Thursday (13th July) saw the annual flocking of hospitality industry leaders to the National Hotel Marketing Conference in Burton-upon-Trent. Held at the National Football Centre, St. George’s Park, the lineup for the conference was as inspirational as its location.

Opening proceedings was the ever-present Conference Chairman and President of the Hotel Marketing Association (HMA), Pamela Carvell. Setting the backdrop to the conference, Pamela pointed, in particular, to the importance of one industry trend; the power of influencers.

According to Pamela, bloggers, without data or products, manage to gather thousands if not millions of followers largely by means of intuition, empathy and authenticity. This, she asserts, makes bloggers the best marketers there are.

Bloggers have empathy in bucketloads…

Pamela Carvell President, HMA

We Sell Service

Across the ensuing presentations and seminars, one consistent theme became apparent, perhaps driven by an industry under threat of the big OTAs and new pretenders like Airbnb.

Success in the hotel business, at least beyond budget offerings, won’t be decided on cost, room quality or whether you have a 72” television. Instead, whether or not you survive and thrive will depend largely on great service.

Droll and observant in equal measure, Peter Hancock was the first to bring the importance of service into sharp focus. Contending that hotels don’t in fact sell rooms, Hancock’s Half-Hour (actually 20 minutes) highlighted the importance of a hotel’s entire staff in its marketing efforts.

Everybody connected with the hotel… is part of the marketing team…

Peter Hancock Chief Executive, Pride of Britain Hotels

The implication here, of course, is that guests of a high-end hotel likely already have a good view, bedroom and bathroom at home. What they don’t have is a diligent bellboy, charming barman or attentive waiter.


If Peter was notably droll, then it was with equal mirth that the larger-than-life Steve Dobson took to the lectern. And, once again, he made the point that success isn’t about cost, but rather the unique experience available at a hotel. It was an interesting, if not unexpected, insight from the CEO of Unusual hotels of the World.

Rather than service, Steve’s argument instead rested – securely – on the importance of storytelling in marketing a hotel. Taking The Ned, The Good Hotel, The Principal and The Curtain as examples of this, Steve argued that creating a truly unique experience resonated with prospective guests.

There’s lots of different ways to step apart from the competition…

Steve Dobson CEO, Unusual Hotels of the World

But, Steve was quick to point out that unique experiences needn’t come at the cost of an underground vault room featured in the James Bond film Goldfinger and now a cocktail bar. Illustrative of that is the CBeebies Land Hotel in Alton Towers, of all places, which is currently booked out at a rate of £450 per night.

The OTA Battle

Naturally, the event would hardly have been a hospitality industry conference without mention of the dreaded OTAs. And it was up to Natalie Wiseman of BDRC to summarise the issues we face in that regard.

Taking a data-led approach to her argument, she took the opportunity to highlight four ways – The Four Cs – hotels can begin the OTA fightback; concede, compete, consume and collaborate.

The first, and perhaps most interesting C is to concede. Natalie’s argument is that hotels spend so much time and money trying to compete with OTAs who have much larger resources – why not let them do it all? It’s a drastic step, but why bother offering direct bookings at all?

Secondly, to compete. Echoing Peter and Steve above, Natalie suggested that emphasising the unique experiences available at hotels is key. In other words, highlight the service on offer and what makes your hotel special.

Thirdly, consume. A tactic that would not be possible with the largest OTAs, but hotels should consider creating their own OTA or homestay (think Airbnb) brand in order to compete.

And finally, to collaborate. This is something Marriott is already doing with ‘Vacations by Marriott’ powered, interestingly, by Expedia.

Looking to the Future

It’s difficult to cover all of the fantastic content emanating from this year’s NHMC stage. There were numerous seminars and lectures that all proved valuable in the extreme, not least a revealing interview with Rockliffe Hall’s Eamonn Elliott.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and valuable sessions of the conference, and one we hope they unpack and expand in the next edition, was a look into the future of the business.

Before a round-table discussion, we were treated to an all too fleeting glimpse of the next steps for booking software from Victoria Crampton of FlexiBookings. That was then followed by Gee Mann, iBookedIn, who impressed the room with a taste of what’s to come in hotel technology.

Is your mind ready to be blown?

And, of course, thanks to Martin Evans at the HMA for putting on another excellent conference.