Q&A: CEO of Travelodge Peter Gowers

Peter Gowers, CEO of Travelodge and the former chief marketing officer of InterContinental Hotels Group, explains the customer trends he is seeing and the learnings from his international experience as Travelodge launches its new TV campaign:

Peter Gowers Travelodge desk
CEO of Travelodge Peter Gowers

Marketing Week: What is the positioning for ‘new’ Travelodge?

Peter Gowers: Our aim is to become Britain’s favourite hotel for value. Our customers tell us we are their ‘base camp’. We are there for them when they want to get up and go somewhere. [Our customers] told us they had not heard from us for a long time and they want us to tell them we are still relevant. Travelodge is an iconic brand in the UK and for my generation it is the generic brand for value hotels. We want to show how Travelodge has changed over the last five years, a lot of people think about brand as a roadside hotel chain but we have got 230 hotels in city centres – we are the biggest hotel chain in London.

MW: How are the refurbishment programme and the introduction of the Dreamer bed going?

PG: We are investing £1million a week and we will have completed two thirds of the rooms by the time we start advertising with 80 per cent [completion] by September. Customers say they like the fact we are [geographically] everywhere but we have got to look more like the way they live their lives today – for example, they have four pillows at home on the bed so why not four in the hotel?

MW: What are the priorities in creating a great customer experience?

PG: The tendency in the hotel business has always been to chuck more stuff in – ‘amenity creep’ is an issue. All the value brands have to move with the times and the customer is becoming more demanding but the trick is to provide what customer really value. For example, take Wi-Fi – we are just changing the proposition so that the first 30 minutes are free and we’ve cut the cost of 24 hour access to £3. Customer say they have a need to check things online and while many have mobile devices they say that still need a full screen. But not all our customer spend hours online so we need to strike the right balance … when every customer uses Wi-Fi like they use TV then we might consider making it free.

MW: How important are the front line staff to the customer experience?

PG: We have put 9,000 colleagues through a 12 week customer care programme – from the hotel teams to the guest room cleaners. We are trying to make sure all the people understand the personality of Travelodge – that we are energetic and optimistic.

MW: Do you think you can be a loved brand or are you purely a functional brand?

PG: I absolutely think we can be loved. Our customers, via our 32,000 strong customer panel, tell us that we are an enabler of what they can do. There’s a very clear role we are playing for customers – we help them we help them do what they want to go and do. There’s a tendency to be self-aggrandising in the hotel industry but our customers tell us we are a ‘base camp’.

MW: Where are the opportunities for growth for Travelodge?

PG: The value sector as a whole is the fastest growing part of the hotel sector. However, the major hotel companies are not focused on the UK in the main – for many it’s all about Asia these days. I think the UK still presents great opportunities for those who are UK-focused.
We expect market growth to be strong because as we talk to our customers they are telling us though we are emerging from recession there are still issues with disposable income and they are still value conscious. Also, the structure of the UK economy is changing quite a bit and there are more SMEs emerging than ever before – they are much more concerned about value too and they are a target market. The fastest growing part of our business is the business market. We have a contract with the Government and work with the Government procurement services. Geographically we have already started the transformation from roadside to cities propelled by customers saying they want to stay in the middle of the town. We are building hotels in city centre locations and in fun places people want to be, for instance capitalising on the modern resurgence of the British seaside.

MW: You have experience working in the hotel market in the US and Asia-Pacific (as IHG CMO and CEO Asia-Pacific). What learnings can you bring to the UK market?

PG: The value sector in the US is the biggest hotel sector by miles and it makes up 30 per cent of all hotel rooms. From working in the US I have a real sense of how big the value sector can be. Hotels are truly a product for everyone in the US but not yet in the UK. In the US more or less the whole population uses hotels. We are going on the journey that territory has already been on to make hotels accessible to a much wider market and make using them seem normal. Asia displays the cutting edge of innovation and we were opening a hotel a week there when I was at IHG so you got lots of chances to work on new innovations. In the hotel market, sometimes value is in the simple things rather than complex ones, things like tailoring the breakfast to the local market.

MW: You have held senior marketing roles. How has that helped your role as CEO?

As a marketer {in this sector] you have to have real passion for travel and customers and you have to do the data and analysis as well. What the skill set brings to the company is a real sense that business should be rooted in what customers tell us.

MW: What is the biggest challenge as a CEO when a company is in turnaround?

PG: The biggest thing when you are in turnaround is to build momentum behind the change. That sense of palpable change is incredibly important when you are trying to drive a turnaround but you also have to recognise it’s a journey.

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