Ask any sports fan what they do immediately after they’ve checked for their own team’s result in the newspaper and a majority will tell you they look for the result of their closest rivals, and then perhaps the scores from the top teams in the league. It’s probably the same in the hotel business. After checking your own performance you want see how your competitors are getting on, and maybe check out the industry leaders too.
Who are your competitors?
Before you can think about why you might want to spy on the competition we need to define exactly who those competitors really are. Are they hotels in the same location? Hotels around the same price point? Hotels with the same star rating? The best definition is that your competitors are the hotels your customers will stay at if they don’t stay with you. That might be the hotel round the corner offering a very similar experience or it might even be a resort in a different country, as long as they’re trying to attract exactly the same people you are.
Finding out exactly what your competitors are doing is much easier today than ever before, because so much of a hotel’s activity is now presented online, and customer feedback is ubiquitous. Checking online reviews can help you quickly identify the things that guests love about rival properties as well as revealing their weaknesses. You can also use specialized software to analyze other aspects of your competitors’ operations, such as pricing strategies, to gain a deeper understanding of how they are performing.
Are you a leader or a follower?
The bigger question, however, is not so much one of how to gather information, but how you intend to use that information. The cost of obtaining information has gradually fallen to the point where it is readily available to anyone who wants to look, but to what extent is it actually valuable? It seems in practice that there are two schools of thought: those who want to keep a close eye on their rivals to make sure they do not fall behind, and those who prefer to focus on delivering to their strengths at the highest standards, effectively becoming the benchmark for others to chase.
It is certainly useful to know when rivals hit upon innovative ideas that improve their guest experience or increase their occupancy rates. If something is working successfully for your rivals, chances are it would also work for you, given the similarities in your clientele. You can sign up to follow your rivals through social media so you’ll always be aware of any new promotions or other creative strategies they implement so you’ll be able to plan your response. You would also want to be the first to know if new sources of customers are uncovered. If your rivals suddenly start to make inroads into a market you hadn’t previously considered, this knowledge might direct you towards this new demographic.
Review comments and feedback on your rivals can also shed light upon the areas you need to improve in order to compete. If their reviewers often complain about a lack of parking, for example, make sure that your own property descriptions prominently mention that parking is one of your strengths (if that’s true)
A desire to follow the ideas of rival properties is a fair reason for spying on the competition, but some hoteliers would argue that they have taken the position of segment leaders and therefore that they are the ones the others seek to emulate. It may be the case that focusing on your strengths and sticking to a clear marketing strategy will yield better results than a strategy of reacting to what your competitors do, but there is still no room for complacency.
Never stop learning
In any field, there is always something to be learned from the very best, and hospitality is no different. There will always be hotels which are not actually rivals according to our definition of targeting the same customers, but which can be excellent role models for anyone wishing to improve. Every successful business does something well, and it is certainly worth looking a little more closely at some non-competitor hotels to see what inspiration can be found.
Very few hotels have reached the point where nothing can be learned from others, but before you start looking at others you must be sure to know yourself and your customers. Then you can plan exactly what it is that you need to know next, and from whom you need to know it. This will give you the best chance to acquire the right kind of information and to apply it successfully.