Focus on Basics, Deliver Greatness: An Interview with the CEO of Tune Hotels
By Ron Callari
Monday, 26th September 2011
Tune Hotels business model differs markedly from any hotel brand found in the West,  but not in Southeast Asia or the UK; there, the concept has grabbed the attention of international travelers that prefer to select lodging accommodations on their terms.

Conceived by Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, who introduced Air Asia, the first budget no-frills airlines to the world, Tune Hotels was developed to target the needs of many of today's travelers.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryIn an interview I conducted recently with Tune's CEO, Mark Lankester (right), it became apparent that he and his team did their homework when they first introduced a guestroom for the "budget-conscious" – a guestroom that in many markets costs less than US$30 per night.

How did they do it? They focused on "the bed" and not some of the services and amenities that guests often don't use. By offering 660-spring mattresses, 250-thread count cotton sheets and duvets, they provide what a guest wants most – a good night's sleep. By eliminating swimming pools and upscale dining, they cut down on overhead and by charging for air conditioning, towels, WiFi and amenities, the guests can now determine how much they want to spend per night.

Low-cost airline carriers and hotels don't only make sense during recessionary times, they also allow travelers to vacation and take business trips more often based on travel becoming more affordable.

Here, Mark Lankester provides us with more insight into his background and his passion for expanding the innovative Tune Hotel brand globally.

As an industry professional, tell us a little about your entry into the hotel field and how you've seen the industry change over the time?

I can't lay claim to being an industry professional as I don't come from it, so the changes are purely from what I see with a fairly fresh pair of eyes!

We came into the business without any other understanding apart from what we felt the consumer would want. More importantly, given our business model, customer needs were critical to being able to operate on far higher occupancies than perhaps more traditional hotels would require. Figuring out what the customer needs often times is dynamic and an on-going process as time progresses. For Tune Hotels, it's about focusing on the sensible basics that guests tell us are important – a great night's sleep, great power showers, great locations, clean rooms and great prices. Fundamentally, we want to address that and learn with our guests to enhance or for that matter remove what they tell us is surplus to requirements.

Tune Hotels has a really interesting business model – what's the best way to describe Tune's unique proposition for hotel guests?

It's precisely the above but uniquely, we provide the most affordable rates provided guests book in advance and online. Innovation is at the core of what we do, new different ways to serve and engage with our guests. But it's important to be absolutely upfront about everything we do and don't provide.

Your first hotel in the UK recently opened in Westminster, London- how has the reception been?

I think as our first major foray outside of Asia, London has been excellent and I am thankful to our guests who have adopted us with open arms. We have been privileged to be awarded a TripAdvisor 2011 Certificate of Excellence after less than 12 months of operation and again it's all down to the people we serve daily, our guests, and equally as important, our hotel teams who take care of our guests.

With the Olympics fast approaching, how many additional hotels will be open in the UK? Locations? and how are your advance bookings?

I never subscribe to developing hotels based on events so the Olympics, whilst fantastic for London, isn't a driver for Tune. We just really like the UK overall and London clearly has a  special place within the UK. We like London so much, we have 10-15 hotels on the way! 2012 should see 3 further Tune Hotels opening in the city.

What is Tune's expansion plans for other world markets? U.S.? What is your favorite Tune Hotel location and why?

There's a fair amount of development activity across a variety of countries, but principally we'll see hotels opening in multiple locations across Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, London, Australia, Malaysia, India and of course the UK. Asia is our natural playground but our guests continually give us encouragement to look at new markets. The US in perhaps some key cities would be exciting.

How do you ramp up brand awareness for Tune Hotels in new geographic markets?

Difficult question to answer. It's always different by country and we spend time to understand what makes sense to local consumers. We engage with local communities as extensively as we can and exclusively hire local hotel teams to represent and guide us. Thinking global but acting local whilst clichéd is real and measurable for us. Layered over that is all our global communications platform including social conversations,  origin/destination marketing, etc.

What impact has social media had on Tune's business and how have services like Flip.to allowed you to improve customer engagement and brand awareness?

It's part of what we do, no longer a ‘should we have', but part of the DNA of our frontline conversations and communications with guests and/or people who are just interested in us.

What are some of the current trends in the hospitality industry that you think will have staying power over the next decade?

We don't really look at trends as by definition trends come and go, but if the affordable hospitality sector is a trend, I feel it will be around for a long time. Consumers know what they want and they want choice.

What destination is your favorite vacation spot (and if not at a Tune Hotel, where would you stay?)

For a family break for rest and relaxation, Bali has always been a firm favourite but for a mind blowing city break to soak up heritage and culture with great sights, London is great. I also think Melbourne, Australia is unbelievably funky with a cool culture, great food, nightlife and lovely people.

Ron is the VP of Business Development for Flip.to ( http://flip.to ), a marketing solution for the travel industry that helps convert guests into advocates and provides brands with a distribution channel extending advertising reach via social networks.With over 25 years of travel industry experience, Ron has held sales and marketing posts internationally with Marriott Hotels & Resorts. As a well-known social media strategist, Ron was a selected member for a 2011 Chinese Tourism Mission, has been interviewed by BBC radio, writes a weekly social media marketing column for several websites and is the author of a graphic novel about Facebook.

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