During the recent ReviewPro webinar, Summer 2021: What to Expect and How to Prepare, we asked Hannes Friebel, Manager of Quality and Training at TUI Blue, about how his company is navigating the recovery. Here’s a condensed version of our interview.
Tell us about TUI BLUE and your role with the company.
TUI BLUE is a fairly young leisure hotel brand within TUI Hotels and Resorts, the central organization within the TUI Group. I started in 2015, the year TUI BLUE was established, and I take care of all quality and training topics. After six years, we now operate about 100 hotels worldwide. Before COVID-19, we welcomed over one million guests per year. The majority of our hotels are located in sun and beach destinations.
We can proudly say that TUI BLUE is now the best-in-class hotel brand within TUI Hotels and Resorts, as last year we achieved a Global Review Index of 92% and a Net Promoter Score of approximately 60%.
As a leisure brand, TUI Blue is well positioned for recovery. How is demand shaping up?
I think we all know that people are ready and willing to travel. But at the end of the day, we need to distinguish among the varying restrictions in our source markets. It is important to determine if people can travel abroad and if the hotel destination is on the blacklist or not. We also have local restrictions to comply with, as well as entry restrictions like quarantine, which has a strong influence on guest demand.
I’m very happy to work with TUI Hotels and Resorts because the company is well connected to source markets and destinations worldwide. As a consequence, we receive a daily update of local restrictions. And last year, the company developed a specific health and safety measure list on top of the local restrictions every hotel needs to comply with. We in the operations department take care of implementation.
After collecting a lot of guest feedback over the past year, we recognized that health and safety topics have become more and more important for our guests. And so we have adjusted our communications to shape our guests’ expectations, ensure they know what they will experience on site, and enhance their sense of security.
All in all, we think we will be quite busy as soon as travel is possible by source market and host destination. To give you an example, we opened a new TUI BLUE hotel on the popular German vacation island of Sylt two weeks ago, and we already have an average occupancy for the summer of almost 85 percent.
How are you ensuring your properties are prepared to accommodate changes in guest needs and expectations?
At TUI BLUE, we follow an aligned contact strategy throughout the guest journey. We need to distinguish between the various phases in this guest journey.
1) Pre-stay Phase: Information
Communication is key in the information phase, especially before arrival. During the pre-stay period, we focus on our own channels like the TUI and TUI BLUE websites. We also highlight health and safety topics in the pre-stay email sent seven days before arrival. Guests can check in online and make ancillary bookings in advance.
We also have our dedicated BLUE app, which guests can download before arrival or during their stay and receive detailed information about safety measures at the hotel and local restrictions. Moreover, we have updated our hotel profiles on various platforms like Booking.com to highlight health and safety topics and ensure our guests are well-informed.
2) In-house Phase: Evaluation
Once our guests have entered our hotel, the in-house phase begins and evaluation becomes more and more important. During the stay, we deliver a short in-house survey with only five questions through our BLUE app. Here we gain a lot of important information, especially concerning operations on site.
3) Post-stay Phase: Evaluation & Analysis
After departure, we send a post-stay email linked to a questionnaire. And, as we all know, online reviews happen all the time, so during the evaluation phase we gain a mass of guest feedback. And now it becomes more important to focus on the analysis phase where we have implemented a special tool to have a mutual exchange about guest feedback with our general managers in the hotels.
Tell us more about how you are helping your properties get ready for recovery.
Our so-called “quality calls” happen on a monthly basis between the general manager and me, and also with other participants like department heads and operational experts. We have a mutual exchange on all the quality topics. The most relevant topic is guest feedback. After a warm welcome, we dive directly into the checking of open actions—the measures we agreed on in the previous call which are not completed yet.
Next, we review the TUI questionnaires, or evaluations. But the biggest part of the call is about ReviewPro. Here I talk with the general manager about the reviews, management responses and surveys we have received like the instant feedback survey and the post-stay survey. Also, cases and semantic analysis in general are discussed.
At the end of each call, we always save time for an open exchange. Here the general manager can provide me with information that I can share internally at our headquarters. And I often take the opportunity to inform the general manager and department heads about specific topics related to guest feedback. All in all, these calls help ensure that our hotels are well-informed about guest feedback, are ready for the coming months, and know what will be important for our guests.
How do you plan to uphold your standards and maintain high guest satisfaction levels during recovery?
At TUI BLUE, for our managed hotels, I am very happy to say that we have not made any general or global cost cutting. But, of course, when hotels were closed, we made adjustments where possible to reduce working hours, holiday time and overtime.
Nevertheless, we all know that once travel comes back to a normal level again, it’s important to always have the right amount of staff to deliver the defined quality. As part of that, we have always focused on dedicated training and site visits to support the local management team. Since COVID-19, we have moved from an onsite approach to a virtual approach, and now we focus on e-learnings such as new concepts, unique selling propositions, standard operating procedures, and health and safety topics.
We know that site visits are important, so my operations colleagues go to the hotels and provide support to the local management team. To maintain our standards, we also have an external partner who conducts separate audits. To maintain our high guest satisfaction levels, we follow an integrated approach in which every department head gets access to all relevant systems. This way, everyone can gain information independently of any appointments or meetings and can take ownership of their role.
Here, ReviewPro plays a very important role. Providing access to our hotel colleagues to use ReviewPro tools independently is essential. That is why I often retrain staff on how to use them during daily operations. This integrated approach and our highly efficient processes are fundamental to maintaining our high guest satisfaction and upholding our standards.
Could you share tips for hoteliers who want to ensure favorable guest satisfaction ratings during recovery?
First, I recommend continuous and relevant communication with colleagues. Discuss guest feedback and focus on the mutual achievement of appropriate measures. Second, provide colleagues with access to all relevant systems so they can work independently, and ensure that information is transparent. Last, I would stress the importance of rewards and recognition. It’s important to share positive feedback with your team. And here my personal tip is to use the note function in ReviewPro to send individual push notifications to select users with reference to positive online reviews.