Marketing challenges provide opportunities for creativity, alliances

The Lone Star Court in Austin, Texas

The Lone Star Court in Austin, Texas, opened on Dec. 24, 2013. It was inspired by an old-fashioned motor court property with touches of Austin and Texas hill country. Pictured: The Lone Star Court in Austin, Texas, opened on Dec. 24, 2013. It was inspired by an old-fashioned motor court property with touches of Austin and Texas hill country. 

When it comes to getting their name in front of potential guests, independent hotels often have to work harder than branded properties. But that’s not necessarily a disadvantage, according to hoteliers. In fact, often it’s another way they can let their creativity shine through.

Today’s independent hoteliers need to determine their marketing and distribution goals and assess the different affiliation and loyalty programs available that meet those goals. Options abound and they range from affiliation with soft brands (most of the major global hotel companies have them), to joining loyalty programs strictly for independents, like Stash Hotel Rewards, linking in with groups like Leading Hotels of the World or Preferred Hotel Group, or building more visibility on sites like Expedia.

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Jeff Durham, owner of the Redwood Fortuna (Calif.) Riverwalk Hotel, which formerly was a Holiday Inn Express, said when his hotel was branded, IHG took care of making sure his property was on every shelf. That responsibility now is his.

“Learning Google AdWords, learning the extranets for the [online travel agents], learning TravelClick channel management, learning a new reservation system–there are so many moving parts it takes a lot of time and focus to make sure you’re paying attention and able to manage your revenue properly in each room every day,” he said. “Now that I’m the person doing it, I understand it better than I’ve ever understood it. It makes me a better operator and manager.”

The Redwood Fortuna partners with IBC Hotels, which is a division of InnSuites Hospitality Trust, for marketing. IBC is a group of more than 90 independently owned and operated hotels.

“It’s another shelf to be on to get properties out there,” Durham said. “The commission is 55-percent to 60-percent less than what I’m paying for most of the other OTAs. It’s a no-brainer.”

The Lone Star Court in Austin, Texas, engages in very focused advertising to get the most bang from its sales and marketing dollars.

“One commercial for Marriott is a commercial for all Marriotts vs. a very individual campaign for yourself,” said GM Marcus Latner. “We have to research, reach out and find advertising. Luckily with the uniqueness of the property, a lot of people come to us.”

Latner said the Lone Star Court, which is owned and managed by the Valencia Group, takes full advantage of social media and market-based advertising to fill rooms.

The Orlando Hotel in Los Angeles has worked with Preferred Hotel Group for 10 years to help with sales and marketing efforts.

“Preferred provides an additional sales and marketing tool all around the world,” said Lesley Carey, VP asset manager. “You have an extension of your sales team. There are a lot of opportunities as an independent that you can tap into.”

NU Hotel in Brooklyn is owned by Hersha Hospitality Trust and managed by Hersha Hospitality Management. It’s part of Hersha’s Independent Collection of hotels.

“We do have to try a bit harder battling against the big branded hotels with big budgets and that’s why we have to stay current with our initiatives, especially social media,” said GM Javier Egipciaco. “We have to be creative. We have to be unique. We have to be selective in what we do and what markets we go after simply because we don’t have an endless amount of money to spend on the marketing side of it.”

Independents not only have to promote their individual property, they also often have to get the word out about the independent concept.

“Travelers today, especially heavy travelers, really like what they get at a branded hotel because they can expect that in every hotel,” Latner said. “They know what they are going to get vs. trying something new or unexpected. It’s exciting but they don’t know what they’re going to get and that makes some people uncomfortable.

“It’s a matter of breaking through all that and getting people to try you.”