As the well-travelled Director of Sales and Marketing at Marriott International, for three of Melbourne’s most high profile hotels, Kerrie Mullholland knows a stand-out visitor experience when she sees one.
“I will always cherish staying at the W Maldives one week prior to the hotel opening to guests”, says Kerrie.
“The over water bungalows with amazing design and never-ending ocean views included your own secluded sundeck, and a private plunge pool, or you could take a few steps and dive straight into the lagoon. There was a glass section of flooring in the living room, and the marine life was incredible, especially at night with lights for viewing the serene underwater world.”
While Melbourne’s cosmopolitan CBD may be a world away from these tropical delights, it has its own singular charm and magnetic appeal, making it the world’s most livable city - and tourism professionals like Kerrie Mullholland know exactly how to leverage that.
Kerrie’s responsibilities extend across three properties comprising of the Sheraton Melbourne Hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Melbourne Docklands and The Westin Melbourne totalling 708 rooms. Driving revenue for accommodation, restaurants and bars, event spaces and other facilities including spas is no small task, but Kerrie is hands on about it.
“I also support the marketing team with digital promotions, campaigns and partnerships. Each day I rotate to another hotel to ensure the whole sales team is across all our leads, goals, long range strategic objectives and customer relationships.”
The Four Points by Sheraton brand is new into the Melbourne market, opening in March 2017. The Westin is iconic in the Melbourne landscape, with a commanding location in the central CBD, and the Sheraton opened just over 4 years ago - different stages of evolution, which Kerrie finds motivating.
“Each hotel is at a different stage in their business, and each has a very detailed business plan. Not one year in this market is ever the same and this makes my role even more dynamic and motivating.”
The properties that Kerrie looks after, are popular with both local and international guests, but the needs of these markets can vary.
“The international guests typically want to maximise their time in Melbourne, experience our cultural offerings, and see local hidden gems. Local and national guests have different expectations and come for more specific occasions such as sporting events, theatre and the arts”, says Kerrie.
Most businesses will recognise that recognising the differing needs of key market segments is crucial, but Kerrie also wants her company to stay on top of the similarities that exist between market segments, to further fine tune the visitor experience.
“All guests take the opportunity to experience the Melbourne food and wine scene and let’s not forget the shopping. Our hotel concierge teams do a fantastic job of sharing tips and searching to book amazing things to do for both international and domestic guests, so they can truly experience the best in Melbourne and regional Victoria.”
For Kerrie, the visitor experience starts before a potential guest has even made a decision about where to stay. Staying on top of trends, and managing changing expectations is vital.
“As technology develops hotels need to invest and deliver to meet guest expectations. Right from the start when a guest is researching hotels for a business or holiday destination, updated photography is so important and should reflect the hotel/venue together with the content. Always, when a guest arrives at our hotels they want a quick check-in process - preferably via an app, a recognition program and very fast internet access”, she says.
At Marriott International, the team works to create and deliver individual brands that are well defined.
“Each one has individual collateral, menus and amenities, for each target market. We also have international associates in our front office teams who can converse in different languages, for friendlier communication with guests from all over the world, so this creates a sense of home and care.
Hotels are much more than a place to sleep. They can be a place to meet, a bar, a restaurant, a day spa, or even a gym. Engaging visitors with all a hotel brand can sometimes be about leveraging what is unique about the city itself, something Kerrie feels hotels in Melbourne are particularly good at.
“Melbourne is a very exciting city and there is always so much to see and do. Hotels embrace all that Melbourne has to offer as an everyday part of the Melbourne lifestyle” she says.
“As well as that, hotels must have a robust marketing plan to activate in various communication channels, to inspire our guests to experience facilities - via social media, digital marketing and pre-stay messages. Whilst the guest is in house you have a target market right there, so you can also market to them on site.”
Her advice for professionals in Melbourne looking to propel their career forward in the accommodation sector is simple.
“Always continue to teach yourself and learn from everyone. Say 'yes' to every opportunity that is presented to you and most of all, ask lots of questions. The hotel industry is addictive and it’s forever changing and that is what makes it exciting.”
“It’s a great time to come into the hotel industry, as Melbourne has over 40 new hotels due to open over the next 4 years” notes Kerrie.
“Marriott International has an energising pipeline of new hotels being built over the next 4 years in Melbourne. Currently under construction is the Aloft in Chapel Street, Element by Westin in Richmond, Marriott Docklands and the W Melbourne. The Le Meridien and the Ritz Carlton are also coming and will be located in the CBD. This is great news for the tourism industry, as travellers will have more choices in the 4 and 5 star hotel market.”
With so much to see and do in Melbourne, we asked Kerrie about her own road ahead and what she’s looking forward to in Melbourne.
“So many things I love about Melbourne, but my favourite event is attending the Carols by Candlelight, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, on Christmas Eve. From the age of 8, my mother, together with my friends would make this a yearly memorable occasion to attend. It is a magical and timeless tradition for Melbourne families!