Exceptional NYC Hotel Service: Interview with a TripAdvisor all-star.
By Josiah Mackenzie
Wednesday, 19th August 2009
A recent article about TripAdvisor's top London hotel got me excited: What additional hotel marketing and management lessons could we learn from other top guest-rated hotels?

I'm going to start a little series interviewing management at these TripAdvisor all-stars to find out. Today we're going to talk with Adele Gutman, VP of Sales & Marketing at HKHotels.

All four of their Manhattan properties are among TripAdvisor's top 10 New York City hotels, including the Casablanca Hotel and the Library Hotel.

Let's begin.

Josiah: Give us a little introduction to your hotels.

Adele: Let me share what I wrote on our website, which I think says it all:

HKHotels & Hospitality is a family owned and operated collection of small luxury hotels in New York City that takes a unique approach to the art of hospitality. Each of our small European-style New York hotels has its own distinctive personality and charm. What they share is a commitment to providing timeless beauty, exceptional value, and an outstanding travel experience for every guest visiting NYC.

HKHoteliers care about people, and we care about building lifelong relationships with our guests.  To achieve that, our philosophy is to hire the kindest, happiest people we can find, people who are naturally inclined to love to help people. Then, we develop their natural talents and train them to become professional hoteliers so that they are more than simply their title, whether it be Bellman, Guest Service Agent or Housekeeper; they are all professional luxury hoteliers dedicated to providing personalized luxurious service to each traveler who crosses their path.

All four of your Manhattan properties are among TripAdvisor's top 10 New York City hotels. How did you do it?

Several years ago when we first began to notice TripAdvisor, we saw that one of our hotels was number seven, and another was number 56. Because one of our hotels was at the top of the list, it never seemed out of the realm of possibility to have them all up there.

So, this may sound very "Oprah" but seriously, several years ago we "set an intention" to have all of our hotels in the top 10%. We started making a big deal out of the reading of every review at our morning meetings, to observe what our guests really responded to and learn what we could do better. We shared ideas between the hotels, and included all our staff, including every bellman and housekeeper in the process. Our staff loved it.

We strive to hire the nicest happiest people so between their good nature and the training they get at the hotels, they take so much pride in the appreciation of the guests, and it is addictive. The result, at least for us, is a team of people who are strongly motivated to make the guests happy.  Happy staff make for happy guests and vise versa. With the right support from the leadership in terms of empowering staff to take initiative, it is self perpetuating.

Sometimes, hotels have a problem bridging the "offline to online gap." How are you encouraging guests at your hotels to talk about their stay online – and share their positive experiences with others?

We believe that satisfying your guests' needs and expectations is not going to get you any reviews.

Image left: Casablanca Hotel

If you want your guests to shower your hotel with good word of mouth, both on and offline, you have got to wow them with exceptional service and a unique experience that leaves them with something to talk about.

If they get home and their friends, colleagues and  associates ask them how their trip was, you want them to be able to say, "you'll never believe what an awesome hotel we stayed at. They had this, that and the other thing, and the people there, that was the best part of all."

Let's move beyond TripAdvisor. What other internet marketing tactics are your hotels focusing on right now?

We are a small company, so our time is limited, but we are tinkering with Citysearch, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter.

But TripAdvisor is the powerhouse that brings guests to us from Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America. Nothing else comes close.

Anything online that has little to no cost yet drives visitors to our website, we love to work on. We have about 1,100 fans between the four hotels on facebook, and that is with no financial investment and really, just a small amount of time, so it gives us another way of communicating with our audience and strengthening the bond with our clients.

In the past, which marketing tactics have performed best for you? Which ones don't quite live up to the hype?

Giving each hotel a bit of a concept, a unique identity, gives the guests and the journalists a hook to rest their story on.

Image right: Library Hotel

The Library concept in particular is so unique, everyone loves to talk about it and write about it. Creating interesting packages at the hotel also gives people something to talk about.  We get a lot more play and exposure from that than anything else we can do.

We really avoid paid advertising, because we feel our resources should all go towards things that enhance the guest experience instead, but we have on rare occasion traded for some print ads. We never felt any big benefit from that as much as we do from the on and offline word of mouth.

Free wine and cheese in the evenings makes people happy. That is what performs well for us.

What has been your biggest obstacle in designing or launching your online marketing campaign? How did you overcome it?

We came to realize that there was no shortcut or easy way out. We had to make the time to learn about internet marketing for ourselves as opposed to relying on outside experts, and test our ideas, evaluate the results, and continually grow to become experts for our own needs. If you have a true entrepreneurial spirit at your business, there is no one outside the company that will care as deeply about the results as you will.

There is so much great advice available on the internet for people who seek it out. People are so generous about sharing ideas. We are still in the learning process, and perhaps always will be, but everyone at our company has begun to embrace the work and we are getting better at it all the time.

The thing I feel we really are strongest at is the key to making any business a long term success. We build our business brick by brick by making sure everyone who checks out is delighted enough not just to return but to create more future business through referrals both on and off line.

Do you have any favorite marketing resources you would like to share with our readers?

I have my Google Reader programmed to send me anything that gets written on the internet about Internet marketing particularly with regard to hospitality. That's how I found you, Josiah!

What's the most exciting trend you see in hotel marketing? Why?

I guess would have to say that I really have my eye on Twitter. I am not doing much for the hotels on it now, but we just launched a new restaurant in the Broadway Theater District called Montenapo (@Montenapo) so I am experimenting with the joys of Twitter there.

We are just in the baby steps, but already, there is no doubt about it: Twitter has definitely brought new customers to Montenapo who would not have found us otherwise. And it's free so you've got to love that!

Thank you for your time, Adele.

Original article: www.hotelmarketingstrategies.com/exceptional-new-york-city-hotel-service

About the author
This blog is written by Josiah Mackenzie, who enjoys exploring the relationship between emerging technology and the hospitality industry.

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