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My first hotel opens in six months – how do I get bookings?!

Q: When the refurb is finished in just over six weeks, I’ll be launching my brand new first hotel. Whilst I have most of it sussed, I don’t really know where to spend my money, and whether to focus on TripAdvisor, Visit England/Britain, Booking.com and so on. What should I do?

Wow this is a loaded question, but a great one! To be honest, what you’re asking me to do is compare apples with eggs, then choose the right way to market for you. Before you get anywhere near answering a question like this, you need to do a few things…

  1. IDENTIFY YOUR OBJECTIVE; as a brand-new business, I’m hoping you have your business plan sussed and know your capacity, potential occupancy rate, target market etc. (If you don’t, then eeek, make that step zero!) Before you embark on any relationships, paid or otherwise, decide what you want the service to achieve. For example:
    • Bookings – as a new brand, you don’t really have an existing reputation, so if you want actual bookings and hard-cash, you might want to consider one of the OTAs Booking.com, LateRooms, Hotel.com or something similar to put you on the map. They’ll draw in the clients and help you get started with your bookings. Beware though, services like these charge a premium and will probably want a limited edition or low-price offer, both of which may undermine potential profit, future charging potential and of course client expectation. A great way to get people through the door and start building your database but not a long term filling solution – these should become last minute top-ups.
    • Reputation – if you have the time/money to build your reputation on your own, then you might be better to focus on one of the ‘reputation’ builders. A company like Quality in Tourism (the assessment arm of Visit England), will independently and impartially assess your premises, service etc. and give you feedback. They’ll then give you a star-rating that you can show-off and which will reassure customers of your quality.
  2. TAKE YOUR HOTEL FOR A TEST-RUN; this might sound really stupid, but most people don’t put their hotel or staff to the test. Between you and your staff, you probably know enough people to fill the hotel a couple of times over, so do it. See how your employees handle a full hotel for a couple of days, see how they deal with customers, handle complaints. If you can, make sure one or two of your friends can act the ‘moaning customer’ to really put them to the test. The simple reason I encourage this is that it will help iron out teething problems; you only get one first impression, so if a booking site drives you lots of sales, then you let customers down and they flee to TripAdvisor to moan, it’ll take you months if not years to get past it.
  3. SINGLE OUT YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE; you don’t need to resort straight to services which will take a cut of your precious income; you can rely on other methods to drive your bookings. Identify your audience and then select avenues which lead directly to them; for example specialist magazines will usually be happy to run a reader offer or competition prize that gets you noticed.
  4. EXHAUST OTHER AVENUES; look at what else you can do; run campaigns/events directed straight at your target audience, host a launch party, run a wedding fayre or something similar to start getting bookings in advance. Hopefully if people enjoy themselves, you’ll get word of mouth recommendations and they’ll come flocking.
  5. KNOW YOUR BUDGET; these services can absorb money like a bottomless pit if you’re not careful. Know exactly how much you want to/can spend, and make it work as hard as possible for you. Negotiate on prices and fees (if you can – some won’t), then establish systems to carefully monitor exactly what each service delivers. For example if you pick Booking.com, you’ll know simply by the number of bookings you receive, but for something like TripAdvisor it’s not that black and hite.
  6. THINK ABOUT A MEMBERSHIP ORGANISATION; not only will they give you helpful information and advice, but they may well have partnerships that will benefit you and save you money.

Every monotepadnth, Angie Petkovic offers some expert advice on marketing and promotion quandaries, to help you attract more custom. Angie is managing director of APT Marketing & PR. If you have a marketing matter you’d like Angie to answer, email angie@aptmarketing.co.uk

 

About Michael Northcott

Michael Northcott
Michael is the editor of Hotel Owner magazine. He draws from experience at a wide range of B2B magazines, including Management Today, Legal Business, Retail Week and Jewellery Focus. Feel free to drop him a line with any stories or feature ideas.