Training – a miss or a must?
The Tourism Business managing director Martin Evans, organiser of the National Hotel Marketing Conference
Just as the political parties have their “conference season” so do we in the hotel industry, and with it now having drawn to a close, it’s worth considering the real health of the sector. With this year’s occupancies at record figures for hotels and B&B’s across the UK – Expedia alone saw a 20% increase in domestic trips between July and September – it’s easy to fall into the thinking that Brexit and the consequent low value of the pound will mean more domestic and incoming tourists staying with us for years into the future, and leading to continued high occupancies and strong turnover.
But that would be a mistake. You probably know the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. What’s more appropriate here is ‘success breeds complacency’. Working as I do in marketing in the hotel sector, I see this all the time. Whilst the number of people who practise marketing in hotels has increased exponentially in the last ten years – and the opportunities to learn and debate the subject have also grown – in fact we’re in danger of becoming lazy in our approach to what is one of the most important functions of any business. And we’re lazy partly through lack of knowledge.
First of all, we’ve all become used to relying on the OTAs (online travel agents) as a strong source of our new business. In fact, some hoteliers seem to depend on these OTAs in the same way that I need a coffee in the morning – and it’s a lazy and not-so-smart approach to business generation.
Owners of luxury B&Bs, guest houses and inns are in danger of succumbing to the practice of selling ever more rooms on OTA’s at up to 25% commission, or promoting discounted short breaks on Groupon, even in the summer months (you’d be surprised how many hotels do this). And of course many hotels and B&Bs are still sending the same marketing email to their whole database (not considering recipients’ different buying habits, where they live or even if they’re already booked for next month). And with industry-average open rates of only 20-40%, and very few of your Facebook fans seeing each of your posts, this means that at least six out of ten of your guests are not reading your communications!
We really need to stop and take a breath if our apathy isn’t to become terminal – even in a bull market. Yes, there’s a place for these distribution channels – but so there is for a properly planned approach to marketing. Which hoteliers can say they have a well-resourced, two-year marketing strategy in place? And a tactical Marketing Plan for your monthly marketing activity and your top 3 or 4 market segments?
But then who has been trained to deliver these things? Of course, the major hotel groups all have their in-house training resources. But for independent hotels and inns, it’s not so easy – yet it’s certainly not impossible. Many tourist boards and local enterprise partnerships offer excellent training courses that don’t cost the earth. As do local colleges and other organisations like Chambers of Commerce and BIDs (business improvement districts).
And why stop at training in marketing! Rather than a Marketing Plan, perhaps your first plan should be a Training Plan. For you and your staff. If Brexit has already taught us one thing, it’s that we can’t rely on easy access to staff in future years. This is the time for you to draw up a TNA (Training Needs Analysis) for yourself and your team, and to take your team with you on a programme of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). Believe me, the majority of your staff will thank you for it and may well stay with you longer as a result. And you’ll become better motivated yourself.
Even without considering the “craft skills” which every hospitality business needs in its workforce, there’s a need for us all to brush up regularly on the latest techniques in Marketing, Social Media, GDPR (new data protection regulations), Finance, Personnel and other “professional” business skills. Give your team the training they need. I once saw a hotelier inadvertently show his staff that the Training budget line in his Profit & Loss Account for every month across a full year was £0”. No training for 12 months then. A big mistake.
The message should instead be to invest in training and become an even more professional business owner. Give yourself the skills to create a better planned Marketing Strategy, resource it properly (hotels spend an average of up to 10% of turnover on sales and marketing), train your team, and turn a “miss” into a “must” and reap the benefits whatever the economy and political situation throws at us.
MARTIN EVANS, November 2017