A select group of Sales and Marketing Leaders from the hospitality industry called for a body to take charge of the issue of standardizing services, metrics and ratings for the industry -
"This marketing roundtable was a first for Asia Pacific. It brought together senior executives who recognized key issues around marketing metrics and a need for a common language," commented Professor Judy Siguaw, Dean Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management. "The goal is to help these executives find solutions and the discussion provides that opportunity"
At the fore was the case for a standardized ratings system for hospitality services in Asia. "Who decides what is Five Star?" says Bernadette Dennis of Director of DB Concepts (formerly with Marriott International). "Especially in China, the positioning of the hotel, based on its website and brochures set expectations but the property does not deliver what they say that they can. The five star rating should be a service level set by a body with authority; it should not be a rating given to a building.
"We need synergy among the hotels in Asia to have an association to come up with service standards, and therefore ratings for Asia to use. No one is taking ownership of the problem", says Henrietta Ho, Director of Marketing - Special Projects with Hyatt International
Integral to this issue is the matter of marketing metrics. Bigger companies regularly measure customer satisfaction indices but this doesn't always provide appropriate feedback. "Quality service is lip service unless you can measure the service level. We need feedback and to know that we have the basics right", says Noel Hawkes, General Manager of Hotel Phoenix in Singapore. "How else will I know what I need to put in a hotel for the future?
"I agree that we need uniform marketing metrics or service standards", said Carmen Lam, Director, Senior Vice President - Product & Branding, Miramar International Hotel Management Corp. S.A. "We need to know what the minimum standards are and to be able to localize them. It is causing confusion not only with our customers, but between the hotel management and the hotel owners".
Much debate ensued over the issue of customer loyalty versus recognition. ‘Loyalty programmes are important to big chains, as it is about the contribution to return, the hotel operates as a system versus a unit", said Lam.
The general consensus was that customer recognition was more important. ‘Our hotel has no loyalty programme and our occupancy is 96%," said Hawkes. "It is because of the product location, service and price. We won't waste valuable dollars on a loyalty programme that would otherwise go to the bottom line".
Participants also called for improved integration of technology to capture information from the time of bookings to greeting the guest, leading to seamless transfer of information and ultimately, better customer service standards. Most agreed that personalization of service happens manually or by acquiring customer history from hotel stays
"We think we know our guest profile very well", says Raymond W.S. Hall, Chief Marketing Officer for the Six Senses Resorts & Spas. "We do things manually. While customers wait in the departure lounge they are being scrutinized by the staff and notes are written about them as to their drinks or movie preferences, for example, and then are faxed to the General Manager of the resort, who greets them by name off the plane. The first moment is terribly important, the guest feels as if someone cares about them"
Roundtable participants largely agreed that to maintain service standards, the pool of potential employees in Asia had to grow. Employers are looking towards countries such as the Philippines and countries outside of the region to tap labour. Cross training of potential employees in five star service standards was necessary to stop poaching and to improve the overall talent pool. Members fundamentally agreed that the right attitude and a love of people were the essential elements of great employees.
""We all hired from each other because experienced staff usually stands for a certain quality of service."says Elena Arabadjiieva, Director, Marketing Services & Communications of Suntec Singapore. "Several members of Suntec's Food & Beverage team are now in Macau because they know how to manage that scale of events. We need government bodies to engage in training and to get five star properties to teach their standards".
Yet participants agreed that natural growth in demand and localization was equally important in recruitment as training in five star methods. "Don't lose the soul and culture – having the right attitude and embracing the locale and region remains important" says Lynne Ireland, Vice President, Marketing - Asia Pacific of the association, ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World'.
The roundtable was widely deemed a success. "It was a rare opportunity to meet so many industry leaders from outside of Singapore and to recognize our issues as well as give credence to good quality programmes", said Mark Wong, Vice President of Marketing and Development for the Preferred Hotel Group.
"As a result of the roundtable, it was apparent that the highest importance should be given to establishing certain standards that will help push forward service levels", commented Craig Fong, Vice President, Non-Air Content for Abacus International
HSMAI provides industry guidelines for a range of standard practices. HSMAI's role is to provide resources to hospitality sales and marketing professionals at all levels of their career. In hosting the roundtable, "for senior executives at the very top, there were few events aside from Cornell's PDP programs that brought them together at a ‘peer-to-peer' level and in a ‘thought provoking' session. This is the space we wanted to fill when we launched this marketing roundtable, said Christine Toguchi, Managing Director of HSMAI Asia Pacific.