Talk about branding, why does it matter to hotels?
“It matters to hotels just as much, if not more, than in other industries. There is just so much choice at hand. The way the internet has changed the world, it has given the small individual hotels as much exposure as the larger players. Gone are the days of the biggest ad spend wins; now it’s all about personality, essence, what do we stand for, and do we match with your ideals as an individual. I think hotels are still lagging against other industries as far as this goes but we are getting there. For example if you think about cars, the major brands have really carved out their personalities and defined who should be buying their product, but because of the mixed bag of hotels that most portfolios land up with, this becomes quite challenging. What Outrigger has done is we’ve got our brand statement cemented and held true to it in their business development. We are one of the only absolute premium beachfront brands in the world, they will not compromise on location, and it’s these things that lend to the positioning. The personality, however, is a bit different and that’s where Outrigger brings in our Signature Experiences, embracing every culture where we are located.”* *
How do you know when a branding strategy isn’t working?
* *“The easiest way now is to monitor what people are saying about you. There is quite a bit of tech out there which will give you a pretty insightful look into the broader consumer market’s opinion of you. I also think it’s still good to go back to basics and push a couple of focus groups, but you can just go have a look on Facebook. If what you stand for and the experience you are trying to provide or create as a hotel brand is not mentioned in any of the reviews or comments, that’s a pretty good indicator that you are not pulling your brand through the guest experience and you are just another one of those hotels providing a room.”
What are the things that Outrigger has done differently?
* **“As I mentioned, the beachfront locations and the Signature Experiences. Where they started was with the people, and this is the absolute 100% correct approach. Outrigger is a 70-year old, 4th generation-run family company and that stands true in its business practices; as a result the staff are seen as the most important asset. A massive effort has been put into place to instil the family core values or the Outrigger Way into the staff or ‘Hosts’ in Outrigger talk. These values are translated into each location and interpreted into the local traditions so that it resonates with the Hosts. For example, in Hawaii we speak about ‘Ke’Ano Wa’a’, in Thailand ‘Mittrapab’, and the ‘Bula Spirit’ in Fiji and so on. Once the staff understand the core values this emanates into every part of the hotels’ operations automatically and seamlessly.*”
How do you measure ROI? What are the tools you use to drive your brand strategy?
* *“Everyone is putting so much effort into things that they can measure on an ROI basis that they are sometimes leaving out the basic fundamentals of brand building. Brand strategy needs to come from exactly that: strategy. We can’t just focus on what return we are getting on our spend on a CPC campaign or what click-through ratio we are getting. All of these things play a part in the long term goal and one can’t do without the other, so how I measure in the long term is I look at what impact I’ve been able to make in converting a global audience into a direct consumer audience, where rate no longer drives the decision making process but brand and identifying with people’s inner needs comes into play.
How do you build a global brand when your emphasis is on the local feel, as a family company allowing GMs a lot of individual freedom? Is there any contradiction here?
“On the contrary, this is exactly what you want, GMs who are embracing their local communities and culture and bringing that into the hotels. We can’t sit in a corporate office and dictate to the GMs on how to interpret their local communities into our vision. They are on the front line and we can only give as much foundation and guidance as needed to ensure that we are always aligned, but ultimately we look to these GMs to really embrace the cause and bring that essence into the operations. After that it falls back on the guys like me to take that to market. All hotels and GMs are different. Some we need to be more involved with in building the stories and creating the experiences, but with Outrigger I’ve been pretty lucky to work with some great creative people.”
With further expansion across the beaches of Asia Pacific on the cards, and the aim of becoming the world’s best-known premium beachfront brand, Outrigger has provided a valuable lesson in how to turn a family business into something much bigger, without losing touch with the values it has always stood for.