Just when you think you know what your guests want, you might want to step back and think about it again. Only this time put yourself in your guests’ shoes and look at what you’re offering from their point of view. That’s the basis of one of the major messages La Quinta franchisees and operators heard at the brand’s 2011 conference held this week at Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Fla.
While the Dallas, Texas-based brand offered up its current growth plans (more on that later on in this article) and announced its new high-definition TV initiative (see the “Hotel Ruminating” blog), the brand used the three-day platform to drive home its “Here For You” initiative—a guest service program intended to better help franchisees and operators create better guest experiences across all properties in the brand.
As Wayne Goldberg, president and CEO of La Quinta, pointed out, the initiative is, “a honing of things that make a difference for the consumer. We want to understand what the customer sees in an experience at our hotels.”
Julie Cary, chief marketing officer, said the program is “an all-encompassing commitment to engage guests. The core values of La Quinta are the foundation of this commitment.”
As Rajiv Trivedi, executive vice president of franchise development, tells it, “The guest experience is made up of a series of smaller experiences, some of which happen before they even arrive at the hotel. Every day as we run our businesses, we make decisions consciously or unconsciously, but do the guests know why we are making those decisions?”
To wit, La Quinta’s “Here For You” initiative is a formalized program that debuted this week. The brand will train and educate its hoteliers and their staffs—100 percent participation is required—on the ways it presents itself to guests throughout their stay. Focusing on everything from small experiences such as eye contact at the front desk to larger experiences such as parking lot conditions, the training will be done through a series of regional sessions.
Using seminars, skits, and even a musical performance featuring the brand’s new spokesperson, actor/comedian Fred Willard, the brand offered La Quinta franchisees and operators a taste of what types of “clues”—indications of the quality of product and service— guests may notice about their properties. For example, one skit showed a tired business traveler being bombarded with a series of bad experiences such as encountering a badly paved parking lot, an inattentive front desk clerk, and a poorly placed outlet for her laptop computer.
“Look at the room from the guest’s point of view,” Trivedi told the audience, using an example of poor housekeeping as a negative “clue” sometimes given to guests. “Recognize when a roll of toilet paper needs to be replaced. A fresh roll signifies that a bathroom has been sanitized and cleaned.
“Consider how all of these clues come together to create an overall experience, even when none of them are individually offensive,” he continued.
In a separate interview on the second day of the conference, Trivedi told Lodging, “We’ve always had our core values and we’ve formalized them. We believe ‘Here For You’ will create loyalty not only from guests, but also between our franchise partners and us. ‘Here For You’ is a lifestyle.”
“It’s really about listening to the customer,” Goldberg added. “It’s really in the training. When you can see and understand, you can help.”
Goldberg also told the audience that the brand is expecting more growth in 2011, including opening 50 new properties and 3,900 rooms. He pointed out that by the end of this year, La Quinta will have grown 98 percent since it was acquired by The Blackstone Group in 2006.
Goldberg said that the company is expecting to build on the momentum created in 2010 when the brand increased market share 3 percent and service scores by more that 88 percent. He said the company has a goal of adding another point to its market share this year. He also said he believes the opportunity to grow is once again available. “For the hospitality industry, the domestic operating environment is improving, at least it’s on an uptick,” he said.
La Quinta expects most of its growth to come in the Northeast United States, but is also looking internationally. Goldberg said the brand expects to open between five and eight properties in Mexico this year. La Quinta’s first property in Panama is expected in 2012.
Meanwhile, Trivedi said that the company is on the verge of finalizing deals in Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala. “And we’re very seriously exploring India,” he said.
Growth will also come from business travelers, as the company is targeting its newest ad campaign at male business travelers. Cary said that the company has been successful with leisure travelers but has indentified male business travelers as an opportunity for attracting new guests.
The company’s new series of national television and radio spots have already debuted and are targeted to those male business travelers. Cary said that the company is expanding its national presence spots in 30 markets.
Its TV campaign, created by Element 79, features voice over work by Willard and spins common business phrases into humorous messages.