Just completed a 17 month assignment at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort and was fortunate to work along side some of the most passionate leaders in the hospitality and tourism industry. The Kirkwood Family and Rob Howell the property General Manager have a one-of-a kind resort nestled quietly alongside the Delaware River in the Pocono Mountains.
Promoting the Resort for the past year and half as it celebrated its 100th anniversary was an excellent opportunity to experience first hand some of the fastest growing trends in the hospitality industry come to life. Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort is at the front of the line as it leads the industry towards locally sourced foods for its several restaurants, grows many of the herbs and spices at the Great Shawna Farm, taps its own Maple Syrup and hosts its own honey bee apiary.
Not to mention, Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort is home to Shawnee Craft Ales and Lagers, a craft beer served on site at the Gem and Keystone Brew Pub and River Room restaurant. 27 holes of championship golf, a full-service Spa and Salon, River Trips, Gallery and Playhouse all offer a little something for everyone trying to escape the big cities.
Here is a top 10 list of ideas, trends, and truths about the state of the resort, hospitality and tourism industry.
- Adventure Tourism is quickly becoming a reality and more and more travelers are reaching for an authentic outdoor experience. I experienced first hand Camelback Mountain’s CBK Adventures and can see the adrenalin rush that can lure visitors from the big cities. Combine that with guided fishing and river trips hosted at Shawnee Inn, the Appalachian Trails, Bushkill Falls and of course skiing at six regional ski areas and the Pocono Mountains will be experiencing a boom in this outdoor enthusiast market.
- Flash Sales and Daily Deal offerings such as Groupon and Living Social can work, but don’t expect to get rich from them. I had the opportunity to experiment several times with these emerging forms of revenue generation and new customer acquisition models and what I found is these programs do offer your organization an opportunity to reach many potential customers and each business needs to evaluate the cost of acquiring a new customer vs. the potential fear of cannibalizing an existing customer. I ran an offer in NYC that targeted males with six figure incomes for an affordable golf, lunch and beer experience and it was successful in attracting approximately 250 new customers to the resort. On the other hand I tried a similar offer with suite accommodations, and dining credit that was not successful as I had placed too many restrictions and did not discount the offer deep enough to capture the impulse buy market. I will create an entire post to this form of sales and marketing in the future.
- Spa is a big deal! One of the fastest growing segments in the tourism industry is Spa services and having a full-service spa on site is truly a game changer. Considering many of the resort amenities are traditionally weather dependent, having a spa that is open 365 days a year and well into the evening is a clear advantage over those facilities without this amenity. The impact on occupancy is similar to a traditional hotel that offers an indoor pool vs. those hotels that do not, maybe 5% annually. Higher room rates are also a benefit of a resort that offers a full service spa. In addition, spa services assist in closing destination wedding business along with providing a nice employee benefit.
- Gaming is good for tourism. Legalized gaming and the development of full service casinos in Pennsylvania has created jobs in our industry and is contributing to the overall growth in tourism in our state. Hard to believe some of the casinos are already celebrating their 5th anniversary. The additional revenues from the establishment of casinos in PA have not reduced property taxes as promised nor has it created any crime sprees as others argued, but overall many customers I talked to want to visit the casinos as part of their visit to the region.
- When it comes to digital marketing keep it simple. It is very easy to get caught up in the buzz as it relates to digital marketing, online travel agents (OTA’s) and social media, but the truth of the matter is know your customer and know your partners. Online travel agents such as Expedia, Travelocity, etc. offer an excellent marketing opportunity, similar to that of a billboard, especially for independent hotels and resorts. If you can create a business model that includes a percentage of your business with a 25% commission structure then by all means use the OTA’s to reach new customers. The cheapest from of advertising and arguably has the highest return is targeting your past customers. Some of the best results in campaigns were delivered by e-mail campaigns targeting our best customers.
- Social Media makes a better communication tool than a sales tool. One of the best suggestions I heard as it relates to social media is do not let your sales department run your social media efforts. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., all need to be considered as a communication tool to those that find your organization interesting. Telling them that Sunday Brunch is $25.95 and reservations can be made by calling does not help put the sizzle in the steak. Photos, and customer engagement and interaction are the keys to a successful social media effort. The ROI measurements are hard to quantify, but goals that track interaction and click thus to your website are key performance indicators.
- Where have all the golfers gone? Amazingly in the 17 months I was at Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, the market lost 3 golf courses and yet we really did not see any appreciable increase in the public play. Weather and the economy can certainly be blamed for this recent trend, but golf has been trending down since its peak in 2000. It will be interesting in Tiger Woods return to the leader board will create a spike in rounds played in the future, or has this sport topped out like tennis did in the 1970-1980’s.
- Craft beer making is hot! Probably not telling you anything new here, but the fact that one of the most requested things to see or do at Shawnee was to visit the brewery where Shawnee Craft beer is born, really shocked me. But nothing brings a smile to a beer drinker’s face faster than tasting a beer made right on site. Recession or no recession, craft beer is a growing industry and we should be hearing a lot more about Shawnee Craft in the near future.
- Customer reviews are replacing AAA. The old rating system by AAA of the number of diamonds as a representation of how nice a hotel your were going to visit has taken a back seat to Trip Advisor, Yelp and other customer review sites. Lodging facilities that embrace these customer review sites and do not hide or shy away from clear customer feedback are better for it. It will not be long before the large hotel brands incorporate these customer review sites into their property scoring systems.
- Mother Nature and Old Man Winter are the two best sales people on your team. Never underestimate the weather when it comes to delivering exceptional sales. The best laid marketing plans and sales forecasts are always at the mercy of the weather. Over the past 22 years I have seen many instances when the weather played a significant role in the success of a tourism season. This past year I started to follow weathertrends360.com (day by day 365 day weather forecast), not so much as a crystal ball, but more as another tool in my business plan toolbox to remind me that what happened the year before as it relates to the weather is not an indication what is going to happen again this year or in future years.