Opened door of hotel room with key in the lock

Flawlessly Boring – An Industry Challenge

A recent stay at a big brand’s ‘core’ product reinforced a key flaw that ails many properties around the world.

The property in question was located in the heart of a major city close to the convention center. The non-descript hotel edifice had easy street access with a standard yet intuitive front desk, elevator and signature restaurant layout within the lobby. Door and front desk staff were both courteous and personable.

The guestrooms were likewise typical in their design, carved out of the directory of some long-passed interior decorator’s dream of ergonomic living. The idea here is that based upon years of road warrior travel and clad in total darkness, any businessperson could easily navigate his or her way from the front door to the desk, bathroom or bed.

On the same note, everything in the room worked correctly – no housekeeping or maintenance shortcomings, a 42” LED TV dominating the dresser storage unit, a few sheets of bedside memo paper, and the singular millennial upgrade of USB ports in the alarm clock. As for the bathroom, there was no separate tub and shower. A single sink dominated the bathroom’s large laminated countertop with towels stacked properly and amenities standing at the ready in their little plastic holder-base.

Looking around, it occurred to me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with this hotel. But then it hit me; there was also nothing to differentiate this property from the comp set or to align it with any brand in particular. Was it a Hilton, a Marriott or a Best Western? Unless you actually knew the respective color schemes or paid attention to the TV welcome advertisements, you would have no way of knowing.

So, why does this trouble me? After all, this product would have scored very highly in any property rating system and has decent TripAdvisor scores. Troubling me is that if our industry is going to pull itself out its current macro-stagnation, we’re going to have to do a lot better job at how we present ourselves to our customers.

Average is no longer good enough and the middle of the road appeals to no single driver in the left or right lanes. A hotel can be flawless and indeed most branded operations manuals will tell you how to ensure just that. But if you aren’t taking chances with your décor, in-room technology and amenities, then you won’t emotionally impact a guest. Apathy will rule the day, and this state of mind means little in terms of memory retention. In other words, if there’s nothing poignant to differentiate you from your comp set, guests will stay at your competitors.

For the hotel chains, getting excited about some new fringe lifestyle sub-brand is fine in the moment, but more energy must be given to distinguishing the core product which happens to be a hundred times the size of said new brands.

Examine the aggregate number of rooms by sub-brand in any chain portfolio and you’ll see what I mean. It is obviously ‘sexier’ for hotel managers to work on one of the new products. But the managers that take the time to fix the core product will be the real heroes of our time.

Take a cue from General Motors. They fixed Cadillac and the share price barely budged. Now they’re on to Chevy, and with it, results are bound to be even more impressive for the shareholders because that’s a more less niche product.

While this may seem to fall on deaf ears as moving a major hotel chain in the direction of bolder pastures requires a thousand minds to align, your singular voice can still make a difference. Look towards making small and incremental upgrades on a property-by-property basis which draw upon whatever has inspired you in the past.

The USB ports in the alarm clock are a good first step to appease the smartphone-addicted travelers among us. But alas, it is one step. What other in-room tech upgrades can you implement over the next two years? Think smart TVs with built-in climate controls, remote-controlled drapes, multi-colored lamps to adjust for different times of day or even bathroom motion sensors. As for imbuing a charged sense of place, how about floral arrangements in the lobby or purchasing some impressive wall artwork from local painters?

Boldness and differentiation is built upon ideas as well as the execution of those ideas. Start small, and then see what happens!

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by Hotel Interactive on July 12, 2016).

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