The inaugural Direct Booking Summit: Asia-Pacific will be touching down in Singapore on February 27-28. In anticipation of what promises to be an unforgettable event, we've been catching up with our best-in-class speakers about direct bookings, the APAC hotel industry and what the future holds.
In today's interview, we speak with Sandy Russell, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Wharf Hotels. Sandy will be drawing on her 25 years sales and marketing experience in her keynote speech Cultivating loyalty: A perspective beyond the points schemes.
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Triptease: The Chinese OTA scene combines both global giants and domestic players. What does the distribution scene currently look like for hotels in Hong Kong?
Sandy: The landscape has been altered by the growth of OTAs. Despite the attempt of hotel players to redirect to their brand websites, we have merely poked them with the bait of direct booking rewards and best rate guarantees. Savvy OTAs started to offer their own loyalty rewards. Industry disrupters like Airbnb have already attempted to make an impact in this area. They have gained some ground in competing with OTAs, but at the end of the day we’ve figured out that there also is a lot of room for improvement in hotels' loyalty schemes.
The biggest 'aha' moment for us in the last few years has been the impact of wholesale contracts and the availability of discounted rooms on OTAs' websites. In terms of how it affected the distribution scene, many hotel groups have opted to eliminate static contracts and move to dynamic rates to improve margins.
Triptease: Have you experienced any changes in your guest profile?
Sandy: We're all starting to see the shift to millennials, and our discussions now are around being relevant to this biggest future segment of buyers while staying in touch with what my friend refers to as the "feel-ennials" - those who aren’t young enough to be millennials, but don’t want to miss out feeling like them!
Triptease: Is the shift towards the millennial audience something that you currently observe across an entire region?
Sandy: It's more like a global trend. What is even more interesting is the arrival of the Chinese millennial traveler. Since the Chinese audience drives a significant piece of our business, we are very focused on understanding and adjusting our practices for these guests.
Triptease: What role does loyalty play in marketing for your millennial and feel-ennial audiences?
Sandy: Millennials pay much more attention to the opinions of others when making brand choices. That is why our social media campaigns must be authentic, 'in their language'. Our loyalty program is less about collecting points and more about experiences, therefore we are speaking directly to millennials looking for great memories and Instagrammable moments.
Triptease: What will Wharf Hotel's marketing strategy focus on in 2019?
Sandy: We will focus on becoming even easier to find and book online, as well as future proofing our organization, driving more profitable revenue and developing a culture of Total Sales.
Triptease: What does the culture of Total Sales mean?
Sandy: The culture of Total Sales at Wharf Hotels is based on the Total Football concept made famous by the Netherlands national football team in 1974. In this system, a player who moves out of their position is replaced by another player from their team. It means that while players may have designated roles, any one of them can still successfully play as an attacker, a midfielder, or a defender. The success of Total Football depends largely on the adaptability of each player within the team - specifically their ability to quickly switch positions depending on the situation. In other words, every player is equally responsible for the success or failure of the team.
These same concepts will be applied to the Sales team and will become our key mission in 2019. In a Total Sales culture, everyone is involved in sales, from the cleaning staff to General Managers.
Triptease: How can hoteliers future proof their hotel brands?
Sandy: Given rapid changes in technology and the shift towards mobile, blockchain and artificial intelligence, there is a need to identify potential future risks to the business and anticipate changes in customer behaviour that may result. Hoteliers need to build a plan of action to deal with them.
At Wharf Hotels, we plan to establish the innovation committee who will meet regularly to discuss and evaluate such trends.
Triptease: In your position at Wharf Hotels, you build the group's sales and marketing efforts internationally. What can the Direct Booking Summit's attendees expect to learn from you?
Sandy: They can expect to hear about the value of relationships and how to create loyalty one guest at a time, from someone who has been doing it for over 25 years. Is loyalty really about the miles, the points or the free stuff or is there something bigger? Come and find out what its really about.
To hear more from Sandy and to meet her in person, join us at the Direct Booking Summit at The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore on February 27-28. Will we see you there?