Making Vacancies Vanish: How To Increase Hotel Occupancy In the Low Season
Regardless of geographical location, property conditions, or amenities, most hotels have at least one “low” season each year when bookings are typically below average. Fewer reservations mean a decrease in sales and revenue, but there are other impacts of a slow season as well. With unpredictable guest bookings, general managers may need to make difficult staffing decisions, furloughing workers or trying to manage with a skeleton crew. This, in turn, can hurt employee morale and engagement, decreasing customer service by extension.
These types of seasonal slumps can be challenging for any property manager, but particularly for small or independent properties. Owners and managers often find themselves wondering how to increase hotel occupancy in a low season, if such a thing is even possible. Fortunately, with some pre-planning, it is possible to increase both occupancy and sales during your low season. Here’s what you need to know:
Strategies to Increase Hotel Sales in Your Low Season
So, how can hotels promote sales during off-season lulls? There are several options you might want to consider. Before implementing changes, however, it might be helpful to determine more precisely when your low season occurs.
Evaluate what external conditions are impacting your bookings during that time. Do you live in a climate with harsh weather conditions during certain times of year? Are your reservations down during holiday periods? Can you tie your decrease in bookings to an overall decrease in visitors to your city? Armed with this information, you should be ready to create a low-season marketing plan designed to help you fight those cyclical decreases in hotel room bookings.
Try the following:
Adjust pricing based on anticipated demand: No hotel manager wants to think about lowering rates just to fill rooms. However, adjusting your pricing strategy based on your anticipated supply and demand doesn’t mean you simply lower your prices during the low season. Instead, seasonal pricing allows you to charge a premium during your busy season while offering lower rates when business is typically slower. This can help you attract new customers who may become frequent/loyal visitors in the future — even if it means they pay higher rates in your busy season.
Also referred to as yielding your rates or implementing yield management, this is one of our favorite ways for growing your business. We find many properties are underpriced, especially during their higher season, so paying attention to demand and making changes can reap huge rewards.
In fact, many property management systems offer tools to help you automate this process so you’re not manually adjusting daily. It’s certainly not something to “set and forget”, but it can be easier than you think. We have a great free webinar on yield management available on demand!
Use promotional packages: Offering package deals is another way to gain new customers when you might not otherwise be able to reach the capacity levels you desire. Get creative when designing packages, partnering with other businesses in your area to put together “dine and stay” or “stay and play” packages, giving customers a deal that can benefit both businesses and potentially lead to repeat business/referrals.
Packages don’t always mean deep discounts either! Just because you bundle items, services, and a room doesn’t mean you need to give everything away. Make sure you understand all your related expenses and price accordingly.
And once you’ve created these enticing offers, market them! Add them to your website, post about them on social media, share them with local news outlets and tourism groups in your area. Also make it super easy to book these packages online. Add them to your property management system and set them up to be bookable through your online booking engine. We know our clients that sell packages online via their ThinkReservations booking engine sell up to 8x more than they did prior! 8x!
Offer rooms through online travel agencies OTAs: You’ve heard us talk about the importance of having healthy relationships with the OTAs, such as Expedia, Airbnb, Booking.com, and Tripadvisor. There’s so much more we could share on the topic of OTAs alone, but for the purposes of bringing in revenue during your slower season, we’ll keep it simple.
Remember that OTAs are really a marketing channel. When you’re experiencing lower traffic to your website, having your business listed on popular travel sites like these can help you be seen by new eyes. Yes, commissions aren’t fun, but they are a marketing expense and if you’re pricing your rooms appropriately, you shouldn’t be too worried.
Keep in mind many travelers use these sites as their first line of research when booking a trip. They often browse and then click through to the 2 or 3 they like best to learn more, often booking directly with the property when the time comes! But you have to be in it to win it.
Leverage booking engine analytics: Many properties have realized significant increases in conversions and package bookings by using booking engine analytics tools. This type of solution can help increase direct bookings; allow customers to upgrade their stays ahead of time, reserve special rates, and book package deals; and ultimately allow you to adjust pricing dynamically. Built-in analytical tools can also be used to track your marketing campaign effectiveness.
And don’t forget to use your reports. Most property management systems provide a suite of reports designed to make it easy to see how your business is doing. Our favorite report here at ThinkReservations is our Booking Pace Report. We lovingly refer to it as the crystal ball report because it can help you see in real-time what’s working and what’s not. By reviewing this regularly you can become comfortable trying new things and adjusting as needed. No more relying on your gut instincts to make important decisions!
Implement a customer loyalty program: Many hotels — including small, independent properties — have successfully increased sales and revenues in their off seasons by launching customer loyalty programs. These programs are often a big hit with business travelers, but they are also popular with leisure travelers who enjoy earning “nights” or “points” for each stay, which can later be used for room upgrades, perks such as free drinks or meals in the hotel bar/restaurant, and discounted or free hotel stays.
If you think this might work for your business, do some research. You’ll find there are a wide variety of ways to implement a program like this. Make sure you can access any data you’d need easily. Create some guidelines available to your staff for reference and then get marketing. Clearly explain your program requirements and benefits on your website, your social media platforms, in your emails, and beyond. Get ready to welcome those happy repeat guests!
Target different customers: As you evaluate your off-season marketing campaign, consider the types of customers you’re reaching with your current marketing efforts. Are there other groups you could target, potentially gaining bookings as a result? For example, if your busy season is typically filled with families on vacation, consider whether you might be able to attract business travelers in the off season. Obtaining these types of bookings generally starts with reaching out to large businesses that have a local presence; offering preferred pricing to corporate travel/event planners to secure group sales contracts; or simply getting onto a “preferred provider” corporate travel list.
Don’t forget to look into places like hospitals and universities! Both often have visiting staff year-round. And if you can offer any sort of discounted stay to hospital patients, family, or friends, you could see a big uptick in referrals.
Just make sure, as with any other special, you are covering your minimum revenue requirements. It’s generally not worth more reservations only to lose money in the end.
Organize events to attract people: You might also want to consider organizing special events in your community during your low season. If you don’t want to organize your own event, sponsor an already-scheduled event such as a convention or concert, getting your property listed on their event materials. This can help make attendees aware of your hotel, when they might have otherwise considered other properties.
These can also be great for creating packages, like we mentioned above. Using local events to offer bundled rooms, tickets, related items or services is a smart way to capitalize on something with little additional effort on your part. And let the organizers know so they can promote you as a great lodging option!
Repurpose for meeting and event spaces: If your property has rooms or public space that generally sit dark and empty during the off season, consider making them available for local events or meetings. For example, business networking groups, clubs, and support groups often look for places to hold meetings or parties. Allowing local groups to use your space either for free or for a nominal fee can make more people aware of your property and its facilities — potentially driving more business your way during the low season and at other times of the year.
If you have the ability, you could offer additional money-making services like food and beverage, or partner with other local businesses to provide catering, photography, and audio-visuals.
Use property management software: We might be biased, but there are several benefits to be gained from using property management software. Designed specifically for lodging businesses, this type of software allows you and your team to manage new and existing reservations; view and handle accounting tasks; manage housekeeping requests and activities; and more through a simple cloud-based tool.
Hotel property management systems can also integrate seamlessly with a channel manager solution, improving the reservations experience for your staff and your customers. Implementing property management and operations software can make employees more efficient, reduce the risk of errors and, in turn, improve customer service. This can lead to a better guest experience, which is even more important if your staff levels are lower because of anticipated lower occupancy rates.
Avoid Low-Season Sales Dips by Rethinking Marketing and Operations
It wouldn’t be realistic to expect your property to sell out year-round; low season is something for which you should be prepared. However, by revamping some of your marketing and operations strategies and policies for your off season, it is possible to increase reservations, sales, and revenues while boosting customer service and loyalty.
We look forward to helping you discover new ways to grow your business!
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