Changing customer behaviour and new competition drive established players to revamp their game in order to stay fit. Raini Hamdi interviews Preferred, Design and Worldhotels
Preferred revamps entire portfolio
Background In the biggest change since the Ueberroth family bought the company 10 years ago, the then Preferred Hotel Group retired its established brands Summit Hotels & Resorts and Sterling Hotels in March and moved all 650 member hotels to just one master brand, Preferred Hotels & Resorts (PHR), under five collections: Legend, LVX (luxury), Lifestyle, Connect and Preferred Residences.
What drove the change? Lindsey (Ueberroth, PHR president & CEO) in particular felt that the way people were buying travel were changing, thus (we had to assess) the importance of social media, OTAs, the direct relationship between hotels and consumers, between representation companies like us and consumers, etc. As a former hotelier myself, I can say Preferred is a strong B2B brand but in the current times it needs to be a stronger B2C brand. Plus when you have to nurture three brands, Preferred, Summit, Sterling, it has some kind of a diluting effect. So we’ve consolidated everything around Preferred Hotels & Resorts and the five collections.
The upside for the hotels is our direct-to-consumer website, and a new emphasis on social media. This early, bookings in Asia-Pacific have doubled (since the relaunch).
Should your travel agency partners be worried then? No, it’s a big world and there is enough business for everyone. As I said, we’ve always been a good B2B with TMCs and agencies, particularly the Virtuoso’s and the Signature’s (of the industry). There is always going to be a role for travel agencies, particularly the TMCs and consultants who can craft itineraries. If anything, it is the OTAs for whom we’re going to give a run for their money.
Take me through the collections briefly. While Preferred Residences is clear-cut, what’s the difference between Legend and LVX (luxury) and between Lifestyle and Connect?Legend is ultra luxury, smaller, more personalised, has significant architecture (ie, less to do with age, as its name implies) and is in a great location. Typically it commands one of the top two RevPARs in the city. LVX comprises the more traditional luxury hotels, is larger, is in the top 10 in terms of RevPAR and has a more mixed market – MICE, corporate, leisure – because it is larger.
Lifestyle is also luxury but it’s more about the style of service and decor. Connect is a casual collection – clean, neat and good but not over-the-top service.
How is the change deeper than just redistributing 650 members into five collections?We’ve completely redone our mystery shopping audits. We used to have some 750 points – if the bed was bad, the hotel didn’t get a point; same if the doorman didn’t have his badge on. But clearly the bed is more important than the doorman not wearing a night badge. So we’ve weighted more heavily on things like service, sleep experience, cleanliness, etc, and more on the overall feel of the hotel.
The audit is also far more contemporary now. For example, who says a restaurant today must have tablecloths? Some restaurants today look cool and have high average checks without them.
Aside from the revamped audits, we have other criteria in terms of the hotel’s market positioning, awards they’ve won, etc. So it’s broader than just the fulfilment of standards, although standards are important.
How do you feel about chains going into your turf? They try to get into our space but they are still going to tell the hotels to do this or that. Whereas we understand and love independent hotels; we let them keep their own brand and personality. We provide a platform for them to compete for business in a reasonable cost structure compared with the chains.
Royal Plaza on Scotts, Singapore: in the Lifestyle collection of PHR
Design steps up engagement
What are you doing differently? We recently launched the Design Hotels Brand Lab at our Berlin headquarters. Home to our in-house creative team – a rarity among hospitality brands – the Brand Lab is a seedbed for innovative and experimental ideas to be shaped and shared.
The space also operates as a base for member hotels and hospitality partners to meet and engage in creative discourse with influencers and innovators from the worlds of art, design and commerce. Since 2007, Design Hotels has been creating platforms for cross-industry gatherings.
We have increased both online and offline engagement with the community through events at our own Brand Lab as well as with partners. We also launched Design Hotels Pro, a new booking and information platform specially designed for travel professionals. The sales exchange event formats were also revamped in order to create a more engaging and educational setting. In total, we have 29 exchanges in 25 cities worldwide.
Macalister Mansion, Penang Malaysia, a Design Hotel
How does Design Hotels Pro benefit consultants? The launch of the portal is meant to help travel professionals gain direct access to rates and benefits, and reduce their waiting time to receive a proposal, making the entire experience more seamless and convenient. Membership comes with numerous benefits including travel industry rates of up to 50 per cent off, commission paid in local currencies, and added value extras such as welcome drinks and discounted spa treatments for travel agencies and their clients. All travel professionals with a valid travel agency ID are eligible to register.
Vice president brand, marketing & communications
Worldhotels: Dream, Dare, Do
Background In 2014, Worldhotels embarked on a new journey, Dream, Dare, Do, which it charted with the help of IFH and its ‘Reverse Thinking’ approach. In summary, the strategy is designed to put the dreams and experiences of its guests and hotels at the core of everything it does as an organisation.
Why the new direction? The hospitality industry has moved from a standardised to an experiential model. Millennials, who now comprise a significant percentage of our customers, have different expectations on booking and travel experiences. Technology allows for new booking possibilities and needs.
What’s being done this year about it? This year, we are taking the approach to the next phase. We are not only evaluating what the Worldhotels story means to our clients, but are also helping our hotels to define and create their own stories.
We will relaunch our worldhotels.com brand website this year, which will visualise our Dream, Dare, Do approach and allow our customers to book our hotels based on their story and the experiences they provide. This will help us increase guest loyalty. Speaking of loyalty, we have also introduced two exciting new features to Worldhotels’ loyalty programme Peakpoints this year. They are: Peakpoints Bag Tag, which allows guests to track their luggage back in case it’s lost during travel, and Peakpoints TravelSure, which provides travellers with emergency support during their travels, be it with transport in case of illness or translation services.
How do these changes benefit agencies? Our experiential approach meets the demand for more authentic and extraordinary travel experiences – and will equip agencies with the information they need to create one-of-a-kind travel experiences for their clients. Our added services, the Bag Tag and TravelSure, give travel agencies additional tools to sell a trip or a vacation – if they have a client who is apprehensive about travelling to a new destination, they can ease their worries with TravelSure’s emergency services. Selling hotel rooms is mostly about details – anything extra you can offer a client might just close the deal.