With more than 350 properties across 11 brands in 200 destinations, hotel management group Archipelago International has made something of a name for itself over the past 26 years.
From its Indonesian roots, it has spread to five continents, taking its brands and management services to Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. More will follow with Chief Executive John Flood revealing at a 25th anniversary celebration in Jakarta last year that South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore and India are all on the radar.
“We want to be a bit more aggressive with our overseas development,” Flood confirms to The CEO Magazine.
Yet Archipelago has broader ambitions. While increasing the footprint of its brands – which range from upmarket Huxley to budget brand Nordic – is central to its growth strategy, so too is the company’s play in the tech space. It would not be a stretch to suggest Archipelago International has morphed into a hotel management combined with technology business.
During COVID-19, hotels weren’t getting any benefit from their booking engine and channel manager so they just cut them out, thinking they’ll reconnect later on. But they haven’t.
Spearheading the tech push is Powered by Archipelago, a program designed in-house to help independent and smaller hotel groups navigate the challenges of online distribution and associated tasks, yield management among them.
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted many ecommerce divisions, Flood explains, as staff with barely anything to do were forced to find employment in other industries.
“During COVID-19, hotels weren’t getting any benefit from their booking engine and channel manager so they just cut them out, thinking they’ll reconnect later on,” Flood says. “But they haven’t, and it’s left a big gap. So we came along with a one-stop solution to do all the connectivity for them.”
The company expects to add between 25,000 and 30,000 rooms to its Powered by Archipelago network this year, building on the 15,000 in 2022. The long-term objective is to reach 400,000 over the next 10 years, which, as Flood notes, is “pretty big”.
But there are other benefits to the technology push than just clipping the ticket of each online booking. Providing ecommerce capabilities opens the door for a deeper relationship, with the ultimate goal of a full management agreement.
As Flood notes, Powered by Archipelago provides that “foot in the door”.
“It helps build a reputation in a market. You generate brand awareness and people begin to contact you,” he says.
It’s not the only tech system that Archipelago built during the dark days of the pandemic. Its 30-strong tech and software team created a property management system which sits within an offshoot called Sentinel Tech. It is being progressively rolled out to hotels and, among many front- and back-office functions, it features a room expeditor which alerts housekeeping staff of the rooms that need priority cleaning.
Adding to the line-up of technological advancements are more consumer-facing innovations. Archipelago became one of the first hotel groups to introduce touchless elevator buttons, while the in-room experience has been transformed through the addition of Google Nests which perform a range of voice instructions, from switching on the lights to calling reception.
All of this suggests Archipelago is a company dedicated to progress. For Flood, the desire for constant improvement is immersed in a philosophy that sits at the core of the business.
We look to make small, incremental improvements every day in everything we do. That half-a-percent improvement adds up to big gains over time.
“We call it Kaizen, the aggregate of marginal gain,” he reveals, referring to the Japanese concept of continuous improvement. “It’s really important for us. We look to make small, incremental improvements every day in everything we do. That half-a-percent improvement adds up to big gains over time. All our hotels constantly have that in mind.”
Alongside Kaizen are three other pillars, as Flood describes them: harmony, alignment and momentum. The first two go hand-in-hand.
“We always discuss how things should be done, to make sure the culture allows individuals and teams to work together, so they have a unified, harmonious mindset,” he says. “You hear it all the time in our meetings: alignment, alignment, alignment.”
The last pillar, Flood says, is just as important.
“We also look for momentum, whether it be a new F&B [food and beverage] concept, a new uniform or a new brand. Even small things keep momentum going and create good positive energy,” he says.
We always discuss how things should be done, to make sure the culture allows individuals and teams to work together, so they have a unified, harmonious mindset.
Such pillars make staff feel involved, and feedback is welcomed and encouraged, Flood says.
“I use persuasion and influence instead of raw power,” he says. “It’s never ‘I’m the CEO, you have to follow what I do’. I try to ensure everyone is working toward common goals, management and staff.”
In any case, he observes wryly, millennials will not be told what to do.
“It’s not like the old days,” Flood says. “You can’t boss people around. They don’t go for that. They say you can advise me but don’t tell me what to do. And I’m trying to lead by example.”
If Archipelago’s trajectory is anything to go by, it’s a leadership style that’s doing the trick.