Hotel open house — wooing the locals

By Larry Mogelonsky, www.lma.ca

Would you ever consider opening your property to the general public? And not just a tour through areas they might already have seen, but your back-of-house operations as well, with dozens of staff members and managers available to answer questions.

A hotel open house like this is a scary thought, requiring a full array of logistical realignments to make it work, even if you only try this one day a year. But it can be a great way to shore up support within the local community as well as a great word-of-mouth marketing tool.

I was put on to the idea by the folks at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu (shown in photo) in the picturesque Charlevoix region of Quebec. Holding their second annual Open Doors this past year, the initial success of the program serves as an interesting case study for how you might implement your very own hotel open house.

With a team of 25 staff members, the property hosted over 300 locals, treating them to free hot dogs, free drinks and free carriage rides as they went about the grounds. That’s a good attendance considering the population of the entire region is just under 30,000 and the only promotions were carried out briefly via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and local radio.

During the afternoon event, visitors were given descriptive tours of all the hotel’s restaurants, a model guestroom, a model suite, the swimming pool complex, the meeting space area and the history of the region as well as employee-only departments such as the kitchen, staff cafeteria, engineering (including the boiler room, atelier and green initiatives) and a behind-the-scenes look at how they maintain the golf course.

Additionally, chefs put on a show for the kids by allowing them to bake a push cake, followed by a tasting and emphasizing that locals receive a 15 per cent discount on all F&B outlets.

Over the course of the afternoon, visitors gained a firsthand look at the lifestyle enjoyed by the hotel’s 600 employees. Beyond the relaxed inside look, a hope for the Open Doors program was to bridge the gap between current team members and future ones by giving potential candidates a flavour of the many different departments and job opportunities. The idea here is that by fostering admiration for the hotel and by recruiting more locals, it will decrease employee turnover.

I see another benefit besides generating support in the local community. To recall some textbook marketing terms, this is a case of brand reach versus brand depth.

Devoting your resources to only 300 people does not speak to a pervasive brand reach, especially when this group is comprised of locals who are less likely to purchase a room night or two. However, due to the nature of the program, the brand depth has a reciprocal relationship with brand reach – the fewer people attending the open house, the greater their resultant connection to the property. Those who take the tour get to see, hear, touch and smell the hotel, instead of merely looking at a glossy advertisement or reading someone’s acclamation on TripAdvisor.

These are consumers who not only have a fleeting awareness of Le Manoir Richelieu’s existence, but also a passing knowledge base for multiple operations and amenities. After a tour, each visitor can potentially act as a spokesperson for the hotel. They can speak with passion and vivacity about the property.

In other words, they can retell a full narrative instead of just regurgitating a few discordant factoids. And, as any good content marketer knows, it’s the specificity and positive emotional undertone of the story that will win people over. When all is considered, even though nurturing local advocates in Charlevoix might not mean much in terms of wooing vacationers from, say, London, England, it’s still not bad for one day’s work.

Larry Mogelonsky (MBA, P. Eng) is the founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca). His work includes three books: Are You an Ostrich or a Llama, Llamas Rule and the newly released Hotel Llama.