How do you refresh the product as the competitive set grows?
We are very fortunate to have a team that has a forward-looking mindset and enjoys challenging the status quo. Each year, it is our mission to offer something new to our clients whether it is adding a new facility or redesigning a certain area of the hotel.
In the last five years, we have made a significant investment that focused on upgrading the product. Since we rebranded Royal Cliff Beach Resort to Royal Cliff Hotels Group, we’ve worked from the core outwards by first establishing a clear brand DNA.
Throughout this process of upgrades, we worked with best people in various fields including top architects, interior designers and landscape specialists. The people we work with come from around the world as researched and selected the right people for each project.
This year, we are making good progress in with a makeover of one of our hotels that includes giving the exterior a facelift. We are aiming to impress our returning guests with our new lobbies, breakfast area, restaurants and rooms. As travellers become more appreciative of design, we are placing our emphasis on providing distinct features. However, we understand that visuals also need to be balanced with functionality therefore we providing all the fundamental requirements such as fast and stable Wi-Fi, efficient service, cleanliness, ample room amenities and comfortable furniture in the communal areas.
Another project that began in parallel to the renovation of our hotels is the upgrade of our sports club. We are working towards the goal of being a destination that offers the best sports facilities. This involves an investment in our Fitz Club. Our Tennis courts are now one of a kind in terms of colour and quality with a standard identical to Grand Slam courts. The swimming pool and surrounding areas has been redesigned to give an Amazon vibe with beautiful trees and many shades of a very tropical ambiance. All this has now been completed.
How are the markets evolving for the resort and how is the group adapting to change?
At Royal Cliff, we always have a good mix of nationalities. At this point in time, we are working towards attracting more Millennials and the challenge is to turn first timers to loyal customers. This is especially difficult with these type of travellers as they are always in search of a new experiences. In terms of nationalities, we have seen an upswing in bookings from China, Japan and Korea.
To adapt to the current trend, we need to continually make sure that our product is well maintained and that each touch point impresses our guests. Beginning with the guest’s initial website experience right through to departing from the hotel, we must provide an outstanding experience during each step. Even after departure, we must continue to deliver great after-stay service by continually engaging with our guests via e-newsletters and social media posts. To serve the different nationalities, we have a multilingual team who can converse in 10 different languages.
A fine example of a successful family operated hospitality enterprise how do you visualise the future of independent hotel business model going forward?
Independent hotels are facing a very big challenge. In order to remain independent, a deep passion for the industry must be present that will provide the driving force to remain competitive. We are fortunate that our brand is strong with a rich heritage. This is what we can leverage on. It will be extremely difficult for new independent hotels to enter now, but I do admire those that are willing to give it a shot. We know that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. The advantage of being an independent hotel is that we can be more flexible and can adapt to changes quicker than large chains. We have more control in terms of service, quality and addressing problems quickly. The charm of the independent hotel is in its style, elegance and character that the guest can identify with and enjoy while staying at the property. We have received testimonials from guests that say that the Royal Cliff is a hotel with a soul and they can feel the magic behind our Thai hospitality. It is these testaments from our guests that inspire us to do better each day.
The perennial downside for five-star hotels in Pattaya is the resort’s negative image. How does the Royal Cliff Group cope with this reality and grow the market?
We have come a long way from the time when Pattaya had a very negative image. Now, the city has so many positive attractions to offer visitors. We are very thankful for the support we receive from the Ministry of Tourism, which has a vision to make Pattaya a destination for sports and families. Each month, we are seeing a major events take place in the city including music festivals, Asia-Pacific art exhibitions, air races, ASEAN Navy military exercises, CSR projects and more.
In addition to these big events are the new attractions in the area enabling families to have a blast when coming to Pattaya. There are now water parks that can rival some of the best in the world and mind-blowing acrobatic shows that use the latest technologies. We do our part by developing co-packages and market through our online marketing platforms.
With regards to sports, there are many tournaments and competitions happening throughout the year. Royal Cliff also hosts annually tennis and squash tournaments for those that are looking to make new friends and test their skills. Last year, we were the selected venue for the Senior International Tennis Federation Championship.
In the context of today’s multiple booking channels what is the role of the traditional tour operator in your business mix.
Tour Operators give us constant business all year around. It is true that their business has decreased significantly but we cannot overlook the channel. Some operators have been good partners throughout the year and have been very supportive when times were difficult for us. We remember and are grateful for these partners so we do our utmost to accommodate them. For the high season, we do allocate rooms to supportive tour operators and show our gratitude. During low season, when the online business slows down rapidly, then it is the operators that help us through the tough months. They also have clients who will always book with them due to trust and confidence. We respect those who feel comfortable booking the traditional way. Some hoteliers have gone all out online especially newcomers ,but for us, we continue to value the relationship we have built over many years. Our regular customers are still happy with the service they receive from their tour consultants and so we can never neglect this channel.
OTAs command substantial commissions that worry hotel companies. How are you dealing with this issue?
There are many dimensions to consider when it comes to partnering with OTAs. If you only focus on the commission, then it is best not to work with them. For us, this is a channel that contributes significant business because without them, we are losing out on exposure and awareness. It is impossible for an independent hotel to beat OTAs on marketing spend. We do not worry about the commission because the opportunity cost of going alone is higher than partnering with the online agents so we are actually thankful for their help in this arena.
In order to capture more market share though, we do have several strategies in place. To entice our customers to book directly on our website, we have created interesting packages which they cannot get elsewhere. We also offer extra privileges for those that book direct with us such as priority room upgrade, late check out and free shuttle service to the downtown area. There are also certain room types which can only be booked on the hotel website. Not only that, we have invested heavily in improving the user experience when navigating through our website. Because of this, no matter what device our visitors are using, we can be able to give them the best user interface experience possible.
MICE business has been a core activity of your group since your first property opened. How is this sector performing today and what contribution does PEACH bring to the business mix?
MICE business has been growing well each year and represents a significant portion of the overall production. Most of the awards we’ve won recently are in the MICE category and we have pioneered many MICE initiatives including green programs. We were also one of the first companies to develop a resort convention model in Thailand that offer an integrated solution to event organisers. The growing demand for meeting and convention spaces led the founder of Royal Cliff to invest in building a convention centre – the Pattaya Exhibition And Convention Hall or PEACH that opened in 1999. Today, our convention centre can accommodate up to 10,000 people and we have been getting around four to five big events per month at PEACH this year. New businesses constitute around 30%. Next year, we forecast that business to PEACH will be about 15% higher than this year in terms of frequency of events as well as revenue generated.,