United we are occupied
Hotel marketing companies have been known for the mantra of bringing great success to “your property”. Now they are increasingly grouping their members to facilitate exchanges and cross-marketing.
While hotel marketing companies have been known as collections of ‘like minded’ properties traditionally, their communication and measures today are more slanted towards distribution and marketing rather than the sharing of best practices.
In what points to a more mature industry, many companies now say that their members stand to gain a good deal of value from such exchanges and are demanding them more and more. What is new here is the fact that this cooperation is structured with key goals predefined and properties are only too eager to participate. Going beyond the staple forums these measures are now going on the ground.
Here’s three methods that brands affiliated to hotel marketing companies use to better their prospects.
1. A market in exchange for my chef?
“For example, Imperial Hotel Tokyo sends staff to other Leading Hotels of the World hotels so that staff get exposure in other luxury hotels. In return, the host hotel gets an insight into what the Japanese luxury consumer wants thereby allowing them to serve that market better,” says Sowmyaragavan TE director, sales and marketing, India for Leading Hotels of
He explains that getting a better insight into a new market is often at the heart of such exchanges. “Hotels that find they are not getting a fair share of a certain market considering the city averages vis-a-vis a certain market also tend to opt for such exchanges,” he adds. For instance, for a hotel in a destination that is just starting to get Indian travellers, a small but key learning on the ground would be that you cannot serve dinner – no matter how sumptuous – at 5pm or 6pm because an Indian would not be able to even think about eating dinner at that time.
Yet another trend is specifically with regard to chefs. “There is a good amount of exchange of Michelin starred chefs of late as hotels begin to realise that these masters, each with certain delicacies to his name, would drive a good amount of traffic to their hotel,” Sowmyaragavan says. If the prime time television slots allotted to Master Chef and Top Chef are anything to go by, this strategy definitely has its roots in reality. SLH is currently working on one such exchange. “I know Viceroy Bali is investigating ‘chef swap’ opportunities at the moment and we are helping to facilitate this,” says Kerr.
Skill set sharing on the whole is popular as the people crunch gets stiffer. Hotel marketing companies are responding to this. “We will be launching a number of new training programs over the next six months and we will be asking our member hotels to participate and share their experiences,” says Jason Roderigues, marketing manager India, Discover the World Marketing which represents HotelREZ in India. Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) CEO Paul Kerr tells us that due to the very high standards of service offered at SLH hotels, staff members from their properties are in demand. “We are exploring the possibility of helping our hotels share talent at the moment. It’s in all our best interests to keep high quality staff within the SLH family,” he says. Leading Hotels of the World already has such programmes in place and Sowmyaragavan says that it has worked towards increasing service levels.
2. Online is a wonderful thing
Allowing for online sharing of information among members (who miss the networking evenings and conferences) is catching on. “We have an extranet called myslh.com which can only be accessed by our hotels. Here we share ideas, information and opportunities for our hotels. They each have a dedicated account manager who is always on the lookout for opportunities within the SLH network and they help our hotels connect with each other,” says Kerr.
HotelREZ’s online portal allows for group online training sessions. “Best practice guides are already available online. We will over the next few months be launching new community based features on our online portal to foster greater sharing amongst our member hotels,” he says.
A travel agent would be more than happy to receive a readymade package – at least in terms of accommodation. Pool some resources to throw in transfers and the hotels included in the circuit package have a sure shot at getting picked up more often than not. Tactical campaigns – always a part of the offering – are now inviting more focus from hotel marketing companies. For instance, Leading Hotels of the World has just run a promotion that includes three hotels in Switzerland – Baur Au Lac, Zurich; Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne; and Badrutt’s Palace Hotel, St. Moritz.
“We are members of Leading Hotels of the World so we decided to run this promotion together. We discussed the idea with each other and with the hotel marketing company,” says Britta Matthesius – director of sales, Baur au Lac. All three properties have taken up different parts of the tourism pie – Baur Au Lac includes two tickets to Zurich opera in its package, Beau-Rivage Palace includes a wine-tasting at a nearby Lavaux Vineyards and Badrutt’s Palace Hotel combines tickets for all mountain railways and cable-cars and public transportation within its offering. In this case the package does not include all travel. Have the entire package ready for a customer or agent and the response is likely to be even better. “We have developed itineraries that allow guests to explore a destination and experience the very best food and wine, activities and culture in a certain area whilst having the comfort factor of staying exclusively at SLH hotels. One example is a new package at The Paul Bangalore and Orange County Kabini and Orange County Coorg in Karnataka. It includes transfers, accommodation, a city sightseeing tour, a safari and lots of other wonderful experiences – basically the whole trip is taken care of,” Kerr says.
The interesting part is that often these promotions can transcend geographical promotions and become more about concepts or market segments. In May, Leading Hotels of the World promoted ‘one-of-a-kind golf resorts’ across its international portfolio. Among the six hotels in the promotion was Umaid Bhawan Palace, otherwise known more for its heritage and celebrity weddings rather than for the golf course.
HotelREZ launched a whole other brand catering to the LGBT community worldwide. “It brings together a global community of ‘Gay-welcoming’ hotels with unprecedented visibility and access to the affluent LGBT market. To be approved into World Rainbow Hotels, properties must have completed training to ensure all guests are treated with respect and feel truly welcome and offer a welcome pack with information about the local gay scene. The World Rainbow Hotel’s programme is launched outside of HotelREZ’s main offering. In addition to seeking new member hotels we selected a number of hotels from HotelREZ and presented them with a proposal for membership,” explains Roderigues.
The usual wine and dine
Gathering members together to discuss best practices remains popular as a means to encourage cooperation. “We hold regular meetings for our hoteliers to give them the opportunity to meet, network and to share best practices. Last year we held 12 meetings around the world. This year we held three regional meetings – one in London, one in New York and one in Singapore,” says Kerr. He adds that the meetings foster a very open, interactive environment. “We share case studies and learning from hotels in attendance – they are always happy for us to do this if it will help their fellow hoteliers,” he adds.
Roderigues says, “Our HotelREZ conference will be held in Q2 2012, for all member hotels. Bringing members together at events always fosters an environment whereby hotels can hear about each other’s experiences, share and learn from
He adds that the planned conference is to be very interactive, to encourage hotels to meet other likeminded hoteliers and share ideas and skills, and also forge relationships so that they can work together directly in the future. “We are keen for our hotel members to develop relationships that we facilitate, but also to build direct relationships with other HotelREZ member hotels,” he says.
Kerr has found that in terms of sharing of best practices – it works best when kept local although he keeps that option open to his members. “Our hoteliers can choose which event to attend – for example, a hotelier from Bengaluru could choose to attend the event in London.
“We occasionally hold an international event but we have found that it is more worthwhile for our hoteliers to meet and share best practice with colleagues from their own region because it is more likely that they are facing the same challenges and demands. The feedback is that our hoteliers get more out of smaller sessions because they can have a greater level of input,”
But will hotels cooperate?
The question about how easy it is to get hotels (individual or within a chain) to cooperate will always see mixed responses. But most often it is about timing and the right match.
According to Sowmyaragavan, one must pay attention to lean periods as hotels may be more open to such exchanges during that time. And obviously there must be bilateral value addition. “Most are open and appreciative of such programmes. They rely on the fact that there are experts in markets that they are not present in,”
“Healthy competition is always a good thing – especially for consumers. But even our hotels in destinations where we have a cluster of properties such as Paris or London are all very co-operative and open to opportunities to work together,” says Kerr.