Interview: Director of Sales & Marketing at Sofitel Bahrain

Bahrain Confidential interviews Mr. Emre Kirazci, Director of Sales & Marketing at Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa.

How do you think is the current situation of hospitality in Bahrain?

Globally, the hospitality, travel and tourism are amongst most impacted industries due to the pandemic. It has negatively affected the international tourist arrivals globally as well as locally in Bahrain. It has most certainly transformed the way industry operates, however, due to the proactive measures taken by the Ministry of Health and local authorities in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the situation has been well managed. The medical personnel have shown great bravery by fighting on the frontlines while the residents have faithfully observed all protocols laid out by the government.

Although the hotels’ occupancies have dwindled, hotels nationwide are now witnessing a gradual pick up. The King Fahad Causeway is still closed and we are eagerly anticipating its reopening as early as 2021 Q1, as Bahrain heavily relies on big touristic influx, around 85 per cent, from our Saudi neighbors. With the drop in new cases and steady reopening of restaurants and cafes, normalcy is slowly returning to the local hospitality industry. Professional sanitization techniques have been employed by all business within the industry as a new norm with all hotels highlighting their enhanced safety measures regularly.

How has Sofitel Bahrain manouevred through the new circumstances brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welcoming, safeguarding and taking care of others is at the very heart of what we do and who we are. Sofitel Bahrain, in line with directives from Accor, has successfully implemented the ALL SAFE Cleanliness and Prevention Label.

Accor’s global cleanliness and prevention standards have been developed and vetted by Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspections and certification. Sofitel Bahrain has fully applied these standards throughout the hotel and third-party auditors; Bureau Veritas, have audited them to receive the new ALLSAFE label.

As we welcome our guests, friends, family and community back to Sofitel Bahrain, please be assured that we are also looking ahead, through and past these trying times, to ensure that our valued guests and team members will always be looked after with the highest degree of safety, care and comfort.

As the health and safety of customers and staff become adherently important, what ways are you promoting safety at Sofitel?

Sofitel Bahrain has consistently highlighted the safety measures undertaken at the hotel since the very start of the pandemic. Being one of the first hotels in Bahrain to receive the highly acclaimed Bureau Veritas and ALL SAFE certifications, the hotel actively shared all this information with all our guests, shareholders and teams via regional press releases and aggressive social media advertising. Furthermore, the hotel has also adopted the revamped global hashtag #SafeIsTheNewChic with the proactive roll out of Sofitel’s global safety campaign as well as highlighting the successful ALL SAFE label implementation. The hotel has frequently collaborated with top tier influencers, briefing them on all the safety measures and advising them to publish their experiences on social media. Our in-house marketing team has produced videos and high quality assets that have been published on Sofitel Bahrain’s digital platforms to ensure consistent flow of communication and enhanced visibility.

What has been the biggest lesson for you as the Director of Sales and Marketing in 2020?

To continue pushing the boundaries no matter how dire the circumstances. As change is the only constant, if you are not able to adapt, you will drop out of the race.

The commercial team learned to focus on our priorities, which we have control-over. We have connected with Bahrain Tourism and Exhibition Authority and Ministry of Health representatives with an objective to initiate social event guidelines, sharing some of our best practices from Accor ALL SAFE Cleanliness and Prevention Label.

While we were ensuring to maintain our social distancing protocols, we looked for alternative ways to conduct our day-to-day businesses. The traditional meetings turned into webinars and virtual site inspections. In collaboration with various key stakeholders of Bahrain’s tourism and travel industry, we have conducted educative live webinar sessions, whilst also sending uplifting messages to our customers. We have put together digital efforts to entertain our community with live cooking classes and workout sessions, giving back to the digital community as well. Last but not the least; we truly learned to stay united and connected as a team.

What’s the most important advice you can give to those who are struggling to keep their customers engaged during this period?

We would suggest keeping communication channels active during this period. Maintaining transparency as a top priority, as guests appreciate full disclosure and are looking for enhanced safety measures before booking their stays.

Advertise smartly as budgets are constrained and advertise in digital mediums with effective targeting, segmentation and positioning strategies that yield in positive return on investments.

Reinforce the safety message and incorporate this into the brand DNA, as going forward, this is the most important feature your guests would expect prior to booking a staycation at your property. Use an experiential approach and highlight your property’s USPs with enhanced photography, mix of user-generated content along with a dash of smart influencer marketing tactics.