Amanda J Dennis | Seasonal Summer Resorts and the Winter Blues
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Seasonal Summer Resorts and the Winter Blues

“Summertime and the living is easy…” classic Gershwin lyrics from Porgy and Bess.  And for many of us with hotels and resorts in summer destination locations, the living just got a little more difficult.  Once the leaves start changing colors and the local weather forecaster suggests a sweater in the mornings, the temperature isn’t the only thing dipping.  So is demand.

What can we do to lessen the pain?  Let’s take a look at a study recently conducted by Epsilon, a leading marketing services firm, and reported in HotelMarketing.com.  Only a third of the people they surveyed were sure of where they wanted to stay when making a hotel reservation.  The number one buying point for all of the customers they surveyed was price.  Convenience of the location was second and, for those still uncertain, reputation came third.  These customers said that they are also highly influenced in their decision by friends and family, with information from travel review sites and brand websites contributing factors.

With this in mind, here a few suggestions for tackling the Winter Blues:

  1. Create value-driven packages for both group and transient market segments.  The customers surveyed said that price, not rate, drove their decision.  Many people (including myself) enjoy traveling in the off-season precisely because of the value.  Keeping this in mind, let’s look at examples:  Unique group packages.  This strategy actually works year-round but it is especially important in the off-season.  Meeting planners work with a budget and an all-inclusive package means no surprises to spoil a successful event when they are handed the final bill.  And I’m not talking about the usual, “everybody has the same,” group packages that perhaps you and everyone else in your comp set are offering.  Spice the packages  up a bit and be highly descriptive.  Consider conference dining and breaks.  It’s a lot more cost effective and enables you to provide more bang for your planner’s buck.  While you’re at it, take advantage of “affordable positioning” to target groups that might not even consider your area during peak season.  Dynamic value packages for the transient markets. There are a couple of ways to approach this:  loss leader pricing that includes an upgrade option or full on packaging.  At a condo hotel in Branson, the “Dinner and a Movie” package was a big hit with families. If you have an on-site golf course, what about unlimited golf every day?  Any cost is incremental and the value is outstanding.  Consider special incentives for state residents (or tri-state residents) to capture the drive market.  People who fly?  What about pre-loaded metro cards as part of their package?  A hotel in Ocala, Florida, utilized backyard marketing strategies and created a series of wine dinners that included an overnight stay.  These dinners became so popular that they filled all of the available seats within a few days of each announcement.  If your hotel has a brand affiliation, take advantage of off-season opportunities utilizing rewards from your loyalty program.  According to Epsilon, over 80% of the loyalty club members surveyed said that being member helps sway them in their decision to stay at the chain.
  2. Focus on your website and social media channels. Your website and Facebook business page are a gold mine for communicating with both past and potential guests.  Ensure that they reflect your hotel’s personality.  Wall postings and customized tabs can be used to post reasons to visit during the off-season and use lots of pictures.  Encourage guests who have stayed outside of peak season to post their experiences and get a dialogue started.  Customers have said that a convenient location is important to them.  Highlight your location by posting a map with nearby activities that may be overlooked in peak season:  museums and art galleries, concerts and fall festivals (corn maze, farmer’s markets).  Offer last-minute specials that are really special and limit the availability.  Base it on something amusing and unexpected, for example the rate equals the temperature of the day for the first 10 people who book with a special code or who call a special number.  Consider using a customized tab to communicate special offers to groups as well.
  3. Promote through e-mail. The Epsilonsurvey revealed that customers prefer email communication.  They are interested in hearing about sales or discounted offers (it’s about the value, remember?) and amenities at the hotel (again, the packaging opportunity).  Sweepstakes or contests designed around information adapted to their interests are also highly appealing.  Your Facebook business page is the perfect outlet for this.  An email promotion and/or a Facebook posting can drive traffic to a customized landing page with all of the details.
  4. Respond to postings on travel review sites. And not just the bad reviews.  Research by PhoCusWright reported in The Sun Herald, reinforces the fact that guest reviews are now one of the most dominant forms of social media when making travel choices.  In taking a more optimistic view, this is a great opportunity to establish a relationship with your guests.  Thank those who have taken the time to compliment the hotel and its staff.  Answering negative reviews quickly and professionally demonstrates that you are listening to the guest, reinforcing the fact that your guest is appreciated and valued.  In the Sun’s article, Amelie Hurst, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor, says that there is anecdotal support that a hotel’s response to a negative posting can have a greater impact on a traveler’s impression than the review itself.

Like these ideas and want more?  Get the scoop about Amanda Dennis and her 30 years of experience in sales and marketing strategies, revenue generation, e-commerce and social media at her website, www.ajdassoc.com.  Follow her blog by clicking on the “News” link or access it through Facebook and Twitter.  All you have to do is “like” her.  Prefer a phone call?  She can be reached at (720) 379-3058.

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