Seda is the Filipino word for silk, and its luster and strength are the two words that embody the homegrown hotel brand’s emergence in the Philippines.
“Five years have gone fast and gone well, too. The group expanded quickly while delivering the brand promises that we envisioned, from service excellence to our hotels’ central locations and value-for-money proposition,” states Andrea Mastellone, Senior Group General Manager of Seda Hotels, owned and operated by Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts.
Now on its fifth year, Seda Hotels will be expanding in the next two years to fifteen hotels around the Philippines. “We opened our hotels in BGC, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao in quick succession, only within three months of each other. This was followed by Nuvali the following year and Iloilo in 2016,” recalls Mastellone. “Seda BGC was our first property. Our hotel format filled the opportunity gap between luxury and budget hotels and offered a modern facility with swift and efficient service at competitive rates,” he relates. The concept was a success and received enthusiastically by business travelers who were excited at this smart new option that offered quality at a good price. Since then, there has been a solid demand which has grown steadily up to the present.
Location is always an advantage of Seda. It is designed to be part of an Ayala Land mixed-use development which inevitably becomes an emerging CBD because of the extraordinary reputation of the brand as a high-end real-estate developer. Where Ayala builds, the market follows.
In Seda’s 4th year, all its hotels had become the market leader in their respective destinations, reinforcing the brand reputation and making Seda among the top choices when traveling around the country. In addition, the efficient and linear operations style combined with re-engineered facilities, gave it a competitive advantage, allowing the company to achieve a satisfactory bottom line. “It was a challenge in some provinces where we were first to market because we confidently went in armed with the latest technology, then discovered that the method of booking, distribution channels and most of all, market segments and customer behavior were quite different from that of major international cities. In some provinces, we learned that more than the technology, understanding the market gave you the advantage. And so we did extensive research, analyzed their habits, patterns and preferences and made the necessary adjustments until we nailed the appropriate strategies for each,” Mastellone states. “The market has also evolved and it is heartwarming to see how our customers have embraced the modern practices we introduced and are now enjoying the technology in our hotels.
Riding high on its consistent growth, Seda was ready to take on new challenges and started developing plans for new formats – bigger hotels putting its radar at the MICE market (Seda’s previous average was 150 rooms), serviced apartments and resorts. It then opened Seda Vertis North, 438 rooms with a ballroom fit for 700 persons in Quezon City in April this year, the first in a series of hotel launches in various locations in the country in the next two years.
The target is to have 3,500 rooms by 2019. These include Seda Circuit (Makati), Seda Ayala North Exchange (Makati), Seda Bay Area (Paranaque), Seda Arca South (Taguig) and Seda BGC Tower 2 — all with at least 250 rooms. Two properties, including one in Cebu, will be serviced apartments, while Seda Lio in the Lio Tourism Estate in El Nido, will be their first resort. It will also re-brand to Seda the Cebu Marriott Hotel in 2018 to serve guests with the trademark Seda service combining Filipino hospitality with service excellence and remarkable efficiency benchmaked with industry global quality standards.
That trademark is a key factor that has enabled the brand to establish a solid client base that has led to its success in breaking the hold of international hotel chains on the market. To the industry, it is important in bringing a fresh identity as Seda Hotels sets a new benchmark that will urge all players to level up.
Training with Filipino values, a winning combination
The benchmark borne of Filipino values and the service culture of taking care of people’s needs, together with Seda Hotels’ corporate training proves to be the cutting edge.
Mastellone explains, “Sometimes when a brand expands too fast, the brand identity and the values may get a bit diluted because of the new people coming in — each with different experiences, branding orientations, and culture. But we had foreseen this risk from the beginning and endeavored to create specific training courses to ensure our core values would be the first thing to be instilled in our people. Once a new employee is fully immersed in our culture and ready to embrace it, we proceed with the technical training to improve their skills. Seda Hotels is a company where employees come first. We have reduced the barriers of hierarchy, empowering our staff to make decisions at the customer contact points. We want our associates to interact with guests in a natural manner without having to follow strict protocols. We like our staff to enjoy and have fun while they work, but obviously within the framework of professional industry etiquette. We carefully select associates who possess a positive attitude, are caring, empathetic and trustworthy. We try to ensure that our staff have a specific emotional skill set, a strong work ethic, are respectful and pay close attention to details. Training and development has been key to our success and we will continue to invest resources to ensure our staff can continuously provide support to create memorable experiences for guests. Today’s customers are looking for something more, they are looking for enriching experiences. Offering a good product or a useful service is no longer enough, and meeting a customer’s expectation is not sufficient. In today’s market, to drive loyalty and repeat business is fundamental and keeping this in mind, we strive to understand the needs of the customer and make them happy. In the end, it’s the customer experience that matter.”
Mastellone mentions their partnership with the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), the leading training institution in the industry world-wide. It offers professional certification to all levels, from top management to rank-and-file. AHLEI’s generic programs are injected with Filipino values when applied and this is what makes it unique to Seda.
Mastellone says, “We were the first Certified Gold Service brand in Asia, affirming our dedication and adherence to international standards of service excellence. Our managers are certified trainors, our security team received their own certification, even drivers and staff of our official transportation provider took the course. Then our hotel managers put their skills and knowledge to the test in the Certified Hospitality Administrator course and I am happy to say that their final exam results are among the highest in Asia. The certification is the most important in the industry for that position. Of course, this is complemented by our various home-made internal training programs conceptualized and developed by our dedicated Human Resources Division.”
He beams, “We feel proud that we have produced a lot of talent from within and the direction is to continue to grow and develop internal talent. It is very rewarding to see your people grow and encourages you to take an active role in their professional development to help them achieve their full potential.” There are numerous opportunities coming up because of the company’s expansion. “Those already in the company can move up, those who want to join us can have a promising future.”
As every hotel would like to have a culinary showcase to complement its service, Seda’s Senior General Manager who was part of the team that designed the entire Seda concept, mentions their signature Misto restaurant and Straight Up roof deck bar.
“We created the 3-in-1 concept, flowing space without boundaries connecting the reception area, e-lounge and Misto, taking into consideration that today’s traveler wants the flexibility of working in the lobby or restaurant, aside from their room,“ he says.
Misto’s menu, true to the meaning of the word, “mixed”, consists of universal classics and local specialties diligently prepared according to their original recipe. Mastellone says, “Global travelers value authenticity and always yearn for the familiarity of traditional flavors. But we also offer local specialties to enrich their dining experience.”
Straight Up at the roof deck very much reflects the modern urban lifestyle. The bar offers guests a choice of lounging indoors or “al fresco”. Its signature “apericena” from the popular Italian tradition, happens nightly, when guests can enjoy a complimentary buffet of finger foods with any order of alcoholic beverage or mocktail.
Mastellone adds, “We update our wine selection every six months in order to provide our guests with the best value for money drinking experience. The world is full of inexpensive but excellent wines. You don’t have to choose bottles from well-known and usually expensive winemakers, to provide a great experience in a glass.”
Mastellone clarifies, “Straight Up is only in BGC, Quezon City, Iloilo and Bacolod for now. It is not a standard facility but depends on market habits and interests. It is a bar where guests can still have a conversation while listening to good music over their favorite drinks. Some even have business meetings at the bar. Many of our guests head straight up to the roof deck after work just to enjoy the “al fresco” setting with a panoramic view of the city skyline.” With its unique and modern environment, Straight Up has been included in various lists of the best roof deck bars in Asia.
Vision and the long term
“We want to be known as the hotel chain synonymous with Filipino hospitality and the Philippines,” states Mastellone. “Hospitality and Tourism is now one of the major business segments of Ayala Land and they are pursuing this in the future with such a strong commitment that will definitely ensure sustainability for the Seda Brand in the years ahead,” he expounds.
How about going international? 15 hotels and counting, business usually dictates that a venture in other countries can be looked at; but Mastellone says, “We would like to contribute to the growth of the industry in the country by building more infrastructure for tourists. Our focus is now in the Philippines in locations where it makes sense to plant our flag. As our presence is felt in the provinces, people become more aware of the Seda brand. They now have the option of finding the same standards of service and facilities all across the country. By being at the same time, Owner Developer and Operator, we can easily shift directions and most of all, adapt to the evolving business landscape. Our deep knowledge of the territory and the people allow us to hit the ground running, avoiding expensive mistakes in the planning stage and during the execution phase. Our reasonable rates enable tourists to enjoy a quality product with excellent service in a strategic location. They really get good value at Seda, which is again, part of the brand promise.”
With its continuing development, the brand has launched its own Guest Loyalty Program which now has more than 20,000 members since it was launched in 2015. “Our loyalty program is an essential part of our business allowing recognition, reward and communication with our customers. Considering that the travel market will be defined by constantly rising customer expectations and the need to exceed them, it is critical for us to continuously engage with both our existing clients and potential customers. Loyalty is always evolving and we strive to respond accordingly. The key is to get our customers to book with the hotel directly, and therefore, we created a program with a very simple process, and most of all, is customer-friendly,” Mastellone explains.
Guests earn points with every qualified stay and can redeem upgrades, overnight stays, dining certificates, with other privileges. “A major advantage is that they only have to deal with one Seda hotel and through the guest history system, their preferences are immediately available to all other hotels. Guests have told us how convenient this is for them and with all the details of their previous stays inputted in the system, allows us to provide them with a seamless experience in their future bookings,” says Mastellone.
To conclude, he states: “That is, after all, our goal: to elevate the hospitality experience with seamless experiences and unique and delightful memories that bring joy to their travels and touch the heart.”