In the last decade, boutique and independent hotels have become so popular that even chain hotels have made attempts to enter the market by packaging their chain product to look and feel unique or “boutiquish.”
If you are an entrant into the independent hotel market, then you are probably discovering the many challenges related to exposure, market penetration, and capturing a good percentage of wallet shares for your market. In fact, one of the most commonly voiced concerns by owners and managers of independent lodging relates to ways to stretch their already limited marketing budget in a way that can foster business growth and is conducive to long-term brand development.
Industry experts estimate that boutique hotels represent only 3 percent of the total market, but the trend is on the rise, and it does not look like it will stop anytime soon. Reputation management and outreach through review sites and social media platforms offer the most viable and sustainable avenue for brand reputation and guest relations development for those in the hospitality segment who have budgetary restrictions due to size. Let’s explore some things that may just give your independent property an advantage over hotel chains.
Equal Exposure at No Cost
When it comes to exposure, review sites are the great equalizer. According to a study conducted by PhoCusWright, travelers check 6 to 12 reviews prior to booking a hotel. In fact, 77 percent of those traveling will visit TripAdvisor prior to booking.
This means large and small hotels alike stand an equal chance of being exposed to shoppers during the pre-booking period. Being listed in TripAdvisor has no cost to hotels, and gives hoteliers the option of review request through their Review Express platform, allowing small hotels to snowball guest engagement by directly asking for reviews.
With diligence, a small property can reach a pretty high popularity ranking by positioning itself right next door to larger properties with stronger marketing budgets. This is true across all review sites, including proprietary reviews hosted in hotel consolidators like Expedia or Hotels.com. For example, if a customer conducts a search using cumulative review score as the main parameter, he or she will have equal chances of viewing boutique or chain properties for as long as both have the same score, regardless of the overall review count.
Check out: 8 Terrific TripAdvisor Tips for Businesses
Highlight Your Outside-the-Box Approach
When you are a boutique property, you are not cookie-cutter, and that can be scary. Customers wanting the comfort and confidence that comes with standards are often hesitant to book a boutique hotel unless they have sufficient information to compare it to a chain, as if comparing apples to apples.
Review sites like TripAdvisor provide potential guests with insights that add credibility to a boutique property through displaying guest feedback that might include their perception of value, or descriptions related to the size of the room, comfort of the bed, or quality of the amenities in a way that facilitates the shopping experience. Guest reviews often include raves about the stuff that makes your boutique property special, allowing others to discover the details that make you stand out, not through a marketing pitch, but rather through the voice of other guests.
Tailor Your Product to Mimic the Best
An important aspect of running a boutique hotel is the ability to reinvent yourself often, and tailor your product to specific market needs and trends. In contrast to chains, you are not subject to brand-wide standards. This allows you incredible freedom to adapt and deliver a product that is aligned to the specific needs of potential guests in the here and now.
Conducting competitive analysis of other boutique properties within and without your market by using their reviews will allow you to identify trends and guest preferences that you can incorporate into your offering. In short, you can have the best of the best, thus quickly shaping your room product to be the envy of chains and boutique hotels alike.
Push Yourself to the Top
Every year when TripAdvisor releases the favorite hotels around the world, we are so impressed to see the number of boutique properties that make it to the top. By having a product that is original, excellent, and customer-oriented, and by pairing that with hands-on reputation management that includes review management and upgraded profiles, the best properties will rise to the top.
When you are among the top 10 based on popularity, chances are that every person looking for lodging in your market will have exposure to your property, allowing them to contrast and compare your offering against the offering of chain properties.
Reach a Wider Readership
As a boutique property, you probably have a very limited SEO and online marketing budget, but fear not. Review sites can help you reach the majority of potential shoppers looking for lodging. When you diversify and ensure that your property is listed in all the relevant review sites, you expand your reach and make your product available to a wider audience.
Consequently, you don’t have to invest beyond the initial effort of creating appealing profiles, and you don’t need to make the effort of managing and monitoring each review site to ensure you are providing ongoing customer service to those guests who have reviewed your property. With a review site listing, your boutique property will be part of the results of a variety of searches, through a variety of sales and directory channels that would otherwise not be available.
Shape Your Brand
Not only should you carefully study the reviews of your competitors, but you should also take advantage of the insights provided by your own reviewers. The information that they are giving you will allow you to be a responsive marketer that shapes the product and messaging to match the true needs of the targeted segment. By perfecting your product and service to align with the needs of your customers, you will shape a brand that is appealing and see ongoing improvements in your cumulative review ratings.
Let Potential Guests Compare Your Features Against Chains
When people are shopping for lodging, they want to know for sure what they are going to get. Through the use of well-designed review sites, potential guests will be able to compare your offering to those of larger chains. In doing so, they will realize that not only do you have all the features and amenities offered by chains, but you also have a little more to offer that will make their stay something to remember and worthy of raving about.