Encouraged by the growth it’s seen in its Asia business since it set up base in Melbourne in 2009, Mr & Mrs Smith has established a beach-head in Hong Kong to make further inroads into the Asian market.
Amira Morgan (left), who ran marketing and business development out of Melbourne, has relocated to Hong Kong as head of market development. The choice of Hong Kong over Singapore is due to the China factor – despite the fact that Singapore has a more matured online travel market than Hong Kong.
The company that’s built a reputation for curating hotels and content for travellers looking for boutique hotels with a romantic touch has around 1,000 hotels in its global collection, 250 of which are spread across Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia (mainly Bali).
Asia Pacific accounts for 15% of the business – with Australia making up a major share of that. Morgan said the company has seen double-digit growth out of Australia year-on-year and wants to replicate that growth in Asia.
“We feel we can grow the demand faster by getting into local markets, understand the customers and how they travel. In the six weeks I’ve been out here, I’ve learnt about booking patterns and destinations of interest in Singapore and Hong Kong.”
The Asia Pacific version of its website attracts 70,000 unique visitors a month, according to Rowena Fitzgerald, Head of Marketing and PR for Asia Pacific.
In terms of customer demand, Fitzgerald said Singaporeans have taken to the brand well and surprisingly, most are booking stays within Singapore. From Hong Kong, it’s predominantly expatriates taking either weekend getaways in Asia or European breaks. “The UK, Italy, France and Bali perform well for customers in Asia,” said Fitzgerald.
Globally, Mr & Mrs Smith has 500,000 members, of whom about 65,000 are in Asia Pacific. Membership is tiered at three levels – Black Smith which is free and open to anyone who’s booked a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel; Silver Smith – A$60 annual fee entitling members to its last minute club and half-priced hotels; and Gold Smith Concierge – A$600 annual fee with full travel concierge services.
“One of my tasks is to understand which membership levels would be attractive to customers in Asia,” said Morgan.
Women make up about 65% of members. “We try and inspire men to be romantic as well and give ideas to women on how they can inspire their partners,” said Morgan. It recently launched a Facebook app, Hint Hint, which allows members to send hints – I need a holiday, let’s book a room – to their partners, privately or on their wall.
Another of Morgan’s task is curating more hotels in Asia based on the brand’s selection criteria – idiosyncratic, style, service, setting, size, personal.
“In Asia, we have added bigger hotels than we normally would have done – for example, the Fullerton Bay in Singapore – it’s big but yet it is intimate due to the service culture,” said Fitzgerald.
Communications is also localized, “driven by data on customer bookings and travel trends,” said Morgan. It produces two versions of its newsletter – one for Australia/New Zealand and the other for Singapore/Hong Kong.
Said Fitzgerald, “The way we communicate with our members in Asia is slightly different – in the UK, the brand is known so we work with newspapers doing 2-for-1 promotions. We don’t advertise traditionally, relying on PR and partnerships.”
Social media is of course a huge part of the communications play – 50,000 likes on Facebook, regular daily updates on Twitter, a blog and it’s recently started posting on Instagram and Pinterest.
The market for boutique hotels has gotten very competitive over the years with private sale, flash sales sites popping up but Mr & Mrs Smith has worked on maintaining its differentiators, said Morgan. “We focus on building relationships with our customers, our collection is curated, our customer service culture is strong. Our editorial style of content is cheeky, designed to tell you the things you’d hear from a friend, we recommend favourite rooms and restaurants, and we share tips for romantic weekends.”
Its “romance” positioning means customers are predominantly couples with a high percentage of same-sex couples with high disposable incomes. However it is also seeing growing interest from families and its “kid-friendly” indicator is a popular tool.
So much so that it has launched a Smith & Family collection in the UK and will roll it out in Australia shortly, followed by Asia towards year end.
An app it launched 18 months ago which allows people to plan as well as play games saw a huge take-up in the beginning but now it’s seeing people go back to the website to plan and book. “That’s why we are focusing on building a mobile-optimised website right now. We see mobile as a big play in Asia,” said Fitzgerald.