Become the local expert, and leverage your location for better guest satisfaction.
By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P.Eng.
There is only one aspect of your property that you absolutely cannot change – your physical address. Renovate, replace staff, add new operations, re-flag or re-brand, it makes no difference; you are where you are!
Your location is uniquely yours, so why not make the most of it? When a guest arrives – especially for the first time – they rarely have the in-depth knowledge of your neighborhood to go about on their own without any guidance. While nowadays there are numerous online resources that can give visitors a broad overview, your guests will nevertheless want your help in discovering what truly makes your area special.
The best part about leveraging your location for better guest satisfaction is that becoming the local expert is not overly complex. However, it will require some leg work on behalf of your team to break ground for your guests, find those unique venues and potentially secure relationships that provide added value. Over the years, I’ve seen many programs that have aided properties in differentiating themselves while, at the same time, offering wholly new revenue opportunities.
For many of these, you’ll have to design and print some collateral materials, but you can also post the information to your website and create downloadable PDFs your guests can use as reference.
The key to upgrading your operations so your hotel fully embraces its locale is to take initiative one angle at a time, so here are some ideas to consider.
Walking or Jogging Maps
Running is one of the most practiced sports in the world. Domestically, some 64 million people went jogging or running in 2016. But that pales in comparison to walking as a pastime or for fitness, which drew nearly 110 million participants according to a 2015 statistic. These huge numbers suggest a good portion of your guests will be looking for interesting routes or cool trails for a morning or afternoon jaunt.
Imagine arriving at an unknown location, which in this case would be your own property. You have a few hours to kill so you plan to go for a walk or jog, but you don’t know where to go. Regardless of whether you’re rural or deep in a downtown core, a hotelier should know the best routes originating from his or her hotel. Moreover, even in this day of smartphones, GPS services and boundless data coverage, venturing out on your own in a foreign land is still quite intimidating and may hinder some guests from exploring the great outdoors.
When developing your maps, consider traffic patterns, ability to easily cross streets, difficulty of terrain, overall safety and places of interest. Be sure to offer route length options. Typically walking trips are measured in time duration (select 30 minutes, one hour, two hours) while jogging trails are defined in miles (one, two and five). Be sure to update your routing for road construction, and don’t forget to have a member of your team actually go through the paths on a regular basis for quality assurance.
Self-Guided Walking or Historical Tours
Offering the services of a local guide is terrific for larger cities but is not really an affordable option for most guests. Yet, even those travelers whose motivation is limited to working their way to the pool are eager to learn something new while on vacation or during the off-hours of a business trip. A self-guided tour option gives your guests the information they need to fully understand the relevance of the points of interest within walking distance of your property.
There are no limits to what you can include. Depending upon your region, you can include historical markers, retailers, scenic viewpoints, cultural attractions and parks. It is best to first select the locations you want to spotlight then build the map to most effectively squire them smoothly through the circuit. Remember to not only clearly identify these selections, but also to state their relevance.
Wine and Beer Tasting
While beer still outsells wine 10:1 on a per capita basis (28 gallons of beer per person, versus 2.83 gallons of wine per person), both beverages should be on your radar. Gone are the days of just offering national brands! Your guests want an authentic taste of the local produce, and chances are your distributors will have these available for you.
Craft beers are growing, up 6.2 percent in volume and 10 percent in dollar sales (2016). In a beer market that is basically flat, these are heady figures (pun intended). Beer has reverted to a local phenomenon, ranging from brewpubs where everything is seasonally made in-house and with limited distribution beyond the restaurant’s four walls, to regional microbreweries that offer an incredible range of ales, lagers, pilsners, porters and stouts.
Every single state now has local breweries, and chances are, there are one or more near you. Supporting your local wineries or vineyard, however, is a tad trickier as there are only so many places where grapes can grow. If you are blessed enough to be situated near one, then at the very least, offer a few selections and coordinate wine tours. Depending on state liquor laws, you may be able to offer a discount or free sampling. If you are in a major wine-growing region, organize tours of multiple properties and even multi-day treks.
Unless you’re a remote resort, out-of-town visitors typically will include a shopping trip in their travel itinerary. For those who adjoin a shopping destination such as a factory outlet mall, the focus on shopping is obvious. Your goal is to create value-adds for your guests by providing them with discounts on their purchases. Most retailers will relish the opportunity to work with you, as they recognize tourists as an incremental target audience.
I have seen discounts as high as one-third on specific merchandise but anticipate that you can negotiate a 10-percent-off bonus for your guests. Better to make the discounts generic to minimize any operational issues or rejection at any participating retailer’s checkout counter. Also be sure to state that the guest must show your keycard to get the discount. This is not only good practice for the retailer, but more importantly it reinforces to your guest the value you provide.
Where to Get Things Cheap
When I travel with my spouse, she conducts extensive research to find the best places to buy items at prices far below what we could find at home. Oftentimes this leads us to real factory outlets (yes, beside a factory, not in a mall) or secondhand consignment shops. On our most recent trip to California, we scoured thrift shops and were rewarded with some amazing items that normally would not have been affordable or even seen when first released.
Every city has its share of these fantastic places, which are often obscure and typically off the beaten path. This is where you, the avid and attentive hotelier, get involved. Ask your team to canvass its contacts to come up with a list of these. Look in local newspapers for additional leads. Then provide this information to your guests in what I would call ‘cheap cheer sheets.’ Since some of these places change or close, be sure to keep this information up-to-date.
Museums and Art Galleries
Given massive budgets and extensive collections, major museums are well-regarded by tourists prior to their arrival at a chosen destination. For example, if you manage a property in Manhattan, recommending a trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) won’t get you any Brownie points. But, if instead you recommended the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, a lesser-known attraction, you may just surprise your visitors.
The fact is that there are many different museums in most major cities, and we often tend to gloss over the smaller venues. It is these hidden gems that will earn you respect and praise, then the sights that appear in every top-10 guide out there.
The same holds true for art galleries. Depending upon size, a city may have separate public galleries for traditional and contemporary art. But don’t just keep information on public art galleries. Private galleries abound, and all are looking for ways to attract a larger audience. If you establish a relationship, there is a good chance you will be able to offer your guests a discount as well.
Your Tiniest Guests
Traveling with children is no easy feat. Help your guests with information that will give them what they need to make their stays easier. The basics would include where to buy baby food, formula, diapers and the like; what to do if a child is not well; babysitter information; local walks that are stroller-proof; activity listings that are kid friendly; and places to eat that cater specifically to children (minus your own location, of course).
If you are located next to a local amusement park or any other child-oriented attraction, make sure your shuttle bus schedule is accurate. Next, encourage your guests with children to contact you to ensure that there is space for strollers at their scheduled travel times.
There is a famous phrase, “An army marches on its stomach.” After a comfortable room, food is next on the priority list for any incoming traveler. Additionally, most guests will dine in the hotel restaurant for breakfast or at least one dinner.
Don’t be hesitant, though, to recommend other restaurants in your local area, particularly if they offer different food styles or an outrageous food experience that would enhance nearly anyone’s time in your area. While I typically rely upon a concierge for restaurant advice and reservations, I also like to explore on my own. However, looking at Yelp or TripAdvisor for suggestions is often frustrating as the information is sorted based upon number of reviews thereby handicapping the newer and more unusual places.
Here is your chance to shine. Find those restaurants that offer unique opportunities for your guests to try local cuisine, beer or wines. These do not have to be all the fanciest places. For instance, a group may want to know where the best pizza is, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a fine-dining establishment within the immediate vicinity. While in Austin, Texas, I once took a $25 taxi ride, each way, from my hotel to a food truck to experience some of what I am sure is the world’s best barbecue. Many people won’t want to shell out as much for transportation, so keep a proximal alternative in your back pocket.
The Best Of
Chances are you’ve seen issues of city magazines or newspapers that feature “Best Of” lists. What you should do is adapt these lists to your local environment. Build your own “Best Of” lists based upon your team’s personal experiences. Create these lists for your guests’ use. Make them interesting, educational and with a dash of humor. Change them seasonally or annually. Use checklists or locate them on a map for easy reference.
Remember to include or even shoehorn in your own property where applicable. For example, you might include a category describing the best pancakes (outside of your triple-stack blueberry ones) that can be found at another nearby eatery.
Live Like a Local
There is a good chance that you live in the same community as your hotel. And if you don’t, I’ll guess that many of your staff do in fact live nearby. Living like a local means just that – blending in. Put yourself in the place of a guest and examine how you would make them feel at home. This would include dining, shopping, parks and recreation, movie theaters and so on. Give them the wisdom of your experience and allow them to understand what makes your community special.
Hotels are all about the physical space we provide as well as the services we offer. By providing meaningful information to the guest, you’re adding a component to service that will be appreciated and recognized, especially when it enriches their experiences beyond what any other internet resource can do. Allowing them to live like a local is the ultimate gift that you can give to any person staying with you, and they will be eternally grateful for it. ■
Larry Mogelonsky is the owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. He can be reached at email@example.com.