|Monaco Gala: It was a fantastic evening at New York City’s elegant University Club last month when the Principality of Monaco hosted a Monegasque-inspired gala dinner prepared by Marcel Ravin, executive chef of The Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, and Robert Bagli, executive chef of The University Club of New York. I’m pictured here (second from right) with Jack Bloch of JB’s World Travel Consultants; Valerie Wilson of Valerie Wilson Travel; and Maguy Maccario-Doyle, consul general of Monaco and director of the Monaco Government Tourist Office.|
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a hotel? The nitty-gritty, such as who owns it, how it’s run, how it remains profitable? I’ve had the opportunity over the past month to attend several hotel industry conferences, attended by owners, developers, financiers and operators, and I’ve selected some highlights of the discussions that pertain to luxury travel advisors.
Many hotel owners are very concerned about getting their rates back up after slashing during the recession. They’re going to try to dig in their heels for 2011 and be firm on rates, but they’re concerned that consumers won’t go for it. Help educate your clients that the top hotels won’t be available at a discount during busy seasons. Higher room rates mean higher commissions for you.
The anomaly to the above are Manhattan hotels, which are unabashedly charging high rates and getting them without resistance.
Several owners are concerned about how much pricing control has been given over to online travel agencies and they’re not sure how they’ll get it back. Ideally, many would like consumers to buy directly from their own websites; but my hunch is they’d very much appreciate the chance to sell via the luxury travel agency distribution channel, which is much better at upselling a customer.
Hotels saw a harsh drop in revenue stream when everyone got cell phones and no longer needed guest room phones, which typically charged exorbitant rates for usage. Now they’re similarly concerned about losing revenue from in-room movies, since guests traveling with iPads and the like can now easily access their home NetFlix accounts and view any film they’d like. The takeaway? Don’t expect luxury hotels to start giving wireless Internet usage away for free any time soon, since many customers will need it to access the web.
Owners are still grappling with how to deal with the costs of running their hotels during the downturn. This means all of their services may not be available during slower times, so it’s important to check that the concierge floor is running midweek and that all of the dining outlets are open so that your client can be made aware ahead of time. Consider whether your client might want to host a private function for their friends and families during their trips; it’s likely hotels will gladly accommodate them. Note: Hotels are also welcoming smaller groups (think reunions and wedding parties) now that the number of big conventions has dwindled.
Monitoring social media has become a huge concern of hoteliers. Consumers, as you well know, are counseling one another online, giving recommendations on where to stay. They’re voicing their complaints about very specific incidents on trip review sites, Twitter and Facebook. Hotel owners have realized the importance of responding to such behavior, and it’s important that luxury travel advisors do the same (think Google Alerts and TweetDeck). How often have you suggested a hotel to a client, only to have them come back to you and say, “I just read online that that Hotel X is (fill in the blank)?” Be ready to defend your recommendations and to be more in-the-know than your clients.
The heyday of big resorts built for Wall Street boondoggles is over and new construction loans are slowing dramatically. That means we likely won’t see a lot of new luxury hotel openings in the U.S. for a few more years, so keep your clients excited about the existing luxury product. Note also that the climate is hot for transactions (if owners can’t develop, they’ll buy existing properties), so be aware that the hotels you know and love may be changing hands and undergoing renovations, upgrades and brand changes.
That’s it from the front lines! We promise to keep you apprised of any other changes on the horizon in future issues of Luxury Travel Advisor.