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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.