Communication Personalization Key to Luxury Success
Luxury has been one of the segments hardest hit by the pandemic. The tier saw some of the lowest occupancy levels and largest year-over-year drops in revenue per available room during the worst of the downturn in April. Even as other tiers begin to recover, luxury continues to limp along. August average occupancy was just 37 percent, compared with more than 50 percent for the upper-midscale, midscale and economy tiers, according to STR. Some reasons for this trend include difficulties among still-hurting urban centers, with corporate offices remaining closed and international visitors rare. Luxury properties also rely more on meetings business than lower tiers, and in-person gatherings mostly have been halted.
Still, the luxury segment earned some of the highest ratings from travel buyers. Soaring from fourth place last year, Four Seasons took the top spot with a very strong score and top ratings for 10 of the 11 pre-pandemic criteria. Marriott International’s Ritz-Carlton repeated its No. 2 ranking from 2019, and its JW Marriott brand was not far behind in third, up from sixth place last year. The latter also scored highest in the three pandemic-related criteria, particularly for its responsiveness to safety, security and sanitation concerns.
“That means JW Marriott is doing a good job, as it’s underrepresented by rooms,” said industry analyst Bjorn Hanson, an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, He said he wasn’t surprised to see Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton place highly, given they have some of the strongest name recognition in the category. Communication with travel buyers was key for all the top brands. “One of the big requests from our travel managers was to be really overt in our communication about exactly what would be the experience when [a traveler] arrived at a hotel and in what way was that going to impact the productivity of the business traveler,” said Four Seasons SVP of sales and hotel marketing Ben Trodd. “Very early on in the pandemic, we created a part of our website called Welcome Back. That enabled corporations and individual guests to look at each property and see exactly what is available. Do you have a gym? Are restaurants open? Is it full-service or limited-service? How does room service work?”
Marriott provided those details on its website as well. “We really wanted to be as transparent as possible because we wanted to set expectations for the traveler,” said Marriott global brand officer and luxury portfolio leader Tina Edmundson. “We did a lot of that work even before we started talking to travel managers. Once those protocols were in place, everyone from our sales team for JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton met virtually with travel managers. Our approaches are very personalized. We had a lot of travel manager advisory board calls throughout the pandemic, talking about what we are doing, listening to them, finding out what issues they were showing from the travelers.”
Personalization is key for Four Seasons, too. “We partner on a bespoke level with each individual company, and we find out what resonates with that account, and work hard to personalize the experience with the business traveler,” Trodd said. “Even before the pandemic, companies were increasingly moving toward a very curated experience for their employees [and] investing heavily in the health and well-being of the employee. That translated post-pandemic. We worked with companies so they understood what we have done, for example [our partnership] with Johns Hopkins to create a safe and healthy environment for anybody entering one of our properties … and to provide that level of trust and reassurance around actions that we are taking.”
Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott tied for the highest score in the quality of data and reporting category. Marriott’s Edmundson said the result was a culmination of the work the company is doing on its platform. “We are making pretty big advances from a technology standpoint,” she said. “We are doing a lot of work to upgrade the technology and to ... enable things that our customers want and the information that our travel managers need.”
The two brands also saw their scores for meetings facilities increase from last year. Edmundson noted that Marriott’s luxury brands rolled out a program in the fourth quarter of 2019 that focused on retraining staff on meetings and service components.
Four Seasons currently operates 119 hotels and resorts. Recent openings include its second hotel in San Francisco, its second hotel in Tokyo and its first in Spain, in Madrid. Future planned openings include Bangkok, Napa Valley and New Orleans. Ritz-Carlton operates 98 hotels worldwide, with recent openings in Nikko, Japan, and Nanjing and Xi’an in China. Future planned destinations include Mexico City and Paradise Valley, Ariz. JW Marriott operates 99 hotels in 30 countries. It recently opened properties in China in the Shanghai Pudong district; in Nara, Japan; and in Savannah, Ga., and Orlando.
Source : Business Travel News