Historic Hotel Properties Are Unique, And So Are Their Challenges

By Kurt Meister Senior Vice President , Distinguished Programs | May 13, 2018

Frank Sinatra lived there. Every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama and numerous global heads of state stayed there. And now, after 87 years of elegance on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the famed Waldorf Astoria New York is receiving its own brand of star treatment.

Late last year, amid much fanfare, the Waldorf Astoria began an extensive renovation project at the cost of nearly $2 billion. To accommodate the renovation, the iconic structure closed its doors last March. The two-to-three-year project will transform the Waldorf Astoria into a mix of guest rooms and condominiums. It also will restore and preserve much of the buildings' interior Art Deco design features.

The massive Waldorf Astoria renovation has created plenty of buzz, bringing historic properties – and historic hotels in particular – into the spotlight. Guests love historic hotels for their uniqueness, and hotel owners and operators enjoy the status and prestige a historic hotel can bring to their portfolio. Yet while each historic property is distinct, repairing or replacing historic elements within those properties bring some shared challenges.

A Potential Growth Market

You might think the market for historic hotels is finite. After all, how many buildings could possibly qualify as historic? The answer might surprise you.

The National Register of Historic Places, operated by the National Park Service, maintains an active database of historic U.S. properties. Their database includes more than 95,000 listings, and more than 1,100 listings were made active in fiscal year 2017 alone. Every county in the U.S. has at least one historic property on the register.

To qualify as historic, a hotel (or another property) must be at least 50 years old and must look much the same as it did in the past. That means even buildings from the postmodern era are beginning to qualify as historic.

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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.