Meet The Boutique Travel Company That Created An Opportunity From Adversity

Founded by Rebecca Masri, Little Emperors is a private members’ hotel club, offering access to preferred rates and guaranteed benefits at the most exclusive hotels around the globe, hand-picked by a team of travel advisors and luxury experts. With both a web- and app-based presence, they are investing more in technology to ensure a seamless experience for their 35,000 members. With a portfolio of over 4,000 luxury hotels across the world, the key to their business is offering the lowest rates combined with the most-efficient four-click booking process.

How did you first get interested in the hospitality industry? I have always loved to travel. I find travelling the best for education, relaxation, and have always preferred to spend my time and money on new travel experiences, meeting new people, familiarising myself with new cultures and religions. I have learnt my best lessons travelling, and I love working in an industry that allows me to do what I love. After the 2008 crash, I identified an opportunity in luxury travel and changed from working in the City at an investment bank to creating a travel company.

What was the gap you saw in the market that led you to found Little Emperors? In 2008, the market took a tumble, and the world headed into a global recession. At this time, I was working at Goldman Sachs in the City of London, and I saw that the approved hotel list from the corporate travel programme had also changed significantly, with most luxury hotels being removed. That, coupled with the rise in small- and medium-sized enterprises that did not have the volumes for rate negotiation, I identified an opportunity. And together with some university friends created Little Emperors, a members-only luxury hotel club, offering corporate rates and leisure benefits. With the collective buying power of our members, we negotiate rates at luxury hotels around the world and using cutting-edge technology, present our 30,000-person-strong membership base with an app that allows them to complete bookings within four clicks. Little Emperors delivers value — both in time and money.

What are the innovations in technology that are helping you and your business through Covid-19? It is an interesting topic right now, as technology may once have been seen to de-personalise experiences. When I started my tech journey at Little Emperors, which came a few years after we launched, I received some negative feedback from a few top luxury hotels. The concern was that tech would take away from the personalised experience people might expect from a luxury hotel. Nowadays, I can see a shift towards tech, as Covid has perhaps led people to want to de-personalise! Hotels are investing in their own apps and this shift towards tech in travel is definitely becoming more and more prevalent. 

Hotels are introducing keyless entry, check-in and out via the hotel app, in-app chats, in-room dining and restaurant menus—everything can now be controlled from your phone. Some hotel apps even allow you to control in-room features such as the TV or the blinds!

How specifically do you expect the hotel industry to change after Covid-19 There are so many opportunities for change, some of which were already happening pre-Covid and some triggered by the pandemic. Sanitisation and hotel protocols to ensure the safety of guests leads the changes in the industry. It is quite amazing, the number of Zoom calls and webinars my team and I have participated in focusing on new hotel measures. Regular cleaning, with stronger cleaning products, masks, testing, fewer touchpoints, no more buffet breakfasts, and a shift towards tech—these are just a few examples.

Health and wellbeing have been at the forefront of peoples’ minds throughout the pandemic and will no doubt continue to be a key focus. Wellness travel gives people the opportunity to detox, detach, reconnect, take time for themselves and work on their personal health goals. I can see hotels offering more in-depth wellness programmes. Reconnecting with nature, especially if you’ve spent lockdown in a densely populated city environment, is also a trend in wellness travel.

Another trend we have identified is experience-driven travel . This is a direct result of the lockdowns, where people have been confined to their homes, and are now seeking adventure and activities. The traditional holiday where people wanted to just sit on a beach has shifted towards people wanting to experience things and be active. The demand for fresh sea air in coastal destinations has increased along with the demand for mountain holidays to places like Switzerland, as traveller seek those wide-open spaces. I believe this will continue into 2021.

Finally, there is an obvious trend for flexible hotel cancellation policies. Everyone knows somebody who has lost money through a hotel or flight booking, or received unwanted vouchers or credits, so the fear of committing to non-flexible cancellation policies has deterred people from booking in advance. The booking lead times are now much shorter and hotels that do have flexible policies are definitely preferred.

What gives you hope at this moment? The “work from holiday” trend is catching on. People who are able to work remotely may take this opportunity to do just that, as offices remain closed and governments are encouraging working from home if you can. In response to this trend, we have seen some very appealing offers from hotels that want to encourage longer stays. At Little Emperors, our average length of stay has increased from 5 to 10 nights, and 70 percent of the bookings we have made in the last few months have been extended after the guest has checked in.

Where are the most popular destinations for travel that you are noticing? Has that shifted? Safe destinations, with good healthcare, and low corona are proving to be the most popular choices for our members. Dubai is very popular for us right now along with the Maldives. Both of these destinations require a negative corona test on entry, and both offer plenty of outdoor space and activities.

What are some changes to your business specifically and the hospitality industry in general that you think will be permanent after the virus? I think business travel has and will continue to be hugely affected, as it was literally ground to a halt with people having to meet virtually over the past few months. Although there are definitely many advantages of meeting in person, such as building relationships over meals, in meeting rooms, or even via a simple handshake, it can be argued that the virtual way is of course cheaper, avoids the risk to health and the simple stress of international travel making it very effective. People have become accustomed to virtual meetings, and I believe business travel will take a long time to recover from this. At Little Emperors, familiarity with our hotels is key. My team often travel to our hotel partners, educating themselves on the brands, hotels and destinations. This has shifted towards virtual familiarisations, which are definitely not the same, and I hope that the physical trips will resume soon. Once the governments allow, we will lead by example!

What makes a property the right fit for the Little Emperors platform? Our members determine our hotel partners. Our typical member is 35-50, quite trendy, perhaps an entrepreneur, and the majority are male or young families, and we have a lot of French and English members. Our hotels range from luxury five-star Four Seasons-style hotels to design-led boutique properties. We select an average of five hotels per city, and channel volume into these properties, in order to ensure the best rates and benefits year-on-year. Luxury is the key to all our hotel partners, and the hotels we book the most often have a strong connection with their location.

What is the story behind the company name? I am often asked this question, and I don’t really have a story! We wanted it to be something a little quirky and under the radar. My sister Charlotte actually came up with this name. We wanted to hint at it being a secret club. There are so many travel companies called “luxury this” and “elite that,” and we wanted to be different, so you would not know what we were unless you were part of us!

Source Article