Katija Jerković is a hotel industry professional specialised in overall sales and marketing and MICE industry. She is currently the Director of Sales and Marketing at Adriatic Luxury Hotels, leading luxury hotel management company in Croatia.

In September of last year, one of the most significant hotel acquisitions in Croatian tourism took place. The Dubrovnik Adriatic Luxury Hotels came under the new ownership of the Lukšić Group, which is also the owner of the Excelsa hotel group. This kick-started a process of connecting and restructuring the two largest hotel companies in the Dubrovnik area, which since February have been working under the single banner of Adriatic Luxury Hotels. The process was finalised with the centralisation of a series of administrative services, including sales and marketing. We talked to the director of this new department, Katija Jerković, about the changes within the company and the new branding.

How did the process of connecting the hotels flow and what new initiatives in the business activities of Adriatic Luxury Hotels came about with these changes?

After the takeover and restructuring, the two management companies, Excelsa and Adriatic Luxury Hotels, were connected under the mutual name Adriatic Luxury Hotels (ALH). The new management of the company manages the hotels in the Dubrovnik area: Hotel Excelsior, Hotel Bellevue, Grand Villa Argentina, Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, Hotel Croatia, Hotel Kompas, Hotel Odisej and Hotel Supetar. The existing mutual services were centralised, including sales, marketing and public relations, finances and controlling, accounting, corporate development and investments, human resources and legal matters and procurement and IT support. I would also like to mention that only the administrative services were incorporated in this process, while the operative part of each hotel in the group continues to function independently, so that that quality of services does not diminish. Our mutual goal is to connect the strongest values and practice of the current management of the company and to optimise the business activities of the company in all segments.

You came to the Director of Sales and Marketing position at this new company from the same position at the former Adriatic Luxury Hotels. What goals were you given and what goals have you set for yourself?

One of the first goals was the integration of sales and promotion under the unique brand of Adriatic Luxury Hotels. The first step in this was to adjust the existing sales-marketing strategies to the new circumstances and to create a new branding strategy. Our greatest challenge is to reduce as much as possible the competition among the hotels by identifying the segments in which they are different and to promote them in very specific and mutually different marketing niches. We have divided the hotels into three collections in accordance with their unique characteristics: Dream, Escape and Unwind. With the integration of sales we would also optimise results on the company level.

My personal goal is to succeed in all of this, in which I deeply believe, because we went through a very similar process in Adriatic Luxury Hotels during centralisation in 2010. At that time we joined four hotels (Excelsior, Bellevue, Palace and Kompas) into a mutual brand and by concentrating on marketing and sales we managed to reposition the hotels and optimise the results of the company. My personal challenge is to be successful this time as well, only with a larger number of hotels.

As part of your career you’ve worked as a MICE manager in the Dubrovnik hotels – in you opinion, what pre-conditions must a hotel have to be able to market itself as a congress hotel?

I started my career in the hotelier segment in the operative, as a Hilton meetings manager. Regarding pre-conditions that a congress hotel must meet, this basically means adequate congress infrastructure and sophisticated logistics that are up-to-date with the highest demands of organisers. No less important are also additional contents and activities, such as wellness centres, F&B services, special events and other high-quality activities, with which the congress guests will be able to pass the time between business meetings. However, what really gives quality to a congress hotel is the experienced staff who care for every detail and have as their priority making each meeting and congress flawless. We ourselves are aware of how many ad hoc situations there are and what a demanding segment it is. It is impossible to predict each situation in detail, therefore the hotel staff must be prepared to react quickly. Regarding the ALH group, the carriers of the congress segment are the Dubrovnik Palace and Croatia hotels. Hotel Croatia, with its long tradition in congress tourism, has obtained all of the necessary experience, and Dubrovnik Palace, with prestigious awards and a large number of high-level congresses, has justified its expectations and made itself one of the leading congress hotels in the region.

The development of the internet has brought a revolution in the way tourist products are sold. What portion of ALH sales come from online booking?

This depends on the product: in the segment of large congresses that percentage is insignificant, while the individual segment is constantly growing. For example, our hotel Bellevue realises 75% of sales through the internet, while the average online sales on the level of the ALH group are 10-15% of total rooms sold. The revenue management within the sales department deals intensively and on a daily basis with the optimisation of prices according to occupancy. In any case, this channel of sales is very important to us and we believe that it will continue to grow in the future. On the other hand, it is important that while creating sales policies other segments are not ignored, such as tour operators or the congress segment. The online channel can never jeopardise the stated segments, but actually it is necessary to carefully balance it among all three channels.

Social networks have become an inescapable channel of direct communication with guests. How much time do you devote to the building of your brand through social networks?

Last year we intensified promotion through social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube – and this year we have significantly increased investments in online promotions, where basically I mean investments in Google Adwords and the Facebook campaign. We believe that this is the future, not only in the individual segment, but on all levels, including the segment of congress groups. Only recently we received a request for an incentive through our official profile on Facebook. This year we have invested additional funds for the USA market, where arranged partners with their experience and resources will intensify promotion through the most active social networks and the most influential travel portals on the American market.

What is the communication strategy for the new, mutual brand, as each hotel has its own story and target market?

As I have already mentioned, that is our greatest challenge: promoting the hotels in a way that we can distinguish them through their specificity, offering at the same time an equal standard of the quality of the AHL brand in the complete collection. Therefore we have decided to divide the brand into three collections: The Dream collection is made up of hotels Excelsior, Bellevue, Villa Šeherezada, Villa Agava and Villa Orsula; The Escape collection is made up of the hotels Dubrovnik, Palace, Croatia and Grand Villa Argentina; and the Unwind collection are the lower category hotels Kompas, Odisej and Supetar. Since the beginning of February we have started with the redesign of the corporate visual identity as well as the visual identity of the hotels, and because of this we are also preparing changes to all pertaining visuals, from web pages to collateral. The company logo was slightly modernised and the logo of each hotel was adjusted with the main brand in order to achieve continuity in the visual promotion and to strengthen the affiliation to the ALH brand.

Should hotels be carriers of quality congress tourism in their destination, or do you think that Dubrovnik needs a large polyvalent congress centre which would then increase the occupancy of hotel capacities?

I would say that Dubrovnik needs both. Hotels should definitely be carriers of quality and luxurious tourism, but we should continue to develop in that direction all together as a destination; one does not eliminate the other. Dubrovnik needs a congress centre. If we plan to compete for congresses that amount to several thousand people, we need to have quality congress infrastructure. But Dubrovnik as a destination should first of all define a direction in which it will continue to develop and clearly define who is a benchmark and who the competition is.

I personally believe that our benchmark should be Cannes and Monte Carlo. Cannes has Palais des festivals et des congress, where last year 39 large meetings were organised. If we wish to develop in that direction, a congress centre is a must. We have all of the pre-conditions necessary in order to compete with the stated luxurious destinations. Concerning Turkey, Tunis and Morocco, we cannot compete here because of the prices, but we do have an excellent cultural-historical heritage and numerous other advantages we should use.

ALH manages the largest number of 5 star hotels in the Dubrovnik area. Dare we at all speak of the existence of elite tourism in Dubrovnik?

I hope we can, because ALH has been working hard on that matter for years now and we are investing in the promotion of Dubrovnik as an elite destination. In the year 2008 we changed our strategy by trying to reposition the destination with contracting luxurious partners and tour operators, targeting the press of the leading international media and bringing groups of agents who deal with elite tourism. We believe we have succeeded in this, and this is shown by the average prices we realise in hotels Bellevue and Excelsior, which are our premium objects.