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Philipp Weghmann, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Hailing from Cologne in Germany, Philipp Weghmann arrived at Preferred Hotels & Resorts in 2006 as Regional Director for the Iberian Peninsula & Mediterranean. He then spent three years based in Miami as Area Managing Director of Latin America and the Caribbean prior to being recently promoted Executive Vice President independent hotels Europe. He reveals his goals for the group that has recently been repositioned.

Recently appointed Executive Vice President Europe at Preferred Hotels & Resorts, what are your ambitions for the group?

My vision for Preferred Hotels & Resorts is closely aligned with that of our owners for the company. By 2018, we are committed to being one of the five best known hotel brands globally, which means being top of mind with both the travel agent community that books high-end hotels for clients and the end consumer who stays in our hotels.

How was the year 2014 in terms of activity? Which markets were the most dynamic?

In 2014, the company generated $882 million in reservations revenue on behalf of member hotels. Over that 12-month period, the company placed a strong focus on increasing its conversion rate via our brand websites by implementing new strategies and tactics such as improved offers pages and a streamlined booking experience for the end user. Compared to 2013, the company's booking conversion rate was up 11% and, combined with more visitors viewing the websites, the company achieved a 26% increase in bookings and a 30% increase in reservations revenue produced on behalf of its member hotels.

In 2014, the company also welcomed 108 new properties and established new partnerships with premier hospitality groups. In January, we entered into an agreement with Keppel Land Hospitality Management, bringing five new hotels across Myanmar, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia into the portfolio, and, in September, the company was named as the brand partner for the launch of NH Hotel Group's new NH Collection. We also expanded our presence in China with eight new hotels.

The UK and London, in particular, proved to be a dynamic European market for Preferred Hotels & Resorts with six new members joining the portfolio last year. We also boosted our presence further afield in the Middle East with new member hotels in the UAE and in Latin American countries such Colombia and Panama.

What are your development goals in Europe over the next years? What are your priority markets?

Each of the more than 180 properties within the company's European portfolio presents a unique perspective on travel and invites guests to enjoy an authentic experience that is attuned with the local culture, history, and environment. Therefore, our development goals for Europe are always aligned with having the right hotels in the right markets, focusing on strategy versus pure growth for numbers sake.

We are currently looking to bolster our presence in key destinations and establish the company in emerging markets where we have limited presence. We are currently working on several opportunities in Germany where we are keen to increase our footprint in cities where our brand is not currently represented. There are also several Central and Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Croatia and Montenegro that are maintaining a steady growth trajectory in the hospitality and tourism sectors, and we are allocating resources to ensure we have success there. Growth of our portfolio in the south of France and the south of Spain is another objective.

What do you expect from your partnership with NH Hotel Group for the new brand NH Collection?

We announced our exclusive partnership with NH Hotel Group for the launch of NH Collection, a new premium brand of hotels and resorts in key business and leisure destinations, in September 2014, which brought 14 hotels and resorts across Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Argentina under immediate representation. Earlier this month we brought an additional NH Collection property - Turin Piazza Carlina in Turin - into our portfolio as part of the partnership and we expect to bring further properties on board in the coming months.

Do you plan to sign similar partnerships over the next years?

We do envision working with other regional groups and hotel collections in the future as already there is a marked increase in the requirement by companies like these to highlight and promote some of their flagship properties differently and to go after their target customers more proactively.

What is your strategy regarding the distribution of your member hotels?

Preferred Hotels & Resorts offers hotels an innovative and industry-leading suite of products and services that serve to enhance their sales efforts through multi-channel distribution and connectivity via a central distribution platform. Our member hotels are able to use Guest Connect, our Internet Booking Engine, as their own website booking engine. The IBE is powered by SynXis, our Central Reservation System and ensures that hotels have a consistent rate strategy through all of their channels, which is very important in today's marketplace where consumers shop around to ensure they are getting the best value. Preferred Hotels & Resorts, is in fact, the largest SynXis brand partner worldwide. Approximately 30% of online sales are made via GDS along with a further 30% via Guest Connect on the hotels' websites and our brand websites. Other distribution channels include direct connects for online travel agents, tour operators and wholesalers to the CRS, Pegasus the Internet Distribution System and our call centres.

The online environment is an area in which Preferred Hotels & Resorts offers independent hotels competitive advantage. Our distribution strategy provides hotels with opportunities may not be available should they choose to stand alone. Through our brand website, we provide an added presence for hotels promoting higher overall average rates than would be found through an Online Travel Agent because all hotel rates are visible to the prospective guest. We also have relationships with the Metasearch engines such as Skyscanner, Kayak, Trivago, Wego and RoomKey. Our brand relationship provides visibility, representation and a form of endorsement for hotels through these popular search channels.

Furthermore, our sales team is comprised of more than 60 industry experts across the globe. We enable independent hotels to tap into our global team's expertise and our relationships with key decision makers and managed accounts. We also opened a group sales desk in Europe, launched a VIP desk in Brazil, and enhanced the services of our Chicago VIP desk.

How do you differentiate Preferred Hotels & Resorts from franchise chains?

Preferred Hotels & Resorts has been committed solely to supporting independent hotels and small regional hotel groups for nearly 50 years. We truly understand and champion the spirit of the independent hotel and pride ourselves on being the ideal partner for hotel owners and operators that want to keep control of their asset, be unique in their positioning, and retain the ability to make decisions independently.

Unlike the chain hotel groups, we offer hotel operators flexibility. Our contracts are typically three to five years in length - approximately 80 percent shorter than those of the chains. Contracts of this nature ensure that we are performance-driven and show rapid results. We have to work closely with our hotel partners to understand their revenue goals and then work together to meet those goals. Our model has proven successful and our 92 percent renewal rate is testament to this.

We also provide a more cost-effective model for independent hotels, which is in part due to the fact that our member hotels are not required to put a hard flag on their door and support our infrastructure as is the case for the large chains.

Furthermore, Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the largest independent hotel company in the world with more than 650 hotels in 85 countries. The vast scale of our organisation, with more than 30 offices around the world, brings many benefits to hotels that would not otherwise have access to them, such as the ability to form global partnerships and access key accounts. We provide hotels with a truly global support system. ·

What services will you develop for your member hotels?

Looking ahead, especially with the company's recent rebranding from a multi-branded business model to one master brand and the expansion of the Preferred Residences brand - a worldwide collection of exceptional villas, bungalows and condominiums at renowned luxury hotels and resorts - the company is committed to a more consumer-focused strategy that allows member hotels to keep ahead of evolving travel trends and target travellers from alternative segments including multigenerational travel and business travel with extended leisure stays.

Additionally, we continue to develop our points-based iPrefer guest loyalty programme. Currently, each member hotel can benefit from participation in iPrefer, which is the world's first points-based loyalty scheme for independent hotels, by attracting repeat guest stays and incremental revenue by offering points redeemable for cash-value Reward Certificates, elite status, and special benefits such as complimentary Internet to travellers upon every stay at more than 550 participating Preferred Hotels & Resorts locations worldwide. In the coming months, we intend to broaden the programme's appeal by offering even more benefits and redemption options to guests.

What do you expect for 2015?

Preferred Hotels & Resorts has been on a strong growth campaign over the past several years and our all-new brand positioning is vital to the continued success of the company and its hotel partners. The new brand architecture aligns each property with one of five new collections - Legend, LVX, Lifestyle, Connect, and Preferred Residences - providing a more intuitive way for consumers to search, consider, and book their lodging based on the type of luxury experience they are seeking. By focusing on experiences versus brands, we expect to capture more guests for our member hotels and improve our market share. Our company has always been innovative and proactive in its approach to responding to the desires of our loyal travellers and hoteliers.

Also read:

  • New identity for Preferred Hotels Group
  • Preferred Hotel Group announces new leadership
  • Preferred Hotels enters the service residence market
  • 2014 : a succesfull year for Preferred Hotels Group

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