Leslie Sarfati is Marketing Manager South West Uk and Wales for Marriott International and HMA Young Marketer of the Year 2020.
Tell us a little about yourself and your current role
I am a citizen of the world with a French passport. I have lived in 5 countries – France, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, and England – so, I developed a sensitivity for languages and travel very early on. Instinctively, I was drawn to the hospitality industry, and decided to explore the subject at university.
Marketing quickly became my favourite module; I particularly enjoyed getting creative by building fictional marketing plans for fictional restaurants and hotels. Two years later, I have become a (non-fictional) Marketing and Communications Manager at Marriott International, and I look after a cluster of premium hotels in Wales and the South West of England. My role consists of optimizing revenue and enhancing brand awareness to support our key segments – rooms, catering, F&B and leisure clubs. To that end, I combine digital marketing, content creation, public relations and operational marketing.
Congratulations on winning Young Hotel Marketer of the Year. What has changed since you won the award?
Thank you! I am so grateful for winning this award and very honoured that my work has been noticed. This award is more than just a line on my LinkedIn profile; it is a great source of personal growth.
First, I must say that it really boosted my self-confidence, as I never thought that one day I would win an award abroad. It also grounded my ability to bring creative ideas and good results to the table, regardless of the budget I have to work with. It also really motivated me to undergo trainings, read more about the discipline, follow new marketing trends, and be more aware of what the competition is doing.
The award came with a personal coach for a few months, which is a game-changer for anyone with career ambitions. It helped me understand where I am, and which tools I need to reach the goals I have set for myself.
What advice would you give those thinking of entering the Hotel Marketing Awards this year?
It can be challenging to sum up a year of work in one submission page – it is essential to concisely describe your most impactful campaigns with tactics, channels and ROI. I would really put the emphasis on 360 marketing strategies, showing you have activated your messaging across all the relevant points of customer contact. Moreover, show the judges that you have great presentational skills: make the submission as aesthetically pleasing as possible, with the appropriate balance between text and illustrations. Finally, do not forget to introduce yourself and tell the judges why you think you deserve to win this award.
What area do you enjoy most about your role?
Without a doubt, my favourite part is when I work on a hotel relaunch. Working on a renovation project is as exciting as getting a pet: it becomes your baby and can even keep you from sleeping at night. It is just really satisfying to see it grow and flourish!
We relaunched the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel last year and now we are reopening the Cardiff Marriott Hotel after an extensive refurbishment.
What I enjoy the most is working on building new hotel positioning and suggesting strategies that will help teams to bring it to life. I think it is fascinating to establish the way we are perceived, and how we would like to be perceived after the hotel’s transformation.
Aside of this, I really enjoy dealing with people, and that’s what these projects are about: I manage and report to many stakeholders including senior directors, brand partners, PR agencies, designers, chefs, events teams and so on.
What do you think hotel marketers should learn from the pandemic crisis?
The key takeaway has to be adaptability: it is essential to readjust our plans and be ready to react quickly and efficiently in response to a crisis. In particular, it is necessary to adapt our speed-to-market and target audience. For example, usually it takes a few weeks to put together a promotion and publish it on the website, however, in Covid-19 times, it has to take no more than a couple of days. What if – just after a government announcement – there is an opportunity to promote a particular business? Every day of unpublished content could represent a loss of revenue.
What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to marketing in 2021?
Marketers are proactive people: they plan their marketing activities a year ahead, detailing tactics, budget and stakeholders. That is exactly what is going to be challenging in 2021: plans, money and human resources.
I am very optimistic about 2021 being a much more promising year but it would be utopian to think we have enough visibility to plan long-term strategies. For now, there is an inevitable correlation between Covid-19 cases (which can rise unexpectedly and exponentially) and our hotel occupancies. That is why we need to be realistic, more focused on the short-term and take into consideration multiple scenarios.
Regarding the budget, I feel this has always been a challenge in the hotel marketing world, so to look on the bright side, it is something marketers often face and find solutions for.
Finally, I think it is important to point out the reality that various roles were made redundant during the crisis, and marketers will face 2021 without the necessary number of key roles filled.
What do you see being the biggest trend or innovation in hotel marketing in the next 24 months?
Even though we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of the vaccine in the UK, I think the respect for social-distancing rules and commitment to clean thoroughly will stay an important aspect in the hospitality world for the upcoming years. I believe hotels will keep on working on digital innovations, which will allow touch-free experiences. Mobile apps will most likely be enhanced to ensure customers can control many aspects of their stay – from on-line check-in, digital room key or on-line concierge service – in a safe and intuitive way. I can see hotel marketers promoting those digital experiences through creative content. On another hand, sustainability should stay a priority in our industry for the years to come: hotels are increasingly sensitive to environmental issues. I believe marketers will talk about their commitment to reduce their carbon footprints: initiatives such as renewable energies, biodegradable packaging or water-reduction systems will be at the heart of our messaging across all channels.
If I gave you £10,000 right now to spend on your marketing, what would you do with it?
Looking at my hotels’ business needs and priorities for 2021, I would definitely spend it on cost-effective digital marketing, promoting transient leisure and catering: the crisis is one more reason to maximize the impact of every pound spent.
For transient leisure, I would spend £5K on PPC advertising with Google Ads. It is crucial to keep a “direct bookings” strategy especially on key dates, with relevant target audience, headline and keywords.
Then, I would spend the remaining £5K on paid social media. Many weddings were cancelled in 2020 and I believe there is a good opportunity to advertise our venues for the upcoming months. I would launch a lead generation campaign – specific for weddings – using videos and virtual reality content and reach recently engaged couples in the area. Additionally, we can think of an attractive short lead promotion for those who want to get married in the next 6 months.
If used correctly, these tools can provide great ROI. Success is easily measured and strategies are continually readjusted and improved.