In October 2017 there were 138 hotels with 8121 bedrooms in Northern Ireland. By October 2018 there were 141 hotels with just over 9,000 bedrooms. For customers who don’t want to stay in a hotel (although 83% of visitors do) 762 guesthouses, B&Bs and guest accommodation properties offer 3,206 bedrooms.
AirBnB stock has rocketed in the last three years with the growth of serviced apartments which are competing directly with hotels on both price and quality. The growth in new openings continues with a projected 10,000 hotel bedrooms in Northern Ireland by the end of 2020.
So how do you differentiate your property to attract more customers to maintain your occupancy and to sell your product at the best rate?
Exceptional Customer Service
You’d think that this is a no brainer but it’s amazing how many businesses fail to deliver good customer service never mind exceptional. Put the customer at the centre of everything you do. Start with the basics. Ensure your property is clean and well maintained from the entrance, to the bedrooms, to the bar and restaurant and especially the toilets. Then start to make simple changes. Welcome every guest to your property and use their name. Make conversation. Solve any complaints or problems as soon as they arise. Train your staff so they know that the customer is their priority at all times.
Give your customers an experience they can’t wait to tell all their friends and family about.
Build a loyal customer base
Acquiring a new customer can cost x 5 more than retaining an existing one. Increasing your repeat customer rate by just 5% could increase your profitability by up to 25%. Recognise and reward your repeat customers and be willing to go above and beyond for them. Keep in touch with them, providing up to date information on your best offers and details of your latest news. And always deliver great customer service to ensure they come back time and time again.
Your business should have at least one thing that makes it different from all the others. What do you offer that your competitors don’t? Speak to your staff, speak to your existing customers – what do they think sets your business above the rest? Decide what your unique offering is and then shout it from the rooftops.
Tell your story
What is the story of your business? How long has your hotel been looking after your guests and how many guests have you accommodated since then? Is your story about the people who have been employed by your business for many years and continue to serve your customers day after day? As the saying goes, people buy from people and your customer would love to know your story.
Do you have social values that set you apart? Are you making significant changes within your business to reduce waste, to pay above the minimum wage, to partner with great social causes? We are all more socially and ethnically conscious these days and customers are making more purchases based on social responsibility. If you don’t know what your story is, decide what you want it to be, make the changes required and then tell your story.
Don’t dress up your product or service to be something it isn’t. You will create customer expectations that are impossible to meet. Use photography that is attractive and up to date reflecting the actual décor of the property. Be clear about what you include in your price and what you don’t. Use honest language in your descriptions. And don’t say you have social and ethical values if you don’t! Customers are smart – they will find you out and tell everyone about their disappointment.
Is your business in a prime location, is it close to a popular landmark, is it away from it all in a beautiful coastal or rural setting? What’s special about the area where your property is? Sell your location and potential customers will book because that’s where they want to be. If you are a destination property make sure to give directions and driving time estimates. If a potential customer has only to travel 60 minutes to your property versus 3 hours to another this can be a major selling point.
Make it easy to book or buy
It’s amazing to me how many websites that fail to showcase the produce or service offered with poor photography, limited information about what you offer and a laborious booking system with unclear pricing. In these days of one-click purchasing, your buying process should be seamless, with minimal data input, a secure system and immediate confirmation. Otherwise the customer will look elsewhere or will head to one of the OTAs (online travel agents) who will charge you 15-25% commission for the pleasure of taking your booking for you!
Desire to be the best
No matter what type of business you operate aspire to be the best at what you do. Not in a ‘walk all over everybody else to get ahead’ way but in a way that instills amazing company culture for your employees, amazing customer service for your customers and you will build a great reputation. Have the cleanest toilets, employees that smile the most, the quickest booking journey, a menu that is simple, clear but offering great food choices. When you and your team do everything as well as you possibly can, your customers will see it, and they’ll tell everybody else and book again.