TBY talks to Aamir Khan, General Manager of Hotel Istana, on targeting the corporate market, new innovations, and specific goals.

Hotel Istana recently changed its tagline to “The City's Centre." What other changes have you implemented since assuming the role of General Manager last year?

First, we have converted our second-floor shopping area into meeting rooms and we now have an additional five more meeting rooms, Opal, Ruby, Jasper, Kumala, and Mira. They are the favorites of our regular guests and very suitable for smaller-sized meetings and training. Second, we converted our old Japanese restaurant into a Japanese lounge called “Iyashi Lounge" for our Japanese guests, and they can check-in and check-out there, as well as enjoy their Japanese breakfast every morning. We have a Japanese Guest Relations Manager who caters to the needs of our Japanese guests. We also have a Japanese Director of Sales who looks after our Japanese business accounts. Third, we opened a corporate lounge for our corporate guests, where guests can check-in and check-out and receive a personalized and dedicated service. Our corporate guests don't have to stand in line at the main reception to check-in anymore and they just love this experience.

What trends in RevPAR and occupancy rates have you observed and are these in line with general industry trends?

Most hotels are having challenges with occupancy and average room rate trends that are below the levels of 2013 and 2014. The impact on tourism from airline tragedies, decline in Chinese tourists, implementation of GST, and the continuity of the negative trends noticed by 60% of hoteliers suggested that there would be further decline in 2015. However, we started to look at other markets a long time back and we are quite happy to see some refreshing trends coming in 2016 and 2017.

What proportion of the hotel's guests does the business segment account for and how are you working to capture more visitors from the growing MICE market?

About 34% of our business is from the corporate and MICE market. We have made changes in our product to attract more corporate business. We are also tapping MICE markets in Australia, India, and ASEAN for opportunities.

Hotels are increasingly using social media as part of their marketing strategy. How is Hotel Istana exploiting these new tools of communication?

Like most hotels, we are actively using Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even LinkedIn as part of our marketing strategies to market and promote our brand. We also use a system called Revinate, which allows us to respond to the market immediately. This system integrates our online and survey feedbacks with guest data in one platform; hence, we are able to understand our guests' needs, likes, and dislikes about our property. This will then help us to make decisions based on comprehensive guest insights.

Malaysia is hoping to increase revenue per visitor as part of the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan. What policies can be pursued to attract higher margin tourism?

The weakened ringgit is a golden opportunity to promote the country as an attractive destination for tourists. Waiving of visas for Chinese visitors should also be considered as Chinese tourists are big spenders.

How would you assess the effectiveness of the Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 (MYFEST 2015) campaign?

The campaign has been successful as we have been participating in various overseas trade shows and found that Malaysia is on the international map and is recognized by many as one of the preferred tourist destination in the Asian region.

What are your specific goals for Hotel Istana?

Since I embarked, we have worked very hard to improve and enhance our creative product offering through continuous improvement and we will continue to work in this area. We have implemented very high levels of training standards at the hotel and our associates are enjoying learning new concepts and skills that help them deliver first-class service to our guests. This can be seen from our independent quality scores, where we rank number 1 in our comp set of hotels. We continue to work hard in exploring new business opportunities in new and emerging markets and this will be a continuous journey to ensure occupancy and RevPAR goals are achieved.