WHEN THE HOSPITALITY BUSINESS GETS (EVEN MORE) PERSONAL

Exclusive interview: David Esseryk, Chief Digital & Marketing Officer, The Originals, Human Hotels & Resorts

David Esseryk, hospitality veteran, moved two years ago to SEH United Hoteliers, atop 600 hotels around Europe and Canada, to take charge of Digital and Marketing. We asked him what his work has entailed over the past two years, and how the group was transformed into “The Originals, Human Hotels and Resorts”.

The main goal of SEH United Hoteliers, when I joined, was to launch a rethink their marketing strategy. We used to have five brands, but when we started looking at what was happening in the landscape, chains coming into our space and launching new brands, we decided to do the reverse. We tried to simplify and streamline our in-house branding, with the ultimate mission of becoming a much stronger consumer-facing product. It was not so easy to change 600 hotels, but it was the right time, as the travel trade and the consumers and the media was saying “Thank God someone is finally simplifying this”. We will do a large amount of advertising about the change to a single “The Originals, Human Hotels & Resorts” brand, which is much stronger for the consumer.

WE ARE A GROUP OF OVER 600 HOTELIERS, PROUD OF OUR LOCAL ROOTS AND DETERMINED TO OFFER TRAVELLERS A MORE PERSONAL, MORE AUTHENTIC, MORE HUMAN HOTEL EXPERIENCE IN EUROPE AND ACROSS THE WORLD

What does the group stand for?

We are a group of over 600 hoteliers, proud of our local roots and determined to offer travellers a more personal, more authentic, more human hotel experience in Europe and across the world. The Originals, Human Hotels & Resorts has a wide choice of destinations. With 6 categories and over 600 hotels across 12 countries in Europe and around the world, people are sure to find the destination which will make their trip a unique moment. For couples, friends or families, we will always have a hotel for a city break in Europe, holidays in France or a weekend in the countryside. For couples, staying in our hotels is an opportunity to reconnect and experience unforgettable moments. They are able to discover new horizons for a change of scene in a romantic setting. Whether it’s for a weekend or a longer stay, our hotels have infrastructure and services suited for families. We have thought of everything so that young and old can get the most out of their stay. And our hoteliers will always be happy to share the highlights of their region with their guests. There’s nothing like a family trip to bond and make new memories. For business travellers, each stopover, even if it’s just for one evening, should not be limited to a simple pied-à-terre, but it should be an occasion to enjoy, discuss and discover. Our hoteliers are always available to share an anecdote, a recipe or a recommendation. And in order that the traveller may be able to work efficiently, business guests will always find a workspace in the room and sports or wellness facilities to relax after a long day of work. For food lovers, staying with us is an opportunity for a delicious local adventure with authentic moments of culinary and gourmet discoveries. And the more adventurous can enjoy unique experiences exploring the wonders the world has to offer. Because the strength of our brand lies in the wealth of diverse experiences offered to guests, all our hoteliers always have some little unique aspect to share or to experience when on work or family trips. Throughout the year, our hoteliers will be happy to share their love for their region with you and help guests get off the beaten track with places only they know.

So, one brand, but several segments?

Within The Original Hotels we define a number of different categories. One is called “Collection” and offers a selection of premium hotels with extraordinary and charming establishments. We have another category called “Relais”. Relais is de ned as authentic luxury, surrounded by nature where guests can savour regional gourmet cuisine. Then we have urban hotels with personality called “Boutique” and standing out for their charm and distinctive decor. The category “City” offers comfortable and thoughtfully designed hotels with a contemporary style. And then finally we have a category of economy family economy hotels, called “Access”. We have also introduced one new range which is “Residence”. We didn’t want to leave the space to Airbnb, so this includes apartments, condos, etc. Our categories are not based on star. We are more looking at experience. Sometimes, people want ultra-luxury for a special occasion and sometimes people are looking for something more casual than the luxury experience. They just want the right location and amenities but they don’t need a bellman and round-the-clock concierge service; they are looking for something accessible. With our 600 hoteliers sharing the same vision of hospitality and our 6 new categories, guests can always find the perfect hotel to get the most of local life.

WHAT HAS BEEN DECIDED WITH “THE ORIGINALS” HAS BEEN VALIDATED, AND WE HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR 50 YEARS: IT IS NOT NEW FOR US TO BE A SOFT BRAND

What value do you bring to the hoteliers that the others don’t?

This is the big thing because we are talking about chains coming into our space, such as the strategy of Curio by Hilton, or Autograph Collection by Marriott. That’s a great complement, because all these chains are coming through something called a Soft brand, which is what we have been for more than 50 years. It means that what has been decided with “The Originals” has been validated, and we have been doing this for 50 years: it is not new for us to be a soft brand. Owners always deliberate on whether they want to be independent or be affiliated with a chain. Hospitality is very complicated, so what we give to owners today is the space to be independent while providing them different value services like distribution, marketing, a digital procurement platform, a training academy and a brand, for a quality consumer experience. We provide added value but we are not going deeper when it comes to the management of the hotel, because most of our hotels are independent.

I strongly believe that travellers today are actively seeking the kind of hotels where they can have a unique experience. Independent hotels all have their own individual stories and singularities, so to be transparent with the traveller today, we talk about the humans and the experience, meaning true hospitality.

You were talking about distribution. How do you do the bookings through the central site, and how does that compare to some of the other big groups?

Today, we are in a niche market, so we primarily promote the destinations, and each hotel is promoted with a real story. We write the story with the hotel, along with the key activities and experiences travellers can live on property, but also find in the environs, whether it be fishing, golf, hiking… the list goes on. We promote each hotel with what they can provide the customer. In order to do this efficiently, we signed a major deal with TravelClick by Amadeus, which is a complete technological solution, and which we have been working on for the past 18 months. Via this unique platform, we have the distribution, but we also have a loyalty programme, we get the business intelligence and the customer surveys. So, it’s a unique platform where the hotelier can manage his or her reservations, loyalty and customer data. They get everything on the one unique platform, including the booking engine and the website.

Your background obviously has had a lot to do with consumer facing technologies, and this must be a big asset for the group as well. How are you leveraging that in helping these hotels get a better grip on what people are looking for today when it comes to technologies in the hotels themselves?

Yes, my background has a lot to do with consumer technologies, but everything revolves around the consumers so when you make a study and you see that your five brands are not really visible for our customer, we had to come back to the consumer in terms of marketing. This new marketing concept was one of the main challenges when it came to convincing the hoteliers that while they had had their own brand for more than 50 years, that they should change it for a unique “group” brand and that this would help us “grow the pie”. I use the knowledge I obtained in the past on the way consumers are using technology to convince hotels that they need to move towards something that would be easier to understand, getting more turnover for each hotel. This was the key. If you can provide more business to each hotel they will follow you and that is the new challenge for this group.

How are you working with travel agents in terms of making them more want to work more than with you? How do you encourage them?

In Q4 2018, we signed to get our own GDS code, which is “OG”. Today, we are spending a lot on promoting our brand on GDS, and we have run a huge roadshow over the past six months to tell all our partners about our story, about our hoteliers’ independence, about family-style hotels, without having different brands. This is a long job, talking to our partners so that they recognize the great potential for their guests, and we have been doing this for the past six months and just three months ago launched our new chain on the GDS.

What are the ambitions for the future for the mid to long-term?

Today, we have 600 hotels, and by 2022 we hope to have 1,000 hotels. But we are looking to find the right hotels in the right locations with the right experiences. It’s always a question of people. We are not looking to get a big number of hotels, we are looking to have the right hotels. We are looking to be the authentic hospitality.


Photo: David Esseryk, Chief Digital & Marketing Officer, The Originals, Human Hotels & Resorts