CURATING THE PERFECT HOTEL EXPERIENCE | DALE SIMPSON Comments Off on CURATING THE PERFECT HOTEL EXPERIENCE | DALE SIMPSON 339

This week the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group rebranded to Radisson Hotel Group. Meet one of its most high profile general managers Dale Simpson, who launched the Radisson RED in Cape Town last year, and here he explains the thinking behind the evolving brand and the changing role of the GM.

Irishman Dale Simpson has been in the hospitality industry for 15 years and nine of those with the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, rebranded this week to the Radisson Hotel Group. “I was involved in opening the first Hotel Missoni in 2009 before moving to their Radisson Blu brand in 2013 as an Operations Manager,” he says. His landed his first GM role was at the five-star G&V Royal Mile Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then in 2016 he moved to the group’s head office in Brussels, Belgium, Corporate Director of Food & Drink – and it was there that he supported the opening the world’s first Radisson RED.

The launch of RED brought to eight the number of hotel brands under the Carlton Rezidor umbrella, with more than 1,400 hotels in operation and under development. Radisson RED has a vision for its guests identified as “united by an appreciation for unique but intelligent design, energetic social spaces, technology that makes their lives easier, and a customisable, personal experience,” says Dale. The success of the new brand in Brussels was followed by launches in Minneapolis, USA,  and Campinas, Brazil. Then Dale was offered the opportunity to move from Brussels to Cape Town in January 2017 to open the first Radisson RED in Africa.

A decade ago Dale have probably been called a general manager, but at Radission RED all staff job definitions are wider, and his job title is Curator. He says: “When you consider what we are really trying to do in our hotels, it is essentially to curate the guest experience, create it thoughtfully, a unique experience that celebrates our location and comes to life through our inspirations.

“Life at Radisson RED should never be dull and as a brand our inspiration is derived from three pillars, music, art and fashion.”

 

You know its special when you enter The Radisson RED on the redeveloped V&A Waterfront. There’s no lobby, you arrive in an art gallery, with a huge mural by artist Cameron Platter on one wall, and on the other are Coca Cola crates stacked from floor to ceiling – a reference to the Porky Hefer artwork in the Waterfront. “It’s an energetic landscape and requires attention every day,” says Dale. “It removes the traditional silos that exist in hotels which tend to over departmentalise everything by having departments for an overabundance of tasks. At RED, we simplify it, we are all on the journey to create the guest experience, especially the Curator.”

 In the world of hospitality even the most traditional brand knows it must adapt but Radission really does offer a unique take on the guest experience. It’s an ever-changing landscape, which means we have to keep our own landscapes interesting and enticing,” says Dale. “As hotels we compete on so many levels, now more than ever and with so many accommodation offerings. “Hotels have to be experience orientated, whether that be visually, through our senses, through interactions, through IT or through our team members. They have to appeal and have an attraction that is beyond the bricks and mortar and repeat feel. Delivery and consistency are important but arguable an ever-changing landscape eventually can be defined as being consistent.”

It would be easy to slip into the current fashionable hospitality narrative, saying that Radisson RED is all about appealing to millennials – the generation that was born between the early eighties and the early 2000s.Of course, it does appeal to that generation but Dale refuses to accept any age barrier, it’s the mindset he explains. “A lot is made of millennials and what it means, who they are etcetera. However, it is important for us that we don’t age define, but rather in our world, millennial is simply a mindset and they are wonderful travellers.

“They are experience-focused. We know that they will take 30 per cent of their trips alone, they are content-enthusiasts, image conscious, more health aware and embrace a localised mindset with an attraction to shared spaces or even experiences. Naturally, they live most of their lives via mobile and instant communications.” But this experience-focused guest has other expectations with regard to the effect that their travel has on the places they visit , says Dale.“Like us, they think and act responsibly, therefore, we do not serve buffets – which reduces our food waste dramatically – and we have paperless rooms. In addition, millennials are content seekers, so we ensure that we provide them with lots of creative content.”

Dale is one of the panelists at this year’s Leadership Forum, the three-day conference at The Hotel Show Africa 2018, at a headline session which will examine the changing role of the Hotel General Manager. Dale believes in 2018 there are key priorities: “Be with your guests. Be out front, be visible and most importantly always be approachable. Focus always on the guest experience and avoid creating silos in your business. Too many silos leads to guests being passed around… and in a service industry, this always creates huge frustration.”

Some GMs may laugh at such a suggestion and point to their workload as one reason they have slipped into back rooms. But Dale believes the benefits ultimately will be reflected in customer loyalty and return visits. “Simply put, in businesses we tend to use profit and loss accounts to measure certain efficiencies within our business,” he says. “Payroll is usually one. Operationally, we’ll measure against business performance indicators/benchmarks.

“But what we don’t do is consider always how we spend our payroll and time when it comes to GM positions and those akin. For example, spending 50 per cent of your week in meeting rooms away from guests and away from the guest experience isn’t always helpful and creates a cycle whereby we are completely removed from and out of touch with our guests.” And now he has brought his vision of management to Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s first Radisson RED in Africa. This huge continent has seen the big hotel brands lining up to invest and grow over the past five years. Africa provides unique challenges, but Dale has embraced them completely.

“It’s a wonderful continent, full of diversity, different experiences and naturally with that, lots of opportunities,” he says. “For big brands, it’s a developing market and provides opportunities to find great locations which can be more difficult in the more mature markets. “The African market is beautiful and unique, but it must be remembered: one size does not necessarily fit all. So, adapting to all the different locations and respecting them is absolutely key.

“In fact, you really want to embrace the location and develop with them. Brands need to be ready to do that and I think at Carlson Rezidor, this has been a critical component of our success.”

So, what would Dale Simpson top three tips for success in the hotel sector for the coming five years?

  1. Create environments that inspire from design, feel, delivery, whatever. People want to photograph it, share it, they are content-enthusiasts
  2. Focus on the guest experience, this is not about design, it’s about feel, it’s vibe, it’s sensual
  3. Collaborate, don’t try and be a master of all things, work with great partners and talented people

Learn more about The Hotel Show Africa 2017 and The Hospitality Leadership Forum at www.thehotelshowafrica.com

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BRANDING TWO BRANDS, OR NOT TO BRAND, THAT IS THE QUESTION 0 272

“Luxury has become an exceptionally difficult territory in which to compete propositionally as well as to make adequate returns.”

Piers Schmidt, Founder of advisory firm Luxury Branding, based in London and Cape Town, explains why two local hotel groups which he has experience of working with have unveiled second brands within days and metres of each other

During September 2018 and within weeks, there were two significant announcements from The Lux Collective and Constance Hospitality Management: the two leading Mauritian hotel groups are to launch second brands – Salt and C Resorts respectively. Intriguingly, the inaugural properties of both debutant marques will be located less than a mile apart at Palmar on the East Coast of Mauritius.

What do these strikingly parallel developments tell us about the state of health and innovation capacity in the island’s hotel groups, a key player in the Travel and Tourism sector, which is forecast to contribute MUR34.7bn or 7.5% of GDP in 2018?

Judging by the recently launched website for the LUX* Collective, the success of LUX* Resorts & Hotels has emboldened Paul Jones to fabricate a house of brands, emulating the established stables managed by the global hospitality behemoths, including Hilton, Hyatt and IHG.

By adopting an opportunistic, multi-brand strategy, has Jones been inspired by the example of the merged Marriott/Starwood supergroup, which now boasts some 30 more or less discrete brands, addressing nine different segments? Or Accor surely the most innovative and dynamic of the big groups today which has overtaken Marriott, the world’s largest hotel group, with no fewer than 40 hospitality propositions of its own?

In addition to its eponymous marque, LUX*, which is now seven years old, and Salt, The Lux Collective will soon be managing two new hotel brands: Tamassa and Socio, about which we are still waiting for further detail. And that’s not to mention the Group’s successful Café LUX* franchise.

CONSOLIDATION VS. INNOVATION

What is going on here? Was it not only a few short years ago that local politicians and commentators were deeply pessimis- tic about the Mauritian tourism industry? In 2012, despite increasing supply, demand was more or less static, growing only 3.7% from 930,500 tourist arrivals in 2008 to 965,400 by the end of that year. A study conducted by the MTPA in 2012 in the is- land’s core market of France critically revealed that Mauritius was “losing its charm among French tourists.” Furthermore, the 2013 Global Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index saw Mauritius not only yield its number one position in the sub-Saharan regional ranking to Seychelles but fall from 53rd to 58th in the overall table.

In remedy, a rapid diversification from the EURO to BRIC tourists was pursued but even in combination with a welcome liberalisation of air access occupancies hovered stubbornly in the mid-60s. The giddy days of 76%, last enjoyed in 2007 before the Eurozone crisis, seemed like a distant dream. Throughout this period, however, the four largest hotel groups (NMH, Sun, LUX* and Constance) continued to represent around 50% of the entire industry, a consolidation that did little to foster innovation.

During 2011, while we were working together on the development of the LUX* Resorts & Hotels concept and branding, I remarked to Paul Jones that Mauritian hospitality seemed to have gone dormant since I was a regular visitor a decade earlier. In 2002, we had been planning the launch of One&Only Resorts from its mother ship Le Saint Géran and preparing the re-opening of Le Touessrok, two resorts imagined and managed by the legendary South African hotelier Sol Kerzner. Even then, we had to admit, innovation, in the form of Kerzner International, came from an external catalyst.

REDISCOVERING THE MOJO

Fast forward six years and Mauritius hoteliers seem to have rediscovered their mojo. Rates and occupancies are at record levels, debt is back under control and share prices are outperforming the market. Not only can their success be seen domestically as local operators have co-developed hotels and acquired management contracts both within the Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Réunion, Madagascar and Maldives) and further afield in France (Beachcomber andLUX*), Italy, Turkey, China, UAE, Vietnam (LUX*) and Tanzania (Constance).

Until the September announcements from Lux Collective and Constance Hospitality Management, this growth in properties, owned or operated by Mauritian hotel groups, had been derived from one of two models: either by expansion of the house brand (i.e. Beachcomber, LUX*, Constance etc.) or by managing hotels, which failed to meet the ‘luxury’ specifications of those brands as independent properties (e.g. Merville Beach and Tamassa by LUX*).

This was an approach we pioneered with Sugar Beach, La Pirogue and Coco Beach (now Long Beach), the Sun Resorts hotels that were ‘Managed by’ One&Only.

During strategy reviews at One&Only and LUX*, I recall vigorous debate about the most appropriate form of brand architecture to accommodate properties like Sugar Beach and Merville that fell short of the minimum luxury (hardware) standards that had been specified for the house brands.The issue became all the more vexatious given that the service and guest experience in these 3 and 4-star properties was often on a par with that enjoyed in their fancier and more illustrious siblings.

Given these circumstances, there was al- ways the potential to introduce a second tier brand or ‘diffusion line’ under which to house these poorer cousins. Indeed, there were plenty of precedents for this ap- proach: Courtyard by Marriott was an early pioneer of brand extension but from pure- play luxury operators, Evason (Soneva), Angsana (Banyan Tree) and Vivanta (Taj) are prominent examples.

TIME FOR CHANGE

In Mauritius, this strategy met resistance for a variety of reasons. Frequently, Board directors deemed the introduction of a second brand as an unwelcome distraction from management’s proper focus, which was to grow the luxury house brand. Whether this fear was grounded or not, with access to only two or three properties to flag with a second brand, its slight physical presence and modest marketing budget would make it difficult to gain traction. Additionally, we faced an inconvenient truth: Coco Beach and Sugar Beach or Tamassa and Merville Beach were as distinct from one another as they were different from the main lines One&Only or LUX*. Would it be possible to build a credible brand if it was stretched across resorts as diverse as Tamassa and Merville Beach? To this day, the evidence suggests not as LUX* Island Resorts will not only be managing the four brands of its Lux Collective but continues to market and operate Merville Beach and Hotel le Récif in Réunion Island as independent properties. Although I am sure it has little intention of rolling out either of these as a brand, the same assumption applied to Tamassa until recently.

SO, WHAT’S CHANGED? WELL, FOUR THINGS.

First, the increasing need for customer segmentation. In common with the supply side of most industries, the fundamentals of a hotel or resort offering are very similar. The basic accommodations, facilities, food & beverage outlets and those all important immersive experiences are largely the same.

When it comes to demand, however, it is all about horses for courses. There are at least 400 brands of wristwatch available today. Their products perform the same basic function and most of them keep the time as accurately as the next. And yet most of these brands will survive because one man’s Panerai is another’s poison. So, too, with hotels and resorts. There are Aman ‘junkies’ and Four Seasons devotees that would never be seen in the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton. While there is little perceptible difference under the hood between many of the 30 Marriott brands (e.g. The Ritz-Carlton vs. St. Regis), theirs is an exercise in badge engineering.

Closer to home, a loyal client of Prince Maurice would probably feel less comfort- able at LUX* Belle Mare whose own client feels more at home there than at the St. Regis Le Morne. So long as there are sufficient numbers of customers with distinctive tastes and different levels of spending power, producers will be able to slice and dice their offerings ever more thinly to meet the needs and aspirations of precisely defined and deeply understood market segments.

Second, most global hotel companies now employ an asset-light strategy pitching themselves against one another for the same lucrative management contracts. The leading Mauritian hotel groups are no exception. Rather than developing new assets for their own account, groups may even prefer to dispose of their bricks. LUX Island Resorts Limited, for example, off-loaded Tamassa to Grit on a sale and leaseback basis for US$40m in 2016. Going forward, Mauritian operators will also be seeking to grow the distribution of their brands via the acquisition of management contracts, a model that requires no capital outlay and produces attractive annuity income, which is much cherished by stock markets but deceptively difficult to execute.

Here’s the rub, though, and our third driver of change. Owned or not, luxury has become an exceptionally difficult territory inwhich to compete propositionally as well as to make adequate returns. The capital budgets it takes to develop at this level have escalated significantly and the long-term operating costs of luxury hotels are increasingly prohibitive. As a result, there are fewer promoters developing in the luxury segment than previously and yet there is an increasing number of asset-light management companies chasing the same deals.

This double whammy produces a buyers’ market for hotel owners and however at- tractive your Brand Concept, however powerful your sales, distribution and marketing and however impressive the results you are achieving with your owned properties, third-party owners are seeking bulletproof track records achieved on behalf of investors like themselves. They crave the reassurance of a management company that is able to demonstrate repeated and sustained success in relevant markets with equivalent projects. Of equal importance, so do the banks providing the debt portion of their project financing.

In a crowded market for scarce management contracts, small local players, such as those starting to emerge from Mauritius, may still catch the eye of an owners’ representatives and their advisors and this is one of the reasons why one should never discount the value of personal relationships. Nevertheless, as negotiations proceed, it quickly becomes difficult for an ascent and unproven management company to match the metrics and ratios of a Four Seasons (with its mono brand focus) or a Marriott with its reputable stable of thoroughbred brands, each boasting reams of performance data to lend credibility to its projections. And that’s before they even mention the secret sauce, which is their global loyalty programmes.

Fourth, in small destinations, there is market saturation to factor. How many Constance or LUX* resorts can an island sustain? LUX* has three in Mauritius but would it be able to gain Tour Operator support or find even more direct business and airline seats for a fourth in the South? Constance has two resorts in each of Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives and I know they wouldn’t want yet more rooms in the Maldives, if for no other reason than to hedge their market exposure.

On the other hand, when it comes to risk management, where better to develop more product than in the destinations where you operate successfully already? On that basis, it makes total sense to develop depth in places where you know how to operate and where both consumer and trade trust your reputation in those markets.

It’s to address this quartet of challenges that the international groups have architected carefully, segmented and regulated multi-brand portfolios. And it’s for these same reasons that the Mauritian operators are following suit.

TOWARDS A NEW MODEL OF SISTER BRANDS?

Constance Hospitality Management an- nounced its intention to launch a sister brand to Constance Hotels & Resorts to the European trade in May 2017. The result of more than a year’s development work since then, C Resorts, has been thoughtfully positioned and conceptualised not to cannibalise the Group’s luxury brand. It will offer a distinct proposition designed to appeal to long-haul leisure travellers to largely package tour destinations like Mauritius and Seychelles.

While Salt is also opening its first proof of concept hotel in Mauritius, I believe it won’t be long before we find LUX*’s seasoned sibling sprinkled in less conventional, fly and flop destinations. Salt’s promise of “meaningful” travel experiences designed – in the brand’s own words – for “cultural purists, modern explorers and mindful travellers who travel to satisfy their curiosity and challenge their perception of the world” seems better matched to the more off the beaten track destinations favoured by younger and truly free, independent travellers.

These recent developments are clearly encouraging and we wish both the new ar- rivals every success. One word of caution, however, in closing. In recent months, we have been approached by two internation- al operators whose brand aspirations have got the better of them. These are independent hotel groups both of whom have reached around 20-25 properties open and under management with another 5-10 in their pipelines. Their issue? Too many propositions and too many brands for the number of properties with not enough clear water between them. The resulting confusion in the minds of the consumer and owner communities alike now needs to be undone and the portfolio both simplified and rationalised. Although it makes interesting work for us to untangle the mess, maybe Four Seasons have had it right all along – one brand.

ABOUT PIERS

Piers Schmidt is Founder of Luxury Branding, an advisory firm based in London and Cape Town which assists luxury organisations with elevating service and transforming experiences.

CULINARY EVENTS MEILLEUR OUVRIER MAURICE 0 95

The enchanting premises of Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa served as the platform for the contest MOM ( Meilleur Ouvrier Mauricien) on Friday whereby Ajnisha Neeloo Ugnoo became the first woman to win the title of ‘ Meilleur Ouvrier’ in Mauritius in the ‘Gastronomy’ category. Renaud Azema and his team proceeded to the selection following the recommendations of the jury which for the occasion comprised of 4 members of the kitchen brigade of the most celebrated inn of Pont a Collognes by Paul Bocuse. 52 chefs took part in the contest which entailed 8 of them to come up with creativity, authenticity and cooking techniques in the menu that they proposed and that too under certain given constraints and conditions. The winner conquered the heart and the palate of the jury with her mastery over her art. She came up with the best starter and dessert and topped the qualification round for the theoretical test. She hereby won a month’s training at Bocuse, financed entirely by the MCB and ‘ la maison Paul Bocuse’. The other candidates were also awarded fairly for their participation. Upon receiving her medal from ‘Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France’, Neeloo who received her training at Ecole Hoteliere and was under the internship of Chef Neezam Peeroo at the be- ginning of her career, was reminded of the new covenant that she needs to abide by for being the first ‘MOM’ : Excellence, Sharing of knowhow and adequate representation. The freshly awarded ambassador of MAURITIAN Cuisine now sets out on a new path of excellence which she will be required to live by throughout her career.