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The Travel Industry is fighting for its life as COVID-19 continues to decimate the markets that once gave strength to a booming industry. Corporate hotel chains, large and small, have closed many of their hotels temporarily and permanently. Based on their new 5-year conservative strategy, they are cutting back their needed hotel room inventory in direct proportion to their anticipated marketing production capabilities. The net result of these actions will leave thousands of hotels around the World in foreclosure, receivership, or once again under the administration of independent hoteliers.

If there were ever an opportunity for investors to purchase a hotel(s), the coming year would be prime time. Yet, beware, the one-time expanding hotel chains will not be there to operate and market your Hotel. A return to a multitude of independently branded hotels is inevitable. It is also unavoidable that new boutique hotel chains will spawn from the Pandemic and grow to be the new Marriott or Hyatt in the years to come.

As the Travel Industry gradually opens its doors, Hoteliers, old and new, will be competing for every available traveler from every generation. However, until there is an actual COVID-19 vaccine, they will have to create their initial marketing campaigns without the once-powerful Baby Boomer market. Early success will be defined by their ability to adjust to the travel demands of the Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X travelers who are

motivated by low rates, and environmentally sustainable experiences with a focus on health and well-being. The resurgence of the Independent Hotelier is excellent news for the Travel Industry. As I pointed out in a previous article, The Brave New World of Corporate Timeshare (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/brave-new-world-corporate-timeshare-don-eastvold), the creative juices and new ideas are fluid throughout an organization under a Private Entrepreneur. In contrast, the Corporate Board of Directors, out of self-preservation, look solely at the bottom line and avoid change in favor of the status quo. Private Entrepreneurs reward creativity, loyalty, and leadership that continually challenges the status quo for the betterment of the company. In contrast, the Corporate World generates non-creative management and cronyism that rejects any novel idea that may upset the status quo. Yes, the silver lining of the Pandemic is the resurgence of the independent Hotelier and the Private Entrepreneur. It will be their novel ideas that will redefine the Post-Pandemic World of Travel.

Challenges of the Independent Hotelier

How can the Independent Hotelier compete against the Hotel Chains and their marketing capabilities? Because of the Pandemic, the playing field is temporarily level and provides the Private Entrepreneur areas of opportunity unavailable before COVID-19. The six advantages are:
  1. Expedient Decision Making
  2. Social Responsibility
  3. Loyalty of Employees
  4. Technology & Social Media
  5. Product, Branding & Creativity
  6. Next Generation Loyalty Club

Expedient Decision Making – The most significant advantage of the Private Entrepreneur is the ability to maneuver like a high-powered speed boat, reversing direction on a dime. On the contrary, the Hotel Chain led by its Board of Directors is a Super Tanker that takes miles to reverse course even if they decide to change. During these trying times, the ability to make the required modifications in branding, marketing, sales, administration, and operations is an absolute necessity. The Independent Hotelier can efficiently make such decisions expeditiously. At the same time, in the Corporate World, each Board Member fears the risk of any change that may remove them from the comfort of their chair. No decision and the requirement of multiple never-ending Case Studies is their norm.

Social Responsibility – Unlike Hotel Chains with resorts in multiple destinations, the Independent Hotelier has far closer ties to the community where they are doing business. Hotel Chains, controlled by a distant Board of Directors, hastily run from any social or environmental contributions requested at the local levels. They appease their social participation (and their bottom-line) with a simple donation in the city of their Corporate headquarters or to a national charity.

One of the primary characteristics of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X travelers is their desire to protect the environment and feel part of the social contribution, even when on vacation. The Independent Hotelier can honestly promote to the younger generation traveler all the environmental and social Good Deeds being provided on a local level and within the Hotel, even creating exclusive events to allow them to participate.

Loyalty of Employees – Company Loyalty in the Corporate World was lost during this Pandemic, leaving many top employees of all vocations available to the new Independent Hotelier. COVID-19 brought out the worse in most of the Corporate World. Layoffs, redefined as “furloughs”

with the promise of a future position, became the norm. What added salt to the wound were the Corporate Executives sacrificing a 50% reduction of an already overly compensated salary. Any sense of loyalty to the Brand lost with the camouflaged pink slip.

New Independent Hoteliers have a short-term opportunity to pick and choose the ‘best of the best” employees for all departments. After upwards of six months without a salary, the vast majority of employees are happy to accept initial compensation commensurate to the Hotelier’s Grand Opening budget limitations.

Technology & Social Media – Technology and access to World-wide Social Media platforms levels the playing field for the Independent Hotelier. Just a few years ago, name recognition was exclusive to big-name brands via costly television ads and magazines. However, with the advent of the Internet and Social Media, World-wide name recognition is available to every Hotel, big or small. The “Ingredients for Success” used by the Marriotts, Hyatts, or Hiltons are equally available to every Independent Hotelier with access to every OTA, every Wholesaler and at minimal cost can use the same SEO for brand recognition and SEM for driving guests to the Hotel.

Product, Branding & Creativity – We are entering a whole new World of Travel in the coming months and years. Product, Branding, and Creativity will play crucial roles in the success of every Hotel. Conforming to this Brave New World will determine their success or failure. Those that return to “business as normal” should take a giant step back and reevaluate their decision to do so. What may have worked with the one-time high-powered Baby Boomers market will fall short to the travel habits of the Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X travelers.

For the New Hotelier, here is your one-time opportunity to introduce Branding and Product to the World. Let the creative juices flow and offer a Positive Social Media Culture that revolves around the new Brand. Rather than

independent departmental kingdoms of authority created in the Corporate World, build one team of management that works together as one machine with a single focus on the Hotel’s success.

Next Generation Loyalty Club – Timeshare with mandatory maintenance fees is Dead! Vacation Clubs, camouflaged Timeshares, are Dead! All the Timesharistic product lines and methods of marketing and sales are Dead! Unfortunately, many won’t acknowledge this fact and plan to reopen their clubs like the Walking Dead of a sequel of the Resident Evil. With the advent of Social Media, there is no place in the post-pandemic Travel Industry for antiquated product-lines, aggressive marketing, abusive sales methods, and fraudulent add-on products.

A Hotel Loyalty Club is crucial for the Independent Hotelier. It provides supplemental income to support Hotel Operations and the implementation of the unique services extended to Club Members. However, now is the time to “think outside the Timeshare box” and create the next generation Loyalty Club that meets the full scrutiny of Social Media. To accomplish this;

  • Create a Club Product made up of services and benefits fully backed by the Hotelier.
  • Accept add-on (out-sourced) products only if fully registered in the USA or Canada. Under the scrutiny of governmental regulations, members have the assurance of long-term compliance with the promised services. RCI, II, SFX, ICE, SaveOn, HSI, and SafeGuard are just a few legitimate out-sourced products fully registered in the USA, or Canada.
  • Avoid the use of old timeshare methods of marketing, sales, and operations. Rely solely on robust service-oriented programs that will enhance your Social Media presence rather than destroy your image.
  • Avoid antiquated timeshare management who are more focused on their pocketbook than the long-term good of the Hotel and Club. Contract sales and marketing managers who have a full grasp of Social Media and the negative consequences of any adverse actions taken by their team.

Done correctly, the Club will become the Hotelier’s #1 Asset and provide the necessary income to compete in the travel markets World-wide.

  1. Happy Members – Enjoy an ever-growing member base of happy travelers that return multiple times each year. This results in higher occupancy, increase sales of hotel incidentals and increase sales of Club membership upgrades.
  2. Referrals – Enjoy generating through happy members, a continuous referral base of family and friends for hotel occupancy, and club sales.
  3. Income – Enjoy the income from Club sales that will surpass hotel occupancy income within three years, if not sooner.
  4. Occupancy – Enjoy increased hotel occupancy and membership sales via the Club Exchange programs of over 8 million annual travelers (ICE, RCI, DAE, SFX or II)
  5. Social Media – Enjoy the rewards of service-oriented sales and marketing strategies that enhance the Hotel’s Social Media reputation. The vast majority of Hoteliers continue to tolerate a Negative Internet reputation generated by their Club’s “Timeshareistic” marketing and sales methods.

The “Silver Lining” to the COVID-19 Pandemic will be the Independent Hotelier’s resurgence and the comeback of the Private Entrepreneur. I’ve been in the Travel Industry for over 40 years. During that time, I have personally witnessed the gradual disappearance of the small Hotelier and the independent Clubs as they were gobbled up by the Big Boys and placed under their “cookie-cutter” branding. With their demise also went the constant search for product enhancements, rewards for creativity, loyalty to employees, and the personal touch of service.

I want to warmly welcome back all the Independent Hoteliers and the Private Entrepreneurs! Because of you, it will be exciting to be part of the next generation of Travel.

Special Note: We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and pray for the best. I invite you to read my other articles regarding Timeshare that offer an underlying message asking for a change in our Industry. We continue to use antiquated methods of marketing and sales, and dubious add-on products no longer tolerated in the World of Social Media.

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