Planning for the opening is a crucial phase in any hotel launch. During the pre-opening, a hotel has the chance to anchor itself in the local market and to capture mindshare with future guests.
Awareness is the currency of a new hotel.
And yes, earning awareness does indeed seem to be getting harder by the day. Hotels compete not only against other new properties - in the USA alone, around 1,300 hotels will have opened during 2018, in a seemingly ever-upward trend - but are also fighting to break through the cacophony of connected consumers.
Forecast for the number of new hotels opening in the United States from 2012 to 2018, courtesy of Statista, the statistics portal
The best way to compete in a saturated competitive landscape is to play smarter. It almost goes without saying that your website must go live well before you open, while proper implementations of the rest of your tech stack will fuel actual results - but only if deployed with a hotelier’s keen eye to detail.
The stakes are high: PWC warns that 60% of project failures happen during the pre-opening phase. So don’t be one of those statistics.
Here’s how to take full advantage of the (relative) calm before for the storm.
The backbone of your hotel is the systems trifecta: property management, revenue management and central reservations. The systems (should) work together to help you operate your hotel efficiently and thus profitably.
Before evaluating systems, separate your must-have features from the nice-to-haves. Each property has its unique business mix, so be sure to find the systems that give you the tools you need to balance your property’s unique needs.
Also, consider the interface of each system: you and your team will be spending a sizable chunk of your workday within these interfaces. If they’re ugly or annoying, you will be less happy.
These systems should be tested rigorously before your soft launch. You want to invest as much time as necessary to determine that your chosen technology stack works well for your property - and integrates accurately. Data should flow as expected between systems, providing a clean, clear and correct interface for hotel operations. Discovering a vendor’s broken promise is never welcome, but it's especially painful when it's too late.
Even though the time investment is intimidating, you won't regret testing the complete technology stack in a virtual environment. And the more you can replicate world operations - all the way down to involving your staff in the testing - the fewer surprises you will have on opening day.
While certain categories of hotels are reducing access to a traditional concierge, that doesn't mean that you have to eliminate the concept entirely.
Consider how a digital concierge is an extension of the hotel staff. The maturing technology behind guest communications can now significantly impact the guest experience.
Whether it's a chatbot that allows a customer to order towels or a digital city guide that recommends in-destination activities, today's concierge has stepped out from behind the desk.
Guests now expect personalised service with each touch-point. Now is the time to understand how to enhance your guest experience with a digital concierge approach.
In many countries, the job market is strong. In those markets, there may be lots of interest in open positions. Or the strong job market could pull strong candidates away from your hotel.
So, regardless of your local job market, your hotel requires strong hiring and training strategies. Make a plan for how you will recruit - and retain - the type of hospitality-minded employees that contribute to a memorable guest experience.
There are many knowledge management tools in the marketplace. As you're selecting a tool, remember that seamless operational integration will increase adoption. You want to make it easy for staff to find what they need to know within the communications channels they use every day.
In addition to a system for institutional knowledge, a consistent on-boarding experience ensures that staff start out on firm footing. When guest-facing staff are well-trained, guests notice. More importantly, when the staff is poorly trained, guests notice - and take two online review sites to vent. Bad early reviews can jeopardise a sustainably successful launch.
It's never too early to start managing your hotel’s reputation. While there are many options when it comes to reputation management software, the first step is to strategise.
How will guest feedback be incorporated into your hotel’s operations? Will you respond regularly to reviews? Will you ask for reviews directly via guest communications or will you take a passive approach? Which analytics will you use to track performance?
Once you've codified your strategy, seek out the vendors that can help you execute successfully. Your reputation influences where your property lands OTA and metasearch results, so managing it should be a priority from the start.
One of the ways to build reputation in the early days is to seek exposure among existing communities. Yes, this is the much-hyped influencer marketing.
Since there are no clear “truths” about a particular influencer’s online following, focus on engagement when you are making your shortlist. Look to influencer marketing tools such as Lumio’s Quality Score that measures how engaged an influencer is. While not perfect, these scores are a stronger measure of influence than follower count or other vanity metrics.
When engaging an influencer, be upfront with your expectations of how much content will be created, where it will be distributed, and how it will be promoted. Get this all in writing. Then weave each of your influencer relationships into your property’s overall marketing strategy for launch.
To get your money’s worth, use this content in as many ways as possible. One of the most obvious places is on your hotel’s new website, which should be live before the hotel is open for business.
Offer exclusive preview access to influencers, and then re-purpose elements of the organic content they produce, such as testimonials, to infuse your website. The authenticity will bestow an aura of “can’t miss this” excitement and prevents your website from looking stale. Many influencers are also photographers, so make that content budget do double-duty: influencer marketing and property photos work well together.
A proper rate shopper makes a significant impact. Especially at the beginning of a hotel’s life when there's no historical data on your own property, a thorough understanding of competitors’ pricing strategies is the foundation of an emerging distribution strategy.
Coupled with demand forecasts, your rate intelligence tool guides how you should price each room type, and offers a baseline for your initial channel mix.
A good rate shopper helps you respond to your competitors’ prices and other factors, using quality data to provide actionable insights that allow you to boost hotel performance with minimal fuss. It should be easy-to-use, accurate, and intelligent.
If your rate shopper provides a long history of competitor data, all the better. If you're due to open in March 2019, for example, access to reliable information on how your competitors were pricing their rooms in March 2018 can be invaluable. Alongside historical market demand data, this will help you start to allocate inventory and set provisional rates well before you open.
Revenue management means getting room prices right on a daily basis in a shifting landscape, and tracking KPIs - which will become your bread and butter on opening - means that you will have exploitable data that will prevent you from flying blind.
Ultimately, you need actionable insight to spot and leverage opportunities.
Once your hotel operation gains momentum, changing course takes a Herculean effort. To save time and avoid headaches, operationalise everything with checklists.
If you find the options within your property management system lacking, consider a service like Process Street. You break down each piece of the operation into a set checklist or workflow. That way, standards are met and consistency is achieved.
Yes, this takes a lot of time. That's why you should take advantage of the pre-opening phase to create the systems that facilitate frictionless operations. Building systems on-the-fly during the chaos of a hotel opening will derail your hotel’s reputation. Iron out the kinks before you get started, and glowing initial guest reviews will power your hotel launch.
Opening a new hotel is incredibly stressful. Opening a hotel to rave reviews is incredibly rewarding. A deliberate, detailed approach during the pre-opening phase will establish your new hotel’s reputation and build momentum. A successful launch is a flywheel that pushes the entire organisation forward into the next property.
Request a free trial to see how our hotel rate intelligence tools can work for you.