Having locals flock to your social lobby sounds easy enough, but it requires verve, spark, passion, community involvement, social media and a very good product, sources at the Independent Hotel Show said.
LONDON—Many hoteliers in Europe dream of their lobbies becoming the favorite living room of locals and gracing magazine covers. But having that idea and putting it into practice are two decidedly different things, sources said.
Hotels that are the go-to hot spots in a neighborhood have the added advantage of becoming must-visit destinations for guests from much wider afield. The successful ones also transform excited guests into brand ambassadors, according to panelists during a session titled “Hotels for locals” at the recent Independent Hotel Show.
But beware: To do this right takes effort and being proactive, they said.
“The lobby is a key part of our business,” said PJ Kenny, GM of The Hoxton, Holborn. “It is about the events we run … being proactive in the neighborhood, encouraging young artists and those involved in fashion, to enhance all that and bring it inside.
“Locals like to see us as their front room, and we embrace that. If they sit and chill, we’re cool with that, too.”
Sources said that focus works for properties in urban locations, but the same isn’t true of rural properties. Will Ashworth, managing director of Watergate Bay—which has a countryside setting in Cornwall—said authenticity is the magic ingredient for attracting guests and locals.
“The locals are as important to us as they are to the Hoxton, but we do say ‘hotel’ above the door, which initially creates an obstacle,” he said. “When they get over that, it’s like they are coming over to their mates’, and they come from a 15- to 20-mile radius.”
Justin Salisbury, co-founder of the Artist Residence, which has two urban assets and one rural, agreed with the need to be genuine and passionate.
“Until two years ago, we did not have any restaurants. Then we opened three in a year,” he said. “There does seem to be a resistance of people to eat in hotels, so you have to create something people want at the end of the day.”
David Timmis, managing director of rural Aubrey Park Hotel, which has a conference center, said initially the hotel had been branded and not associated with the local market.
“The challenge was how to turn around a new local identity and engage the community,” he said. “We did that via social media and good local signage with different messages. And by getting a young marketing hire who is half my age and speaks the language of our target guest.”
Keeping overnights happy
Ashworth said overnight peak times present a challenge to successfully positioning a property as a favorite of guests and locals alike.
“We’re working on how to manage peak periods,” he said. “For instance, the server would not know if you were a local or a resident until the time came to pay the bill, and now we are quick to say we’re full but we can get you a table in 30 minutes. That, too, can be tricky, as some locals drive 30 minutes or get here. You have to be very honest.”
Kenny said that “nice problem” is helped by having the correct company ethos. Design, he added, can offer solutions to such challenges.
Timmis said the attitude that every square foot has to pay for itself is changing.
Salisbury added that another key part is merely hiring nice people and training them to be nicer.
“Invest in staff when you know there is not a customer for when there will be,” he said.
Outside comfort zones
The owners and investors of both Watergate Bay and Artist Residence have or are opening satellite assets in both rural and urban locations that are outside of their comfort zones.
Ashworth said he is currently opening a hotel in North England’s Lake District, which will be very informal.
“We will right from the start encourage people to come in and embrace the atmosphere that we will create,” he said.
Sensitivity also is required in terms of pricing, Ashworth said.
“Locals do not like hotel prices, and in Cornwall we have to be sensitive, as the price does not change between the two,” he said. “The future will be divided between those who want locals as part of their businesses, and those who do not.”
To be fully local, hoteliers need to immediately network, join in and be proactive, Timmis said.
“Hotels are not the only businesses trying to encourage locals,” he said. “Before this position, I had never met a local councilor. Get involved in the charitable side of life locally, and keep plugging away. I know I need to lead and meet people.
“Continually motivate the team to see where we can get out. In our area, we have gotten involved in the local cycle club that helps repair cycle tracks, and they now see our hotel as a friendly base.”
Ashworth recommended thinking outside the box.
“We have a swim-and-dine offer for locals, which might be more formulaic than other offerings, but we are not scared of patching things together,” Ashworth said. “Ultimately, though, we try to not do too much, as we think this is not the best thing for the brand.”
Salisbury said that’s excellent advice, but hoteliers should not complicate matters.
“People always will look for superb coffee and F&B, so make sure you are very good or the best,” he said.
Timmis acknowledged that loyalty cards might be old hat to some, but he said they do work. His hotel has local loyalty offerings.
“The hotel market is getting tougher,” Salisbury said, “which is another reason hotels are looking more at locals.”