For Pamela Barnhill, President and COO of InnSuites Hospitality Trust (IHT) and InnDependent Boutique Collection (IBC) Hotels, customer focus is the key to everything in the hotel industry.
“The customer is the one who signs our paychecks,” Barnhill told Loyalty360. “We’re very customer-focused. We bend over backward to make sure they have what they need. Most hotels want to nickel and dime consumers. We offer a free hot breakfast, a free evening social hour, free hi capacity WiFi/Hi Speed Internet, free bottled water, free parking, and refrigerator/microwave in the rooms.”
IHT has two divisions: InnSuites Hotels & Suites and InnDependent Boutique Collection (IBC) Hotels. The network comprises more than 6,450 hotels with more than 600,000 rooms and suites. Both divisions are members of InnDependent InnCentives, a boutique hotel loyalty program as another way to take care of the guest.
InnSuites Hotels & Suites partnered with Groupize as its group booking and management solution for its flagship properties. The Groupize Group Booking Engine easily integrates with the hotel site’s look and feel and replaces the RFP forms on the hotel website with a state-of-the-art micro-site that is tailored for groups, weddings, and meetings. What’s more, it’s integrated with the cloud-based Pipeline Response Manager to centralize and track all group leads and related activities. Sales managers can communicate directly with organizers, send proposals and contracts in seconds, as well as set-up triggered emails, escalations, notes, and more with greater efficiency.
Barnhill said the company has always focused on innovation and finding cutting-edge technology that allows it to exceed guest expectations at every touch point. As such, IBC Hotels is pleased to be co-sponsoring the Independent Lodging Summit & Trade Show at Hotel Tucson March 15-17, 2015 to drive hospitality innovation in the independent and boutique hotel space.
“Groupize has a design and process for working successfully in this area,” Barnhill explained. “We believe Groupize can do a better job than if we created it ourselves.”
A key customer-centric initiative for InnSuites Hotels & Suites was the launch of its loyalty program called InnDependent InnCentives, which is a free nights-based program for guests that book Independent Hotels on ibchotels.com web/mobile or apps. The program launched in July 2013.
“It’s been great,” Barnhill said. “People are excited. It’s revolutionary and different in the independent hotel space. It’s easy, automatic, offers one-click booking, integrates with Facebook and you don’t have to carry a card.”
Guests who stay 12 nights receive the 13th night free. InnDependent InnCentives is the world’s only loyalty program encompassing all independently-owned hotels uniting a network of more than 20,000 independent boutique properties in 170 countries.
Barnhill said the customer experience is so crucial in the lodging space and, as an independent hotel chain, it might even be more important especially with the power of today’s social media.
“It’s millions of eyeballs and millions of comments people see on social media,” she said. “We try and make everyone happy. Customers are very careful where they spend their money. It’s not just about a bed, shower, or the free wifi any more. It’s about the overall customer experience. Social media has accelerated a lot of this. We are supposed to act with immediacy and there is a lot of pressure.”
Barnhill said her company is working with Digital Alchemy to create a direct feed between its product management system and email marketing.
“They provide immediate feedback to hotels from guests and we’re able to take care of that feedback,” she said. “Further, we have a really exciting technology platform coming out in stages in 2015 and 2016. We’re excited about this as it will allow us to have further direct contact with guests.”
Technology is a key issue for IHT and IBC Hotels.
“My predecessor signed a lot of long-term contracts with companies,” Barnhill explained. “Now we only do month-to-month contracts. We have taken that approach to our IBC Hotels as IBC works with hotels on a month-to-month basis. We’d rather have our results prove to IBC Members that we are worthy of their business. Long-term contracts are not beneficial given the rate of changing technology.”
Customer loyalty is also changing, Barnhill explained.
“People used to make purchasing decisions based on what cards they held in their wallets,” she said. “People don’t carry a lot of cards in their wallets anymore. People make decisions more based on word-of-mouth and social media reviews and pictures. Transparency of information has really changed brand loyalty for a lot of people.” Callout: It’s not just about a bed, shower, or the free wifi any more. It’s about the overall customer experience. Social media has accelerated a lot of this. We are supposed to act with immediacy and there is a lot of pressure.
The President of IHT and IBC Hotels wants to focus on making each and every customer happy.– By Jim Tierney