It’s All in the Stars

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It’s All in the Stars

Gone are the days when a corporate would automatically book its executives into the closest 5-star property. The global recession has resulted in those entities watching their bottom line a lot more closely, and ISO Leisure Hotels, with their Holiday Inn Express brand, believe they are perfectly placed to grab some of that corporate market. Operations Director, Gary Foster joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat at Indaba.

Admit it. Which of you travelling businessmen or women would turn your noses up at the thought of having to ‘slum’ it in a 3-star hotel on a company business trip? A fair amount of you, I’m sure, although one or two hotel groups are tapping into the current needs of the business traveller.

Holiday Inn Express Durban-Umhlanga is a great example. It’s well located, clean, has a gym and pool, basic hanging space in the room, work desk, flat-screen TV with selected satellite channels, separate shower, comfortable bed, laptop-size safe, free Wi-Fi, and a good breakfast (and steakhouse adjacent to hotel).

“It is very affordable and our Express properties are aimed at the business traveller,” says Foster. “We believed in the Umhlanga node and our business is about 30% leisure and 70% corporate.”

It’s not rocket science and I’m wondering if we’re going to start see even more 3-star properties making an impact in the corporate market? After all, business travellers don’t necessarily need luxury, but rather some quality basics. It seems like a no-brainer and it’s no surprise then to see the likes of Lonrho Hotels, in partnership with easyHotel, committing to rolling out 50 budget hotel properties across Africa by 2015.

“I think the business traveller is comfortable with this sort of offering,” says Foster, “and you’re getting a quality product at an affordable price. I think we were one of the first 3-star hotel groups to start offering free Wi-Fi, which we’ve had a very good response to.”

Certainly, complimentary Wi-Fi is a great start for a property targeting the business traveller, and ISO Leisure seem to be cutting their cloth according to what they believe that market wants.

“We’ve gone with showers only in our Express properties, and it’s quite interesting that in South Africa you cannot become a 4-star if you only have a three-piece bathroom. I think our local tourism bodies are going to find that quite interesting, as more and more of the hotel chains go for a three-piece bathroom and probably get away from baths. Our move to showers only has proved very popular.”

The African hotel market is in an interesting space right, with a few more international brands attempting to flex their muscles on the continent. Post-recession, the time seems about right, although the new openings do seem to be more in the 5-star range. For Foster, it’s less about how high-end you go, but more about the changing hotel trends.

“I think the tough times are behind us, although the trends in the industry seem to have changed dramatically,” he says. “It’s now very short lead times and it’s becoming harder to predict your occupancies, because people are booking at the last minute to pick up bargains.”

Keep your eye on that 3-star hotel space – not the last you’ve heard of it in a business travel context, and it’s going to be interesting to see which hotel groups think that’s an offering they’d like to have, as the needs of the modern travelling executive changes.