Event review: Growing the luxury hospitality market

London’s Soho Hotel hosted an interesting event last night, discussing the luxury hospitality market and how brands in the space can grow.

Organised by digital agency Verb Brands, the event kicked off with a keynote speech from luxury brand strategist Ana Andjelic. She describes her job as “helping clients disrupted by technology to better understand how to successfully use it to connect with their customers and achieve business results”.

Andjelic gave some insights on the theme “How to build a modern luxury hospitality brand”, distinguishing the digital landscape as divided between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ brands.

“Modern brands are becoming the subjects of conversations rather than shoe-horning themselves in to an existing conversation, which is what traditional brands tend to do,” she said.

The power of genuine brand advocacy was highlighted – Andjelic said it is better for a brand to have a small number of very dedicated advocates who love the brand rather than a lot of people who merely like it. “A found audience is more valuable than a targeted audience. A found audience is one that is organically attracted to a brand, that is drawn to it,” she said.

Andjelic also gave some hints on how to grow a brand: “Embed the brand in the neighbourhood to enable connections – become part of the fabric of the locale. The way to grow a hospitality company now is to vertically integrate with customers, to be close to them and move at the same speed as them.”

The use and potential abuse of data was also discussed. Andjelic urged companies to “move from the hate selling style of the OTAs, which is like a bombardment, to service selling. Use data like a butler, not a stalker.”

She also urged hoteliers to take note of what she called the ‘Dave Brailsford effect‘ – the boss of British Cycling revolutionised the sport in the UK by vowing to improve every single aspect of his role by one per cent – Andjelic said this approach can translate to a brand taking “micro-actions which improve every aspect of what you do”, concluding that “to remain relevant, hospitality companies need to think like the companies that disrupt them”.

There then followed a panel discussion, chaired by Verb Brands director Chris Donnelly, and featuring Daisy Bird, founder of Bird Travel PR; Anna Nash, head of global communications and PR at Aman; and Holly Tuppen, founder of Bouteco.

Bird noted that the role of PR has increasingly moved in to marketing and content production, and said that: “Social media has allowed boutique hotels to form relationships with customers through their own channels rather than being reliant on travel agents and tour operators. But blogs and websites are hungry beasts and need to be fed weekly or even daily. There is a real need to invest in content. Both in terms of words and pictures.”

Nash said: “Consumers are confused by the bewildering variety of brands. We as hoteliers have to go and find our customers rather than relying on them to find us.”

Bird warned against brands placing all the eggs in the digital media basket to get their message across: “Traditional media, as it is still called, is not just traditional anymore – a lot of the content is online indefinitely and is very SEO rich. Some of our clients still get enquiries as a result of articles that were written years ago.”

Nash spoke of an important new group of customers for luxury brands, a demographic she has observed among the ranks of her colleagues that she called ‘the working wealthy’ – “they are seeking enlightenment away from their desks. A generation who probably won’t own property, they look for rewards, and regular travel is very important to them,” said Nash. She added that: “Airbnb is a threat to the companies who are resting on their laurels but it’s great that they are disrupting the sector and forcing the best hotels to up their game.”

Holly Tuppen warned of the consequences of ignoring the sustainability agenda: “It is now a necessity for the travel and hospitality industry to be more sustainable. Travel must move to a carbon neutral model, or there will inevitably be consequences such as sustainability levies and taxes which will make properties economically unviable. Sustainability is not just a trend, it’s a necessity. People want brands to put purpose before profit.”

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