In the accommodation sector, branding of some sort is close to unavoidable. Franchisees, members and independents alike must figure out how to market themselves, and this means finding a way to either become, join or adopt a brand. Even the marketing channels themselves must think about branding as they compete against each other for consumer attention; the internet is an ocean of ships vying for Titanic status in a landscape where no ship is too big to sink.
So, when it comes to the ‘little guys’; the independent properties, particularly in more regional areas, trying to stand out online, in rankings and across OTAs and countless social media accounts to target their fair share of guests, branding is a huge concern. Of course, there are ways – whether outsourced or in-house – that they can maximise outreach, and very special properties can try to rely on word of mouth. However, joining a well-known brand is another option to consider. Many managers look to join existing brands because they crave access to more extensive marketing and booking parameters that these networks can ideally offer. In that same vein, choosing what brand to join has its own set of complications but the key factor in the decision-making process should always be, ‘what type of brand would best suit my property type?’.
Pros and cons: sales and marketing
Incentivise all you like, guests will continue to check room prices on Booking.com and TripAdvisor. That said, it doesn’t take much to realise that losing the business of a company with 100+ hotels is going to put more of a dent in an OTA’s bottom-line than the loss of a small independent hotel that’s gone rogue. Therefore, it’s a benefit of joining a brand, that they can often negotiate lower commissions on your behalf. Having said that, it is still possible to win the game of OTAs if you are independent, so long as you have the right social media savvy, marketing ingenuity and some very vocal guests.
Another ‘pro’ relating to bookings, is that larger accommodation brands often have successful strategies in place for increasing direct bookings. They also tend to have the available resources to ‘experiment’ with different advertising campaigns and techniques. While guests might not think to check the website of a niche property to see if there are any benefits to booking direct, most people tend to know that big brands offer free wifi or complimentary items to whoever books direct. The hurdles are greater when you are going it alone because social media savvy and marketing ingenuity are not things that can always be grown organically, they cost money. From outsourcing and training to online campaigns and in-house incentives, there are lots of outgoing costs involved that a big brand can much more readily afford. However, one ‘con’ to joining a brand might be the nature of mainstreaming. If your property is one that is successful because it feels like a hidden gem to guests who have happened upon glowing reviews or heard about a one-off experience in rural Australia from a friend, then being part of a mainstream ad campaign might be a disincentive to your regular guests or preferred clientele.
AMG spoke to two well-known brands in the Australian accommodation sector, each with differing views and options to present on this topic. They offered opinions to answer frequently asked questions relevant to joining a recognised brand in this industry.
If you were a property manager, why would you join a brand?
Georgina Williams, Best Western Australasia’s champion of new business development said: “The landscape of accommodation hospitality is changing. A leisure guest will have several touchpoints before they book, researching the hotel’s value, reviews, location and price, while corporate accounts will be booking via a preferred corporate agreement.
“Joining a brand offers a sense of confidence with online visibility and to have access to global corporate accounts, offering better channel distribution for booking opportunities and having an effective loyalty programme that engages guests - Confidence, Reputation and Distribution.
“Brands are able to re-engineer a business and harness conversion based on providing support with processes and technology; deploying best practices within the customer’s buying cycle and generating profits for the hotel.”
Michael Georgeson, Golden Chain’s general manager said: “Brands can provide a competitive edge to most properties regardless of location and depending on their local market. A recognised brand provides a level of confidence for guests in what they can expect in quality and condition as well as consistency across the group. The expansion of marketing capabilities is, of course, what many operators are attracted to in working with a group where they are seeking to maximise their own marketing spend by leveraging the group capacities. Aside from these there is also the benefit of seeking a solution to bringing some balance back to the equation when it comes to the dependence on OTAs.”
What special benefits does your group bring to the table when wooing new properties?
Michael Georgeson said: “There are several actually. Our core point of difference really is the fact that we are a domestically run cooperative. The members are their own masters in many ways that other groups don’t really offer.
“Our membership determines its own direction and is not beholden to off-shore interests that often do not take into consideration the local market and influences. On top of this, we strive to deliver the best benefits and outcomes directly to our members. That means no commissions, no rebates, no levies for products and services provided directly by the group.”
Georgina Williams said: “At Best Western, our point of difference is our membership model. It is unlike any other hotel group in the world; we work with owner/operators to help increase revenue and conversion for the business. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to the physical attributes or the management of their property. By coming together under the Best Western brand, independent hotels retain their unique personality, character and charm.
“We also have great pride that our hotels receive strong RevPAR performances by ‘plugging into’ our key distribution channels and our properties do benefit from our vast loyalty members (600,000 in Asia-Pacific and 30 million globally).
How difficult is it to join the umbrella? What’s the criteria like?
Georgina Williams noted: “A lift in standards across the Best Western hotel network means that to be part of the brand we are looking for property managers who are genuinely invested in their property, business and industry.
“We are exceptionally proud that more than 54 percent of our properties are rated four stars or more by consumers on TripAdvisor with 46 percent of our Best Western Australian properties receiving Certificate of Excellence.
“Joining the brand is being proud of offering guests what they need and doing it well, from free wifi to healthy breakfast.
“In return, they will be supported by the team at corporate head office, with staff available to assist with international sales and marketing, worldwide reservations centres, loyalty programs, a customer-focused quality assurance program, operational support, group purchasing solutions and the advice, support and referrals provided by fellow hoteliers.”
Michael Georgeson explained: “ Joining Golden Chain is fairly simple and not too onerous, particularly if a property is in an unrepresented area.
“If we have a presence locally, we do have some criteria set for entry based on rooms in the area. We have a QA program, which was revised this year and requires properties to be at an appropriate level as far as condition and cleanliness goes and then there are also the three sub-brands, Budget Best, Classic and Platinum, that facilitate an appropriate place in the chain for the vast majority of moteliers.
There are also some basic standard requirements for entry such as having ensuite bathrooms. That aside, there is place with Golden Chain for most professional tourist accommodation providers looking for a solution to enhance their marketing and work with like-minded operators.”
Golden Chain general manager Michael Georgeson’s dream prospect for a new member…
“Looking at them as ‘dream’ prospects is interesting and I think that answer lies in the word ‘cooperative’. Operators who are seeking to contribute as well as benefit are really at the heart of what makes Golden Chain work. So the ‘dream’ prospect would be someone who not only understands the concept of a cooperative but is actively engaged and facilitates the success of Golden Chain.
“As we endeavour to be more supportive, rather than instructive, this requires a mutual level of support and cooperation in order to work effectively.”
Best Western Australasia’s champion of new business development Georgina Williams’ dream prospect for a new member property…
“Our dream prospect is a member that is open to change and improvements to the business. This industry is all about collaboration between property owners and the Best Western brand.”
Do you have any tips or tricks for managers trying to work out what type of brand would suit their property style?
“My one tip is ask lots of questions because finding success means finding the right partner,” revealed Ms Williams. She advised:
· Consider the value of what the brand can do for you; its process and technology.
· Find out how much guidance, support and advice you will receive once you become a member.
“At Best Western, we have nine distinctive brands and over 70 years of hospitality history. We welcome half-a-million guests worldwide every night, with insights to data to help increase profitability while keeping the property’s independence and personality.”
Mr Georgeson was also asked to share his tips and tricks with AMG readers. He said: “Owners and managers should look at what level of control they seek to hand-over, including a consideration of their brand and the impact that has on walking away.
“Will the property lose its identity to the brand? How much are you required to embed the brand into your business? Look at termination requirements; how long, how much notice, and so forth. Do the target markets that the chain works on match your objectives? Are you replicating, enhancing or introducing market segments and will that work for you. What is the history of the group and what does their traditional market look like? Are they growing, enhancing or even contracting their market segments? If so, why and how?”
Crux of the matter
Being part of a branded network gives managers the opportunity to team up with or work alongside like-minded others. Sharing tips and tricks with properties similar to your own that are scattered across the country yet share a common interest in being part of the same brand, is a luxury in this industry. Especially if you are used to viewing your neighbours as the competition.