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Thu 5 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Talking it up

The region’s leisure marketing experts may have the gift of the gab, but what will they be doing to ensure their facilities and services remain in the public eye in 2009?

The region’s leisure marketing experts may have the gift of the gab, but what will they be doing to ensure their facilities and services remain in the public eye in 2009?

The global economic slowdown will no doubt have an impact on consumer spending. What will be your approach in 2009 to tackle the volatile market situation?

Conny Boettger:We'll change the weight that we place on different target markets slightly. International organisations predict a decrease in international tourist arrivals from Western countries to the UAE for the coming months.

By focusing more on existing markets, public relations, partnerships and getting sponsors on board, marketing costs could be kept down in 2009.

Therefore, we plan to place greater marketing efforts on domestic and regional markets such as the GCC region, where clients still show a higher spending power in comparison to their Western counterparts.

In addition, we'll focus more on the high-end consumers of the market as their travel and spending patterns are least likely to be affected negatively by the current economic slowdown.

Kevin Turnbull:We anticipate a slow-down in the first half of 2009 with some recovery in Q4, but different parts of our business are affected in different ways.

For example, our online marketing programmes for hotel/resorts and day spas are proving to be more popular in these difficult trading conditions, as switched-on marketers are increasingly turning to the cost benefits of the web over traditional marketing channels - particularly above the line print and TV.

Also, our spa gift voucher/gift card programmes are very popular and are at price points (starting at £25/€25 (US $36)) which are not hugely threatened by a recession. Even in difficult times individuals still buy presents for Valentine's Day, birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. Sharon Marett:Coming in the wake of the financial crisis, the key to 2009 will be to optimise and rationalise resource use efficiently. Hiring and retaining a strong team will be a key element to our growth.

With regard to marketing, it's important to review the whole set-up and audit what are the essentials and the ‘nice to haves'. Leveraging more tactical use of promotions, developing partner opportunities as well as online media and PR play a bigger role to drive incremental revenue.

We will be focusing more on tactical marketing versus brand marketing to engage with our diverse customers and their new priorities.

Lynsey O'Boyle:As providers of qualifications for fitness instructors, we target the trade on one hand and individuals, who are looking at a career in fitness, on the other.

In the current situation, when jobs in many industries are threatened, we offer a great career alternative which is affordable and achievable within a short period of time. Therefore, our marketing efforts will be focused on spreading the word and educating the public about fitness instruction as a career opportunity.

How has your 2009 marketing budget been affected in 2009?

Turnbull:We are less concerned about cutting our marketing budgets than ensuring they offer best value. So we reprioritised our marketing funds away from activities like pay per click (PPC) marketing, which has to date not offered a strong value for money proposition, to focus on improved Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) within our websites.

We have also shifted the focus of our marketing spend more towards tactical programmes - e-marketing and promotion - rather than longer term brand building.

Boettger:We are fully funded by Sharjah Government and cannot comment on the budget in detail. However, there are clear signs that the current economic situation has also impacted on our budget. In order to achieve this year's plans, we are looking into co-operating with organisations of a similar nature.

In addition, SMD's tourism division aims to minimise the usage of the more costly marketing tools such as advertising and will focus more on direct and relationship marketing as well as PR.

Further, we plan to offer our museums services and facilities to commercial organisations. Overall, greater emphasis shall be placed on e-marketing as a more cost effective tool.

O'Boyle:We are a small outfit and our marketing budget is not large to begin with. For the time being we are not reducing our marketing budget and the future will show if we will need to. Marett:In 2009 it will be even more important to think strategically about marketing budgets and ensure that every dirham goes a long way. With careful, strategic planning and by building relations with key partners, it is possible to ensure you get the very best results for investments made.

EHG has always been focused on the results achieved from various marketing campaigns and this year even more so. There is no doubt that it is now a more challenging market, but I am excited and determined to ensure optimum results are achieved from my marketing budget. How important is a) PR and b) advertising, to your company's marketing strategy?Marett:Both PR and marketing are vital to our communication strategy and are optimised most when timed and strategically planned correctly together.

When we launched The Address brand last year, PR played an enormous role initially with press conferences and invitations to the media locally and internationally being sent to create a buzz and excitement in the market.

The marketing side then fell neatly into place with representation at trade shows and a powerful, fully integrated multi-media advertising campaign to show off the new hotel identity.

This international presence gained by PR, advertising and sales succeeded in generating brand awareness, understanding and bookings throughout our key markets.

The Address Hotels + Resorts opened its first property The Address Downtown Burj Dubai on October 1, 2008 and achieved an operational occupancy of 55% within four weeks of opening.

In December 2008, after just three months of opening, the hotel was placed number one in occupancy among its competitive set in Dubai.

PR has been instrumental in helping us develop an excellent third party view of our products and businesses, which says more than an ad as the claims made have far more credibility. For this reason we have partnered with three PR agencies - one in Dubai covering the GCC and Middle East, one in London covering the UK and Ireland, and one in Munich covering the rest of Europe.

Turnbull:PR has always been a key part of our marketing mix; SpaFinder is new and newsy in EMEA and we are on a global growth strategy, so we maximise the PR benefits of being a market leader and innovator.

Conversely, above the line traditional advertising has been less important to us; it remains expensive compared to internet advertising and it is very difficult to directly analyse ROI.

O'Boyle:Our marketing strategy is PR driven due to the specifics of our target audiences and messages. We have a lot of explaining to do, this is why we prefer a dialogue and a more personalised approach.

Boettger:In general, both PR and advertising are equally important for SMD's overall marketing strategy as they complement each other and should not be dealt with in isolation.

Within the tourism division, however, due to the B2B approach that we take, we place greater emphasis on PR and only advertise in selected consumer magazines like hotel and in-flight publications with a wide distribution and catchment area.

What types of e-marketing do you use? How effective is it?

Turnbull:SpaFinder is committed to e-marketing, particularly in our direct marketing activities, where we have dedicated contact programmes with our extensive consumer and business customer databases.

We enhance this with blogs and news, offers and information, which keeps our target markets - partners, prospects and consumers - interested and loyal to the SpaFinder service.

Marett:The Address Hotels + Resorts maintains an extensive online presence on the web through priority placement on primary GDS channels. A paid per click (PPC) campaign with Google, Yahoo and MSN and an online advertising campaign for rooms and specific events to promote F&B was also undertaken recently, which helped promote the brand even more extensively. Dynamic packages and promotions were also promoted through website and web booking engines.

The Address also implements a ‘Search View' to monitor online visibility against competition and has invested in Search Engine Optimisation.

Moving forward, The Address is strengthening its web presence by partnering with social media websites, blogs and consumer generated media i.e. Facebook, You Tube, Trip Advisor etc.The Address Hotels + Resorts website receives 1500 visitors per day and 22% of our total bookings generated are from e-commerce, which is up against the industry for a recently launched hotel brand.

Boettger:Our main e-marketing tool is our own SMD website, which gets updated regularly. Further, we send our e-newsletters to all our contacts. Both tools have proven very effective within the local market.

We also started to advertise our events and activities in the form of on-line banners on other local websites such as those of local newspapers.  We are also developing a representation of SMD within several forms of  social media such as Facebook.

Social media has been on the forefront of marketing innovations in recent days.

O'Boyle:We are using e-marketing as part of our FitEd programme, reaching out to teachers and decision makers in the area of education. At the launch, we sent an electronic invitation which, apart from its immediate functions, drives traffic to our website and captures database.

The campaign is in process and it is too early to report on effectiveness, but we are very positive about it.

With the advent of social media we see more opportunities to tap into important audiences like non-working women, students and youngsters with undetermined career choices. It's a channel that we would like to explore as it is both efficient and cost-effective.

What marketing innovations have you seen in the leisure industry in the Middle East recently?

Turnbull:We are seeing more and more spas embracing e-commerce as a critical element of their marketing mix. A key element of this is the direct call-to-action the internet offers to consumers.

Leisure and spa companies in the Middle East have, in our view, been slow to exploit this direct marketing advantage, relying instead on more traditional sales channels like tour operators.

This has meant that companies have been slow to recognise the importance of incremental business opportunities from, for example, local membership clubs for their spa and leisure facilities and new technology applications, such as spa booking systems linked to customer databases, which is a key feature of our own SpaBooker product.

Boettger:I believe that social media has been on the forefront of marketing innovations in recent days and from a museum's perspective, we can proudly say that SMD does not lag behind such innovations with regards to its marketing.

About the experts

Sharon Marett, senior manager, marketing communications, Emaar Hospitality Group

After graduating in European Business Studies and Spanish from Nottingham Trent University, UK, in 1999, Sharon Marett worked as a trainee in marketing, both in the UK and Spain.

Subsequent roles included account manager of a London-based media agency and business development manager at a branding agency, before joining Marriott International's UKIMEA regional office located in London as marketing manager. Here she also studied part-time to become a fully certified CIM marketer.

In 2005, Marett was promoted to cluster director of marketing communications at Marriott International Ltd. in Dubai. She then moved to Emaar Hospitality Group (EHG) in the autumn of 2007 with the main challenge of developing a new five-star international hotel brand now known as The Address Hotels + Resorts.

Lynsey O'Boyle, sales and marketing manager, Impact British Training Solutions

With a foundation degree in Business and Management and six years' experience of sales and marketing in the leisure industry, Lynsey O'Boyle joined Impact 18 months ago. Her role combines marketing to and educating leisure professionals, gym goers and the public at large.

Kevin Turnbull, chief executive, SpaFinder Europe, Middle East & Africa

After a varied career background, including  marketing and sales roles at Ford and Nissan, director of Mercedes Benz Luxury Car division in the UK, CEO of internet company Autobytel Uk and chief executive of Toad plc, a technology business start up, Kevin Turnbull launched SpaFinder Europe in 2006.

Turnbull says marketing has been a key driver of the company's success, with a three-person marketing team and a number of agencies providing assistance in web marketing and PR.

Turnbull is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and holds a Marketing Post-graduate diploma from Newcastle University and an MBA from Durham University in the UK.

Conny Boettger, tourism marketing manager, Sharjah Museums Department

Since achieving a degree in Travel and Tourism Management from Staffordshire University, UK, and a Master of Science in International Tourism from the University of Lincoln, UK, Conny Boettger has been working in tourism and marketing for more than 12 years.

Boettger has worked as a tour guide and sales and marketing representative for various destination management companies in the UAE, and joined Sharjah Museums Department (SMD) in 2006. Her main responsibility now is to market SMD to the tourism sector - locally, regionally and internationally - and she is also in charge of SMD's market research projects.

Last year SMD attended an international conference about the successful communication of museums and it became apparent that we are in line with international museum marketing efforts. In addition, SMD places great emphasis on consumer research and always aims to implement results and findings.

Marett:I do not believe that leisure sectors here are behind other regions in terms of marketing.

The Middle East region has seen the biggest growth in recent years in the hospitality and leisure industry, and to stay in the game, marketing campaigns need to match this growth. No big players can maintain growth without robust marketing campaigns to support them. What is the biggest marketing trap companies could fall into while trying to keep costs down in 2009?Boettger:To continue with general mass advertising instead of taking a more focused and target market-oriented advertising approach. Entering new markets also relates to high expenses. By focusing more on existing markets, PR, partnerships and getting sponsors on board, marketing costs could be kept down in 2009.

Marett:The key to avoiding marketing pitfalls is by continuously revisiting the strategies and action plans and keeping in mind our customers' needs and preferences, as they too change in such climates.

To be complacent about an established marketing strategy is the biggest marketing trap companies can fall into. Regular reviews and updates are the key to overcoming it and being able to adapt to change effectively.

Turnbull:Analysing the ROI of marketing spend is critical at any time, but particularly when the market is depressed. A common mistake many businesses make is carrying on doing the ‘same old, same old' marketing they have always done, but with a lower spend and, therefore, a declining effectiveness.

The good marketers will be looking much more critically at different channels to market - because a feature of today's marketing landscape is undoubtedly multi-channel marketing - looking for the ones that offer better reach, better response and higher sales.

What is your best bit of advice for people working in marketing in the leisure industry?

O'Boyle:Narrow your positioning and be unique. Explore the potential of new media, open a direct dialogue with your customers and, most importantly, keep your message straight and simple.

Boettger:First of all, it is absolutely crucial to watch the market situation carefully and to listen to consumers' needs. In so doing, many unexpected new ideas will evolve which match the current situation and fulfill clients' demands.

Secondly, marketers must not to get paranoid with the current downturn of the industry and rush into actions which are not well thought through.

The leisure and tourism industry has always been dependant on the world's economic situation and has witnessed many ups and downs in the past. Don't lose your passion towards the industry. Tourism is resilient and will bounce back. Marett:The great opportunity for those working in the leisure industry is the direct access to their customers.  Get to know your customers as well as possible, become their friend and let their insights help with your marketing strategy!

Turnbull:Get up to speed on how technology is impacting our lives and exploit the communication opportunities on offer; and always apply the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid!

CASE STUDY: Emaar Hospitality Group

According to Sharon Marett, senior manager, marketing communications at Emaar Hospitality Group, there have been many new innovations in marketing in the region's leisure industry as competition is high, so you have to always be a step ahead of the next player and keep a close eye on what your customers want - not what you think they want. 

"Some of the marketing initiatives that I have found to be particularly innovative at Hayya!, our health club brand, are the partnership opportunities that provide real value for their members.  Some of the most successful campaigns have been with partners such as Skywards, Kellogg's, Virgin and Dnata, where our members got so much more added value when they signed up to the club," says Marett.

Hayya! Skywards Campaign

Campaign objective:To increase incremental memberships for Quarter 1, 2008 and generate awareness for the Hayya! brand.

Campaign conception:People were invited to join Hayya! Health Clubs and receive a one-month free membership and up to 20,000 Skyward miles. In order to further develop the Hayya! brand, we needed to partner with a well known and rewarding brand in the UAE.

As most of our customers are expatriates we found out that they value their time back at home and so the Skywards points they gained as part of the promotion was an excellent way to get customer engagement and new member sign-ups.

Budgets:As funds were quite limited, the partnership opportunity worked to everyone's advantage. Database mailings were carried out to both Hayya! and Skywards members, logos were featured on both party websites and also included in adverts in various collateral, as well as in outside media including radio and online.

Results:The results exceeded our expectations and directly achieved the health club's budgets for the quarter at limited costs.

Total memberships:(new and renewals): 463

Total revenue:AED 2,397,150 (US $ 652,753)

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