In the nearly two years since Destination Hotels and Commune Hotels & Resorts merged, a lot has changed. The combined company introduced its new name: Two Roads Hospitality. The company’s Asia-based brand Alila Hotels & Resorts is playing a more dominant role in Two Roads’ international expansion, with a newly redesigned Ventana Big Sur Resort in California marking the brand’s entrance into North America and more Asian locations in the pipeline. The Joie de Vivre label has finally made its way to the East Coast with the recent opening of 50 Bowery in New York City and a Baltimore property to come next year.
Likewise, the Destination Hotels brand planted its flag in the Northeast with last year’s opening of the Cliff House in Neddick, Maine, as Thompson Hotels also grows its North American presence, with three upcoming properties in Texas as well as new locales in Los Angeles and Mexico. Two Roads also announced that incipient brand tommie will debut in Los Angeles in 2019.
But neither the heightened focus on expanding its global footprint nor online travel agencies’ dominance in the hospitality industry have altered Two Roads’ commitment to brick-and-mortar travel agents. In fact, the hotel-management company hosted more than 20 travel professionals at its annual Leisure Travel Advisory Council at The Cape, a Thompson Hotel, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in early October.
“The travel industry is becoming more and more impersonal and transactional and the travel agent community is what keeps the personalization and the human touch in our industry,” said Andre Fournier, EVP, sales, marketing and revenue. “Travel agents are an extension of our sales force and they represent the customer service side of our business, which is the soul of the hospitality industry. Anyone can go online and book a room, but it’s not the same as talking to someone who’s been to the hotel and who can customize the experience to better meet the needs of guests.”
Investing in the Retail Distribution Network
Noting that travel retailers add another high-touch dimension to travel in an increasingly high-tech world, Fournier also pointed out that working with travel professionals has also prompted Two Roads to rethink how the company interacts with this distribution channel via technology. When Two Roads was formed in 2016, an umbrella GDS chain code IT was launched as was a travel-agent portal on the company’s website. But the portal is still under development, with further enhancements, such as property details inclusive of signature services and customizable experiences, planned for the second quarter of 2018. Fournier said that the objective is “to make it easy for travel advisors to do business with us and to give them a portal that’s more knowledge-based than value-based so that we can enhance the experience for both the agent and the guest and build a relationship that will also enhance retention and repeat business.”
In effect, the investment in a travel-agent portal is a dual strategy for building loyalty among both travel professionals and their clients. Moreover, the five brands in Two Roads’ portfolio are not always consumer-facing as is the case with larger, publicly owned hotel brands—for instance, La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio doesn’t have a marquee above its entrance with “Destination Hotels” emblazoned across it. True to the lifestyle hotel segment, these brands have in-the-know appeal rather than mass-market followings, so their ability to match the right client with the right Two Roads’ property makes travel professionals a natural asset to the company.
“In May 2017, the boutique independent lifestyle segment crossed over to more than 100 new brands,” Fournier said. “Everyone is trying to get into the space and fortunately for us, a lot of them haven’t figured it out and are just taking advantage of mass distribution channels while trying to put a local spin on the property. It’s just not in their DNA to create the product.”
An Education for Owners
Owners of Two Roads’ hotels are also getting an education in the process. According to Fournier, there’s still somewhat of a learning curve as far as owners’ understanding of how travel agents increase the bandwidth of Two Roads’ sales team and how they can help impact the properties’ online reputations, optimizing their positioning on review sites while also opening up a new customer base. Compared to the margins involved with OTA-acquired bookings, standard travel-agent commission of 10 percent makes this a more cost-effective distribution channel with a higher likelihood of generating repeat business.
Fournier also pointed out that travel advisors’ natural clientele overlaps greatly with Two Roads’ target audience, which is not the masses—the bread and butter of OTA bookings—but the top 5 percent of highly educated working professionals that love to travel, are married with children and live in urban settings. These travelers are foregoing consistency for variation and new discovery.
“We’re just over 85 hotels and we take the time to get to know our customers first and foremost and focus on the experience and not the transaction, which is the difference between companies that lean heavily on OTAs and those who still work with brick-and-mortar agencies,” Fournier said. “We’re not trying to feed 1,400 hotels because when you do, you’re focused on the masses and Two Roads is as far away from that as you can get.”