Putting customer experience at the core of new luxury hotel strategy

The Prince Akatoki launches in London and sets its sights on bringing its new type of experience-led approach to Sydney and Melbourne

Like any brand today, the constant re-upping of customer experience (CX) is vital to succeed in hospitality. And as StayWell expands into a new luxury category with its Prince Akatoki brand, it is hoping its CX will do just that.

The Prince Akatoki in London opened late last year, and is the first five-star luxury hotel of many planned by the partnership between Prince Hotels Group, which manages nearly 30 hotels in Japan, and StayWell, one of the largest hotel management groups in Asia-Pacific.

The name Akatoki comes from an ancient Japanese word for dawn. And it is this idea of fresh beginnings that drives every detail in the brand experience; from the logo, an identity inspired by the colours of sunrise, to a guest experience that emphasises the best ways to start the day.

The Akatoki hotels will bring Prince Hotels’ sensibilities and style of luxury to the rest of the world, fusing Japanese aesthetics and hospitality with the culture of each location, and is aimed at high-end travellers looking to escape the pace of modern life.

The new identity has been designed by the Australian office of Interbrand, which also conceived the name, with a view to more hotels to be opened, including in Australia.

While the hospitality industry has always been a pioneer of CX, Prince Akatoki is aiming to take it to yet another level, with the principles of mindfulness and wellness placed at the centre of the idea, its StayWell global director of revenue generation, Fiona Godfrey, told CMO.

“We looked at the best of Japan and took the best of Japanese culture and are taking it to the rest of the world,” Godfrey explained. “We spend a lot of time on CX principles and really wanted to develop something unique, which is what customers want now.”

The new brand was informed by extensive customer research, and involves different marketing and end-to-end user experience (UX) principles to reach the consumer persona it calls the ‘reward hunter’.

“Particularly in the luxury segment, the expectations of customers are always rising, and any service provider in this space has to be ahead of it all the time. But what's more important is to really understand what your customers want,” Godfrey explained.

“Our customers are going to be a mix of personas from very busy key executives on the road, in meetings on planes and cars, to independent people travelling on holidays. Ultimately, at the end of the day, they really need a place to call home, and this is the feedback from our research. Customers want a place they can slow down and relax and re energised and focused on themselves.

"But also more importantly, have a focus on the wellness side, both from a spiritual perspective but also from a health and mind perspective as well. And that was an integral part of the development of the whole customer experience initiative we have."

For Godfrey, wellness is the key word. "Because of the lives we lead and because of the demographic of our customers in this space, it is all about wellness, but it's also about giving customer an introduction some new experiences in hotels that they may not see as an additional service when they stay with this brand," she said. 

This includes giving customers the opportunity to immerse themselves into Japanese culture, from traditional tea ceremonies, to sparkling sake on arrival and charcoal sticks in water for purification as a turn down gift.

“Everything comes back to the core wellness of the customers and introducing them to new experiences that they just don't have time to sit down and do usually,” Godfrey said. 

Because the brand offers a new experience, the marketing strategy is also different and aimed at capturing the attention of this discerning traveller.

“The biggest challenge for any marketeer is the knowledge we live in this always connected environment. So one of the crucial elements that we had to consider was the marketing strategy, and building a very strong digital presence for the brand,” Godfrey said. “Once we launched the brand, which was the first part for us, we then worked together with myself and the marketing team here, and our colleagues in Japan, and took the approach of multichannel digital marketing, which obviously goes across all digital toolkits.

“This includes UX, so a responsive website in order to optimise across mobile, desktop and tablet. Obviously, the website is an absolute critical component and that fact then links into our social media marketing, social media, SEO and more. Our public relations approach also plays a very large part, plus we involved key influencers in to trial the product, because this is something we want people to actually come in and experience."

While the new digital presence and website is performing well so far, the influencer strategy was a strong play, Godfrey said. "Having those influencers into the hotel, I mean, there's nothing like actually coming in and trialling a product and you get this emotional connection to it. You get very engaged that was very important for us to do, along with some public relations because it was all about getting the brand out there, getting the story out there.

“But it’s not only about new customers, we very carefully look after our existing customers."

For example, the company has built a Prince Akatoki app, aimed at customers when they're coming to stay with the hotel chain. This offers features such as pre check-in, live chats with the hotel team while staying at the hotel, and casting Netflix on the TV.

Godfrey said data is the new oil and proving crucial in everything it seeks to do. "At the hotel, we actually collect the data from the time that the customer walks right through to check out. And this is really part of ensuring that we have that seamless travel experience," she said.

"The customer experience is constantly evolving so we are always asking them and talking to them constantly about the experiences that we're offering.

“So far, the feedback has been absolutely amazing. And existing customers have really loved going through the transition with this as well which is wonderful."

Key measurements of success include what customers say and what they think of the experiences. Moving into 2020, StayWell has its eye firmly set on expansion across Asia and into other countries.

“Beyond expansion is the evolution of the CX, so we can ensure every morning customers wake up with a new beginning,” Godfrey said.

Japan's Prince Hotels is one step closer to opening a new hotel in Australia, with the company eyeing opportunities across Sydney and Melbourne. Prince Hotels' Australian partner, StayWell's Simon Wan, said while sites for a new-build hotel are scarce, particularly in Sydney, he will run a rule over Sydney's future CBD metro train precincts which may be able to yield potential hotel mixed-use developments.

 Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

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