A Room with A Bed Isn’t Enough- 8 Ways to Future Proof Your Independent Boutique Hotel

As an independent hotelier, you are always looking for ways to provide the best in service to your guests. You want to give them the best experience so that they come back to you when they require your services again, and the way to build loyalty and a great hotel brand.

Largely, customers are seeking a personalized experience, and they definitely want to remain connected from the booking process all the way to check out. Trends like mobile check-in and checkout are growing in popularity, and Wi-Fi remains a most-wanted amenity for guests of all ages.

Here are eight ways you can make your brand the greatest and get your customers coming back for more great stays.

1. Get Super Connected

In the old days, you would pick up that phone that sat on the little desk in between the beds, and you would call the front desk for help with whatever you needed. Or, you’d call the designated number for concierge, and get the help that way.

However, if your hotel has an app, consider taking a cue from Marriott and Hilton. They have the ability for consumers to complete the check-in process right from their smartphones, get into their room using a mobile key, and send out text messages with queries and requests to hotel staff members.

Connectivity is certainly growing as a standard by which hotels are measured. And of course, be sure that your rooms are equipped to handle the changing needs of today’s device-carrying travelers: some hotels even feature charging ports that are a welcome sight to those who may have left theirs on the plane.

2. Emphasize the Wi-Fi

Business travelers are getting work done. Digital nomads are meeting guidelines. Families with kids need the tablet for entertainment. The faster, the better!

The faster you can make your Wi-Fi, the better. Some customers are willing to pay an upcharge for higher speed, but this may be off-putting to some.

In the same vein, provide plenty of power outlets so that devices can be plugged in and charged with ease. Every member of the family has at least a smartphone-so be sure you are prepared.

3. Put A Focus on Local Fun

One way to really improve hotel guest experience is to help travelers experience the city like a true local. With the advent of Airbnb, this is now more important than ever. One huge example is the Unforgettable Experience packages that the Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria offers.

These include destination-specific activities right in the room rate. One such experience situated in Dubai includes dinner and a camel ride for two people. While you certainly do not have to provide camel rides, consider ways you can appeal to your guests by integrating local activities.

You might offer a rate that includes passes to a local attraction, or a dinner voucher for a favorite local restaurant, for instance. Experiences are now more important than ever to consumers, especially millennials, who currently hold them in higher value than “stuff.”

4. Improve Brand Experience by Making Training an Everyday Occurrence

There is no doubt that your staff already puts in 110% when completing their daily duties, and everyone from the GM to the housekeepers to the landscapers does their best. But there are some great ways that you can combine traditional training methods with technology to ensure that every agent and employee is up to speed.

For instance, suppose you have implemented a new Property Management System. Be sure that you are taking advantage of all methods available to teach and train employees. Have them take part in classroom training exercises, complete e-learning, or use an application that monitors your employees’ actions while they work so you can guide them as they learn the system.

Make a concerted effort to have every employee trained on new procedures, technology, and rules. Customers having to wait in line while an employee fumbles around is unacceptable and leaves everyone frustrated.

A well trained and informed staff will resonate soundly with guests. Your brand becomes synonymous with excellence.

5. Provide Personalized Customer Service

A hallmark of your brand can easily be personalized customer service. In a world where we are becoming more and more connected in the digital sense instead of the personal sense, it has become critical to treat your guests like they are the only ones in the entire hotel.

Not all guests should get the same treatment, and excellence is measured in different ways from guest to guest. Some want a speedy check-in; others like to stop and chat with you. Do your best to learn your customers’ name and greet them as such.

Demonstrate an eagerness to help. Remember the guests’ preferences. And be sure you and your employees are able to offer solid information about the local area such as good places to dine or interesting local activities.

Though your brand may not be as large as national chains, you can still treat guests like VIPs. Be sure your staff is trained to be attentive and treat everybody with the utmost of care, regardless of who they are. Guests leave reviews everywhere now: Google, Yelp and more-so when they feel special and cared for, others will know and book with you.

6. Make Booking Easy

You can do simple things that will hugely improve on your booking process and deliver guests the fast and easy experience they desire. Make the calendar part of your process easy by filling out the check-in and checkout boxes with today’s date, plus one day.

Lots of hotels have blank calendar fields and filling it in helps the user get one step closer to whatever dates they need.

You can include a progress measurement for the booking progress. People like to know how long a task will take before they can move onto the next thing, and a progress bar, steps till completion or other measurement method helps consumers move along and stay encouraged to finish the process.

Be sure your process does not ask consumers to log in or create an account unless they will be rewarded in some way (points, etc.). This just annoys the user with more tasks all for marketing reasons, not a great experience.

Every hotel is different, but at the minimum, just ask for full name, email, and phone number. You might also include special requests and time of arrival fields, too. Be sure that your website also offers security credentials, too-it’s peace of mind for users.

7. Guest Engagement

This ties into making guests feel like they are the only ones present in your hotel at any given moment. Guests that are disengaged are not as likely to return to a property and will more than likely discuss their experience online using any number of popular review sites.

Millennials are less likely to be engaged, says Gallup, but the silver lining is that guests who are engaged are less sensitive to price whether they demand luxury experiences or an economical stay. Therefore, guests that have an emotional attachment to a hotel are more likely to book at that property, regardless of budget.

You can encourage engagement by doing some easy things: Encourage them to provide feedback, and of course, treat them as the unique and varied individuals they are. Even though guests are there for different needs and experiences, they all desire great customer service that is delivered with a strong personal touch. Be sure you go over expectations with your staff to ensure the highest satisfaction among guests.

8. Provide Guests the Amenities They Want

There are amenities that customers really like, and then there are ones they can do without. Providing the right mix of amenities that add value to your guests’ stay is critical in making an impact. Consider changing the following:

  • Room Service-Customers are yearning more for good, strong Wi-Fi or a gym. Combine this with the desire to eat local cuisine and experience what the locals do, room service is desired less and less.
  • Valet-Many travelers, even those who stay at luxury hotels, prefer to park their own car.
  • Slippers and robes-Many guests prefer to just wear their own clothes and would not mind if hotels nixed the bathrobes.
  • Mini-bar-The mini bar is often expensive, and travelers do not want to pay the price. Plus, it is expensive to stock these.

Final Thoughts

Your independent boutique property can speak volumes for itself when you provide customers what they seek, which is a personalized, engaging experience, a connected stay at your hotel, bridges to the local cuisine, activities, and establishments, and of course an easy process from start to finish.

By integrating as much helpful technology as you can, and keeping staff trained to be attentive and friendly to your customers’ needs, you will surely notice more repeat business and your hotel will be established as a modern and beautiful place to stay for business, travel, or anything in between.

An Independent Hotel Brand Built to Last Through Any Economy

Challenges Independent Hotels Face

It should certainly come as no surprise that independently owned hotels face many hurdles that chain hotels (commonly referred to as branded hotels) do not have to worry about. For this reason, it’s important to understand the pitfalls and risks associated with independently owned hotels, and how to combat them with a strategic vision and game plan.

These challenges are intensified during times of economic recession. Independent hotels don’t have the luxury of relying on a large brand name to help them cut costs during a changing economy. In fact, in a study conducted by John W. O’Neill and Mats Carlbäck and the International Journal of Hospitality Management, it was shown that big chain hotels experience higher occupancy rates during recessions. According to the study, it appears that chain hotels are able to sacrifice higher room rates during tough times to achieve these higher occupancy rates. Basically lowering rates, and putting independent hotels in a race to the bottom of their prices.

In short, independent hotels can’t compete against these dirt-cheap rates that big chains are marketing.

Independent hotels can’t compete against these dirt-cheap rates that big chains are marketing

Stop Competing on Price Alone

This is why it’s so important to adjust your brand strategy so that you don’t always have to compete by price alone. There are many other methods and approaches you can take in order to stay competitive, especially during economic changes. Your unique market position, guest experience, the compelling story of your hotel, and your deep and personal connection to guests are just a few ways you can shine against big chains.

Your brand is extremely important. Hotels live or die on their reputation. This study concludes that hotel brands, in general, are important, and especially matter during times of economic recession.

The study goes on to say that this information should be added to the complex discussion of the true value of these intangible assets. This seems to suggest that many hoteliers, hotel investors, and private equity firms may not realize the true value of a brand. However, just like any business – a hotel can benefit from the basic principles found in a brand strategy.

With a brand strategy, your hotel should know the answers to these:

  1. What are your core values as an organization?
  2. What is your brand’s personality?
  3. Who are your customers, and what really matters to them when booking their stay?
  4. What is your unique selling proposition and market position?
  5. How and where should you be connecting with your audience through messaging?
  6. What actions should you be taking on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to maintain consistency?

Independent Hotels Need a Brand Strategy, Period.

Bottom line, if you want to experience the benefits of owning an independent hotel and freedom from franchise fees and payments you need to invest in your brand. If not, you will be taking some big risks that could sink your hotel. Are those risks worth it? I don’t think so. Especially not when companies like Longitude° exist to equip you with all you need to build a solid brand strategy.

you will be taking some big risks that could sink your hotel

This is also why you need resources, support, and a community behind you (Join our Hotelier Facebook Group if you haven’t already!). We are actively providing these resources with free access to articles aimed at helping you attract more guests, beat big-chain hotels, keeping your guests loyal, and general tips to keep your hotel from failing.

It’s can seem like an impossible task, but with the right strategy for building your brand, cultivating your identity, maintaining healthy operations, building your management team, and enhancing your revenue management system – you can certainly be competitive in this ruthless hospitality industry.

See Our Latest Hotel Branding Work

View our latest hotel branding case study here: The Allen Hotel – Manhattan, NY

The Allen Hotel – Lower East Side Manhattan, NY


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3 Ways Independently Owned Hotels Can Beat Big-Chain Hotels

The Challenges Facing Independently Owned Hotels

Running an independently owned hotel is not easy, especially when big-chain hotels can provide the basic shelter needs of travelers at scale for a lower cost. However, there are certain trends you can watch regarding consumer behavior when it comes to their travel habits. In addition, the ideology of boutique, and feeling of exclusivity is on the rise.

luxury consumers seek out the perception of value just as much as the value of the product or service they purchase

According to Forbes, luxury consumers seek out the perception of value just as much as the value of the product or service they purchase. When it comes to beating big-chain hotels, this is where an independently-owned hotel must separate itself with a strong brand identity – winning loyal guests.

There are three strategies you can use to stand up to the pressure of the big-chain hotels. You will notice that all of these strategies are intentionally built around people and focusing on creating a great brand (reputation).

Build a Brand That People Believe In

The first step in beating the big-chain hotels is to build a brand that means something to your customer. Create a story, message, and identity that will resonate with your guests so it becomes something they want to stand behind.

Your brand strategy, identity, and the guest experience you provide should be so well connected in the mind of your guests that they want to belong in your guest book. Does this sound like your hotel brand or not?

If you build a brand people actually believe in, with values which are authentic, it will spread like wildfire. Think of the last time you had a guest call for a reservation saying that “so and so” was raving about your hotel and that he heard it was the most luxurious weekend getaway for him and his wife’s twentieth wedding anniversary. This is the outcome of a powerful brand and meaningful guest experience – one that someone believes in.

Focusing on building these quality relationships with guests is a great way to differentiate yourself, and position your brand in the market. While big-chain hotels are often impersonal, only caring about hitting numbers – you can communicate a personal message, and connect to guests on a deeper level.

As an independent hotel, you have the unique opportunity to craft a custom and unique guest experience tailored to their needs, and people will definitely connect with that. More and more people are looking out for ways to relieve stress. Make sure your brand delivers the ideology of less stress well-being. The big-chains are just average at delivering this experience.

Design Your Guest Experience Differently

Jay Acunzo’s book Break the Wheel (2018), explains that we must think differently to challenge the status-quo. While he acknowledges the need for us to absorb what has been learned from an industry, the process of thinking for yourself is unique.

When you create the guest experience, think about things you can do which are unexpected. Create experiences which are different from the big-chain hotels and share your guest’s endorsement and enthusiasm when you blow their mind. Zappos gets this concept. If you dial the Zappos customer service line, there is an option in their recording to press a number for the joke of the day. Unexpected delight.

Be thoughtful in your approach; be intentional in what you do, as well as what you don’t do.

However, there are challenges you will face such as:

  • Market presence. WIthout the support of a large hotel chain flag, it’s easy to get ignored without a plan.
  • Employee limitations. You’re often stretched thin, and wearing too many hats.
  • Balancing of luxury and budget. This is a delicate balance and must be considered when building your reputation.
  • Personalized service. Finding trusted, quality labor is difficult for independent hotels.

Don’t let these obstacles get in the way of beating your competition. You have to think differently, be flexible, and innovative. This is something that big-chains are often unable or unwilling to do.

What are different ways your market presence can grow? Does your local community know what you provide? Think of giving away some nights so they can experience your brand and recommend your hotel to people they know who might be coming to town for leisure. Be strategic with who you choose. You might even choose a social organization similar to your target guests and provide meeting spaces (if you have them) or other services. Think differently about how you can expand your market awareness.

Maybe your challenge is one employee wearing multiple hats. One employee may be trying to host a reception and making beds at the same time. You might need to consider if that is a good approach. You might consider hiring students who can do the work for a fair wage and provide perks to those students who best represent your brand the best.

The bottom line here is that you need to be thinking critically about how you can do something no one else in the hotel industry (at least in your town) is doing and do it well.

Put Your Brand at The Center to All You Do

Again, a healthy brand should be at the center of all you do and will help you beat the big-chain hotels. When looking at a chain hotel brand, guests get a consistent experience at a consistent price, with pretty average services. This is their brand and the center of what they do. If you try to mimic this as an independently owned hotel, you will likely fail. You can’t try to be a brand you are not. The brand of your hotel must be unique, deeply connected to everything you do, and be consistent across every guest touchpoint.

Having confidence in your brand’s identity, positioning, and messaging is important. As you build your brand you may get caught up in thinking about the prize of a well-known, super busy, boutique hotel. While being sold out a year or two in advance might be the end goal, it is critical that you, as an owner, manager or hotelier, focus on consistency along the way. Your core job as the leader is to drive the brand home in your organization and put it at the center of everything, every time, for everyone throughout the organization.

Final Word

These are just 3 ways to help you build a powerful independent hotel brand which can compete and beat big-chain hotels. Having a clear brand strategy is an extremely important foundation. You need to have a plan, because hope is not a good business strategy and will lead only to frustration, loss of money, and eventually your hotel will suffer greatly. While you don’t have all the big corporate support, you also aren’t restricted to think like big-chain hotels. Get out there and build a brand people can believe in, create something unique, and put your brand strategy at the center of everything you do.


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