The Batchelor brings the love to luxury hotels
AccorHotels, the French multinational hospitality group, made news when it acquired Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI) and Swissôtel, widening its luxury portfolio. Before its purchase, AccorHotel’s main luxury brand was only Sofitel.
“While Accor has some luxury properties before they bought Fairmont/Raffles, they probably weren’t known as a high-end five-star hotel company. Buying Fairmont/Raffles and, to some extent Swissôtel, has given them more of a chunk of that high-end five-star market,” says David Batchelor, managing director of Fairmont/Raffles Makati.
The change of ownership here in the Philippines has been seamless. Batchelor says the cultures of Accor and the former FRHI are similar. Accor is colleague-focused, believes in providing equal opportunity for women and conscientious in sustainability.
Raffles and Fairmont still remain true to their brand identity. And Batchelor wants to ensure that.
“Raffles is an oasis for the well-traveled. We took an emotional luxury, and Raffles and Fairmont are about turning moments into memories. If something happens here, as a Fairmont guest, then you’ll remember it forever. Basically, Accor’s message is to make their guests feel welcome. They want all their staff and colleagues to feel valued. So, again, there are a lot of synergies there,” says Batchelor.
On the colleague-focused culture, the hotelier explains, “I personally try and create an environment where you want to be here rather than having to be here. I think all of us have worked in an environment in the past where the atmosphere has not been that pleasant. People are a bit scared to say anything, or to take a risk, or to suggest something. It’s both a Fairmont and Accor trait that we like people to be involved, to make suggestions,” says Batchelor.
Although these hotels have policies and procedures, employees are free to show initiatives. “We allow people to have a say and, to some extent, allow people to fail. If they learn by failing, it’s overall a positive experience,” he says.
Batchelor recalls a conversation with someone who worked in a hotel with a rigid culture. “It carried a big stick. It was not a happy environment for people. We want to have an environment where people want to be there rather than having to be there. If people are happy, they are more likely to give good service than when they’re not happy,” he says.
The healthy working environment obviously reflects on the business. In surveys, Fairmont has always been the top luxury hotel in Makati when it comes to occupancy rate.
Batchelor attributes the success to the consistently high quality of the rooms, the food and beverage, the service and a diligent sales team that has lured many corporate accounts.
“The brand reputation helps. If you stay here and [leave the next day], you [feel you] had a good time and you tell your friends—‘I had a nice time here’—then that [will have a] positive impact,” he says.
Raffles likewise has been getting the guests despite the fact there are less high-end leisure travelers in Makati as there are corporate businesses. The luxury market tends to skip Makati and go straight to Palawan or Coron.
“While the occupancy is lower in Raffles than in Fairmont, people recognize that the quality of the product commands a higher rate premium, and they’re happy to pay,” says Batchelor.
He observes that since he began working for Fairmont/Raffles in 2014, the local hotel scene has become ultra competitive with new hotels rising in BGC and casino hotels in the Bay Area. He also notes the local clientele, better known as the “staycation” market, is booming.
Batchelor adds there is a slight dip in corporate business due to competition in BGC. Asmajor companies transferred to BGC, the market naturally preferred to just stay put rather than go out and wade through traffic.
Raffles’ market consists of 65-percent corporate accounts and 35-percent transient.
He predicts the formal launch of Grand Hyatt at the Fort will also have an impact on the Makati business.
“We’re not putting all our eggs in the corporate basket. We also have to work on the transient side to make ourselves an attractive choice for [guests],” he says.
To further enhance Raffles’ visibility, it became part of Virtuouso, the luxury network of international travel agents. “That gives us access to the high-end network individuals. If they’re traveling to the Philippines, chances are they’ll stay at a Virtuoso associate hotel,” Batchelor says.
The hotelier is optimistic that 2018 will be a stronger financial year. Business in January exceeded expectations and was even better compared to the same month last year. Year-on-year, the revenue and occupancy were buoyant as with the forward bookings from February to April.
Batchelor hopes to increase the average rates for the room and further promote Mirèio, the French restaurant and the Mirèio Terrace, the rooftop bar which opens to a view of the skyline.
Having worked for the travel industry for 35 years, Batchelor’s says his biggest learning experiences have come from dealing with the team and the guests.
He likens the hotel to a city where there is always a flurry of activities. “There’s never a dull moment. You never know what to expect next. There’s a great sense of [teamwork], a great sense of accomplishment when things go well, and a sense of disappointment if things don’t go well,” he says.
On handling guests with different types of personalities, any hotel worker will always live by the precept of “the customer is always right.”
“It takes a lot of deference and patience. Sometimes, guests behave in ways that we think are not appropriate. They can be trying at times—both for the people on the frontline that have to deal with these people and also to me, if the situation gets escalated to me,” he says. “We give the benefit of the doubt to those guests. We don’t want to do anything that compromises our reputation in terms of bad press or bad TripAdvisor comments.”
Known to be a cool and elegant hotelier, Batchelor has always kept his equanimity in challenging situations. “You don’t want to do anything you’re going to regret afterwards. Keeping a moral high ground is a good philosophy,” he says.
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