Complimentary Service That is Uncomplimentary to Service

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 05, 2011

It is better to give than to receive... right? What happens when hoteliers give a complimentary stay or experience, a "comp" , to support a special program or fundraiser and the recipient, the lucky "comp" winner, shows up to experience their reward? When that guest begins to make their arrangements, are they treated the same as other guests, better or worse than other guests? And, what value does this guest have for the hotel and the employees if that guest appears to be there 'for free' and not directly contributing to the bottom line? How can hoteliers harness the power of gift certificates and communicate their potential to hotel employee teams?

Based on my survey, I am amazed at how differently properties treat this issue. Some treat the certificate bearer as a pariah and low man on the totem pole and others place huge value with a welcoming spirit-very dramatic differences and perspective!

What kind of marketing and guest service potential is there behind these awards? Should there be guidelines in place to ensure consistent responses and behaviors for these 'free' guests? Could they be powerful new ways to instill or anchor loyalty in new or returning guests? Or, will they end up being 'FREE" gifts that make NO MONEY?

Some hotels and organizations have a philosophy, procedures and orientation in place for their employees in both delivering the awards and receiving them for redemption. Others do not. It appears that each hospitality environment handles these awards differently. Some have standards in place…and some don't.

When seeking donations and potential awards, some hoteliers recognize the value in the presentation BEFORE the award is even given. While a certificate or letter is often the norm, outlining the offering, details, policies and logistics, the packaging and presentation of that gift is quite subjective. It can simply be presented in an envelope or it can be presented as if the award itself was the first stage of welcome/introduction for the future recipient. In fact, the organization presenting the award is actually beginning the "experience" for that future guest.

At the il Lugano Hotel, a luxury boutique property in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a recent comp stay gift to benefit a school fundraising effort, arrived in a beautifully wrapped package, included a soft stuffed bear with the hotel's logo, presented descriptive and inviting collateral materials and provided a thoughtful and warm welcome letter. Even before the gift was awarded, all those at the school had a fantastic impression of the hotel and the property gained several new fans and potential guests. The word of mouth spread in a very positive way, based on this very simple and thoughtful gesture.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.