offering to help make arrangements for activities outside of the inn, responding to the phone and e-mail promptly, interacting more with guests while they’re at your inn, and doing some creatively consistent follow up – help increase your occupancy? Yes, they will.  In general, innkeepers agree that 60% of their guests are prospective buyers when they call. Just emphasizing the importance of working the phone and e-mail more effectively and initiating conversation about potential experiential options – these two steps alone could increase your conversion tracking by about 10%....(Oh, you don’t track conversions? We will need to save that topic for another edition of this newsletter!)

 

Remember:  No one really needs to stay with you; experiential tourism in all of its various shapes and sounds and sizes is going to provide plenty of tempting options for prospective guests to consider as they plan their next trip or getaway. Nevertheless, if you actively employ the “Three Basics of Hospitality,” you will most likely do much better than experience stagnation and hopefully capture more, much more than your 14% of tourism spending.

 

Note:  Jim Miller is available to speak at your next innkeepers’ conference or seminar, on these and related topics.  For more information, please contact Jim at 1-603-773-9695 or jimmillerand@earthlink.net.

 

 

 


 

This Month's Sponsor

Jim Miller and Associates

Partners in Hospitality Marketing

8 Franklin Street 2C-B

Exeter, New Hampshire 03833

PH:  603-773-9695

jimmillerand@earthlink.net 

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