Arno Schwalie, Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer – Design Hotels talks to ITB Berlin News during ITB Asia about his company’s philosophy, and how the evolution of tourists’ wants and needs is benefiting his group’s hotels, still lesser-known in South East Asia.
What are the main aims of your presence here at ITB Asia?
First of all, Design Hotels has been a partner of ITB Berlin for many years. We are based in Berlin and we have had a great booth in hall nine for many years.
We wanted to support the expansion of ITB into Asia and we also have a headquarters for the Asian region in Singapore.
In terms of business we are looking at buyers, although I must say from our niche brand point of view it’s more about exposure. We talk with channel partners, tour operators, and have a lot for appointments for our hotels.
Seven or eight hotels were present at the booth – the same number as in Berlin. Of course our booth is bigger in Berlin, but in terms of exposure it’s important to have a presence here because people in this region do not know us as well as people do in Europe. So this is a platform.
One of the key studies released at ITB last year underlined the fact that people are seeking “authentic” experiences now, much more before. Is this factor helping Design Hotels gain ground?
Absolutely. Experienced and cultivated travellers have always been looking for that, but now, while not becoming a mass phenomenon, this is becoming much broader as people become more sensitive to the kinds of hotels where you don’t know if you’re in Chicago, Honolulu or Jakarta.
People want an authentic feel. They want a property that reflects the destination, or that reflects the charisma of the owner. I definitely believe that a company like ours, where we have been talking of this for ten years, will benefit from the broader appeal of authentic and real experiences. I was in Macau earlier this year, and for me, this was the worst place on earth. They copy Las Vegas and Les Vegas is already a copy of other things.
How do you market your member hotels?
We have, over recent years, selected travel agents and our peers that really have clients for these kinds of products. So the selection process of the right travel agents, the right journalists and obviously, through our website and the way we market ourselves, the right consumers… this is a kind of filtering system or coding we have been applying for years, so we are not just shooting our information out.
We really want, through our mini-exchanges through travel trade events, to really meet the 200 people in New York and the 150 people in Stockholm and the 500 people in London that understand our brand 100%, who understand the DNA of our properties and have the clients that can appreciate that.
Then we have a travel trade marketing programme, where we constantly inform the travel trade about the newest openings, about promotions, and about activities that our properties might be adding to their normal experiences.
So it’s about educating the market?
It’s a lot of educating the market and also bringing the hotels and travel agents together. We are their middle man. We create the platform and they need to work with each other. We have 22 sales people around the world. We cannot market 260 hotels as though they were our hotels, so they need to come in with their own sales people, but we create this platform for them.
260 hotels and 160 destinations… Each hotel is very individual… that must make marketing a challenge.
Exactly. It’s a very bespoken, tailor-made approach to everything, and it’s very human intense. It’s one of the most critical aspects in our business model – getting the people who reflect the brand, who understand it, live design, love fashion, move the arts, and are part of the creative community. They can represent and work with these hotels. Finding these people who have an understanding of how the travel trade works, have an understanding about architecture, design and culture, are willing to travel and have a business mindset, it’s not that easy!
This is one of the major success factors of the company. It’s why we are there. It’s all about relations and people. If I have 20,000 rooms that are all the same I can manage that with one person and just shoot it out and everyone will understand. But we need to explain everything again and again, and then you have different maturities within the market. If I go to London, New York or Sao Paulo, it’s a no-brainer…
Here it’s different. That’s why we brought the big book and we have the stand with five people, because we want to talk to everyone and educate them. We also had the opportunity to talk to you guys, and a group of journalists here – to tell our story – so that they all can do the same.