Building Room and Food & Beverage Revenues from Gay and Lesbian Events
By Jeff Guaracino, Vice President, Communications, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp
Manchester Pride, in Manchester, England, is a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender life. Annually, the 10-day festival draws thousands of gay and lesbian tourists from England, Europe and around the globe. Gay tourists come for parties, live music, a parade and a candlelit vigil. Manchester Pride raises more than lb100,000 for HIV/AIDS charities.
During Manchester Pride 2009 in August, I interviewed Graham Bradford, Regional General Manager, Malmaison Hotels, Great Britain. Mr. Bradford is responsible for the Malmaison Hotels in Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, England to discuss his views on how gay and lesbian tourism can build room and food and beverage revenues.
Q: Tell me about the Malmaison hotel chain.
A: Malmaison started in 1994. The first hotel was in Edinboro, England. There are Malmiasons in Glasgow, Manchester, New England, Leeds, Liverpool and London. The hotel chain was started by two entrepreneurial men. Today there are 25 hotels across the group. We are based solely in the United Kingdom. This hotel in Manchester has been here for 11 years. Malmaison is Manchester's super chi chi award winning hotel with a new look brasserie and bar.
Q How would you describe your hotel?
A: We've got the winning formula. Malmaison hotels tend to have around 125 rooms so to keep the intimacy with a boutique feel. This is not a massive hotel. We have 167 bedrooms. The brand of Malmaison started as a bar and brassiere with 25 bedrooms out the back. We are a three star brand but we don't feel like a three star brand. We far exceed that. It is a hotel company with staff and people with passion. And attention to detail is very important. People are so important. Food and beverage is the heart and sole of the business. You can feel and hear it happening. Our restaurant works with the gay and lesbian community and visitors to nearby Canal Street (the gay village). They love it because it is intimate. We attract people from their late teens to close to 60. One day a woman comes down to me and asks, 'are you the general manager?' She says, I really like your hotel but it looks a bit like a brothel but I love it. I said, we think of it as intimate. Our restaurant d'ecor is very dark. I did ask her, how did she know what a brothel looked like? But that is a different story. (laughs). David Geist (formerly married to Liza Minelli) stays here quite regularly and he says you have a hotel for the blind because it is quite dark.
Q: Is the product itself flamboyant?
A: It is! The gay and lesbian traveler is very articulate about the style of fabrics, the textures and that is why the hotel works for them.
Q: How many hotel rooms in Manchester?
A: I think about 6,500
Q: And, your competition has increased significantly?
A: In the last three years alone, you are talking about 3,000 to 3,500 rooms opening up in hotels ranging from anything from four and five star hotel down to travel lodges. Manchester now has the second highest volume of hotel rooms outside of London. The regeneration of Manchester as a city whether is it be sports driven, leisure driven or corporate driven, it is striving forward.
Q: Tell me about your hotel's primary customer segments.
A: Our market is market is corporate and on weekends, sports or leisure
Q: What is GLBT?
A: GLBT stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
Q: What is your strategy with gay and lesbian travelers and what is your relationship to the Manchester Pride 2009?
A: This style of hotel suits the gay and lesbian community. I think the way we sell our hotel is to price to sell. We don't overprice. So people don't feel ripped off. The amenities we put in the room are consistent for everyone. I can't say we overly change what we do. For gays and lesbian travelers, we embrace it. We welcome it. (When I first) came to Manchester (from Australia), I went down to Canal Street with a couple of the (gay) staff. It opened my eyes to a new world. It made me feel very welcome to Manchester I think the relationship with our hotel and the festival is that we are accepting by the community. A bit of the staff of the hotel are gay or lesbian.
Q: Does your hotel, have you ever or do you currently offer any special packages or do discount codes (for gay and lesbian travelers?)
A: Our web site always has the best prices on it. We deal directly with the consumer.
Q: Do you have a loyalty program with your hotels?
A: No, you need a minimum of 50 hotels.
Q: What does this big weekend during Manchester Pride 2009 mean for you for business? I would assume this weekend is a more popular weekend for gay and lesbian guests.
A: It is a huge opportunity for us to showcase the hotel to people who come to the festival. There is no question. You are looking at a 30 to 40% of new comers to the festival each year. We need as a city we need more festivals and pride is a big weekend. It is not a not a huge amount of food and beverage that comes out of it because we are not in the festival. We do ok. There is not a massive uplift on my average room rate. (The festival) does not drive up the rate 50 to 60 pounds. I want to see the festival grow. I think it has far more legs. It needs to be bigger and to allow people more access. We have to grow the demand for the festival.
Q: Are you sold out this weekend?
A: We are sold out on Saturday. We have the highest occupancy on Saturdayamong most hotels on Saturday.
Q: Do you expect to have any pick up on a Friday or Sunday?
A: Yes, we will sell out on Sunday but because of the Monday bank holiday. Talking to you about it today makes me think of bigger things and bigger opportunities. I want to talk to Marketing Manchester on how to grow it.
Q: Do you have an official marketing relationship with the festival or Marketing Manchester?
A: We work with Marketing Manchester, the tourist board for Greater Manchester. We have done sponsorship deals, such as hosting journalists like you. We sign up at the beginning of the year for certain publications and we dedicate our budget towards it. We also do have relationship building opportunities with them. We are an asset to the city. Our relationship is that of supporting their activities and what they are doing.
Q: Is your hotel listed on Marketing Manchester's web site, visit Manchester.com, as a gay friendly hotel?
A: Oh absolutely
Q: Does your hotel or hotel chain buy advertising in gay and lesbian publications?
A: Advertising is done individually. It is purely up the hotel. It is up to the hotel to see how it is going to be profitable or a requirement for the business.
Q: Where do you place your advertising?
A: We have done Queer Up North and ads with local gay pride organizers before. We do very little outside of Manchester because we don't need to. We advertise locally. People ask their friends where should I stay, They say, stay at the Malmaison.
Q: How do you measure your success? Of course, room rate and occupancy is important.
A: Success is always about money. Success is definitely about a business, building a brand and a brand loyalty to our business. Gay and lesbian travelers should always be a part of our business. Profit and customer satisfaction are two separate things. Profit is one thing and that is great. It is one thing. Ultimately success for me is when a guest walks away and tells a friend to stay at the Malmaison. When there is no other choice that is success to me. It is also a big part of it is staff satisfaction and staff happiness. Success is the staff wanting to drive to be a successful business.
Jeff Guaracino is VP of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC). He manages national and regional communications, the visiting journalist program, content development and corporate communications. Jeff specializes in communications programs to African-American, Hispanic, Canadian and gay and lesbian travelers. The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building. Mr. Guaracino can be contacted at 215-599-2290 or email@example.com Extended Bio...
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