The seasonal ebbs and flows of occupancy are real, especially in the face of such uncertainty as a result of COVID-19. While rural resorts endure this and must make grand adjustments in staffing to accommodate budgetary fluctuations – no matter the short-term benefits from the influx of domestic travel of late – numerous other properties are still affected with double-digit dips and last-minute nightly rate tweaks, all to stay relevant with the various macro-forces at work in any given territory.
What you need are one-of-a-kind programs, and this is a key objective in our consulting practice, where we look at how to make a hotel such a unique experience that guests will want to stay there despite it not being the ‘ideal’ time of year for that locale. In the North American and Western European setting, this means building programs outside of the traditional summer and early shoulder peak travel seasons.
For this, you must appeal to customers’ demands for something exceptional beyond what they already get when the kids are off school during summer and the weather typically cooperates. Nor should the hindrances on international travel be a reason to rest on your laurels. Travelers are using the OTAs to research new drive-to destinations and you cannot depend on return visits for the sake of returning; if you don’t have a unique experience, guests will look elsewhere.
The beauty herein is that it is a very creative exercise in figuring out what makes each hotel unique to thereby discern what this typically one-off event will be to draw guests in. All of this planning is conducted well before any marketing efforts and ideated in concert with the promotions team, so that you have an early litmus test for what will actually work.
What I caution here is that slow and steady wins the revenue race. Even though you likely have many periods throughout the calendar year where occupancy isn’t ideal, you have to pick your targets at the outset and not overextend yourself. Less is definitely more and as such, you should only target a week per quarter in any given year because customer mindsets are very hard to reverse all at once.
Based upon my work in setting up these events to help grow occupancy during the off-season and end any drastic seasonal downturns, below are a handful of key considerations, for which I am open to discussing these in more depth on a property-by-property basis.
- Plan far ahead. For any new program, you should aim to have the bones of that event in place at least six months ahead of the actual date or dates when it runs. This is critical so that the marketing team has time to devise an appropriate plan, get approval for the budget and hone the messaging while you iron out the operational details. Right now, you should already be putting ideas together for Spring 2021.
- Theme is crucial. Any event or weekly course of events you plan must seem like a natural fit for your hotel and your territory. This ‘theming’ makes the sales and marketing process along with any secondhand word-of-mouth drastically easier.
- Exclusivity matters. Whether you decide to go with a tasting dinners’ program, a wellness seminar, or form a limited partnership with a local provider, you need a good selling hook to wrap around your pricing and packaging. Strive for an experience guests cannot easily attain anywhere else and you’ll be off to a good start.
- Target past guests. It’s an age-old mantra that getting existing customers to act on your promotions is far easier than new ones, and this applies here, too. Email lists, CRMs, sales records and newsletters are your best friend in making the necessary announcements, but only if people are given sufficient notice to plan their travel ahead of time. That said, with people being digitally marketed to death, you have to engage them electronically on a one-to-one level with unique offers that demonstrate you know who they are.
- Shoulder season creep. Rather than start a program in the middle of your off-peak season, consider experimenting first in a week that adjoins your current shoulder season. Focus on a week that traditionally paces below average but is a logical extension to your current high demand periods. This will also make it easier from a staffing perspective.
- Live and learn. While there are numerous tales of unbridled success for these events in their first year of operation, the majority take several to ramp up. Plan for a small-to-medium sized event in your first outing so that you never sacrifice on service delivery. From there, you can improve each subsequent program with a grander scale and heavier promotional efforts to fill your loftier expectations. Finally, once the event has developed some cachet, only then can you move it to a weaker time slot that’s deeper into the slow season.