Ian Lacey, a market analyst at Elliott Marketing & PR and recent visitor to Vancouver, the host of last year's Winter Olympics, gives his top tips on how to avoid missing out on the opportunities the 2012 Olympics could offer your hospitality business.
Problem: I've read a few scare stories recently about businesses in previous Olympic cities not having the footfall they'd planned for and actually doing worse financially during the games than at other times. We are getting our strategy in place for next year, but I'm worried the work might all be in vain. How can I ensure my business doesn't miss out on such a good opportunity?
Engage with visitors
Most Olympics visitors will only stay for a few days. For much of that time they will be looking for a warm welcome and to feel part of the Games atmosphere, especially when they are eating and drinking. There are plenty of cost-effective actions businesses can take, at minimal cost, to achieve this. Vancouver’s experience suggests that the majority of visitors will not pre-book meals so having an engaging ‘meet and greeter’ out front will give you a distinct advantage. If your staff members have foreign language skills, shout about it by putting up signs outside or by encouraging the wearing of national colours. Ensure your team are fully trained in the wider aspects of the Olympics, such as venues and how to get there, so they can provide practical help. Small things like these will really enhance the reputation of your business and boost sales.
Get the best from your staff
You will want your team to provide a consistently high level of service. However, a full-on three week Olympics period could easily take its toll on your staff - not to mention the subsequent two weeks of the Paralympics. Vancouver businesses found that over-stretching staff by opening for unreasonably long hours proved counter-productive and adjusted accordingly. For the period of the Games a number of restaurants added a service charge to all bills which went directly to the team and aided both staff retention and morale. This also had the added benefit of speeding up the bill paying process as there were no tip calculations to be made.
Work with your neighbours
In hospitality we are used to competing with our neighbours but the Olympics environment is completely different. In Vancouver, I heard tales of fan zones and temporary attractions, such as an incredibly popular zip line, popping up to bring a real buzz to certain areas. The same will happen in London and you will have to keep abreast of what is going on around you. Any ‘new kids on the block’ should be viewed as potential partners. One leading Vancouver bar and restaurant supplied both the management and all the food and drink to the temporary fan zone that set up next door to them.
Stick to what you are known for
London 2012 is not a time to start diversifying, especially if substantial financial outlay is involved. One experienced proprietor I spoke to regretted investing in the expensive street vending equipment he had set up outside his up-market Vancouver restaurant. It was generally agreed that maintaining your core business values, sticking to what you are known for and, of course, delivering excellent service were the keys to success, although you may need to make some adjustments, such as the temporary introduction of simplified menus and time restricted sittings, in order to speed up service and increase sales. Some price rises are likely to be justified but avoid what the Canadians referred to as ‘over gouging’.
Plan for the longer term
Having a plan in place for next year is essential. Vancouver businesses found that success was localised and was largely the result of a concerted effort to encourage visitors to visit a particular area. It should also be remembered that London 2012 only lasts for five weeks, although we are fortunate to have an extended ‘celebration’ period with events such as the nationwide Torch Relay and the Diamond Jubilee. Much of your 2012 activity should be aimed at getting people to visit you again and again. Three quarters of Olympics visitors will be domestic and many will be existing customers so you should start engaging with them now, especially via social media.