THINGS are shaking up in Kuwait’s Safir Hotels & Resorts (SHR) like never before, with a new guest intelligence platform, a clearly defined distribution strategy, business planning and development tools, and a comprehensive suite of marketing and human resources tools.
Moreover, with a restructured and strengthened corporate management team in Kuwait, the 26-year-old brand is already on a path to reposition its portfolio in the upscale and midscale market segments.
“In line with our ambition to grow our portfolio of ten hotels in the Mena region, we realise that we must expand our focus and deliver on more than just competitive financial results for our strategic partners. At the same time, we have to deliver on guest satisfaction and colleague satisfaction,” says chief operating officer Patrick de Groot, who was brought on board in 2017 to lead the development and subsequent implementation of the company’s new business strategy. Patrick has an extensive background in working with top hospitality brands in the region.
“We experienced steady growth in our key markets in 2018. In Egypt, Oman and Kuwait, Safir was able to deliver exceptional results to our respective hotel owning companies,” continues De Groot. “2019 promises to be a challenging year, but I have the support of a great team of professional hoteliers, and I am confident that we will continue to grow our brand equity. And with several new team members in place, we will implement various new strategic initiatives in support of our growing portfolio of hotels in the years to come.”
NEW BRAND, STRATEGY
Over the course of 2018, Safir Hotels & Resorts worked with renowned concept and strategy development firm Meraki & Modus on the re-articulation of its hotel products. In addition to developing an exciting set of new brand propositions, Safir also introduced a refreshed brand identity.
Layla Al-Ghawas, the company’s recently assigned corporate manager of marketing, comments: “It was time to modernise the Safir brand. We retained the trademark ’sphere’, but introduced a calming, more modern palette of blue, grey, and copper.”
These changes to the brand are now being implemented across all guest-facing communications, packaging, and in-house collateral.
“The word ‘Safir’ means ‘Ambassador’ in Arabic,” Al-Ghawas continues. “To pay tribute to this originating legacy, and to our role as ambassadors of each community that houses our hotels, SHR has defined its new purpose as ‘Sharing true Arabian hospitality with the World.’ This mantra now sits at the very core of everything we do.”
In line with the rebranding efforts, Safir’s website (safirhotels.com) is also being completely revamped, making it user friendly, mobile friendly, and image rich, with the ultimate goal of providing easy access to the brand’s online booking engine. It is anticipated to go live by the second half of 2019.
Safir continues to seek new opportunities around the region in order to strengthen its portfolio that currently includes hotels and hotel serviced residences in Kuwait, Cairo, Salalah, Doha, Lebanon, and Syria.
The majority of hotels in Safir’s current portfolio are positioned as upscale properties, but the company has a strategic desire to also develop a portfolio of upper-midscale hotels.
“Besides re-articulating our upscale hotel product positioning, we are also keen to enter the upper-midscale segment by 2020,” elaborates De Groot.
Corporate director of design & technical services, Lidia Janakievska, adds: “Conventional midscale products are budget-centric, whereas our vision aims to deliver on quality, comfort and convenience, while not exceeding the midscale investment budget.”
“It has been a fascinating journey to develop new concepts and brands for our portfolio,” De Groot continues. “We are very keen to share these exciting products with the world, and look forward to announcing a number of new additions to our portfolio in the coming months.”
The company has embarked on a number of refurbishment, renovation, and expansion projects to update its current portfolio of hotels and resorts. In each case, signature design elements will be delivered, to support the new positioning. Safir’s flagship property, Marina Hotel Kuwait, recently completed a comprehensive product refurbishment and is recognised as one of Kuwait’s premier luxury hotel addresses.
SHR has integrated the services of online reputation specialist ReviewPro across all its hotels. Besides keeping a finger on the pulse of the brand’s online reputation, Safir also uses the platform to reach out to its guests with online surveys for direct feedback during or after their stay at any one of its hotels.
“This combination of feedback data helps us to fine-tune the development and/or adjustment of our products and guest services,” explains corporate manager of Guest Intelligence, Shazia Nazir. A long-time employee, Nazir was promoted to coordinate this new corporate function, which now plays a pivotal role in day-to-day management of the units.
“Today, we have much more detailed insight in our performance against our competitors, and we see direct, positive correlation with our bottom line. Our “Global Review Index ” score is a key focal point for the management teams at unit-level,” Shazia adds.
A corporate business development function was set up at the end of 2017. Cairo-based, it supports all of SHR’s business units with business planning, forecasting, and maintaining productive relationships with key travel-trade and corporate accounts. A lot of ground has been covered in better understanding the intricate web of sales relationships that exists across multiple properties and markets.
Actively involved with his colleagues at unit level is corporate director of business Development Ahmed Seleit, another new addition to the team. He comments: “Today, we have a full overview of each channel’s productivity, across the group. Managing these important relationships with this newly acquired insight has allowed us to leverage our interests better, resulting in positive top line results.”
To support its business development efforts, Safir Hotels & Resorts has joined forces with market representation specialist Preferred Hotels & Resorts, which now represents two of its hotels. Apart from having access to a global sales force that represents the brand in key-feeder markets, the relationship with Preferred also provides access to its “I Prefer” loyalty programme.
“It is our intention to expand this relationship to include several more of our hotels,” remarks De Groot. “Positive brand association and active integration across multiple marketing disciplines is key to delivering positive results.”
Safir also centralised its revenue management & electronic distribution functions. The company realised that it was sitting on a wealth of knowledge and experience, which has now been made available across the entire portfolio.
“Creating this function at a corporate level paid off almost instantaneously,” says Seleit. “We have introduced a group-wide sales strategy, which in turn is supported by relevant and comprehensive rate strategies.”
SHR’s renewed focus on guaranteeing rate parity and driving owner’s return through RevPAR has proven to be a successful strategy; one that will be continued in the coming years.
SHR’s Human Resources function has assessed how the company will remain an employer of choice. It has built a solid reputation in the last twenty-plus years and enjoys market competitive turn-over rates amongst its employees.
“The manner in which we look after our company’s most important asset – our colleagues – is of strategic importance to our overall success as a hotel management company,” says another newly appointed member of the team, Sadeq Taqi, corporate manager of Human Resources.
Safir’s colleagues are expected to embody company values and deliver on the company’s purpose. In order to ensure that the team provides consistent guest services in an efficient manner, Safir strives to have in place a competitive compensation & benefits strategy, as well as career development opportunities.
“We can strategise all we like, but without the buy-in of our colleagues, we won't make any headway,” Taqi adds.
SHR has developed a new Safir Induction training, which focuses on establishing an appreciation for its company values. In addition, the company is scheduling several new job-specific training modules, which will be rolled out later this year.
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