Boutique Hotel News talks to Brenda Collin, regional director for the UK, ireland and Nordics, at Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
• What is your background and experience in the hotel sector?
“After graduating from Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) in 1991 with a degree in hotel and catering management, I started my hospitality career in UK hotel operations, working for nearly seven years at various Hilton properties before moving to London to embark on a regional sales role. At Hilton, I was responsible for global corporate and business travel accounts, developing my understanding of what is important to the travel manager whilst delivering contracted volume room nights for the company.”
“For the next 15 years, I moved into distribution and representation, starting at Utell-Pegasus for five years. This experience provided an excellent grounding on Global Distribution Systems and the know-how to maximise a hotel’s performance via all channels, ensuring that my hotel clients enhanced their positioning and bottom line via a consultative approach. I then set up a distribution business in 2004 with some colleagues, offering a connectivity solution (and learning everything there is to know about working for yourself!) before leaving to join Preferred Hotels & Resorts in 2012.”
“In my current role as regional director of UK, Ireland & Nordics I manage a portfolio of 27 properties. Working with owners, asset managers, general managers and sales directors, I advise member hotels how to leverage the global partnerships, infrastructure and services within our company in order to support the hotels’ objectives. This support varies from specialist revenue management and auditing to positioning the hotel to gain entry into luxury programmes such as Virtuoso or FH&R. I am also responsible for driving development opportunities and expanding the footprint of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand across these regions, ensuring we bring on the right properties to appeal to our travel partners and our loyal guests.”
• How has the emergence of the soft brands from the hotel giants such as Curio, Autograph etc. affected Preferred Hotels & Resorts? Are you trying to sign up the same sort of properties, and what are the advantages of an organisation such as Preferred over a hotel chain soft brand?
“It is true that the independent hotel space or rather, the soft branded hotel space, has become more crowded in recent years, but we are meeting our development goals and maintaining a steady growth trajectory. Preferred Hotels & Resorts has been committed solely to supporting independent hotels and small hotel collections for more than 45 years whereas brand extensions like Autograph and Curio were created as a reaction to the collapse of the hotel development pipeline in 2009. The crucial points of difference are that we truly understand and champion the spirit of the independent hotel, that our relationships with hotels are mutually beneficial partnerships, and that all of our member hotels are truly independently operated, owned, and managed. Our expertise and innovation in this field gives us an edge, and our portfolio of more than 650 world-class properties in more than 85 countries demonstrates this.”
“Along with our in-depth knowledge of the market, Preferred Hotels & Resorts offers hotel owners and operators many of the same tools and support as brand extensions, but with the added benefits of more flexibility, cost savings, and a global sales network. We work closely with our hotel partners to understand their objectives and then collaborate to achieve them. For example, our membership contracts are typically three to five years in length – approximately 80 per cent shorter than the chain hotel groups – which ensures that we are performance-driven and show rapid results. We also offer a more cost-effective model for independent hotels, partly due to the fact that our member hotels are not required to support our infrastructure, as is the case with the newer brands from chain hotel groups. Plus, the vast scale of our organisation, with more than 240 employees working in nearly 40 offices around the world, brings many benefits to hotels that would not otherwise have access to them, such as the ability to form global partnerships and access key corporate travel accounts.”
• In parallel with the last question, what are the benefits for the consumer of being an iPrefer member compared with a hotel group loyalty programme member?
“We launched iPrefer, the world’s first points-based global guest loyalty programme for independent hotels in August 2013, because we had identified the opportunity to reward travellers who favour unique and authentic independent hotel experiences in the same way that large hotel chains do – with points. However, unlike the often complicated earning-and-redemption structure of many points programmes, iPrefer is complimentary to join with no annual cost and works on a simplified rewards basis.”
“Members of iPrefer receive one point for every pound they spend on net room reservations booked through eligible channels. When they earn enough points, iPrefer rewards them with a certificate that can be used like cash towards any hotel booking at more than 550 one-of-a-kind hotels worldwide and in some cases, can be used as payment for other on-property expenditure such as spa treatments and restaurant meals. In addition to points, members receive VIP benefits such as complimentary Internet, early check-in/late check-out privileges, and upgrades on availability. Before the end of the year, we will be re-launching the programme to extend even more immediate rewards and benefits to our loyal guests in the form of hotel credits.”
• What do you think is the outlook for independent and boutique hotels in your region? Are consumers becoming more discerning about staying in properties with character and a point of difference, as opposed to generic chain hotels?
“The outlook is bright for independent and boutique hotels in the UK & Ireland. Today’s traveller seeks a well-rounded, memorable experience rather than just luxury accommodation. Millennials in particular are looking for an authentic sense of place when they are away from home and want their chosen hotel to provide this and act as their local guide. The ensuing market changes previously discussed are indicative of this. Hotel owners and operators that choose the independent and/or soft brand route are better equipped to satisfy today’s traveller because they are empowered to leverage their individual style, character and creativity, placing a greater importance on the hotel’s relationship with its locality.”
“As the expectations of travellers become more individualised than ever before, the independent properties within the Preferred Hotels & Resorts portfolio continuously introduce a new take on travel. We champion independently-owned properties that have a true connection with their surroundings and have the flexibility to cater to the needs of each guest. No two properties in our portfolio of 650 member hotels are alike, yet they all maintain the same high level of service and quality that we monitor through our Integrated Quality Assurance programme, which involves on-site inspections and daily online consumer reviews.”
• What can independent and boutique hotels do to attract more business travellers?
“Along with leisure travel, the culture of corporate travel is evolving to become more experience-based, and independent hotels are well positioned to increase their share of business travel guests. We have equipped our hotels with an effective distribution platform to reach these consumers while staying connected to corporate travel managers and leisure agents. In terms of MICE and corporate group travel, my advice would be for hotels to actively participate in consortia and corporate RFPs (managed by global travel buyers). To drive business from these segments it is particularly important for hoteliers to focus on maintaining a very high standard of GDS content and gallery images. The main reason that agents choose not to book a hotel is because the quality of content is poor and rates are either not transparent or unavailable. I would recommend that this part of a hotel’s output is reviewed quarterly.”
• What do you see and the biggest opportunities and challenges for your members over the next three years? To what extent is the rise of Airbnb and its ilk affecting your member hotels’ businesses?
“There is a growing demand for private accommodation options across all sectors of the hotel industry – from solo travel, to multi-generational family travel, to corporate travel. This market trend is rooted in the successful business model of Airbnb and its competitive set and as such, it is clear that these home rental companies have impacted and influenced the luxury sector too.
“At Preferred Hotel & Resorts, we expanded the Preferred Residences brand to include private luxury residences such as villas, bungalows, and country estates. Where this new inventory differentiates itself from private home rental options is in its ability to offer privacy and flexibility with the services and facilities of a five-star hotel, fully customised furnishings, bespoke amenities, and the quality assurance associated with an exceptional hotel stay.”
“The all-new Preferred Residences and its platform PreferredResidences.com was launched in January this year when we hand-picked an ultra luxurious collection of existing member hotels and resorts with residential-style units on their properties to join the brand. We are confident that the continued expansion of the Preferred Residences brand will help us reach even more clientele than before. However, market preferences are not dramatically changing; there is just a requirement for more choice. There will always be luxury travellers who will only stay in hotels, and there will always be a requirement for hotels and resorts. To this effect, our member hotels will remain largely unaffected.”
sorts’ regional director for UK, Ireland and the Nordics, talks soft brands, business travel and loyalty programmes.