Like it or not, if you’re an independent or boutique hotel, you will have to compete with big brands with larger staff and massive hotel marketing budgets. Whether it’s a Sheraton, Hyatt, Marriott, or Best Western, you’re bound to battle with hotel brands that are larger than life. It may seem like a fruitless uphill battle, but don’t fret. Surprisingly, as a smaller property, you have countless advantages over the hospitality titans.
Modern travelers are embracing the unique and local experience more than ever before, which makes boutique hotels so appealing. To survive and thrive against your big brand hotel comp set, try these independent hotel strategies.
Explore independent hotel strategies to get a leg up
1. Own it
As in, own who you are and brand it. The first step in being a small, but mighty contender in the fight for travel spend is to know what makes your hotel special, unique and unlike any others in your neighborhood and city. What makes you stand out from the massive hotel across the street? What are your distinguishing differences? If there is nothing that defines you from another hotel, than you better think of ways to stand out fast.
Is there an amenity you can offer that no one else does? Think of F&B (traveling martini cart, freshly baked caramel salt brownies in the evening or cheddar biscuits in the morning) or events that pull all guests together (Friday night comedy movies played in your event space, gallery showings by local artists, meet and mingle hours).
Savannah’s Thunderbird Inn is a fantastic example of a small, budget hotel that branded themselves brilliantly as a retro throwback to the days of free-spirited road trips. Every piece of their marketing ties back to their retro brand, making them recognizable against a backdrop of larger hotel names.
2. Become synonymous with your neighborhood
Whatever neighborhood you are in, know everything about it. Modern travelers are looking more and more on how to travel like a local. So don’t just constantly promote your destination’s big attractions that get enough advertising and visibility as it is. Dedicate a page on your website, a big portion of your blog posts and social media updates on cool finds in your very own neighborhood. What will guests find right outside your front door? Talk about the cool whiskey distillery around the corner. The loved-by-locals breakfast spot. The used book store that hosts popular readings.
3. Use the big brand’s weaknesses to your advantage
Some smaller hotels are tempted to slash their room rates when a big box brand moves in on their turf, in hopes of saving business. That’s a mistake. You’ll never win on price, so don’t even try. Instead, do some digging on what your big hotel neighbors are offering and charging. Unearth the weaknesses in their product and use them to your advantage to make your hotel the more desirable destination. In other words, increase your value and your appeal.
Do they charge a daily fee for Wi-Fi, as most big brands do? Make yours complimentary. Is their design stuffy and corporate? Accentuate your chic style and your locally made artwork on the walls. Do they serve a lack luster continental breakfast? Market how your breakfast is locally sourced from mom-and-pop eateries around your city.
4. Keep customer service personal and intimate
The one caveat as a big hotel is that often there is too much staff and too many guests to offer any kind of personal service. As a smaller, independent hotel, you have a major advantage of knowing the customers that walk through your doors. Sometimes, even by name. Better yet, guests are more apt to know your staff by name as well! This makes it blazingly easier to deliver personalized guest service that so many hotels strive to do. It’s personal relationships like these that will make guests return for future stays and share their experience with their friends and family.
5. Partner with other small vendors to provide coveted local experiences
Look to other small businesses in your destination to offer immersive local experiences as part of a package. These local experiences could be a farm or winery tour, tastings at a family-owned restaurant, or specialized tours by a local company.
6. Keep up-to-date with all of your online marketing channels
You can’t effectively beat any hotel – large brand or not – with a lackluster or out-of-date online presence. Independent hotels have to invest in SEO to ensure high placement in the search rankings, in addition to making sure their site can be viewed on tablets and smartphones. Instead of updating an old and tired website, independent hotels should create an all-new website that is designed according to today’s user experience preferences and aesthetics.
Written by Junvi Ola.