Thinking of the Low Season

The period running from January through to Spring Break is traditionally a bane for hotels in the Northern Hemisphere – unpleasant weather, low occupancies, depressed ancillary capture and fewer events to drive group business. This nadir, this ‘low season’, is also a constant puzzle for marketers, many vying for ever-creative tactics to stir up reservations while others write it off entirely and pray that the high tides of summer will compensate.

Alas, coping with the commercial pits of winter is not a modern phenomenon, and it is something that hoteliers have had to contend with since the dawn of our industry. As an interesting aside, the early Greeks and Romans didn’t even consider January and February worthy of being called months. They simply called this period the ‘Intercalaris’ – meaning the time between the calendar year – a period to batten down and simply endure the cold. Life for them began in March (named for Mars, the god of war, and the start of the warring season) and ended in December (stemming from the Latin word for the number ten).

Before this becomes an unabated history lecture, let me pose the salient question of the hour: Is the winter low season something we must all simply endure, or can we actually transform it into a profitable period? While sun destinations are flying high, the rest of us are scrambling. My hope in writing this early in the New Year is that there are still ways for you to drum up new business during this time, or at least something for you to consider for next year’s plan.

Before I provide some thought towards developing opportunities for individual travelers, a few words on groups. By this time, your sales team should have delivered a solid book of base group business. This not being the case, you may wish to consider remedial promotional support programs, though I suspect that it might be too late. Still worth a try, though.

Now on to individual travelers. As an opening salvo to this exercise, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Even though the holiday season is meant to be a respite from the daily bustle, this is often not the reality, and many people are still vying for an actual break during the intercalaris. Specifically, take into account the numerous industries where the holidays are some of the busiest days of the year (for example, restaurants, hotels, retail, airlines and so on) and extended time off is out of the question. Furthermore, in the modern 24/7 workplace we find ourselves in, taking a full week off over the holidays is a luxury that only a seldom few can afford, with many offices instituting staggered employee vacations so that there’s always coverage.

In summary, never underestimate a consumer’s desire for a quick getaway during the winter months. All marketing promotions and tactical executions should play on people’s emotional need to restore and to get a deserved break that was previously unobtainable.

Trigger words may include ‘getaway’, ‘escape’ and ‘pampering’. Given that New Year’s resolutions are big this time of year, you can even go the opposite route and focus packages on fitness, wellness and healthy eating options. Then if you want to spur some traffic for midweek, consider activities and events as a rallying cry – exciting prix fixe menus, outdoor sports activities, spa specials, cooking nights, wine & cheese socials, sponsored tastings, or even arts and crafts. A few of these can have overlap with your groups business if designed properly.

This should make for a good start. Feel free to post your own suggestions or previous success stories in the comments. And if your numbers for this past holiday season are looking a tad underwhelming, email me and let’s discuss.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 in Hotels Magazine)

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