Industry Update
Opinion Article10 July 2017

The Seismic Shock That Is Revolutionizing Resort Marketing

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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You are in the middle of an earthquake that is shaking resort marketing to its foundation and if you don't know this you won't survive. That is how important this seismic revolution is. It has in fact turned old school marketing beliefs and practices on their head.


When I got involved in resort marketing two decades ago, a simple principle prevailed: work hard to keep guests on property. By extension, that also meant keeping visiting press on property too.

I have worked with resorts that would have reprimanded an employee who casually answered a guest's question about where to eat with, "There's a great place in town that was on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Everybody loves it."

Don't even think about a pointer to another resort.

GMs and DoSMs wanted to keep their guests on property, they wanted to maximize their share of that guest's wallet.

Maybe that worked in 1997. It's a big fail in 2017.

Right here is the crux of the revolution: Smart resorts now curate off property local offerings and gladly point guests to the best of the best.

The underlying idea is that today guests come to a town to actually experience the place and usually that involves extensive local exploration too.

For instance: if I handled a central Phoenix resort, I'd want employees to direct guests to Pizzeria Bianco - one of the nation's temples of pizza - also to Clever Koi, Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva, probably Angel's Trumpet for craft ale, and art galleries sprinkled around downtown. All this delivers the flavor of Phoenix, on many levels.

This idea dramatically changes a resort's public relations and marketing thrusts too. Now the PR must, and the marketing must, is to build in distinctive local attractions. And those attractions must play starring roles in the positioning. Huge change.

You've heard about this approach before? Indeed. Certainly Airbnb has been a big driver of the local experiences concept, in large part because its properties generally are not set up to deliver on property amenities.

But the other reason that Airbnb has attached itself to this 'live like a local' theme is that there is plenty of evidence that that is exactly what some travelers very much want. When in Rome, do as a Roman des - and these 21st century travelers take the mantra to heart and want to live like a Phoenix resident or a New Yorker or a Jackson Hole resident.

That means resorts very much have to flex. They need to adjust their focus and shift away from driving gusts to spend in house and instead point guests to the best of the local community.

Will that hurt the resort bottomline? Maybe a tad but it will be made up for with greater guest satisfaction.

Remember, too, only a segment of guests want local exploration. There remains a sizable percentage of guests who still like the old-school resort stay where part of the relaxation inherent in the experience is making use of the on-property offerings.

Understand this: imperative to making this all work is to coach employees on what to recommend to guests Where a bartender likes to sip an after-work drink may not be the right place for a guest in a $600/night resort.

Or maybe it is exactly right.

The key is to coach employees on the spiel, and also to prime them on what to tout among the on-property offerings. There's no reason not to blow one's own horn too.

In the process, the resort's employees are positioning themselves as local experts - with deep, relevant knowledge - and that impresses the 2017 guest.

Remember this, too: resorts near national parks for instance have always touted the local attractions. Ditto resorts with lakefront or oceanfront real estate. They survived and thrive.

You can do likewise.

Just remember that in 2017, 'go local' is the path to success.

Babs Harrison

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