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Add Value, Don't Lower Rate

Creative freebies are a way to get attention for your hotel while staving off troublesome price reductions.

Thursday, July 30, 2009
David Wilkening
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Onmi Hotels is now offering complimentary ironing services to Select Guest-holders in all of its properties. “A survey revealed that many guests will do anything to avoid having to iron their clothes while traveling,” says Caryn Kboudi, director of corporate communications.

Free gas cards? Old hat. Try an offer from Hotel Renew in Honolulu that includes a free convertible, a 100 percent organic beach bag and a pair of Hotel Renew Flip Flops.

With the travel slowdown almost everywhere, hotels are getting very creative in coming up with new, free offers.

“Creativity is essential,” says Niki Leondakis, COO for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. Even the larger, more expensive chains such as Kimpton are getting into the game.

The chain’s summer “playground” campaign that runs this summer offers guests who hula hoop for 20 seconds or emerge from a game of rock, paper, scissors the possibility of an upgraded or free room.

The games help customers “understand the essence of our brand and (reinforce) our connection with our customers, so they’ll go out and recommend it to others,” says Leondakis.

Marketing experts say these creative gimmicks offer a much better chance of success long range than simply discounting room rates, though that is happening as well.

Innovative promotions often build buzz that could lead to guests’ spending money now and could be remembered later when the recession is over,” says Roland Rust, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Maryland.

“It helps create more attention even if they (hotel owners) don’t get the immediate profit benefit from it right now,” Rust says.

Hotel officials say it’s simply too easy to offer discounts that can be matched by competitors. “Just as we come up with 4% off, our competitors could offer 5%,” says Dave Marr, senior vice president of brand management for North America at Starwood Hotels.

At Starwood Hotels & Resorts, groups booking business meetings at Starwood these days qualify for a free concert with British singer Natasha Bedingfield in honor of a favorite charity.

Other offers range from free surfing lessons at several hotels (including the La Valencia Beachfront Hotel in La Jolla, San Diego) to a new Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Jacksonville that offers free Wi-Fi and free printing.

With tourism numbers way down, hotels in Hawaii are among those coming up with the most creative free offerings, though they prefer to use the term “adding value.”

“Now we see a combination of incentives plus direct room discounts, and that we haven’t seen in combination,” says Joseph Toy, president and chief executive officers of Hospitality Advisors LLC.

Some Hawaii examples reported in the AP and MSY Travel (some offers require several days and there are other stipulations):
  • The Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki has a “Wii Are Family Package” that includes unlimited use of a Nintendo Wii in the room, free parking, an in-room microwave and complimentary popcorn for $149.
  • The Halukulani has an “Art in Motion” offer that includes the use of a Maserati Gran Turismo, a Bentley Continental GTC, a Lotus Elise or Lotus Exige S.
  • The Hilton is giving away money in its “50 years of Aloha” special at the four Hilton properties in Hawaii. The deal, marking Hawaii’s 50 years of statehood, includes a $50 resort credit, a fifth night at $50 and a keepsake memento of two commemorative 2009 Hawaii quarters. They’re worth about 50 cents.
  • The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island offers a $1,000 resort credit to be used for anything that can be charged to the room. The minimum stay is four nights here where rooms start at $725 a night.
  • The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas on Kauai, for $312 a night, will provide two-for-one suffering lessons, a fifth night free and a $50 daily resort credit.
  • Las Vegas has long been an innovator in attracting guests, and their array of freebies is also imaginative. In an effort to promote local business, the three Primm casinos offer “freecations” for area residents that include two free nights, $50 in slot play, two-for-one buffets and gold rounds, free passes to attractions and two free alcoholic drinks.
Those types of offerings have paid off, with Primm’s local business growing from 10 percent last year to 30 percent now, says Michael Starr, who oversees the properties as executive vice president and general manager of Terrible’s Primm Valley Resorts.

Another creative offer from the Royal Sonesta Hotel Boston includes complimentary ice cream, river boat rides and bicycle rentals. Rates start at $109 at the luxury hotel.

The Royal Solaris Cancun has rates starting at $59 that also include airport transfers; a $50 credit for use on laundry services and phone calls; a $50 spa credit; and two children under 12 staying and eating at no extra charge.

Other offers can range from the sexy to pet-friendly.

The Sky Hotel in Aspen has a package that includes accommodations for two nights, a dog bed, doggy dishes and dog treats, and even an unnamed dog toy from the Rocky Mountain Pet Shop.

Not to be forgotten in all this is an offer from the San Juan Water & Beach Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that offers a romantic dinner for two with sparkling wine and strawberries; silk rose petals on the bed, and a Kama Sutra kit (worth $25, according to the hotel).
David Wilkening    David Wilkening
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: David Wilkening is a writer specializing in travel and business-real estate writing. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and dot coms. He never met a trip he didn't like. He is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, DC, where he was a writer and editor covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from politics to feature stories.
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