© Placid Hotel
It's the kind of job you’d only accept if you like a challenge: Head of Sales and Marketing in a brand-new, independent 87-room establishment in a former industrial district with a dubious reputation, which also shares a building with a care home. A hotel, moreover, that is run by the local ‘Diakonie Bethanien’ welfare organisation. Its name is derived from the word ‘placidity’, meaning serenity, calm; and its exquisitely minimalist design centres around bare concrete architecture and total transparency, even when it comes to the shower rooms.
But to Gerard Ambrosetti, none of this mattered. The 35-year-old sales and marketing professional from Italian-speaking Switzerland loves a challenge, so when the four-star Placid Hotel in the Altstetten neighbourhood of Zurich opened its doors in late 2016, he was ready and waiting. As the story goes, “They all said it couldn't be done. Then someone came along who didn't know that, and they did it.”
And success proves him right. “The neighbourhood is still working on its reputation,” Ambrosetti tells us, “but more and more new companies and loft buildings are starting to appear.” As are new guests. In its first year, the Placid achieved an average occupancy rate of around 60%. To achieve this, Ambrosetti not only actively targeted local companies, including subsidiaries of companies like Siemens, UBS, Electrolux and Freixenet. In order to increase the share of business travellers and corporate customers in particular, Ambrosetti also took the decision to put the Placid on the new HRS Market Place last summer.
Mr Ambrosetti, your establishment is not particularly large, nor is it located in the city centre. How did you come across the HRS Market Place?
Gerard Ambrosetti: You have meetings with the people from HRS don't you? That's when you set common objectives. And, well, the Market Place came up as a new opportunity. As we were a new hotel that had only just started collaborating with HRS, we thought, “why not give it a go?”
We can always see where we stand in comparison to other establishments.
With other providers, the major firms tend to veer towards chain hotels. As an independent hotel, it isn't easy to get a foot in the door. The good thing about HRS is that it focuses not only on larger establishments, but also on smaller ones. That’s why we decided to give it a go, and we’ve now been on board since June 2017. Things started off quite slowly, which was no surprise since we picked a bit of a silly time to do it. But now things are up and running.
What did you have to do to put yourself on the Market Place?
To take part, you have to pay a fee, and then your hotel will be displayed. HRS can also put forward our establishment when they receive enquiries. Of course it's important for HRS too to have certain establishments on board. That's the good thing about them – their focus has always been on companies. Ultimately it's down to the companies themselves to decide, of course, but we can still put ourselves out there, submit an RFP.
When you have an opportunity to submit a bid, do you know in advance what kind of company you're dealing with?
We get an estimated travel volume of the enquiring company as well as a mini profile. We’re also told how that volume will be distributed: whether it will be spread across one, two or even more hotels, whether this will be only in Zurich or across the whole of Switzerland and even as far as Munich. In addition, HRS provides us with information on what the individual companies’ requirements are: rates, cancellation conditions and so on. We even find out whether they are pursuing a green agenda.
What are the most important criteria for winning a company over?
Price is of course the primary deciding factor, followed by location. After that, it depends on things like the internet: is high-speed broadband included in the price or not? What about security? Does the establishment have CCTV? Is there someone on site 24 hours a day? Where the company comes from also plays a major role. Americans are somewhat more anxious about security, and look at things like fire, water hazards, corruption, etc.
So you just try to combine everything in a neat package. Especially the services we offer: for example our roof terrace, or the fact that our restaurant and bar are open late. That is important for many people, so they know that their travellers will be able to socialise a little when they're away on business.
In return for an annual fee of EUR 500, HRS partner hotels are granted access to the Market Place. This can be viewed by all HRS corporate clients worldwide, including giants such as Google, China Mobile, Toyota, Fiat, Hitachi, Alibaba and Panasonic. In order to help you create a successful profile, you will also receive exclusive market, competitor and insider information, such as benchmarks on current rate levels at your destination, as well as information about the specific requirements of certain corporates. The package is rounded off with individual support and advice from HRS employees. Last but not least, HRS explicitly puts forward participating hotels to the corporations publishing tenders and thereby paves the way for them to submit quotes via the corresponding online platform (Electronic Requests for Proposal; eRFP).
To get into play in the first place, Market Place participants must submit a ‘blind bid’, defining a hotel price regardless of tender.
The blind bid is very beneficial to us. All you have to do to draw attention to yourself is enter a rate. The challenge here is ensuring people can quickly get an idea of what is being provided and what is covered. After all, these are annual contracts. So when using online tools, you have to present your bid in a very efficient manner.
Does that mean a blind bid rate is set in stone?
There are always negotiations later, when a counter-bid is submitted, for example. Then it’s all about the art of negotiation.
One of HRS’ selling points is of course that Market Place members also receive insider information.
And for us, comparing ourselves with other hotels in the same city is very interesting. That at least gives you an idea of where they all stand in terms of category and price. Even once we have already submitted an RFP, we can always see where we stand in comparison with other establishments. Then we can improve our offer accordingly, right up until the deadline, as there is of course a timer ticking away in the background.
But the entire procedure takes place online, doesn't it? Do you ever get called by hotel purchasing staff with enquiries?
By telephone? No! But the HRS advisor did contact us and give us some tips. I thought that was really great. After all, the guests are the ones who set the trends.
What output have you achieved after your first few months on Market Place?
We don't yet have any conclusive data, and some negotiations are still ongoing, so I can't really provide any percentages. However, by the end of last year, we had a bid accepted by one company, and we were rejected by another. We’re still waiting to hear back on two more bids. But I think we've got a good chance of getting both. So personally, I'm satisfied.
Mr Ambrosetti, thank you for talking to us.