Time for “Trendy Midwest” to cease being an oxymoron

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Carla Minsky


Good Starting Point is in the Hotel Industry Suggests Wisconsin’s IDM Group

MADISON, Wis. (February 10, 2014) – It’s time to stop perpetuating the talk that trends only start on the coasts and that by the time said trends finally migrate to the Midwest they are so “been there, done that.” At least that’s the position of one Wisconsin firm specializing in boutique hotels. IDM Group, LLC, a small firm headquartered in trendy Madison, Wis. with a portfolio of hotels around the Midwest, is refusing to be late to the party.

Sean Skellie, a partner at IDM Group and the company’s lead market analyst, made the point that, when consumers start clueing you in as to the error of your ways, you are beyond stuck in the past. “While it’s important to deliver an authentic travel experience, one that gives guests a genuine sense of place and culture, that shouldn’t rule out trying ideas that are either on-trend or ahead-of-trend,” said Skellie. “It’s time we stop giving ourselves an out in the Midwest.”

When asked how Midwest hotels, particularly boutique hotels, can start making up ground on the trend front, Skellie quickly rattled off these 10 pointers that IDM Group has embraced through experience.

  1. Build it cool and they just might come. Just because our address is Midwest U.S.A. doesn’t mean we can’t serve up cool here too. Development is on the uptick and the consumer is looking for insider gems that are unique and chic. So build it, re-do it or at least update it to attract visitors from all over the country, east and west coasts included.
  2. Take a chance. Even the corporate traveler who is away from home three nights a week every week likes when hotels “shake it up” with something unexpected. Boutique hotels can really excel at this, be it a killer appetizer, a signature drink, how you greet guests, or just how the towels are tucked.
  3. Cater to hipsters, not the mainstream. The Urban Dictionary says “hipsters” are a subculture of men and women in their 20s and 30s who value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter. Once certain concepts have reached mainstream audiences, hipsters move on to something new and improved. Lesson to be learned: Don’t be mainstream, be an independent thinker. It also helps to hire a few Hipsters to inspire creativity.
  4. Make sure the hotel restaurant staff knows their local farmers. Restaurant trends like farm-to-table and organic are pushing hotel restaurants to serve up better food experiences. If you aren’t offering regional excellence in your menu, better turn off the lights.
  5. Get guests to slow down. While fast booking, fast check-in, and lighting fast Wi-Fi are de rigueur, you need to deliver something so memorable and so special that guests will slow down (not stop) and smell the roses, and then quickly share their good experience on social media.
  6. Embrace the social media battle. The good news is Millennials are willing to spend more for the travel experience. But they’re also more vocal in airing complaints via Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or TripAdvisor. If you want to head them off at the pass, spend time on the floor talking to guests and less time in your office. We’ve found that by just giving guests the chance to communicate directly and in the moment has reduced negative posts by more than 20%.
  7. Over-deliver, don’t overcharge. Remember back in the ‘90s when every hotel was boasting that it was your home away from home? Today, you need to be better than home. Better TVs, better cable service, better beds, better towels, better mini-bar, and all at better prices. Expectations of products and service have to align with expectations of price and value. So don’t overcharge.
  8. Change your website already. Timely, relevant content is what inspires travel to your property. Update your pictures (hire a professional photographer with an editorial eye) and add video that’s not overly produced. Make the site mobile-responsive and you’ll be ahead of the nearly 40% of hotel web sites that are not.
  9. Agree that points are pointless. We are over-stimulated with points. Points at the grocery store, points at the sandwich shop, points for every credit card, debit card and loyalty program. Smaller businesses like boutique hotels can’t compete head-on with the big brands for points, and we shouldn’t want to. Better to get focused on a great product and, yes, service.
  10. Build your own culture. It doesn’t matter whether a hotel classifies itself as boutique, independent or lifestyle, in order to succeed you need to build a culture that is impressive, authentic, relevant, and yours and yours alone. Then hire to that culture. In an industry notorious for turnover, this is the strategy to stop the employee turnstile and the guest turnstile too.