To stay competitive in a cutthroat market, independent hotels in Hong Kong are seeking to lure customers using an array of strategies - from tapping into social media to launching niche products - while developing training programmes for staff to ensure new initiatives are effectively carried out.
Bernard Rodrigues, general manager of The Charterhouse Causeway Bay, says the hotel aims to engage tech-savvy guests through social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
"On Facebook, we interact with people about our upcoming events and promotions, and try to attract more members to our site," he says. "With twittering, we are engaged in lively communication with our followers. Through these platforms, we embrace enhanced marketing communications with our existing and potential customers."
In mid-February, the hotel organised a workshop showing its managers and department heads how to harness the power of social media for business, says Melinda Lai, the hotel's marketing communications manager.
"We provided some facts and figures about social media, such as how they affect our lives, and showed the basic steps to set up and manage an account. We also covered things such as sharing comments and likes, posting on the wall, uploading photos and videos, checking news updates and managing privacy settings," she adds.
The Charterhouse encourages managers to insert new entries to their Facebook pages during their slack time at work. For instance, a hotel chef may post his new dishes on the hotel's fans page.
Lai says that when more people "like" the item and spread the news, the hotel benefits. "Staff become more engaged and better informed about the hotel's latest news and promotions. This helps facilitate internal communication and understanding," she says.
Since the workshop, the number of the hotel's Facebook friends and active users has risen by 475 per cent and 81 per cent respectively, while feedback to posts surged by 755 per cent. It had 1,270 Twitter followers at the end of last month.
Other hotels have introduced special features to enhance guests' experiences. For example, in collaboration with several consumer brands, Cosmopolitan Hotel in Causeway Bay has rolled out a series of themed suites, including one that features Osim's latest massaging chairs and another that boasts Sony's newest three-dimensional television set and home cinema system.
According to general manager Anita Chan, all employees were required to attend product briefings conducted by the brands before the opening of the suites.
"Key section heads and department heads stayed in the themed suites to experience the unique features. Naturally, they would recommend to guests the features they found so enjoyable," she says, adding that department and section heads conduct "knowledge refreshment sessions" among themselves, focusing on the latest features while updating team members regularly.
Chan says managers and section heads were briefed thoroughly before the recent launch of the Ocean Park suite, which consists of a comprehensive range of family-oriented services, products and features.
The hotel's guest service managers collect feedback from guests travelling with their families to improve services, while manager training programmes are enhanced based on the suggestions.
Onus is on hotel managers to lead brand building campaigns for their institutions, professor says
With increasing brand consciousness among guests and the public, hotel managers should learn how to lead a brand-building campaign, says Professor Lee Kam-hon, director of the school of hotel and tourism management at Chinese University (CUHK).
He adds that training programmes for hotel managers should cater for executives in their 20s and 30s, who will gradually take over from older managers.
"Compared with the older generation [or those in their 50s and 60s], younger professionals are less patient and disciplined but more creative," Lee says. "It is important to tailor the training programmes to their [characteristics and needs]."
The programmes should be relatively short in duration and conducted with the aid of visual aids and in an engaging way, such as through participant-based learning activities that range from simulation and role play to project presentations, he adds.
"Managers are the ambassadors of the brand of a hotel," Lee says. "They should be able to [represent] the key attributes of the brand and serve as exemplary role models."
CUHK develops and delivers corporate training programmes for hotels and companies in tourism, Lee adds. "We have offered tailor-made training programmes to Hyatt and Shangri-La groups."
He says it is important that clear brand standards and priorities are set out in the first place, adding that explaining the rationale behind the branding campaign and the skills needed are also important.
A management system should be put in place to provide the necessary support, Lee says.
"A hotel that encourages its managers to go the extra mile in delighting the customer by, for instance, arranging a birthday cake for a guest, should entrust a budget to the managers so that they can take initiatives without having to seek prior approval from [their bosses]."