The Going is Tough So Get Ready
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | March 15, 2009
As a hotel manager or a coach, you've said it at least a thousand times. If you've ever been a sales person or an athlete, you've probably heard it at least a million times. And if you've ever been a kid (which all of us have, however long ago), you've heard it from your parents more times than you ever care to count. I'm talking about that old clich'e, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Endlessly quoted by motivators of every kind, it is meant to be slogan that inspires a higher level of performance. In other words, when situations are tough, people rise to the occasion.
This often cited clich'e is actually the title of a popular song originally recorded by Billy Ocean in 1985 and was the theme song for the Michael Douglas film, the Jewel of the Nile. As famous as these words are, however, there is another line in the lyrics that is less well known, but just as important for hoteliers in tough economic times: When the going gets tough, the tough get ready. The operative word is, of course, ready.
With the current state of the economy, it is not at all surprising that consumers and hotels alike have developed a frugal mindset. Or as one upscale frequent traveler aptly put it, my wallet is closed! So just what can your hotel do to be tough, be ready, and get going, which is on-trend with the new luxury consumer? In a hats-off to David Letterman, here is a "half top ten list" of five luxury lessons to help you turn your guests' penny-wise thinking to your advantage.
Lesson #1 - Arm your front line troops. Keep in mind that luxury is no longer about the thing; it is about the special experience people feel in buying and enjoying the thing. When people become more careful in their spending, they need additional hand holding and guidance in deciding if, where, and when to travel. So this is the perfect time to invest in training for your sales force or guest service staff - especially in what I call empathy training. Most hotels do a good job of procedural training. Employees know how to make a bed, serve a meal, open a door, and make sure the guest's folio is accurate. But hand holding requires a different kind of coaching. Consider, for example, bringing in a behaviorist to school all your employees in how to read body language. Understanding simple moves such as folding arms, sitting back in a chair, or tilting one's head to the side can help your staff empathize with people. Such an understanding will help them more easily move guests and potential guests from pondering to booking that banquet room, buying a spa package, upgrading to the concierge floor, or even staying an extra night. What a luxurious gift of hospitality this gives your guests.
Lesson #2 - Merchandise, Don't Sell. There is an old adage that the eye buys what the eye sees. No where can this be better put to use than in a hotel's gift shop. Whether a limited service property or a sea side resort, most gift shops look more like a discount drug store than an inviting and enticing buying experience. Hotels need to take a lesson from their retail brethren. For example, walk into a Nordstrom's and see look at how artfully a room setting or tablescape is displayed. Study how they present complete clothing ensembles in various lifestyle settings. Such merchandising is designed to influence your buying behavior so that you end up walking out of the store with not only the jacket you wanted, but the trousers, shoes, shirt, and scarf that go along with it. Plus, you have that luxurious feeling that you're all put together to boot. The new luxury is as much about the process as the product itself. You have to make the guest feel that experience.
Lesson #3 - Remember that the classes are reaching down and the masses are trading up. This seismic shift in consumer spending can open your business to new market segments. Look, for instance, at those fancy coffee drinks that have become such a part of the American lexicon. Even though times are tough, people don't want to give up their cappuccinos, so they move from Starbuck's $4 price tag to Speedway or McDonald's. Or consider how designer brands, such as Simply Vera, have attracted new customer segments to Kohls, trading up from discount stores and down from traditional department stores. This attitudinal shift opens opportunities for new market niches. What about special packages to celebrate Grandparents Day? A case in point: Michigan State University's Alumni Association offers a Grandparents University experience where grandparents can bring their grandchildren to campus for a weekend during the summer. The two of them stay in a dorm together, eat in the dining halls together, and choose from a myriad of shared educational experiences ranging from computers to animals to learning how to make ice cream. Every year, it sells out within an hour of going online. Or what about the 35 million non-traditional families in which pets have become the new children? Eighty-three percent of these pet owners call themselves mommy and daddy when talking to their pets and two-thirds celebrate their pets' birthday. Talk about an untapped opportunity! Your competitors' pain can be your gain in these changing and challenging times.