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While we are still in the midst of the evolving Covd-19 storyline, one thing that is apparent is how massively ill-equipped global hotel group’s sales and marketing and distribution systems are for disruption.

Over the past three months not one single hotel I stayed in last year has contacted me, bothered to connect or even reached out to say hey.  I stayed in over 50 individual hotels last year. I find this strange as a host of people I barely know have checked in on Facebook, Linked In, Email or WhatsApp during the crisis, but businesses that rely on loyalty have fallen insanely mute.

I’m a hotel loyalty member of Marriott, Hyatt and ACCOR and travel frequently. Aside from the monthly regular mailings that bear no reference to the global crisis and show nice pictures of hotels in places I cannot go, there has been zero communication.

Yet, I do frequently hear, or see hotel deal sites who actually sell hotel rooms for all these chains responding with value propositions. In Thailand take a look at MEGA Tix and all of the lead offerings are prepaid vouchers to chain hotels.

I’ve asked a few friends who work in chain properties why they go to outside groups to do their sales and marketing, and their reaction is that either their own distribution models can’t handle the ad hoc prepaid deals, or else they don’t want to damage their own Corporate business base by being seen to sell these direct. So, they use an intermediary to do what should be their jobs, while shouting to owners how much cashflow they generated.

Now If I’m a hotel owner who is paying both fixed and variable expenses for these seemingly large-scaled global systems that can’t even address a downturn in trading, where is the value? I’m paying both the hotel group and also the deal site for massively discounted business. I’m not sure that makes sense.

That said, hotels now are all jumping hoops to make cash flow to simply cover running cost so it’s revenue at any cost. But what confuses me is why are the sales and marketing systems running afoul? Why aren’t hotels connecting to repeat guests, where is engagement or even simple communication?  Electronic distribution has created a great wall to customers and in many cases, hotels are simply too lazy to talk to their customers versus posting a lame photo and offer on their Facebook site that no one will respond to.

As a hospitality industry observer, I can already see how the crisis is going to create deal sites like Luxury Escapes into instant God’s through mass selling of added value room offerings at commodity pricing. The next round of mass offerings will likely be large hotel chain properties because after all selling a branded hotel at half price is simply too good to be true.

In a nutshell I have nothing against deal sites, they have found a great niche and they, like OTA’s, exist due to the inability of hotel groups to innovate, adapt and create real world strategies that go beyond the rigid company line. As for the readers here, when was the last time in the past few months you heard from your favorite hotel? Something has to, or should change in the murky world of hotel chain distribution. Hello? Is anyone out there?

In Asia’s first international destination recovery initiative post-COVID-19, the Phuket Hotels Association and global hospitality branding agency QUO have joined forces to craft an aspirational relaunch campaign aimed at reviving travel to Phuket.

The Imagine Phuket campaign focuses on the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and – most importantly – emotions that Phuket evokes in fans around the world, making them yearn for all they have missed during the global pandemic.

Motivated by a desire to restore the island’s tourism industry and save jobs, Phuket Hotels Association kicks off the campaign with a fresh logo and video, designed to evoke in travellers how incredible it will feel when they can share a perfect vacation with loved ones again.

The initiative enables island hotels to come together with one voice and one message. Each property will be given the creative resources to personalize videos, images and logos with their own branding, creating bespoke versions of the campaign’s inspiring message. By reaching the combined audiences of 75 participating hotels in the private sector, there is the rare opportunity for authentic, large-scale virality.

Phuket has been one of the hardest-hit destinations in Thailand, and hotels have struggled to reopen. In a press conference on 10 June, Phuket Chamber of Commerce President Thanusak Phungdet told reporters that COVID-19 had already cost the island over THB 120 billion (USD 3.9 million) in lost income, with losses expected by to reach THB 280 billion (USD 9.1 million) by the end of the year if the situation doesn’t improve. But despite unemployment increasing by over 34% YoY, according to local reports, island residents remain resilient. This campaign seeks to be the first small step toward recovery.

With Phuket Airport open, and Thailand poised to reopen to international travel this summer, Imagine Phuket reminds viewers of the flavours of Thai food, the dreamlike limestone karsts of the landscape, the beguiling smiles and the feeling of freedom that comes with every visit to Phuket.

“Phuket is the leading resort destination in Asia and one of the most loved resort destinations anywhere in the world,” says Anthony Lark, president of Phuket Hotels Association. “Our members have come together with QUO to create a campaign, in both English and Thai, to evoke the soul of the destination,” said Lark.

As Asia’s most-visited island destination, with over 10 million arrivals last year, Phuket is among the first to embark on a significant relaunch. In the months after reopening, Phuket’s hotel industry is hoping that it will be able to attract many of Thailand’s 20 million domestic travellers.

“The Imagine Phuket video, and integrated social media campaign, are designed to drive emotion,” said QUO CEO David Keen. “We know that there is a massive desire to travel again, both locally and internationally. Our intent is to bring the story back to Phuket.”

Aimed at the international market, the campaign will reach the audiences of the best-known hotels in Phuket. From signage to buttons to long and short videos, each hotel will invite the world to dream, plan, envision and – above all – to Imagine Phuket with hope and anticipation.

Watch the Imagine Phuket campaign  video.

Check out C9 Hotelworks and Delivering Asia Communications Volume 5 of our Design Re-Invention series – on Glamping.

The live web event will be held on Tuesday 23th June, 10:00 am Bangkok Time.

Register here

Call it glamping, luxury camping or hotels without walls. Adventure travel is on the upswing and travelers in every budget category can’t wait to get out of the box. Hotel developers and operators are seeking a unique selling proposition for resort properties and increasingly looking at tents or even hybrid structures to position their offerings at a different level from their competitors.

Our best-in-class speakers comprise the entire discipline from glamping development and concept advisors, to  creative tent and fit-out specialists, and operators who create unique experiences in Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and North America. Learn what works, and what doesn’t along with insight into best sustainable practices, how to craft guest activities and experiences and what is it actually like to live your life in a tent. This group of experts has done it all.

Speakers

  • Luca Franco, CEO & Founder, Luxury Frontiers
  • Anneke van Waesberghe, Founder, Escape Nomade – Luxury Tented Villas
  • Ueli Wick, CEO, Escape Nomade – Luxury Tented Villa
  • Jane Quinn, Founder, Me Jane Camp Out
  • Louis Thompson, CEO, Nomadic Resorts
  • Bill Barnett, Managing Director, C9 Hotelworks

 

Moderator

  • David Johnson, CEO, Delivering Asia Communications

Register here

From buffets, to welcome drinks, overly standardized offerings and no sense of space utilization, hotel restaurant and bar design remains a highly institutionalized vanilla-flavored train wreck. You can already tell how the story is going to play out, when you premise that hotel operators lump what should be brand opportunities into a sorry, sad basket called outlets.

I’m a hotelier by trade, but am man enough to know how we get things wrong and it’s time to change. Let’s start at the beginning of the disaster about to happen, as the hotel technical service group and others issue out an area program, brand standards and outlet concepts. The disconnect starts here as those doing the work will unlikely ever be involved in the actual operation, have little direct market knowledge nor have a financial stake in the hotel aside from being an employee of a greater entity. Bingo, the recipe for disaster starts here.

I often draw the comparison between freestanding restaurants and bars, who in many cases pay rent and as such look to invest in what their customers feel, see or pay for, versus non-revenue generating space. Essentially, they look at real estate yields, while hotels have their own behemoth metrics of RevPar, GOP, NOI etc. No apples to apples here and that’s a problem.

So, of course hotel owners end up developing massive cavernous back of house areas, kitchens, offices, bulk storage areas that drive up their investment under the doctrine of brand standards versus financial sense or returns. Go into a freestanding restaurant and see the chef in an off-meal period sitting at a table doing their paperwork or the manager doing the same. Hotel operators seemingly didn’t get the memo about hot desks and love the cocoon in the back of house which is as remote an outpost from customers as say, North Korea.

Go next into the hierarchy or bureaucracy of a food and beverage department versus again bars and restaurants. Direct accountability, massive infrastructure and again the focus on the bigger machine versus the customers. All of this is simply set up to fail and one of the key accelerating trends of Covid-19 is that hotel outlets will suffer from considerably lower numbers, and cannot hide under the larger hotel profit and loss statement. Their day of accountability has come.

Over the past few years on a number of hotel projects I have advised on I have recommend separating bar and restaurant designers from rooms and public areas. The entire concept of a certain look for a hotel across all the areas has gone the way of the Titanic. It has sunk to the bottom in no uncertain terms. The smartphone changed hotels forever from budget to luxury travels as everyone knows what’s outside on offer in every possible eating of drinking niche. You need specialists, best in class designers and concept, not a bland one size fits all approach.

Flexible space is another problem especially in resorts where breakfast can be full to the brim and the restaurant then mimics Zombieland the rest of the day and night. If you were paying rent for this space like a freestanding bar or restaurant you’d never even consider this model, so why is it hotel operators expect owners to deliver the massive white elephant of an all-day dining outlet that is a one-trick pony?  Instead, these days I look to tell clients to deconstruct spaces, they can shift use for lunch or dinner and alternate uses. Learn from retail, where space planning can be so much more flexible.

Another missed opportunity is the lifecycle of hotel outlets that can only change every four or five years. In retail, you can change space by the time of day, season or special periods. There is space to be creative on a recurring basis and not just rely on a one time design that can and will  grow boring and redundant. Again, hotels give little regard for the customer experience that offers so little imagination toward ambience, atmosphere or special occasions. Wonder why Uber Eat or FoodPanda now rule the space?

There are truly so many more examples of how hotels do little service for their owners or fail as restaurants and bars that my rant really has to wrap up or it will be as redundant as hotel outlets have become. In symbolic terms, the sheer silliness of hotels putting their brands on nametags into places of eating and drinking makes me think I’m at a McDonalds. Which, if I want cheap eats after some hard drinking is not bad thing, but if you want more, expect every little detail, every little space to matter more than it does now.

During this ongoing crisis and times to follow hotel eating and dining has to change or else it is as doomed as the Titanic.  Now is the time to man the torpedos and change the thinking behind what’s important and what’s not.

With the reopening of at least domestic travel across Thailand, there are sure signs of pent-up demand or the more aptly titled ‘revenge travel.’ The latter is a popular phase for those FOMO (fear of missing out) travelers who have missed their holidays and trips and now want to splash out. The great escape is on folks.

For hotels across the country we are now being inundated with a mad candy-crush like obsessive storm of direct email, social media and even phone calls for pre-paid hotel stays.

I do get it. Hotels are now being forced to open, and the Thai government social security subsidy is set to disappear so properties are wondering what to do with all those staff.

Despite all the nonsense about the misguided term ‘the new norm’, hotels in Thailand have seen crisis before – be it political events, natural disasters like the tsunami, SARS, Bird Flu and of course the Global Financial Crisis.

After all that, the hotel disaster playbook it seems is set to repeat itself in a Groundhog Day scenario of slashing rates, selling cheap discounted prepaid vouchers and damn the consequences. For many hotels their sales and marketing distribution system is not even effective enough to manage to sell the cheap deals themselves so they use external deal sites or outside marketing groups to ensure they have no direct rate consequences in the long run, despite the fact that the hotel name is used by these deal sites anyway so what really is at stake.

I’ve stayed over 150 times at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Bangkok and am even a Marriott Elite member. Over the past three months the only time the hotel has appeared on my radar was getting a cheap voucher deal at half of our corporate rate of the hotel from a third- party marketing organization.

What’s most disturbing about the hotel practices is they don’t seem to learn from past downturns. They fail to engage, or address their existing customers and at the end of the day would prefer to fill up the hotel with low-priced, one night-stands. What is clear is the deal site customers are only buying a commodity, have no intention to return and it adds up to a blow and go strategy that frankly baffles me.

In no uncertain terms, the worst of times for Thai hotels is the coming months, when domestic business is all there is and everyone is chasing the same discount train. Now, unlike any other is the time to re-engage your existing guests who have stayed in properties, invite them back and build on relationships versus just a focus on cheap thrills.

Destinations like Phuket have to do the same thing, as many hotels have a long history of repeat guests that need to be engaged and motivated to return. One thing about one-night stands is tomorrow is another day and someone out there will only drop the price more than you can.  This is a ultimately an absolute dead end but the question remains, when will hotels learn their lessons about rate strategies? It appears, no time soon.

Let me tell you a story. Growing up in what is now becoming a distant memory, but one key omission from my adolescence is that we did not have the internet. It did not exist. As a boy, my best set of friends would gather and talk in the schoolyard about what we had watched on television the night before. It ended up being a form of collective trending in an age before twitter hashtags.

As there were just three major TV networks to choose from, the options were rather limited. Today, there is no niche too small, no fetish left unturned or wiki too wacky. My mind spins out just trying to say that last line. Anyway, choice is everywhere, except sadly the hotel business did not get the memo.

My mood today is somewhat one of a pent-up agitated soul who needs to rant, roll and stomp out of the room in near violent disarray. Someone misplaced the door so I can’t even properly slam it. At the root of my current neurosis, sitting on two plates in a nameless hotel somewhere out there is a croissant and a club sandwich. Seemingly innocent fare you might think, but let’s turn the page and jump over to the dark side.

Despite hoteldom these days packaging themselves in shabby chic, slightly rustic new clothes, that shout about being local, authentic, experiential and part of the neighborhood, the reality is they treat their guests like idiots. Take out a menu in most hotels and yes, you will indeed find the two C’s at certain times of the day – the breakfast croissant and later in the day the club sandwich. These are two staple hotel food items but what they represent is malevolent worship of what have become food factories. Back of the house, shelves are stacked with institutional dried food or giant tins of liquid goo. Kitchens resemble factory lines. It’s ugly, tasteless and makes absolutely no sense. Choice went out the back door and never came back.

Fast forward into the present movement of farm-to-table hotels. Yes, I’m not quite sure what term best to use as a buzz saw grinds in the back of my head, be it food-to-fork, or plant-to-plate. What this exciting space acknowledges is that every hotel menu does not have to sport the same items. Be it by the season, location, culture or day of the week, foods can come and go. The menu is not something you print by the year, but by the day or by the meal.

I’ve recently been consulting on a farm-to-food resort hotel and was stressing over a huge back of house bakery that of course included machinery for making croissants. Suddenly, the heavens parted and the realization came to convert the pizza making wood fired oven into a morning bakery. Fresh breads, local-styles rolls, after all who needs croissants? Anyone who has met me understands I am a man of a somewhat largish size and indeed love a good French style croissant, but the drastic plastic deflated miniature footballs you find at a Marriott or Hilton breakie buffet is something I can live without.

The same can be said for a club sandwich. Again, when well done it’s a thing of beauty or else totally necessary with a 3 am call to room service to soak up a late night bender. But again, why can’t hotels simply use local ingredients, create their own menu and not try to mass produce the same menu time and time again in a nasty rendition of Groundhog Day. If it’s fresh, or local, I’m in.

Today, we are seeing a brave new world of farm-to-table hotels not relying on imported or shipped from far food items, but sourcing close to home. Acting sustainably and buying from smaller suppliers. The underlying connection back to the earth from where the food is coming from and the ultimate product is astonishing.  It is giving diners the chance to appreciate the craft of cooking.

While it’s unlikely that many large hotels will join the revolution and celebrate the culture of individualism in food, the current crisis and reduced numbers certainly gives the industry an opportunity to view what a better model this could be going forward. Farm-to-table hotels are indeed here to stay and given a choice of a croissant, a club sandwich or a menu that changes each time I’m there, well the latter wins hands down.

It’s been said that farming is a profession of hope and I’m hopeful more hotels start understanding their customers can think for themselves and actually choose a unique menu item instead of a croissant or club sandwich.

Design Re-Invention – Volume 3. Farm-To-Table Hotels. C9 Hotelworks and Delivering Asia Communications are set to bring you a new web event covering this exciting topic on Tuesday 9th June, 2:00 pm Bangkok Time.

Register now

Farm-to-table for hotels is more than a niche, but is on the edge of becoming a movement. Food has become serious business for hotels as they move past the buffet and into a changing travel landscape where cuisine is a key demand generator. While terms like artisanal, local, and organic are key trends in hospitality, the end game remains how common sense can be applied to creating a sustainable food supply line.

Our speakers are champions of farm to table hotels with extensive experience in diverse locations such as Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Laos, and Fiji. The event will provide case studies of how to work on concepts, deliver products and also contribute to this important sustainable cause in one of the hospitality industry’s most creative spaces.

Speakers

  • Jason Friedman, Managing Director, JM Friedman & Co
    A lifelong conservationist, who incorporates his conservation ethos into all his projects with over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry.
  • Drew Anderson, Designer, Topo Design Studio
    A visionary who combines cutting edge design with specialisation in construction detailing, project management and supervision to deliver world-class luxury lifestyle landscapes.
  • Ken Hawkins, Horticultural Consultant, Topo Design Studio
    Passion of sustainable landscapes has seen him maintaining resort landscapes, running large work crews, and implementing/designing agricultural and sustainable design across the world.
  • Jeffery Smith, Vice President Sustainability, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas
    An expert in sustainability who draws on a decade of experience launching community -based tourism programs, capacity building and facilitating connections between travelers, indigenous peoples, and the natural world.
  • Bill Barnett, Managing Director, C9 Hotelworks
    One of the most authoritative voices in the hospitality and leisure real estate sectors in Asia Pacific.

Moderator

  • David Johnson, CEO, Delivering Asia Communications
    Heads Asia’s leading hospitality PR company. Based in Bangkok, DAC specialises in strategic communications, media relations and digital marketing across every Asian marketplace.

Register now

When I was six years old, my world ended with the abrupt start of first grade in school. I recall the traumatic experience and sharp departure of my pre-school lifestyle into the new dark world of a disciplinary regime. Gone was breakfast at leisure, endless hours of TV and the luxury of time.

As it turned out, after two totally dark days and a final refusal to go to school on day three, my parents grudging gave into my staunch demands to stay home for another year and I won a twelve-month reprieve. Regrettably, I ended up losing my childhood best friend Ronnie Mitchell as he stayed the course in school. That said, the one grade degree of separation was just too much for the friendship. Despite the fact that my academic career went from bad to worse, and ended up in a final red card many years later, the lesson learned was a lifestyle choice is the most important one after all. It’s defining, highly personal and aspirational. Enter luxury into the subject line.

As we swoosh many decades forward to the present days of the pandemic, what continues to be clear is that health and wellness is now trending everywhere we turn. But, it’s a with a big B, and the reality is the crisis is just a foot on the accelerator of a larger change that has been evident everywhere in our lives over the past few years.

For hotels and the swinging hospitality set, health and wellness have been relegated to a mystic compartmentalized back into the box modus operandi, at a time when travelers are trying to escape the box.  Small isolated areas for gyms, fitness, spa treatment and wellness are disconnected from the broader brand ideologies that shout out local, artisanal, experiential and other blah blah blah. Wellness is like being from Tasmania. Hoteliers have come to worship at the feet of a false god of what they think is important or just copy the other guys, because they seem to know what they are doing. Guess again, hotel groups just don’t get wellness or health.

But, as we start to exit from Covid-19, the reality is that now they have to. My biggest issue with this process is not simply looking at what people want. Henry Ford once said “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” As most of us know, Ford was an automobile pioneer.  Move onto the Apple smartphone phenomenon. Got it?

What is exciting about health and wellness is it has a chance to create a new script for hospitality. Luxury is dominated by discretionary spending as anyone who wears an Apple watch and counts steps, can tell you. It’s an obsessive, engaging pursuit of lifestyle. Post-crisis, forget the champagne and Rimowa rush, I want to invest heavily in myself, my life and my health.

In terms of what’s changing, human values are being altered to a health and wellness lifestyle that doesn’t end when the travel begins. It’s about space, engagement, programing and investing in yourself not just into a pish posh bling ring. Today, health and wellness are indeed the new luxury and for hotels, this is a blessing and a curse. which will be defined entirely outside the spa and gym. It is indeed time to wake up and smell the future.

To sum it all up, when I’m asked about hospitality health and wellness in the future, my answer is that it’s about flesh and blood, not bricks and mortar.

Hotel owners and operators in the Maldives are learning the hard way how quickly disruption can turn cash flow negative. One key trend in global leisure destinations is a severe liquidity crunch of wholesalers and travel intermediaries, which in turn has created a domino impact on hotels. This has created difficulties for the tourism dependent Indian Ocean island nation.

Cash strapped hotels, who are owed significant funds for guests who have already stayed are being forced to negotiate payment terms or event contemplate write offs, are crying foul. Further stress from contracted allocations that cannot be fulfilled has become commonplace as advance deposits are being held by external suppliers.

The situation is expected to become worse should wholesalers become insolvent. In Thailand, hoteliers have sought government action with the TUI Group, as despite a 1.8 billion Euro loan being approved by the German central government, they have yet to clear past payments overseas with are due.

As hotels look to the reopening journey ahead, a new survey of 1,100 qualified Chinese travelers in first tier cities by hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks and Delivering Asia Communications focusing on travel sentiment to the Maldives has pinpointed some key changes forecasted in visitor behavior.

One of the shift dynamic shifts in the data saw 75% of respondents prefer independent travel versus being part of a group. While 38% wanted to book hotels and flights separately.  A rising tide of consumers identified direct or social media channels to book a Maldives holiday with Fliggy, WeChat and hotel websites accounting for over a third of the expected share demand.

Looking at the report findings C9’s Managing, travel safety is a key post-crisis factor for all overseas travelers including Chinese. What is interesting from the China responses was that 67% of those surveyed considered the Maldives to be a safer holiday choice compared to other destinations. While a lingering ‘fear factor’ is a Covid-19 consequence, the country is likely to be seen as a safe haven given its inherent island isolation.

Summarizing the learnings from the survey, there is a clear opportunity for hoteliers to more directly control their business stream, create healthy segmentation with increasingly influential social media channels and stay relevant in a fast-evolving travel scene that is all part of how the industry can take back control of its own destiny. The single use business model of leveraging business with wholesalers looks to be past it’s ‘used by’ date.