October 28th, 2011

Marketing a luxury property in times of stress

28 Oct, 2011


Zack Zahran, GM of The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel.

Things rarely stay the same, thus are the challenges we face running a luxury hotel property. As GM of The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, I am always reminded of these challenges, and yet there are constants that never seem to change. One of these challenges is separating “where we need to change” from “where we need to stay the same.”

Business travelers who comprise one of our main sources of revenue over the past few years have altered the way they travel. Tough economic times have made everyone more aware of the price-to-value ratio. Instant electronic communications coupled with busy schedules have changed the way many people do business. There are fewer business trips today where the main purpose is to deepen a business relationship. Sadly, that personal touch has become a thing of the past for many business travelers. The result is shorter and fewer business trips, thereby placing more demands on the business traveler. In light of the foregoing, everything has to be evaluated, re-evaluated and justified including the services we offer and the way we communicate those services to our clients and prospective guests.

Some luxury properties are caught up in the image they have projected, in some cases for decades. We focus on what our guests need and want today, not what brought them to The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel twenty years ago. There is one maxim that we will never waiver from -- we do not waste our efforts on what our clients are not interested in, but we will never cut corners on what they expect.

Our business clients changed how they communicate with their customers, so we needed to change our methods of communication as well. Anyone who has been in the hospitality industry for any length of time has seen the dramatic impact that technology and the Internet have made on our business. Our clients are connected to the Internet wherever they go and we make sure that we offer them the connectivity they require at the hotel, as well as using these same channels to communicate with our clients. Why would we write lengthy letters to our clients when we know they prefer e-mail? Because we always did it that way! That thinking has no place at The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel. We believe that we can maintain the brand value of The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel and still be responsive to our guests in all ways. After all, being responsive to our guests is at the very core of our brand heritage. 

The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel is committed to a communication strategy that relies more heavily on electronic means than on traditional print advertising. As a result, a significant portion of our current marketing strategy is directed through Internet and social media outlets that allows us to target our clientele more effectively. We have always prided ourselves on the individual level of service we provide to our clients during their stay at the hotel, and we now apply that same approach to our marketing as well.

• Guests from California do not need to know about our Sunday brunch or our weekend get-away packages. They are not coming to New York for brunch or a one-night stay - they are staying five or six nights.

• Travelers from Germany need to know more about our location first and its proximity to the wonderful attractions NYC has to offer.

• Business travelers need to know about getting the best price when they need to travel, not when we need to sell rooms. So we make sure that they are aware of our bid-on-a-room promotions that will ensure they always get a highly competitive rate.

It is not just about targeting a potential guest, but what we say to them as well.

Today we have the capability to identify people we know will be interested in our products and services. We can identify people who have the income, education, travel habits, sophistication, service expectations and a dozen other variables that fit our guest profile. We can now communicate directly with a potential guest. It may cost a bit more, but why not spend a little more to be more focused in your advertising? A focused communication to a potential guest is more likely to get their attention than sending them messages that are not relevant because they do not fit their profile.

A few years ago, at the start of the down turn in the economy, we knew that the price-to-value ratio was going to be a key factor in attracting new business, especially when business travel was becoming even more restricted. Therefore, we began developing our “Executive Floors” which are ultra luxury rooms and suites on the top floors of our hotel. In effect, our hotel is a “hotel within a hotel”, catering to that traveler who demands a luxury product and is willing to pay for it. Investing in the hotel when others were cutting back just made sense to us. As stated earlier, “we will never cut corners on what they expect.” We knew that the economy was going to force our clients to make some difficult decisions and we wanted to be able to give them a product that met their changing needs. Our guests have showed us that we made the right decision. We have upgraded additional floors over the last two years and now 30 percent of the hotel’s rooms are in the Executive Floor category. We can deliver what we believe is the best value in the Central Park area.

Embracing the kinds of new products and services that today’s luxury guests expect and communicating those products and service through the channels they are most comfortable with helps us stay ahead of the changes in the marketing of luxury hotels. An e-mail might not have the glossy finish of a magazine ad or the gold-leaf edge of a  direct mail package, but it has something more. It delivers a relevant message in a way that is easy for the reader to absorb, to respond to, to share with others or to file away for future reference. It takes nothing away from the luxury image of a property to rely on expeditious electronic communications. We think it adds to it. In fact, today everyone visits a website before they book a room. Electronic communications are going to be part of everyone’s marketing effort no matter what. We say, “embrace it, and make it an integral part of the way you communicate with your guests and prospective guests.”

By Zack Zahran, GM of the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York City.

Topic : Zack Zahran, The Helmsley Park Lane Hotel

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