Autumn resolution: Your competition is your inspiration

Everyone likes making New Year’s resolutions. But September means back to school and a sense of renewal, so autumn resolutions make total sense. After all, real change happens in baby steps, and a quarterly refresher can help lighten the load for the New Year’s list.

One observation I’ve made over the years is that despite all the resources and online media within arm’s reach, many managers have tunnel vision. People know their property or their chain, and that’s about it. Examining how other hotels — including your competitors — work is thus a vital exercise towards self-improvement and, ultimately, ongoing success. And you can’t do it by just surfing the web. You have to get on property, view the operations in full and observe any intangibles.

Here are a few options:

  • Go by yourself, unannounced. Check-in, eat, relax and be a fly on the wall. Don’t let your insider knowledge get the better of you. Try to think like a consumer, discerning yet hassle-free, and let the experience wash over you. What you’re looking for are all the minor touches that complete the narrative. And those minor touches are everywhere, from the décor and in-room amenities to the staff demeanor and attention to service.
  • Go as a couple. Treat your significant other to a weekend getaway. Check in, eat, relax and do a few activities. Above all, recognize that each person’s experience will be different, and therefore each person’s inspiration will be different. Talk it through to see how your interpretations of events differ and where they coincide.
  • Comp a few other managers. Form a team from across multiple departments. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is purely reconnaissance. Send those managers, and yourself, into a competitor’s hotel at various times during the week and see what you can dig up. Then, have a meeting to compare and contrast.

Again, what you are looking for are the minor touches, not the broad strokes that require a full forearm into the budgetary cookie jar in order to be actionable. You want details where you can say to yourself, “Why aren’t we doing that? We should be doing that. We can do that!” Here are some examples of what to notice:

  • How does the hotel staff welcome new guests? How many people are outside and how many are inside? What’s the procession of events?
  • How are you treated by the front desk clerk? Is there anything specific that he or she mentions or offers? What objects are present on the front desk countertop?
  • What’s the ambiance in the lobby? What extra décor items promote this feeling? How’s the general flow of people through the lobby?
  • What’s your first reaction to the room? Were there any notes or food items personally addressed to you? What features dominate the room?
  • How’s the bed? Do you like the pattern on the linens? How many pillows are provided? Any comfort accessories?
  • How’s the washroom? What hygiene products are provided? Is the shower easy to use? What extra features does the washroom have?
  • What was your initial impression of the restaurant? How were you greeted and seated? What feeling does the menu exude, both in food offered and in format? Were there any exceptional cuisine items on the menu?
  • Remember to use your smartphone camera. Take photos of everything. Transfer these photos to your tablet or laptop and project them at the next planning committee meeting. Share your learning visually — it’s a lot faster than writing a mega-report.

I stress the old adage that you’ll never know until you try. Get out there, experience your competition and let them inspire you with new ideas. Make your autumn resolutions all about the smaller adjustments, leaving more wiggle room to accommodate the grander changes you’ll propose come January. And so I leave it with you: does anyone care to chime in with past lessons they’ve learned from their competition?