The Set Hotels began 10 years ago with the opening of our first hotel, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam. We grew by adding Hotel Café Royal in London and most recently the Lutetia in Paris. Our soft rebrand to The Set Collection delivers much more behind the scenes in terms of sales, marketing, revenue and distribution services that we now offer to like-minded hotels to join us as part of the collection. Our first addition to The Set Collection is the Mamilla in Jerusalem.
How important is for your properties to be associated or being part of a chain / group?
We certainly don’t have aspirations to become part of a large branded chain. We celebrate individuality and feel we can be stronger working together with independent hotels that also prefer to retain their own brand identity. The luxury traveller is seeking authentic experiences in the destinations to which they travel. I personally feel that the large brands lose this when they focus on the ‘brand experience’ rather than the ‘destination experience’. But to come back to the question, we would rather be part of a smaller group of like-minded hotels, hence the creation of The Set Collection.
What is the business model of The Set Collection? (both owning and operating or operating / management)
We continue to own and operate our existing hotels (something we also look to expand on) but through the creation of The Set Collection we are now offering similar services to that of traditional representation companies such as The Leading Hotels of the World or Small Luxury Hotels. After parting company with LHW in December last year, we felt there was space in the market to offer a more flexible forward-thinking approach to hotel representation and brand affiliation.
We have partnered with Sabre to provide our member hotels with access to market leading distribution services and last month we launched our own Global Distribution System (GDS) code “TS” – identifying our member hotels as a leader in luxury hospitality. Alongside this, we offer revenue and sales & marketing support but not with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Instead, we tailor our services for each individual hotel so that they only pay for the services and support that they need. And finally, we look to onboard only non-competing hotels within the portfolio, which enables us to work closely together.
With most of your hotels having undergone closure or restrictions limiting operations, what has been the biggest challenge in terms of brand communications? For instance, many hotels (independent and/or chain) increased social media content posting even old imagery for the fear of ‘not being forgotten’
It has certainly been the most challenging period of my career so far. The hospitality industry has suffered terribly and we had to close all of our hotels for extended periods of time last year and this year. In terms of brand communications, it has been especially challenging. We are lucky in that we have great support and relationships in place within the B2B community. We focused a lot on keeping relationships with global travel agent community intact, after all they were and still are suffering as much as we have but we saw the industry really come together to support each other and staying in touch was so important. In terms of the traveller and the consumer marketplace, the challenge was the same. We had less resources internally in terms of running campaigns and social media but we also felt that people didn’t just want something on their feeds for the sake of it. We continued to communicate what was relevant to each audience. For example, we launched ‘dine at home’ options from our restaurants and focused on local and domestic audiences as much as possible. As we start to see our way out of the pandemic, we are ramping back up with our brand communications, especially around the launch of The Set Collection.
With the pandemic set to ease especially because of vaccination, how do you think communications will change? Besides idyllic images / videos (including those by influencers) do you think travellers would also be looking for some more ‘’practical’’ information such as renovations or certain tailored-made activities and experiences conceived to avoid crowds and crowded area – or simply a private transfer from the airport included in the rate of suites? (thus avoiding a random taxi or car sharing)
I do feel that travellers’ priorities will change and the information they seek out prior to travelling and also whilst at our hotels will differ post pandemic. Providing reassurance that we will be looking after their health & safety will be important. Bespoke and individual experiences is something that we have always seen a demand for and I think this will become more prevalent, perhaps guests will prefer to have their own private pod on the London Eye or a private tour of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. All things that our amazing teams on property are very capable of organizing.
Your properties feature a medium-size inventory of accommodations. Is this a competitive advantage in providing higher quality personalised / individualised service?
We certainly feel so. We like to refer to our hotels as ‘Modern Grand Hotels’, large enough to deliver all of the services and facilities of a large hotel but small enough to ensure that we have a personalised approach to our service.
Some tend to regard privately owned / run hotels and smaller hotel groups as less prepared when it comes to firmly and consistently implementing Covid-19 safety and hygiene measures? (major hotel groups have partnered with third party global specialist companies to implement elaborate protocols)
Major hotel groups certainly have more resources, that is true, but I think that independent and privately run hotels also did a great job at adapting and reacting quickly. Last year, we quickly raised our standards even further to meet the health and safety challenges presented by COVID-19 and we launched ‘The Set safe Stay’, a set of standards based on guidance from the World Health Organisation and local health and government authorities, that we continue to review and re-evaluate to ensure their relevance. As we move forward, we are also partnering with Forbes Travel Guide and Sharecare who have developed a comprehensive set of 360 global health security standards.
To what extent do you think the perception of luxury has changed when it comes to hotels?
I am a firm believer that the perception of luxury hotels is constantly changing, albeit slowly. For many, luxury hotels used to be about elevating your lifestyle for a short period of time. Now the luxury traveller is more concerned with not compromising their lifestyle when they do travel. So, travellers are looking for somewhere that is in tune with them, their beliefs and their passions. The pandemic has also made everyone more aware of spending time with family and loved ones and most importantly of all, not taking this for granted. I feel that when people travel to a luxury hotel now, they want to know that they are spending their time and money wisely and this includes staying at hotels that embrace sustainable travel, an important pillar for us as a group. Experience and discovery within a destination are more important than ever and our hotels are a great enabler of this with their individuality and authentic approach to hospitality.
What has been your approach to marketing communications for the re-opening your properties post-pandemic? (ex. staycations – thus, targeting locals etc. )
We had to focus on those who could travel and stay with us or from an F&B point of view, the local audience who we could deliver to. Budgets switched from broad international digital media to targeted social media that we used to great effect in all markets. For London, we are seeing international demand returning later in the year but from mid-May onwards our efforts are solely focused on the UK domestic audience. We have created an urban resort programme of activities for Hotel Café Royal that caters for children and adults alike and includes such things as a cinema lounge, cookie decorating for kids and cheese and wine tasting in partnership with Paxton & Whitfield, to name just a few.
What novelties shall we be expecting from The Set Collection in 2021?
2021 is going to be a great year for The Set Collection and we are already having some very exciting discussions with potential new member hotels to join the collection. We are also focusing even more on guest loyalty and recognition and will announce some big developments around this as well. Watch this space!
Brian Gore is Vice President of Marketing, Brand and Digital at The Set Collection. Having joined the group six years ago, Gore has paid a pivotal role in building and developing the brand whilst assisting with the pre-opening and launch of Lutetia in Paris. Having begun his career with 7 years at The Leading Hotels of the World, Brian has also held key positions at a number of luxury brands and independent luxury properties including Bulgari Hotels (Ritz Carlton), Langham Hotels and Mandarin Oriental.
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