To find out why The Sebel and Citigate Albert Park Melbourne is performing well across a number of segments, HM speaks with General Manager Craig Bond, who was named Australian Hotel Manager of the Year at the 2010 HM Awards.
BY JAMES WILKINSON IN MELBOURNE
HM: Craig, congratulations on being named Australian General Manager of the Year at the 2010 HM Awards. Tell us about the feedback you’ve had from the Award and what it means to yourself and the team.
CRAIG BOND: It means a lot to both my team and myself as I am very passionate about my role, the hotel and the industry. Being recognised at this level is really gratifying. The feedback has been fabulous. It’s been interesting that I have had congratulations from Mirvac’s CEO to line staff across a variety of businesses – including a lot of competitor hotel chains, which is a true reflection of our fabulous industry. To be competing in a group of such well respected GM’s and to win was very humbling.
HM: Let’s talk about performance. How has the property performed so far in 2010 and what are you expecting for the next 12-18 months?
CB: As you know, my hotels are two brands, The Sebel and Citigate and I am pleased to say both are performing exceptionally well this year, which is rewarding, given the work and investment over the past three years. We expect this to continue over the next 12-18 months and we will continue to do what we have been doing well. We are expecting steady growth in all segments and whilst rate remains challenging, occupancy across multiple segments will be the key to our continued success and revpar growth.
HM: Which market segments are you expecting to be the strongest for the hotel over the next 12 months and what are you expecting from domestic tourism in 2010/2011?
CB: We believe the conference and international markets will continue their steady growth. Domestic tourism has performed really well for us from a leisure perspective. We actively target this market and work closely with our domestic wholesalers as I am a great believer in strong relationships with our clients.
HM: The hotel does very well in the MICE segment. What level of interest have you seen for conferences and events at the property in 2010?
CB: Our success in 2010 and beyond will come from our efforts in securing international MICE and domestic association business in 2009 and maintaining these relationships.
The demand from the conference and events sector is strong as we stepped up our Sales and Marketing efforts during the GFC whereby many of our competitors pulled back. This along with our solid network has greatly assisted us in securing short term business.
HM: MICE was the last segment to rebound following the GFC, but will the segment remain strong? What are your expectations over the next 12 months?
CB: This was not our experience during the GFC… in fact this was our strongest performing segment in 2009/10. We attribute this to a proactive approach to our sales efforts and ongoing brand recognition and service delivery. We are forecasting for this segment to continue its strong performance into 2011.
HM: What are some plans you have put in place for the MICE market at the hotel, including the twin-bed product offering?
CB: We found being flexible was paramount during the GFC. We took advantage of the fact that many companies were looking at minimising spend so we converted more than 150 Sebel guestrooms into twin bed configuration to accommodate this demand. In addition we have introduced a new conference concierge program that recognises the facilitators and provides an additional service to in-house conference organisers. Plus we have upgraded all our conference tables to accommodate more delegates for classroom style conferences across our 28 event rooms.
HM: What are you expecting for the Melbourne market generally over the next 12 months? Will sports travel continue to dominate the domestic travel landscape?
CB: We expect the Melbourne market to continue to have growth in volume, however, rates are still our biggest challenge and are expected to be static. Sports travel is important to Melbourne, however domestic leisure tourism is out performing sporting events currently. With so much happening in Melbourne across the year including theatre, arts, sport and our fabulous shopping and dining options, Melbourne continues to be the place to be for a leisure break.
HM: The hotel overlooks the Albert Park Formula 1 Grand Prix track – how much of an impact does this event continue to have on the hotel?
CB: Demand for the Grand Prix has declined in the past two years, but we are hoping this has now turned the corner and we will see an increase in visitor numbers next year. We do host a number of teams and crew so that has been a good base for us. Our front rooms overlook the entire track so many guests utilise these rooms for corporate entertaining and we provide the catering. This has proven to be an easy and impressive way for our corporate accounts to view the Grand prix and entertain their VIP guests.
HM: Last but not least, what truly makes The Sebel Albert Park Melbourne such a great hotel in your opinion?
CB: It’s all about the people – our team. The service we provide to our guests is outstanding and our guest surveys support this with outstanding comments and feedback. People need to be passionate and I am fortunate to have such a team who share my enthusiasm and continue to deliver an exceptional experience to our guests each and every day. Mirvac invested a substantial amount of money into refurbishing the hotel after the purchase in 2007. This provided a platform for us to re-launch the hotel as one of Australia’s largest and most comprehensive conference and event hotels. I am very proud to be General Manager here.
The Sebel & Citigate Albert Park Melbourne
Owner: Mirvac Wholesale Hotel Trust
Operator: Mirvac Hotels & Resorts
General Manager: Craig Bond
Opened: Opened 1966, under Mirvac 2007
Rooms & suites: 379
F&B outlets: Windows Restaurant, cafe@sebel, Atrium bar & lounge