Thursday, October 31, 2013

Finally Embracing Destinations

I smiled when I learned recently that a new boutique hotel opening where I live will be called Hotel Durham, one of four under development with distinctive ties to the community.

When I first arrived here in 1989 to jump start the community destination marketing organization, one of the first phone calls I received was from the general manager of a new hotel asking in what town he was located.

When Holiday Inn was launched after World War II, hotels set about to be cookie-cutter symbols of consistency even though that made them apart from the distinctiveness of the communities that drew their guests.  That began to change in the early 1980s.

By then many hoteliers had ceased to be innkeepers, instead retreating to the “back of the house” as bean counters.  An IBM typewriter salesman turned investment banker named Bill Kimpton changed all of that.  He understood the basic premise that hotels must be portals to the destination for the 1-in-5 visitors who stay in them.

Today that has become a forceful trend as even chains seek to be distinctive, and connected to not only their community destinations but their neighborhoods as well as to local foods and events.  Many aspire to achieve this even down to their interior design and artwork.

One west coast chain, Red Lion, which traces it roots back to Spokane in the 1930s, where my career in community marketing began in the 1970s, has begun to change web pages for its various properties to reflect the community where each is located.

Since hotel chains began, most have focused only on amenities or confusing locators that would make them generic vs. specific to a destination.  For this reason the web pages for many hotels fail to reveal the “there” there.”

Worse, many try to suggest proximity to features in other communities in hopes of poaching business from hotels actually located in those communities.  In addition to misleading potential guests, it signifies how dated they are.

A news report last week noted that Red Lion executives, finding from research that nearly 3-in-4 guests crave a truly local experience are redesigning websites for its 50 properties “almost as if the local CVB designed them rather than a remotely located hotel company.”

The trend is more than symbolic.  Part of marketing a community for visitor centric economic and cultural development is to persuade, and in the case of Durham that represents thousands of visitor related businesses and organizations and facilities, to embrace the advantages of wrapping themselves in the community’s brand.

The trend has been more than thirty years in the making but it appears that at least some hotels are catching on.

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