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Customer loyalty is not a price war

Christophe Vielle is the CEO of GCP Hospitality – of which include properties like Hotel G Beijing, Residence G Hong Kong and Pullman Bangkok Hotel G.

Marketing: So with all the boutique hotels in Beijing, how does Hotel G’s concept fit in?

Vielle: We’re there to fill the gap – the Bangkok property, for example, offers a contemporary alternative out of all the rustic Banyan Tree-like villas so popular in the city.

But we are not a boutique hotel – I hate that term. The term has been used everywhere in the wrong direction: hotels with up to 400 rooms call themselves boutique if it’s not chained. Give me a break! That term doesn’t mean anything anymore: it’s like saying “the gastronomic restaurant”. It’s stupid.

Marketing: Then what would you call yourself and how do you brand the G brand in these regions?

Vielle: Hotels nowadays are all about lifestyle, but that’s precisely the problem. You can’t brand lifestyle. The only successful one I see now is probably W Hotel. The strategy for us right now is mainly social media and, as a product, offering what the market doesn’t have for each distinctive location – that’s how we get people to come to our hotel.

I’m not Hilton, they have a huge machine for product, marketing, loyalty programme, etc. So we have to think differently all the way from A to Z. At G, no one will call you by name, but the sense of arrival will still be there with drinks at the lobby and hip restaurants up on the roof.

Marketing: But without an official brand identity and image, how do you generate customer loyalty?

Vielle: Do you see any loyalty in hotel brands? There’s almost close to nothing: people nowadays look at the price first. If the brand is so strong, businesses like Tripadvisor or Expedia will have shut down.

Twenty years ago, a hotel would go into a market with a very strong campaign and brand image for awareness. But now, it’s about social media: it’s about buzz, about how good people think you are.

Marketing: But every other hotel is banking on a solid brand image to grab customers, so your statement is a critique of the entire industry?

Vielle: The problem with loyalty in the past 10 years is that people compare airlines with hotels. But it’s so different: Hong Kong to London, for example, has two airlines that have no stopovers. But once you get off at London, there are 2,000 hotels to choose from.

And hoteliers shouldn’t manage our businesses like that of airlines anyway. We can’t play with pricing or it becomes a purely numbers’ war. If a loyal customer who books earlier learns that another random guy can get half the price because he booked two days before, then where’s the loyalty?

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