With a new “anti-brand” advertising campaign underway and a desire to put the destination focus back into travel, Filip Boyen, CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of The World shares 10 defining trends of the affiliation market.
Affiliation is about putting hotels at the focus of everything you do. That means communicating in a way that is relevant to the different types of hotels and not trying to be everything to everyone by creating four or five sub-brands and confusing the whole market.
Marketing, sales and PR activities need to be pin-pointed to match independently minded customers with independently minded hotels that have character and history and can compete with the big brands.
We have 100 inspectors now who inspect every one of our 526 hotels across 82 countries, once a year. If a hotel doesn’t meet the standard the first time they have six months to address the issues before the re-inspection then we decide from there if the partnership continues. The travel trade is discerning; they expect, demand and deserve consistency. Our aim is to increase ADR in our member hotels and if the confidence and trust of the travel trade isn’t there, the business isn’t going to work.
Working with partners
We work with the select agencies, such as Virtuoso Luxury Travel where the average booking is $500+ a night. To be able to partner with this type of agency our hotels have to offer certain amenities such as early check in and late check out, plus a gift in each room worth $100 – and that can be a free spa treatment, and experience, food or drink. Once the bookings start rolling automatically the ADR starts rising. The more hotels go into memberships with the likes of American Express, for example, the higher you can increase that.
We have 526 hotels across 82 countries but quality must be the same throughout. We have created a new inspection list of 720 standards, focused on emotional intelligence so instead of asking questions with a yes or no answer that can be captured in a tick box, we ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ and if the member of staff who served you was engaged. Service, and interactions with guests, must be personalized and not robotic.
Top level luxury travellers want personal and unique experiences and to be connected with their destinations. What is really important is that our hotels become facilitators for their guests to explore a destination. Each guest will visit an average of nine websites in the process of selecting and booking a hotel.
We see agents in the US offering their clients something outside of their comfort zone to make theirs the channel to transform that enquiry into a confirmed booking. These things are often focused on the destination and things like paragliding, rock climbing, a romantic experience. It creates a memory.
Promoting the independent sector
Owners know there is space in the market for independent brands and boutique properties and there is an increase in appetite for these as a result. We want the owners to be proud of their hotel but you also have to remember that there are two types of owners: those who are in it for the ROI and those who want to live the experience and make it their own.
Sense of place
Most times the only sense of place a guest will have is when they see the name of the city on the hotel entrance. In branded properties rooms are the same between Chicago and China so a guest experiences only the hotel brand and not the destination. Too many hotels now standardize so much of the experience, the whole idea of travel is lost.
Between the OTAs and the rise in AirBnB, there is a lot of competition for hotels today and we see that they have declared war with a series of “book direct” campaigns but what they need to do is show the guest that by booking direct they will receive better treatment and loyalty benefits – OTAs can’t do that. The big thing is that consumers don’t trust anyone and if a hotel “guarantees” the lowest price, the consumer will still check the OTA sites. That’s why things like Triptease will be important moving forwards.
Travel agency associations
We take more than 70% of our bookings through agencies so that’s no secret that we must concentrate on this segment. Web is 25% of our bookings and we constantly invest in our website. We have just launched apps on Apple and Android
We have just launched a new anti-brand campaign brand campaign advertising with “Independently Minded” as our strap line. What we are saying to consumers is that “we know that you are smart and that you are not influenced by beautiful beaches but here are some beautiful beaches anyway and here is an independent hotel near them”.