That late-autumn lull

For many hoteliers the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is filled with angst. How do you build occupancy and revenue in an often uncertain business period?

I recall working for an all-season resort in New England where the period from early November through the holidays was called the “serene season” — fall foliage complete and too early to ski on neighboring mountain tops, but too cold for anything more than a brisk walk. Its solution was to reduce staff and close a portion of the property for well-deserved renovations.

But for most properties, the idea of shuttering a wide swath of product is out of the question. Furthermore, I’d bet the majority of you are running hotels, not resorts, and are most certainly not in New England! With this in mind, here are some approaches that have proven successful as well as a few tactical programs that might stimulate discussion.

Plan ahead: Your director of sales and marketing, in conjunction with your revenue manager, should have your planned for this serene season locked up well before Columbus Day. The plan should include all of the necessary promotional programs and marketing support allocations. Define your goals for the period, weighted less towards ADR or occupancy and more on RevPOR, as ancillary income from F&B and catering is particularly critical at this time.

Look to groups: Your plan for this period should be based upon a solid book of group business. This group business will typically have a short lead time and be comprised of smaller local or regional meetings that reflect both year-end and new-year strategy sessions. It is not uncommon for sales teams of Fortune 500 firms to meet on a unit or group basis locally across the country, recognizing that managers have a need to stay closer to home prior to the holiday season. Be sure to map out your targeting of local businesses accordingly.

Encourage corporate social events: Catering has the edge in this season. For this period, more than any time during the year, your catering team will help drive your room sales. Develop programs that support year-end events on property, and encourage the sale of guestrooms to support the prevention of drinking and driving. Be prepared to offer aggressive guestroom rates to your catering sales team and create incentives for the sale of room blocks with each event they close.

Shop ’til you drop: Christmas shopping will be on the minds of your guests. For those who have properties in the city, create special shopper packages with guestroom price points that make sense for your market. Features here can include discounts at local stores, coupons/certificates from affiliated retailers, gift-wrapping centers in the lobby, assistance with gift pickup from local stores and even packing for FedEx/UPS delivery. Be sure to promote these packages to your guest lists through electronic channels and social media.

Think like a retailer: You know the routine. It seems as if the turkey leftovers have barely been consumed, and stores are decorated as if Christmas is immediately upon us. Your property should look festive on the same schedule. A strong holiday spirit encourages guest spending and positive attitudes among your staff. Plan your schedule of activities early, and post it to your website well in advance. Use electronic communications to share this schedule with your customer base.

Don’t forget gift cards: Even if you do not have a retail shop of your own, promote the sale of gift cards (or gift certificates) for future stays. Create promotions around the sale, including gift-wrapping, special cards and overnight delivery services. If you do not have an established gift-card program, consider creating a seasonal package certificate that offers the recipient a blend of accommodations with F&B, selling this through all of your usual marketing channels.

The spirit of giving: Don’t forget there are others less fortunate than we are. Ensure your holiday plans include a charitable component. This should not be an add-on or token effort, but rather an intrinsic part of your message as a good corporate citizen. Share your efforts through your social media channels.

Measurement is future learning: While I am not a fan of programs that measure the minutia of every marketing detail, it is important to gain learning experience with your approach. Therefore, each of the programs you undertake should be well defined, with records taken that correlate to their response and efficacy. Remember, you’ll be back at this 12 months from now!