- TRILOCHAN GAUTAM
Hotel industry is composed of several structural and managerial dimensions. Chain and small/independent hotels form major market share are operated based on ownership. Suggestions are made to indicate that chain hotels embrace formal and long-term strategic planning often reflecting long-term orientation whereas small hotels imply short-term and informal strategies, both being engaged in competitive advantage. However, even informal strategies have led small hotels to a success while formal, in the case of chain hotels have, in times, led to failure. Generically, characteristics such as flexibility, adaptability, responsiveness and closeness to customer have distinctively strengthened small hotels to best survive in a slowing economy.
Key words: chain hotel, small/independent hotel, strategy and slowing economy
The hotel industry has evolved through several structural and economic stages to arrive at today’s acutely competitive global market. Both chain and independent/small hotels retain stronghold in Europe, Asia Pacific and North America, while
is mainly dominated by independent hotels. Even though approximately 70 percent
of hotels form independently owned small and medium-sized enterprises in UK, a
vast range of branded hotels operate in the market according to Peters, M.
and Buhalis, D. (2004).
They further suggest, since small hotels do not represent miniature version of
large chains, they possess different priorities, structures and strategies.
Given such scenario,
highlighting the significance of strategic management of hotel sector, Teare,
R. and Boer, A. (1993:14) state:
“For firms in the maturing hospitality industry to survive and grow, they will have to depend upon their ability to strategically align themselves with the turbulent environment and select appropriate strategies to create dependable competitive positions”.
Hence, the existence of multi-facet hotel firms has urged for an investigation on who represents the highest degree of market competitiveness for productivity, higher sales and viability to further lead. Therefore, this article, after defining key terms; chain and small hotels and strategy, will, in the first part, investigate the business strategy of chain hotels in general, then that of the small/independent hotels secondly. Thirdly, the article will compare and analyse the evidences explored, in order to determine whose strategies demonstrate highest degree of business competency in the market including at situations of economic slowdown. The benchmark for the investigation will be based on competitive theory models as well as challenges/limitations of both such hotels involving PESTEL factors, SWOT analysis and P-mix theory.
Definition of key terms and relevance of theories:
At defining chain hotels, Peng and Litteljohn (1997, cited by Brotherton, B., 2003:15) state:
“Hotel chains may be defined as, multi-unit service organisations in which units operate under a system of decision-making permitting coherent policies and a common strategy through one or more decision-making centres, and where hotel units and corporate functions are linked to add value to each other by ownership or contractual relationships”.
Conversely, independent/small hotels are referred as neither belonging to a franchise chain nor to any corporate operations, often possessing rooms below 20 (Peterson, R.T. and Stratemeyer, A.W. 2007). Besides, Morrison (1998, cited by Holverson, S. and Revaz, F., 2006:401) define small hotels:
“As a business which is: financed by one individual or small group, directly managed by its owner(s) in a personalised manner and not through the medium of a formalised management structure”.
Similarly ‘strategy’ is referred as matching of resource strengths to the identified opportunities in the market environment for competitive advantage (Johnson, G. and Scholes, K., 2002).
Meanwhile, authors highlight some of the relevant hotel management models and theories, wherein in essence, Teare, R. and Boer, A. (1993) outline six elements namely, understanding of service/product, defence against competitors, cost-effectiveness, pricing rationale, testing new services and beneficial acquisitions. Likewise, supplier power, buyer power, threat of substitution, barriers to entry and internal rivalry; Porter’s five forces competitive theory model, is considered insightful in developing hotels’ strategy (Anon. 2006). Therefore, these will be instrumental in this investigation.
Chain hotel management strategies:
Insightful to aforementioned theories, branding and franchising of chain hotels for brand-fame and economies of scale out of centralised management and resource sharing has been suggested as a major strategy. Collective procurement and centralisation of reservations and logistic services save costs involved. Marketing, reservations and accounting by a centralized management has proved not only economical but also efficient allowing savings in staff costs permitting a less costly service and, also having lowered the associated funding in machinery, expected in times of downturn (Miner et al. 1990 cited by Espino-Rodríguez, T.F. and Taylor, J.S. 2006). Furthermore, instant chain/brand recognition contributes to product promotions shortening the time required for market awareness (Langlois, T. J. (2003). Pointing out advantage of global positioning, Chairman of
Leng Beng said, “We have
benefitted from a wide geographical spread of properties which has smoothed the
overall impact of the economic crisis" (Gerrard, N. 2010:12). Hence, brand strategy seems a great
strength. Millennium & Copthorne, UK
Teare, R. and Boer, A. (1993), however, present counter evidence of failure in achieving adequate financial returns by the chain hotels due to the rapid brand expansions. Likewise, Langlois, T. J. (2003:12) argues “The owner incurs significant upfront costs associated with a new franchisee, including signs, logos, and the initial fee to the franchisor”. It appears challenging, especially at downturns and, sometimes such costs go beyond recovery. Although chain hotels are well equipped with better congeniality for innovation decisions, gaining higher productivity, according to PriceWaterHouseCoopers (2008), the challenges appear in rigidity out of highly formalised bureaucratic management that hinders tactical decisions required for rapid changing market conditions and chaos proving to be counter-productive (Cunill, O.M. et al. 2008).
Others view strategic-planning with long-term orientation, as key to innovation and profitability to survive competitive threat poised not only by newly growing brands; metaphorical to Porter’s ‘new entrants’ but also by existing firms (Anon, 2006). The fundamentals of this strategy have been reflected by constant reinvention and consideration on vitality of new demographic structure (Lomanno, M, V, 2010). Literatures suggest that an organisation’s success is subject to its capability on co-alignment between its day-to-day functions and wider environment it operates at, synthesised as ‘strategy’ (Knowles, T. 1998). A survey in North American hotels (Broen and Dev 1999 cited by Jones, P. 2008) concluded that hotels’ long-term planning significantly corresponds to productivity. Innovation advantage in chain hotels tends to be in forms of capital intensiveness, advertisement intensiveness and high integrity (Audretsch, 2004, cited by Jones, P., 2008). Furthermore, regarding planning-performance relationship between formal long-term strategy and organizational performance, the profitability has been suggested despite in some cases, having lacked systematic coherence, it has also proved dysfunctional due to rigidity and occasional environment turbulences (Falshaw, J.R. and Glaister, K.W., 2006). Thus, despite productiveness, long-term planning remains challenged.
Affiliation, product range and technological capability are among other strategies leading to market competencies in chain hotels. Affiliation with airlines, travel agents and tourist authorities for viable attainment of customers broadens business prospective via B2B relationships even though challenged in times, as stated by Knowles, T. (1998:288): “In terms of the future the central question is how can hoteliers get travel agents to sell more room.” Nevertheless, due to higher product choice; an element of ‘P-mix’, such as restaurant, bar, health club and bed-room having widened sales opportunities, despite the existing inability of service industry to grasp the sense of benefits and values of service products, the business perspective appears secure (Teare, R. and Boer, A. 1993).
Hence, both affiliation and product positioning have been vital for dynamic market conditions.
Gaining competency levels challenging the conventionality, for instance, replacing obsolescent paper guest questionnaire by on-line has proved effectual (Ogle, A. ,2009). Furthermore, Lim, W.M. (2008) highlights the dominance of chains in marketing channel decisions favouring e-commerce via the channels commissioned for marketing and distribution, such as websites, ‘brick and mortar’ travel agents, telephone and e-mails and effective data-warehousing. A research on European hotels (Holverson, S. and Revaz, F. 2006) conclude that even costly, chain hotels’ strategy to further segment consumer market has heightened opportunity in reaching most of unique customers. It is, therefore, apt to conclude that affiliation, products range/positioning and technology stand cutting-edge strengths of chain hotels.
Further strategy authors highlight of chain hotels includes human resource (HR); ‘people’ of ‘p-mix’, effecting to desired customer relationship management (CRM). Imrie and Fyall (2000 cited by Moriarty, J., et al., 2008) point out that chain hotels’ sophisticated CRM, reflective of their loyalty schemes and the formal guests’ satisfaction tracking system (GSTS) contribute to acquisition and retention of customers, despite existing challenges of particularly leisure guests, not preferring to re-visit the same property/location even if sound CRM is demonstrated. CRM in chain hotels is also reflected in its brand strategy signifying powerful-popular concept, strong and consolidated marketing and distribution (Bowie, D. and Buttle, F., 2004) even in downturns, attaining higher occupancy. Besides, Radiven, N. and Lucas, R. (1996) suggest chain hotels possess greater financial and human resources due to higher presence in wider geographical and technological periphery and accumulated expertise, hence, are more likely to build a consistent CRM.
Protective and change management strategies, indicating external factors such as downturn and terrorism; the macro elements, are considered by chain hotels. To link to 9/11 terror attack affecting the American and associated hotel markets, for instance, Seattle’s MarQueen Hotel suffered having had quadrupled its marketing costs forcing a more aggressive rate and inventory management (Patricia, A. 2002). Likewise, Golden Tulip in
Europe, due to macro effect from recession (2008/9),
sought protection from creditors for merging its hotels division (Blitz, R., 2009). Besides, PriceWaterHouseCoopers
(2008:6) highlights the
effect of several external factors, including the global downturn, declining
business travel, swine flu and falls in real estate values concluding that: “Many of the deals financed in the good
times are now looking rather shaky and stressing their covenant pressure
points”. Anon. (2009)
further justifies, “Hotels that were once out of reach for many
are suddenly in budget”. Similarly, Marriot
International’s global REVPAR fell by 20 percent in 2009 making a loss of £220
million in contrast to the £218 million income the previous year (Harmer, J., 2010). Such evidences suggest that
external factors highly impact chain hotels, even though such uncertainty and threats are coped by the protection
provided by their higher attendant scale (Anon. 2009). domestic tourism market is fairly static, facing both strong
competition from overseas destinations offering cheaper prices and the lure of
low-cost flights. Can the market benefit from the “staycation” trend despite
the bad weather of the past two summers? As the current economic conditions
begin to take their toll, budget hotel operators are benefiting with cost
conscious consumers choosing to downgrade. Short breaks continue to be the
mainstay of the UK hotel market with many holidaymakers supplementing their
annual two-week break abroad with shorter holidays within the UK. Inbound
visitors present mixed opportunities; the high spending US market continues to
struggle whilst those from the euro zone make the most of favourable exchange
rates but tend not to stay for so long.
Small/independent hotel management strategies:
Attention also has been paid to investigate the strategy development of small hotels in search of the winner. At a finding, Sascha Kraus (1997, cited by Peters, M. and Buhalis, D., 2004) contends the planning developed in large firms’ context might not suit to small hotels. Contrasting to brand structure, not only higher business freedom, flexibility and creativity have generated higher financial benefits for small hotels but also planning with individuality and autonomy has contributed to highly personalized service for guest motivation (Dennis, N., 2009). Further, Langlois, T. J. (2003:13) highlights a conduciveness for small/independent hotels stating:
“Changing customer demographics, evolving products, and new technologies have created market strength for the independent hotel market sector”.
However, this theory is not unchallenged, since according to Holverson, S. and Revaz, F. (2006), the industry suffering low occupancy for years due to economic and political turbulences, small hotels are further brand pressurized to survive independently.
Obliged thus, they have taken the collaborative strategy instead, among hoteliers or with local authorities such as tourism agency (Prideaux, B. et al. 2006). Hence evidences hardly exist on small hotels embracing strategic planning but restricting to operational/short-term goals. Jan, F. (2008:24) further elaborates, “Each independent operator makes decisions often only in reaction to local market conditions”. This very characteristic has strengthened their opportunity into niche market, derivative of globalization and standardization, where a certain customer segment, unfamiliar with systemic complexity and ‘digital divide’, seek to find small hotels for more individualised services/products (Peters, M. and Buhalis, D., 2004), viable for all market conditions.
Personalised service strategy is crucial to CRM in small hotels characterized by HR dominating over system, as experts suggest (Moriarty, J. et al., 2008). Characterised as ‘flat management’ structure, decisions come out of owner/manager without middle manager, hence having both management style and personality been highly influencing factors, personalized customer contact, flexibility and quick response to rapidly changing market conditions and guest problems strengthen market dynamics and guest satisfactions as claimed by Moriarty, J. et al. (2008), since they additionally contend:
“Relationships with customers and word-of-mouth are the key aspect of promotion, within the marketing mix, and marketing intelligence relies strongly on business and trade networks”.
Contradictorily, employee training and professionalism of such hotels has been questioned by some researchers (Austrian survey 2003), suggesting that HR, lacking training and, that incompetent employees are hardly made redundant due to family/personal ties (Peters, M. and Buhalis, D., 2004) that may inflict CRM.
Likewise, Moriarty, J. et al. 2008:296) add, “On the other hand, customer relationship management poises some interesting challenges for small independent hotels,” indicating that trust building without formal contract is doubted. Nevertheless, the labour force, sometimes family members, that informally and flexibly adapts to the need of business, contributes to profitability by fitting into different degrees of seasonality as Bowie, D. and Buttle, F. (2004) suggests. Thus, it appears that a formal human resource constraint not only to CRM, but also to specialized marketing expertise, characterized by a controlled growth rather than sales maximization, proves counter-productive.
As argued, financial strength corresponds both to marketing and technology. Since in most cases, small/independent hotels seldom acquire external funds, except inherent capital, which is often challenged by deteriorations requiring tougher financial rescues (Peters M. and Buhalis, D., 2004). They further suggest that market competency is restricted to inadequate financial resources, lacking management expertise and limited marketing access to external information and weak networks. Rutherford D.G. and O’Fallon, M.J. (2006:14) agreeably state:
“For over the last three decades the drastic changes in the industry have disproportionately pressurised the independent hotels who in the shadow of well funded chain hotels have struggled to maintain their independence and at competing in the face of peculiar hospitality character”
Conversely, other researchers (Rothwell 1992, cited by Jones, P., 2008:361) state: “Small firms usually have a dynamic and entrepreneurial management style, so innovations can be less expensive.” Hence, the lower degree of financial resourcing is a riskless and instinct strategic feature of small hotels.
As earlier mentioned, Murphy, H.C. and Kielgast, C.D. (2008) contend small hotels often implement informal marketing process such as word-of-mouth. According to Carson and Cromie (1989, cited by Moriarty, J. et al., 2008) two considerable factors include ‘evolution’ of marketing practice and ‘controlling’ of owner upon the firm’s marketing process. This process is proportionate to their niche markets featuring unique location and specially tailored products, unlike the chains who seek consumers at large (Langlois, T. J., 2003). As observed, technology is used at its minimal for marketing by small hotels behind the implication of high-tech feature; an economic challenge (Prideaux, B. et al., 2006). They further suggest, use of search engine for marketing (SEM) to visualize their products/services is attributable to their goal. Although majority of such hotels possess websites, they do not exploit SEM, consequently, resulting to incompetent marketing strength. As a result, as Murphy, H.C. and Kielgast, C.D. (2008) conclude, small hotels risk being marginalized and also lose customer contacts failing to maximize return on investment.
Nevertheless, collaborative strategy has led several small hotels achieve higher competitive market dynamics (McCarton-Quinn and Carson 2003; Kirby 2003, cited by Moriarty J., et al. 2008), thus, evidently small hotels implementing formal marketing plans gain higher profitability than those without.
As earlier stated, the micro factors ranging from HR to finance appear crucial for competitive advantage. Similarly, external factors, either threatening or opening up opportunities for a business draw attention in strategy formulation. “Independent hotels usually are not subject ups and downs of the economy”, contends Stacey, M.H. (2006:1) indicating low risk from economic factor; a PESTEL component. However, (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2008:6) in contrast suggests, “The downturn has increased the pressure on independents to seek an international brand via franchise or management”. Besides, Guthrie, J. (2010:8) further refers to impact of recent recession - 2008/9 and quotes: “Small businesses have run down their cash reserves” connoting not only impact of downturn but also that of external business environment which has forced small hotels to alter their strategies.
Harmer, J. (2009) however challenges these arguments suggesting that changing consumer behaviour and pattern of restructured leisure style, in face of recent recession,
small hotels were boomed in 2009, thanks to the British customers choosing to
holiday domestically and, also to increased European travellers, attributable
to the weaker pounds and spending cuts. Hence,
evidences show that small hotels gain higher opportunities and not the threat,
of such macro factors, as slowing economy. UK
In summarizing key points, the essay has critically analysed business strategies of both chain and small/independent hotels including their strengths and limitations/challenges. Regarding chain hotels, despite rigidity out of formalized and bureaucratic management, the brand-fame and size as powerful-popular concept, economies of scale, wide and reliable product range and technological strength, including e-commerce dominance, B2B relationships, well built HR and sophisticated CRM are strengths evidenced. Likewise, even though higher degree of macro impact and costly innovations, the long-term planning strategy has contributed to viability, reliability, consistency and greater market strengths in them.
Conversely, small/independent hotels implementing short-term strategy insomuch as to avoiding financial risk out of unforeseen chaos, higher freedom, flexibility, individuality and autonomy contributing to immediate tactical and unrestricted decisions with creativity and proportionate to market dynamics have been their evident strengths. Similarly, personalised service/products strengthen revenue and CRM. Even though less reliable, less consistent and informal contract with customers, a lower degree of financial requirement, cheap internet availability, collaboration for marketing and reservation, niche market capacity with localised and customised service/products and lower degree of external volatility impact, including that of downturns have been their competencies. Despite a weaker HR competency, the flexible employee adaptation to seasonality, particularly in downturns, has strengthened their competitiveness as researches evidence.
Thus, based on evidences gathered for small/independent hotels, such as precautious short-term strategies, prompt decision making, personalized services/products, emphasizing customer over system, local/niche market capacity, economical collaboration, cheap internet availability and lower degree of macro impact are suggested more competitive strategies to tackle a downturn. Hence, as a conclusion, it can be claimed that even though chain hotels possess several strategic potentials, small/independent hotels’ strategy proves most competitive in a slowing economy.
Note: the writer is currently engaged in teaching at further education in the UK and this article reflects the relevance up to the postgraduate level (MA/MSc or so) in Tourism and Hospitality Management.
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