How to sell experiences, not just rooms: Damien Knowles’ formula for hotel growth

Our interview with the director of Occupancy Accelerator, & creator of Air New Zealand’s grab-a-seat concept

With over 15 years experience in creative advertising for the tourism and hospitality industries, Damien Knowles is quite the expert in turning a value proposition into sales.

He has worked for Air New Zealand, creating the famous ‘grab-a-seat’ concept, photographed destinations for in-flight magazines, and most recently, worked with Tourism New Zealand to help operators get back on their feet during lockdown. Now, he’s moved on to his own venture.

Setting up Occupancy Accelerator amidst the height of Covid-19, Damien noticed a pressing concern for hoteliers. Occupancy rates had not only significantly reduced for many hoteliers, but actually come to a halt in many cases. 

The demand is not only scarce, but the competition more fierce. Target market segments have also shifted, so hoteliers are having to figure out how to attract tourists from their own region. 


It is no longer strong enough to market just hotel rooms themselves, hoteliers must sell an experience

Previously, we had overseas guests who were excited just to be in the country. The accommodation was a smaller part of that experience. Today, we need to flip the script and lead with the experience you get when you stay there.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial for hoteliers to highlight their value proposition. 


“Hoteliers need to show their value, and think about the experience and atmosphere they offer”

“With Covid-19, it is entirely possible for businesses to survive, if not thrive. It’s about taking a step back and reangling your business to a domestic market and relooking at your value proposition. Hoteliers need to show their value, and think about the experience and atmosphere they offer.” 

– Damien Knowles, Occupancy Accelerator


Helping hoteliers identify (& market) their value proposition with personalisation & precision

Damien works closely with hoteliers to identify their unique selling point (& therefore the experience they offer)

With a focus on occupancy growth, Damien helps hoteliers reposition their marketing, and rebuild their online presence, in order to reflect their core value proposition.

In the tourism and hospitality industries, websites, online travel agents and other digital platforms act as an operator’s “shopfront”. It is the first thing a potential customer sees, and therefore, their first impression of your experience offering.

In setting up Occupancy Accelerator, Damien discovered that many independent hoteliers are missing out on attracting guests, due to an uninteresting “shopfront”. He identified how common it is for accommodation properties to have images of their front entrance or car park on their website, instead of images of the experience and atmosphere they offer guests. 

As an example, he worked with an accommodation provider that was located directly across from a famed mountain bike track. However, the property had a picture of their carpark on their website, and no mention of mountain biking at all. Damien helped this business reposition their accommodation as a “mountain bikers basecamp, for families to come ‘stay and play’”.

It is unique value propositions such as this that Damien helps his customers identify and focus on; because it is the experiences that set hoteliers apart from competitors (not the beds). 


“I help hoteliers drill down and specify their niche experience offering, and therefore their core target market segment”

“Hoteliers need to show experiences in their website and marketing photos. I help hoteliers do this by thinking about the services they offer, their unique location, and so on. I then help hoteliers drill down and specify their niche experience offering, and therefore their core target market segment.”

– Damien Knowles, Occupancy Accelerator


Ready to reposition your marketing and accelerate your hotel occupancy? 

Get in touch with Damien Knowles, or join his free Facebook group.



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