4 ways to differentiate your hotel
4 ways to differentiate your hotel
07 APRIL 2015 6:09 AM
If this is not your year for a major renovation, there are still things you can do to be different and successful. 
If you spend any time paying attention to trends in our industry, the buzz words you’ll likely come across include “unique,” “authentic,” “artisanal,” “sense of place,” “local,” “craft,” “experiential,” “discovery,” the latest iterations of “boutique” and “lifestyle,” and the single most overly and incorrectly used word in the English language, “curated.” 
Today’s trend words all have one definitional element in common: They all are somewhat synonymous with “different” in one way or another. Guests are looking for different experiences in the different cities they visit, particularly road warriors. “Different” in that context doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” just not “the same.” 
If this is not your year for a major renovation, and you won’t be turning your lobby into an experiential gathering place or your restaurant into an eclectic journey of discovery, there are still things you can do to be different and successful. 
1. Identify your differentiators
Start by developing a list of traits, features, products and characteristics of your hotel or your community that are unlike other hotels and communities and that can positively contribute to the guest experience. The more specific to a small area you can be, the better. 
If you can’t find anything fun that is truly local, then expand the circle of your list to include the county, the state or even the region in which your hotel is located. Then figure out how to inexpensively incorporate at least three of those items into your property. Places to go look for items with local flavor include local college or university art departments where you might make an offer to display student work, particularly campus photography. Or find a local manufacturer that makes a product unique to a facility in your community. If it is a reasonable size, display a model of the product with the factory’s story in your lobby. These are simple ways to make the community’s story part of your story, and make your story different from that of others.
2. Start in the bar
There is probably no easier place to incorporate differentiating features into your property than in food and beverage.  
A recent issue of Nation’s Restaurant News rated emerging restaurant brands on those qualities most likely to set the tone in food service this year. One of the breakout factors that the industry trade journal identified was “distinctive beverage programs.”
When the onion is peeled back, it becomes apparent that what makes a bar distinctive are three long-established bar elements that have been regaining popularity over the last several years. First, the rebirth of the cocktail, mixed in a serving shaker by a bartender, whether experimenting with his or her own creation or recreating a classic Negroni or Side Car, is a personal and entertaining service that is by definition different. 
Second, spirits drinkers, particularly younger ones, are increasingly interested in small-batch, limited-production whiskies and vodkas, which are not necessarily premium cost products, just not widely known brands. 
Finally, the resurgence of small-batch brewing (known a generation ago as “micro-brewing” but now called “craft beer”) means that virtually every location has access to a local beer, and most likely that local brewery will provide you with a display cooler or tap handles in addition to selling you the product just to increase its exposure. 
Importantly, if you have a bartender who can make a serious cocktail, suggest a small-batch bourbon and describe the hoppiness of the local brew, your customers will get an increased sense of the intelligence and expertise that you and your staff bring to the operation of your hotel.  Thus, your hotel will not only gain points of difference but also of competence in the eyes of your customers. 
3. Expand local finds for menus
Turning to the menu, admittedly, things get more complicated. Attempting to incorporate too many trends or differentiators could render your foodservice unintelligible and too expensive. However, you can focus on a few unique elements that will demonstrate your hotel’s commitment to quality and trends. 
We are now at least five years into the farm-to-table, local food movement. Think of that in broader terms for its local potential. If you are in an area with great locally grown vegetables or meat producers, by all means use those products when seasonally appropriate, and promote the producers on your menu. 
But consider other local options as well, such as baked goods from a great local bakery, locally produced honey or chocolates. Most urban areas now have local coffee roasters. Even if your guests ultimately decide they prefer coffee roasted in Seattle, they will try the local brew and generally will appreciate the experience of trying something local to you and new to them. 
House-made food offerings, particularly in condiments, offer another area of foodservice where you can relatively easily distinguish your operation. House-made vinegars are appearing with regularity and are a hot culinary niche right now. Consider mixing your own hot sauce and serving it in an apothecary bottle with an eye dropper. Healthy eating is not a trend but a lifestyle change that is being increasingly embraced by restaurants and their customers. Hummus is the new salsa, and both older guests with health concerns and younger guests seeking to avoid them will give you high marks for making high protein, low sugar, and no or limited preservative menu items prominent offerings of your kitchen.
4. Invest in your team
All of these ideas are, of course, for naught, unless they are executed with friendly and competent service from staff members who are engaged in the guest experience. So offering differences needs to start with great service.  
At the end of the day, being different says to your guests that you are not just executing standard operating procedures from a franchise manual. Rather you are actively managing a guest experience that you want to be unique to your hotel, special for your guest, and rewarding for both you and your customer. Vive la difference!
Peter D. Connolly, executive vice president of operations and development for Hostmark Hospitality Group, has had a distinguished career in a variety of legal and business roles with prestigious travel and hospitality organizations. He was of counsel to Jeffer, Mangel, Butler & Marmaro in its global hospitality practice, where he designed and documented hotel financial structures, including hotel condominium and traditional hotel structures, and negotiated management agreements, hotel purchase and hotel finance agreements on behalf of various developer and management company clients. From 1982 to 2000, Connolly was with the Hyatt organization as general counsel, where he was responsible for hotel operating legal issues, acquisitions, divestitures, financings, management arrangements and owner relationships. In 1996 and 1997, Connolly ran Hyatt’s development department, and was responsible for the acquisition and/or development of a number of Hyatt properties. Connolly retired from Hyatt in 2000 as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Information Officer of the company. He is a member of the bars of Illinois, the District of Columbia, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. He is a graduate of Providence College and Catholic University Law School.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that might be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns. 

No Comments

  • Michael Shindler April 7, 2015 7:15 AM

    Nicely stated, Peter. I think you have tapped something even larger than your topic -- the actual self-identification of any hotel, whether part of a brand family or an independent.

  • Joan Eisenstodt April 26, 2015 5:55 AM

    Preparing to last minute content for a session at HDExpo next month ("What Meeting Planners Want") and rereading this was ... well, interesting. Agree and .. think that one way hotels could distinguish themselves is to quit all the focus on Millennials (and what then, Gen Z?) and realize that there are other gens around! Remember that service and experience count most of all. And for those (of us) who need accommodations that are in line with and go beyond the ADA, a real knowledge of and design for accommodating people with disabilities. Sheesh, there is so little now.

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