Stephen Ayers

Christmas is a fun time for hotels, but must be planned and marketed to maximise traffic

Christmas is that time of year when companies, business people and families are looking to have fun and celebrate. In a good year companies will open their wallets and splurge to give their employees a good time at parties, dinners and entertainment venues.

The challenge for hotels is to continually come up with new ideas and food and beverage items with which to wow and attract traffic. Competition is not getting easier with the proliferation of hotels of all categories. Of course everyone is thinking about how to compete better, but those hotels who start strategising early in the year will undoubtedly be more ready for the campaign than those who play catch up.

Here are some ideas and tips for making the most out of the Christmas period and having fun while doing it:


Firstly, and importantly, it is a great exercise to ‘debrief’ on the past Christmas earlier on in the new year. Gather those involved in the campaign from the food and beverage team, to the marketing and sales people along with heads of department and some line staff.

Go over every agenda item and note down the successful events while deciding what should be included in the coming year and what should be discarded. Review what your competitive set did and gauge their success. You now have a shortlist of what may be on the ‘event’ list for the coming year…and this already in January.


Organise brainstorming sessions with not only heads of department but also line staff. You will be amazed at the original, creative and unique suggestions that are raised, some of them ready to go for the upcoming Christmas season. Add the ones you like to the shortlist and put them in the ‘Xmas’ file for next campaign, to be brought up in the planning meetings. It would be a good suggestion to cover all ages, all event types and of course staying guests.

Planning meetings

September might be a good month during which to start ramping up your Christmas organisation and planning. Hold meetings to begin the consolidation of your events and offerings for the season. What are the suggested menus for the dinners, cocktail parties, in house dinners and catering choices? What entertainment are you considering? Early planners get the best entertainers. How are you going to keep the kids happy? Keeping them happy keeps the parents and grandparents happy…very important.

Start putting together the ‘skeleton’ plan for the season. Keep on adding ideas to it for the next planning meeting. In between meetings ask all those involved to keep notes on any ideas that they think of, any ideas they see coming from the competitive set and any ideas worthy of note they come across on the internet and in magazines.

Sound like a plan? You now have the makings of the seasonal plan that has been under ‘construction’ since early January. You do not have to remember what was great and repeatable for this season, you have all the notes accumulated since the debrief.

Decision time

Having put together the outlines for this year’s festive period, and having held the meetings that have contributed to the plan, it is time to formulate the final timelines for events, dinners and offerings. Draw up the plan including food and beverage, entertainment, lighting and decorations, and make a ‘mock up’ programme.

Input on programme

The one thing that I have found very useful is to run the ‘mock up’ by both heads of department and also a few chosen line staff that have been involved in the Christmas service for a few years. You will find that they know the customers and their needs better than most and will give a ‘polish’ to the program suggested. You might also garner suggestions as to how better and more efficiently serve your customers during this heavy traffic period. Asking for their input also adds to the in hotel culture and teamwork spirit. Staff realise that you care about their suggestions and input.


You now have a formulated plan that has ‘passed’ the test and criticism of team members and is ready for final approval and launch.

Put the final plan on paper and into operation, marketing and sales. The graphics and printing need to be decided. You are confident in the product that you have built over the year. Once in hand and on site, the real work of going out and selling the events, dinners and menus begins. You will be in a great ‘pole’ position to go out with your programme since you have finalised it well before your competitive set is ready to act of the Christmas period.


Every hotel and restaurant have some menus, events, decorations, entertainment and other things that have become part of their tradition during the Christmas season, and there is no problem with continuing these traditions while adding new, creative and refreshing ideas to the mix. One of the traditions that I started in a hotel that I managed was to request that kids place a shoe outside their door on Christmas Eve. During the night room service would tuff the shoe with sweets and small toys for a nice surprise in the morning. I think that it gained me return clientele since the parents were happier than their kids with the shoe stocking.

So make sure that your Christmas programme is a great mix of tradition and new, that the decorations are traditional but with a mix of high tech and new ideas. Make sure that your menus reflect traditional foods while catering to your multicultural guests. You have a huge resource in your multicultural staff to tap into for ideas, food and special events. Given that you have taken meticulous care in the organisation of your programme, the chances of success are very much in your favor.

Everyone has adopted the programme and is a position to make it a great and successful Christmas season, both in terms of fun and results.

One more thing that you might want to consider is holding an event for a charity as a way of involving the community and making them part of your celebrations. It is fun and signals that you are very much a part of your village, town or city. It is a value that is much sought after by the majority of your customers.

Now, how many of you have already got plans formulated, ideas and notes down on paper for this Christmas?

This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Hotel Owner

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