Alistair Watts is director of marketing Europe for FRHI Hotels & Resorts. He tells Janet Harmer why direct relationships are still important in a world where hotel marketing is driven by technology
Why did you decide at this stage of your career to seek a role overseas?
If you are interested in a career in the luxury hotel market, then at some point you are going to have to be prepared to travel overseas. My time with the Preferred Hotel Group introduced me to the sector and it's been with me ever since.
How easy was it to find the job?
It was an opportunity that cameto my attention when I wasn't actively seeking it. The selection process was very stringent and my advice to others is to keep motivated, as it does take longer than you might realise.
Are you based full-time in Switzerland or does your role involve travel?
I have relocated with my family to Zurich, which is a fantastic place to work and live. Approximately 50% of my time is spent travelling, mostly to our hotels in Europe. Zurich is perfectly located for travel. The centre of Paris is just four hours away by train.
What is the focus of your position?
Directing and supporting the hotels in achieving their marketing objectives as well as planning region-wide tactical marketing, developing customer relationship management activities and driving brand consistency.
How has the role of a marketer changed during your career?
Quite a lot! As a fresh graduate I was responsible for signing the first London hotels with Lastminute.com and Hotels.com [then HRN]. Today, online travel agents have grown into the most important distribution channel, but I have always focused my effort on how to achieve more direct hotel bookings. As a result, marketers need to develop a much better understanding of technology. The skills I look for in team members are HTML, CSS, content management systems, social media, SEO and more. By harnessing these technologies you can control the marketing mix much more closely. It's challenging, but extremely rewarding.
Is there a role for traditional hotel marketing in an increasingly digital world?
Relationship building is key, particularly in the luxury sector. We value brand partnerships and this is driven by strong networking and connecting with people.
What language do you conduct business in?
Being an international business, the company language is English, but I am fortunate to also speak fluent French and Italian. Although everyone speaks English, it really helps to be able to speak additional languages and even making an effort to learn a few casual phrases goes a long way in making connections.
What do you like about living and working in Switzerland?
Nothing. Perhaps at first it is annoying to feel constantly lost, but that's also part of the fun and adventure of working abroad.
How well have your family settled?
I have a wife, two daughters and a dog and everyone is enjoying it so far. There is a lot to do for families and the large expat community is very welcoming. The local schooling system is also very good.
How do you think working overseas will benefit your career?
Leaving the UK opens up more opportunities as companies are looking for professionals with international experience who can operate within a global corporate structure. There is so much growth throughout the international hotel market, which makes being here very exciting.
Do you see your stay in Switzerland as long term?
I hope to remain here for a good amount of time, but I have ambitions to work in Asia Pacific, so I hope this will be a stepping stone.