When you are a small, independently owned hotel company with just four properties and no advertising budget, how do you best reach your customer? If you are Henry Kallan, owner of privately held HKHotels, you decide to harness the power of free social media.
This strategy has clearly paid off as just this week all four of his properties -- The Hotel Giraffe, The Library Hotel, The Casablanca Hotel, and The Hotel Elysee -- are currently ranked in the top five among all New York City hotels on TripAdvisor, just an inch away from their ultimate goal of having all four hotels in the top four. The only property to eclipse HKHotels by taking the number one spot was a newly reopened hotel with 15 excellent reviews. "HKHotels has consistently ranked high and topped the charts since 2004, so we feel confident with our firm commitment to service, we will soon achieve our ultimate goal," says Kallan.
In a city with so many iconic, well-known, and big brand name hotels, (think Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Four Seasons, Waldorf=Astoria, Peninsula) with even bigger budgets, it is surprising that travelers are ranking all four HKHotels properties ahead of them.
According to Adele Gutman, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for HKHotels, a few years back, in 2003, the company decided to pay close attention to the leader of social media when it comes to travel: the members of TripAdvisor. "We always put great importance on speaking to our guests in the clubrooms over breakfast or wine and cheese, but TripAdvisor gave us a valuable new way to hear the voice of travelers that were too polite to let us know what they are truly thinking." The management teams of all four HKHotels sat down every morning to read the most recent reviews posted and then decided what they needed to do to thrill their guests, which was needed to organically raise their properties' profiles in the rankings." Their goals were easily reachable: get in the top 10% first, then the top 20 hotels, the top 10, and next to own all four top spots in NYC.
HKHotels' team closely monitored each and every review, making improvements to service, operations, and facilities when the feedback indicated it was necessary, and making things mandatory across all hotels when reviews indicated that something was working well at one particular property.
According to Mr. Kallan, "When you are running a small business in a tough economy, you need to make choices on where to spend your limited resources. Advertising is great, but particularly at times like these, I would much rather invest the money I have into things that enhance the guest experience like more items on the breakfast buffet, an upgraded wine and cheese service in the evening, or nicer bed linens than taking a gamble on expensive marketing programs or fancy brochures which do not impact the guest." And clearly his winning formula for success is attracting travelers time and time again: unique, well-appointed properties in great locations; consistent service delivery; and good value for the dollar. And the TripAdvisor feedback reflects just that.
TripAdvisor feedback has impacted operations at HKHotels in big ways from greater empowerment of the front desk staff and relentless daily training of all employees to small touches like including oatmeal at all hotels for breakfast.
In addition to TripAdvisor, HKHotels also focuses its efforts on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and Google Maps which have proven to drive significant business to the hotels.
Henry Kallan's HKHotels brand has been in New York City for nearly 20 years now and he has clearly designed his four hotels to appeal to niche audiences. The Library is popular amongst the 40-something creative crowd; The Hotel Elysee attracts a very refined, mature clientele who want an upscale experience in a smaller property; The Hotel Giraffe appeals to the 30-something hip business traveler; while the Casablanca Hotel targets multi-generational leisure travelers seeking a more casual experience.
Kallan's formula is quite simple: give guests wha