The key to a new hotel (at least for most of us) is to have business when it opens.
Apart from getting the lights to work, the furniture in place and the staff trained, there is little that is more important than having a stream of guests when you throw out the welcome mat. You can talk all you want about having a great sales team, partnering with powerhouse marketing organizations and developing fancy websites with on-line booking capability. But, it really comes down to two things: desire and anticipation.
Desire is created by offering something meaningful that didn’t exist before. Anticipation follows suit and is driven by the desirability of your new offering and how well you tell the story about it. The combination of the two determines if there’s a line to get in when you turn the lights on for the first time.
Creating something that people want is much more than being on the right side of the supply and demand equation (which is what the bank cares about). Maybe you can hang your hat solely on the economics if you’re lucky enough to find a market running 80%, and you’re the first in line to develop a new project. Most of us, however, are faced with creating some new demand, either on our own or with the help of our neighbors.
A new Comfort Inn (nothing against them, just an example) in a sea of existing budget hotels is born from numbers. It’s not what most people want. And, it’s certainly nothing to write home about. Its success is dependant almost solely on the supply and demand equation. That’s extremely dangerous. One twitch in the wrong direction on either side and they might have trouble making the loan payment.
A better way is to start with something people want. It’s much more fun and interesting. Plus, you get the added bonus of creating some insulation in the event the market starts behaving uncharacteristically.
The Inn on Biltmore Estate was developed to satisfy desire. For over 100 years, people (I mean, a lot of people) wanted to spend the night on Biltmore Estate. Only a select few were ever given the privilege as a personal guest of Mr. Vanderbilt. So, when the plans for the Inn were announced, there was a firestorm of anticipation. The Biltmore marketing team was very smart. They turned that desire and anticipation into one of the most successful PR campaigns I’ve ever seen (about $1 million in free advertising prior to opening). As a result, they enjoyed a first year occupancy of over 70%. That’s virtually unheard of.
The Stephen F. Austin Hotel, first built in 1924, had a storied history including tales of Babe Ruth signing autographs on the front porch, Charles Lindbergh stopping by before his historic trans-continental flight, Frank Sinatra giving an impromptu performance in the lobby and a whole host of political heavyweights calling it their outpost including LBJ. Unfortunately, the energy bust of the late 70’s and early 80’s took its toll, and the Stephen F. closed in 1986. So, when plans were announced to revive her in the late 90’s, you can imagine the heightened level of interest and the increased level of “talk” about the “new” Stephen F. The people of Austin desperately wanted her back.
Do something different. And, get people to talk about it…long before you open the doors. Everyone will be smiling, especially the owner.