Recently we had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mark Lankester, CEO of one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing companies, Tune Hotels. Everything PR News takes a look at the man behind the hotel vision “5-star sleeping experience at a 1-star price.”
With 41 hotels operational or in some stage of development now, Tune is well on its way to making good on a promise to have in operation 100 hotels by 2015. An offspring of Tan Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes’ highly successful Tune Group and AirAsia, Tune Hotels cuts to the chase where business and low cost accommodations are concerned.
Their “no frills” attitude and company dogma reflect positively on a market segment in dire need of some standardization. Budget accommodations provide the widest possible guest value given cost – simply meaning budget guests never really know what to expect. And Lankester’s Tune Hotels solve this point of hotel guest pain nicely.
Lankester, a former Warner Music exec, brings to Tune Group a personable, high energy, and highly positive style of management. Reading his bios and previous interviews, it’s easy to see he is really the embodiment of what Tune Hotels are all about. For many people on the go, an affordable, clean, safe, and essentially Spartan hotel room is the epidomy of a comfortable stay.
But let’s get on with our interview with one of the hospitality world’s most proactive and dynamic decision makers.
EPR – Mark, it is interesting to note that Tune Hotels is so rapidly expanding, planning 100 new hotels before 2015(?), evidently Tune Group knows something the rest of the industry does not or? Can you elaborate on your companies rather mercuric success in an otherwise stagnated market?
Mark Lankester – Thanks for the accolade but we still feel that we are a small hotel company! I think if you look at the hotel space, not an awful lot has changed over the last two decades. Yes there have been new brands targeting some new markets and the emergence ‘boutique’ hotels and all these are great for the segmentation of guests. We looked at it from the perspective of what is probably the real game changer in the world of travel. If you look at the data of airline passengers and the massive growth globally over the last decade and a half, what is driving these numbers is the emergence of the Low cost or budget carriers. People are making choices for themselves, being proactive and opting for value pricing with low cost carriers over full service carriers.
Then if you look at the number of narrow bodied aircraft on order around the world, the numbers are substantial. The airlines that have put in the orders are the low cost carriers. What this means is over the next decade and a half there will probably be more people flying than ever before….on low cost carriers.
We understand this sector, given our links to sister company, AirAsia and have made it the core focus of our business and business model.
EPR – I was reading another interview with you in which your asked basically, “what differentiates Tune from competitors,” to which you speak of branding. As PR and marketing specialists we find this fascinating, of course. My question is, is branding THE most important growth factor for you?
Mark Lankester– I think the brand, the brand promise which is interlinked with our business model and by extension the consumer, that is an important part of the difference that we communicate.
Our brand promise is simple. The earlier you book and online, we will always be able to offer guests the best rates available. We provide superior quality beds that are used in 5 Star hotels so you get a great night’s sleep, wake up to hot power showers, a clean environment, locations that are central and convenient and 24-hour security so that you are being looked after. We take pride in offering our guests these qualities that they can’t find in similar-range hotels.
We have invested significantly and continue to invest significantly in our brand. It’s the cornerstone of everything we do and I’m delighted to say that we are being recognized for that. We won Top 20 Most Innovative Brands in Indonesia 2010 and just won an Asia Pacific Brand Laureate Award at the recent 2011 Brand Laureates Asia Pacific Awards.
EPR – Tune Hotels, from all I can glean, seems like a carbon copy business proposition of the AirAsia proposition of affordability and access for everybody. This “economy” issue being a given, what would you say is Tune’s biggest hurdle in delivering on your promises?
Mark Lankester – The global economy is something that we have no control over and whilst clearly the world as we know it is going through significant changes, what we can control is our promise to our guests. We regularly reach out via marketing with great offers, e.g. as low as 2 pennies in London and as low as the equivalent to 10 US cents in Asia for a Tune Hotel room! And we’ve done that in the best of economic times as well as the more challenging economic times!
The key is to control our costs, which we do evangelically, so all our cost savings can be made available to our guests in room rates, again as long as they book online and in advance. After that our guests have the choice of how they want to design their stay with add-ons.
EPR – Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin Meranun would seem to have created a substantial business steamroller in the various Tune business extensions. Can you discuss the company’s general plans for growth outside Asia and the Pacific? What about Latin America and other markets?
Mark Lankester – They start the companies with the vision and bring the right people as co-founders to act as catalysts on that vision.
South East Asia is an important part of our strategy and as a Malaysian company and brand, it’s our natural playground. So thus far there has been a great deal of focus on Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines. The Asia Pacific area is an extension on that and India is in development for us as well as sites in Australia. But the world is becoming more connected and consumers are more curious and adventurous. Given this we ventured into the UK, as our first baby steps outside of our comfort zone and the level of success and adoption by guests has been really exciting. That has given us the confidence to do more.
So we are excited for London and the UK in general, we have been welcomed with open arms.
We are making slow steps into Europe, as an extension of our footprint in the UK market as well as the Middle East. Lastly the US market is beginning to look really interesting for us and we are engaging in several dialogues on how best to look at the market.
EPR – Turning to travel technology Mark, do you believe most hotel rooms will eventually be booked via smart phones? Is mobile going to be the only really important business conduit eventually?
Mark Lankester – The internet is our main retail space – it’s our global shopfront. The internet is our main retail space – it is our shopfront. It allows us to reach across different time zones and different languages. So for us the internet makes sense as a critical communication tool. Social media, as part of that, can be 1 to1 or 1 to many – and we use both as a communication tool. Different outlets also offer different results. Facebook for example is critical for us in the UK – it has had incredible success that hasn’t been seen in other markets. Google + is fairly new for us, but with the ecosystem that Google is building with Hotel Finder, +, Maps and Places, it brings everything together in a very succinct way. Twitter and with the level of re-tweeting, has become its own multi-level marketing network in itself. But as long as we continue to live up to our brand promise. To extend that we ourselves have to work harder, be more innovative in reaching out to our guests to ensure that as the internet becomes more mobile, we are there in the palm of their hands. In the same way that smartphones and tablets are bringing the digital revolution to the consumer wherever and whenever, we too want to provide the tools and be available to our guests on a multitude of touch points.
We aren’t quite there yet, but we will be!
EPR – Martin Soler, marketing guru for WIHP Hotels, collaborated on a piece dealing with social media ROI on Search Engine Journal a while back. The gist there being – social media is more a brand catalyst – in your experience would this be a fair statement? How difficult has it been for you to measure ROI with the Tune initiatives?
Mark Lankester – Fundamentally, it’s all about communication and what works for a brand and products and services. We communicate our brand and what it stands for and engage with guests and potential guests via Social Media. Depending on the measurement tools you have access to, almost everything digital can be rationalized with an ROI. For tactical campaigns, again we have advocates who are happy to pass on a benefit to their friends but equally when we mess up, we have to be prepared to face the music online and own up and find an equitable solution. How we act oftentimes has an ROI.
EPR – I ask every interviewee about their role models Mark, can you tell us about the people who inspired you, helped propel you into success after success?
Mark Lankester -I don’t think there has been anyone person who has been a central inspiration , but there is no doubt the success of Tony Fernandes and the team at AirAsia have been important benchmarks.
It sounds clichéd but the team that we have at Tune Hotels is one of my biggest inspirations. As a small, fast growing value hotel chain, the men and women that are at work every day in a Tune Hotel, anywhere in the world are amazing. We work harder, are incredibly passionate about our brand promise and take true delight after a hard day from a simple ‘thank you, we had a great stay and look forward to staying in a Tune Hotel again!’ from our guests.
What we do makes a difference to a lot of guests, 3 million at the last count and we look forward to looking after a nation.
EPR– For those out there thinking of a career in hospitality, business in general, what is the one piece of advice that might sustain them?
Mark Lankester – I’m probably the worst person to talk about hospitality, as I had no experience whatsoever prior to Tune Hotels! Having said that, the one thing that I think many businesses don’t do is sincerely look at what their customers want and need. Listening to your target market can yield really great business ideas!
EPR – What’s drives Mark Lankester? This is the question all these other questions lead to, people want to know the ingredients to success Mark, can you help the ambitious out out there?
Mark Lankester – I came from the recorded music business, having worked for a long time with the Warner Music Group. Helping guide and create the next big ‘brand’ (artist) has been really fulfilling. Now we at Tune Hotels have that opportunity, an opportunity to move a little brand from Malaysia into more and more geographies around the world and communicate our brand and brand promise to different cultures and languages. It’s the equivalent of being involved in the birth of the new Lady Gaga around the world and that is what I am very passionate about.
As you can see from Mark’s answers, and from Tune Group’s business direction, Tony Fernandes tapped the right man for the job of growing Tune Hotels. To put it bluntly, Lankester is as no frills and straightforward as the accommodations he is building – evangelizing – coming to stand for. Make no mistake, Tune Hotels core model accommodations are not for everyone, but for the vast majority of travelers, a safe haven and a crisp pillow, a steaming hot shower, lead out onto a the waiting world be it business or a shopping spree.
Hammering out a corporate deal in London, flying to the aid of flood victims in Bangkok, even unloading the aid truck (as above), every business need a leader ready to roll up his or her sleeves.
A final note on Mark Lankester. The guys is simply efficient, intelligent, even quick. Aside this though, as you can tell from his photograph via his Facebook upper left, he is a really nice guy too. This aspect is carried over in all the photos you can find of him online, in all the interviews he gives, the “nice guy” stamp carries over alongside the business dynamo one.
Look for great things from this relatively small company, where Hilton is branded for cookie cutter luxury, there’s a big space available for an eco-brand.
Thanks for your time Mark.