Shhh...Victoria Court takes on new image
MANILA, Philippines - Victoria Court’s iconic motif stands out among billboards and building facades across Manila. The black and white silhouette of a 1920’s era woman silencing its onlookers with a single finger has been synonymous as a location for lovers' trysts and sneaky getaways for nearly two decades.
However, while old-fashioned Victoria is still the face of the brand, the structure and management behind it has been slowly evolving from its one-stop motel status to a jack-of-all-trades.
(View "The economics of 'love motels'" for more on this multi-billion short-term accommodation industry)
Victoria Court’s management is shared by brothers Ian and Atticus King who divide their management duties of the motels’ branches geographically.
Ian currently runs the southern locations of Victoria Court along with boutique motel Sohotel, while his brother Atticus runs the northern locations along with his own branch, Hotel Paradis.
As the grandson to the owner and founder of the brand, Ian King is wary not to rest on his laurels. “I always try to tell my friends and dad, 'If you find anyone better, get rid of me. I’ll find a way to work. I started working when I was young. My hands know how to do multiple things, so I’ll be ok."
He is out to prove himself. "I want to be here because I can bring the brand to multiple level rather than [just] being the son-of-the-owner.”
He is continuing the family's crusade to reposition Victoria Court from its previous seedy motel image that has been part of Philippine culture for decades, to a more wholesome family and party venue.
“The normal connotation for a hotel is that it’s dark, dirty, sleazy everything that a description of a motel used to be in the Philippines. What’s sad is in the Philippines, we’re the only one that’s trying to change the image and everyone is playing in the same field."
"It’s tricky to break away yet we can’t deny that the old market which did make us successful is still there. We are trying to go into new markets and open into the younger generations now,” said Ian.
Gone with the old
Drawing his inspiration from renegade businessmen like Richard Branson and Donald Trump, Ian launched a complete management overhaul just over a year ago, retrenching and revamping the system to create a more dynamic and energetic workforce.
“What we’ve done is hire younger people. They’re hungrier, more energetic and easier to adapt to technology changes we’ve been trying to implement,” he said.
Along with a younger workforce, King implemented new forms of discipline: instead of reprimanding an employee through punishment, they discuss and go over the problem or issue, then he leaves it up to the person not to commit the same mistake.
“A big problem I see with the Philippines culture is they have this thing called hiya (shame). They don’t want to confront. In reality it is a business at the end of the day. We’re after profits. If the Filipinos bring this value with them it makes it difficult to run a successful organization. It’s a mentality we’re trying to change and it’s only this year that we’re implementing this new system,” Ian explains.
As Ian forges his way into new waters, changes come slowly and not without difficulty. “In any business or family, everyone is resistant to change. Once you brush against the grain, everyone reacts. It’s so easy to go back to what we’re doing but it’s harder to move forward and try something new because people are always skeptical.”
New markets, new experience
As more motels spring up, the game is won by those who offer more value and lower prices, Ian notes.
However, he turns a blind eye to this price-slashing and continues to focus on product development to establish his niche in an increasingly overcrowded market. Victoria Court is currently around 40% to 60% higher in price range compared to their competitors.
“We cannot raise our prices anymore. We’re at the price ceiling. Any more [or higher] and our market will say 'ouch.' What’s happening is that just have to absorb everything. We’re internally trying to look for ways to be more efficient, trying to add value to the experience."
Adding value has been part of the transformation strategy that started in the 90s, when Victoria Court embarked on a rebranding campaign focused on the married couple and party market.
"Most of our rooms are armed with the karaoke, Xbox connect, and we can set up games if they want to do darts of beer pong,” he says.
The products they’re pushing this 2013 include the "super thematic rooms," which cater to the party crowd looking to unwind in a Thor-, Casino Royale- or Batman-themed room.
“We feel that it gives a sense of fantasy or experience to the normal individual that we don’t see on the normal basis. It sort of lightens their day,” he said.
This comes in good time as the 2012 GDP statistics show a boost in consumer spending with Filipinos spending more on recreational activities like travel and health.
“People do spend more now. It’s very evident when we see the cars coming in. There also has been an increase [in] party reservations. I don’t know if it’s just because we’ve been pushing the program or if it’s because there has been an influx of people who want to have their own private parties.”
The multipurpose rooms are meant to cater to the expanding party market. Aside from bridal showers and stag parties complete with pokers and free-flowing drink and food, bookings include children parties decked out with clowns and games.
While retaining these old markets, Ian is also looking further at new consumer groups particularly the OFW market.
Ian has been eyeing the online world, too. They’ve been targeting online booking sites and looking to latch on to the viral video phenomenom.
“This year we’ve been growing in terms of our online presence with travel agencies like Travelocity and Expedia.”
Giving the brand a new edge
Giving Victoria Court a more dynamic edge, Ian has been trying to extend and attach wholesome lifestyle activities to the brand.
In his quest to change association of the brand to sleaze, he piggybacks the Victoria Court onto his lifestyle sports business of Drifting, a motor sport aimed for the young.
“What we’ve seen is that the kids nowadays have seen the logo and do associate it with something to do with motorsport. They don’t know it’s a motel. For them its just a cool brand sponsoring an event.”
Because of the recognition the motif is gaining, the company has also branched into the memorabilia business. They offer caps, T-shirts and cufflinks inspired from snowboarding merchandise.
From a sleazy quick stopover to a high end party venue, Victoria Court has come a long way in its product offering. The main challenge it faces is changing society’s conception. – Rappler.com