Currently viewing: Intellectual capital / Next: Human capital

Intellectual capital

SALES AND MARKETING – ALIGNING WITH WHAT HOTEL GUESTS WANT

To compete sustainably, CLHG must differentiate its brands, publicise the quality and value of its offerings, and maintain a large and loyal customer base who regard our hotels as their home away from home.

Our sales and marketing department manages vital intellectual capital aspects: maintaining a positive brand reputation, innovating constantly, and leveraging client feedback to improve operating efficiencies.

We differentiate our brands to accommodate every type of traveller and budget.

  Fairview Hotel   Comfort where you need it most
  Courtyard Hotels   Designed to impress
  City Lodge Hotels   Comfort in the little things
  Town Lodge   Little extras mean a lot
  Road Lodge   Basically brilliant

Our marketing position

We are in a low-occupancy environment in a highly competitive sector, limiting the available share of ‘market pie’. Our new pricing strategy strikes a balance between affordability for guests and covering the group’s costs and, as several smaller competitors exit the market, we expect the revenue model to ensure we recover faster when demand returns.

We rely on public relations and social media channels for brand exposure. The group’s participation in several online webinars and virtual events, supplemented by the availability of CLHG senior management to interact with the media and provide input into articles relevant to the industry help to bolster the brand.

CLHG is well placed to be the first choice for safe accommodation as travel restrictions ease. Our well-known strict hygiene protocols and contactless solutions, from check-in to check-out, are an advantage during times of heightened safety awareness.

Now, as the vaccine rollout continues and the pent-up demand for travel builds even further, the group’s narrative shifted towards ‘Getting back to living’, with CLHG ready to welcome guests and provide them with a comfortable stay without relaxing our hygiene protocols. A reputable, independent service provider continues to conduct risk assessment audits on our properties to ensure our Covid-19 protocols are effective. Our ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) assures our guests that they will be safe with us.

Pricing and revenue strategy

In previous years, CLHG offered a single rate regardless of seasonality or demand. In FY2021, we introduced the BAR methodology, which ensures that we offer our rooms at the right price relative to supply and demand. The new AI tool helps our hotel general managers to predict and implement the best rate, driving increased revenue for CLHG during times of intense market competition or peak seasons.

CLHG also needed to adapt to a flattened demand curve. Historically, mid-week demand would outshine weekend occupancies as most business travel takes place during the week. The group capitalised on this trend by encouraging business travellers to extend their stay for a leisurely weekend. However, demand evened out under lockdown. Our weekend (WKND) specials are now targeted at leisure travellers.

Monitoring and building our brands

In the digital age, a guest’s journey starts with browsing online for accommodation. We continue optimising online booking options through our website and listings with online travel agencies (OTAs). Online booking platforms also contribute to brand reach across both international and local markets. We continue to strengthen these partner relationships as we rebuild our future.

The group monitors online reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor, with every review receiving an individual response. This feedback from our guests, as well as responses to our Rate Us survey, forms part of our quality assurance system, helping to identify recurring trends and improve our service delivery.

Based on the feedback from guests and international trends, CLHG meets industry benchmarks in terms of in-room amenities, cleanliness, friendliness and professionalism, safety and security, location, and convenience.

Marketing and selling our brands

CLHG’s most important marketing message is that our hotels are open, clean and safe for both leisure and business travel, whether our guests are staying over or just visiting for the day. Our partnerships enable us to offer the right catering solution for events and co-branding with other reputable brands is beneficial for both our guests and our reputation.

Throughout the year, through the ups and downs of the pandemic, we used interactive and educational webinars, radio interviews and panel discussions to build our credibility as a voice for the industry. We shared information about our Covid-19 protocols for guests and employees. This gave us an advantage at a time when many industry players paused their public relations initiatives.

Social media is growing in importance for communicating with potential guests. Its cost-effectiveness when compared with other marketing channels also made it a primary tool in the cash flow constrained pandemic environment. Social media users are influenced by reviews and customer support on social media platforms. CLHG’s strategy aims to grow its online community by providing compelling content to drive engagement and brand awareness.

At the same time, we are staying close to our corporate supporters and travel agents by maintaining mutually beneficial relationships that will help to raise our occupancies. We participate in client workshops and travel days, and host sales activations and client appreciation functions. In addition, we have established marketing partnerships with various companies, such as airlines, car rentals, retailers, and banks to pass on value to their clients.

No matter how effective our marketing strategies are, the guest experience ultimately determines loyalty. We are exploring ways to use the CLHG Rewards programme and Corporate Club to provide a more customised experience for our loyal guests.

Protecting personal information

As the ability to track and analyse customer behaviour becomes more sophisticated, so the need to manage and protect personal information becomes essential. Consumers and regulators have become increasingly concerned about the security of personal data and how it is being used.

CLHG is fully compliant with all aspects of the POPI Act, which came into effect on 1 July 2021.

LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGY

Our focus on innovation and technology was a priority well before Covid-19 shifted the way communities work and interact. The group is constantly on the lookout for technologies that will enhance guest experiences. More than a year since South Africa’s lockdown restrictions began, our central office employees are still working from home seamlessly via a secure, cloud-based Citrix environment.

Over the past two years, we upgraded the IT infrastructure at all our hotels to achieve consistent connectivity, improved security, more flexibility, and reduced operating costs. We also improved our security systems and launched the third iteration of the City Lodge app.

New WiFi offering

Upgrading the WiFi solution at 63 hotels is a considerable achievement, given the post Covid-19 world where remote, reliable and effective connectivity is paramount to both business and leisure. We deployed a new CLHG owned WiFi solution that gives us more flexibility and reduces our monthly expenditure for this service.

This WiFi system enables new service opportunities for our guests. One example is a new solution currently in the trial phase at two of our hotels, where guests place food orders on a mobile phone or handheld tablet with pre-installed software to facilitate smooth, paperless ordering.

The improved WiFi solution also gives us more flexibility with the services deployed for each brand and guest. The new CLHG WiFi portal allows guests to connect with their reservation number, while visitors use a voucher system. In this way, members of the CLHG Rewards programme have access to better services. Should the trial for this service be successful, the group will roll it out across its entire portfolio.

The CLHG mobile app

Our City Lodge mobile application enables guests to make online reservations, check-in, post on social media, access CLHG Rewards, and find out about local attractions. In certain hotels that are part of the trial, guests can open their hotel room doors or control their television and air conditioner through their phones. Virtual voice calls through the application are also being tested.

Reducing physical touchpoints

To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, we are using technology to reduce physical touchpoints in our hotels. Covid-19 accelerated this process.

CLHG deployed online forms and QR codes to reduce the use of paper. We improved our QR code brochure so that guests have access to hotel-specific information and interactive menus. Guests are also encouraged to check-in online, thereby negating the need for paper-based registration. Both guest and staff Covid-19 screening information are captured digitally.

Guests can use WhatsApp to communicate with the hotel’s reception through the in-house WiFi. If guests have questions or concerns, our employees can remain in contact with them on WhatsApp after they check-out.

BI capability

The group is using a new BI tool, Qliksense, to improve decision making and hotel and guest management through guest data analysis. Our sales team leverages the BI tool to track new business and personalise offerings for guests, corporate clients and agencies while monitoring the success of the group’s various sales and marketing campaigns.

CLHG is also trialling a new AI tool at 25 of our hotels, with a view to rolling out the tool to all our hotels on a phased basis. The tool aggregates and analyses CLHG historical performance data and external environmental data to provide predictive analysis of future demand and trends. Gathering relevant industry data, including flight and car rental data, allows us to better predict occupancy and demand to enable us to forecast revenue more precisely. This tool already complements the BAR methodology.

The Guest 2.0 Experience

We mapped out every step of the guest journey with City Lodge, from browsing for and booking accommodation online, to departure and post-departure. Each step was analysed for efficiency. While many of the solutions brainstormed are on hold because of financial restrictions, we are implementing phased improvements, including enhancements to our mobile application.

The process begins with the guest searching for accommodation, usually online. We, therefore, expanded on the local attraction information on the website and are adding new images for greater visual appeal.

Other enhancements to the guest journey include new payment options such as SnapScan to ease the booking process. We added an electronic fund transfer functionality to our payment gateway for online purchases and guests can pay for all their bookings online.

To streamline our communications with our guests, we introduced a single communication platform that allows both the marketing team and the hotel to email or SMS guests, while complying with the POPI Act.