Around 150 marketers from hotels across the UK descended on the Hilton St George's Park in Burton-upon-Trent yesterday for the 2017 National Hotel Marketing Conference, run by the Hotel Marketing Association (HMA).
"The most important thing for you to have is empathy with your customers," was the opening message from conference chairman and HMA president Pamela Carvell.
"Empathy is the greatest attribute of any sales or marketing professional and you don't get that from data. You get that from putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. It comes from genuinely understanding who your existing and potential customers are," she said.
Following an introduction by newly-appointed HMA chairman Steve Lowy and the news that Julian Ebbutt has been appointed vice chairman, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels Peter Hancock continued in a similar vein, urging hotels in the luxury segment to focus on their service to improve their profitability and marketing. "We think that we sell rooms because that is how our performance is measured," he said.
He said when he asks guests why they stay in a certain luxury hotel, rarely is it because of a special offer, but because of the way they are looked after and because they have built up relationships with members of staff - and so the price becomes irrelevant.
"Once something is seen as a luxury good it becomes something you desire and isn't price-driven," he said, adding that slashing prices and offering deals is not necessarily the way forward for luxury hotels, and in fact the high price tag is part of the appeal and what makes the product desirable.
"Reputation paves the way for successful marketing," he said, and suggested marketers think of all staff at their hotel as part of the marketing team because of their influence on the guest experience.
In an interview conducted by Carvell, Eamonn Elliott, chief executive of Rockliffe Hall, echoed Hancock's sentiments. "The most important thing in this game is the delivery and relationships," he said, "I look at individuals and how they operate."
For him, the business is all about the employees, the personalities, and the relationships they have with guests, as well as the relationships the hotel has with the local community. He spoke about how he had reached out to residents at a local parish council meeting, encouraging them to engage with the hotel - a link with the local community he described as "absolutely essential".
This people-first, community-embracing approach has meant that, of the hotel's 340-strong workforce, 90% are from within 25 miles of the hotel - an unusual statistic in the hospitality sector.
And whether it's service, location, history, or even a novelty theme, Steve Dobson, chief executive of Unusual Hotels of the World, told hotel marketers to remember (or find) their hotels' USP in the conference keynote speech.
He used examples like the recently opened Curtain in London Shoreditch and the Tamburlaine hotel in Cambridge, which have created a story around their location and history.
Similarly, the Chocolate Boutique Hotel in Bournemouth and the CBeebies Land hotel at Alton Towers in Staffordshire have made themselves stand out by centring around a theme, ensuring all aspects of the hotel and its marketing align consistently with that - and are always full as a result.
"Being distinct and different isn't about cost," said Dobson. "Just ensure you provide an experience for guests and something a bit different that they wouldn't have at home - and they will want to tell their friends about it. And reputation and word of mouth are the best marketing tools of all."
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