“If you want to know their consistency, try their coke”

As Janet reaches week 11 of placement one, she talks about her contracting trip to Cyprus.

I write this on the plane home from what has proven to be a very interesting hotel contracting trip to Cyprus.  As part of my placement in the Specialist Holidays Group, my line managers were keen to ensure that I experienced what is an integral part of tour operations – the lengthy (and sometimes laborious) process of viewing existing accommodation, negotiating rates and renewing relationships with hotel managers and sales and marketing directors.  These members of hotel management work hard in resort to ensure their properties are a success and – as a result – have high expectations of us as a company.

It’s been a week of firsts for me – my first tasting of inkfish (I don’t recommend it), my first Cypriot Christmas party (apparently 6th January is as important to them as 25th December – who knew?) and my first tornado sighting (please see the photo; I could have included a picture of one of our beautiful five star hotels – of which there are many – but in my opinion a tornado is much more interesting).

It was also my first opportunity in this placement to see how the work we do in the office translates to resort, and how necessary it is to give the process of negotiation a personal touch, in order to create a lasting working relationship with every hotelier.  While sitting in the office it’s easy for management to demand a blanket negotiation of lower rates in order to reduce costs and increase margins – last summer, Thomas Cook famously announced that they were reducing hotel payments by 5% in a number of destinations, to help recoup the losses of 2010.  However, talk to hoteliers in resort and it is quickly apparent that a more co-dependent relationship will lead to a much more sustainable agreement going forward.  Sovereign (the brand for who we were contracting this week) have demonstrated good successes over the last couple of years; not through demanding the lowest rates (although of course there is an element of this) but through taking the time to build both personal and professional relationships with suppliers, with the aim of creating a genuinely mutually beneficial agreement.  This is especially important in the luxury market (in which Sovereign operates) as, traditionally, five-star hotels are reluctant to reduce their rates, for fear of attracting ‘the wrong type’ of customer.

In addition, this week it struck me just how hard it is to really be a ‘specialist’ in a field, and how, as a tour operator, it is harder than you think to truly understand every nuance and trend at all times – I could spend a year in Cyprus and still not know their market as well as the hoteliers do.  It’s so important to really acknowledge the expertise the hoteliers have – something that maybe tour operators don’t do enough.  Many of the members of hotel management I met had MBAs and almost all had formal training in hospitality management.  I spent a delightful evening with Marinos, who at just 30 yrs old is the Sales and Marketing Director for a chain of hotels in Cyprus.  “If you really want to know how good a hotel is, don’t look at the amount of money they’ve spent in their lobby”, he told me (which is interesting as apparently the sofa in THEIR lobby cost over twenty grand).  He told me to look at the small things – do they make a drink in the same way in each of their bars across the resort, even in the beach bar?  Is tasteful music always playing, or is it just intermittent, pan-piped garbage?  It is this kind of attention to detail – and commitment to staff training – that can act as an insight to help move our own, specialist, brands forward this year.  And of course an expensive sofa in the foyer always helps!

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