The Riviera Maya in Mexico was the backdrop for Travel Agent's interview with John Long, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts' vice president of sales and marketing, and Antonio Banderas was the company's new star at the moment. But as we spoke to Long about Iberostar's plans for the future, we learned a few things that will, undoubtedly, interest travel professionals: get ready for adjusted rates for agents and start learning up on Brazil.
Listen to the interview in its entirety in the podcast below.
New Agent, Client Promotions
According to Long, more than 90 percent of bookings at Iberostar hotels are made through agents— a high number indeed, but that's not stopping the company from pushing the brand more. "We want to offer more opportunities for [agents] to come see our properties," he told us. "So we're going to be adjusting our travel agent rates within two weeks." Note: the interview took place Thursday, April 8.
In addition to better rates to draw in more agents, Iberostar is also rolling out some consumer promotions in the coming weeks. Long hopes these programs will make it easier for travel professionals by initiating a client's interest before he or she picks up the phone to call their agent.
"You obviously have to position yourself correctly with the market and with what the consumer is looking for at the right time," Long told Travel Agent. "We've done groups promotions that we're running right now. We're going to run one in May where, for a leisure group for example, you and your friends put together a trip and the sixth room is free. Five rooms and the sixth room is free. The Beach in Del Mar is going to have Kids Free starting in May and run through December, with just a blackout for Thanksgiving."
Why Iberostar Is Different
One can assume these promotions will make it easier for agents to sell the Iberostar brand to its clients. However, with competition from other resort operators in the Caribbean as well as Mexico, such as Karisma and Sandals, it's not that simple. Iberostar needs to set itself apart from these other companies, and Long is well aware of what makes his brand different.
"When you look at Iberostar, you've got the three different levels of hotels and I think that's something that [Karisma and Sandals] really don't have or at least not from a consistent way like what we've delivered," Long said. "We've got young families covered. We've got young couples covered. We've got luxury for families. We've got luxury for adults only. We've got all that. We also have our own golf courses to complement our resorts. I think our competitors do a great job with weddings. I think they do a great job with the individual couples and things like that. I admire what they've done and we've got to go after that ourselves."
But before Iberostar goes after a share of the weddings market, Long remains focused on two other aspects of his company's brand: cuisine and service. "When you look at our food and beverage offering, what we do is a step above, too, because it's not just your regular a la carte restaurants," he said, noting that all chefs are from the Basque region of Spain and that they train the locals so that they are well prepared.
From a service standpoint, the staff remains the key at Iberostar, according to Long. At the press conference that launched the new campaign with Antonio Banderas, Iberostar Chief Marketing Officer Luis Herault stated several times that the company's investment in training its staff is what will exemplify the brand's new slogan: "On vacation, we are all stars."
If that's the case, it makes sense when hearing that Iberostar's Grand properties have a staff-to-room ratio of close to two while the other properties have a 0.9 ratio. "Most of our staff, for example here in Mexico, have been with us from the very beginning," Long said. "I've been with the company for 13 years and I see faces that I've seen here for 13 years. With staff ratio, because we are in these complexes, we can also maximize our efforts and spread it out so that we're giving great attention to the guest."
Travel Agent can attest to the attentive service as, during our stay, we had an extremely patient and helpful butler staff that went to great lengths to make sure our Internet service was running strongly and smoothly throughout the trip.
Brazil & Other Destinations
As Iberostar entices agents to its Caribbean and Mexico properties with fam promotions, the company is encouraging travel professionals to keep their eyes on Brazil. "We need them to educate themselves more on Brazil because we have a large investment in Salvador de Bahia," Long told us.
Not only can the resort company tout two resorts and a golf course that it built in the region, it is also ready to bring its product to South American waters with a luxury cruise ship that sails down the Amazon River. According to Long, the ship is the only one of its kind, and it will sail out of Manaus in Brazil— accessible via Delta Air Lines flights from Atlanta and United Airlines flights from Miami, in addition to ones provided by TAM Airlines.
The ship contains 75 cabins, all with their own balconies, as well as an onboard bioligist who is part of the entertainment and cultural immersion. "It's a grand experience because all of your tours are included," Long said. "The food is Brazilian food, so you have the whole cultural experience. Then you're in Manaus, which also has its opera theater, and an incredible cultural experience. So for that customer they have that they send to Europe or to Egypt or places like that, this is a great thing they need to check out."
What else is on Iberostar's radar? Aruba, Cuba, Los Cabos and the Riviera Nayarit, Long told Travel Agent. "Riviera Nayarit is going to be huge for us," he said. "We have three resorts planned for that area. It's in Litibu, which is right next to the Four Seasons and the St. Regis, which has just opened up. The golf course is already open. We've already got most of the foundation poured for the first hotel so that we can be ready by November 2011. We have two more planned for that."