How to make AED1 million during a pandemic

Published: 26 September 2020 - 3 a.m.
By: Josh Corder
Ask Dubai Festival City (DFC) Hotels cluster director of marketing, digital and communications, Ahmad Jaber, how COVID-19 pandemic has affected his marketing plans and he won’t let out a sigh or tell you things have been difficult, instead, he’ll sit up in his chair with a big smile and tell you how during the summer months, his five properties managed to rake in AED1 million from the staycation business alone. You can add into that 2,500 room nights from June to August 2020 and 93 percent occupancy during this year’s Eid al-Adha.

The five properties in Jaber’s group are InterContinental Dubai Festival City, InterContinental Residence Suites and Crowne Plaza, Dubai Festival City, the Holiday Inn Dubai Festival City and the Festival Arena managed by InterContinental – traditionally hotels that rely on corporate travel.

The Beauty of Marketing
“It's a challenging time and that's the beauty of marketing: taking problems or obstacles and turning them into opportunities to stay head of the competition,” he tells Hotelier.

“For us, the sky is the limit and we're continuously trying to explore all the whitespaces.

“Certainly my team and I are hoteliers, but we are also marketers. We can sell, we can design concepts and we can come up with a solution for any challenge thrown our way.”

One of many solutions to the COVID-19 challenge for Jaber and his team has been working more on partnerships. He explained: “That's what the pandemic has taught us. If you look globally that's what all companies are looking into: joint ventures, joint campaigns, partnership between big brands because this is what the consumer wants right now.

“Partnerships present consumers with greater value as suddenly they don't have to split their money between two separate campaigns. Equally, it saves partners money on marketing as they can work and invest jointly.”

One such partnership is with Toys R Us, a deal which turned a lot of heads in the region’s media channels. The concept revolves around filling up a hotel’s expensive suites by offering families a Toys R Us experience with their stay.

“The 'Playcation' itself starts at the suite living room, where we put a playhouse with toys and organise an arrival experience starting from a gift which is handed over to the kids. In the suite we place a Toys R Us catalogue so parents can start thinking of what to buy.

“Partnering with Toys R Us, we could justify putting higher rates on our suites thanks to the additional benefits offered to families and their children.”

Complementing the higher rates, partnerships also mean both parties can access the other’s databases. As the pandemic has rocketed humanity even further into digitalisation, Jaber points out this data is invaluable right now and will only improve brands’ communication with customers.

“We have been focusing purely on partnerships amid the pandemic, but also leveraging the recent digital transformation trend to help us. Sharing data has been huge for us, you have one million emails from the mall, another 200,000 from our hotels and another 100,000 from Toys R Us. All this together creates a rapid and effective way of communicating with consumers.”

Maximising Revenues
Jaber and his team came up with the ‘Playcation’ idea during one of his revenue generation meetings, which for Jaber are very frequent, as the man is always thinking about how campaigns will convert into cold, hard cash for his properties.

“It's not about creating a package that is just for the sake of putting it online, it's about selling it as well.

“During one of our many revenue generation meetings, we started planning consumer movements once Dubai begins to open up. Part of the science of marketing is thinking backwards and thinking like the hotel guest and how they would be feeling about hospitality and travel amid the pandemic.“

‘Backwards’ Marketing Jaber created his campaigns in preparation for likely scenarios that might play out during the COVID-19 pandemic. For him, it’s all about understanding and predicting consumer behaviour.

“We knew that even when Dubai reopened, people would be worried about travelling, and that's why we prepared for domestic tourism instead. Additionally, we knew that families in the UAE would still be worried to allow their kids into malls and play areas.

His other family-focused campaigns include VIK – Very Important Kids – which opens up the kids centre and fills it with activities such as cooking classes for pizza and cookies.

As part of this, Jaber is already preparing for the eventual full-scale return of international tourism.

He said: “Now we have the upcoming Omani market to open to Dubai, the Saudi market by next year and the UK market expected to follow at some point.

“For each country, we're considering the possible differences in consumer behaviour. For the Omanis for example, they may come to Dubai to shop, in which case we will look at what retail partnership would suit them best within our wider portfolio.”

In Dubai, where shopping is also important, Jaber hashed out a partnership with his Holiday Inn property and the nearby mall. Teaming with the mall, the staycation provided cash back to spend anywhere in the mall, so the guest would pay AED300 for the room but get the same back to spend at the partnering mall.

“You must work towards generating a story from PR have and your PR on your side to back you up with all your activations,” says Jaber. “That's the key to success. Your social media and the digital campaigns - that's another key to success, and another key way to reach a larger audience.

“COVID-19 taught us to be open, to think big, to think out of the box and to think in a creative way. The business will not come easily and we cannot wait and watch as someone else defines a new trend. I believe our set of hotels needs to become the leaders of hotel marketing during the pandemic. We have achieved this thanks to all our unique experiences launched.

“There's a thin line as what applies for one property, doesn't necessarily apply for another property. Doing luxury marketing for InterContinental works but another segment such as the Holiday Inn family business requires a different approach.”

However daunting the challenge, Jaber is clearly ready for it.

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