Demand for hotel rooms varies throughout the year, from the super busy peak season to those comparatively “relaxed” off-peak times. What about those middle-of-the-ground months, where bookings are steady but your small hotel just isn’t quite as bustling as it is during your peak season?
In the hospitality industry, these middle-of-the-ground months are referred to as the “shoulder season”.
Shoulder season may not be the slowest time of year for your small hotel, but chances are your bookings and revenue will take a bit of a hit compared to your busiest season. Successful hotels will forecast and anticipate these peaks and valleys so they can strategize accordingly, whether that means adjusting room rates or creating new promotions to increase hotel occupancy and boost shoulder season travel.
In this post, we’ll share our advice for identifying your shoulder season, as well as what you can do to make the most of it, including:
- When is shoulder season?
- Identifying your shoulder season
- Ways to boost demand for shoulder season travel
- How to make the most of your shoulder season
Let’s get started.
1. When Is Shoulder Season?
Shoulder season falls somewhere in between your high and low seasons. It usually occurs a month or two before or after your busy season, but it’s different for every hotel and will vary based on your location, climate, activities, and events in your area. For example:
- Beachside hotels in North America will have their peak between June-August, with their low season in the winter. That means their shoulder season would fall between September-November and March-May.
- Ski resorts in the northern hemisphere will peak between December-February. If your ski resort offers summertime activities like mountain biking, summer may be your shoulder season, and the wet spring and fall months might be your off-season.
- In Australia, beachside resorts may experience their peak in December-February, with June-August as their coldest and slowest months.
In some cases, shoulder season travel may offer many of the same perks as your peak season (like good weather and lots of fun things to do), just with smaller crowds—and as a result, fewer bookings and potentially lower room rates. On the other hand, shoulder season may not be quite so ideal in your area if other local businesses reduce their operating hours or shut down entirely because of lower demand.
This can make planning for shoulder season even more complicated, since there are no hard-and-fast best practices to follow. Everyone’s shoulder season is different, and that means you’ll have to get creative when it comes to making the most of shoulder season travel. The first step is identifying when shoulder season falls for your small hotel.
2. Identifying Your Shoulder Season
Knowing when your shoulder season falls is key to planning for these times of year. Many small hotel owners rely on their eyes and gut to tell them when business is slowing down or speeding up, and while having a feel for your hotel’s operations is always helpful, analyzing your numbers is the only true way to gauge your hotel’s performance and identify your shoulder season.
Reviewing your occupancy reports is the best way to identify your shoulder season. Look for when your occupancy rate tends to fall in the middle of the pack—not quite as busy as your peak, but also not as slow as your off-season. You may find your shoulder season isn’t quite what you thought it was—maybe it starts sooner than you thought, or it lasts longer.
With an all-in-one property management system like innRoad, you can quickly and easily review key reports, from a quick glance at current performance and operational data to year over year pacing on performance on occupancy, revenue, and other top metrics. You can even review your rate management strategy by monitoring daily occupancy rates, ADR, and revenue goals, along with real-time projected revenue forecasts.
In addition to reviewing your occupancy reports, you should also review local event calendars to get an idea of how happenings in your locale could impact your occupancy. Look for:
- Special events like food or music festivals
- Area attractions such as museums
- Sporting events
- School year travel—if you’re based in a college town, you may experience a surge of bookings around the start and end of the school year
- Holiday travel
- Weather patterns
All of these factors can impact demand for travel, leading to a potential burst of bookings or a lull in your daily occupancy rate.
3. Techniques For Boosting Demand For Shoulder Season Travel
To combat the shoulder season slump, you may need to think of creative ways to generate demand for travel or streamline your day-to-day operations to carry you through to your next busy season. When you are prepared for these fluctuations ahead of time, you can create promotions and other strategies to help you make the most of shoulder season travel. Here are five strategies to try:
- Develop unique promotions and packages to attract new or repeat visitors without reducing your rates, such as Christmas or holiday packages, or a free spa visit or dining vouchers for stays over 2 nights. Cutting rates can quickly get you into a race to the bottom with other hotels in your area—instead, offer something that sets you apart from the competition so you can get more bookings without drastically cutting room rates and sacrificing revenue.
- Promote activities that will attract local families rather than out-of-towners, such as equipment rentals, picnic baskets, weekend daytime events, or even event spaces to rent.
- Target business travelers and group bookings. Reduced shoulder season prices can be more attractive to business and group travel, which can help you fill more rooms quickly.
- Create demand around local events that run during your shoulder season. Does your town host a Christmas market, or perhaps a fall harvest festival? Events like these that fall during your shoulder season are a great opportunity to promote your property and gain more bookings from shoulder season travel.
- Engage with customers through email marketing. Your peak season is a great opportunity to grow your customer base. Once peak season ends and shoulder season begins, you can reach out to let them know about special seasonal offers and packages to encourage more shoulder season travel, or simply remain top of mind as they plan next year’s peak-season adventures.
4. How To Make The Most of Your Shoulder Season
Shoulder season is a great opportunity to streamline your workflows and reconnect with your staff, either as you wrap up a busy season or ramp up for a new one. Here are four ways you can use shoulder season to improve your operations:
- Review your performance. Shoulder season is the perfect time to analyze your year-to-date metrics and forecast year-end performance. By analyzing performance metrics such as ADR, RevPAR and occupancy, fixed and variable costs, and historical data, you can get an honest assessment of your small hotel’s financial health and better forecast how your property will perform throughout the year, as well as identify new opportunities to generate more demand for shoulder season travel.
- Make use of your unused spaces. Host events for local businesses such as happy hours or meet and greets so you can network and uncover leads while expanding your local footprint and building awareness for your space and other offerings. You can also rent event spaces for local events or fundraisers.
- Engage your team. Small hoteliers can make the most of their shoulder season by using the time to hold all-team and one-on-one meetings. Whether you assemble your entire staff or meet individually with different team members (or both!), these meetings are a great opportunity to communicate the overall state of the business, including peak season successes and opportunities for future improvement, as well as create individual plans to improve team member performance. You can also use this time to get fresh ideas and perspectives from those on the front lines, communicate new strategies or workflows, and start training staff on new processes.
- Plan for the years ahead. Ask yourself: “Where will this hotel be in 5-10 years? Will it need extensive renovations and repairs in the coming years? Does it have the tools and technology in-place to grow over the long-term?” These are the type of questions that properties with long-term vision regularly ask themselves and work towards answering. If you haven’t spent much time thinking about the long-term future of your hotel, this shoulder season is a great time to start.
Making the most of shoulder season travel is key to running a successful small hotel, but identifying your shoulder season and creating strategies to generate more shoulder season travel isn’t always easy. With the right all-in-one property management software, small hotels can quickly review occupancy reports and identify shoulder season travel patterns so they can focus on developing new strategies to maximize bookings during these months.
Cloud-based systems like innRoad’s all-in-one property management system integrate all your daily operations, including advanced reporting and rate management, into one easy to use platform, so you can review occupancy trends and adjust room rates and availability on all channels at any time and on any connected device. With no annual contract, upfront costs, or hidden fees, you can access our all-inclusive hotel check-in software, as well as all the tools you need to position your small hotel for success and achieve your long-term goals.