SAN FRANCISCO Despite dealing with low occupancy levels and
room-rate erosion from hotel discount Web sites, hospitality
executives at the Historic Hotels of America’s annual meeting here
encouraged colleagues to emphasize the unusual characteristics of
their properties in an effort to bring back business.
Throughout a panel discussion entitled “Thoughts From the Top,”
executives urged the assembled hoteliers to tout the individual
charms of their historic properties in order to generate publicity
and tourist dollars.
Bill Otto, president and Chief Operating Officer of Marcus
Hotels and Resorts, told hoteliers they should be “celebrating who
you are as a hotel. Each of you has something the chains don’t have
Tom LaTour, chairman and CEO of the Kimpton Hotel &
Restaurant Group, echoed that sentiment, saying hotels and
hoteliers must make “an emotional connection with your customers.
Without that, you’re dead meat.”
Hotel companies no longer can afford to be complacent, with
sales teams that don’t fully understand the selling points of their
properties or lack the know how to generate new business, said
Thatcher Brown, director of business development for Fairmont
Brown said many hotel sales reps today simply don’t know how to
prospect for new business properly. Marcus’ Otto agreed, noting
that his company established a product education program for its
sales representatives shortly after Sept. 11 to quickly improve
their selling techniques.
“The skills required to sell today are very different,” Brown
said. “The phones aren’t ringing anymore.”
Brown and the other panelists felt strongly that the
travel-agent sales channel remains as viable as ever, despite the
ongoing consolidation among retailers.
Agents are “experts who can create customized solutions” and
will be continue to be valued by Fairmont, Brown said.
Agents Will Survive
Otto added: “Travel agents will still be here for some time.
Though U.S. shoppers are looking on the Internet, they’re not
buying as heavily.”
As part of the panel’s talk, Mark Lomanno, president of
hospitality industry watcher Smith Travel Research, presented
statistics that indicate the worst may be over for the hotel
industry as a whole.
Industrywide, occupancy levels dipped 2.1 percent to 61 percent
for the first nine months of 2002, according to Smith figures.
But Lomanno noted that more people stayed in hotel rooms during
the summer of 2002 than in the previous summer, and the hotel
industry added more than 100,000 new rooms during the past 12
Demand Is Increasing
Demand actually has increased incrementally throughout the year,
according to Lomanno, who added that demand will likely register a
1.5 percent increase for 2002 and climb another 2.5 percent to 3
percent in 2003.
Ultimately, the increase in demand will strengthen average daily
rates, said Lomanno, who noted that he recently read an article
that said today’s Web-savvy travelers view the purchase of a hotel
room as the second most negotiable purchase behind buying a used
But the 15 largest hotel markets in the United States will
continue to struggle in 2003, Lomanno said, largely due to their
reliance on business and convention business, which he predicted
would remain sluggish.
Another researcher, John S. Fareed of Resort Marketing Partners,
shared the results of a questionnaire his firm sent to managers of
small, medium and large hotel properties across the country.
The Resort Marketing survey asked the hoteliers for the top
issues they are facing in the coming year.
Echoing the concerns of many in the travel industry, including
travel agents, their responses included: the current uncertain
economy, attracting and retaining qualified employees, geopolitical
fears centered on the possibility of conflict in Iraq and further
terrorist attacks, finding the right partners for distributing room
inventory, and the rising costs of doing business, such as
insurance and utility costs and property taxes.