Lyn MacDonald joined Macdonald Hotels & Resorts early last year as group marketing director. Previously, Lyn worked as marketing and PR director at restaurant business Thai Leisure Group where restaurant bookings increased by 41% during her two-year tenure. She went on to work at G1 Group, overseeing website changes which led to a 31% increase in online bookings. Lyn talks to Hospitality & Catering News about the importance of marketing in hospitality, the challenges marketers face and shares her favourite places to eat, drink and stay.
Tell us about your role at Macdonald Hotels & Resorts:
I’ve been in the business coming up a year now. Part of my remit was to strengthen the central marketing function and support all segments of the business. I’ve spent a long time building a team to support some of the big projects we have coming up. These include improving the digital footprints of the resorts and introducing Salesforce and marketing cloud. You can imagine with all the segments we operate in, we have a number of data feeds, so we are streamlining the process, turning it on to Salesforce as a CRM and working on how we can use the customer data.
We have also done virtual tours for 11 of our hotels. We are enhancing our content all the time, so the customer journey is enhanced and we can engage better with them. The routes to market change all the time. We are also looking to launch a new website for the hotels early summer.
The biggest thing at Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, for me particularly, is to ensure that we’re moving with the times. Hospitality, as a sector is sometimes seen as being behind the curve when it comes to technology or the use of digital. Hotels tend to stick to traditional methods of customer communication or perhaps be later adopters when it comes to anything technology-focused, so it’s important to push the digital footprint forward if we want to grow the business.
Marketing is sometimes seen as a luxury for many hospitality businesses, how do you convince businesses to make it central to operations?
Along with HR directors marketers are often last to the party, but it is an essential part of the jigsaw. I think marketing needs to be more about numbers and return on investment than brand awareness to succeed. In every workplace or team where I’ve worked at a senior marketing level I’ve always managed to increase marketing spend and the easiest way to do that is to prove ROI. You have to say ‘I’ve spent X and created Y, can I have more money please?’
Nowadays, from a digital perspective it’s straightforward to prove ROI. We do a lot in terms of our pay-per-click advertising display and with the right analytics and right infrastructure internally you can. With other mediums it’s tricky, but with digital it’s easier. However, it’s not impossible to prove ROI in non-digital campaigns. We’re running a radio campaign and it’s got national coverage. When that airs we track the number of calls coming in and visits to the website. With advertising, if you’re clear with the messaging you use, it’s easier to prove ROI.
What are some of the challenges involved in hotel marketing and how do you tackle them?
The obvious one, aside from ROI, is online travel agents (OTAs). As a hotel company we have to make sure we can differentiate ourselves from an online travel agent such as Booking.com and drive more direct bookings. OTAs have much bigger budgets than those we have here and those at most hotels in fairness, so I think for us to tackle them we have to be more strategic, as opposed to fighting pound for pound on a pay-per-click campaign.
We have look at ways we can engage with our customers, keep them engaged and drive brand loyalty, because now there’s so much choice out there, not only other hotels, but the likes of Airbnb and Ryanair Rooms. It’s such a competitive market now that I think it’s not just about giving guests the best bed and the breakfast, it’s about added value. There’s also a shift now in the way that people search for things. Before they were very brand loyal and would search for Macdonald Hotels, Hilton, or whatever their choice of brand, and now they just search for destinations or experiences, so we have to tailor our marketing to combat that.
You’ve specialised in working in marketing in the hospitality sector, what was it about hospitality that appealed?
I think it’s the fact that it’s a fast-paced environment. The pace is fast which also means you can influence things very quickly. Since I’ve been here we’ve already launched a website for our resorts and had best in class signed off in terms of CRM, plus have lots of projects pending sign-off. We can try lots of things and if they work great, but if not, you move on. You wouldn’t often have such a free-rein in another industry. We can see results come in quickly too.
As a woman at a senior level in hospitality, what do you think of the representation of women in the industry?
Hospitality is probably a sector where women are represented reasonably well. If I look around the board at Macdonald Hotels there’s a number of women there. Hospitality gives women the chance to come in at entry level, because it can offer flexibility.
I feel quite strongly about quotas that the Government talks about in terms of having to have women around the board table or at senior levels, because surely it’s about having the right person for the job as opposed to it being about it having to be a female. There should be women in the boardroom if they are right for the job, although I do understand that in some industries it’s necessary to look at quotas. I think hospitality isn’t bad overall. I’ve been in boardrooms where I’m the only female, but now I’m among many of them in senior positions on the executive board.
How important would you say marketing is for a hospitality business?
It’s important in every business now, but vital in hospitality. Consumers are more savvy than ever before. They’ve got more at their finger tips through social media and the power has also shifted to the consumer quite fundamentally over the last two to three years, so without a strong marketing function any business will suffer. Hospitality in particular needs to have smart marketing to meet demand. There’s a real desire for people wanting to see the hotel and what the bedroom looks like before they book. They want someone to reply to messages within four hours. There’s more demand and without a marketing function, businesses won’t last very long. But then as a marketer, of course I’m going to say that!
Who has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
There are three people. The first is Karen Brady. She has been a massive inspiration to me. I’ve met her and heard her speak at a couple of Women in Business functions, which led me to read her book. I think the tenacity she showed – taking the advert to her boss for a football club and saying ‘buy this and I’ll make it profitable’ – is really admirable. The other person is Martin Lee, sales and marketing director at a company called Clwyd Compounders. He was the person who said I should be in marketing and pushed me into doing my professional marketing degree. He was my inspiration in terms of pushing me in a sector that was very male-dominated. He said I had the right attitude and approach. My mum has also been a massive inspiration. She runs her own business and is very driven and I think a lot of my drive, determination, tenacity and focus on succeeding comes from her.
Where do you enjoy eating out and staying at when you’re off duty?
I’m a big fan of Dishoom. I went to one of the London restaurants when I worked for Thai Leisure Group and Thaikun. I like the way that they operate as a brand and even though they’ve expanded, each site is slightly different each time. I hate the term ‘chain’, so I tend to lean toward brands that are like that.
I’m also a massive afternoon tea fan. I’ve been lucky enough to have tea at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, which was amazing. However, if you compare it to the Caledonian or the Balmoral in Edinburgh, they’re just as good. There’s only so far you can go with tea, sandwiches and cake.
I love travelling and with hotels, I like to dig out independents or smaller chains. I love the Sanctuary in New York. It’s just off Times Square and was a fantastic experience. We got a great service and welcome.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor