Trust and Integrity Even More Important in Digital Era.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Thursday, 15th July 2010
The most important thing you can do in today's competitive and noisy environment is to establish and maintain a brand with integrity and trust, said Stephen Blyth, executive director, sales & marketing, Asia Pacific, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International.

And the fact that Fairmont has such a brand in North America will give it the legs to expand successfully in Asia, despite it being a latecomer to the region.

"There is a disadvantage in being a latecomer in that it is harder to plant your flag in the key cities because of limited land and high costs," said Blyth, "but the advantage is we are a well-known brand which is bringing its standards and expertise to Asia and we have had the time to do it right."

Blyth, who's been with Fairmont Hotels for more than 30 years and was transferred to the region about two years ago, said the approach he was taking in Asia was different from that executed by Fairmont in North America.

The group last year rolled out an "emotive" brand campaign called "Everyone's An Original" where it got real customers to share their feelings about the brand. This then became the basis for its social media site, www.everyone'sanoriginal.com

"We can't do that in Asia because we have a different environment here. In North America, we have a 30% top of mind awareness – so we can do something more emotive."

Referring to Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts' new brand campaign, "It's in our nature", and confessing he was "slightly envious" of the television commercial which shows a lone man lost in the wilderness and being embraced by wolves, Blyth said, "In many ways, it's what Shangri-La is doing now – they've got enough brand awareness to take this emotive approach.

"We feel that the "Everyone's An Original" branding would not work as well in Asia because here it's still about building bricks and mortar and we have to be more educational as to what Fairmont is. In time, we can go more into experiental marketing."

Hence, it is concentrating its marketing budget on public relations activities and the digital channel this year. Without a big budget too, Blyth said it also makes sense to focus on digital media because of its cost-effectiveness and measurability.

Declaring "I am a total believer in digital", he said, "Two years ago, no one would have cared about TripAdvisor but now there isn't a single hotel that isn't specifically monitoring reviews and responding to every single review.

"This has everything to do with your brand and service and how you manage expectations."

Asked though if he uses sites like TripAdvisor himself, he said, "No but people like you and I travel differently but a consumer would find it very useful."

He recounted a personal experience in a restaurant in Singapore where he encountered such atrocious service that he posted it on a site and then found several other people making similar comments. "Word of mouth has always been powerful but it's been amplified today."

Blyth is of course excited about the imminent opening of the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai (pictured) next month while the World Expo is still underway. "The World Expo is putting tremendous world attention to the city and has repositioned the Bund – it's an amazing transformation – and we are so excited to be part of it."

He expects 70% of the business to be from international markets. "We believe we will have a higher percentage of international guests at our hotel compared to other luxury hotels and also, most of the affluent upper class Chinese would not have stayed at the old Peace, but will do so at the Fairmont Peace."

Blyth said the idea was to infuse a point of difference in every Fairmont hotel in Asia. For example, with the Fairmont Yangcheng Lake Hotel in Kunshan, China, the hotel is operating an organic farm which will produce honey, fruits, herbs and vegetables for local consumption.

Along with China, India is another area of focus for Fairmont with the Fairmont Jaipur opening in 2011 and Fairmont Hyderabad opening a year later. Also scheduled to open next year are Fairmont Manila and Fairmont Baku, Azerbaijan.
Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com . Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

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