Position Your Hotel as a Valuable Member of the Local Community

By Richard Takach, Jr. President & CEO, Vesta Hospitality | May 11, 2014

Community programs must start with a genuine desire to be involved in the society about us and, then, evolve from the clear needs of the local community, the interests of our team and the guidance of our organization, including its ownership group. Furthermore, they demonstrate or embody the reality that no hotel can or should thrive in isolation from its greater, surrounding community. Moreover, in our experience, individual hotel properties perform better when they are active community citizens. As a result, there are many good reasons to get involved, as we shall consider in this article ways in which to position a hotel as a valuable member of the local community.

Starting Off On the Right Foot

Where do we begin when attempting to become a valuable member of the local community? With what activities should we become involved? In my experience, the first step for a hospitality executive new to a community is to join local groups, from the Rotary to the Red Cross, from general business and merchant groups to economic development, historic preservation or cultural groups. In this way, you can learn what makes the community "tick" and form relationships with its business and professional leaders. It also helps you learn about projects under way in the local community, as well as some of the issues that it is facing.

For example, a new downtown merchants group may be forming. Or perhaps the community is focusing on a proposed stadium or highway that is expected to help grow commerce. Is homelessness, literacy or job training an issue? Does the community have a strong interest in historic preservation? In smaller communities, is there a college, university or major business around which much of the activity seems to center? These insights help us make intelligent and useful choices about what resources, financial and personal, we might devote to community programs.

Yes, there is some prospecting involved. Certainly, being known in the community and forming relationships with decision makers will help draw business to our property. But that is fine. When we are engaged in the business world, reciprocity is an important principle. It is only natural that many organizations will make donations to those groups that are also a client.

Most importantly, be visible and accessible. Be ready to help when asked. Sincere and genuine involvement on your part will be recognized and appreciated for what it is: an effort to be "of use" to the local community.

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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.