Make it personal

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Hoteliers are building their brands by tailoring experiences to guests

Truth be told, most of us are guilty of online nosiness and social-media snooping, but at The Indigo Hospitality Group, that kind of inquisitiveness is a virtue, not a vice. Team members at the Charleston, SC-based company routinely Google guests’ email addresses and scour their Facebook profiles for information that can inspire a personalized experience.

Indigo operates four luxury hotels in the South, with six more under development, and runs almost three dozen high-end restaurants. Its hotels typically call guests days before their arrival and ask if they’d like to make reservations at the restaurant. The next question is vital, according to Gabriel Perez, chief operating officer of Indigo’s lodging division.

Are they celebrating a special occasion such as a birthday, wedding, anniversary, or graduation, or is there another special reason for their visit?

If the answer is yes, guests might find a chef-prepared dessert and a handwritten note in their rooms, and there might be a special insert printed just for that night’s dinner menu, celebrating the occasion, Perez said. Clean rooms, friendly workers, and well-maintained amenities are essential to a hotel’s success, but building brand loyalty and differentiating your property requires a personalized touch, he said.

Perez said online research can reveal when guests are in town for a big game, or they’re dreading being away from their pets. So, Indigo’s hotels have given personalized gifts to guests, such as ball caps or T-shirts representing their favorite team, a special dessert with their favorite player’s name and uniform number written in icing, or a basket with dog treats and chew toys.

All gifts come with handwritten notes or cards from the general manager, and some are signed by the entire staff, Perez said. If a couple is celebrating an anniversary in the restaurant, the waiter might take a picture of them toasting the occasion, and by the time they’re ready to checkout, they have a framed photo to take home.

“With that single piece of information, we can elevate and enhance their experience to make sure they feel recognized,” he said. “We find ways to get that touchpoint. These things certainly aren’t expensive or difficult in concept, and we execute them very well.

“We try to find things far beyond what everybody else does,” Perez added. “We want them to think, ‘How did they know that [about me]?’ We want to create a moment that they’ll remember five years from now.”

Customer relationship management software makes it easy for hotels to take notes on guests’ preferences and special occasions, but with a few minutes of online research, hotels can learn much more about their guests. Room rates at luxury hotels can justify the expense of personalized gifts, but even budget-friendly hotels can make a lasting impression with a little effort, Perez said.

Simply keeping stacks of greeting cards in the GM’s desk drawer to celebrate special occasions is a good way to start, he said.

“I think any hotel right off Highway 95 or Highway 80 can pull this off if you have a culture of experience-driven hospitality and you use some creativity,” Perez said.

make it personal

MAKING A SPLASH WITH GUESTS
Personalized experiences also are top of mind at The Grove Resort & Water Park in Orlando, which typically is packed with families visiting the Walt Disney World Resort next door. The Grove, featuring two- and three-bedroom condos, relies heavily upon repeat business, especially from British travelers, according to GM Charlie Kingston.

Holidays are a big deal at The Grove, he said. Around Easter, guests get customized baskets with their names on them, and they can order an Easter egg hunt in their rooms. At Christmastime, families get personalized stockings. There’s also fake snow and a mailbox where kids can deposit letters to Santa. If the requests are doable, such as Disney- or Grove-branded toys or apparel, the kids often get their Christmas wishes, Kingston said.

No holiday is insignificant, as evidenced by the food specialties on National Cheddar Fries Day, April 20, he said. There also are pool parties with a disc jockey and games such as cornhole, karaoke nights, arts-and-crafts lessons, and special beverages for the parents.

“You need to have a little something for everyone,” Kingston said. “We take notes in our property management system as much as possible and try to customize the experience, and at the holidays, we obviously try to go over the top. That’s especially important in a place like this, where it’s primarily leisure customers. They’re spending their own money, and this might be the one vacation they take all year – or in three or four years.”

LEVERAGING YOUR LOCALE
The guest experience is more memorable when hotel managers feel empowered to embrace the local flavor surrounding their properties, according to Melissa Magnuson, chairman of Magnuson Hotels. All hotels in the group are required to achieve a minimum aggregate review score, but there are no “template brand standards,” she said.

Some of the company’s hotels, for example, get steady business from government workers, traveling nurses, and construction workers who are in town for an extended period and begin to feel socially isolated. These workers typically don’t have large expense accounts, and they’re missing their friends and family, so the hotels have sought to bring them together with free bingo and pizza, Magnuson said.

One property in Florida recently had a lot of guests in town for a fishing tournament, so it set up tables near the swimming pool where they could clean their fish, enjoy a few beers, and swap fishing stories. Likewise, hotels located near great outdoor attractions have established relationships with companies that rent out kayaks, mountain bikes, and fishing tackle, connecting guests with the local community.

Hotels may not benefit financially from these relationships, but by facilitating a better experience for guests, hotels come out ahead, Magnuson said. Similarly, buying breakfast pastries from a local bakery instead of from a national brand churning out cinnamon rolls by the pallet may not improve the bottom line, but it might help guests to remember your hotel, she said.

Hotel workers should be well versed in all their communities have to offer so they can serve as resources for visitors. In many instances, knowing the best place to take the kids bowling or to get the best burger in town can enhance the guest experience more than fancy amenities, Magnuson said.

“Consider that your hotel is the place where people are living at the moment, so you should try to make their experience more comfortable and enjoyable,” she said. “You want to make them smile and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.’”

“Across all markets, our data clearly indicate that higher [revenue per available room]is achieved by independent hotels that leverage their individuality and their unique property characteristics,” Magnuson added. “We believe when hotels are given the freedom to meet guest expectations in their own way, with local market considerations, then the minimum review score that’s our brand standard is easy to achieve.”


Building a brand around pets

building a brand around pets

IMAGE COURTESY OF G6 HOSPITALITY

Garfield, the cartoon cat who loves lasagna, has been around since 1978 but is having arguably the biggest year of his life in 2024. His new movie hit theaters in May, a month after he was named the first chief pet officer for G6 Hospitality’s Motel 6 brand.

Garfield’s mission is to make Motel 6 the preferred economy hotel chain among pet owners, including those who travel with their furry friends. Motel 6 has allowed pets to stay for free for the past 60 years, according to Adam Cannon, chief brand officer of G6 Hospitality, and catering to pet owners is good business.

According to Forbes Advisor,

  • 66% of American households have at least one pet, up from 56% in 1988, and in 2022.
  • Pet owners spent a whopping $136.8 billion on their animals.
  • The trend seems likely to continue given that millennials make up the largest group of pet owners at 33%, followed by Gen X (25%), and baby boomers (24%).

 

To appeal to pet owners, 11 Motel 6 locations have created Garfield-themed guestrooms, featuring orange curtains and bedding, stuffed animals, cat trees, water and food bowls, and blankets that look like pizza, another of Garfield’s favorite treats. One contest winner will get to stay in a Garfield-themed suite at the Motel 6 in Hollywood and attend the red-carpet movie premiere.

“Who better to provide his expertise to help pet travel be a little easier than everyone’s favorite pampered, Monday-hating, lasagna-loving, indoor cat?” said Jeffrey Godsick, an executive vice president with Sony Pictures Entertainment.


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