The potential of new markets in Asia and the need to embrace social media marketing were just two of the key messages to emerge at the 18th Annual Hotel General Managers' Conference, hosted by the Master Innholders, at London's newly renovated Savoy hotel. With more than 370 delegates attending the event over two days and £9,000 raised for Springboard at the dinner, the conference was declared by Master Innholders chairman Stuart Johnson as "the most successful yet".
Holding government to account Sandie Dawe (pictured), chief executive of VisitBritain, told the audience that while the Government had shown that it was serious about tourism with regards to helping grow the economy, it was important that the sector engaged with government and held it to its promises.
In particular, Dawe highlighted five key moments which emphasised the Government's interest in tourism:
â- Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's speech in Weymouth outlining the plan to create the best-ever Olympics marketing initiative.
â- The prime minister's speech at the Serpentine Gallery announcing the challenge to get the UK into the top five markets for tourism.
â- The decision to formulate a cross-Government tourism strategy.
â- The launch last week of a programme to generate £1b-worth of global PR through partnership marketing between VisitBritain and the tourist industry.
An explosive force
Motivational speaker Larry Hochman made the audience sit up and think about a series of "explosive forces" which could impact hotels:
â- In economic terms, the most relevant explosive force is the fact that within 10 years, one billion Asians will have twice the buying power of Europeans and Americans. What are you doing to prepare for this?
â- If you break a promise, people will think you are lying now. Think about the damage done after British Airways failed to keep its promise to create a "travel Nirvana" at Heathrow's Terminal 5.
â- New wealth and value will come from encouraging the innovation and creativity of your most talented people.
â- We're all becoming experts andsending out information about hotels via new media, but what are you doing to respond to your customers' connections?
â- Transparency has come to the fore - we live in a TripAdvisor universe, where WikiLeaks and Facebook represent the same thing - transparency. Success will be about enhancing that, not running away from it.
Social media Jane Nicholson, regional director of Hills Balfour Synergy, highlighted the power of social media in her talk on the company's successful campaign for the Best Job in the World. The job of a caretaker for one of the islands on the Barrier Reef was devised to promote the Australian state of Queensland on a limited budget, she explained.
"By harnessing the power of social media, working alongside traditional media, we created one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever with a reach of three billion people," she said.
The word spread through a combination of YouTube videos, bloggers talking about the job, the formation of a community on Facebook, the rapid flow of information via Twitter and online discussion groups, gave the organisers a clear understanding of what the public thought. The campaign website achieved 55 million page views.
Nicholson advised hoteliers in running marketing campaigns via social media to create something that will stand out, be aspirational, make it believable, give guests something to talk about and engage people to interact and share in the message.
Marketing to a new generation
James Lohan, chief executive of the boutique hotel booking service Mr & Mrs Smith, told the conference it was necessary for hoteliers to market their properties from all angles and "create a buzz".
He suggested that as well as PR and direct mail marketing, they need to explore newsletters, partnership marketing, pay-per-click advertising, social media and accessible mobile marketing. "One of the best ways to engage customers online is through a quality video," he added.
More than 500 articles about Mr & Mrs Smith hotels appeared in the UK press last year, Lohan told the conference. He described how he and his wife Tamara had taken the Mr & Mrs Smith concept from a single guidebook, self-published in 2003, to a successful hotel booking service which today represents more than 700 hotels and 120 self-catering properties worldwide.
"We now book around 10,000 room nights per month and want to become the number one boutique hotel booker," he said.