Suzie Thompson is vice-president of marketing, distribution and revenue management for Red Carnation hotels. James Stagg chats to her about how the hotel group is managing social media, AI and television stardom
How was revenue management seen when you first entered the industry in 2002?
Revenue management was more established than marketing back then. At Intercontinental Hotels Group I was revenue manager, but part of that role was working with opaque sites – where the guest knew the district and star rating and bid a price. I was running a 900-bedroom hotel, so I had loads of rooms. It was amazing to just tweak the price and see so many bookings come through.
Do you still have that same impact when tweaking the price?
It’s now more complicated, managing multiple channels of distribution and maintaining rate parity. Consumers are more savvy and everything is more transparent, so it’s about optimising distribution across all channels rather than trying to find quick wins.
Red Carnation is famed for its TripAdvisor scores, boasting five out of the top 10 hotels in London. How do you maintain this consistent performance?
It’s about keeping the guest experience at the heart of everything we do. A customer-facing management team means we can spend more time in front of guests than we do collecting surveys. We allow them to do the marketing for us.
If staff members are mentioned in a review, they’re celebrated at a monthly tea party. Though that isn’t just online, it’s in the hotel too – any mention is recognised.
Where have you seen the greatest growth in bookings?
Now 60% of our traffic is on mobile and the click-to-call statistics show people are either calling the res office or engaging with us over live chat. The biggest growth is actually Facebook Messenger.
We have a team of champions at every hotel that monitor social channels. It might be simpler to say, “please email X”, but if you carry on the conversation, people can convert there and then.
Are there any other social channels you’re looking at for conversion?
I think having a general awareness of conversations around your hotels is quite useful. Quite often you’ll talk about something on social media and you’ll see a stream of comments, including people saying they’d like to book, so we can step in and offer to help them. It’s about spotting the enquiry before the enquiry comes through – though there’s a fine line between assisting and being intrusive.
Is the live chat something that can be automated using artificial intelligence?
A hybrid approach is definitely the next step, if it’s a frequently asked question, and we could use an automated approach with someone in the background ready to step in. The nature of Red Carnation and the high service expectation is that we couldn’t fully rely on AI, but there is room for efficiency. The biggest opportunity will be to accommodate any language.
What impact did the BBC documentary Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby have on business after it featured Red Carnation and founder Bea Tollman?
It had a great impact, especially in the UK. We’re well-known in the US and Canada, but less so in the UK. After the series we had many more UK guests checking in, which is fantastic. It had a measurable impact out of peak times, as the UK traveller can be more flexible with dates, so it complemented the business levels we already have.