3 Things Big Chains Can Learn From Independent Hotels

Do you know how people say that they don’t want to be treated as just a number? That’s not necessarily true.

When I’m at Trader Joe’s, sometimes I wish the cashier would ring me up rather than try to make conversation about ravioli. Just put it in the bag so I can get home and make dinner.


And as much as I appreciate the effort, talking with bankers about the weather has a very “corporate told me to talk to you about the weather” feel to it. Just deposit my check, and I’ll be on my way.

But that’s not true of hotels. Hotels are different. They’re all about comfort, and comfort is a very personal thing.

Imagine walking up to the front desk and being greeted like this: “Hello (your name), here’s your room key. We gave you a room with a view of the bay, just like last time. We’ve also put a complimentary basket of (brand name snacks you love that you specifically requested last time) in your room.”

Understandably, it’s tough as a hotel manager for a big hotel chain to walk that fine line between providing a hotel experience to your guests that is consistent across all brands, while also creating that personalised level of comfort your guests crave.

There are a few things you can learn from independent hotels that are applicable to the chains and could help increase your hotel’s bottom line.

How to think like an independent hotel

1. Get up close and personal

(via Jason Trbovich)

Because comfort is such a personal thing, it can vary greatly from guest to guest. What matters to one guest—” I want lots of fresh towels in my bathroom every day”—can be a turn off to another —” This hotel isn’t very environmentally friendly if they’re changing out my towels every day.”

You don’t have to totally overhaul your operation to make a big difference in this area. Just do a quick check-in with your guests from time to time to make them feel that you have their comfort in mind.

Use departure surveys to find out what your guests do and don’t like, which can also provide you with clues about larger-scale changes you can make.

If you don’t have hotel management software with guest experience management, you should look into it. This software will help you track your guests’ preferences and surprise them with your thoughtfulness when they come back for another stay. And that kind of experience leads to the coveted word-of-mouth advertising that will take your hotel to the next level.

2. Connect with the locals

Culture Night Dublin, via Sebastian Dooris

A big trend in travel is authenticity. People want to feel like they’re connected with the area when they visit a place, rather than in an isolated oasis that might as well be a hotel back home.

Independent hotels have a significant edge over the chains in that they can incorporate local culture, cuisine, and attractions rather than on maintaining a brand image.

There’s no reason why you should have to sacrifice some local uniqueness because you have a brand to worry about. Why not integrate the two?

The big corporation you work for may not be from this town, but you are. There’s no reason you can’t behave like an independent hotel. If you have an in-house restaurant, create a menu that emphasises local ingredients and cuisines. Host vendors in your hotel lobby to showcase local artwork and wares, which will be a tremendous boon to the locals and impress your guests. Support a local charity and promote it at your hotel. There is an endless list of ways to focus on local authenticity if you use your imagination.

Doing this will help you appeal to Millennials, one area where big chains are losing to the little guys. By 2020, Millennials will make up 50% of all hotel guests around the world. Millennials are especially interested in ecotourism, so it’s something you can ill afford to ignore.

3. Become nimble

front desk

Hotel front desk in London, via Alan Light

The red tape doesn’t burden independent hotels that the big chains are. You’ve got to worry about corporate—they have to worry about their customers.

But while the brand itself may not be nimble, as even one small change can become a massive undertaking with so many locations, nothing is stopping you from being agile to adjust to emerging trends, both local and worldwide. There are ways for you to simplify your operation and improve your agility as a business.

For example, one big trend in hotel management is organising tours and activities outside the hotel, which is something you could easily incorporate into your hotel without any negative impact on the brand.

The big hotel chains are feeling the pressure to be agile. Room-sharing site Airbnb is now worth $25 billion, and third-party booking sites that charge massive fees that eat into margins accounted for almost 20% of bookings, up from 10% just ten years ago.

One way to become more agile is to invest in younger people. Connect with local schools and colleges to find excellent staff that can keep you on your toes, and provide fresh ideas to make your hotel a destination for anyone visiting the area.

The key point behind all of this is simple: don’t wait for the corporation behind your brand to act. Take the initiative and treat your hotel as if it is an independent hotel. You’ve undoubtedly got ideas bouncing around in your head on what would make your hotel better. So what are you waiting for? Fortune favours the bold.

What have you learned from independent hotels?

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of the incredible work independent hotels do to appeal to their guests, what’s impressed you most about what you’ve seen?


What lessons have you taken from your first-hand experience? Is there anything you’ve applied to your own hotel? Please, let us know in the comments.

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