Introducing Americans to a brand from another country is no easy task. Even if consumers are vaguely familiar with its name, tweaking and lots of explanation — whether through a product’s design or packaging — may be necessary. Spending time on positioning can be frustrating when you are eager to start selling. But it’s essential.
Just ask Pierre-Louis Giacotto, who was instrumental in launching the luxury hotel brand Radisson Blu Hotels & Resorts. Radisson Blu, which is based in Brussels and run by The Rezidor Hotel Group, operates properties throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. In November, Giacotto unveiled the brand’s first U.S. hotel, the Radisson Blu Aqua, inside a glittery 81-story high-rise tower along downtown Chicago’s lakefront.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Giacotto to talk about how to launch a European brand in America and the importance of hospitality in a business traveler’s life.
ISBB: What do Americans expect in a hotel stay that Europeans don’t? Are there differences between the two demographics?
Giacotto: Americans expect more technology-driven designs in their hotel experience, as it is becoming a way of life for many of them. We decided to offer more technology than you normally would expect. We partnered with Intellity to provide complete IT access from room service to wake-up call, valet parking, information … all at the touch of a button. We did not however, completely remove the “human” touch, as we have a full-service concierge staff.
Opening a hotel is a huge project with lots of long-term planning and last-minute adaptations. How do you keep staff informed?
The key to communication is to use as many mediums as possible, because people react differently to different approaches. I had a lot of one-on-one meetings, but I also held town-hall meetings, sent newsletters and memos, and used technology to communicate with everyone. I personally interviewed all employees before they started, and I liked that I was able to share with them, first-hand, my expectations.
How did your European upbringing and experience prepare you for translating (beyond language) directives from the European managers to employees in Chicago? Was it important to have someone like you on hand to bridge that gap?
I hope that my European upbringing and training was one of the factors of me being here. I live and breathe hospitality. I love to be of service to others, and I want my staff to have the same passion. I am known for letting all new employees know that if they are not passionate about serving others, no matter the position, then they should find another job. This notion of service is what we call “hospitality,” and that’s what I am bringing to the table, genuine European hospitality.
Were there challenges to introducing a European brand to the U.S.? Or was Radisson Blu a slam-dunk concept, such as England’s Topshop or Sweden’s IKEA, which were met with enthusiasm and already familiar to many consumers?
I am not sure it is a “slam dunk,” but it definitely has its advantages, as we provide more than a hotel. We provide an entire experience of service and design that you don’t see in standard American hotels. I believe Americans today travel much more than the previous generation did. They are more accustomed to new concepts and cultures. They accept new trends and new concepts much better and with more enthusiasm.
What were some of the challenges in opening Radisson Blu?
Since we wanted to have a one-of-a-kind hotel, with the knowledge that this is the first of many more Radisson Blus to open, it was imperative that we look at all the possibilities: new vendors, new technology, and new products. This process was much more time-consuming… and meant hiring the right people, at the right time, to do the work in a timely matter to meet all the deadlines. We also wanted to ensure that even as we were bringing a product “raised” in Europe, it had to meet the American market standards. We looked at the European standards and decided what we would keep and what we would change or enhance for the market. We now have decisions made for future openings that will enable us to be even more productive.
Has the world of business travel changed amid economic recession? How have hotels, including yours, responded to still meet guests’ needs?
Guests are much more savvy when it comes to traveling, shopping, dealing, and comparing. There are far more tools for them to use and study before making purchases. Therefore, we need to be the ones providing the information to guests — and not rely as much on others, who may not give the entire story or all the information.
We put a big emphasis on our brand image, what we put out there. People use the internet for many things, and we need to see what people are saying about us and we need to respond. That shows commitment to quality and to improving our product to better meet the needs of our guests. People are looking for deals, but they can also see when we offer value.