To compete effectively with branded hotels and be ready in case of a slowdown in some markets, independent hoteliers said 2020 spending priorities will focus on sales training, technology and digital marketing.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Sluggish demand for overseas travel to the United States is predicted next year and the election year could take the industry in a host of directions, which is why independent hoteliers are thinking about spending priorities now.
Although global travel is expected to grow an average of 4.8% through 2023, the pace of U.S. growth is predicted to be just 2.4%, according to the U.S. Travel Association. This decline in overseas market share to the U.S. will result in a loss of $78 billion in visitor spending.
Independent hoteliers will aim to keep up with the brands in terms of spending, and will be focusing on dollars to improve certain areas of the hotel business, such as technology.
"Without question the greatest priority for hotel spending in 2020 will be technology," said Scott Samuels, CEO of Horizon Hospitality, a training and recruitment firm with the hospitality sector.
Nearly two-thirds of all independent hotel properties are now receiving direct booking from metasearch engines. Nearly 90% of independent operators intend to maintain or increase their visibility on the web. A significant focus for 2020 spending will be on increasing internet search performance, he said.
Mobile compatibility has taken center stage for both independent and branded hotel operators. Texting will continue to be an efficient and effective means of communication with guests before, during and after their stay. Hotel operators are becoming more confident with leveraging technology to compete online, he added.
Davidson Hotels & Resorts’ lifestyle and luxury division Pivot Hotels & Resorts, which is made up of independent hotels, will increase spending to enhance training in 2020, said Albert Smith, SVP of operations at Pivot.
Pivot will have a variety of training initiatives next year, including sales training, internally-driven sales conferences and a global sales team. These initiatives were not in the company’s budget this year, he said.
In case there is a slowdown in the economy, Smith said Pivot will be prepared for this.
"We currently run tight budgets and always have austerity plans in place and updated each quarter in the event there’s a downturn in any given market or more globally within the economy," he said.
Spending on direct sales will be a 2020 focus for Chesapeake Hospitality’s independent properties, said President and CEO Chris Green.
"We are continuing to invest in two main categories that both fall under customer acquisition. The first one will be customer acquisition cost through pointed e-commerce and direct sales efforts, and secondly, through the guest journey," he said. "We are laser focused on maintaining and enhancing the experiential quality of our stays to promote loyal and returning guests."
Green added that “revenue focus will be a top priority” for Chesapeake’s independent portfolio.
“We still need to be thoughtfully preparing to defend our recent success against the huge loyalty engines of the big brands,” he said.
Remington Hotels will focus on encouraging people to book direct at independent hotels, said Jay Hubbs, SVP of commercial services.
This will include everything from upgrading sites and booking engines to photo imagery and video content to enhancing revenue-management systems, he said.
Additionally, Remington's independent properties will be investing in marketing directly to past guests, offering relevant content and offers based on historical booking patterns, as well as expanding its reach through partnerships with companies whose customer bases match well with its hotels.
The company also will enhance online and offline experiential offerings focused on localized activities and developing more unique food-and-beverage experiences for guests, he said.
More and more guests, especially those who aren’t loyal to one of the major brand families, are look for boutique hotel experiences, Hubbs added.
"These cohorts of guests don't want to stay in cookie-cutter branded hotels, so ensuring our content aligns with local market experiences via all online, offline and group channels will be a primary priority in 2020,” he said.