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How Hotels Can Avoid Commoditization

Unique Fish
Recently I came across a hotel print ad that gave me opportunity to ponder. Gaylord Hotels’ November 2011 advertisement in MPI’s One+ Magazine said, "a partnership based on rates, dates and space will only leave you with reservations."

There were no pretty pictures of sumptuous bedrooms, high-tech meeting rooms or happy guests. Just a declaration about "service with a difference".

The headline caught my eye while the rest of the copy left me indifferent. I wonder if it resonated with meeting planners? Let's face it, nowadays most hotels have a certain standard of comfort and service. Is the extra $25, $50 or even $150 in rate really going to make a difference to the outcome of the meeting? What is your hotel doing to contribute value to a planner or his/her meeting to justify the difference in rates?

I’ve written about the trend towards commoditization of the hospitality industry. (See Why I Feel Sorry for Chain Hotels - first published in March 2011, with an update posted in September 2012). But in truth, what can an individual hotel or resort do to avoid the blurring lines between brands?

Remember the days that hotels first came out with in room irons and ironing boards? The first few hotels to market had an advantage, for a short while, but it quickly disappeared. Don't get me wrong, capital and soft good enhancements are important, but there are rarely going to give your hotel a sustainable edge over the competition across the street.

Beyond the physical attributes, there is of course the service. That ephemeral element that will produce X times the number of detractors if you get it wrong versus only a few fans if you get it right. There are many qualified consultants out there to help you improve your service delivery if that is what your hotel or venue needs.

So what else is there?  I believe creating an inbound, highly attractive and UNIQUE presence to meeting and event planners starts with the following:
  • Personality: giving your hotel or destination or your business and distinct personality will help you stymie the forces of commoditization and blandness. Is your hotel fun, hip and even a bit irreverent? Say so and be so. Your clientele will be more loyal for it. Is your meeting services firm cutting-edge, highly sophisticated organization with the fees to match? Then stick to your knitting. Lady Gaga has a brand. Meryl Streep has a brand. David Letterman has a brand. They do what they do and don't try to be someone else.
  • A Cause: identifying a charitable organization can give you another opportunity to rise above other destinations or hotels in your category. Resist the temptation to spread your influence by choosing a different cause every holiday season. Support your cause year-round and establish long-lasting relationships. Then you won't be like the "other places" around town.
  • A Purpose: knowing your "why," your raison d’être, and making sure everyone in your company "gets it" and acts accordingly.  It will help you formulate a code of conduct and give you a compass by which all your employees will choose to act. You'll stand out because your service, your communication, your presence will be yours and no one else's.
  • A (fanatical) focus on your clients: Don't be a supplier. Be a solution provider. Someone who understands your clients’ pain better than they understand it themselves. Ask them what is keeping them up at night. Read up on trends. Know what's new. And distill this data into actionable information that will help your client has a better conference, a better banquet, a better stay.
Make sure your website, your blog, your social media presence, all convey your personality, align with your purpose, support your cause, focus on your client. There is no other way to avoid commoditization.

National Meetings Industry Day 2012

MPI National Meetings Industry Day Logo
Every year, on the same day, the Canadian Chapters of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) pick one day in April where they hold an event that celebrates the meetings and events industry in our country.  Aside from being given a common theme, each chapter’s celebration is as different as each region where it is organized.

This year the date was April 19 and I had the pleasure of returning to my home chapter (whereas last year I went to the Montreal event).  And my favourite part of the program was the presentation by International MPI Chairman, Sébastien Tondeur.  He spoke for less than one hour, but he had great observations about the industry and his business.

First, the man is very charismatic (and quite attractive too).  His MPI bio calls him, “ambitious, entrepreneurial, adventurous and archetypal of today’s new breed of meetings professionals,” and it seems bang on!  He only joined the meetings industry 14 years ago, when he came onboard MCI Group, a company his father founded.  When he started the firm reportedly had about 30 employees.  Today, they boast over 1300 in 22 countries.  And Sébastien has been a key leader of this phenomenal growth.

Here are some nuggets that he shared with the audience:
  • Quoting his favourite book, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman, Tondeur insisted that meeting and event professionals should not be saying, “when the business is back,” but rather “where is the business?”  Whereas established economies are regressing or stalling, Asian economies, he points out, are still booming.  And that’s why they opened offices in Singapore, India, and Korea, amongst others.
  • He urged fellow MPI members to be seeking business from more innovative sources.  The top three industries that are meeting, he says are: sports, gaming (the video kind, not gambling), and luxury goods.
  • Tondeur also embraces technology and how it intermingles with live events.  “It’s not just about who attends a conference,” he says, “it’s who participates.”
When asked what he considers the biggest risks and the biggest opportunities/trends for our industry in the next five years, he answered:
  • Risks: natural catastrophes and wars.  “When the volcano blew up in Iceland, no one could get to where they needed to go.  That’s a risk.”
  • Opportunities:  more technology, more learning portals and more emphasis on business intelligence.
Questioned about the secret to his success in growing MCI, he declared, “Networking was how we did it.”  Getting out to meet potential partners, even competitors, he said. 

Tondeur closed his address with the MPI slogan, which he clearly believes and embodies perfectly: “I am MPI, and I love what I do.  Because when people MEET, we change the world.”  Well said.

Happy Birthday Greenfield Services

Doreen And Heinz Cut the Birthday Cake
Greenfield Services co-Founders Heinz Wagner and Doreen Ashton Wagner
Fourteen years ago this month, my husband Heinz and I signed incorporation papers to establish our company, Greenfield Hospitality Services Inc.  At the time we were embarking upon the path of self-employment as a means to get out of the corporate “rat race.”  We wanted to move to North Glengarry, Ontario, to enjoy a quieter pace and family environment with our (then) two year-old daughter.
We started Greenfield as a consultancy devoted to hotel sales and food & beverage operations in 1998.  Seeing a niche in phone lead generation for the meetings and events industry, we created a small call centre operation which grew from three people in 2001, to a team of 19 by 2010.  We dropped “hospitality” from our official corporate name to reflect the fact we were working with convention bureaus and other meetings industry companies, along with publishing firms and membership-based organizations, not just hotels and resorts.
By mid-2011, as the B2B sales and marketing world began to shift, Greenfield morphed again.  This time the transformation took us from a traditional, outbound marketing services firm, to a full-service demand-generation consultancy.  We still focus on two main markets; the hospitality and meetings industry (where our clients are hotels, resorts, CVBs, and other meetings industry suppliers), and professional/trade associations.
While many of our clients remain the same, what we do for them has changed significantly.  We don’t just “work the phones” anymore.  Our work is much more strategic; we help our clients create environments where potential customers, members or attendees seek to engage
If marketing used to be like a game of darts – where marketers tried to “hit the mark” with prospects – now we focus on making our clients more attractive.  It’s still a game of darts, except that now we also create an inbound, magnetic field.  One where we first build trust by creating education-based, valuable content; getting that content found; generating interest and starting business relationships.
English author W. Somerset Maugham said, “Life is change.  Growth is optional.”  In the game of life and business, at Greenfield, we choose growth.  Thank you for your support, everyone.  The best is yet to come.

Meetings Industry Sales Reps Who Still Believe in Santa

Santa Clause
This ISN'T an April Fool's post.  In a recent e-newsletter I wrote about a hotel sales manager who was looking to buy a list from us.

He was looking to organize a lunch in the Toronto area, and he wanted to have 50-100 new qualified meeting planners so he could “educate them” (his words, not mine) about his company’s wonderful hotels.

I used to think it was just hotel, CVB and other meetings industry suppliers who are looking for the "perfect" list, when I came across a blog by marketing consultant Dawn Westerberg who wrote B2B Marketing – Finally An Email List Of People Who Are Ready To Buy!  I guess it’s not just hospitality sales reps who are guilty of this mindset. There are more B2B salespeople who think this way too.

If there was a silver bullet, I’m sure someone would have found it by now.  The harsh reality is that sales is hard work.  So why do sales reps insist on looking for the “perfect list” like spoiled 4th-graders clinging to the belief in Santa Claus?

Here are some thoughts.  Perhaps:

·     It's easier to hunt for the “perfect list” than it is to cleanse a database and re-qualify dormant accounts.
·     It's easier to search for the “perfect list” than to execute a lead generation program . Yes good, old-fashioned, picking-up-the-phone-and-calling-prospects to see if there is a possibility of doing business.
·     It's easier to dream of the “perfect list” than to build a lead nurturing program and relationships with prospects. To come up with meaningful information that helps prospects do a better job, creates value and trust.
·     It's easier to shop for the “perfect list” than to create a system that will gradually attract one; an inbound marketing system that uses strategic search engine optimization, content development and social media to drive inbound traffic and capture interested prospects.
·     It's easier to look for the “perfect list” than it is to research one. Online list building is not a mysterious function that requires a special skill. But it does take time and dedication. The payoff though can be sizable.

Sorry if the above sounds like a tirade.  But I’ve had it with people who want to take the easy way out. Building long-lasting relationships with meeting and event planners is hard work.  It takes research, persistence, and a genuine willingness to help. To top it off, you have to be organized and have a systems-oriented mindset.   Anything less is like believing in Santa Claus…