PR in the hospitality industry: Creating precious memories

Is PR an art or science?

Industry practitioners would generally say it is both. Carly Smith of BlueSky PR in UK says that it is an art:  uch as flexibility amid constant change, mentoring, strategic thinking, honesty and accountability are at the very core of our roles. And while machines can now assist with measurement, reporting and even content creation, the real value we offer our clients comes from a level of emotional intelligence that is impossible to replicate with machines.”

I tend to agree with Carly because it is perhaps in the hospitality industry where PR can be regarded more as an art, where intangible traits such as agility, flexibility, and creativity are put into practice most often, where passion is a way of life, and empathy and humility come into play at the most critical times.

I have immersed myself in hotel PR long enough to see that while the practice of PR in any industry requires cultivating meaningful relationships with media and the target audience, this skill is paramount in the hospitality industry. Public Relations entails relationship building, which takes time to develop. Fortunately, with hotel being an experiential business, developing and strengthening contacts with media and customers take place here on a regular basis. There is almost no excuse for failure in this aspect, because the very nature of the hotel’s culture provides a natural environment for it. It could only fail if this basic PR craft is wrongly exercised.

Building on the hotel’s social presence

CREATING buzz and visibility for a hotel has limitless opportunities. There are many amazing stories to tell about award-winning restaurants, astounding culinary creations, luxurious room amenities, a stunning lobby, and cutting-edge health and wellness facilities. Not to forget the other facets that define a hotel’s soul: its community involvements and relevant advocacies, and the impeccable service by the well-trained and dedicated staff.

In this brick-and-mortar industry, precious memories are built within its walls and relived over time. The hotel is a silent witness to a business partnership being clinched, the grandeur of a wedding reception followed by years of happy anniversaries, a young couple’s giddy feeling on their first date, the enduring taste of the ribeye that melts in the mouth, the friendships and preferences of the movers and shakers, and even fond thoughts of the server who through the years remembered their favorite drink, etc. There’s the adage that is apt in hospitality business: “Customers may forget what you said but they will never forget what you made them feel.”

When Mandarin Oriental, Manila closed its doors in 2014, the profusion of nostalgia and recollections that surfaced was overwhelming, not only from its loyal guests but also from the media that had written pages and extoled its sterling qualities through the years.

Building on 38 years of meaningful experiences, the hotel thoughtfully phased out its closure. It brought down the curtain on the restaurants not in one fell swoop, but ‘gently’ allowed guests to reconnect and experience—for one last time—the “Best of the Best MOments” (a play of words on the hotel’s name) in each of the restaurants they loved.

Capitalizing on the nostalgia, the hotel repurposed a tree of memories onsite at a central space, where guests would hang cards on its branches, expressing their affection and regard for a brand that they looked forward to welcoming back after a few years.

While writing compelling stories about the hotel is a fundamental task, it is just as vital for the PR person to be astute in identifying the right media to target one’s desired audience. Building an effective media database of sources that reach the target audience is fundamental.

Flexibility, and keeping in step with the times

IN this age when the media has expanded far beyond the traditional print, radio and television, the hotel PR practitioner needs to be in step with and embrace digital media, regarded by customers as a vital partner in seeking information and making informed decisions.

Understanding the number of Facebook clicks, Instagram and TikTok likes, producing YouTube videos, can make a difference in one’s earned or owned media mix. More than ever, being agile and proactive is imperative amid this platform’s spontaneity, and spotting and reposting a nice compliment on Twitter or in an IG Story, will help build reputation in the same way that quickly addressing a complaint posted on Trip Advisor will.

Flexibility in the day-to-day world of the hospitality industry cannot be underscored. To manage the unexpected and, in the process, help overcome stress is another skill to master. As has been said, “flexibility is the key to dwelling with life’s ambiguities.”

Creating visibility for the hotel to influence customer or guest behavior supports Marketing, which, in a hotel structure, shares the responsibility for overseeing owned media such as the social media platforms for promo announcements, website updates, email campaigns, in-house posters and newsletters.

Besides media relations, the other PR touchpoints are the use of advertorials, promoting positive reviews, media monitoring to capture hits and published materials, supporting high-profile events targeted to a desired market, engaging in marketing partnerships that are considered to be a perfect fit, or sponsoring a community project that is aligned with the hotel’s vision.

Embarking on an internal PR campaign in collaboration with Human Resources is another interaction essential in the business, and working with a proactive HR that has the pulse of the staff is an advantage.

As the digital world expands, influencer marketing becomes increasingly important. Maintaining relations with digital and print media food reviewers and targeting brand advocates that address the desired niche market, unfold discoveries, and create among their followers an increased desire to explore the hotel is necessary.

21st century sustainability goals

TOUCHING on hotel PR at this time without citing the global sustainability movement would be an oversight, as countries rise to the call for action to attain the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations. Forbes Travel Guide, considered the world authority in luxury travel, lists sustainability as one of four top luxury trends. Booking.com in its 2021 Sustainability Report says that 73 percent of those surveyed say travelers are more likely to choose an accommodation if it has implemented sustainable practices, and 61 percent say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.

The Asean Tourism Forum also focuses on this initiative, recognizing establishments that implement eco-friendly practices with the Asean Green Hotel Award. In the Philippines, among the recipients of the 2022-2024 award are the three hotels at the luxury integrated resort City of Dreams Manila, namely, Nüwa Manila, Nobu Hotel Manila, and Hyatt Regency City of Dreams Manila.

The resort under the sustainability banner “Above and Beyond” of its owner Melco Resorts, with the overall goal to be carbon-neutral and zero-waste by 2030 throughout all its properties in Asia and Europe, is blazing the trail in the Philippines with initiatives such as renewable energy; energy efficiency; zero waste initiatives; reduction in water consumption; support for sustainable gardening or organic urban farming; installing an onsite water filtration plant to eliminate single-use plastic; a dynamic CSR commitment among its colleagues; and the first integrated resort in the country to install PV solar panels. It is inspiring that more hotels have strategized to also move in this direction—reinventing amenities, introducing eco-friendly services and food sourcing, among them.

Building trust

PR’s storytelling in the hotel industry, as in any business, is to build trust and develop a positive reputation for the business and brand experience. It is inherent in the nature of hotel business to connect people and be creative and nimble, just as it needs to be resilient in unpredictable times, turning challenges into opportunities for positive change to help create trust. It takes skill and an art that bears on PR to accomplish a masterstroke.

PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior communications professionals around the world. Charisse Garcia Chuidian is the Vice President for Public Relations of City of Dreams Manila.

PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to askipraphil@gmail.com.

Image credits: RAWPIXELS | FREEPIK.COM