It's a lot of little steps for Brand image in Hospitality Industry.
By Kison Patel & Robin Trehan
Saturday, 3rd June 2006
One of the greatest challenges of a business is to keep it vibrant- new -and above all; to be sure your name is associated with quality, world class customer service, and ingenuity. In other words, the goal is branding. What is branding and how do you accomplish it?

Branding is having the name of a company always associated with a particular product. Everyone is familiar with the concept, but some don't think about it in terms of their business, particularly hospitality.

Howard Johnson's, for example, was for years associated with road trips, on every highway, at every major rest stop, there was a Howard Johnson's restaurant. Their service was fast, their food was good and their prices were reasonable. Most importantly, everyone who traveled by car knew it.

In the early days there wasn't much competition. Howard Johnson's saw a need and was the first to fill it. The same was true of hotels in the sixties. Hilton was the name associated with luxury. If you made reservations at a Hilton hotel, you expected five star services and you got it. From the plush shower towels to the exceptional dining, you paid a little more but the extra money was worth it. They were the brand that said quality hotel.

But these days, with so many hotel chains, how do you find a way to stand out above the rest. How do you brand yourself? The answer is creativity, listening and observing.

Your hotel staff is invaluable in this endeavor. No one knows more about what your customers want and what their habits are than your staff. And we aren't just talking about your professional staff, we're talking about your gardeners, your housekeepers, your bellhops and your wait staff.

The people on the frontlines have the most contact with your guests. These are the people your guests are most likely to ask casual questions of; where is the nearest hotspot for my laptop, what are the best bars, restaurants, shopping centers? These are the people who know what your guests want on a consistent basis. These are the people you tap for that knowledge.

Regular gatherings with the staff as a group are a great way to brainstorm and see emerging trends. Most hotels offer some form of internet access now, but who was first, and how did they know it would be appreciated.

Try having a monthly session with your staff. Make it leisurely to encourage interaction. Treat them to a sumptuous buffet and beverages, but no alcohol. When everyone is relaxed, have a discussion. Find out what the guests have been looking for, or asking about. Where do they want to go? What do they want to do? How do they spend their time in their rooms? What do they bring with them for entertainment or what do they buy once they have arrived? What do they leave behind?

Some guests may read books but may not bring one with them. They may go to a bookstore and purchase one to read during their stay. Would it be worth it to have a book exchange in your hotel? Some may bring a video game console and games. Would you want to offer these to your guests in select rooms? These are examples of things your house staff would know but your concierge and your greet staff would not. Regular, casual events will also go a long way towards cultivating a loyal, attentive and observant staff. This is what could brand you and don't forget the journey of thousand steps begins with one step.

Kison Patel is President of National Hotel Exchange. He is a specialist in hospitality transactions. He can be reached at kison@nationalhotelexchange.com

Robin C. Trehan is an industry consultant in the field of mergers and acquisitions. He is also a motivational speaker and knowledge management expert. He can be reached at robin@tafunds.com
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