Updated: Dec 7, 2020
COOPERATION IS A POWERFUL WEAPON TO ADVANCE THE IMAGE OF OUR INDUSTRY.
Pink Bar, Annual Garden Party 2019, Hotel Pulitzer Amsterdam
One of the things I have experienced in some of the cities I have lived in, that I unfortunately miss in Washington DC, is the desire and ability that hospitality workers have to network and cooperate with each other.
It might have something to do with the smaller town lifestyle, where people in the hotel business tend to know each other from spending time in the same circle. It was the case for example in Austin and in Amsterdam, where I felt a sense of network and community that I have not felt anywhere else, and not at all for example in New York, or like I said in DC.
My experience in Austin was maybe the first real one of this kind for me. As soon as I got there, I started connecting and reconnecting with people, as I was new to the scene, I was about to open a new property, and I needed advice. Shortly after moving I joined the board of the ACGSA (Austin Concierge and Guest Services Association), which really boosted my opportunities to network. Some of the best Front Office, Concierge and Guest Services peeps in the city were part of it, and we would regularly meet to discuss topics, and go out to explore together, in order to know and promote Austin to the fullest.
After relocating to Amsterdam, I remember those first days at Pulitzer, spending time with Business Development folks to understand their Sales & Marketing approach. If I know one thing about Dutch people is that amongst the multiple great qualities they have, they are extremely proud of their culture and heritage, and they absolutely worship Amsterdam.
They love their country and their capital so much that they have opted for cooperation versus competition.
As we were getting to know each other and I talked about my experience in New York, the Director of Sales told me something that made me think. She said: “I could never work in New York, there is too much competition, hotels are driving on their own one against the other. When I was there I could feel the competitive nature but I could not feel the desire to cooperate. In Amsterdam of course we want to promote our own hotel, but we work together a lot because we are mainly trying to promote a destination”.
Teams from different properties work together in the city to exchange data, strategies, forecast, and ideas, all meant to push the city as a destination.
But it doesn’t stop at Sales and Revenue, the cooperation I established with colleagues also in operations over the years helped me in so many ways. Just to mention some examples: when I was not happy with the dry cleaning company we partnered with, a colleague recommended the one they were using, which turned out to be perfect for us. A fellow manager from the competition recommended to me one of her employees, who was really ready for a promotion, but she didn’t have a position for him at the time, while I did.
When I left my position as Executive Housekeeper to transfer to another property, I contacted a couple of colleagues in other hotels, who were qualified and would have been interested. I encouraged them to apply and helped with the recruitment of my own role.
Cooperation had become a very powerful tool which I intended to continue using.
Now, in DC the story was surprisingly quite different.
Sure, there are roles who talk and share figures, but my perception is that it would only happen between people who knew each other personally because they had worked together in the past. And that the talks were more about numbers and statistics, versus ideas on how to move forward together. I did not see the eagerness to do what I just described. And here is what happened to me.
The second week after my move, I started going around the city to visit our competitive set, and I reached out to my counterparts, to introduce myself and make the connection.
Well, only one person replied... I never heard from any of them, and I still cannot figure out why.
With the person who did, a lovely and very knowledgeable woman from Belgium, I kept in touch throughout my time in DC, and the connection with her turned out to be a very effective and useful collaboration, just like I had in mind. In the past months we have exchanged advice on how to handle certain issues, we have shared opinions on hotel partners, and we have helped each other through the pandemic.
Which brings me to ask: if we have the opportunity to come together and help each other, especially in times like these, why don’t we??
Managing all the moving parts during Covid-19 and putting together a successful reopening plan, when we couldn’t count on an historical because there was no previous model to compare it with, was challenging to make an understatement.
Following the CDC and WHO guidelines was not enough, we needed to evaluate our solutions with others, and share practices, procedures and results. And her and I did that.
By no means I am saying all information and opinions should be shared. Of course there are things that are strictly confidential and need to stay that way. And of course a healthy competition is always good for the business and it’s necessary for the economy.
But just imagine what the cooperation could do for a destination: if we came together and did whatever we could to improve the way we work as a team, we could enhance the hotel business and the destination as a whole, the perception of the destination itself would improve as well, and more people would be drawn to it. It’s called Destination Marketing - a sales strategy according to which local businesses team up to target the most powerful inbound tourism markets and drive more traffic to the area. The destination is the first and main choice of a tourist, and it’s chosen based on image, accessibility, safety, attractiveness, richness of heritage. I am no Sales & Marketing expert, but this is a pretty basic concept to realize and accomplish. Why is it not a strong drive everywhere?
Let’s talk about another type of cooperation: Building local partnerships.
Unless your hotel is located in an isolated destination, there should be plenty of other business and attractions around you that you can form a mutually beneficial relationship with.
I am going back to Austin one more time, because the pre-opening team I joined there, was the source of so many great ideas I still have in my bag. Something we did there was establishing a very powerful sense of cooperation and partnership with the local community.
In particular, we involved local businesses and residents of the West Lake Hills area (where the hotel was built) very early on in the pre-opening process. We hosted 3 events before the opening, to promote the hotel but mainly to introduce ourselves to the community and get them to know and trust us. Influential residents who owned upscale properties in the area, allowed us to use their houses as locations for the events, and we supplied the food & beverage, the staff, and the fun. Those 3 aperitifs were sensational, so personal and targeted, and built that desired relationship quickly and easily.
When we talk about managing the relationship with neighbors, Pulitzer Amsterdam also has plenty to teach us. Perhaps also due to the nature of the property, we all had to learn the importance of keeping the neighbors happy. As I mentioned already in another post, the hotel is an intricate maze of 25 canal houses all connected to each other; amongst the houses that belong to the hotel, there are also private houses. Therefore any potential issue caused by noise, crowds, events etc, had to be managed proactively and efficiently.
To maintain the peace and the well being of the people living around us, we would keep the communication with them open and honest at all times, we would invite them to our events, we would offer them advantages such as discounts and benefits, we would include them in the Pulitzer world. They were our neighbors and as such they were part of our community, or better, we were part of theirs!
The last interesting advantage of Co-Promoting I want to bring up, is tailored to your own people.
Cooperating with other activities around you, not only helps promote your business and the area, but can also create benefit opportunities for your staff.
If you are a big corporate company you are able to offer complimentary nights, discounts on F&B and other perks, all within your properties. But if you are a stand alone hotel, how do you do that?
When you partner with local attractions such as restaurants, spas, museums, and even with your competitors, you are able to get around that limitation. You can build an alliance that allows you to offer those perks to your staff, in exchange for the same perks to the staff of your allies.
So many benefits come from this approach!
So to draw a conclusion, am I saying cooperation is the opposite approach to competition?
No, I am not. As a matter of fact the two words are strictly connected: if competing hoteliers cooperate to promote a destination, it automatically means that the destination will compete with another destination.
I am simply saying a bit of good old competition is a great drive for the business, but if we balance it with unity and collaboration, we will be able to move beyond standard strategies and advance the image of our industry.
It’s thanks to those experiences I described that I have become a person who thrives to share. I have already said that when we share knowledge, when we pass on the torch, when we give each other advice and work together, we create a more powerful industry.
It is essentially what I want my blog to be, a platform where we think together with our expertise and our passion and build a stronger network. And let’s face it, in times like these the best thing we can do is come together and think as a united front.
Is your environment a collaborative space or a competitive space?
Share the circumstances and other examples of what cooperating can do for the industry.