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Small hotels need to innovate to survive
2:43pm Thursday 21st June 2012 in Opinion
The Lake District is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful regions in Europe; and its jewels are the wide variety of hotels that provide for its visitors.
In the main these are small establishments, ranging from five to 50 rooms, which nestle beneath the fells or look out over placid lakes. We have splendid hotels, too, in the little market towns in the surrounding countryside, with all their character and stone-built charm.
Sharing in common their unique locations and style, the hotels offer, in their different ways, comfortable rooms, splendid service and good food at very reasonable prices, certainly in comparison to much of Europe. But the local hotel industry also shares a common complaisance and a worrying inability to innovate, which could lead to the failure of many in these troubled economic times.
I have been in marketing and sales for more years than I can remember, but one lesson I learned early on was the need to innovate; to make what I was doing different, memorable and attractive.
It mattered little what was being sold; selling is all about capturing the imagination of one’s prospective client and fuelling a need in him for your product.
Simple? Yes. Effective? Certainly. Sadly after studiying the local hotel sector with interest, it is clear it is not selling itself well.
There appears to be little desire to capitalise on location. The Lakes are a treasure trove of interest; there are lovely houses and gardens; Wainwright and the fells; Wordsworth and the Lakeland poets; the tragedy of Donald Campbell and Bluebird to merely scratch the surface. There are steam railways, steam cutters, riding stables and a myriad of fascinating people doing a wide variety of arts and crafts.
What I would advocate is bringing the hotel and attraction together. The synergies are obvious. Hotels should come together, either as a group or singly, with appropriate attractions to offer weekends or weeks in which a group of people with a shared interest would be offered an ‘activity’ package based upon a particular hotel or hotels with local experts and guides to offer specialist talks and knowledge on the subject.
The costs go a little beyond what the hotels offer as a matter of course; they sell their rooms, their meals and their facilities to a ‘captive’ audience. Any additional costs would easily be covered in the cost of the individual package.
The advantages, in terms of enthusiastic visitor numbers, to the attractions are obvious as they are to the hotel in terms of a predictable cash flow through a carefully-organised calendar of events. It need not impact on their other activities; no need to stop the weddings or other functions. What I am arguing for is an innovation that augments, rather than detracts from, the predictable cash flow.
In these uncertain economic times the threat to the viability of our remarkable hotels is very real; margins are squeezed by rising costs that cannot be increased by raising prices. Expansion is, in most cases, all but impossible.
Sadly I can see the looming menace of the ‘multiples’. While small hotels struggle to keep their heads above water, one of the paradoxes of economics is that larger, multiple concerns actually increase their profits through their ability to force down supplier prices so that when the economy improves they are cash rich with a hunger to expand their interests further.
What would be truly awful would be for our uniquely charming local hotels to become sterile copies of the corporate design.
The message is clear; innovation and flexibility will see our hotels through the current economic malaise to a point that when the economic situation improves, there is the finance and the personnel to profit from it.
- Retired marketing consultant NICK CROSS, of Kendal