Being a small, independent hotel competing with big chains can feel like a David and Goliath scenario. While brand giants possess resources you don’t, there are plenty of ways to wield your slingshot and compete for bookings. Chains may have more muscle—and money—behind them, but independent hotels are often nimbler and more creative. Here’s how to use your advantages as an independent to level the playing field and boost bookings.
Though big chains enjoy instant brand recognition (who hasn’t heard of Marriott?) and the credibility that comes with that, you can use your website to enhance your own credibility and make it easy for guests to book. Most travelers book hotels online now, so offering guests the ability to book direct through your website is a must.
Usability assists with credibility. If your website is easy to navigate, quick to load, and works well across devices, then you’ve shown guests that you have everything under control. Fail here, and they won’t stick around to find out if the rest of your service is as glitchy. Always test and review any changes you make to your website. Consider conducting usability tests to fine-tune the user experience.
Branding should be consistent across your website and booking engine. This creates a cohesive booking experience that gives guests the confidence to provide personal information. Security is paramount as well. Both your website and booking engine should display a secure connection (https).
Last but not least, your booking engine should be visually appealing and easy to use. Make sure it’s accessible on every page of your site. Only require information you absolutely need; the longer it takes to make a booking, the less likely customers will go through with it. A simple booking process is key to conversion. You can always collect more details in your pre-stay messaging.
The commission fees may be a pain, but OTAs enable you to display your offerings alongside larger chain brands and broaden your reach. Everyone can use them…so you should too. Just because a customer starts out researching on an OTA doesn’t mean you can’t win them over to your own website to make the booking.
Integrate your OTA channels with your property management system for live rates and availability across the board. This saves you time (you don’t have to enter everything twice) while preventing double bookings and other mishaps.
Social media is another tool that every hotel can use, whatever their size or budget. Though you have to pay for increased exposure, it won’t necessarily break the bank. You can customize campaigns to target specific audiences and cap your spend. Start out slowly and experiment until you find what works.
Before you commit to a social media platform, study its audience. Does it overlap with yours? You don’t have to hop on every trendy new network that rolls around.
Guests come to independent hotels because they want to feel cozy and taken care of, not because they want to feel like a room number. With fewer guests to keep track of, independent hotels have a leg up on personalization. If you have the time, take a few minutes to get to know the guest when they stop by the front desk.
That said, you won’t remember everything about every guest unless a) you’re Sheldon Cooper or b) your bookings have really taken a hit. Use your property management system to store guest profiles complete with preferences and special requirements to help you personalize the stay experience and provide proactive service when they come back. And they will come back; you sent those anniversary chocolates up to their room after all.
Organizing individual touches is easier with fewer rooms…and with a versatile, automated property management system supporting staff on the back end. For instance, WebRezPro integrates with communication platforms like Breezeway that ensure staff can reach each other easily. (Those chocolates won’t get delivered if the concierge doesn’t know that the front desk asked for them.)
Personalize by guest segment as well as by individual. You don’t have to adhere to chain guidelines, which makes you more able to cater to your specific types of guests. If you think your workcation travelers could use ergonomic chairs, you don’t have to call corporate—just the furniture store.
Because your hotel doesn’t have to match the look and feel of thousands of other hotels out there, you have the freedom to showcase a unique design and connect your offerings to your local area. Slow tourism is on the rise, and travelers are ready to take a deeper dive into their destination’s culture. You can help them by tailoring your amenities, services, and motif to that culture.
If you have the time and the budget, take a look at your hotel’s design. Are there ways it could echo your area? For instance, if you’re in Texas, you may want to try an Old West vibe. If you don’t have the wherewithal for a full design makeover, you can always pick out a few pieces from local artists and display them.
Consider your menu as well. What local specialties can you include? Even if your region’s cuisine isn’t particularly distinctive (not everyone has Chicago-style deep-dish pizza), you can still contract with nearby farms and suppliers…or even grow produce in your own garden. Not only is this a selling point, but it also decreases your carbon footprint.
Lastly, you are part of what makes your area special. Your story is more than just “a big chain wanted to develop here,” so use it. What history do you have? Are you family run? Share what makes your stay experience unique in your marketing. Don’t be afraid to talk about the people. Marketing is all about forming connections, and it’s easier to do this with people than buildings. Your story needs characters as well as a setting!
Partner with other local businesses to create packages and experiences unique to your area. For example, if you’re a tropical resort, buddy up with a local dive company so your guests can explore the nearby reef.
Partnerships not only enable you to provide authentic experiences for guests, they also boost your SEO and expand your reach through co-marketing opportunities.
Host events to raise brand awareness and increase bookings. This both makes your hotel stand out among competitors and enables you to build a customer base among the locals. (They may not come for the night, but they will come for karaoke night). In today’s market, hotels need to concentrate on more than heads in beds, and ancillary revenue comes in useful. Plus, locals may recommend your hotel to family and friends (not everyone wants to stay on their in-laws’ couch).
Make events specific to your clientele. If you attract bleisure guests, set up a networking cocktail hour. If you appeal to families, try a kids’ movie night.
If organizing your own event is more than you have the time and resources for, you can always take advantage of what’s happening locally. Develop packages that tie in with larger events like concerts and festivals, or simply include local happenings in the “Things to Do” section of your website. If you have the space, you could even consider offering your property as a venue for craft fairs, local musicians, and art exhibitions.
Repeat customers are your best customers; they spend more because they’ve learned to trust you. It makes sense to “treat” them when they show up. Big chains aren’t the only ones who can reward guests for coming back again…and coming back isn’t the only thing you can reward guests for.
As a smaller property, you can join forces with a larger loyalty program that enables guests to collect and use points at multiple independent hotels and locations. For example, WebRezPro integrates with Preferred Patron, Stash Hotel Rewards, and VOILÀ Hotel Rewards.
You can also give perks for smaller actions, such as booking direct (instead of through an OTA) or leaving a review. The reward doesn’t have to be much. A simple drink at your coffee shop will leave a smile on the guest’s face, and they’ll be more likely to return once they’ve tasted your mocha with extra whipped cream. The goal with these smaller treats is instant gratification; you want to reward guests whether or not they’d pass the marshmallow test.
As an independent hotel, you have a smaller range of stakeholders to satisfy and no large company guidelines to follow, for your brand or otherwise. Approval for changes is faster. You may not have 20 floors, but you don’t have 20 levels of corporate to go through either. Take advantage of this by watching market trends and experimenting with them. You shouldn’t bet everything on each new trend that emerges, but dipping your toe in the water won’t hurt.
Though you may be smaller, you can compete successfully with big chains if you use your resources well, cater to your niche, and pay attention to the changing market. Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean “less.” It means “more unique,” “more interesting,” and “more authentic.” Use these tips to win more bookings!