I really sympathise with so many independent hospitality owners and operators out there who wake up to the daily battle of holding their own against the generic brands, fighting for a piece of the occupancy pie and trying to keep their rate one that can allow them to reach targets and turn a profit.

Easier said (or written) than done in these fast changing and competitive times in our industry.

The big brands are gobbling up smaller chains to gain footholds in those categories, or simply open a ‘new’ brand to cover new creative ideas that others have thought of in their efforts to stymie competition. It’s the generic pacman and wherever you try to hide, he knows the maze better than you do. You can run, change course or just plain commit ‘suicide’ by running towards pacman.

So what is a guy supposed to do?

I firmly believe that there must be a well thought out strategy that delivers balance between consistency and change. Of course there are certain things that must be consistently superb, and kept under close scrutiny to make sure that they are all in line with or above guest expectations. These of course include cleanliness, maintenance, hygiene, and certainly service.

But these are not enough in today’s hospitality world. The new generation of customers is expecting much more than the standards that satisfied yesterday’s guest and kept him coming back. You delivered that and you had a returning guest, worth his weight in gold.

Today it is easy to panic and make frantic decisions based on what the competition is doing or perceived to be doing. Everything inside hotels is being questioned and many changed based on surveys or the need to save expenses while ‘selling’ new and creative ideas.

The time has come to sit down and take stock of the situation calmly. There is a definite need to bring change and new wind to fill your independent sails, but this does not mean mimicking the big guns necessarily. Nor does it mean lowering rates to better compete, or giving over more rooms to the OTA’s. It does not mean cutting staff or purchasing lower quality goods in efforts to lower operating costs. Sure, you can do that but that will just destroy those elements that we decided need to be consistent, and will lead down a road to disaster.

Just because the new trend may be rooms without desks or wardrobes does not mean that you run to a designer to follow suit. If they do away with the minibar, do you do the same? Many things have succeeded for the large brands but they have also seen their fair share of failures.

The new generation of guests is not necessarily looking for creative new room designs, though they appreciate them if they are nice and welcoming. But how many are really ready to live out of their suitcase as the survey reveals, and what about those that do want a place to hang their clothes? Do you just cancel the in room desk because surveys say that Millennials work on their laptops on their laps?

Serious thought must be given before drastic steps are taken, especially since renovation funds are tight and there are priorities to be followed.

So what now? The hotel is being kept well maintained, clean, the service is good and feedback steady. Yet with all these the results are not as expected. Costs are rising and rates are not rising in tandem.

There are steps that can be taken to assist in getting back on track, and many do not need huge funding, but the first thing that is needed is for you to accept that competing with the generics at his own game is not a viable proposition.

You see, surveys also show that Millennials are radically different in their expectations and values than the previous generations. They expect more than just the clean, well maintained room and good service. They are looking for added value in their stay, and that is much easier to create and include than making physical changes.

The Millennials are looking for a hotel or business that is engaged with their staff that recognizes multicultural staff that are looked after on an equal footing. They are looking for a hotel that is engaged in the community and sponsors worthy causes.  They are looking for places to stay that support the local businesses and buy locally sourced, fresh produce. They are looking for signs that the hotel is adopting a ‘green’ policy with regard to the environment, and is energy saving. They are looking for a place that differentiates between them and the competition. Perhaps it is through the history of the property, or maybe the people of note that have stayed there. It could be the history of the family that has run the property for generations, or in a creative theme that runs through the house.

The Millennials are really the first generation that actually cares and does something for the environment and expect the same for others. I see this every day in normal interactions. Even when purchasing fruit and vegetables I have noticed that they do not used the plastic bags offered free to pace their produce in, but rather empty them into their backpacks ‘as is’ after paying. I guess that they have seen the statistics of the hundreds of tons of plastic that ends up in the oceans!

In summing up I believe that above the normal expectations mentioned above, independent property owners and managers must make conscious decisions. Whether it is to implement a great HR policy that will make for a happy staff complement, or engage with the community, adopt a green policy or buying local produce, a policy of differentiation must be put in place.

These decisions will ultimately pay off and allow you to compete on a level playing field. They will allow you to keep rates and collect the gold that is in returning guests.

I would recommend a policy of “Keep calm and differentiate”.