Interview: The Role Of Storytelling In The Bid For Direct & Repeat Bookings

Liutauras Vaitkevicius

Direct and repeat bookings are akin to the holy grail in the hospitality industry. By highlighting your unique selling points to potential guests you can encourage them to take the extra step and book through your website rather than via OTAs, and hopefully see them return. One hotel that knows how to position it’s uniqueness to travellers is Good Hotel London.

Originally built in the Netherlands as an immigrant detention centre, the floating hotel underwent a luxurious revamp, and a journey by sea to arrive in London’s Newham Borough, where it operates from the historic Royal Victoria Docks. As though that wasn’t enough to set the property apart, Good Hotel London, which forms part of the Good Hotel Group, operates under a ‘profit for non-profit’ model, putting its profits towards social causes such as Niños de Guatemala in Central America, and the company’s Good Training Programme, which provides training and employment to the underprivileged of Newham Borough Council.

Good Hotel Group’s Global Operations Director, Liutauras Vaitkevicius, speaks to us about the efforts that the group takes to help their guests (and potential guests) understand their social aims, and how this helps them to encourage direct and repeat bookings.

Where did you begin in the hospitality industry?

I started my career in hospitality back in 2006. It was almost by accident. I had just started my studies at university and needed a part-time job for the evenings. I started with a very basic position, as a kitchen porter. As luck would have it, I was consequently given more responsibilities by my line managers, which allowed me to learn more about the industry in a very short period of time.

While I have a real passion for operations and customer-facing roles, it was my two stints as Revenue Manager that have shaped my data-driven approach to hospitality.

Since then, I’ve had a variety of roles, not skipping a single step along the way. I was a waiter, bartender, receptionist, duty manager, food and beverage manager, front of house manager, and Deputy General Manager. While I have a real passion for operations and customer-facing roles, it was my two stints as Revenue Manager that have shaped my data-driven approach to hospitality. I use those foundations every single day, even now, when making decisions both big and small.

What is your position now?

My current position here at the Good Hotel Group is Global Operations Director. This means that I am responsible for everything that goes on at all our hotels, and for ensuring that our guests and colleagues have the best experience possible day in and day out.

What do you think it is that sets the Good Hotel Group apart?

There are three key distinct areas that make Good Hotel Group unique and very different to all the other hotels out there.

First, and most obviously, is the construction of the hotel. Originally built in the Netherlands, our hotel is a floating concrete platform which weighs over 8,000 tons. Within this platform, we have 148 bedrooms, a restaurant, a main bar and rooftop bar, four meeting rooms, and extremely spacious public spaces.

Second, is our social business model. While there are now more and more similar start-ups, we feel we are one of the leaders in this field, working hard to inspire and lead the way for like-minded organisations. In our mission statement, we have called our model ‘profit for non-profit’, which translates to very simple action – all our profits go to good causes. In that respect, we are just like any other hotel – we generate revenue, we are subject to all the usual taxes, and we generate profit. The difference really comes at the end – what happens with those profits.

Our work doesn’t start with a guest’s arrival, and doesn’t finish at the check-out. It is now much more complex and less defined by their physical presence, so it’s important that we really listen to each customer in person and online.

Last, but not least, is our Good Training Programme. As part of our commitment to the local community, we run a special training and employment programme at our own expense. The aim is very simple – take local unemployed people (exclusively from Newham Borough Council), train them in real-world conditions, and give them confidence and skills to find full-time employment.

During the programme, our trainees are treated in the same way as our regular colleagues – they get paid, they get holiday allowances and staff benefits. In fact, if you walked into the hotel at any given time, you would not be able to tell who a trainee is and who is a full-time member of the team. In that respect, we act almost like training, sourcing, internship and recruitment providers, all at our own expense of course. The idea is to break the cycle of unemployment and the cycle of negativity. Hospitality as an industry can, and should, be fun, interesting and full of opportunities. Sometimes, we just need to apply the right approach to it.

How do you make sure that guests, and potential guests, are aware of your unique selling points?

Our goal is to always build real human interactions. Of course, we do not discount marketing, PR and any other more-traditional approaches, but personal interactions will always remain more powerful and have the real long-term impact that we are aiming for. It is through our people, our colleagues, and our partners that we always spread our mission. Our founding story, our goals and mission, is imbedded in every staff member from their first interviews, their first interactions with any one of us. That really allows us to have our own way of telling our story and explaining our uniqueness.

Are there any particular tools that help you to increase direct bookings? Which are they, and how do they help?

Direct bookings, despite being such a widely discussed topic, is a complicated area these days. While it’s driven by very practical and financial reasons, there are no easy solutions. Our guests are people just like us – they want to have choice, options, and demand flexibility from everything. This includes the travel and leisure industry. So any individual, group or chain hotel would always find themselves competing against everyone else. But what represents great choice for guests, can sometimes create complications in distribution for hotels.

Looking at the most successful direct booking stories, two clear trends emerge – pricing and storytelling. Here at Good Hotels, we empower the latter strategy – storytelling. Our offering is quite simple – you would never pay more if you book directly. But we will donate £5 per night to our partner NGO, Niños de Guatemala, which builds and runs schools for children in Guatemala. That way, by booking with us directly, there is a very real, very direct contribution to a good cause. We really see this approach working very well with our returning guests, and we feel it creates a sustainable cycle of positivity rather than short-term financial savings.

How important is it to you that guests return again and again, and how do you encourage these repeat bookings?

As a hotel, we value any repeat business – whether it’s for accommodation, events, our restaurant, or the funky rooftop bar. It means our guests know about us, trust us and like us enough to come back again and again. So as a business, we must have brilliant basics in place – great customer service, great product and, above all, a high level of consistency. But that goes only so far if there is no story, no soul behind our product. So it’s our story, our mission, our approach to business that we aim to promote. Our long-term goal is for guests to choose Good Hotels because of our concept first, followed by our great product, great location, and great value for money.

The most obvious way to make sure that our guests keep returning to us is getting that valuable feedback. As a business, whether social or not, we would not get our customers coming back again if we didn’t know what they really thought about us. Managing expectations, understanding guest requirements, and being able to back it up with real data is important for us.

A word that is used more than any other these days is “influence” — whether it’s digital influencers, or just regular guests visiting our hotel, everyone is now acting as an influencer and opinion shaper. The digital world has unleashed everyone’s ability to become more visible, to be seen by wider audiences, and to influence thousands of other people within minutes. The most obvious of these tools, in our industry, is TripAdvisor. Our team read and respond to reviews each and every day and track our performance.

It’s really thanks to tools like GuestRevu that the team is able to manage all our reviews, look at areas for improvement, and take real, meaningful actions.

Our work doesn’t start with a guest’s arrival, and doesn’t finish at the check-out. It is now much more complex and less defined by their physical presence, so it’s important that we really listen to each customer in person and online. Having said that, it has also become much more difficult to keep up with every single review, which are now everywhere. It’s really thanks to tools like GuestRevu that the team is able to manage all our reviews, look at areas for improvement, and take real, meaningful actions. Not understanding feedback would mean losing return customers, and losing return customers would mean eventual decline to competition.

What advice would you give to other hoteliers hoping to work towards a social cause?

Find a cause that is close to your heart and don’t over-complicate it. Making real change, real impact, is easier than you think. The key is to remain consistent and connect other business areas with it. Hotels, by their nature, encompass a wide range of activities and connect people in ways that no other businesses can. Use this in the right way and results will follow. Social causes shouldn’t be a cost to your time, efficiency or financials – when done right, they only add value.

What’s the best hotel that you have ever stayed at, and why?

That’s really easy to answer. My favourite hotel ever is Guava Garden in Gili Trawangan, a small island off the coast of Bali in Indonesia. My girlfriend and I stayed there a year and a half ago when we were backpacking through Indonesia. As we are both hotel managers, we tend to be quite picky and really take quite a bit of time to find the right hotel for us. The reasons why this was the best hotel are ample – it is family-run and owned, and has a traditional Indonesian spirit, but doesn’t compromise on quality, cleanliness or service. I’m of a mind that hotels like these are real grassroot heroes, often doing a better job than multinational chains. It was really this hotel, and the team there, that reminded me of the value of real human interaction and how enormous the benefits that come with it are.

This article originally appeared on the GuestRevu blog here and is reproduced with their permission.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
GuestRevu helps hospitality professionals to listen to, learn from and earn from their guests by enabling them to leverage the power of their guest data to build lasting loyalty and drive revenue. GuestRevu’s mission is to give hospitality professionals award-winning tools that they can use every day to develop a guest-centric culture, optimise their guest experience, the running of their business and, ultimately, to drive revenue using online surveys and reputation management. GuestRevu offers local support in South Africa and the UK, and is a TripAdvisor Platinum Review Collection Partner.