Interview: Golden Tulip hotels brand, re-imagined

Louvre Hotels Group vice president development & acquisition MENA region Rami A. Moukarzel presents a "more playful" Golden Tulip

Louvre Hotels Group vice president development & acquisition MENA region Rami A. Moukarzel.
Louvre Hotels Group vice president development & acquisition MENA region Rami A. Moukarzel.

To paraphrase an old saying,  even if it ain’t broke, the wheel still needs fixing.

Certain forward-thinking enterprises will take an existing, functional and successful business model, take it apart, re-examine its nuts and bolts against a backdrop of current knowledge, research and market feedback, then put it back together, essentially with the same product DNA, but somehow revitalised, reinvigourated, refreshed — re-imagined.

Rami A. Moukarzel, the energetic and youthful vice president of development & acquisition in the MENA region for Louvre Hotels Group, describes his company’s vision for the “new” Golden Tulip brand in such a way.

Put it this way; if this were a Marvel or DC Comics superhero film, the Golden Tulip rebranding would technically be a franchise reboot. And just like those Hollywood movie reboots, this one took years in the making.

Moukarzel chuckles: “We’ve got quite a lot going on. One of the first things is, the Golden Tulip hotels rebranding.”

“It’s about two years of work,” he says.

He explains: “We’ve relaunched the Golden Tulip brand into a more millennial-focused, tech-savvy product offering. What we’ve tried to do with Golden Tulip is essentially make it what we call a more ‘playful’ product. The mantra is ‘Playtime. Anytime’. It’s meant to be fresh, innovative and meant for what I like to say ‘the millennial in all of us’.”

Moukarzel is firm in stating that the new strategy is not meant to alienate or displace Golden Tulip’s most loyal group of consumers.

“The brand is still extremely focused on our core, which is the business traveller, but our research has shown us that they are looking more and more to mix business with pleasure,” he says.

However, Moukarzel also points out that Louvre Hotels Group is playing a long game with the rebranding strategy, backing up the move with internal research based on feedback from proprietary customers as well as by engaging a global team of branding specialists.

“Look, this rebranding is a long-term process, right?” he says. “What we’re looking at is how we’re essentially going to create the ‘new’ Golden Tulip. It’s still a four-star brand. The consumer today wants something different in that 70% of hotel spend is from millennials already. Taking that into consideration, we’ve looked at what we’ve done for the last 56 years where we’ve been a more traditional four-star brand. And we’re looking now at the next three to five years, evaluating our existing assets where we’re looking to do some renovation work, some touch ups.”

He continues: “That has entailed quite a lot of research and branding exercises with global branding experts. We’ve used branding experts everywhere, from Shanghai to Paris to New York, and we’ve done quite a lot of research in the region as well. All of that to basically find out, what does the consumer want in hotel offerings?”

Moukarzel is quick to emphasise that the rebrand — youthful though its veneer may seem to be — is, carefully and deliberately, not aimed at a specific target age group.

“The rebrand is not necessarily for a certain age group because research has shown us that even people in their 60s are more tech-savvy. They want to experience more creative elements,” he declares. “So what we’re doing is opening up our lobbies; we’re creating more social spaces. We’re creating co-working areas in our lobbies so you can just come in, ‘plug and play’.”

Describing the re-imagined Golden Tulip in greater detail, Moukarzel expounds on the brand’s key markers, one of which is the guestroom amenity selection process. He cites: “For instance, one of the more interesting things is the ‘body care bar’, where we’re removed the amenities from the room. Essentially today, we’re bringing the experience and the choice to the consumer when they’re checking in. So for example, you get to choose the fragrance, the shampoo you want. It’s a bit like a ‘grab and go’ concept at the hotel reception.  That’s one of the elements that we’re easily going to implement over the next few years.”

He reveals that there were debates about a greater investment in hotel-specific hardware considerations such as guestroom size, whereupon the group arrived at a realisation that, with the new Golden Tulip concept, more does not necessarily mean more.

“We looked at, should we increase the size of the rooms? But we found out that it’s not necessarily about giving more. It’s about giving the right spaces. We’re doing more storytelling on the room design so it feels more residential and less like a hotel,” Moukarzel says.

He does affirm that the rebrand means an incremental investment in technology for the group, translating into greater connectivity and smart entertainment solutions for the guestrooms, saying: “A very big component of the new room design is technology. For example, seamless check-in and check-out. You already get to pick your room before you even get there. And, more importantly, you get to stream your own content in your own room, your own shows. We don’t tell you what to watch anymore. You choose, right? So it’s about high connectivity and giving the choice back to the guest.”

Moukarzel adds that the modern traveller’s need for instant service gratification, their appetite for digital connectivity, and, paradoxically, their longing for human personal connections, fueled the re-imagining of the design of Golden Tulip’s public spaces.

“We’re just trying to make them feel more at home to the point where they can even order room service through WhatsApp. They can be sitting in the lobby and they want to grab something to eat in the room; they don’t have to wait until they are actually in the room to order,” he says.

He continues: “People want to spend time around people in the lobby, working in public spaces. Which is why we are also changing our meeting rooms and making them into ‘creativity spaces’. So the typical boardrooms where you walk in and you have 12 seats around a table and a projector — we will still have some of these, they’re needed — but we’re also creating these spaces which universities, start-ups, SMEs, government agencies, can take. The space is like a big white board, completely flexible configurations for seating, brainstorming and teambuilding.”

Moukarzel divulges that the Golden Tulip rebrand is not simply a marketing exercise and a matter of engaging spin doctors but that Louvre Hotels Group is actually investing in tangible real estate assets to showcase the new face of the brand around the world.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak,” he says. “We’ve invested in Shanghai. We have a flagship there opening in August. In the south of France, we have two properties also, to showcase the brand.”

With the rebrand in progress, expansion for Golden Tulip is proceeding at a vigourous clip, Moukarzel reveals.

“Six completely new ones are already confirmed in the region; these will include the UAE, Saudi Arabia and in Algiers, North Africa. We currently have 180 hotels under the brand today. We’re looking at having 250 hotels open globally by 2020. This is quite an aggressive push and part of the growth strategy is investing our own capital into it, mainly in Europe, in order to have ‘trophy’ hotels and showcase properties, as mentioned.”

Existing Golden Tulip hotels though will not remain untouched as these are set to undergo make-overs in order to fully align with the rebranding. Moukarzel adds: “We’re renovating our hotels to be more modern and crisp. I can tell you that we’re renovating a property in Muscat, completely, to the new concept.”

Golden Tulip’s bold rebranding and new acquisitions may yet pay off and Moukarzel’s enthusiasm about the brand’s new direction is palpable. He says, beaming: “It’s an exciting time because our owners are buying into it and the consumers are buying into it.”

What is comes down to, he concludes, is that the rebranding, along with the redesign of its hotels’ rooms and public areas, brings greater flexibility for the Golden Tulip consumer, thereby reinforcing thebrand and consumer connection.

 “This transparent barrier between the guest and us; that is no more,” Moukarzel says, excitedly. “We’re bringing the guest closer to us.”

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