Frequent Rewards Programs – If That is Your Main Marketing Thrust You’re in Trouble

It sucks – the answer I got after asking a Marriott General Manager about his occupancy rate this year; a sad retort from a resort manager normally having 70% – 75% occupancy during the winter season. He further offered achieving 60% occupancy entailed steep rate cuts and other concessions. In contrast, a boutique property I frequent in Paris reports the April through June bookings full and still holding rates at 2008 levels. Why the difference – both are vacation, luxury, properties, and both provide high-quality rooms. Both, although in contrasting different markets, have superior reputations, unique locations, and a cachet with their guests. So why do we see such marked different results in this difficult market?

I will not profess to be qualified to advise Mr. William Marriott on any aspect of his hotel chain; but one difference in operations is readily apparent after a few visits to each of these properties. In Paris, you snake down the narrow streets to the hotel’s 6th District location, the rue Christine, and awaiting your arrival is the same friendly face as your previous visit. Pieter is from Belgium – not France (I was politely informed on my first visit), and since that visit 8 years ago, he always greets me by name, with pleasant inquiries, and so-on, and so-forth. The same hold true with the front desk, the car-park, the maids, and an obligatory visit from the manager.

At the Marriott, the gaggle of bell-hops/garage attendants lurk at the front door area and approach you as you pull-up – only to ask if you’re checking-in, or what your room number is. Everyone is polite, efficient, smiling, with tags displaying names and country of origin; giving you more information on each than any military division offers. A visit to the front desk two hours later usually nets an entire turnover of staff as the next unit is ushered on duty. After an impromptu survey of guests, several multi-time returnees, I could not find one, either ever meeting any manager, let alone knowing his/her name. Several had a favorite bartender; but that was the best they could offer. Perhaps the personal touch is just impossible at a 600-room property; but of course, there are only plus or minus 300 rooms filled today, so that makes it easier.

In Paris, with only 120 rooms, everyone is a guest, not an occupant; the person you speak with addresses your needs and wishes; you never have to call a “different department”. Not all this by accident it’s by design. The management empowers the entire staff to become not only service oriented, but also marketing oriented.

Word of mouth is your strongest marketing tool – and it’s free. I have told at least 20 people about the Paris property – and everyone has come back and thanked me. Several times my friends mention my recommendation to someone at the hotel, and I always get a written/email thank you from the manager. When I visit, they always upgrade me, treating me like a family member, and I feel at home – not 4,000 miles away. Members of their staff believe in the superior quality of the property and they all realize their action positively influences the hotel’s success. The hotel has a marketing department of 120 enthusiastic, dedicated, apostles. They pay their employees well; the employees repay the hotel with superior performance, keeping the guests content, the rooms full, and the hotel profitable.

Realistically it may be impossible to operate a 600-room property within the same parameters as a 120-room facility. However, any general manager that does not monitor their frequent guests is just asking for another hotel to steal them. I am not merely suggesting upgrading your rewards guests, and having a basket a fruit in their room upon arrival. The fruit spoils in a few days and most seasoned travelers know just to ask for an upgrade. Your staff must be empowered to instinctively react and intuitively interact with guests, specifically the frequent ones. This has become second nature to most good bartenders. They unconsciously know how to handle their clients – let the rest of the staff take a cue from your bartenders.

Get your managers out of their offices and onto the operations floor. A simple introduction to the guests and inquiry of their stay will produce awe-inspiring results. You’d be surprised how many people will stow away the manager’s business card as a small trophy of their visit. When friends ask why they continuously return to a certain hotel the answer, I know the manager there, goes a long way -both for their esteem, and your properties.

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