How do independent properties compete with franchised properties for business?
In the Greek tale of Sisyphus, the titular subject is condemned to push a boulder up a hill only for the rock to come crashing down just shy of the peak. The task is impossible, but he’s eternally convinced of his ability to overcome impossible odds. For the independent hotelier, competing against the brands and their deep pockets can feel like an equally doomed endeavor.
But take heart, fellow mavericks. There indeed are ways for the independents to get the boulder over the top of the hill, make their mark in the industry, and compete with the brands by thinking creatively and mirroring the success of those who’ve already accomplished the feat.
By simply putting one foot in front of the other, here are four ways independent hoteliers can get on equal footing with the brands.
BANG YOUR OWN DRUM
The popularity of HGTV alone speaks volumes about the prevalence of the do-it-yourself ethic in today’s society. And how does the old saying go? “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” There are several steps involved in marketing, the first of which should be creating and registering your brand with a unique copyright. Secondly, you’ll need to determine your marketing budget. And not marketing isn’t an option. Even corporate behemoths like Coca-Cola maintain an incredibly strong advertising presence because they understand that continued presence in the marketplace is vital to ongoing success and additional growth. And marketing fees are almost always baked into a franchise model – often as a percentage of monthly profits – so your branded competitors are keenly aware of advertising’s value. As your business grows, your marketing budget should expand in kind. As a general rule of thumb, many marketing budgets follow the model of allocating $1 for marketing for every $3-$4 of revenue.
FIND YOUR NICHE
You will want to spend a fair amount of time determining the factors that make your property stand apart from all the other properties in reasonable proximity to your location. And while fortune favors the bold, there’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking with tried-and-true method of positioning your property as offering safe, clean, and comfortable rooms every time.
While there are certainly plenty of other opportunities of which independent hoteliers can take advantage that we haven’t covered here, AAHOA maintains an outstanding educational platform that is designed to help all members succeed.
Using little more than a mobile device – phone, tablet, etc. – you can monitor your online reputation and repair damage in real time. After all, the best advertising in the world can’t overcome a terrible, and well-earned, reputation. We can probably all think of international companies that spend a mint on advertising yet have horrendous reputations that give us pause before giving them our business.
Assuming the standard five-star ratings used by most sites, you need to keep your average no lower than four stars. Period. And smart guests can see right through bogus reviews – positive or negative – so don’t be tempted to start writing glowing reviews yourself. Great review scores can work tremendously in your favor by helping guests make a quick decision to book with you, and they can allow you to increase rates commensurate with the level of service you offer if your reputation aligns.
While it can feel strange to outright ask guests to review your property online, simply including a link or reminder on a check-out receipt can go a long way toward garnering more reviews. Or, housekeeping can start leaving business cards in guest rooms with requests for guests to share their opinions after their stay.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
In tandem with online reviews, you’ll want to ensure you’re paying attention to the following areas:
- Marketing via Google and maintaining your review rating.
- Marketing on all social media platforms.
- Studying market trends to see what’s going on in your local area, while also staying informed on state and national-level goings on. Staying abreast of market trends helps you properly manage your rates and ensures you have enough team members to facilitate smooth hotel operations.
- Networking within your local and business communities. If possible, join your local business & community groups. Word of mouth goes a long way. Always carry some business or rack cards with your property information to hand out just in case.
While there are certainly plenty of other opportunities of which independent hoteliers can take advantage that we haven’t covered here – including informed and fair partnerships with OTAs, and customer-relationship management platforms – AAHOA maintains an outstanding educational platform that is designed to help all members succeed. All that’s required is effort on your part. Current AAHOA Chairman Neal Patel (2022-2023) is a testament to the wisdom that you can accomplish anything with enough effort. And independent hoteliers are hardly afraid of a little sweat equity, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Second-generation hotelier [email protected].has been involved in the hospitality industry for 25-plus years in franchised and independent properties. He can be reached at