Every hotelier and property has to deal with peaks and troughs in demand, but if rooms need to be filled at the last-minute, being able to think beyond dropping prices and taking a more strategic approach could give you that crucial competitive edge.
“Offering resort credit or a room upgrade can help persuade late bookers without denting your bottom line too much,” says Katerina Santikos, Business Development Director of Santikos Collection in Skiathos, Greece. “If your room rate is €200, for example, and you offer a 40% discount, you’ll lose €80.
“But if you instead offer a 40% resort credit [for instance] or an upgrade to a suite, the guest will get a 40% deal, but the cost to you will be much less than the €80 value the guest is getting - and you’ll get the full €200 for the room.”
These sorts of ‘value-adds’ can draw in last-minute bargain hunters, agrees Katherine Anthony, a luxury resorts marketing director. But she advises thinking carefully about the ones that will appeal to your typical guests, such as free high-speed Wi-Fi, parking or laundry if you tend to welcome business travellers.
Thinking outside the box
Sometimes you might need to take the opposite approach, as Starling Hotel in Geneva has done. Its usual guests – business travellers – would rarely want to extend their work trip to stay for the weekend, no matter how enticing the deal. Therefore, it has created a weekend package aimed at leisure travellers, and called it a ‘Spring Offer’ – available at the last-minute, but without using those words – which includes transport passes, something its usual business clients would rarely use, but that sightseers will appreciate.
It’s this kind of thinking that could be applied to peak season to help secure bookings. But no matter who your usual clients are, there is one audience that should be top of the list if you need to fill last-minute beds - locals. Sue Heady, Owner of travel PR agency Heady Communications, points out that they shouldn't be overlooked as they might want to use it for friends or family who are visiting, or as a night away from the kids.
“Never neglect people who live nearby, especially in the countryside where it's difficult to get a taxi home. Going out for dinner and staying overnight - so you can drink more than one glass, for example - is a treat for many people,” she explains. “I did this for a birthday recently at a hotel half an hour away,” says Heady. “And at check-out in the morning, the two couples in front of me told the receptionist they both lived just 15 minutes away.”
Whether you decide to offer value-adds or discounts, you’ll have more success filling last-minute rooms if you fully optimise your channel mix of distribution and look at how you use online travel agencies, other websites and your own direct channel, suggests Aditya Sanghi, CEO of Hotelogix, a cloud-based online hotel management system. “But also think about where your guests come from, and look at the channels used by travellers in that country. For example, is Facebook particularly strong in your target country or region? If so, consider whether it could it be used to promote last-minute bookings,” he says.
Preparing for peak season starts with your calendar: Attract more bookers by updating your rates and availability.
Sanghi points out that it's also always worth targeting former guests. He adds: “They might be tempted to come back for a deal if they've had a good experience with you.”
If your property tends to work on longer bookings, such as villas, then consider offering short breaks and alternative start days, suggests Sean Caulfield, Owner of the villa-booking website To-Tuscany.com. When villas have availability, a month or two ahead, it often allows guests to break out of the Saturday-to-Saturday booking pattern and nominate a different arrival date.
Caulfield says: "This flexibility stimulates more bookings and has been financially effective for us.”
A reason bookings during peak season could be low for some hotels and properties is because there hasn’t been much investment into marketing and PR as competitors. This can sometimes be down to budget constraints or a lack of resources, but there are still some potential options for properties - offering empty rooms to bloggers and influencers - for example.
“Journalists from major publications are unlikely to be able to secure a last-minute commission, but bloggers and influencers with their own sites can publish whatever and whenever they like,” says Andreas Birner, Managing Director at Inova Hospitality.
This option is often overlooked by some properties, and it is a huge missed opportunity, Birner believes.
“If they have the right targeted audience, it could potentially lead to future bookings. Plus it can help beef up the press page on your website. Just make sure you check their credentials, and agree specifics about how much coverage they will give you. Your PR or local tourist board might be able to help you find suitable candidates, or post a notice on TravMedia.”
Hero image: credit to Mindaugas Petrutis
Offer value-adds, such as free breakfast, parking, etc – instead of discounting
Target locals, who might see an overnight stay as a treat
Research the region most of your customers come from to place ads on the most popular social media platform in that area
Send an offer to former guests, who might been keen to come back for a repeat visit
For longer-stay properties, allow late bookers to stay fewer nights
See if bloggers or influencers might want to stay in exchange for coverage