Industry Update
Opinion Article27 August 2020

Take Local to the Extreme

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Prior to COVID, hoteliers all over the world were already working on various programs to support local businesses and showcase the best of the community to guests. Now that the pandemic is practically locking out international travelers, the push for drive market customers and 'local everything' has bloomed exponentially.

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But if you are pursuing a course that many of your competitors are also going after, how do you stand apart? The answer is to go deep into your culture and lore, and simply outdo your rivals through what I call 'extreme local'.

Every city is unquestionably proud of its heritage and homegrown success stories. And this is occurring on numerous fronts - culinary classics, sports, attractions, proximity to outdoor activities or emerging economic clusters with impressive commercial goods.

Your mission is to dig into your locale and uncover these gems then create programs and packages that incorporate these elements into your operations. To make it extreme, though, these programs must be fully fleshed out and differentiated from what travelers might find at other hotels or, worse, through their own investigations. At its core, extreme means exclusivity but also with a bit of education or personal enlightenment in that you want to leave your guests with a better sense of the world's richness than before.

As a straightforward example, while working as the asset manager for a mountain resort in British Columbia, we set about to amp up the in-room experience so that guests felt tied to the natural landscape even when they were just relaxing by themselves.

To start, we put binoculars and a quick bird guide by each windowsill so that guests could spot the bald eagles soaring overhead. Next, we teamed up with a local soda company and energy bar manufacturers to offer these items for free in the minibar. In the past month, these have been moved to an on-demand delivery process to limit contact, but the idea still stands - complement the impressive views with treats that can only be found within 50 kilometers of the property. Then of course, to embellish this we set up a myriad of activities and excursions with local partners so guests could experience some one-of-a-kind experiences.

Secondly, for a property situated on the East Coast, we created a local shopping program which we called 'Our Passport'. After negotiating exclusive discounts with local retailers and attractions, guests could take advantage of additional savings which could exceed the value of the accommodation expense. Several visitors actually covered their entire weekend through these accumulated price reductions. With the retail softness of the COVID crisis, I am sure that many local shopkeepers would relish an additional business opportunity like this. All you need to do is ask, then work out the details and develop a marketing campaign around it.

With F&B as a cornerstone of any great hotel, there are numerous programs that you can undertake to educate your guest on the local fare. Beer flights or wine tastings are obvious ones. Not to limit it to just beverages, when I was last in Stockholm, we were treated to a herring tasting - not only delicious but with exquisite presentation to make it sure fire bait for social media. In one hotel in Quebec, we were invited to a mixology session on how to make the perfect gin and tonic.

Though this lesson took place several years ago and such hands-on tutorials may need some rethinking to meet the newfound physical distancing norms, I still recall it fondly. That's the inherent value of experiences; they engage more than just the one sensory input but work across multiple fronts to ingrain positive sentiments into one's memory.

Even in the face of the need for touchless interactions, things like maps of walking trails, art tours, history trails, cultural routes, shopping trails, jogging trails are all still useful, and all can be adapted for the phone. While I recognize that everyone already has a map app, developing your own will narrow the guest's focus, prevent 'intrusions' from unwanted sources and allow you to provide more exclusive content to reassure guests of your local expertise.

Assembling your tactical plan to initiate a handful of extreme local projects requires a little bit of time but should not require any real expense prior to execution. Readily available software will allow you to compile the necessary materials without significant external input. It's the ideas and their impacts that are important.

What is amazing to me is how exciting you can make a leisure stay in your own or neighbouring city, even for locals who may think they already know their home turf. Your mission is to teach all your guests that one does not have to travel on an airplane for several hours to find an exciting new vacation destination - they're already in your own backyard waiting to be discovered.

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