Design Solutions? You Don't Know What You Don't Know, Until You Know

By Brian West President, LifeStyling | March 07, 2010

It sounds absolutely idiotic, doesn't it? Well I'm not one to quote idiocy, but I like this one. Having recently returned home from two consulting projects - I reached a conclusion that though a client may know their targeted guest demographic they may still not know exactly what that demographic is looking for. Within any hospitality organization the staff is taught to intuit and anticipate guests needs, but when speaking to those at the tip-top of the of the grand hoteliers organizational chart - it's often those individuals that are blinded and incapable of anticipating, instead all they spend their time doing is playing a game of catch up.. Unfortunately each of the two projects I visited didn't know that they didn't know what they needed to know.

As a hospitality industry design consultant my responsibilities vary in form from client to client, but never do they stray from the overarching responsibility of assisting my clients in attaining the greatest maximum potential from their properties. I'm often presented with grand concepts by clients who truly believe they have done their comparative analysis homework, these concepts are more often than not repackaged ideas of what their competition is doing - it is rare that the developer/hotel owner/operator looks to the designer for their understanding of the market and asks the question... What would you suggest we do?

I understand that the hospitality industry is chock full of consultants doing what they do to help properties attain their goals through management, and yes there are those properties that garner much of their business from media saturation and design hype, let's not forget that a highly significant percentage of properties throughout the world rely significantly on group business - be it meeting, incentive or convention. Now don't get me wrong I am a designer and I love dramatic, theatrical and gorgeous spaces and when traveling for pleasure I look to the beautiful properties first. Now if you've read any of my other articles you will recognize a common thread wherein most of my musings of the hospitality industry focus on group business - group business is an area in which my firm remains extremely fluent. Having an intimate history on the meeting planning side of the industry in addition to the property design and development side - I often recognize the details that either make a meeting/group planner smile or conversely make the planner look to another property all together. Now don't get me wrong - I understand that properties are often limited in their ability to provide every convenience and accommodation to every different type of hotel guest. I completely understand the difficulty in renovating to accommodate modern trends, but what I want to help owners and developers understand is that if you've pinpointed your target demographic you need to consistently keep their needs at the forefront of your accommodation plans. When you design or renovate your property you need to look beyond the aesthetic appointments to the altogether functional details that are going to allow your guest the most appropriate level of accommodation.

Design solutions that positively affect the meeting industry don't have to be obvious to the individual traveler. I was recently doing some group business consultation and we needed a small conference room in which to conduct some meetings throughout the week, unfortunately the hotels meeting facilities were occupied, however the hotel offered to convert one of their intelligently designed guestrooms into a meeting room/office for the duration of our stay - this usually means that the hotel will relocate the bed and set the room with a few 6' draped tables. However, once converted - the former guestroom produced no evidence of having ever been a guestroom. The headboards conveniently served double duty as upholstered backrests for the comfortable and stylish bench seats that once sat at the foot of the bed, the wall mounted flat screen television doubled as an enlarged computer screen on which we could present our Power Point presentation, the custom millwork of the credenza and desk served dually as a beverage center and additional bench seat once topped with a few of the decorative box pillows borrowed from the bed. What amazed me most in this room was the thought that went into its potential dual use. The designer provided a sophisticated and luxurious design for the guest room and thought intuitively about how else the room might be used. A multi-connection technology hub on the floor in the center of the room (hidden by the bed) when set as a guestroom yet situated perfectly when the boardroom table was set provided for our computer power cords, Ethernet hub and flat-screen connectivity. This property impressed me and my client enough to garner the signing of three future years of booking for a very large business meeting. The design of this room was not solely responsible for the booking of the business, but it certainly helped seal the deal as the client will be using numerous guestrooms as breakouts over the coming years in addition to a significant portion of their ballrooms.

Of course not all of our hotel clients serve the large meeting/incentive and convention business. One such client is currently seeking a solution geared toward providing their guests a more self-serve approach. Approximately fifty percent (50%) of the guests of this clients property are budget limited family travelers the other fifty percent (50%) are business travelers or conventioneers - often toting a weighty computer and enough business material to garner an additional travel bag. The property is very happy with their well utilized common lobby/living room space and has no plans to convert any of it to a business center yet a business center is exactly what they are in need of. A significant portion of their business is derived from business travelers, yet they are finding that their service for those individuals proves time and time again to be not only a disappointment when it comes to printing, faxing or sometimes simply retrieving an email.

The front desk is staffed too lightly to be able to service all the guest needs in addition to running to the back to make copies, fax or retrieve prints off of someone's jump drive. So we began exploring the concept of mini business centers located on each guest floor. The centers take no more space than a typical guestroom closet yet provide a tremendous return on their nominal investment and are proving to satisfy client's basic printer, copier, fax and internet solution needs. This solution became possible when a small underutilized corner of the hallway was tapped - and what makes it even more convenient is that the space is only a short slipper shuffle from each guestroom.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.