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Differentiation In The Leisure Industry

I want to tell you about Naturetrek, a specialist birdwatching and wildlife holiday company that is based in the UK but provides amazing wildlife adventure holidays around the world.

The Theory & Practice Of Differentiating Your Business

My blog shares plenty of the theory about differentiating a business but it’s nice to see the concepts of differentiation, strategic focus and niche marketing in practice and I think Naturetrek is a great example.

Of course, it helps in that it combines two areas of particular interest to me, travel/holidays and wildlife. I’ve already written about travel agency differentiation.

It also gives me an excuse to share some of my favourite photos from my wildlife safari holidays.

African Wild Dogs

What is Naturetrek?

To quote from the Naturetrek website

“Naturetrek operates the largest selection of professionally organised, expert-led wildlife holidays and tours in the world. We’ve been organising specialist wildlife tours for 25 years.”

That’s a strong unique selling point. Let’s break down the positioning statement:

  • A very clear what – professionally organised, expert-led wildlife holidays and tours
  • And where – all around the world – I’ll list some of the tours later so you can see how specialised it is.
  • And how many – a combination of “the largest selection” (and it is vast) and “the 25 years” which gives confidence and credibility.

Naturetrek Sample Tours

Here are some examples of Naturetrek wildlife holidays taken from their 2012 brochure that arrived a couple of weeks ago:

You’ll see quite a variety from what I’d think are the popular holidays to some very specialist tours:

  • Kenya’s Wildlife
  • Namibia, Botswana & Zambia – Etosha to the Victoria Falls
  • Finland – Just Brown Bears
  • Spitzbergen – Real Of The Polar Bear
  • Wolves & Bustards In Rural Spain
  • Temples & Tigers – The Best Of Northern India
  • Borneo’s Orang-utans
  • The Carmague In Spring
  • Iceland in Autumn – Glaciers, Icebergs & Waterfalls
  • Bulgaria’s Dragonflies
  • Butterflies In Croatia
  • And many, many more – the range of wildlife and nature tours that Naturetrek offer is remarkable.

Wildlife Holidays Are Amazing

Elephants, again in Botswana

Without trying to sound like I’m promoting Naturetrek, I can’t put into words just how special it is to see animals in the wild.

Margaret and I have become addicted to safari holidays in Southern Africa. We did our first in 2001 and our sixth in 2008. Unfortunately my health issues have caused us to stop but I’d like to think that in 2012 or 2013 we can venture into the wilds again.

Still it does show that you should take the chance to do something this special when you can because you never know what is around the corner.

We’ve seen some amazing things including this incredible sighting of a female leopard who appeared in front of us and then climbed a tree to put on a show.

The stunning highlight of a great holiday in Botswana – our best leopard sighting ever

This Isn’t A Naturetrek Holidays Review

I want to make it clear that this isn’t a review of Naturetrek wildlife holidays because we haven’t travelled with them.

When we’ve been to Southern Africa – South Africa, Botswana and Zambia – it has always been with a specialist South Africa travel agency – Cedarberg – who have been excellent. We met a couple of South Africans on a cruise holiday and it sounded wonderful so the next year we went to Cape Town, the Garden Route and finished near the Addo Elephant National Park. We were hooked.

We had talked about doing one of the European bear holidays with Naturetrek to celebrate my 50th birthday but my health problems got in the way.

I love getting the Naturetrek brochure to see where we could go but there are aspects of the marketing which don’t quite tip me over from interest to action. Their MD, David Mills asked for reasons and I sent him a long email.

It will be interesting to see if he responds and how quickly. In fact Naturetrek may not realise it but if, when and how they respond to my reply to the request to their question “why haven’t you bought from us” has become a big moment of truth which could define the relationship on the purchase tipping point.

Update on Naturetrek – it took five weeks to receive an acknowledgement from my email which was disappointing and I suspect only happened because of this blog.

Have You Been On A Naturetrek Wildlife Holiday?

I’m using Naturetrek as an example of a business which has a very strong position in a tightly defined niche but I’m very happy for this article to include comments from those people who have been on one of the Naturetrek tours.

Did you have a great time?

Did you see the wildlife you hoped to see?

Did you find the company provided good customer service and responded well to your needs?

Would you go back again and would you recommend a Naturetrek wildlife holiday to other people?

Key Success Factors For A Wildlife Holiday

I’ll just step away from Naturetrek and share my thoughts on the key success factors for a wildlife holiday.

  1. The wildlife or nature experience. Animals and birds follow their own rules and in the wild, no sighting can be guaranteed. However, they have patterns of behaviours which can be predicted. Your experience will depend on what you see, what you see them doing, how long you see them and how close you are. When it’s right it just feels so magical to be sharing their world.
  2. Whether there is a guide and if so, the quality of the guide. You may have assumed that professional guiding was always included in a wildlife holiday but you can drive around the South African National Parks like the world-famous Kruger Park on your own in a hire car. A good guide and/or tracker can make a big difference to your wildlife experience in terms of what you see and learn. They’ll have plenty of great stories to share as well.
  3. The time of the year you go. This impacts on the weather and the environment. Too hot, too cold, too rainy and your experience won’t be as good as it could be. Quality of wildlife sightings depend on how lush the bush is and surprising large animals can hide.
  4. The accommodation and food has to be appropriate to your holiday environment and expectations. The menu can also be an issue as we don’t eat the game we’ve been admiring and filming.
  5. The other people on the holiday. We’re generally talking about small groups on wildlife holidays and you’re likely to be together for much of the time.
  6. What else you can do on the holiday. We’re not sunbathing by the swimming pool type of people and the luxury spa treatments that are sometimes offered don’t appeal either. During the wildlife intensive sections, we’re happy to read and catch up on sleep – you match your times to the animals and that can mean very early mornings. It’s also nice to have some history and/or culture included to yourself more of a feeling for the country you’re visiting.
in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning

How To Differentiate Your Travel Agency

I believe that any business which faces competition will benefit by focusing on how it can differentiate itself away from competitors and that particularly applies to travel agents.

Every business has three big risks:

  1. Demand risk – do customers want what you are selling?
  2. Competition risk – are there plenty of customers but are they attracted to competitors (or close substitutes) rather than to your business?
  3. Capability risk – if you identify a promise or offer which is attractive to customers and which cannot be easily copied by competitors, can you deliver on it consistently?

In recent years travel agencies have become vulnerable to demand risk and competition risk because of a failure to communicate a customer proposition which gives the customer great value and which creates differentiation from those offered by other travel agents.

If you differentiate your travel agent, you give certain customers a strong positive reason to use your agency although the very act of making your business more attractive to some people is likely to make you less relevant to others.

The simple fact is that no one buys OK or average unless they are in a big hurry and don’t care too much about outcomes. That’s certainly not the case for personal holidays and while business trips may be planned in a hurry, the executives usually have the budget to care about quality and convenience.

The Strategic Threats To Travel Agencies

It’s worth thinking about threats to your travel agency business along two dimensions.

Some threats affect all travel agents, others affect your particular competitive situation.

Factors affecting the general desire to travel

  1. Terrorism – the reluctance to travel after the September 11th atrocities was understandable as aeroplanes were used as a terribly destructive weapon.
  2. Economic decline – less disposable income means an inevitable reduction in either the number of trips individuals will take, the length of the trip or indulgence budget for the trip.
  3. Health epidemics – swine flu and Asian flu were two of the latest scares which made travellers reluctant to get on planes.

Factors affecting the specific reason to travel with your agency

  1. General affects that are specific to your niche. A terrorist attack, civil unrest or health scare in your specialist niche will impact you severely although there is a PR issue since threats can be magnified in the popular media. Movements in exchange rates can also make your territory much less attractive. Greece outside the Euro would be a cheap destination for UK travellers but the weakness of sterling makes the entire Euro zone expensive.
  2. A new competitor who either does what you do but does it cheaper or one who offers a more attractive value proposition/offer to customers.
  3. Damage to the reputation of your own agency or an important travel operator partner.

The Internet & Its Impact On Travel Agents

The development of the Internet has made many travel agents who were selling standard tours from the big agencies irrelevant because they weren’t adding enough customer value.

There’s no need to go into an High Street agent, wait for attention and then sit down and go through the booking process when you’ve already made up your mind where you want to go and when.

Instead you can do it direct by going to the tour operator’s website, filling in your details and entering your credit card number to pay. It’s usually easy, simple and quick. I did it myself a few weeks ago when I booked a Thomson trip to Italy.

Even worse the Internet with sites like TripAdvisor and the low cost airlines has made it much easier to put your own trips together. It’s what we used to do before my health got messed up but at the moment an “easy holiday” is a big plus.

The success of the Internet has reinforced two forces which threaten independent travel agents:

  1. Suppliers believe they don’t need intermediary travel agents since they can market direct to the public
  2. The public believe they don’t need intermediary travel agencies because they have direct access to the travel operators, airlines and hotels and a plentiful supply of information.

While the Internet favours the consolidators and the big name tour operators, it also gives the opportunity for specialist travel agents to flourish since it makes them available outside of the local community.

The Big Opportunity For Travel Agents

It’s easy to get gloomy about the travel agency industry and the number of high street travel agent stores that have closed in recent years.

But there is still one big plus factor.

People love to go on holiday and as probably their biggest annual expenditure outside of eating and a place to live, it’s important that they get to make the right decisions on their holidays – where to go, when to go, how to get there, what to do when they are there…

The financial collapse of various elements in the travel industry chain of supply and other emergencies help to highlight the benefit of working with a travel agency. As a traveller, it’s not your problem to get you back because that responsibility lies with the travel agent.

I was due to fly out to Majorca in 2010 just after the Icelandic volcano erupted and closed down air travel across Northern Europe. Fortunately the ban was lifted a couple of days before we flew but we went out with some trepidation as there was talk of an even bigger eruption.

Online bookings has grown fast in recent years but it’s not necessarily a great experience for customers.

“Satisfaction with online bookings is decreasing as only 49% of online bookers feel it’s enjoyable to book a trip online, down from 53% last year. 24% of people feel it’s more convenient to research travel offline, versus 20% last year”. survey

The role of travel agents is changing. As a customer it used to feel that it was very much the big operators pushing package tours out at consumers but the opportunity for agencies now lie in advising and helping customers to get the best holidays they can by using their expert knowledge, contacts and information sources.

What Value Can A Travel Agent Create For Customers Who Can Book Online?

Before really getting into the issue of how to differentiate your travel agency, lets take a good hard look at the business from the customer’s perspective.

This is essential because it’s the customer who will make the choice of going to a travel agent, of putting the holiday together entirely on their own or by buying a package holiday directly from a tour operator.

First there is a huge amount of information online for holiday makers but the sheer volume carries its own costs for the consumer:

  1. It can take a lot of time – and for information addicts, there is always more that can be researched. Planning a holiday and getting the fine details can start to feel like hard work.
  2. It can be confusing – there can be a lot of contradictory information. You can see that if you read the TripAdvisor reviews of even well known and well established hotels.
  3. You don’t know who to believe. I love TripAdvisor as an information source and have found it fairly reliable but we know that independent reviews get rigged, just like they do on Amazon. The difference is that a book which is duplicitly marketed may waste £20 pounds and a few hours before it’s discarded, a bad choice of hotel can waste thousands and use up precious weeks of annual holiday entitlement. Booking a holiday is a big decision and you want to get it right.

Searching for a holiday online is frustrating. I haven’t yet found a flight website that gives me the flexibility I want to make it easy to find my options and that’s before trying to link it to my preferred accommodation.

Holiday bookings often suffer from the precise problem – just like an accountant who tells you that you made a profit of £97,276.17 last year when £97k or even, “just under £100k” are the numbers your mind can deal with.

When I’m booking a holiday I know approximately where I want to fly to – but often the region rather than a specific airport in the region – approximately where I want to fly from – think of expanding circles going out from my home in terms of travel time – where I want to stay or visit – but if it’s a tour, not necessarily in what order – and approximately when I want to go.

That’s a lot of vagueness and uncertainty which falls flat with Internet websites but works OK when I can brief a travel agent with something along the lines of “I want to tour the Garden Route in South Africa for two weeks-ish starting in the second of third week of September, flying from a Midlands airport, Manchester or Heathrow with a couple of nights at Boulders Beach and at least four nights game watching for a budget of about £2,500 per person and I don’t want to go back to Shamwari.”

That brief makes perfect sense to me and explains why I’ve used to same specialist travel agent for six trips to Southern Africa in the last ten years. Sometimes my briefings have been even vaguer  along the lines of “I don’t mind when or where we go except we can’t travel the first week of the month but we want to have a great chance to see cheetah, bat eared foxes and plenty of elephants and it’s always nice to see more leopards.”

Back comes a proposal and I may quibble about the occasional suggestion but overall the holidays have been FABULOUS.

A good travel agent helps you out if you get into trouble.

Staying on the theme of my Southern Africa holidays, the first time we went, my back went into spasms and I could barely move and this was coming up to the game watching section – the big reason why we wanted to go to South Africa. With one phone call we were able to change our itinerary, stay at the one place longer until I was able to travel and then extend the next place which was near and  ditch the more onerous travel including a flight to a wilderness safari.

Another time our flight from Heathrow was cancelled and we didn’t get to our first destination until 24 hours later than expected. While we couldn’t get our time back, the hassle of letting everyone know and keeping the hire car rental etc was done for us.

A third time, floods caused the Crocodile River to overflow and closed one of the entrances to Kruger and we were able to switch accommodation around so we didn’t have to waste hours travelling.

A good travel agent puts specialist knowledge to work for the benefit of clients.

A bad travel agent can mislead you by providing false information (to make sales) either deliberately or by accident or can add as little value to the holiday as the shop assistant who scans your purchases and takes the money.

Customers Get The Travel Agents They Deserve – Travel Agents Get The Customers They Deserve

I haven’t delved deep in Zen philosophies but I do believe that what goes around, comes around.

If you as the travel agent treat your customers as commodities – as fodder with the cash to give you some money then don’t be surprised if those same customers don’t appreciate the services you provide and treat you as just another travel agent.

In contrast a client who involves you deeply in the planning of their precious holiday and values your advice deserves the best you can give. Your expertise adds value to the client and they appreciate it.

How To Differentiate Your Travel Agency

I use the 7 big questions of business success to help create business differentiation and they apply to all kinds of companies.

These questions are who, what, where, when, how, why and how many.

Let’s take a look at how they apply to differentiating one travel agent from another although I won’t be able to go into the full complexities of the process.

Differentiating Your Travel Agent By Who

Who can apply to the travel agent owner, the staff of the agency or the type of customer you want to attract. It can also refer to any exclusive arrangements you might have with particular tour operators.

The first who to focus on is the who of your customer.

Are you appealing to a particular type of customer or a customer with a particular interest?

The rich and affluent are always a good market to target because they’ve got the money to spend. One parent families or families with disabled members will have special needs which make it much more difficult to get the right help, advice and support from normal travel agents.

Are you acknowledged as an expert or a campaigner in a particular field? People are attracted to celebrities – Neil Armstrong trips to the moon would resonate with me because I know he’s been there.

Are your staff specialists and passionate about what you sell? If you specialise in skiing and mountaineering holidays then if your staff are experienced mountaineers and skiers, they will quickly build rapport with your target customers, pass on tips and be very credible.

An important element of differentiating by who is based on building up trusted relationships so it’s important that there is consistency. A high staff turnover will destroy this trust factor or concentrate client attention on you, the owner.

Differentiating Your Travel Agency By What

Closely related to differentiation by who is differentiation by what in terms of specialist positioning.

You have four combinations:

  • general who and general what – all types of holidays for anybody who has the money to buy
  • general who and specialised what – mountain adventure holidays for all types of customers
  • specialised who and general what – trips for the affluent all around the world
  • specialised who and specialised what – holidays for patients on kidney dialysis – I found myself investigating these organisations in 2010 when I had acute kidney failure and was on dialysis three times each week. Fortunately, my kidneys have recovered enough to come off dialysis but it looked like I needed a very specialist travel agency service.

Some times it pays to have an incredibly tight niche, other times it pays to concentrate on the who or the what. Ideally you want to design your travel agency so that it a) has repeat clients and b) generates referrals to take the pressure off having to find new customers all the time.

In helping you differentiate your travel agency business, I’m speaking from the position of an expert in differentiation with an interest in travel agents. A competitor may be an expert in the travel agency marketing with an interest in differentiation.

A really specialist combination would be a differentiation expert who specialises in travel agents although that is often a contradiction since it can lead to industry recipe solutions.

The appeal of a specialist is very high so what can you specialise your agency on?

What also refers to what you do?

For examples do you sell package tours, put together customised itineraries or even act as a tour operator and create packages for clients?

Using Where To Differentiate Your Travel Agents

In my differentiation process, where usually relates to where you are, where the customers are, where you can find customers and whether customers come to you, or you go to customers or whether data can be communicated digitally.

With travel agents, where can also relate to where you customers want to travel to.

Location is a very obvious way to niche and in many ways belongs as another factor in the who and what combinations.

You can specialise in all type of holidays for all types of people going to one destination e.g. Australia

Or a very tight definition – safari holidays for disabled travellers in South Africa – if there are enough people looking for holidays in the niche.

Differentiating Your Travel Agency By How

How refers to the processes you use and what you require clients to do.

You could have a highly customisable website that spits out options or you could offer a very tailored solution.

Because people are focused on their own self interest, clients and customers don’t care about how you do something until you make it relevant and meaningful to them.  Saying you use the XYZ booking system is irrelevant until you say that you’re the only travel agent authorised to use the XYZ in your area and it guarantees that your clients will pay the lowest price or we’ll give you back three times the difference.

Differentiation of Your Travel Agency By When

One of the big attractions in booking holidays by the Internet is that it is open 24/7 while a high street travel agent may only be open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm which isn’t very convenient for the holiday makers who have to go to work.

When can apply to extended opening hours – from noon to 8:00 pm may be much more convenient for many employees.

When can also refer to the time between booking and the holiday. Your travel agents could specialise in late bookings for the urgent needs and for those who can’t plan ahead with any certainty.

Have A Strong Why To Differentiate Your Agency

Why do you own and manage a travel agency and why does it do what it does?

People are attracted to businesses with a strong purpose e.g. The Body Shop which had very different views on the way beauty products should be tested and sold.

This sense of mission or crusade can create excitement and passion that moves from you to your staff and then to your customers.

Your purpose can be to promote the good (the wonders of nature) or to stop the bad (tourism may save the tiger and the orangutan from extinction in the wild by bringing in much needed tourist money.)

Or you could link your business to a wider charitable cause e.g. holidays for orphaned children.

Differentiating By How Many

The purpose of differentiating is to shift focus away from the lowest price and towards better value for money.

That can often be interpreted as a better product or something unique but it can also be more quantity. The example I often give is the bottomless cup of coffee.

There is an economics issue with this “how many” concept which you need to be careful of. One positioning could be “the agency that gives you eight nights away on holiday for the price of seven.” If you carry the cost of the extra night’s accommodation, it will be expensive but what if you can talk your preferred hotels into supporting the promotion because their occupancy rates are low on the eight night. I realise the idea does work for the package tour operator which needs to work like clockwork – same things each week at the same time – but it could work for more personalised markets.

The 7 Big Questions Of Differentiating Your Travel Agency

I’ve given you a few ideas based on the 7 big questions – how, what, where, when, why, how, how many – and you can see that there are plenty of ways to differentiate your travel agent from your competitors.

Your Differentiation Can Be Shallow Or Deep

This is an important concept because some see differentiating and finding your USP (unique selling proposition) as a marketing issue.

I think it’s much more important than that. Unless you’re very lucky, your differentiation strategy needs to run through everything you do.

It’s the difference between having your agency differentiation shallow or deep. Shallow differentiation is based on a marketing promise that sounds good and different and creates buyer preference but…

and it’s a BIG but…

it’s not backed up by the underlying business. While clients may be attracted to the idea of a specialist travel agency, it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay happy if they don’t benefit from the expert knowledge you and your staff should have.

What Makes A Travel Agent Special To You?

It would be great if you could share your thoughts on what differentiates travel agents from each other.

Do you have a really close relationship with one travel agent like I do with my South Africa agency – thanks Ginny and all at Cedarberg. They are not perfect but they have found some amazing holidays for me that will live in my memory forever.

in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning

I thought I’d use a recent experience as a customer to write about hotel marketing strategy and in particular how to differentiate a small hotel or bed and breakfast establishment.

Hotel Marketing Strategy – General Thoughts Before I Get Specific

The 7 P’s of marketing are useful for thinking about your hotel marketing strategy with the marketing mix of product, price, place, promotion, people, physical environment and process but I generally prefer to work with the 4 M’s of marketing.

  • Market – who are the customers you want to attract to your hotel?
  • Message – what is the special reason why they should visit you rather than anyone else?
  • Media – how can you communicate your compelling message, your irresistible promise to your target market?
  • Mindset – how can you make sure you have the right approach to your marketing so that it’s positive for guests and effective for you?

In my experience of marketing for many businesses, there’s too much attention on media and not enough on market, message and mindset.

Your marketing success for your hotel depends on my Six Step Profit Formula:

  1. Finding a starving crowd – if your hotel is in a location that no one wants to visit, you’re making things difficult from the start.
  2. Having an irresistible promise – a strong message to market match
  3. Getting as many relevant eyeballs on the offer – you want as much of your market to see your message repeatedly – people rarely make snap yes or no decisions but instead think “that’s looks nice”, then next time “that looks interesting” and then “I should find out more about that” in a gradual move to a buying decision. A weak message stops you climbing this ladder of customer commitment because it is dismissed immediately.
  4. Delivering on your promise with a great customer experience.
  5. Asking for the second and subsequent purchases – this may be adding dinner to bed & breakfast, staying a second night  or coming back in the future.
  6. Encouraging the customer to refer your hotel or B&B to family and friends and to write a favourable comment on websites like TripAdvisor.

My Experience Looking For Hotels & B&B’s & The Impact Of Hotel Marketing Strategy

A couple of weeks ago I came back from a short break in North Wales – four nights at three small hotels or bed & breakfast (B&B) places.

That meant that I had to make three buying decisions about which places to stay at and as I was looking through the options, I was thinking about what I wanted and how the individual establishments market and differentiate themselves.

I believe many people are prepared to pay extra for something special – the boutique hotel concept – but if they don’t see it, the pressure comes onto the price of the rooms.

As always, it is interesting to look at these purchasing decisions in some detail and hopefully it will help hotel owners and managers to create better marketing strategies with more  differentiated and interesting options. It would also be great if you’re outside the hotel industry and you shared your own thoughts on hotel marketing and differentiation in the comments.

My Holiday In Wales – A Look Into My Hotel Buying Decision Process

This may seem long-winded but it’s a really important process for understanding how guests make decisions so look for clues about different segments and special interests.

Illness has limited our holidays recently and North Wales appealed because it’s quite local, there’s plenty of interesting things to do, it’s beautiful and it has special memories for us.

I knew I wanted to go to Abersoch on the Lleyn Peninsular for two nights. It’s small resort with two lovely beaches. I wasn’t too sure about the other places although I had good memories of Betws Y Coed, the gateway to Snowdonia and Beaumaris with its early 14th century castle.

I cheated to help narrow the choice I used Tripadvisor to look at Abersoch and looked at the top few hotels and B&Bs. Such sites show the growing power of social media and recommendations from people like me who want to have a nice stay.

Since I much prefer small to big places to stop and look for character and personal service, I don’t differentiate between a small hotel and B&B.

I went from Tripadvisor to the websites of the individual businesses and the choice was pretty clear – it had to be the Venetia which describes itself as a restaurant with boutique accommodation.

I used the websites to confirm my impression from the TripAdvisor reviews. As a general comment, I think hotel websites need to work harder to put over a feeling of uniqueness and differentiation. There is a tendency for glossy brochure style websites that on first impressions look good but leave little lasting impression. This is a weakness is hotel marketing strategy.

Venetia Abersoch

What appealed about the Venetia?

  • Rave reviews from Tripadvisor – 43 out of 46 were 5 stars.
  • Convenient location – that’s particularly important to me at the moment because I get so tired with little physical exertion.
  • Parking for everyone with a room
  • High quality restaurant – again this was number 1 on TripAdvisor – it rains in North Wales so it is great to be able to have great food available very conveniently and while we planned to eat in one night and out the other, we enjoyed our meal so much the first night, we ate there again the second.
  • It looked super stylish on the website, living up to the “boutique” image.

The only downsides were that

  • It was a bit pricey although cheaper than Portmeirion where we’ve stopped before and I thought about stopping this time. Now that place is truly differentiated and it’s super to walk around the famous village when all the “tourists” have gone home.
  • They only had a room free for the middle two nights and that meant that we needed to find two other places to stay when I’d have preferred to split it two and two.

We booked at the Venetia about a month ahead and then left it for three weeks before deciding on the other accommodation.

Ty Gwyn – Betws Y Coed

The obvious thing for the first night was to break the journey and Betws Y Coed is an interesting place to be for a few hours to browse around the gift shops – the outside adventure places aren’t really us.

Interestingly the choice of the stylish boutique B&B of Venetia meant that I was looking for a different experience here.

TripAdvisor was again my starting point. It’s so much easier to get an independent view about places before I resort to the hotels own websites through Google because of the lack of distinction.

My choice this time was Ty Gwyn, a 17th century coaching inn with a good reputation for food.

So what appealed about Ty Gwyn?

  • It was number 1 in TripAdvisor for hotels and number 2 for restaurants. The weather forecast was predicting was predicting light rain so eating in was appealing.
  • It was so different from Venetia
  • It was surprisingly cheap – without the TripAdvisor reviews I may have been so suspicious I’d have ignored it as too cheap – but there is a lot of competition in the area.

Now that I’ve been I can report that the food was very good but the room was quite rightly the cheapest of the three places we stopped in and the service, whilst not bad, wasn’t up to the standard of the other two places.

Victoria Cottage – Beamaris

The final place we decided to visit was Beaumaris and to keep the variety high, I was tempted away from a restaurant with rooms and more towards a homely B&B. I knew Beaumaris was small and packed with great places to eat.

This time I chose Victoria Cottage, again after turning to TripAdvisor because it seemed so nice although again it was the number 1 rated B&B. This time we are stopping in somebody’s home but the welcome we received was particularly warm and friendly from both the two legged and four legged hosts.

Overall Thoughts On How To Differentiate A Small Hotel Or B&B – The Essential Element In Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Having thought carefully about the decisions I made – which of course had to be approved by the boss – there are some general characteristics or key success factors that are important and some things that provided the competitive edge.

Your hotel marketing strategy needs to focus on deciding the factors that make your hotel different from your competitors and then communicating these factors. You also need to have the team of people and processes to consistently deliver on your marketing promise.

Order Qualifiers For Hotels

General characteristics  or what I call order qualifiers

  • Places with character – this immediately ruled out anywhere big although interestingly in the holiday I’m now booking, I making the exception that proves the rule
  • Location – I was looking for something convenient and quiet which can often be trade-offs
  • Car parking on site or very near – travelling for 3 nights meant we had little luggage but that didn’t mean I wanted to carry it far.
  • Good breakfast
  • Good TripAdvisor reviews – it is coincidence I think that all three were rated number 1 in their location – but the social proof of having more good reviews than bad is important to me. Mind you some people do seem to whinge about the littlest things.

Order Winners For Hotels

The second category are what I call order winners.

  • Overwhelming positive reviews on TripAdvisor – there was so much evidence that I felt very lucky to get in at Venetia which only had five rooms. It’s the only time I’ve ever been asked “Are you the driver of the other Porsche?” sadly the answer was No.
  • The history of Ty Gwyn.
  • The friendliness and warmth welcome at Victoria Cottage and the little Westie. I knew we’d be missing our dog like crazy by the fourth night.

I was surprised how much I wanted a contrast between the places we stayed at. Thinking back, I think it helps to keep the memory of the holiday alive when the hotels and B&Bs don’t blend into each other.

Asking For The Second Purchase – The Next Essential Element Of Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Both Venetia and Ty Gwyn offered dinners with good reputations and both asked for commitment to eating in when I booked the room, emphasising that there were only a few tables available. Both were busy.

None of them made contact with me afterwards to check that I was happy, to ask for a TripAdvisor review or to ask if I was likely to go back or recommend to friends. This is a big opportunity lost for feedback and is a weakness in hotel marketing strategy.

Now that we’ve stayed at the hotels, the big question is “Would we repeat the experience?”

A big yes to Venetia in Abersoch, probably for Victoria Cottage in Beaumaris provided we can have the same room – it’s very nice to have a view of the sea and the castle through the same window – and probably not for Ty Gwyn although I wouldn’t have any hesitation about eating there again.

What made the difference?

First the personal greeting.

Both Victoria Cottage and Venetia knew our names before we arrived and used them when they were talking to us. It’s a little thing but it’s surprisingly effective and it does increase the connection.

Second, the rooms had more character and were a better size. Our room at Ty Gwyn was small, next to the bar and therefore a bit noisy. They also had lots of rules which were a bit off-putting.

Will we actually go back?

That’s partly up to the B&Bs and how they deal with follow-up marketing to their customers. They’ve got my email address but will they use it to give me a reason to go back and keep them top of the mind. We’ve stayed in all three towns before but I couldn’t tell you where we stopped and nothing looked familiar.

Your Hotel Marketing Strategy – Differentiating A Small Hotel Or B&B With The 7 Big Questions Of Business Success

The 7 big questions are what, who, how, when, where, why and how many and are designed to shift attention away from “how much is the price?”

Let’s see how they can be quickly applied to the hotel marketing strategy.

Differentiate Your Hotel By Where

Where is easy to understand (although to change). Where is the hotel in relation to the other main attractions in the resort? Is it close to the beach, the restaurants and bars, the shops and the major sights?

Where can also refer to the building itself and whether there is anything special about its history or design. I mentioned Portmeirion earlier which is a remarkable architectural treat.

Differentiate Your Hotel By What

What is the basic offer – what are customers getting for their money? What’s in the room to make it special? The breakfast? The general rooms of the hotel and the grounds? What else is on offer from the hotel apart from the basic B&B?

Differentiate Your Hotel by Who

Who can refer to three different groups – the customers, the staff and the owner.

Is the hotel designed to meet the special needs of a particular group of people? Romantic couples, families, business people can all have particular needs – the large four poster bed, the children’s playground or even crèche or Internet access in every room and meeting rooms for private conversations.

The who of your customers can move from the general to the specific. The Goring Hotel became famous around the world when Kate Middleton stayed there the night before her wedding to Prince William. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a hotel – or even the suite – fit for a future Queen? As a guest, I know it gives me a warm glow to think that I’ve stayed in the same place as someone famous.

Who can refer to the staff, either in particular or in general. Perhaps the chef has a great reputation or the barman can create just about any cocktail ever created. Or perhaps everyone in the hotel is really friendly and caring. I know everyone claims it but one of the reasons why I love certain cruise companies is because of the Filipino staff who are so lovely.

Who can also be the owner who may be a celebrity or character who creates preference for some buyers – and may drive others away. Perhaps not a Basil Fawlty…

Differentiate Your Hotel By Why

Why refers to why the hotel or B&B exists. Sure you want to make money but perhaps there’s a bigger purpose which explains the type of guests you target or you may link some some charity or cause. Perhaps your hotel has been designed to create a tiny carbon footprint and everything about it is very environmentally friendly.

Differentiate Your Hotel By When

When offers limited scope for a hotel since the opening hours and service hours are fairly standard. There are exceptions which would turn off the mainstream but perhaps it’s party central and with guests dancing to the small hours of the morning, a full cooked breakfast served until noon would be much better than stopping at 9:30.

When could refer to the age of the building and give it a sense of history and authenticity.

Differentiate Your Hotel By How

How might be about the special ways you do things that others take for granted. Perhaps you make your own bread and milk your own cows… and guests can join in if they want. When I was young, I used to love staying at farmhouses rather than in hotels because I could have contact with the farm animals.

Differentiate Your Hotel By How Many

The final big question to use when differentiating your hotel is how many. For families, how many in a room could be important or the ability to have connecting rooms. It may be an eat as much as you want breakfast with a buffet rather than the one rasher of bacon and one sausage that others offer. Or drink as much as you want with the dinner.

Don’t Have A Lazy Hotel Marketing Strategy

There are plenty of options to find ways to differentiate a small hotel or B&B if you think carefully about the type of customers you want to attract and what they want to have close to the perfect customer experience.

The Importance Of TripAdvisor In Differentiating Your Business

I can understand why people in the industry hate TripAdvisor but as a consumer I love it and so do many others.

First, it does much of the buying decision for me. By ranking the hotels and B&Bs I know that I can start my selection process by looking at the top few with vacancies in my date range. It makes the buying process easy.

Second, I’m escaping from the marketing speak which I see on hotels’ websites which has a nasty habit of making them sound the same (see Marketing & Advertising Bingo) and I believe most of the reviews are from real people who have stayed at the hotel or B&B. Sure I know that TripAdvisor can be abused with biased reviews but often the sheer weight of numbers creates a lot of conviction.

Third, I get more idea of what makes a place special because certain themes keep reoccurring in the review comments. If you read “fantastic breakfast”, “amazing breakfast”, “best breakfast I’ve ever had”, “breakfast including delicious home made Danish pastries as well as an excellent cooked meal” I come away with the strong impression that breakfast is going to be a treat. And that’s important to me.

Using TripAdvisor In Your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Since TripAdvisor is so important to marketing and differentiating your hotel, how can you use it to your best advantage?

You may not like it but it exists and it’s in the top 250 most popular websites in the world and getting more popular according to Alexa.

First, you have to start off by designing a customer experience which is remarkable so that people are excited about the very idea of it.

Second, you must deliver consistently on your promised experience… and perhaps even exceed expectations although that can sometimes be tough and creates a battle you’ll eventually lose because it’s not essential – see Airlines Suck But We Still Fly. In this age of social media people love to share something exceptional.

Third, check that people had a good time and that your guests enjoyed their stay. If they didn’t a) apologise and b) try to find some way to make amends. If they did, then mention that you’d love to read their feedback on TripAdvisor. Don’t push it but if people have had a good time, they will make a commitment and follow through.

Don’t be tempted to cheat by organising fake reviews or knocking the competition. If I feel the marketing promise has been broken, I am much more likely to write a negative review and I’m sure other guests feel the same.

Your Hotel Marketing Strategy & Differentiation Can Be Shallow Or Deep

This is an important concept because some see differentiating and finding your USP (unique selling proposition) as a marketing / promotional issue.

I think it’s much more important than that. Unless you’re very lucky and there is something remarkable about your location or building, then your hotel differentiation strategy needs to run through everything you do.

It’s the difference between having your hotel differentiation shallow or deep.

Shallow differentiation is based on a marketing promise that sounds good and different and creates buyer preference but…

and it’s a BIG but…

it’s not backed up by the underlying business. While guests may be attracted to the hotel, it doesn’t mean that they’ll stay happy while they are they. As an example, think of how an estate agent speak puts a positive spin on just about anything but reality is often different.

Advice On Differentiating Your Hotel Or B&B

If you’re based in the UK and you have a hotel, guest house or B&B or you’re planning to start one, I’d love to help you to differentiate your business and develop your hotel marketing strategy. Give me a call on 0121 554 4057.

It can be difficult to recognise what makes your business special because you take so much for granted and you may miss the WOW factor.

What Makes A Small Hotel Or B&B Special To You?

It would be great if you could share your thoughts on what differentiates small hotels and B&Bs and what makes a place look special before booking and after you’ve stayed by leaving a comment.

A few years ago we stopped at the lovely Croft Cottage in Ludlow because they had a badger set in a small woods in their grounds (an example of differentiation by what) and neither of us had ever seen a live badger. Since we go on safaris to southern Africa, we wanted to see British wildlife.

in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning

Tourist Trap Restaurant Model Of Profits

According to one survey 60% of British holidays makers have been ripped off by a tourist trap restaurant with bad food, bad service and a lousy experience. I am amazed it’s not more and I think it shows the low level of expectations we have.

I’m not encouraging it as a way to make money (because I believe in the value of happy customers who come back to buy again) but I do think it’s an interesting model.

First it is “differentiation by where”.

The attraction is a convenient location in a high traffic area popular with tourists (i.e. naive customers who don’t have the knowledge and experience of buying regularly).

If you’ve been to any popular tourist destination, you’ll see the restaurants lined up one next to another.

Each is possibly a tourist trap restaurant compared to those in the back-streets which, if they are good, will be full of locals.

Of course individually the tourist trap restaurants aren’t differentiated by location but often they are so busy, they don’t need to be. One can be as mediocre as the next.

Imagine you run such a business.

You’re selling to customers who won’t be around for long, with little local knowledge and what they have is based on comparing restaurants in the same location.

Prices are visible.

Popularity is visible – and low price may attract while high price repels.

Food quality and service is not visible – the tourists are on holiday and want to have a good time and cheapish plonk may have dulled their senses.

You’ve got a choice.

Pay more the ingredients, take longer to cook them with care and hire more, nice waiters – the result is that you have higher costs than your competitors.

Or cut back on the quality of ingredients and take little time or trouble on the preparation- and have lower costs and better profit margins.

Unfortunately the tourist trap model of profits makes economic sense which is why it prospers.

Partly the problem is the tourists themselves who go to these restaurants. They can be described as convenience buyers – not particularly interested in the quality of the experience or the price. They just want to have a meal and get on with their holiday – and eating in front of a famous landmark or site gives them something to remember, even if the food is lousy. And most won’t complain.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Last April we had seven nights in Majorca staying B&B at a nice hotel.

The first night, tired from our journey, we ate at the hotel – and sadly it can only be classed as a tourist trap.

The price was reasonable but the food and the atmosphere left a lot to be desired.

Next day we took to the back-streets, reading every menu we could find.

And we found two good places.

One close to the hotel and one a long walk away but it was along the seafront and past the shops so it was an interesting jaunt.

We ate at the first place, two nights and at the other three nights. The food (at the restaurant that was the furthest away) was excellent and the atmosphere (inside or out) was great. In a week we became regulars, and we spent much more than we would have if we stayed at the hotel.

The place was always packed, with locals and people who visited the resort regularly with the odd lucky newcomer. It reaped the rewards of being exactly what it was – an excellent restaurant where the food and the experience mattered much more than the location.

The first (the one closest to the hotel and the strip of tourists trap restaurants) struggled. We gave a little inner cheer each time a new group came in but unfortunately it didn’t happy very often. The resort was quiet – it was the week after the Iceland volcano stopped flights in Northern Europe – and people weren’t being forced out of the convenience of eating in the tourist traps.

I understand the desire to avoid the tourist trap model of profits but this restaurant needed extra ways to increase awareness of it (flyers in the hotels, perhaps a free dessert offer if you buy a main course) or it needed a way to communicate the quality of the food (reviews or an imaginative menu in sexy food language – think Marks & Spencer’s  TV Food advertisements)

We tried one other place, a little Italian restaurant right by the sea but a little distance away from the main tourist trap restaurants. It looked nice but disappointed.

Is it just restaurants who can use the tourist trap model of profits?


It’s open to any business which is:

  • Selling to inexperienced customers with very limited knowledge of what’s available
  • Selling to customers who are time pressed or lazy
  • Selling products or services which cannot be judged before consumption

All you have to do is to be visible and price competitive. Convenience buyers will just buy what’s easiest.

Location works for tourist trap restaurants but regular promotion works for other businesses – and can even build up awareness of a brand which gradually becomes a preference (we like what we know).

Location doesn’t even have to be physical but on the Internet.

Sometimes it is better to get away from page one of Google – the seafront – to pages two and three – the back-streets.

Of course quality shouldn’t be terrible.

A really bad experience creates complaints and a lot of negative words on social media and the review websites.

Just disappointing.

It’s not the way I’d want to run my business – I like the model used by my three time visit restaurant in Majorca where I will definitely be returning if we got back to the resort. In fact, it’s a big reason to go back. Sadly I don’t expect the other place to survive.

But the tourist trap model of profit can be successful.

You have seen how many places serve indifferent, unimaginative food in popular locations for the proof to be before your own eyes.

What do you think?

in 3 – Your Strategic Positioning