Q&A: Premier Hotels – Big plans

Premier Hotels and Resorts is an independent, wholly-owned South African hotel group and boasts over 2,000 bedrooms, with properties in almost all of the country’s major cities and plans to expand and add 13 new hotels to its portfolio over the next five years. Former Peermont exec Mark Jakins is Premier’s newly-appointed Group Sales, Revenue and Marketing Director, and he joined Business Traveller Africa for a chat.

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Q: Please explain how the four Premier Hotels brands differ from each other?

A: The hotel chain has 18 properties nationwide and four sub-brands that fall under Premier Hotels & Resorts – Premier Resorts, Premier Hotels, Splendid Inns by Premier and Express Inns by Premier. The four brands are characterised through their facilities and locations and operate in the three and four-star categories. Premier Resorts are located in scenic, tourist locations. Four-star Premier Hotels are typically located in business centres. Splendid Inns largely operate in the three-star market and offer value-for-money, urban locations and full-service facilities. Express Inns will serve the budget-conscious traveller.

Q: Your properties are largely in the ‘mid-market’ space. Why is this a focus area for the group?

A: The mid-market hospitality category represents realistic growth in a tough South African economy. According to research by Statistics SA, people are travelling more but spending less – clarifying the trend of prudent accommodation choices becoming the norm. Corporate and government sectors have settled on realistic travel allowances which, in terms of rate yield, is applicable to three and four-star hotels. The group wants to invest and develop further in cities and towns across South Africa where it does not yet have a presence, or where further penetration is possible in busy nodes such as Sandton, Umhlanga and Cape Town.

Q: What are your thoughts on the South African five-star hotel market?

A: It has been tough for five-star operators to justify realistic returns, whilst confronted by escalating operating costs, rising energy costs and depressed trading conditions in 2018. The “badge” value associated with running these hotels has not stopped some operators from charging guests four-star rates, which is a challenge for nodal competitors.

Q: Does Premier Hotels have any new properties, upgrades, refurbishments etc in its pipeline?

A: We are opening a new R90m Splendid Inn in Bloemfontein by May. The construction of two brand new hotels in Umhlanga is also underway. The group’s R380m investment in the region will result in a four-star Premier Hotel and a three-star Splendid Inn by Premier which is scheduled to be completed in November. This follows the extensive upgrade of the Premier Sani Pass Resort, and a continuous improvement plan at many properties. More will be revealed at Indaba 2019.

Q: What do you think a modern day business traveller is looking for from a hotel?

A: Location and ease of access will always be important, as will friendly, caring service with great standards from interested staff. Technology standards, easy communication and entertainment are important, whilst dining and culinary experiences should recognise cultures, hygiene and choice. Security should also be immaculate.

Q: Where does technology sit in the Premier Hotels strategy and offering?

A: Right at the forefront. We continually invest in better technology, reservations enhancements, CRM capability – and look at guest trends to guide us. Thanks to shorter lead times, the continued growth of OTAs, expectations for real time, easily accessible room stock at immediate price comparison points and confirmations, the continued expectations of guests for quick and efficient internet and wi-fi, as well as room experience enhancements in lighting, television channels and more mean that we are prioritising technology solutions.

Q: How important is it for Premier Hotels to be an independent hotel group and not linked to an international group?

A: We are a proudly South African company, employing over 1,500 people and creating thousands of jobs during our construction and development phases. We understand local customisation too, and adapt our delivery to suit the regions in which we operate whilst maintaining our brand standards.

Q: Have you picked up on any interesting global hotel trends?

A: More travellers now want a personalised experience. Companies that want to succeed must anticipate these traveller needs, try and create frictionless guest experiences, and proactively address these challenges. We are going to see more open APIs, more agile partnerships emerge while companies look for those smart, cost-effective partnerships that bring in more business or increase guest satisfaction. Hotel design is also progressive – developers are trying for more unconfined, social and relaxing atmospheres. Also included is the attention to environmental impact on everything guests use.

Q: Does Premier Hotels have plans to expand into other African countries?

A: At this stage we want to increase our footprint in South Africa’s major cities and towns. The African expansion plan may come at a later stage