Irons in the fire: selling Gleneagles

By The Drum | Administrator

January 5, 2009 | 7 min read

The turmoil in the international financial sector is having a knock-on effect at one of the UK’s best loved luxury hotel venues, Gleneagles in picturesque Perthshire, Scotland.

Set in the heart of picturesque rural Perthshire, Gleneagles is a Scottish byword for luxury leisure. From its celebrity chef to its championship golf courses, the resort, nestled at the foot of the Ochil Hills, is renowned in its native land. But with international eyes being drawn to Gleneagles through a series of high profile events, its popularity among the internationally affluent holiday maker is on a steady rise.

As The Drum arrives at the grounds to meet head of marketing, Dorothy Welsh, this reporter is reminded of a Christmas Eve when, as a young member of a youth choir, he was invited to sing to guests at the hotel as Santa arrived on his reindeer-pulled sleigh.

There’s something quite heart-warming to know that this event continues to take place every Christmas Eve some twenty years later.

Indeed, tradition is part of what makes this hotel so special and is clearly one of the attractions to guests and visitors from all over the world.

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Of course, tradition and the 850 acres of ground which provide visitors with activities such as golf, swimming, equestrian rides, tennis and falconry, while it has also just launched a new £8m health spa.

However, it is recent and future events that have really rocketed this already renowned resort to the global headlines. It was the centre of worldwide attentions in 2005 when it hosted the world’s most powerful leaders for the G8 Summit, while all around protests and demonstrations raged. And in 2014 it is set, once again, to attract attentions from across the globe as it hosts golf’s Ryder Cup. A marketers dream, perhaps.

Despite being owned by drinks giant Diageo, the hotel has its own independent marketing team based on-site which includes a marketing manager, DM manager, PR manager, marketing services manager and internet marketing manager, who all report to Welsh. This is a close knit team which looks to make the most of its database of previous visitors and enquiry makers in order to attract as many holidaymakers through its doors as possible. A difficult task in this current climate, despite its growing fame.

“We work very closely with our existing clients,” says Welsh. “We operate at the luxury end of the market, so we also have very good qualitative information where it’s easy for us to see who enjoys fine wine or who the golfers are – through this, we really tailor that information and target them with offers that are appropriate at the right time. So lots of direct marketing, both through direct mail and email, is obviously very important for us.”

The hotel relaunched its website this summer. As an international tool, it was especially important for Gleneagles as people from around the world look for further information on events which have or are to be held there.

One such event was the G8 summit in 2005 where world leaders including George Bush and Tony Blair held talks within the hotel about world matters.

This was a huge task for the marketing team; as the eyes of the world turned to the hotel, Bob Geldoff held concerts simultaneously across the globe to heap pressure on the leaders to consider cancelling Third World Debt, making the spotlight on proceedings all the more ‘heated’.

And, despite all of the extra security and mass demonstrations just beyond the grounds, Welsh claims that the event was very beneficial for Gleneagles.

“A lot of us stayed in the hotel on-site, while the marketing team primarily focused on the media centre which was based at the Equestrian school, holding 2,500 media. We had a dual focus. First we provided all they needed to cover the G8, however, we also used it as an opportunity to showcase the hotel and Scotland as a place for future holidays. Interestingly even the police force who were here with the Met have been back since – they must have enjoyed the surroundings, despite the tension at the time.”

Apparently the event raised the hotel’s profile so much that it now receives bookings from Russia, where wealthy businessmen look to occupy the same room that then Russian President Vladimir Putin resided in.

Another event on the horizon which will be staged on the grounds of Gleneagles – ensuring yet more worldwide exposure – is The Ryder Cup in 2014, which will follow Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games by just a few months.

This event will help the hotel market itself against competitors such as the golf greats of St Andrew’s and Turnberry, which already have ‘trophy status’ with their world renowned courses.

However, back with a bump to the present, and with the world entering recession, the hotel has of course been affected in terms of bookings from around the world and Welsh admits that they are starting to see a slow-down in bookings for 2009. Yet she claims that 2010 looks healthier already.

“The financial services industry is having a tough time, it’s a big industry in Scotland so, like a lot of Scottish businesses, we will feel the effect of that, but the market is always changing. When I look back five years the pharmaceutical industry was very important to Gleneagles, yet that disappeared practically overnight with the change in legislation which meant that pharmaceutical companies weren’t allowed to woo doctors at five star hotels. So it’s always a matter of looking at different market segments. Industries such as oil and gas are still doing very well and are very big in some of the emerging markets such as Russia. We had a large Ukranian group in recently so it’s just about adapting and being flexible. People will always need to meet and entertain and for us it’s about getting those messages out and working with people to achieve their objectives.”

The hotel will look to reduce its marketing spend in North America in the short term to focus once again on the European market, which it will do so alongside VisitScotland.

“Partly the air routes are a lot better in terms of direct flights to Europe from Scotland than they were five years ago but also because the Euro is worth quite a lot more against the Pound so it’s getting less expensive for them to visit,” explains Welsh.

“We’ve done a lot of work in Germany, Switzerland, France and I’m going to Brussels to try and develop that market too. Also, UK people who might have previously gone to the Caribbean or the States on holiday might decide to stay in the country, so now is a real opportunity for us to keep UK money within the UK too.”

Despite its focus on Europe, Welsh continues to explain that 75% of the hotel’s market comes from the UK (the split between corporate visits and leisure visits is 40% and 60% respectively) and that will remain the primary focus, with more people expected to holiday on these shores in an effort to save money this year.

In order to concentrate on selling to the UK, the hotel has a team of corporate sales managers targeting UK companies and businessmen. Two are based in London, one in the Midlands and the North of England while two cover sales in Scotland. There is also someone covering Europe and the travel trade. While new custom is always welcome, Welsh insists that returning trade, now more than ever, must remain another focus.

“Although times are tough, it’s even more critical that you really look after your best customers and retain them, also that you reward and keep your best staff. Actually getting it right is important.”

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