For any hotel company, whether it is a single establishment or a large chain, good public relations is a vital, but often underestimated tool in helping create a positive impression of your brand. To some, it may seem that a bit of well-placed advertising and a reasonably consistent high level of service are enough to bring customers in, keep them happy and ensure they come back – as well as providing some useful word-of-mouth recommendations to others.
However, the simple truth is that reputations can take a long time to build up, but can be knocked down very swiftly. And that is why a good public relations strategy matters.
Handling a crisis
There is nothing worse for a hotelier than bad publicity. This may come in the form of a string of negative reviews. The odd bad rap is not really a problem; if one guest goes out on a limb to criticise when others praise, people will assume they protest too much. However, if there are regular or frequent complaints that is bad news. So too is any genuine calamity, such as a low score in a food inspection, or a major problem with the drains or the air conditioning. Of course, fixing the problem is the first step that must be taken. But one piece of bad news should not be the last word. If a hotel is seen to be making amends, taking customer concerns seriously and offering apologies, it demonstrates a level of care and a determination to ensure the problem is not repeated. However, it is important to be proactive. Taking steps to put a problem right is is good customer service and a business priority. But it is also important to get the message out there. A bad hotel story will get in the local paper and, in the case of a big chain, potentially the national press too. There will also be the internet to consider, with YouTube, Twitter and the like ensuring that any footage of things going wrong could go viral. A range of steps can be taken. Firstly, your own website should carry a statement putting across your side of the story. This will correct any exaggerations or untruths, but also list any remedial steps you are making if a complaint is justified. If you have a Facebook account, the same will apply once again. Of course, the media may come to you and it is important that anyone providing a statement or giving an interview should give a consistent message. Nothing can be worse than two people saying different things about a problem or proposing differing solutions. Finally, when things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to tell people how much has gone right or how rare the problem is, as long as that is something you can justify. The key is to ensure that both sides of the story are out there – and that you come out on top.
All of the above is essentially a defensive approach to dealing with problems and it will, of course, be necessary on occasions. However, such an approach will be much more effective if you have taken steps to build up your brand’s reputation. That means being active in getting your good news stories out there, whether on social media, through press releases or even by drip-feeding stories to the media. Indeed, the latter may be effective at times when there is not a lot of other news, such as the ‘silly season’ of August when everyone is on holiday. So, for a bit of publicity, why not make sure the local paper knows about the stay at your hotel of the couple on their 60th wedding anniversary, along with some generous gesture you have made to add something extra to their stay? Another way of producing good publicity is to get involved in community events and activities, especially if you are a small local hotel. For a larger chain, getting involved in national charities and good causes is the way to go. However, be careful which ones you choose. Some causes you might wish to support may be very controversial and while your stance will win some friends, it could also lose some. Overall, however, the key principle applies that if you are seen to be a force for good and a positive influence, it will help give your brand a positive name. And if you do get some nice publicity, it will help cushion the blow when there is bad news.
The limits of good PR
However, it is always important to remember that good public relations can never take the place of offering good service and value for money. A well-crafted public relations strategy is an effective and important way of boosting and protecting your reputation, but ultimately those who come through your doors will use the quality of their stay as the primary factor in deciding whether to return.