Alastair Stevenson

About Alastair Stevenson

Having worked for two years in consultancy after completing his full time studies in hotel management and marketing, Alastair worked in Public Sector tourism for three years before joining Trusthouse Forte as marketing manager of their overseas hotels. He subsequently worked for Holiday Inn as marketing planning manger for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

He returned to consultancy in 1987, founding Marketing Planning Associates (www.mpaconsulting.co.uk ). The primary focus of the firm’s work has remained marketing/business planning, development appraisal, supply and demand forecasting and competitive analysis in the hotel sector. A wide range of project appraisals, business opportunity assessment and planning projects have also been carried out in the fields of tourism, heritage and attractions. Clients cover a wide spectrum of major companies, independent businesses and the public sector.

Back to Basics

How well do you (and your team) know your competition?

Maximising your knowledge of your competitors’ product is a vital support to any hotels sales and marketing efforts and investment decision making.   Recent experience suggests that some of the basics are being forgotten about.

Today individual hotels, as well as large hotel companies, have access to more information than ever about their competitive performance and customers’ views of their product.   This comes from a wide variety of sources:

  • The ability to compare prices and availability “minute by minute” using web booking sites.
  • Commercial performance/market share data provided on a daily basis.
  • Electronic questionnaires delivered to every guest after their stay.
  • National surveys of brand preferences and consumer behaviour.

No-one would say that such information is not highly valuable but experience tells us there is no substitute for actually talking to your customers to hear what they have to say about your products and services and those of your competitors, of which they have first-hand experience.

AND no substitute for seeing and experiencing competitors for yourself.

Too often today management and staff find insufficient time for these two activities.   It is time to “get back to basics”.

What can you find out about the competition by talking to your customers?

  • Number one — which others were real alternatives for the customer to buy on any particular occasion; a room for the night, dinner, conference/meeting, function, or just a drink in the bar.   This helps you to know who your real competitors are.
  • Why they have chosen you not a competitor.   Were you genuinely the preferred choice or was everyone else full!
  • If a genuine choice, what were the deciding factors.   Were you just cheaper or can you identify your real product or service strengths — the things you need to stress to prospective customers in sales pitches and on your web site.
  • If they are trying you for the first time, will they come back.   Or have they found a weakness in you they think the competitors do better.

Of course you can’t corner a customer and reel off your list of questions.   The whole management team (and others) need to understand the benefits of such knowledge and take opportunities whenever they arise to gain such feedback from customers.   Competitive insights could then be an agenda item on regular management meetings so that the knowledge can be shared and made use of to:

  • Ensure sales and other staff are aware of key strengths and weaknesses for each part of the product.
  • Plan product or service improvements.
  • Concentrate investment in areas that will contribute most to improving the hotel’s competitive position.

The other aspect of building competitive awareness is to get out and see the competitors for yourselves.   This is often an aspect of particular weakness amongst those involved in on-site selling to potential customers, including conferences, weddings, corporate accommodation contracts and other “big ticket” items where closing a single sale can secure very high levels of revenue.   It remains common for such staff to be completely unfamiliar with what the competition have to offer, and without that awareness they are poorly equipped.   Just being able to handle a show-round is not enough; staff must be fully aware of what aspects of the product makes them different and better than the alternatives the customer might be looking at.

It is not just members of the sales team that need to build up such awareness.   Front Office, F&B and Banqueting staff are often the ones who have the greatest influence in closing a sale — they would all benefit from first-hand experience of competitors, be this a simple walk round, a meal or an overnight stay.   We believe the investment in such aspects is fundamental to success.
Such internal and external activities to build competitive knowledge add a level of insight which complements hard data and questionnaire analysis.   They are a vital part of making the most of your business.