A Perspective from Balcony Managing Director Jim Sullivan
For hotels and resorts, winning a spot on one of the best hotel awards lists compiled by Travel + Leisure or Condé Nast Traveler is the ne plus ultra in awards recognition. Each of these media have been publishing lists for more than 20 years, and they’re as good as it gets.
Getting on one of these lists is a big deal for two reasons. First and foremost, everyone pays attention to these awards, including travelers, who’re keen to experience something vetted, and travel agents and tour operators, who want to get their guests to experience something singular. Other travel media care about them, too. These two magazines are heavyweights, not only in the US but the world over.
Secondly, the space itself is valuable. A single page of advertising in either of these publications costs a couple of hundred thousand U.S. dollars. Getting your picture and a glowing review of your hotel in the print publication, if your resort merits as much attention, is valuable real estate.
We’ve been helping hotels and resort land spots on these lists for the past sixteen years and have some thoughts about the kinds of hotels that are most likely to win (Good Bones) and the strategies any hotel might deploy to better the odds of winning (Good Strategy).
After a recent survey of the awarded hotels on one recent Travel + Leisure It List, here’s what we found:
- Size matters. The smaller, the better. The average number of keys in hotels recognized by Travel + Leisure is 83.
- Make it new. You don’t have to be new construction to be on the It List. Nine of the top 19 hotels are redesigns of old hotels or repurposed buildings.
- Nostalgia sells. If the building was once a former church, schoolhouse, rectory or hospital, you’re connected to something deeper and more profound than a mere way station for travelers. Something may have happened there, and people want to be part of that.
- Invoke famous people. The likes of Stanley Kubrick, Merchant & Ivory and Wes Anderson elevate a property’s appeal. Use the people who’ve stayed in the building to elevate the building.
- Numbers matter. If you spent a lot of money on the construction of your hotel, you’ll impress the editors if you say so. They spent $121 million on a redesign at Belmond Cap Juluca in Anguilla. They spent 17,000 hours restoring a fresco in the Lutetia in Paris. The media love numbers.
- Know what you got. That the walls of your building are clad in bulletwood (whatever that is). That your bannisters are mahogany. That the moldings are made of cypress wood. God lives in the details.
- Follow the money. Follow the money. The average lead-in rate at the hotels on the It List was US $816.
What isn’t all that interesting to hotel reviewers are your great ocean views and your great service. They’ll expect you to have the likes of that.
Provided your bones are adequate, if not perfect, there are things an account manager at Balcony will do and share with you to affect your chances.
- Consult the Oracle. On a monthly basis, we’ll consult our continually updated hospitality awards database and note which media open the door that month to voting. If voting is open to readers, we will encourage clients to use their social media channels to promote voting. This matters a ton.
- Nominate the Hotel. If your hotel is not on a list of nominees, we’ll contact the key people at the media to see if you can be put on that list. Some media reach out to contributors for nominations. Because some of Balcony’s senior account managers still moonlight as travel writers, the media sometimes ask us.
- Get the Media On-Site. All year-long, we’ll be encouraging clients to open the door to staffers from that media to experience the hotel. We typically look for no guarantees of coverage when we invite a staffer from media that confer awards we covet. If editorial happens, great. If not, it’s important to understand that these media need to know who you are. If you want to be in the running for such an award, open your door to them, or to a contributing editor who has a hand in the awards.
- Get Exposed. Much of the voting for these awards is done by people in the industry, not casual readers of these magazines. Make sure you’re getting out news about your property and make sure the media run that news. The more insiders see news about you in the consumer and trade press, the more likely it is they will vote for you.
- Manage Expectations. It’s going to be more difficult for a hotel from a large chain to get on the list than it is for an exquisite, independent boutique property. And then, repeat steps 1 – 4 above.