Q&A with Jennifer Kim, part 3: reputation and parity management

Q&A with Jennifer Kim, part 3: reputation and parity management

This article continues our series of interviews with revenue management professionals exploring the challenges and opportunities of rate parity.

jennifer-kim-featured-imageIn Parts 1 and 2 of our interview with Jennifer Kim, Director of Revenue Management for Cycas Hospitality - which manages 14 properties in both the full-service and extended stay segments - we explored the unique revenue management and rate parity dynamics of the company’s cross-category blend. From exchange rates to wholesalers, independent hotels and smaller chains often deal with a different set of challenges than larger brands.

When it comes to a hotel’s reputation, there are more commonalities across hotel categories. Reputation is a powerful revenue driver. It’s something that all hotels must manage carefully, as it affects ranking on third-party channels.

Reputation also influences word-of-mouth marketing that happens organically on social media and face-to-face. Since this kind of marketing helps hotels earn more direct bookings, It's essential for hotels to deliver on guest expectations, says Jennifer, especially in capacity-constrained environments where rates are higher than usual.

Here’s how our conversation with Jennifer continued.

The interplay between a hotel’s reputation and its revenue is important. What’s the ideal balance between protecting your reputation and protecting your revenue?

“It goes hand in hand these days. People rely on online reputation much more. It's a key component to growing our hotels' revenue as well.

“If you look at TripAdvisor or Google, those review sites are now moving from being reputation sites to metasearch sites. People are able to compare prices and book on those websites as well. So it's become even more important to have really good reviews that reassure people about your product and on which they can make bookings for your hotel.

“Value and experience are primary drivers of a customer who wants to share their stories online. We have seen negative reviews being posted, especially during high demand periods. Our revenue and operational team work together to identify these periods or rate thresholds and we up our offerings to the guest and services. For instance, during high demand periods, for guests who are paying over £280 we would put a welcome-hamper with local goodies in the rooms or offer free drinks tokens to surprise them at check-in.”

Can you quantify this?

“During city-wide events, hotel prices jump compared to non-event periods. For example, during the peak days of London’s World Travel Market, our rates are on average doubled. When you normally pay £150 to travel in London and suddenly you pay have to pay £400 for a similar room, the value of that product feels totally different to a guest.

“At Cycas, we identified rate thresholds for some of our extended-stay properties. If it’s £280 at one hotel and a guest has booked more than this amount, we’d offer extra services or amenities. When customers pay more, their expectation in products and services is greater.

“Other examples of what we do include giving £10 vouchers to guests so they can buy their own snacks at our properties’ 24-hour grab-and-gos. Last year it was so hot in London we put ice creams in the guests’ fridges so when they arrived, they had something extra to enjoy while resting in their rooms. It's often about connecting with guests directly.”

And how does that change for the more full-service hotel? Is it about using amenities to improve the guest experience? How do you approach that difference?

“In a full-service hotel, it's much easier because you have much more to offer: you've got different outlets, like restaurants, bars, spas or even room service. In terms of a limited-service hotel, like most extended-stay or serviced apartments, it’s very restrictive what you can do, so Cycas has a culture team that really works on ‘positively outrageous service’ to enhance the guest experience.

“An example is we do a little get-together called The Mix or The Social at the hotels. Each Tuesday, we invite everyone at the hotel down from 7 to 8 o'clock for drinks and nibbles, and to enjoy a relaxing evening with us. You don't see a lot of that happening in a full-service hotel. We actually help people feel like they're at home and at a place they can relax.

“Since we've been doing this in our full service and limited service properties, we've actually seen guest mentioning it in our reputation page as well. One of the hotels before we did this was ranking at around 160 on TripAdvisor in London, out of over 1,000 hotels. Now we're in the top 100. It's been really good to see that ranking rise.”

Is there any way to quantify how much value that brings, as far as the increase in revenue?

“It’s hard to quantify. The better your reputation, the more comfortable people are to pay more. So we look at the transient rate contribution at the hotel-level especially during annual event dates - London World Travel Market or Wimbledon are great examples. Our hotels' ranking or scores on reputation sites have been improved compared to same time last year of the events. Of course, we have good revenue managers as well who manage these event periods but I would say there is an indirect influence on the people who read these reviews to make a decision.

“We were so surprised at one of our independent aparthotels. We had a guest who booked paying over £400. People would pay that kind of money to stay at 5-star hotels in London but he stayed with us, and when we asked how he’d made his booking, he mentioned that he wanted to be in this location and we had really good review scores on TripAdvisor, so he thought he’d give us a go.”

cycas-south-point-suites

Having active social media is a great way to help people say yes to the purchase. They can see who you are and what you represent. Talk me through how you use social media to encourage bookings.

“At Cycas, we say we need to social-proof ourselves online. Because more and more people search online: Google, metasearch. Instagram is such a big channel these days with Facebook when people are travelling.

“On all these different channels, by social-proofing we make sure people are reviewing us in each channel, so that we are showing the best shop window to guests who are looking.

“At the same time, we've seen hotels using social media companies who do the job on behalf of them and charge from £250 to £6,000 per month, or they do it in-house by recruiting a digital marketing expert.

“You can spend so much money, and it’s the highest rising cost these days. So just make sure the property has a marketing plan that fits with your revenue performance and you’re able to measure some of the activities.”

Has social media translated into bookings?

“Slowly but surely we are able to track more. On Facebook you can add links and now on Instagram you can add your hotel’s ‘book now’ button, which has been great because you can actually start tracking how many people are booking through it. We've been seeing improvements.

“Moxy Amsterdam is a brand that lives the social media lifestyle, and we use that to attract and communicate to our guests. When we first opened, we saw maybe four or five bookings. Today, I can see from what we track that on a peak month we've grown to 30 bookings, which is on par with what a small OTA generates. As it’s on a direct hotel channel, we didn't have to pay any commission.”

“What we do on social media is not always possible to measure it but it's important to have that awareness as well. If you can measure it, it would be even better for you if you did it.

“We do tell the hotels to make it relevant to the targeted customer. So we use a social media calendar to reflect different subjects they’d be interested in and to highlight our unique selling points. Because just putting discounted offers and pushing your bedroom product every day doesn’t interest people anymore. What can people do when they visit your town? Where can they go and eat? We address this type of question.

“As an example, we give 24 hours’ complimentary coffees at most of our properties, which is great because everyone likes a coffee. So we talk about our special Cycas beans. We named our coffees and give them nicknames based on our staff members as well. When they press the button, it's a little bit more of a connection with the guest as the person might have just checked them in.”

That's really smart actually because it's very subtle, but everyone does it in the morning. And it's a fun conversation starter.

“Exactly. Every time a guest comes in for a coffee, it brings up a little bit of conversation and that's what we want at our extended-stay properties: actually building that rapport with our guests.”

These types of memorable touches make guests more likely to come back - and they may actually post on social media about it, right?

“And people remember things like this more than a really nice pillow, for instance.”

In case you missed any of the earlier parts in this series, Parts 1 and 2 of Jennifer's interviews were published earlier this month, and Parts 1 and 2 in a related series with her fellow webinar panellist, Inderpreet Banga, were published earlier this year.

For a deeper dive into the state of rate parity, access our on-demand webinar on the current state of parity in North America and Europe.

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