DIRECTOR OF TRAVEL TRADE AND LEISURE SALES,
BEST WESTERN HOTELS
What does group business mean to you, and how have you found the market evolving?
The types of groups we are booking and the demands of groups have definitely changed over the last few years. Whereas the seaside groups were always the most popular (certainly on the coaching side), we are finding that a lot of tour operators are using our hotels as a base, and creating tours from there. There has also been a rise in the market for specialist groups i.e. walking and gardening and even things like scrabble and bridge. We are also getting a lot more involved in educational and sports groups, and themed breaks always sell well.
The average group size has decreased, and whereas people may have once taken two or three holidays a year, many more now are taking one, and then a series of day trips. Over the last six years the number of hotels actively involved in the groups market has increased, they have realised that the idea that ‘groups mean cheap’ is not always the case, and a group doesn’t just mean people who arrive on a coach together, though at 51% of our groups business, the coaching market is, and will continue to be, a major part of our group strategy.
The market will continue to evolve, and it will be up to Best Western to be proactive and encourage customers to book through us rather than our competition. We are about to embark on our “customer experience programme” for all hotels where the emphasis will really be on putting the customer first. We listen to our customer and adapt to what they are looking for. We embrace Trip Advisor – we always show the last five reviews good or bad. Trust is low in the tourism sector, loyalty is also rare, our aim and challenge is to find the next generation of customers. We have to ensure that once people have visited a Best Western hotel they go away talking about us in a positive way and that we encourage them to return.
What was the thinking behind developing a groups charter?
Leisure groups and particularly those from the coaching side of our industry have always been an important (and growing) part of our business and we wanted to put something back. Our aim is to enhance the customer experience from the moment groups arrive to the time they have to depart. We also wanted to give extra value for money (at no extra cost), hence the no single room supplement offer, enhanced meal plan, free tea and coffee on arrival, free porterage, smaller tables at meal times and provision for all meals to be taken in the main restaurant – all things our clients have been telling us that they are looking for. We have always believed in treating all group clients as individuals and we hope that this further enhances what we are trying to do. Our future aim will be to have all of our hotels (240 of them at the moment) working positively with the groups market.
How does Best Western help GTOs with the booking process?
Within our own central reservations department we have a trained team, which specifically deals with the groups market. We are also aware that all groups can be very different in size and requirements hence we class a group as 12 people and over. Our free place policy is one free in every 20, and all of our hotels are bookable through our central reservations department and carry the same booking terms and conditions. We produce a yearly group guide, which is simple to use with information that GTOs need when planning their trip, i.e. coach parking, ground floor rooms, disabled access and facilities, and of course, is there a lift!
Do individual hotels tailor their offers?
Our strapline is “Hotels With Personality”. Every hotel within Best Western is individually owned with its own story to tell. Our portfolio is very different to any other hotel chain/brand and is something groups like, but, saying that, all hotels have to adhere to a certain set of standards to join and remain in the brand.
Mark Smith started work with Thomas Cook retail on a YTS (youth training scheme) and progressed to shop manager. Moving to Swallow hotels he was director of Travel Trade sales for four years from April 2002, when he moved to Best Western Hotels.