It took me two seconds to realize I had walked into the panel by mistake. I was attending the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show at the Javits Center in New York earlier this month, and I thought the session titled “Targeting Unique Markets to Develop New Business” would cover development-related strategies in emerging markets throughout the globe.
But as I looked on stage and saw a multicultural panel of hotel professionals, I knew something was a bit different. Put another way: Conspicuously absent from the group was a single white male—a permanent fixture on nearly every conference panel.
The session, as it turned out, covered something perhaps more important than development: diversity. More specifically, it covered how to market to the diverse segments and niches that are becoming larger and larger feeders for the hotel industry.
In the U.S., for example, the Bureau of the Census is projecting significant population increases in five key minority segments by 2020:
• Women 9.9%
• LGBT 10%
• African-American 13.8%
• Asian-American 31.1%
• Hispanic 33.5%
Hoteliers, then, face a business imperative in marketing their rooms to these groups. As Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group LLC’s Thomas Mathes said during the panel, “It’s the right economic thing to do. We’re all businesses, so there’s nothing altruistic about it.”
You can read more about this paradigm shift in my related article, “Multicultural marketing key to new hotel demand.” But for now I’d also like to share with you some key insights for three of the five segments. (Note: The panelists covered a lot during the 90-minute session, but they didn’t have time to delve into the specific needs and concerns of the Hispanic and the Asian-American communities.)
As with the other market segments, hoteliers should remember there is no one “average” woman, said Nathalia Sosa, who serves as Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s director of leisure sales. Women can be moms, professionals, single, etc.
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In families, women play a huge part in the decision-making process, said Choice Hotels International’s Jennifer Lee-Harrison. The hotel chain is extremely conscientious in how it portrays women as a result.
In its ads, Choice showcases African-American women as the hero, the do-anything dynamo who gets the family out the door each morning. It takes a difference approach with Hispanic women, however, who view hotel stays as a break from the rigors of family life; advertisements targeted to this segment within a segment showing women relaxing after they check in.
The issue of security is also very important for most women travelers, said Apple Core Hotels’ Vijay Dandapani. It’s a touchy subject, though. You can’t come out and say, “We’re safe!” because doing so begs the question, “Why wouldn’t you be?” It’s better to quietly show a secure environment: plenty of lighting, lots of staff on duty, etc.
LGBT stands for the segment representing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
Kimpton, which has engaged in significant outreach to this group through its InTouch loyalty programs, has gleaned some key insights from this market niche:
• Lesbians prefer “LGBT.”Males prefer “gay-friendly” or “welcoming” to distinguish properties. If forced to choose a label, pick “LGBT,” Mathes said.
• Before engaging in marketing efforts to reach this group, you should first audit your own company’s internal human resources and business practices, Mathes said. The LGBT community does a lot of research before patronizing certain companies. The Humans Rights Campaign, for example, compiles an annual “Corporate Equality Index” that measures and scores major corporations based on their policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees. (Kimpton received a score of 100, compared to the hotel-industry average of 92.)
• Expect some pushback—and expect it to go away. When Kimpton started to compile packages and promotions specifically for the LGBT community, the company got some angry phone calls from conservative customers and groups. But the senior leadership team stood stronger behind the initiatives, and the protests went away very quickly, Mathes said.
The African-American customer segment is extremely loyal, Lee-Harrison said. They tend to support brands that support their community, which is why Choice is a major sponsor for Rebuilding Together and other organizations that offer community outreach.
As part of their media strategy, Choice also targets hyper-niche websites and blogs, such as AOL’s Black Voices and others that have large impressions and unique visitors.
And when those guests do arrive on property, it’s important hotel staff, especially the concierge, is aware of their needs. Something as simple as knowing the location of the nearest black barbershop can go a long way with African-American travelers, Mathes said. And better yet, it’s free.
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