Supplier spotlight: sales and marketing groups and alliances

BHN looks at some of the wide variety of sales and marketing groups vying for boutique and lifestyle hotel business.

The basic concept of these groups is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, or strength in numbers. An individual hotel is likely to have a relatively small sales and marketing budget, and correspondingly few human resources to implement the use of that budget. So joining a group makes a lot of sense, but there are a lot of them out there. Here we look at the offers of some of the leading groups.

One of the UK’s leading groups is Pride of Britain Hotels. Formed in 1982 as a not-for-profit marketing association bringing together some of the best independent hotels in the country, its  membership is limited to a maximum of 50 hotels. Those that apply are first inspected by an existing member hotelier whose observations are shared with the non-executive board.

If the board approves of the application it is then put to all members in a ballot, requiring a majority vote in favour before membership can commence. Thereafter, each property is visited annually by mystery guests appointed by the consortium.

All member hotels pay an annual membership fee which is supplemented by income from sponsorship to create an annual marketing and administration fund of approximately £1 million, all of which is spent on activities aimed at attracting domestic (UK) guests. Fees are collected in monthly instalments by standing order.

Pride of Britain estimates the average value of membership to a hotel is £91,742, and breaks this figure down in to the value gained from activities including online and offline PR, website referrals, online and GDS reservations, display advertising, training, gift vouchers and more. The group stresses that the value of membership varies from one hotel to another, depending on the level of engagement by member hoteliers and their teams.

The consortium has very few rules, respecting the freedom of hoteliers to use whatever marketing tools are appropriate for them, such as concurrent membership of other groups. Members may decide to leave Pride of Britain at any time provided 12 months’ written notice is given.  An employed chief executive is responsible for managing the business affairs of the consortium, with the help of a small head-office team and outside contractors. The chief executive reports to a non-executive board made up of current member hoteliers who are each elected to serve for a three year period. The board appoints a chairman every two years. The board is charged with agreeing strategy and the chief executive, who also sits on the board, is charged with implementing that strategy. Major policy decisions, such as any significant budget changes, are put to all members at the Annual General Meetings.

The principle aim of Pride of Britain is to provide valuable marketing support to its members while building the fame and reputation of the brand itself.  Each hotel receives a report once a month documenting the most recent activity of the consortium, including matters specific to that hotel. These reports are sent to the general manager and, on request, to other personnel.

Worldhotels, which has recently been bought by US-based Associated Luxury Hotels, says its aim is “to empower true independence by offering non-branded affiliation for hotels that want to benefit from the collective strength of a global hotel brand whilst still retaining their individual character and unique identity”.

Worldhotels was established 47 years ago as a group for independent upscale and luxury hotels “to provide a platform to tell their stories to the world”. “Today, the group’s key mission is to empower true independence to give hotels an advantage when it comes to presenting their business in an exciting and effective manner. The groups’ competent teams constantly challenge the status quo in sales, marketing, distribution and support to give their member hotels the most from their Worldhotels partnership whilst keeping their individual strategies at the forefront,” it says.

When attending local, regional and global trade events, including annual conferences and regional meetings, Worldhotels sales teams “share hotels’ stories across all business segments in the independent hotel market”.

The company says: “Whether a hotel is new to digital marketing or it has been blazing a path on the internet for years, the continual evolution of online travel marketing strategies and tactics usually raises more questions for hoteliers than answers. As online bookings have become more important than ever, Worldhotels helps hotels to reach their guests through World Online, the group’s cutting edge digital marketing suite that leads to more traffic, conversion and actionable analytics for each property”.

The group’s loyalty database Peakpoints generates “exponential exposure for hotels through more than 20 airline, car rental, credit car and technology partners”.  The group says it also has a strong focus on quality and training and offers a comprehensive training curriculum and a quality program. This year the group announced a preferred partnership with eCornell, which enables them to provide hotels’ staff access more than 150 online courses on hospitality topics and internationally renowned certification in 40 different areas of the hotel industry.

Chic Retreats describes itself as “the discerning traveller’s connection to unique small hotels, knowledgeable hosts and their captivating stories”.

The company says: “Once a hotel has been approved by our panel as a ‘Chic Retreat’, we contract with you directly. You load your rates and availability through our extranet or connect via our supported channel managers. We work our magic to develop your bespoke hotel page, adding our own SEO optimised content, plus ensure images and videos are the right quality to entice our customers to book. We promote your property across multiple distribution channels including; a high visibility website, mobile site, a beautiful annual publication, several content driven newsletters per week, blogging, paid social advertising, paid search, Pinterest, Facebook competitions, meta-channels, PR and much more. We encourage you to provide tactical marketing offers to support the slower shoulder months and increase overall bookings. We demand price parity and at least one unique benefit, a ‘Chic Treat’, to offer those booking with us. We charge a small participation fee which we invest in promoting you, plus commission on bookings.”

The collection describes itself as “a reaction to mass-market, impersonal and sterile travel sites. We seek out places that deserve attention, places travellers never dreamed of, recommending secret locations only the locals know. Since Lulu, our founder, set up Chic Retreats in 2002 we have specialised in independent hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses with style, charm and a high level of personal service, for us it’s not about conforming to star ratings. We mix advanced technology with sophisticated digital marketing to maximise your booking opportunities. Our experienced digital marketing, content and SEO team use techniques to identify and entice discerning travellers to book with us. We continuously invest in innovation and work with partners such as Google who sponsored our move to their Google Cloud Platform. We offer true online representation so we’re happy if you gain extra bookings directly because of our activities. We know one size does not fit all, so you also have flexibility to set your own deposit and cancellation terms.

Founded in 2001,  i-escape is a guide to “boutique hotels, stylish B&Bs and gorgeous rentals” around the world. Its handpicked portfolio now numbers more than 1,500 properties in 50 countries, all of them visited by its writers and staff, and reviewed on the.

The company ays that of the 100 properties which apply to join every week, only two or three are typically selected – “and many loyal users say they wouldn’t book somewhere if it’s not listed on i-escape”.

Readers have praised the balanced tone of the reviews, with ‘Highs’ and ‘Lows’ to advise guests of things they should know before booking, as well as insider tips from the reviewer, plus feedback from i-escape’s own verified guests. Besides small boutique hotels (up to 50 rooms), the collection also includes eco-resorts, safari lodges, city apartments, beach villas, boatels, yoga retreats and ski chalets – many of them not listed elsewhere. Their editors have put together curated collections of their favourite properties for nine themes including Honeymoon, Foodie, Eco, Spa and an award-winning Kids Collection (which has its own sub-site).

Readership is now around 200,000 unique visitors per month, generating about 12,000 bookings or enquiries per month across the portfolio. i-escape sends weekly newsletters to targeted segments of their 375,000-strong mailing list, and runs social media channels (85,000 followers across Twitter, FB, Instagram, Pinterest) and a blog. Through its partners Fiona Reece Travel PR, they are in constant liaison with travel press in the UK and worldwide, including The Times, Guardian, Telegraph and Conde Nast Traveller. The site works with selected travel bloggers, and runs regular co-branded promotions through carefully chosen partners (including Boden, The White Company and Yeo Valley) in order to increase their reach.

i-escape’s booking system is linked to major channel managers (including Siteminder and Synxis), but also works “extremely well” on a request basis: many partner properties are small, owner-run businesses which like some dialogue with guests before confirmation. i-escape has a team of  booking consultants to advise guests by phone or email, as well as rates consultants to help load inventory or offers, and an editorial team to update the review whenever required. Membership is on a mixed fee/commission basis, renewed annually. Properties are revisited regularly, and any which get repeated poor feedback are removed. Cancellations run at a very low three per cent, and (unlike some mainstream OTAs) hoteliers always receive guests’ contact details so they can re-market directly.

Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest independent hotel brand, representing more than 650 distinctive hotels, resorts, residences, and unique hotel groups across 85 countries. With nearly 40 offices worldwide, the company brings strategic advantage to hotel owners, operators, and management companies through brand prestige and global operating scale, supporting the goals of its member hotels by providing strategic group, corporate, and leisure sales, integrated marketing solutions, comprehensive revenue management, global connectivity through reservations services, progressive distribution technology, and individualised guest support.

The group says being a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts allows owners to keep their independence and individuality with the support and infrastructure of a global hotel brand. “We are selective about our partners and focus on aligning with the ideal hotels for each market to meet the needs and aspirations of our loyal customers. Every property within the portfolio is required to maintain the high quality standards and unparalleled service levels required by the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Integrated Quality Assurance Programme. Through its five global collections – Legend, LVX, Lifestyle, Connect, and Preferred Residences – Preferred Hotels & Resorts connects discerning travellers to the singular luxury hospitality experience that meets their needs and life and style preferences for each occasion.”

The iPrefer hotel rewards programme offers benefits for travellers seeking a unique experience and to date, iPrefer has more than 1.8 million members worldwide.

Brenda Collin, managing director for UK, Ireland Nordics and the Netherlands says: “What makes us different is our ability to understand the needs of our stakeholders and provide a personalised and unique sales and marketing solution, delivered globally by our proactive sales and marketing teams. With more than 260 employees round the world, our local market knowledge proves to be invaluable in supporting our member hotels with new revenues across multiple segments and distribution channels in the luxury sector. We deliver enviable return on investments for our members by leveraging the global infrastructure within our business. We listen to our members and we care about their success.”

If the idea of joining one of these groups doesn’t appeal, or you want to work with one or more of them in conjunction with an effective online marketing strategy, a specialist marketing company such as Otium Boutique can offer a range of services.

The company says: “The internet is a set of complex systems. Set up correctly, these systems can make your life easy, bringing increased revenue from limited effort. Set these systems up incorrectly however, and they seem to cost more in both time and money than you are getting in return. Otium Boutique was born to solve this problem, jump-starting the internet presence of boutique hotels, attracting more guests to their website and boosting revenue, while making life easy for hotel management. Its mission is simple: to get you more bookings with less of your effort. A ‘done-for-you’ website design, development and maintenance service allows you to have as much, or as little input as you need in the creation and ongoing changes to your site.

Otium Boutique constructs tailored marketing strategies to help boutique hotels build awareness, trust and demand for direct bookings. It understands the unique needs of boutique hotels, both large and small, and seeks out solutions that bring the fastest ROI for your hotel.

“We think of ourselves as a business partner to boutique hotels. We don’t offer a rigid, off-the-shelf solution, instead we want to understand the challenges facing your hotel and tailor a solution that suits your specific needs,” says Jase Rodley, principal at Otium Boutique

To accomplish its goal of increasing bookings with less effort, the company says it takes a common sense approach to content, social media and search engine marketing to increase hotel awareness. Its solutions dovetail with the idea that a boutique hotel’s advantage is its ability to offer guests an experience that connects with them personally. That’s why the team at Otium Boutique goes out of its way to build individual marketing solutions for each client. Ongoing optimisation, remarketing and analysis ensures your hotel’s internet presence is maximising its potential.

“As the saying goes, ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring’, so the Otium Boutique process starts with a conversation about measurable goals and milestones specific to each hotel. Otium Boutique understands that competitors in such a large marketplace need a carefully planned strategy to stand out and attract new bookings and then optimise all the tools available to build the loyalty that leads to repeat bookings. By focussing its attention on boutique hotels, the team has developed a toolbox of trusted practices that work for operators of small, independent, or luxury properties. When we travel, we seek out the type of human-scale experiences that only boutique hotels can offer, so it made sense to work with them as clients. By focussing on one market segment we’ve gathered the expertise needed to find fresh ways to help them better reach customers,” says Rodley.

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