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Thinking like a small hotel by Christopher E. Stafford

In the age of digital marketing, it could be argued that the small independent hotel has a growing ‘niche’ given it applies the lessons of managing the digital space by using the age-old theme of researching what its customers want and communicating this.

The experience has been that greatness is created by visionary leaders in all countries, businesses and families. Small hotels that cannot afford the mega systems, operations fees and other related overheads are well advised to invest in digital marketing education – as there is no question in my mind that small owners/operators can still compete favourably with the very best in all segments of the market and to be leaders and trendsetters in their own right.

True, they may need some form of representation in the luxury segment, but this comes at a much lower cost than the major brands would extract in multiple fee streams.

Thinking like a small hotel was the subject of a paper I wrote in 1987 for a group in Sydney known as Pacrim. The two gentlemen I wrote the essay for were Professor John R. Cox ( a legendary hotel professor from the University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management) and Mr Brian Deeson – hotelier extraordinaire and founder of Century Hotels in Australia at the time. We were looking for a new model of operations as labour costs were escalating – hence the title Thinking like a Small Hotel.

The lessons of this era of change in Australia were that to remain competitive and profitable as hotels; we had to adopt either self-reliance or brand-reliance, which came at a high price.

From my perspective, the lessons I took from these early experiences were as follows:-

  • Small companies can thrive and grow as they can maintain a unique identity.
  • The true hospitality feeling of small hotels can be applied to more significant properties as we did at the first Anantaras’ in Hua Hin, Koh Samui, the Golden Triangle and the Maldives and as we did at the first 137 Pillars Hotel Chiang Mai in successive decades with good results.
  • The lessons of Small Luxury Hotels are that obsession with quality and service are skills of the trade handed down through generations that we must retain for future generations.
  • Small hotel owners/operators can combine age-old skills with the digital world by committing to education which is readily available and applicable to creating profitable hotels and improving direct, offline and online business channels.

While the big chains grapple with ever more advanced AI and large Digital Platforms out of reach to the Small Hotelier – while they struggle with crafting imagined experiences in long meetings, the Small Hotelier is busy making friends around the world with his loyal guests and hands-on training of their small but agile teams!

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