With tourism on hold, it doesn’t mean that we will stop selling or discussing what we will do next. Asia relies on tourism and hotels in Thailand especially are facing challenging times, but we are keeping our spirits high and our rates slightly lower as we try to navigate the weeks and months ahead. Joining us in the conversation today are:
Are the days of DMCs and wholesalers over?
Shane: No segments are finished. Like hotels, everyone is handling their business(es) differently and DMC/TO/Wholesalers are no different. I do think that distribution is key moving forward, but also is knowing that an entity is taking care of your booking from start to finish, especially given the uncertainties of flight scheduling, borders opening and closing, and variables that change every minute, so that is of critical importance - hence third parties that add value are necessary. Bookings are also not straightforward anymore, so while we are seeing many TOs go under, it's a shame, as I anticipate that they will be back and in an even stronger capacity in the future, whereby the knowledge of a situation, destination or a combination of both, for travel moving forward, will become not just an important skill but would become a lifeline for many travelers both leisure and corporate; for MICE it goes without saying that third parties are necessary. Relevant experiences are also now becoming more sought after, as what has been done before needs to be changed and updated, potentially hotels can't always execute 'out of the box' experiences in-house, and need quality operators to partner with, again with assurances and insurances in order to fulfil those consumer needs of discovery in a safe way.
Leanne: Yes and No. Companies across all sectors continue to struggle to meet the challenges created by travel restrictions and reduced cash flows. We have seen many companies impacted already.
The DMC and Wholesaler model has been a key component of the tourism supply chain and I hope these suppliers and our partners are using this time to invest in technology to drive the shift from traditional to dynamic, for speed to market. As hotels, we are responsible for ensuring our partners are supported to get back to business as quickly as possible. I do believe there will be a smaller and smarter playing field in the future.
The key right now is to build a strategy that is dynamic enough to receive market feedback and has the flexibility to evolve. The situation is changing so rapidly and what we did in the past is simply obsolete right now for recovery. Do I see traditional wholesale brochures anymore? No, I do not believe the customer wants that, I do not believe printing lots of brochures to communicate a message is the correct use of resources now or into the future. We have incredible technology at our fingertips. The customer wants an easy to reference research tool and the human touch to design their holiday.
I hope we can navigate to more sustainable ways of selling. The fast track to Virtual Meetings has shown how effectively we can change when we need to, and while I will never want to replace the human connection of relationship building, I do look forward to more sustainable business practices on how we navigate this next phase with our partners.
Myra: The travel landscape is ever changing and developing, and with more and more travelers becoming increasingly tech-savvy and reliant on digital platforms to seek information and get prompt results, consumers are ever more exploring their evolving relationship with technology. As digital platforms blur the need for in-person contacts or intermediaries, some destination management companies and wholesalers have become estranged from their consumers in a new marketplace where speed, convenience, options, and value-added service are key. While especially the luxury travel segment demands the need for social interaction to curate superlative experiences to meet affluent consumers’ aspirations and lifestyles, DMCs and wholesalers must evolve their business model to aptly implement and integrate technology to stay competitive with the rise of digital platforms that are just a click away, all while maintaining the human touch.
What works today when selling hotels?
Shane: Points of difference. Adaptability. Being on the head of the curve rather than a sheep. Words like flexibility, safe, structured conversation, and transparency are the important framework for today and for tomorrow. Everyone has a bed, a bathroom and Wi-Fi (hopefully), so for a hotel to 'sell' there has to be more than these common 'USPs' and price. This will vary with the business streams that return to a region, but history says that the bounce back when it happens will be strong, and while there's a lot of hotels in Bangkok at the moment, those (hotels) that have differential points, focus on guest comfort and relevant ergonomics, coupled with great safe service should prevail long term and make selling (for a sales team) a more enlightening experience.
Leanne: At Rosewood, we’re not held back by legacy, tradition, or outdated standards – we’re all about what’s next. Therefore, we are constantly designing new ideas of ways to sell and shift business to our hotel and outlets. Several challenges have emerged in a very short window: rapidly changing demand patterns, border closures, lockdown rules and regulations to follow, ongoing expenses in the face of changing revenue, and massive challenges as businesses incorporate virtual ways of working. Leading a hotel sales team to work virtually for the first time in their careers was probably the biggest challenge I faced during this period. We were simply not used to working at home. However, we did it for 92 days while operationally closed and we have created a more flexible selling backbone and embraced new sales tools as a result. I love our new virtual tours and 360 videos on our website to showcase the hotel from your device or desktop.
Whilst focusing on a purely domestic market has created a significant shift in strategy, it highlighted the importance of remembering who is actually in your ‘backyard’. I think in Thailand we lost our way by focusing on the target of 40 million international visitors. How we curate, communicate and deliver experiences to the guests that actually call Thailand home is key for more sustainable business practices moving forward.
Flexibility is key. The customer needs to feel supported right now, there are millions of people holding credits and waiting on refunds throughout the distribution channels. Forward planning is key and I am witnessing strong bookings for the last quarter of 2021, people want to have aspirational travel plans. I personally have never stayed in Thailand for 200 consecutive days but I have explored and traveled throughout Thailand with the brands that targeted and sold to me effectively. Thailand has an amazing opportunity to redefine its image to the future traveler to the Kingdom.
Myra: In today’s world of unprecedented uncertainty, people need to feel safe and secure and they want normality and stability when they step into your hotel, restaurant or spa. Business must go on and it’s especially during these times when your good name and reputation – yours and your hotel’s – matter and trust in you will be further cemented when you stay ahead of the game in adopting and modifying your operations quickly and efficiently to meet your guests’ needs and all regulatory requirements in the new normal. You must also be flexible, but there is no need to start a price war by dropping rates drastically, as your clients are likely to consider their safety and wellbeing and your good reputation for service delivery over the cheapest rate elsewhere in town. One of the many things that we’ve learned during this pandemic is that everyone is in the same boat and collaborations with others – even the Michelin-starred restaurant around the corner that is in your food and beverage competitive set or the standalone beauty clinic in your lobby – are a cost-effective way to excite patrons and get footfall through your doors whilst helping smaller businesses to stay afloat and stay in the game. But your guests, regular and potential, must know about your initiatives, promotions, and value-added services that meet their aspirations and lifestyle to choose to come to your hotel, and in this regard it is critical to up your communications game to get your share of voice across all media platforms in the marketplace. And as always, have empathy and show gratitude – we are all in this together.
If you had any advice for your peers in the industry what would it be?
Shane: My advice would be to put yourself in the consumer's shoes. What are 'you' looking for, and build your case around that. If you are only focused on price, then this would likely become your model, but beware of whiplash strategies that may last longer than the crisis and become your legacy - price dumping is short lived. Work out what competition is relevant and what isn't and work on that. The notion 'everyone is a competitor' is a little dated, I mean so many people sell croissants, but is the one wrapped around bacon, egg and some sort of sausage at one place really a competitor for Conkey's? Both are flaky pastries but they’re for different mornings. By the same notion a Victorian Bitter (VB) and Laurent Perrier are both alcohol, to drink any time, but you could hardly class them as competitors. Find your track, stick to it, and be clear on the outcomes you project. It's hard to keep up with the Joneses when the Joneses were the Smiths last week, and the Rogers the week before. Be you, and let others be them.
Leanne: Remember to be kind, supportive and extend a helping hand. We are in the business of people, serving people. We care for people, and make it our purpose to build long-lasting, genuine relationships. At Rosewood we call this Relationship Hospitality. I am impressed how this crisis has brought together the commercial leaders of Bangkok to collaborate and to develop a sense of community. We are stronger from what we have experienced together during this crisis.
With limited influx of tourists, how do you make your brand count?
Shane: Limited tourists make a good prospect for brand placement, and product fine tuning. It's easier to talk to a local audience and get their buy in, with a great set of opinions and the chance to generate more frequent repeat guests, so at the moment, work with this. We have a new brand, so it's a bit of a blank canvas for Bangkok with us being the first Kimpton in South East Asia. We have worked extremely closely with the Kimpton Brand in the US and Singapore, to make sure we are delivering justice and more to this design-led luxury lifestyle brand. Fortunately, we also have some incredible IHG programming around safety, that elevates the Kimpton brand, and from a loyalty stand-point, this is what we know our consumers are looking for under the umbrella of the IHG Hotels. I would say be true to the brand in the first phase, and you build a strong foundation. I would also say that a new brand has to work on sustenance activities too, otherwise early efforts will be forgotten.
Leanne: At Rosewood Bangkok, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a safe and secure destination for our guests. In addition to the guidelines set by the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts® Commitment to Care program, a global health and safety initiative for the protection of all who visit its properties, we have worked in close collaboration with local professionals and medical staff to deliver the highest standards of safety to our guests from the moment they walk in up to the minute they leave. Reinforcing our commitment to the customer during this unsettling period.
I also have this quote from a Covid research paper at PWC as a reminder that. ‘Balancing social responsibility and shareholder value by making early moves that will positively impact the brand. Companies that are able to show empathy in their response to the crisis will likely see a more positive response from stakeholders and be able to build brand equity with customers’
At Rosewood Bangkok we actively fast-tracked refunds to customers who had to cancel their travel plans. We deployed a Rosewood Bangkok on the Move food truck to support first responders and hospitals across the city. The company also rolled out Rosewood Raise, a comprehensive relief initiative developed in support of Rosewood Hotel Group's associates who have been impacted by the COVID-19s. All brand building initiatives but ultimately, being human, during a crisis.
Myra: We believe that guests feel more confident booking with established hotel brands which have greater expertise to implement the necessary health and safety protocols in and around their properties. With this in mind, we are working arduously and creatively to amplify the Anantara brand’s long standing reputation of connecting our guests to genuine places, people, and stories through personal experiences and providing heartfelt hospitality in our hotels.
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