An Elephant, a Goldfish and a Swan; Turning Around a Failing Hotel

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You feel as if you are doing all you can to keep your revenue up for your hotel. You are advertising on OTA’s and across social media. You have invested in some training for your staff and you have applied a lot of advice you have read on the internet, or at least you think you have. So why is it then that your hotel still seems to struggle to make a profit? Or worse, it isn’t making a profit at all. So where are you going wrong? What else can you do? Why is nothing working? Here we will examine the process of turning around a failing business and what you need to be doing differently to make it happen.

Have you got the stomach for it?

When going through the process of looking at your own property and evaluating and critiquing your own hard work, it can suddenly dawn on you how hard it can be to do that. As an actor and artist, I have had to embrace that process completely. It is the only way that I can learn and improve and that is essential to growing as an artist. I also embraced this process in every other aspect of my life including running hotels and restaurants.

Are you open to change?

A few years back I was working as a ‘rescue manager’ for a large brand in the UK. My job was to go into the properties they owned that were underperforming and firstly work out why, and secondly, work out how to change it. In order to do that properly, you have to start from the basics and then work your way up. It is the basic functions that really make a difference and the first of those is customer experience.

POV (point of view) of your customer

Be objective. This is the most important thing to remember in the beginning. The idea is to take yourself on a customer experience. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if your place is your own and you are emotionally attached to it. Those emotions can distort your view of things. You may find yourself accepting things that your customers wouldn’t.

The only way around this, if you cannot step out of your role and be objective, is to get someone else to do it and take their perspective. The first thing I used to do when going into a property I was trying to rescue was to spend two weeks being there. I did not tell the staff, especially the management, that I would be there, so as to get the most objective point of view possible.

You need to literally walk the journey of a typical customer and ask yourself some questions. What is the first thing they see? How are they greeted? Are they greeted at all? Does everything around them seem aesthetically pleasing? Are they able to find everything they need? Are the staff attentive and do they do all they can to satisfy the needs of the customer? Is the food of good quality? Are they comfortable in their room? Is there anything missing for them? Are they provided with everything they need? All of these questions are paramount to really making your hotel an experience that they would recommend to their friends and family. Remember you want them to be a goldfish, not an elephant. I will explain more about that later.

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Review your interior/exterior

This is important for everyone. Whether your hotel is underperforming or not your hotel interior is paramount to its success. You should really think about updating things every 5 years, even if it is only a new lick of paint on the walls.

When taking your customer journey you need to pay special attention to the fixtures and fittings, the paintwork, the furniture both in the foyer/reception area and in the bedrooms and dining area. The reception area is the first impression when entering the hotel. However, equally important is the exterior of the hotel. Does the garden, driveway, entrance and exterior walls all look good and fresh?

Also, think about the style of the interior. You need to remember that it is not about what you like, it is about what the general public are looking for. Does it seem attractive, up to date and stylish? This doesn’t mean spending lots of money necessarily but it one of the most important aspects to consider on a regular basis. First impressions mean everything in our business.

Hotel first impression

Staff

This has, in my opinion, equal importance to the interior/exterior. Your staff are the face of the hotel. They are the main reason that people keep coming back. You could have the cleanest, most stylish hotel in the country, but if your staff do not give good service and make the guests feel both welcome and wanted then you are wasting your money with renovations.

I mentioned the goldfish and elephant earlier and now is when this is really relevant. Every customer you have is either an elephant or a goldfish. Your aim? Turn them all into goldfish. Goldfish are the customers that have come and enjoyed their stay a lot, they will leave and they will tell a few people about their experience and then forget about the place, at least until they return for another stay.

An elephant customer is one of the most damaging to your business. Every customer that has a bad experience, no matter the reason, is an Elephant. They will leave remembering every little bad detail. When they talk to their friends they will tell them in detail why they shouldn’t go to your hotel. They will even go as far as to write on the social network about it, tell colleagues at work all about it and they will never ever return.

Elephant

So remember, if every guest is a goldfish then you are in a good place. How do you achieve this? Actually, it really isn’t that difficult. Make sure that all your staff have sufficient training to meet the standards you are looking for. What is good service? It is not rocket science. Take a waiter, for example, this is where most places fail, your waiting staff have the closest relationship with the guest. In the case of waiting staff, let’s look at the swan theory.

When you watch a swan swim through the water, they look majestic, at ease and always have a smile on their face? OK, so that might be taking it a little too far. But seriously, your waiting staff should all be swans. On the surface of things, as far as your guest can see, they should be at ease at all times. You don’t want them looking stressed or angry, this is discouraging for the guest and makes them less approachable in the case of problems. They should glide across the floor with ease when carrying plates etc to the tables.

A good waiter should also be the most attentive person in the building. Train them to constantly be looking around the restaurant, not just their tables, for guests that are trying to grab attention. There is nothing worse, from a guests point of view than waiting and struggling to get a waiters attention. No Elephants in the restaurant, only swans and subsequently, goldfish!

Goldfish

Rooms

Of course, this is where your guests spend most of their time. At least most of them. Your rooms should contain everything that an INFREQUENT traveller might need. Think from the perspective of someone that has not stayed in hotels a lot. Make sure there are plenty of plug sockets as everyone travels with a lot of things that need charging these days.

Perhaps leave things like plug converters in each room. Things like well-connected WiFi make a huge difference. You can even go as far as having an individual, personalised password for each guest. Personalisation is a winner wherever and however you use it.

Cleanliness is also key to success. Of course, we should trust our staff to do a good job, but trusting them and leaving them to make up their own minds about standards are two very different things. Do some QA tests randomly. If they need extra training due to a slip in standards then make sure they get it. Nobody likes a dirty room or having to phone reception every 5 mins to ask for something else that should already be in their room.

Room rates and revenue management

Whether it is the price of your food, your beer or a nights stay in your hotel, rates are hugely important when it comes to success. Do some investigation into your competitors, especially the successful ones.

You need to make sure that your rates are set properly. There is no point in being the cheapest hotel in town, because, let’s be honest, most people will believe that the cheapest place is the worst and you will never escape that label no matter how nice your hotel is or how hard you try to change it. What you need to do is compare your prices with the rooms in properties similar to yours. Similar in style, size and rating.

You should be careful not to undersell yourself. But you also need to make sure you don’t try to oversell yourself. If the price is too high the guests arrive with higher expectation and then when they are not met, they will leave as an elephant and we really do not want that remember!

You should also reassess your revenue management. Look at the distribution channels you are currently using, especially the OTA’s. Ask yourself if they are being utilised to their maximum potential. Also look at alternatives to the likes of booking and Expedia. There are commission free options out there like bidroom.com that will help you to drive your direct bookings up and also assist you in keeping more of your revenue for yourself.

Overview

Once you have done all of the above then it is time to start looking back and creating a new story for your hotel. Your story is important to the overall ‘feel’ of your hotel. Look back over previous social media posts, comments on places like TripAdvisor and think about how you can begin to ‘fix’ the problems of the past.

It is also important to paint a new picture. You are now in a position to promote your hotel all over again in a new way. Perhaps get your website and/or social media pages updated. Put out some press releases about the change in management or the makeover your hotel has had. Have an open day where you invite all the locals into the hotel or hold an event that will help you get the word out that things have changed.

Finally, look at things like the good beer guide if you serve real ales for instance or any other niche publications that are relevant to what have done to the place. Providing you have done all of this, then you should now have competent staff that will naturally feel more engaged in your business due to training, and a new look for your guests to enjoy and prepare to do it all again in 5-6 years time.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
Stephen Sydenham
Stephen started working in the hospitality industry back in 1997. Having spent many years running hotels, bars, and restaurants across the UK, he grew to understand marketing, sales, and PR and how to apply those practices to the hospitality industry. Now with 20 years of experience, he has taken to writing in order to pass that knowledge onto others.