By David DeMoss
Most hotels have seasonal business and with that comes seasonal revenue. While it can be challenging to increase the low revenue time during a hotel’s off-season, it’s not impossible. With the right planning and executions, hotels can maintain a steady source of income during their slower times. Once you know when your hotel’s seasonal patterns are (based on internal and external market data), the first course of action is to plan early — a year in advance is ideal. Have regular meetings with your entire team, including operations, marketing, revenue, and so on, to determine what each part of the team can bring to the table to entice guests, and ensure that all team members are clued in on what the plan is.
Many hotels may think it’s best to drop prices during these slower times, but the downside to that can be your guests learn to wait until these deals are offered to book, decreasing your revenue during other months. Instead, consider creating value in another way. For example, if your hotel is in close proximity to a restaurant or theater, consider working with them and offering bundle packages to guests when they book a stay. Another option is to decorate your hotel in a fun and creative way that will enhance guests’ experiences. Once your staff is on board with the plan of action, it is recommended to start marketing these offers three months out from the slow season while still in the booking window. Most importantly, don’t forget to keep track of what ideas do and don’t work, so you have a clearer course of action to take in the following years. More details from Johnathan Capps below.
A hotel in a highly seasonal market likely won’t reach 100% occupancy in the off-season, but that doesn’t mean business has to halt completely.
In fact, hoteliers have a unique opportunity to drive demand and revenue during the slow season with a little creativity and a lot of planning.
The following are a few ways your hotel can conquer the slow season and continue a positive revenue stream.
Acknowledge and plan for the season
While planning for a seasonal shift is common sense, it’s crucial to take the time to strategize and develop an action plan for navigating these periods. You need to fully understand your hotel’s seasonal patterns and slow dates well in advance, so preparing for softer periods can begin at least a year ahead, and actions against that plan can occur approximately four to six months out.
The first step to better understand your property’s seasonal patterns is to review all internal data points and be aware of the hotel’s website traffic and bookings are slowing down. As you conduct this audit, remember your hotel isn’t located in a silo, so don’t work in one. Discover how internal patterns mirror or differ from the market’s data. Sometimes seasons can be falsified when internal and external data isn’t reviewed correctly. For example, your hotel might host a large group at the same time every year. Market data won’t include that piece of business, so it might show the city being off-season before your hotel hosts that group. You don’t want to miss out on potential opportunities to drive additional revenue because you’re only looking at one side of the story. You can’t be successful in the off-season if you don’t truly know when it starts.
After assessing your slowest periods, the strategies during the planning phase need to be carried out by all of the hotel’s staff and departments. Allow your entire team to be involved in the initial planning stages, asking them pointed questions that underscore how they help the bottom line. Examples of these types of questions include:
- What can operations do to make a stay more attractive to a potential guest and then how can that be executed at the staff level?
- What can marketing do to promote that option?
- How can the revenue team price and package enticing offers?
All of those questions should be answered at the onset. You never want to end up in a situation where the marketing team promotes an offer and sells it, but then the operations team is left out of the loop and expected to execute.
If everyone is on the same page, off-season business can grow, and even become the standard. As an example, a hotel located in Charleston, South Carolina, pushed the off-season into the shoulder season by decorating the property for the winter holidays. Paired with additional city programming, the hotel was able to turn slower weekends into booming demand that now repeats every year.
Don’t try to buy demand
By now, everyone in the industry should know that slashing rates to fill rooms is just a race to the bottom with minimal return. Even if you believe cutting prices helps in the short term, your hotel is sure to be devalued in the long run. This strategy begins to train your guests to believe they can wait for a discount before they book. Decide the value of your rooms, and don’t let a drop-in demand cause you to drastically deviate from it.
For example, according to research from STR, parent company of Hotel News Now, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is one of the most seasonal markets in the country. That doesn’t mean hoteliers in the market need to price rooms at $50 in December. Yes, the beach holds natural worth in the summer, but hotels can create value in the off-season by being creative with offerings, including special holiday experiences or indoor activities that wouldn’t be as popular in the summer months. You can easily share the news of these special offerings by changing the hotel’s website content during each season. From partnering with local theaters to creating one-of-a-kind experiences with artisans, there are ways to enhance the destination experience by partnering with local attractions. It’s not a low price that creates the value, but rather what the hotel consistently has on offer.
The off-season brings the opportunity to take a stab at new ways to drive business. Unique and creative packaging can be one way to do that, but now is a prime time to think outside the box.
When strategizing, consider why people visit destinations. Look to the hotel’s market. Is there a local theatre scene? If so, tie in a package for a performance during the hotel’s off-season. Ask if you can partner with the theater on discounted tickets or exclusive access for guests who book your hotel package. Or, consider partnering with a popular local restaurant on a bundle. These types of deals might ensure potential guests give the hotel a second look. Additionally, think about what you can do internally. Can you try marketing on new channels? If you have an on-site restaurant, can you offer credits or a free appetizer or dessert?
Success comes when you start early, at least a year in advance, and plan checkpoints along the way. Regular meetings when promotions are rolled out that include all the appropriate teams (operations, marketing, revenue, etc.) allow for accountability as it relates to deliverables. Six months out, new content for the website can be prepared while you build new packages. Then, three months out, launch the plan while you’re inside the booking window. Don’t forget to measure results to see what’s successful and what is not. Not every package will work, so you need to diversify and try new things each year. Keep the ones that work and throw out the less successful ideas.
As long as your team strategizes, follows through and isn’t afraid to get creative, your hotel will be set to survive—and thrive in—the slow season.