All About the Experience

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Sun International has gone through a period of introspection, questioning just what exactly it is, besides a South African group of hotel and gaming properties. One of the by-products of this introspection has been the launch of the group’s Sunlux Collection. Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Rob Collins and Group Manager: Marketing Alison McKie joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat about this product, and the group as a whole.

At face value, the Sun International Group is an operator of 24 hotel and gaming properties, with a presence in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Nigeria and more recently, Chile.

It is arguably best known for its iconic Sun City property, as well as its role as a provider of gaming and entertainment experiences, mostly across South Africa, with 15 of its properties in this territory.

Now there’s been a re-think as to how the group is ‘taken to market’.

“The group has evolved over a period of time,” says Collins. “We realised that we couldn’t end up with say a hundred properties with a hundred marketing budgets, brands, launches and corporate identities. Then you don’t get the halo effect and you don’t get the very essence of what a group brings.”

So, what does the Sun International Group bring and where does Sunlux come in?

“Sunlux was a derivative of this group halo brand of ‘Sun’ – the collection of Sun,” says McKie. “So, our Sunlux Collection is our premium 5-star deluxe properties that we put into a category together – the Table Bay, the Palace of the Lost City at Sun City, and the Royal Livingstone in Zambia, and we use the Maslow in Johannesburg as our overnight hotel.”

“So, we take our three 5-star deluxe properties off shore, market them as our premium collection, and lead with those properties in terms of our positioning from Sun International’s perspective.”

And what about the group’s other properties?

“We don’t market them as aggressively as our 5-star properties, but we still make use of our properties like Royal Swazi, the Wild Coast Sun and our new Boardwalk Hotel in Port Elizabeth, through our distribution partners and channels. We then package and bolt on these properties,” says McKie.

Collins and McKie go on to explain that the more business travel-focused properties, such as the Maslow, the Federal Palace in Nigeria, the Gaborone Sun in Botswana, and Kalahari Sands in Namibia, sit in the group’s corporate cluster and are treated differently.

But let’s get back to what Sun International wants to focus on, from a group point of view.

“We’ve tried to move into the experiential side,” says Collins. “Because if you’re stuck in the 1980s bricks and mortar-type environment, you’re going to battle, as the future is moving into cyberspace. Even in cyberspace it’s about an experience. So when you go into online gaming, mobile, brand-in-hand, it’s an experience. We didn’t pay too much attention to the digital side of the business for a long time, but we now have to invest enormously.”

“Sun International makes more money out of gaming than hotels, but if you look at our iconic properties – and that’s why I think Sunlux is so important – we’re a premier hotel group. We don’t have the most hotels, or the most profitable hotels, but we’ve got the premier destinations.”

If Sun International has the premier destinations, what do Collins and McKie make of the host of international hotel groups currently climbing into Africa?

“I think it’s wonderful and a vote of confidence,” says Collins. “Competition will assist and aid. However, it’s not this utopia where everyone can come in. There are obstacles, and I sometimes wonder whether or not it’s the romance of developing an African strategy, because ‘everyone else is getting into Africa’. Africa is the flavour of the month, probably because it had been left alone for so many years, and it’s now suddenly seen as the continent of opportunity.”

And the future, according to Collins?

“I believe the future is about experiences, because bricks and mortar is outdated. You can’t feed the world from bricks and mortar. You’ve got to start taking the business to the people, not making the people come to the business. That’s the fundamental change we’ve got to make.”

Dylan Rogers