Spanish resorts operator Helios Hotels decided to continue with its travel technology investment through 2020 even while dealing with hotel closures, reduced occupancies and highly competitive prices.
The company operates four resorts in Spain, with properties in Benidorm, Majorca, Granada and the Costa Brava.
We caught up with Kris Vanaerschot, Chief Commercial Officer at Helios, to find out more about how this small chain navigated through the changes of 2020 and to hear about his hopes and expectations for 2021.
How did you adapt your operations last summer?
We decided to re-open July 1. We re-opened with a 50% capacity of the hotels on sale. Then a few weeks later, when we saw that we were able to manage all operations in a safe manner, we went up to 60% and then even 70%.
We gradually learnt how to deal with all the health and safety measures and when we could see that we were not provoking long lines in reception or groups too close to each other, we increased. But 70% is where we left it to create space.
How did guests react?
People quickly started to talk positively about the safe feeling in the hotel, and also that they considered that they were having a comfortable and enjoyable holiday. We were very proud that we could provide a feeling of safety and also of guests enjoying their stay.
Soon reviews started appearing on different online platforms. Guests were saying ‘We felt perfectly safe’, ‘Our stay was one big light in the darkness of 2020’, ‘Thank you for offering us relaxing moments.’ It was one after the other, and it was a part of the relative success we had this summer.
What was the demand like?
We managed to sell out (70%) if not continuously, then at least during the weekends and during the central August weeks, which is the highest of the high season. We managed this in all four of our hotels.
We benchmark with STR and we were way above the median of our comp set and we went continuously 20% above what the market was on.
How did you adapt your revenue strategy?
We took advantage of Duetto’s min/max boundaries. We revised and lowered a little bit our room type rates to adapt to the price level that the market was accepting.
We had to be aggressive; on the days we saw no pick up or low occupancy we lowered our minimum prices. That doesn't mean that we were every day of the week and every week of the summer on this minimum level. No, but we had to start on July 1 with an empty hotel and get occupancy as quick as possible. And that's why we started very aggressive. And then later on, when we reached a certain occupancy level, we focused more on ADR. But to start we had to lower rates to be able to respond to the price battle that was the summer.
And we did turn autopilot off. We were on full autopilot, but it was time to regain manual control.
Also we adapted to the short-term forecast so that Duetto puts more weight on short-term pick up than on same time last year comparisons.
At some point this winter we will go to scheduled autopilot, and for the future our goal is to return to full autopilot.
What are your hopes and expectations for 2021?
We will try to reopen the Majorca hotel by mid-February, to coincide with carnival. And that is also when the cycling season starts in Majorca. Before that we have lots of actions and projects to complete.
We are working on our online marketing so that we can catch the attention of the people that are planning to travel. This includes launching a new website.
We have also accelerated our social media appearance on Instagram, Facebook, etc., We have unified as a chain - before we were four hotels independent on social media.
We have carried out a complete SWOT analysis of our business. This is so we can set ourselves apart.
And we will continue with our investment in technology.
What role will technology play in taking Helios forward?
We have always been early adopters of travel technology. For example, we operate our Majorca hotel without any tour operator. We just connect with three channels: direct, booking.com and Expedia. And that's it.
We were early adopters of online distribution and run an integrated channel manager that optimizes processes.
2020 was a difficult year to put new investment in technology on the table but we understand that is the future. We invested in an integrated payments solution that can take tokenized payments so we can take payment from a distance or provide online check-in, which serves the necessity to make a contactless check in, but also it helps us to gather data from our clients and to segment this data to be able to make marketing campaigns.
So although the hotels were closed for part of 2020, and although it was a difficult year, we did not stop adopting technology to digitalize and optimize processes.
What made you choose Duetto?
We have been running on Duetto for two years now. From the beginning, the Open Pricing concept immediately made sense. We immediately saw that we can create pricing rules which, with high demand, widens the gap between our own channels and OTA channels, and with low demand it lowers the gap between them. The pricing rules in GameChanger are invaluable.
Second, for us, Duetto is the third brain between myself as commercial lead, and the marketing manager. Duetto is where we find each other.
And third, the seamless integrations give us the ability to fully automate.