WITHOUT doubt, Bahrain’s hospitality sector has been badly affected by recent unrest. Dee McGuinness, director of business development and strategy at the Gulf Hotel, the island’s only independent Bahraini owned and run five-star hotel, spoke exclusively to Liz O’Reilly about the challenges.
How has the hotel been affected by the ongoing unrest in Bahrain and throughout the region?
The recent political crisis all but eliminated our international group business this year with the initial reaction being to postpone or cancel planned conferences in Bahrain.
Are you starting to see a recovery and how is thismanifesting?
As a result of the political crisis we have experienced a dramatic change in our market mix mainly due to the cancellation of our baseline group business. We had to change our strategy by diverting our focus to increasing our penetration of the local corporate market and diplomatic business. We capitalised on the opportunity that the travel embargos imposed in key business districts in Bahrain and as well as procuring new clients, we also increased our sales calls frequency and improved our account management of new key accounts and as a result we were successful in gaining their loyalty to the Gulf Hotel. We also proactively identified any group business opportunities that we could from the local and regional market but we are witnessing a trend for shorter lead times, requests for smaller meetings, with less rooms, time and money spent in the hotel.
The pressure on us has not only been to maintain market share but also attract additional corporate transient clients so that we could increase market penetration rather than drive the average room rate and revenue. As a result of the introduction of the summer rates, a joint venture set up by Gulf Air and the five-star hotels in Bahrain and an aggressive sales strategy combined with a new focus on e commerce, we increased our distribution channels and managed to maintain the Gulf Hotel’s position as the leading five-star hotel on the island.
Other hotels have mentioned that the first area to bounce back has been food and beverage (F&B), is this something you have noticed?
The Gulf Hotel, is internationally acclaimed for serving some of the best cuisine on the island. Benefitting from no less than 16 specialty restaurants, bars and cafés, we are firmly positioned as a foodies’ paradise and one of the most sought after visitor attractions in Bahrain. Restaurant sales prove to be the most lucrative for the global hotel, restaurant and leisure industry therefore we saw it as vital to enhance out F&B strategies with the principal goal on how to improve our food and beverage offer.
As a result during the crisis we witnessed a huge increase in our outdoor catering business and by improving our loyalty programme we have been successful in increasing F&B revenues by driving more loyal clients to our outlets than ever.
I understand the Gulf Hotel has recently regained the number one spot among the island’s non-airport properties, what was the previous position and how has the improvement been achieved?
As we are the largest hotel and convention centre on the island we prided ourselves in always selling the most rooms. This year combined with the political crisis Bahrain has also witnessed the launch of two new international brands which we saw as challenge rather than an obstacle. Our biggest or most important challenge remained to make sure that we captured our high market share despite the prevailing market conditions. Our sales and marketing mantra is to stay ahead of our competitors by creating a client-focused and innovative approach and a clear differentiation strategy. We regrouped as a sales force, clearly identified growth segments despite the situation, maintained focus on further developing key accounts and business opportunities. We created tactics and strategies to attract new clients, created new revenue streams and increased revenue through a continuous dynamic e-commerce strategy.
What are your major markets - business/leisure or both?
By diverting our focus we have managed to change our market mix and as a result have increased our contracted corporate business as well as corporate transient. The launch of dynamic leisure packages together with a strategic communication campaign and a new website have also resulted in a dramatic increase of our weekend leisure business.
Is the new website making a significant difference and how was this marketing stream developed?
Our 2011 focus has also been on creating a fundamental basis for the development of a proactive e-commerce strategy that included the launch of a new website. We will concentrate on using the new tools and collaterals to reach our main objectives which includes increasing brand recognition in local and international markets, driving business through our cheapest channel – our website, targeting and acquiring new groups of customers through e-marketing campaigns, increasing our product portfolio awareness by creating dynamic communication lines and collaterals to sell all of our product portfolio, creating a customer community, driving loyalty and increasing customer service.
Year to date we have managed to increase revenue through the electronic channels by five per cent and room nights from 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the total room nights sold.
How are forward bookings looking and what do you see as the future for Bahrain’s tourism industry in light of the ongoing political situation?
The ongoing political instability of Bahrain, which has affected the world’s perception of the country as a safe financial hub, together with the arrival of significant new hotel projects poses a serious threat to our business in 2012 through 2013, however we are resilient and optimistic and it is really a case of business as usual. We are continuing to work closely with the tourism board, together with our competitors in the hospitality industry, to promote Bahrain as a beautiful island with beautiful people at the core of its existence.
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