1. How has your company performed in 2018 and what are your expectations for 2018?
2018 proved to be an excellent year for Preferred Hotels & Resorts globally, and particularly here in Europe where significant reservation growth coupled with notable portfolio developments helped drive very positive results for member hotels and the brand overall. For 2019, we are expecting to continue a strong growth trajectory if macro factors, such as Brexit, do not cause a negative impact on reservations from the UK. I am particularly excited about the 23 brand new openings taking place across the Preferred portfolio throughout 2019, seven of which are in European destinations, bolstering our footprint in key markets such as Lisbon, Rome, Frankfurt, Palma, and Oslo.
2. Which do you consider as the biggest disruptors of the luxury travel industry of the past years?
Airbnb and other players in the sharing economy are among the biggest disruptors, having successfully responded to the demand for more space and the ability to live like a local from an increasing number of travellers. While the hotel development pipeline continues to flourish, luxury hotel brands are responding to this disruption with the launch or expansion of their residential-style product inventory, investing in luxury amenities and enhanced services that the sharing economy does not provide including F&B, spa and experiences.
The Preferred Residences collection is key to our brand offering and delivers the highest level of living with luxury in the world’s most desired locations. The collection has more than doubled in size in less than two years and now counts almost 90 properties extending accommodation options that combine the space, privacy, and flexibility of a home with the luxuries and convenience of a hotel stay. We will continue to develop the collection over the coming months, focusing on key travel markets where we have little to no presence.
Additionally, the continuous expansion of low cost airline flight routes have raised the profile of secondary and tertiary destinations, paving the way for smaller towns and resorts to compete with cities and other primary markets for luxury travellers in terms of share of wallet.
What are the defining elements of the luxury DNA of your brand? Which do you consider your competitive advantages?
At Preferred Hotels & Resorts, we believe that the best hotels are those that connect guests to a destination and the local culture, ultimately re-defining luxury as an immersive experience that goes beyond well-appointed guestrooms and best-in-class facilities. Consequently, we seek to work with independent hotels and small regional groups that offer one-of-a-kind guest experiences, both on and off property.
As one of the original players in the independent hotel space, we have spent more than fifty years developing our craft, helping to shape and develop the independent luxury hotel experience through our global network and innovative programming, which gives us an edge over the competition – particularly the large chains, all of which have launched independent-styled brands in recent years as a response to the increase in demand. While the marketplace is now more challenging, we have a significant head start and as such, we see an opportunity to build on our legacy, leveraging the shift in consumer trends towards independent, authentic luxury lodging.
To what extent do discerning travellers seek experiences and the utmost in personalisation? Tell us more about your view.
Increasingly so, particularly as it relates to luxury travel. Our company has always been a reliable, trusted seal of approval for discerning travellers wanting to book independent luxury hotel stays in tried and tested and exciting new destinations around the world. Our loyal guests are made up of the full spectrum of travel consumers – from Millennials, multi-generational families, and couples to business travellers and corporate buyers. What unites them is a requirement for authentic, personalised, and unique lodging experiences. Millennials in particular enjoy ‘bragging rights’ or the ability to share extraordinary travel experiences with friends and followers on social media. Now that air travel is largely commoditised (except for the lucky few that can afford private jets), one way to elevate a trip is to stay in a one-of-a-kind independent hotel that offers a unique history or concept.
What is your take on ensuring a consistently high customer service at your hotels?
Due to the independent status of our member hotels, the brand does not provide a one-size-fits-all model, particularly as each property is distinctly unique and locally relevant – from business-orientated city hotels, to mountain resorts and private island retreats.
We regularly visit member properties and use a unique measurement tool devised exclusively for the brand called Integrated Quality Assurance or IQA. The system utilises two combined measurement tools for product and service standards: professional on-site evaluations and a customised social media assessment tool to provide real-time quality assurance scores, customer feedback and performance analysis. As a result, we can ensure that every member hotel meets our high standards of excellence, ensuring a memorable and enjoyable guest experience.
For prospective member hotels, we conduct in-depth on-site inspections to ensure that they will meet our brand standards of excellence, determined by the carefully curated criteria for each of our five collections. Areas that we inspect include guest rooms and public spaces, level of service, amenities and facilities, food and beverage outlets, and market position.
Which are your biggest markets? Are there any particular markets you anticipate growth in the mid-term?
As is the case for most luxury travel brands, the biggest feeder markets for our hotels globally are typically the English-speaking countries (US, UK, Australia and Canada), followed by several European countries including Germany, but also Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and Singapore. We expect outbound travel from the Middle East and China to represent a larger share over the next few years, and to facilitate this, we are significantly investing in our business development and marketing communications teams in these markets.
How have branding / communications changed in the digital era?
The digital space has dramatically changed the way in which luxury brands talk to consumers. The launch of smartphones in 2007 was the beginning of constant ‘on-the-go’ connection and brands, both big and small, have been able to implement new technology to reach new audiences in a highly targeted way; something that was near impossible to do on a large scale through traditional marketing tactics.
In the past, the consumer was typically on the listening end of branding and marketing communications. Now, consumers have a bigger voice in the form of online review sites and social media platforms where they can express themselves, engage, and interact with brands continuously. As a result, good customer service has never been more important, and successful brands understand the need to consistently engage with audiences, offering a level of commitment that is representative of and in alignment with their brand culture. This is especially important in the luxury travel sector, where it is often necessary to go above and beyond client expectations. For our brand, this is a requirement that we uphold for both our guests and hotel partners.
Today, Millennials are the industry’s most influential consumer, having become both brand critics and ambassadors. They have played a significant role in technological changes through their use of mobile devices to book and share travel experiences, which includes how the travel industry has shifted to connect with them where they want to be found. At Preferred Hotels & Resorts, we are committed to continually evolving our digital strategy in line with technological shifts to better connect, communicate, and engage on behalf of member hotels through multiple channels of communication, including online traditional media, social media and email marketing.
Tell us more about your expansion plans. What are the main reasons luxury independent hotels resort to your services?
Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest independent hotel brand with more than 700 hotels, resorts and residences across more than 85 countries. The European portfolio counts approximately 190 properties in almost 30 countries. While we are keen to expand our global footprint, we are cognisant that growth for growth’s sake is not the best strategy for our business model. Instead, our approach is to strategically fill the gaps in markets where we are not present. Focus destinations currently include cities like Berlin, Edinburgh, and Johannesburg and countries like Croatia, Iceland, and Scotland. We are also continuously working to increase the number of properties we represent in London due to the increasing demand from both domestic and international clients.
Hotel owners and asset managers choose to partner with Preferred Hotels & Resorts because we truly understand independent hotels and consider our relationships to be mutually beneficial partnerships. Hoteliers maintain the ability to quickly react to consumer trends and are free of the restrictions imposed by hotel chains and homogenised hospitality groups. Also, hoteliers can enjoy the flexibility of shorter contractual agreements when they partner with our brand. When done well, independence can prove to be more profitable than joining a hard brand. Many of our member hotels join the portfolio in advance of or just after they launch while others de-flag from hotel chains or move over from a competitor because they see a synergy with our brand.
Do you provide your member hotels with digital PR / marketing services?
In addition to representation, distribution and global sales resources, Preferred Hotels & Resorts supports member hotels with comprehensive marketing services in addition to public relations and social media support. Our marketing and integrated public relations and social media teams work in tandem to offer our global portfolio a strategic platform that amplifies their brand affiliation and individual experiences or offers to generate wider and targeted visibility.
Furthermore, we are constantly expanding our repertoire of communications services, and through our consulting division Preferred Hospitality Solutions, we now offer a bespoke menu of dedicated marketing services, international public relations, and social media support to member hotels on a global scale.
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