"A fashion executive and a tech geek walk into a hotel bar ..." But instead of being the start of a bad joke, this is the start of a good story about creativity during a crisis.
View Hotels, an upscale, independent hotel brand in Australia, embarked on an overhaul in the spring of 2019. But as it turns out a natural disaster and then a global pandemic forced the company’s leaders to be creative with fewer resources than initially planned.
View Hotels only has three properties. Yet the company’s story represents the bigger decisions facing countless other hoteliers worldwide — and how perseverance is a key virtue in brand and tech revamps.
View’s properties in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne confronted a challenge that many other urban hotels also did in that guest cancellations disproportionately hit them compared to drive-to properties in more open, airy environments.
“Not only are we faced with a global pandemic, but before that, we were faced with bushfires in Australia,” said Margaret Huerta, a creative director overseeing View Hotels’ rebranding campaign. “From the onset, everything was stacked against us. If it could go wrong, it went wrong.”
Refashioning a Hotel Brand
Huerta planned to add a rock chic vibe to the View Hotels brand, but her strategy met two crushing headwinds.
View Hotels, like many Australian travel companies, was already grappling with bushfires. The Australian Tourism Export Council estimated in January that the bushfires alone would cost the country $4.5 billion in tourism revenue due to cancellations, as Skift reported.
Then the pandemic struck. View’s properties in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne were devastated by guest cancellations.
While the two crises impacted everything from budgets to renovation plans, Huerta still pushed ahead with a new vision — and changed up the entire View Hotels executive team, from general managers to architects and lawyers.
“I knew, to execute my vision, we had to change the culture,” she said.
Culture wasn’t the only thing to change in the ongoing redesign effort. Huerta initially saw a parking lot with incredible waterfront views as a place that the company could transform into a venue fit for weddings, a Ted Talk, or what she describes as “the best party ever.”
That may no longer be the case in light of the pandemic.
“We’re being very careful in how we design that space because we can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes again,” she said.
Huerta has a somewhat unconventional background for a hotel executive. She was formerly the head men’s buyer for Versace and Saint Laurent.
Between May of 2019 and the start of travel restrictions, she racked up miles back and forth from View’s headquarters in the Sydney suburbs to her home base 10,000 miles away in New York City.
Huerta rethought everything, from the design of the hotel arrivals area to how to source vintage denim for new staff uniforms with limited resources.
Despite the long-distance redesign, Huerta made sure View’s image retained a reflection of its surroundings.
Imagery pays homage to iconic architecture like the Sydney Opera House, and the bar in the Sydney hotel has an archway as a nod to the soaring Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Advertising for the Melbourne hotel tells guests, “We’re glad you checkered in” – alluding to the Melbourne Grand Prix motor race.
“You want guests to leave feeling they had something they can’t buy,” Huerta said. “That’s hospitality.”
Rethinking the Hotel Tech Stack, Too
For a tech overhaul, Huerta hired Will Seggos as digital strategy and technology director. When Seggos started in November, the plan was for a significant upgrade.
“The crisis forced us to be scrappy like a startup,” Seggos said. “Before, we would’ve been more likely to take the path of least resistance. We might have bought an out-of-the-box software solution that does nearly everything. Now we’re piecing things together.”
For starters, View Hotels overhauled its website and email marketing system. The tweaks have shown early promise. The company received 18 percent more bookings via its site in June than it did a year earlier, despite a 90 percent drop in its marketing budget.
Seggos chalked up some of the gains to running smarter email campaigns. It did this by moving from Mailchimp to Revinate‘s suite of marketing tools, Seggos said.
View Hotels didn’t just change its tech. It also changed its procedures. Exhibit A: New workflows for check-in prompted the hotel’s front-desk staff to get in the habit of asking for guest emails. That new routine doubled the number of emails collected in June.
View Hotels also swapped out its old property management system, GuestCentrix by CMS Hospitality, for one from Infor.
“It was like open-heart surgery,” Seggos said.
The property management system contains a hotel’s customer data and room inventory data. The move to Infor let View Hotels centralize all of its guest data in the cloud, where other tools could analyze it.
Next up? View Hotels wants to analyze what’s profitable in its food-and-beverage segment.
“It’s about getting people into the restaurant through technology,” Huerta said. “It’s a tech effort but also a people effort. With food and beverage, it comes down to people and personality.”
“The tool gives us insights into what agencies are booking right now,” Seggos said. “We’re attempting to figure out why TMCs [travel management companies] are booking guests elsewhere rather than with us. Is it because of the rate, location, product, etc.?”
The hotel company recently added event management software from Ivvy. Before the switch, View Hotels had tracked sales leads for meetings, conventions, and events in Salesforce, and they would review a manual spreadsheet in a weekly sales meeting. Ivvy helps organize the process, Seggos said.
View Hotels expects to make other enhancements.
“It’s kind of a story about defying the odds and proving success is not just measured for the big guys,” Huerta said. “You can be a small, innovative group, and if you’re nimble, you can prove it can be done.”
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Photo credit: A view from a king suite at View Hotels Sydney Harbourview property in Sydney, Australia. The upscale independent hotel chain refreshed its brand and tech stack despite the pandemic. View Hotels