How I Was Unfriended by the Hotel Industry and Lived to Tell the Tale
As the world collectively yawns and slowly wakes up from the nefarious Covid-19 induced travel coma, countless hotels are suddenly looking at kick-starting their sales and marketing efforts. My only comment to them is a shame, shame on you. While hoteliers have been lost in a deep, dense fog the past year, consumed by countless forecasts, downsizing, cost saving, muddling in doubt, and self-pity, what about your past customers? Remember them?
A thought occurred to me the other day, after my third coffee in, just after 9 am so I was a bit jittery and on edge. In 2019 I traveled over 200 days, stayed in a slew of hotels both in my country and abroad. What suddenly struck me was the fact that I had not heard from one hotel directly in the year I’ve been effectively grounded by the pandemic. Not once, nada blanked out. Worst of all I felt abandoned and unfriended.
Over the next few days, I posed the same question to several road warrior friends and the answer was the same. A total communication breakdown. No one had been contacted, called, written, texted, etc. As hotels fell into a narcissistic funk, zoomed out and paralyzed, they forgot the most basic tenant of our business – hospitality. That is caring for a customer or guest, the same way we do guests in our own homes.
Let’s be honest, during the year, most of us reached out to people we had not spoken to in years, had lost connections with, suddenly embraced family relationships, and reached deeper into even mere acquaintances. One of my sterling moments was the epic one-liner “still alive”? I’m not sure how I’d have felt if I had actually received “no” for an answer.
I believe it’s time to call out our industry, starting with the General Manager, down to sales and marketing and beyond, to say – “while you were sleeping, you forgot your customers”. As in any downturn, we can anticipate how the restart process will go, cheap rates, commoditizing the products, discounting, pulling your pants down to OTA’s, and taking anything you can get.
So wrong. So wrong. (Note the two wrongs to make my point.) You had existing customers that cost next to nothing to retain or at least try to. Now you want to shift mode into customer acquisition mode, spend on social media, PPC (pay-per-click), advertising, and direct mail that is enormously costly. Research points out that the cost to acquire a new customer vs. retaining an existing customer is a staggering five times as much. Yet, time and time again in downturns, the Kool-Aid stand is open to re-spend in a highly competitive recovery cycle where price drives revenue. The messaging here for hotels seems to be, if you want loyalty, get a golden retriever.
Wrapping this up, I’d urge hoteliers to have a Jerry McGuire moment and go back to understand and treat your hotel customers as an extended member of your family. Yes, even those weird distant relatives from down South or perhaps France. Embrace them all, communicate, and re-engage, as while you were zooming out or reforecasting, they were dreaming of a return to travel. Maybe it’s time to looking at Refriending instead of starting the entire cycle once again. Enough said.