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Suite Smarts: An interview with Adrian Thompson of Meriton Suites
Meriton Suites (formerly Meriton Serviced Apartments) was launched in 2003 with a purpose to fill a gap in the Australian market for luxury, self-contained apartment hotel accommodations. Since then, Meriton Suites has added on average one hotel to its portfolio every year and has evolved into one of the most prominent hospitality organizations in Australia. Such strong growth is largely due to their dedication to quality, consistency in their service, and a commitment to building award-winning, contemporary architectural icons. Today, Meriton Suites offers more than 4,428 suites in 17 locations nationwide, with four more on the way.
Adrian Thompson joined the company in 2005 and hasn’t looked back ever since. Being a part of the organization at its early stages meant that he was directly involved in setting up the systems and processes that enabled the immense success and growth Meriton Suites has enjoyed over the years. At his current role as the National Revenue & Distribution Manager, Adrian oversees five Area Revenue Managers each looking after a cluster of four hotels and managing in excess of $1.5 million revenue per day. He is certainly proud to have been a part of the executive team that made Meriton Suites into what it is today, a major player in the hospitality industry in Australia.
We spoke with Adrian about some of the particularities of Australian/APAC market, Meriton Suites’ impressive revenue strategies, and the future of hospitality industry as he sees it evolving.
Travel Tripper: Thank you Adrian for joining us today.
Adrian Thompson: Absolutely! It’s my pleasure!
TT: Could you tell us about your background and how you started your career in hospitality?
AT: I began my career about 20 years ago. Upon completing my diploma in hotel management, I moved to the U.S. and immediately secured an entry level job with The Ritz-Carlton clearing tables in their restaurant. I quickly worked my way through various departments of the hotel before finding my place in the reservations team. Working alongside the Director of Revenue Management at the time, I learned much about the role when it was at its infant stages within our industry.
From that point forward, my career with Ritz-Carlton gave me the opportunity to live and work in five cities around the world and be a part of many exciting projects gaining extensive experience in revenue management. Also being exposed to different markets meant that I had to learn and quickly adapt to local particularities of any market. For instance, I remember while working for The Ritz-Carlton, Doha in the Middle East as Revenue Director I had to make some decisions to ensure the average rates were the highest in the city regardless of what the occupancy was—something you would never do anywhere else in world.
TT: That’s very interesting. Can you share with us some of the particular aspects of Australia/APAC market in comparison to the U.S. and Europe?
AT: For starters, the cost of running a hotel in Australia is higher compared to most places in the U.S. or Europe, especially labor cost and maintenance.
Then there is the fact that leisure demand from international visitors is lower in Australia as opposed to Europe or the U.S., where air travel is quicker with so many direct flight options that are less time-consuming and more budget friendly for travelers. But to counterbalance that, I can say that we have relatively lower OTA commissions than Europe and maybe partly the U.S.
Lastly, our seasonality is a bit different, which means we don’t really have defined seasons. Winter is not really winter for instance. We enjoy seasons that are milder and more consistent throughout the year. February and November are two of our busiest months mostly due to increased corporate activity and cruise ships.
TT: Would you say that your portfolio of properties is more geared towards corporate segment?
AT: No, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. We target both corporate and leisure segments. Our products and services are great for all kinds of travelers because we accommodate guests from every segment across the board. I guess similar to any hospitality market, we see an increased demand from corporate on midweek and leisure on the weekends.
Our suites are of course larger than a hotel room and we offer the same level of services. We have two- and three-bedroom suites located in high-rise, luxury buildings that are ideal for couples or families with children. We usually like to emphasize the ample space they will be enjoying and the great views.
We have a 24-hour reception and concierge services available to our guests. Security, F&B options, work-out facilities, swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, and free unlimited high-speed Wifi are all part of our product and services. In short, anything you can associate with a traditional hotel, we offer.
TT: In that case, do you have a clearly defined competition?
AT: I would say any hotel accommodation provider can be considered our competition, but I should point out that we mostly have domestic hotel brands in Australia. Surely, big U.S. chain hotels such as Marriott have presence in metropolitans like Sydney and Melbourne, but we don’t have a lot of major brands across the country. It’s more often that you would see a domestic brand than global ones.
TT: Do you consider share-economy alternatives like Airbnb your competition?
AT: No. We haven’t seen impact from rising popularity of Airbnb at all and I don’t think they can even be compared to us considering all the luxury level services we offer.
TT: How does Meriton Suites maintain quality and consistency in the brand? Any specific practices you can share with us?
AT: We believe in the power of a strong learning and development culture, similar to Ritz-Carlton. We have a 3-week one-on-one training for all our call center employees to ensure high levels of service at any point of guest interactions. And in addition to training, we maintain on-going monitoring, auditing, and coaching to preserve our exceptional service standards.
Our process for onboarding and introduction to our company culture is very elaborate. We truly feel and behave like a family, rather than corporate acquaintances with business connecting us. Frontline staff is always encouraged to communicate with management. We don’t believe in strict hierarchical structures.
In terms of product, we own and operate our properties, which means we are free and very hands-on in the way we run our operation. We always invest back in our products. From custom-made furnitures to amazing outdoor spaces, we put a lot of thought into how we can offer the best product to our guests. We change our designs every three to four years, always with quality on top of mind.
TT: Could you tell us about your distribution mix strategy?
AT: Our goal is to maintain a healthy balance across all segments. For instance, our sales team keep the corporate segment light. We have about 200 accounts and quite a few smaller accounts with percentage-off BAR rates instead of static seasonal rates. We have consistently pulled back on this segment in the last two years and seen that our strategy yields up the ADR.
We partner with OTAs as well but our main goal is to always increase the direct business segments, of course. By direct business, I mean our call center, website, groups, and corporate, but like I said, we always ensure our direct channels are growing.
We don’t follow rate parity and we focus on making the reservation experience super easy for customers, because those are two of the major factors to convert OTA guests to ones who reserve directly with us. With this goal in mind, we also maximize our efforts in search engine optimization, social media marketing and email marketing, all of which allows us to offer fenced member discounts. So direct business segments make up the majority of our distribution mix and our goal is to always increase that.
TT: Last question, what does the future hold for hospitality industry in your opinion? Do you expect to see any disruptive changes?
AT: The travel tech space has seen some cutting edge technologies that are improved and renewed everyday. But I do think that the retail industry is years ahead of hospitality with their technology. I just hope for us to catch up.
I think that for our industry, 100% seamless interface and connectivity across the board is still bit of a challenge. Whoever can come up with one single tool that connects all systems from PMS to CRS to channel managers, you name it, they will be the next, big disruptive force in our industry. I can’t wait for that single interface, which will combine all channels available to us.
TT: Thank you so much for your time Adrian. We look forward to seeing continued success and growth of Meriton Suites.
AT: Thank you!
Key takeaways from Adrian Thompson on hotel suites vertical of hospitality industry:
1. The Australian travel market has its particular aspects that cannot be compared to other markets, for example a less distinctive seasonality, which means its demand cycles are different from rest of the world.
2. Creating a truly family-like corporate culture eliminates hierarchical structures and allows everyone in the organization to freely communicate with each other.
3. Being the owner and operator of a hotel means more flexibility in your design and renovation decisions, which ultimately raises the quality of your offering.
4. Even in a corporate-heavy demand environment, revenue managers can be creative in the way they yield up ADR and don’t have to rely on this segment alone.
5. The next big disruptive technology in hospitality should come from interface/connectivity systems and combine all currently existing products under one single tool to save time and effort.
We want to extend a special thanks to Adrian Thompson for sharing his valuable insights and experiences with Travel Tripper. To book your next stay at Meriton Suites, visit www.meritonsuites.com.au.
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