One of the biggest trials for any hospitality business is dealing with a fluctuating demand throughout the year. Seasonal destinations like seaside towns and ski resorts often rely on operating at full capacity during their peak period to help them through the quieter times. But there are ways to attract a steady stream of custom all year round. So what can hoteliers do to keep occupancy buoyant in the off-season?
Perched on the south coast of England, Brighton is a popular seaside resort which attracts a busy year-round market. But it wasn't always that way. Brighton became one of the UK's premier seaside resorts back in the 1800s when Dr Richard Russell first preached about the healing benefits of sea water and England's Regency aristocracy would flock in their thousands to the resort each summer. It remained a popular seasonal destination until 1977, when the city built the Brighton Centre, a large conference and event venue on the seafront in order to attract international conferences to the city the rest of the year. Now it's one of the UK's most popular year-round destinations with over 11 million visitors each year.
Stay in touch
Repeat custom is a hotelier's best bet for surviving fallow times. For summer hotels, it's worth using the winter downtime to keep the conversation going with your customer base through newsletters, social media and targeted offers. Through stay feedback, get to know your guests and then target them with tempting deals or offer extra loyalty points for repeat stays (which can be spent outside of high season.) “During our quieter months we tend to promote our autumn and winter midweek packages,” says Kerry Turner, the General Manager of Blanch House, a boutique hotel in Brighton. “Additionally, we offer guests a returning discount when they book directly with us.”
In the States, Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is famously overrun with visitors throughout June, July and August. However, it takes a lot of energy to keep a business running in the low season and hoteliers have to consider the running costs and staffing levels needed to keep their hotels afloat throughout the year. While many Martha's Vineyard properties batten down the hatches in winter, the Nantucket Hotel stays open all year round by tempting its peak season guests with winter getaways like Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed breaks, and themed gala weekends, as well as additional on-site activities like yoga classes and free kids' clubs.
Consider your market
There are largely two main streams of action when it comes to filling empty beds. The first is lowering the room rate in order to attract more business, which can work in the low to mid-range markets where slashed prices do attract repeat and new customers, but for more upmarket and luxury properties consider offering added value perks like dinner, bed and breakfast packages, free rounds of golf or complimentary spa treatments to increase business.
“Last January, the hotel closed for a refresh like many coastal properties do in Cornwall,” says Jack Ashby-Wright, the General Manager of Talland Bay Hotel in Cornwall. “We really wanted to re-open with a bang, so we ran a special one night dinner, bed and breakfast rate for February that we pushed out via Facebook advertising to existing and potential customers, and to our email database, along with a further incentive that anyone booking would be entered into a prize draw to win a stay later in the year. February 2018 was Talland Bay Hotel’s most successful to date.”
Another way to keep the momentum going through the quieter months is to take a look at different ways of marketing your property locally. Perhaps you have a cosy bar with a great mixologist or a restaurant with an award-winning chef, off-season is the time to be a little creative and tap into the local community as an income source.
The team at Blanch House promote their charming champagne bar and the larger hotel suites as venues for Christmas parties and private dining events throughout winter, which keeps the business briskly moving until spring. It's also a good idea to collaborate with other local businesses to offer value-added perks such as yoga retreats, spa packages and dining offers. And before you know it, the summer crowds will be just around the corner.
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- Repeat custom is the key way to survive the quieter months. Use the seasonal downtime to keep the conversation going with your customer base through newsletters, social media and targeted offers
- Consider offering added value perks like special dinner, bed and breakfast packages, free rounds of golf or complimentary spa treatments instead of slashing room rates
- Off-season is a time to be creative. Think about the local community as an untapped market and promote your premises as a venue for private events and themed evenings
- Targeting the business and conference market, as well as the leisure sector can help both large and small properties thrive in the quieter months
- Collaborate with other local businesses to provide value-added perks or themed packages during the off-season period