In an interview with TnH, Sarbendra Sarkar, Founder & Managing Director, CYGNETT Hotels & Resorts, spoke about the new marketing strategies and other measures adopted by his hotels to gain guest confidence.

Q. Why social media has become an important part of your hotel marketing? How has it helped you in the past to boost your hotel image, ROIs and engagement with guests? Explain in numbers.

Being a tech-savvy brand, we have always believed in the power of digital platforms and Social Media has been an imperative arm of our marketing efforts globally. Especially, in this time, thanks to already being very active across all social media platforms, we were able to effectively communicate and constantly be in touch with our customers.

Social media enables us to express ourselves authentically and directly to our customers while enabling them to communicate their thoughts/concerns with us.

We as a brand do not believe in counting followers or likes as these can be bought. We are organic in our approach to social media marketing. I can confidently say that the last three properties signed in spite of the pandemic, was because of social media.

In fact, as the saying goes, the ‘proof is in the pudding!’ I am currently in talks with international players in GCC and Indonesia primarily because of our social media reach!

Q. What kind of strategies have your hotels adopted to engage with guests and help them with brand recall and assure them of you being operational? Have you started any marketing activity off lately?

Considering, the current atmosphere and the fear associated, our very first strategy is to ensure our guests are comfortable to be staying with us. For this, we have designed a couple of initiatives to instil trust and confidence in our customers. The initiatives are:

  • Safety Protocol Drive
  • Hygiene Assured Drive

These initiatives coupled with the implementation of new technologies such as self-check-in/out and zero-touch policy has helped us increase the occupancy of our operational hotels to double-digit numbers. At least, now our P&L is not in red for operating hotels.

Again, I want to reiterate that social media has also helped us bounce back. Our campaigns have been well received by our target audience, thus helping to reinforce trust.

Q. What are the various marketing campaigns launched by your hotel? Tell us in detail about the messaging that you are giving out to guests?  Which platforms you are exploring to connect with guests and help them restore confidence in your brand/ services?

Right now, our paramount priority is to ensure the safety and health of our guests as well as our staff. With this in mind, we have launched a campaign titled, ‘We will travel again’. This campaign highlights/communicates the safety measures that we have initiated; emphasizes on our contactless check-in/check-out policy, the QR coded menus and our contactless food experience.

‘Hotels are safe havens that enable travellers to get about their business/life without having to stress about basic necessities;’ this is the message we are conveying to our customers. Currently, digital platforms are our preferred marketing tools. We are highlighting our messaging via social media platforms; communicating with guests/potential guests personally via personalized calls, emailers and online chat mechanism (website). Additionally, we have now started Whatsapp marketing and reach out to our customers and encourage them to do the same.

Q. Do you think there will be a significant shift towards branded hotels as compared to home stays? Explain in detail? Given the shift, how are you leveraging on your social media and marketing platforms to garner business?

In this pandemic, the entire hospitality industry is in the same boat. The ones that will stay afloat and probably eventually flourish are the ones that are adapting to this ‘new normal’ and navigating their way, no matter how tough, through these dark waters to ensure the comfort and safety of their guests and staff.

The SOP today is ‘Health, Hygiene, Comfort and Safety’ and there are no two ways about that!

We have a robust Learning & Development Management system in place. We are not opening properties until all measures/protocols are in place and the property passes an internal audit. Our aim is to ensure that anyone booking with us feel like they are staying in a ‘home away from home’—and this is the message we convey to all our customers via social media and other digital platforms.

The capability to change, adapt and reinforce is the only way forward. Keeping this in mind, I feel branded hotels will have an edge over homestays. With the fear/social stigma attached with this pandemic, people will be less trusting of homestays (which may or may not follow or implement protocols and there is no way to find out or tell). Whereas, branded hotel chains are deploying all safety measures/protocols initiated by the World Health Organisation and local public health bodies.

Q. Given that the marketing budgets have been slashed significantly, what are the new cost-effective strategies adopted by your hotel? Also, tell us about new tools that are helping you to carve cost-efficient campaigns?

At the moment, we have converted all costs to variable costs. With regard to marketing, as mentioned previously, we are concentrating predominantly on digital marketing and working on a more organic reach plan versus paid.

Furthermore, we have employed several AI and cloud-based platforms to save time and money. Additionally, this enables us to work from home at ease.

At our properties, we are multitasking and following stringent cost controls to reduce overheads. Finally, it is our ability to be innovative and flexible in this time that is going to help us survive.

Q. Given that the industry is now focusing on tapping the potential of the domestic market and with international travel now being on halt, how are you leveraging your services & products to connect with guests?

World over, domestic travel will be the first to takeoff! People are waiting to get out of their homes, they are craving the freedom to travel and take a break from their mundane everyday lives. Moreover, with the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign, we are all moving toward appreciating and buying from/booking with homegrown brands, which in turn will help our currently hit economy flourish!

As mentioned above, we are using our presence on multiple digital/social platforms to reach out to our target audience. We are working on building messaging for our leisure destinations (the worst hit). However, our efforts in staying connected are indicative of positive results for our leisure properties. Still, creating the vaccine will be the only way for leisure destinations to get back to normal.

Q. What other hotel services are you promoting through your marketing & social media campaigns?

We have joined the rest of the hospitality industry with the ‘Home Delivery’ concept. Our kitchen is open for anything cuisine that customers want to order. Also, we are promoting the ‘weekend staycation’ concept for most of our hotels.

Q. Tell us in detail about the new normal campaigns for food delivery, work from hotel, staycation etc.? How has it helped you and what kind of response have you received so far?

These ‘new normal’ campaigns are currently enabling us to stay afloat. Business is slowly picking up as people are cooped up and are craving to eat “hotel food”! Also, work from home is driving people up the wall and working in a hotel has actually be a pleasant change for most guests.

Thanks to our Safety Protocol Drive and Hygiene Assured Drive, customers are mustering the courage and trusting us to come over for a weekend staycation!

Q. How are you promoting the stays at your hotel, hygiene experience, F&B services, banquet setups, MICE experiences etc. through your campaign?

Our Safety protocol – ‘Health & Safety Assured’ drive details out every aspect of the standards and protocols deployed to ensure health and hygiene—contactless services, immune booster menus, QR Coded menu for ordering, and realigning the space for MICE has been done as per set norms.

Each property is making considerable effort to ensure that all needs are fulfilled and our practices to ensure guest and staff safety are being communicated to our target audience even locally.

Also, our sales & marketing team situated across the nation are constantly following with propitious clients for MICE & Events enquiries.

Q. Given that gyms have been allowed to open now? How are you communicating on these experiences? Are you offering in-room amenities/ vouchers/ products for these services?

Our Gym services are open only to our guests; outsiders are not allowed. All safety and social distancing measures have been put in place. The opening of Gym services is being communicated to the guest at check-in as well as through a card placed in each room.

Q. Given that ADRs and RevPars have gone down, how will you be looking at the flexible rate campaign? What kind of messaging are you giving out here?

We are flexible and work as per the requirements of our customers. In fact, we have introduced a 6-hour package rate for guests who do not intend to stay overnight. We also have a full day package option as well. These packages are implemented in most of our properties.

Q. Along with social media, have also integrated any tech services such as CRM, chatbots to elevate guests’ booking, stay and post-stay experience? How are you promoting your pre-booking offers to encourage travellers to stay at your hotel?

As mentioned before, we have implemented AI and CRM. These systems enable us to communicate all details to the client immediately on booking a room with us. Also, our AI system works in a way that on booking, the guest interests are noted and accordingly various offers are customised and shared with the guest.

Additionally, our reservation teams work with the guests and provide tailor-made packages, thus working on creating a satisfying experience for our guests. 

Q. Highlight three initiatives that worked for your social media pages and why?

  1. Content: We put out content that our customers/users identified with in these tough times. This enabled active two-sided conversations with the customers/potential customers sharing their point of view as well. Also, our visuals were strong and communicated our message clearly, while ensuring that our audience identifies with it.
  2. Behavioral Data Collection & Analysis: Our target audience reaction enabled us to understand their thoughts, feelings and needs. This further pushed us to publish content that they identified with, thus ensuring effective communication.
  3. Active participation in social media groups that our audiences were a part of helped us stay on the pulse of their experiences. This aided us in directly contacting/communicating with them in a personal manner, thus helping build loyalty.

Q. What are your strategies to reinforce guest loyalty? How will you be leveraging your loyalty programs and reward points through these mediums? What would be the messaging like?

We pay special interest to a guest’s experience post-check-out to understand whether they had a good stay with us, what ticked for them and what did not, thus constantly helping us better our services.

With regard to loyalty programs, we work with companies/FIT to provide them with the best rates when they come to stay with us. Currently, we are in talks with a US-based company to start a worldwide loyalty program that can be redeemed in any of our properties or partner properties across the globe.

Also, we already have a good database and we are working on integrating with other partners to provide our loyal guests with benefits across a wider range of hotel options. We are hoping that this move will enable our guests to redeem amalgamated points with third-party partners as well.


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