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Thoughts from South Africa

So we’ve been hard at work re-designing the Singita website. It’s an established name in luxury eco-tourism, in the midst of an extensive rebranding process. We were brought onboard to reinvent the digital application of the brand.

It’s a remarkable organization that wins truckloads of awards, including 3 of the top 10 hotels of the world by Travel & Leisure in 2012. For an agency that does a lot of work in hospitality, it’s a nice feather in the Wallop cap. But why would one of the leading hospitality brands in Africa choose to work with a digital studio in Vancouver, clear on the other side of the world? In a word, content.

More than two years ago, I wrote a blog post that outlined my thoughts on producing a successful hotel website. Someone at Singita came across the post and reached out. We went back and forth a bit, but there was some trepidation around cost. South Africa is a different economy, and local agencies were willing to deliver a bargain. 18 months later – having gone through two local shops without success – Singita reached out to us again. We hammered out a deal and got to work.

Since that time we’ve been engaged by another luxury brand in Cape Town, and it’s become increasingly clear that – aside from time zones – there is no real difference from our collaborations with North American clients in Banff or Boston. Like all our engagements, we fly out for face-to-face meetings and discovery sessions to kick off the project. But aside from the occasional early morning call, the differences are negligible.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? Well good content is still king. But the point I want to make is that technology has long freed us from geographic hurdles of the past. Companies seeking expertise should work with people who are best suited to do the work, regardless of where they happen to be.

Great service gives way to authentic relationships

I stay at a lot of hotels that are unique in my work, and every property claims to provide the best service. But sometimes there’s a disparity between the brand’s promise and delivery. And the difference is not from a lack of intent; it’s in the execution. In order for a hotel to provide truly exceptional service, there has to be buy-in from the top down.

As far as hospitality brands go, Singita is pretty unique. They are equal parts hotel operators and sustainability partners. The money that comes from their hospitality operations goes right back into education, community building, and wildlife preservation. The organization is aligned with the vision of Luke Bailes, the grandson of the company’s founder. They hire locally and contribute to charities working directly in the communities Singita operates in. It’s a very noble approach to running a business and the region has benefitted tremendously from it.

The Singita team delivers the best possible experience for their guests and do so genuinely. It’s clear that the team truly believes in the Singita mission, and they understand the positive impact it has on their communities. It was very inspiring to see in action. The underlying purpose of the organization shines through in every conversation and interaction with managers, safari guides and chefs, and ultimately results in the outstanding guest reviews they receive and the ongoing relationships they’ve earned with guests through social media.

What’s the lesson here for fellow hoteliers? Singita’s strategy can’t very well be grafted onto another company, but it bears repeating that the best digital marketing strategy for hotels starts with providing great service, and to do so consistently at every level of the organization.

Our role is to motivate people to choose your brand over others and to engage with you via digital channels. But once people are there, it’s your staff that will make the experience worth sharing.

Elephants in Kruger National Park. Check out the rest of my photos here.