How to Make Your Boutique Hotel More Distinguished

By Didi Lutz, President, Didi Lutz PR
Let's face it, boutique hotels have their work cut out for them when they start out, rebrand or renovate. As we've explored in the past, a big part of a boutique hotel's success is left in Marketing and Public Relations. And while both are mutually exclusive disciplines, they often times work well together to provide a more integrated approach for overall success.
We all know that in the first six to eighteen months of a hotel's opening, the buzz that is created helps feed news, media curiosity and guests who decide to stay a night or two by taking advantage of your promotional introductory rate. But what are the key elements in play that make your boutique hotel more distinguished -- a description that will last over time? How do we sustain the almighty Word of Mouth?

Here are some ideas to consider as you strategize your 2007 marketing and public relations process:
Invest in PR and Marketing. It sounds obvious, but as I've said many times, this is a process that may take some time. Finding the right people to represent your hotel, negotiating with them and making sure they are aligning outreach efforts with your initiatives and goals. Giving public relations professionals some time to bring their plan/outline to life is essential. Just because you want the hotel to be on the cover a Forbes, does not mean it will happen that month, or at all for that matter. Be realistic in your expectation of return, but certainly keep track of overall performance and adjust accordingly. Regardless, PR contributes directly to the Word of Mouth component, via number of impressions, increased web traffic and in some cases, reservations are booked from PR sources.
Specialize, find your niche. While this is something you may have thought you could determine before your boutique hotel opens, you would be amazed how this could change within the first five years. Markets change, and so do demographics, so be prepared to make some adjustments if your "niche" turns out not to be the right fit for you. Once you determine your market and client base, it will be easier to determine what your hotel can offer that no one else does. It could be location, special amenity, technology, unique features, level and quality of service, or something as small as a custom scent in every room, for example. Capitalizing on your niche is essential when distinguishing your hotel.

Create packages/luxury experiences for the purpose of being creative, not to sell them. As absurd as that may sound, it is true! I remember when one of my clients decided to promote a package named after a popular primetime TV series. I don't think it sold much, but it certainly gave everyone a lot to talk about. This brought the hotel in a new light, both in the media and around town. It was a unique package that very few hotels thought of, and was very successful in the PR spotlight. However, as easy as it is for boutique hotels to create these packages (since they have the flexibility), it is just as important to be organized and communicating the components of the package to all departments who are involved. Using your flexibility to your advantage can make all the difference.
Expand within. If you have the ability to expand within your property, that is always reason for innovation, and something new to talk about. Consider a small retail boutique, or a cozy bar/lounge, or even contracting a restaurant if you are a larger boutique hotel. Such creations and partnerships do make a hotel more distinguished, as more guests associate their hotel stay with additional experiences. And what do guests do with their experiences: they like to share them with others.
Encourage guest reviews. This brings us to guest behavior. We can never truly predict behavior, especially with a powerful communications tool like the Web. But, as owners and operators of boutique properties, you do have the power to encourage guests to write reviews about their positive experience. If a guest at checkout tells the Front Desk Manager s/he had a great stay and can't wait to come back, empower your managers to encourage the guest to write a review on TripAdvisor, Fodor's and other such web outlets that are widely read by future guests. Since the reviews tend to be candid, they are seriously read by others and the input can be a decision making factor when booking a hotel. We've entered a completely different way of managing Word of Mouth, and as hotel representatives, we must adapt to this change.

Host events! Yes, if you are able and your budget allows this, host an event for a charity or a special group you would like to be associated with. It's a great way to get the right people in your hotel so they can keep it in mind in the future. Events help Word of Mouth a great deal, too. So, seek out sponsors and throw a party, big or small, it will have an impact. Just make sure you invite the right people, and that's where your Marketing and PR team comes in.

Monitor news and blogs. As always, the ever-growing Internet changes face from day to day. That's why it is important to monitor blogs and news as often as possible. Certain search engines now provide blog alerts and news alerts that include keywords, and you can customize this for your property. The sooner you know what is being said about your hotel, the better you can respond. Keep in mind that a damage control plan for negative reviews should be in place, so that your management can be proactive rather than reactive when these situations arise (and they almost always do!)
Measure results. Don't get discouraged if your first promotions do not yield your expected results. Remember, Public Relations and Integrated Marketing are an ongoing process, and therefore it can take time to get results. Measuring includes tracking web traffic, sources such as "how did you hear about us," e-newsletter percentages and of course number of impressions captured in an article, etc.
Finally, while there is no one recipe to success, a balanced combination of suggestions just like the ones outlined here, can help you focus on getting your hotel more distinguished among your competition.

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