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Are you standing out from the crowd?

Ski accommodation is a competitive industry, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t stand out from the crowd. Sometimes, all that is needed is a fresh pair of eyes (and brains) to step back and spot the opportunities.

Accommodation in every ski resort is competitive, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll refer to Bansko, Bulgaria as an example as competition here is greatly magnified due to overdevelopment during the property boom, followed by reduced tourism after the collapse of the economy. I’m also an owner in this resort and I have experienced first-hand the difficulties faced in a fiercely competitive market.

At one stage, over 250 apartments in the Bansko ski resort were listed on one of the largest holiday rental websites. When the economy hit hard times, the number of visitors from the UK and Ireland dropped. This resulted in a price war as we all dropped our rates to undercut each other. In fact, on this particular holiday rental website I recall an apartment offering a week’s accommodation during the ski season for £69. I calculated that once costs had been deducted, it would have taken about 15 weeks of bookings to cover the cost of the advertisement alone.

The problem I see is that many owners trying to promote their ski accommodation follow a similar mindset.  We all frequent the same websites, forums etc. and the holiday rental websites flood our inboxes daily with offers to put our property in their ‘Featured’ or ‘property of the day’ section for a small extra cost with the promise of a boost in bookings. Through the investment and purchase of our second homes, many of us will have made friends with others doing likewise. The point that I’m trying to make is that when surrounded by like-minded people in a similar situation, the herd mentality kicks in and we tend to pay more attention to what our friends and competition are doing rather than focussing on the end goal.

If we take a step back from the crowd, what is clear is that you might be 1 of 250 property owners fighting for a handful of people looking for accommodation. When we all offer the same type of accommodation, with the same standard features, promising the same walk to the ski lifts, with the same ‘panoramic views’ of the mountains, then you’ve created a commodity and once you create a commodity, the only differentiating factor is price.

I believe that the secret here is to differentiate your offering in other ways. In fact, I would say that you need to differentiate your offering to the point where it is impossible to compare your offering to the other 249. There are countless ways to do this, but to help you start thinking differently, I’m going to give you a handful of ideas that I hope will be enough to spark some ideas of your own.

Find your Unique Selling Point – The reason we start here is because you may already be offering something unique, but just need to recognise it and make it more prominent in your promotional activities.

Start by going through the details of your offering and highlight anything that you provide that is above the ‘bog standard’ accommodation. Perhaps you have a pool, hot tub, or employ someone to meet guests in the centre of the town to take them to the property etc. When thinking about your offering, try to remember that what you’re offering is an experience rather than simply a place to sleep at the end of the day. With this in mind, try to think beyond the obvious attributes of your accommodation and explore the entire experience from when a potential guest first contacts you, right through to after they have left. Is there anything that you do differently that makes your experience different to everyone else?

If you’ve come up with some great ideas, take those unique selling points and make sure that they feature prominently in your promotional material, on your website, in listing headlines and details of your accommodation. Don’t be shy about it – highlight it in bold, put it in capital letters if you like. Anything that you can do to catch the viewers attention and invite them to take a closer look is worthwhile.

Create a Unique Selling Point – If you can’t find something in your existing offering to help you stand out from the crowd, then you will need to create something. The worst thing that you can do is sit and stare at a blank piece of paper. Instead, use this opportunity as an excuse to invite some friends round or head down to the pub with some mates and let the conversation flow.

This isn’t the time to evaluate, approve or dismiss ideas. In a word, just let it all go and invite the craziest and wackiest ideas ever to fly. Just be sure to write every single one down.

The next day (or day after depending on how merry the session went) sit down with your ideas and give each one some real consideration. As well as the idea itself, think around the idea in general, perhaps a variation of an idea might be feasible. The trick is to not ask yourself ‘Could I make this idea work?’ but instead ask yourself ‘HOW could I make this idea work?’ Just shifting the approach to the question will force you to think more creatively and in some case, ideas that are ‘Out there’, could actually be possibile.

As you can see, this is an area that I find really interesting and I could probably write endlessly on this subject. If you would like to read more about how to think creatively, I would recommend reading a book called How to have kick-ass ideas by Chris Barés Brown.

Ok, I’ll end this post with a few ideas that you may or may not have thought of to demonstrate that there is more to differentiating yourself than simply lowering your price

Provide an information pack – Do you live in the resort or have a good knowledge of it? If so, could you put together a guide to the resort, its ski runs, the best restaurants, useful telephone numbers etc.

Welcome packs – How about keeping a bottle of champagne on chill for your guests arrival? What better way to start someone’s holiday. Not to mention the fact that they will tell everyone about their experience and so help to spread the word. Perhaps for families, you could provide essentials such as milk, bread, butter, jam etc.

Package your accommodation – If your accommodation is located next to a cafe or restaurant, could you agree with the owner to include breakfast for your guests each day?  How about building the transfer or lift passes into the price of the accommodation?

Target a niche – Could your promotional material focus on attracting particular niche skiers such as stag and hen parties? Maybe you could team up with other owners to offer accommodation for large groups?

Add a little extra – Could you provide a little extra that would make you stand out? Some ideas might be a games console, free wifi, boot dryers, tumble dryer, cot and high chair etc. To demonstrate how powerful this can be, I can tell you that we have rented a cottage in Donegal this summer. If you asked me about it, all I could tell you is that there are 5 bedrooms and a pool table. You see, once I had discovered the house with a pool table, I continued to look at the other options, but deep down, the decision had already been made.

Be an expert – This is particularly relevant if you live in the resort. Could you mount a webcam showing the conditions, provide daily video weather updates, or maintain a resort blog? While this may not directly result in a booking, positioning yourself as a trusted advisor helps develop a relationship and familiarity with the visitors early on when they are still researching which resort to visit and so hopefully you will be front of mind when they do come back looking for accommodation.

Hopefully I’ve been able to get you thinking creatively about your offering and if you have got any advice or ideas that you would like to share with us all, feel free to add your comments below.

Image supplied courtesy of pshutterbug

1 Comment

  1. Mark on 04/04/2012 at 9:25 am

    Hi all, Sadly, ‘How to have kick-ass ideas’ is no longer available on Amazon UK, although there do seem to be some used copies up there. I dropped Chris an email to see where it was available, but it looks like the only other way to grab a copy is to buy from Amazon US. In the meantime, you can check out what he is up to on his website http://www.uppingyourelvis.com