The value of happy customers

ALTHOUGH the effects of the 2014 economic downturn were felt keenly by the tourism and hospitality sector across the North-east, as luxury experiences were squeezed from people’s budgets, there are signs that the market is beginning to recover. My role has become more sales-focused as a result of the downturn, and we continue to seek innovative ways to maintain profit margins amidst the most challenging economic climate of my career.

I’ve worked as a general manager for Macdonald Hotels for 20 years, across a number of locations in Scotland. There was a time when mid-week business took care of itself and the weekends were the downtime. But we’ve had to become a lot better at selling leisure business recently – nowadays we focus quite heavily on the weddings and golf sectors, two important market segments for us. We host around 100 weddings a year and our menus and highly trained chefs are a key draw. We also have a huge focus on food, beverage and hospitality, highlighting the award-winning Tapestry restaurant and our use of fresh, seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.

Recruitment remains a challenge. I believe there is an industry-wide need to create a better work-life balance for the next generation of chefs and hoteliers - it’s a rewarding industry in which to work but it’s a high pressure environment, the hours can be antisocial and you need to be able to hit the ground running.

I thrive on having happy customers and providing exceptional levels of service, that’s why I went into the business and I try to convey this passion to my team. I tend to adopt a traditional approach – I care a lot about the details; it’s the small things that make the difference where customer service is concerned. I’m quite hands on, and regularly do the rounds of the hotel, checking breakfast is running smoothly and so on. In the end, happy customers are my priority.

My marketing philosophy is to have everyone walking out of the front door of Norwood saying ‘this place is fantastic’ - if 99 out of 100 customers are singing our praises, that’s worth a fortune. Potential clients are equally important – whether its couples enquiring about wedding venues or companies scouting out conference facilities, we try to go get them in the door. Once they’re here the venue sells itself. Then we go the extra mile to ensure they leave having had the best possible experience.

The recent investment projects across Aberdeen are all good news for the tourism and hospitality sector. Whether these are improvements in infrastructure, in the shape of the new bypass and the recent airport expansion, or in venues themselves such as the new events complex and the Art Gallery, all these things are fantastic for the city and help to sell Aberdeen as a destination.

Throughout the year our mid-week guests are generally business travellers but, between April and September, there is a marked increase in international guests and last summer we had more foreign tourists than ever with a clear growth in the golf market. Our conferences and meetings market has also more than doubled over the last two and half years, so demand seems to be picking up across a range of sectors.

Ivan Franssen

Ivan Franssen