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Living the theme

08 December 2005

Marketing a hotel that is themed - for example, around music or art - is fraught with challenges as well as opportunities. What is great is that it gives those marketing the property something to focus on. The downside is that this might mean passing over other potential guests.

Of course, the temptation, even when a hotel is themed for a certain market, is to try to appeal to a wide audience.

This approach should be avoided at all costs, according to marketing expert Caroline Beecher, director of Independent Marketing, a company she founded six years ago.

"People's expectations are becoming higher," Beecher explains. "A lot of people want to stay in independent, boutique hotels, because they want to experience something different or unusual and be able to tell everybody about it."

The secret of marketing a strongly themed hotel in a competitive market is not to waver from the concept and not to give in to the temptation to try for a wider audience, even when business is tough.

"It will devalue the hotel and attract customers who have not bought into the concept," Beecher says, warning this can alter the feel of the property and put off its core customers from visiting again or recommending it. "You can't hedge your bets and you have to believe in it. Presumably, you've done your research on the idea and concept and believe there is a market. You must be single-minded and focus on it."

Beecher adds that a hotel still has to deliver in terms of facilities and services and be completely in tune with its theme.

She says focused marketing campaigns using lots of specialist partners allow a concept hotel to go to town on developing packages and promotions.

This will mean developing partnerships with other local businesses that might appeal to the hotel's target market - for example, offering a trip to the local theatre, combined with a dinner at a nearby restaurant, or a similar package that combines a historical tour of the city.

"People are increasingly lazy and want things done for them, so offering packages is a great way to attract customers and offer different pricing," Beecher says.

She also recommends tie-ups in target overseas markets with prospective audiences, such as societies or specialist tour operators.

Affiliations with other boutique hotels in other countries are a cost-effective way of marketing and improving the hotel's distribution.

"It's essential to get the word out to your target market, so it's important to find partners to improve your distribution," Beecher adds.

But she warns that while a strong theme may work for a boutique hotel, it would perhaps not be appropriate for bigger properties, which need to fill more rooms to be profitable.

Case Study: the aria Hotel, Prague

The Aria hotel in Prague was the city's first concept hotel when it opened in 2003. The hotel is dedicated to music, appropriate for a city with a great musical heritage.

The building was converted from a former four-storey printing house, located just below Prague castle in the heart of the old town.

The music concept was dreamt up by the hotel's original operator Henry Kallan (HK Hotels) to complement his Library Hotel in New York. The five-star boutique hotel with 52 rooms, including nine suites, was designed by Rocco Magnoli. It was completed in 2003 by Czech hotel company Trziste, which also operates it.

Each floor embraces a music genre: classical, opera, jazz and contemporary and every room is dedicated to a composer, from Beethoven to the Beatles, with selections of their music downloaded on to the room's computer for easy playback through large tower speakers.

To complement the theming - a large Petrof grand piano sits in the hotel restaurant, Coda - the hotel's music library has a collection of more than 1,000 CDs and DVDs, which is looked after by musicologist Ivana Stehlikova.

Stehlikova doubles as the concierge, offering guests advice on the best opera, ballet or concerts to see during their stay.

Operating in the luxury market, the Aria is competing against well-known international brands such as the Four Seasons, which opened in 2001, just the other side of the Charles Bridge. Next spring Mandarin Oriental opens its first hotel in Prague.

The Aria's sales and marketing director, Petr Marek, is upbeat about the arrival of another well-known luxury brand. "Prague is a very competitive market, but we are happy with the way the hotel is performing," he says.

Prague's popularity with tourists has grown ever since the country became free of communism in 1989. Last year, 7.4 million tourists visited the Czech Republic and with the vast majority stopping in Prague, hotel numbers have grown to service that demand.

Budget airlines have enabled more tourists to splash out on their hotel rooms. There are now about 20 five-star properties in the city, compared with a dozen about five years ago. The Four Seasons set the benchmark in terms of pricing and luxury in the city's five-star market - achieving average rates of £240.

Marek says the Aria averaged £162 in 2004, with an average occupancy rate of 65%. Average room rates will be up in 2005 to nearly £169 and both occupancy rates and room rates are forecast to rise again in 2006.

The typical guest is likely to be British or American (40% of the hotel's customers are British and 30% are from the USA), an opera-lover and be aged 40 or above and more likely to be staying for a holiday than business (just over 50% are leisure travellers).

Marek says that the hotel's musical theme is a real help in pushing rates and occupancy, as marketing activity can piggy-back on musical events in the city - such as its many concerts or the annual Prague spring musical festival, which attracts classical music-lovers from all over the globe.

He uses specialist music-minded operators, such as the French company Opera, as well as the broader, but high-end luxury lifestyle operator Abercrombie & Kent.

The music concept, combined with the city's heritage for opera, ballet and concerts, appeals to the lifestyle market, which means Marek can offer lots of tailored packages to music-lovers.

The Aria has a White Christmas package on offer that includes airport pick up, a Christmas concert and a city tour on Christmas Eve, along with Christmas Mass at Prague Cathedral. Rates start at £161 per night per room.

Marek also explores other related markets with specialist travel operators that organise hotels for musicians and bands. The famous names that have stayed at the hotel include Peter Gabriel and Duran Duran. Seal stayed in the Billie Holiday suite on the Jazz floor and loved it, Marek says.

Marek has also been successful in marketing the hotel to film companies as a base for crews while they are filming in the city.

Marek is pleased with the hotel's current progress but hopes to boost its occupancy rate to 85% and average room to £203 over the next five years.

Marketing a themed hotel

  • Focus on the theme and don't waver
  • Use specialist partners to compile attractive packages
  • Use specialist tour operators in target markets
  • Approach organisations and societies overseas
  • Seek affiliations with similar hotels abroad to help distribution

Contacts

Independent Marketing
Tel: 020 7637 2614
www.independentmarketing.co.uk

Hotel Marketing Association
Tel: 0845 758 5435
www.hotelmarketingassociation.com

Aria Hotel, Prague
Tel: 00 420 225 334 111
www.ariahotel.net

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