By James Lohan, MBE, Co-Founder, Mr&Mrs Smith
Over the past eight months, I have been speaking with hotel owners on a daily basis and one thing rings true – everyone in the industry is finding this moment difficult, worrying or at least extremely frustrating. Let’s face it, it feels like we’re all staring towards an unknown future.
However, if you own or run a business, you are an entrepreneur – and that means you have only one choice: an optimistic outlook. That doesn’t mean you don’t understand the magnitude of your challenges or are shying away from them. What it means is, we’re all in a fight to survive and so need to be even more creative with how we are going to reach the other side – by going further than we have before for our teams, our suppliers and, of course, our customers.
To go above and beyond isn’t enough, though: you have to go back again and again every day until the threat of the virus passes. So how, if you’re a small business, can you do that?
Here are a few thoughts I’ve gathered from my recent conversations with owners that might help you rethink the ‘new normal’ and take back some control over the coming months.
- RECONSIDER YOUR CUSTOMER BASE. Ask yourself, who is willing to travel to your hotel right now? Are they your usual audience? If not, what are you going to do to find them and ultimately get them to book with you? For example, if it’s a younger, or more local audience than you’re used to, how can you start bringing them to your establishment?
- OFFER FLEXIBLE RATES. Flexibility is the number one request for guests right now – offering your rates that can be cancelled or amended as standard will give people peace of mind. Similarly, ensuring changes can be made with minimal hassle will build long-term customer loyalty.
- STRIKE A BALANCE. Explain your safety measures clearly but remember, guests don’t want to feel like they’re checking into a hospital! It’s important to remember that leisure stays are still about having a fun, relaxing time so build this into your staff ‘retraining’.
- MAKE CLEANING VISIBLE. Cleaning and sanitising public areas is of course more important than ever in today’s world. Now is the time to also remember that it’s okay to clean when guests are close by. This will give them further reassurance that every measure is being taken to ensure their safety.
- STRIP BACK ANY COMPLEXITY. Of course companies grow organically, but they can often start to drift, adding too much complexity and brand baggage along the way. This is the perfect time to challenge yourself on whether you are focussing on the right things – and have the team structure to deliver the right offer – in what is now a more agile world.
- RELOOK AT YOUR COSTS. There won’t be a hotelier out there that hasn’t looked at their overheads this year. However, it’s important to keep coming back to the books to see if new changes can be made. For example, you might not have considered getting a smart meter installed before, but accurate bills for your energy spend would be really useful right now when every penny counts.
- USE YOUR ROOMS DIFFERENTLY. Think about how you can make your food and drink offering more interesting by using new areas or settings that perhaps you haven’t thought of before, but will also help with social distancing. For example, lunch in the library or morning room, or adding an outdoor heater and firepit to an exterior folly space might make for a romantic winter feast.
- TAILOR MADE EXPERIENCE. What are the ways you can offer a personalised service? For example, for those who are hesitant about eating in mixed areas, offer to bring up food to their rooms. Or for those that don’t want to come to the bar, send your barman/mixologist to their room to mix a favourite tipple (if you have space of course).
- REINVENT THE ‘MINI’ BAR. Now there’s a 10pm curfew, turn your mini bar into a maxi bar! It’s safe, inventive, will keep your late-night guests happy and bring in extra cash after time’s been called. You could also ask guests to share their favourite drinks with you in advance to ensure you have a balance of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
- CHECK YOUR ‘BRAND PURPOSE’. Will your ‘brand purpose’ still be relevant in a post-Covid world? I’d personally like to think we’ll all make some sort of positive change when we get through this. I think people’s appreciation of companies that are decent, kind, diverse, open, inclusive and sustainable will be heightened and they will increasingly look to spend their cash more positively.
So, identify and market to an appropriate customer base, and when they do stay, make sure you give them an experience that exceeds their expectations. While things look a little different right now, you can still provide an experience that makes people want to tell their friends and hopefully come back again themselves.
James Lohan is encouraging other businesses to find out if they are eligible for a smart meter by contacting their energy supplier.