As Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management, Danny Bryer from Protea Hotels continuously strives to reinvent the hotel brand’s fundamental essence, meeting the needs of its guests. Here. he discusses bringing more South Africans into the hospitality industry, how the Protea brand engages with the local market, and a trend prediction for the local market.

Explain who you are to the industry in a couple of sentences

My role has been to continuously reinvent Protea’s fundamental brand essence to meet the ever-changing needs of its Guests: strategic development, essentially.

How is the South African hospitality industry different from those in different countries that you’ve worked in? 

While I travel for business purposes frequently, I am based in South Africa. Nonetheless, since we’re a global company that is currently rolling out a pipeline of another 60 hotels across Africa, it’s essential that I stay abreast of current affairs as well as trends that differ from destination to destination during this restructuring of, and building within, Africa. Connectivity is on the rise across the continent, faster than any other on the planet, and that helps to reduce the distance in the global village, so we can access information more easily, network and hold meetings. South Africa has its own special character, which differs from city to city where we have properties – but there’s always something of interest for visitors, no matter where you go.

What are some of the overall issues that you’ve seen affect the hospitality industry in SA?

The economy isn’t static, so we have to learn to adapt according to changes in the market. From an international visitor’s perspective, the exchange rate is in their favour, but it can pose a challenge to local operators. Developing our marketing strategies to be resilient in the face of the oil price, visa issues and, of late, water shortages is an ongoing challenge.

What are some of the challenges that Protea Hotels is facing at the moment and how are you addressing these challenges?

A challenge we are undertaking as a company is to bring more South Africans into the hospitality industry. We’re observing closely to see if water shortages in the Cape will influence travel decision making, and, at the same time, rolling out an extensive strategy for conserving water on properties and messaging to guests and associates. This has required a meaningful, visible process.

What are some of Protea Hotels’ focuses at the moment and going into the new year?

Counteracting seasonality is core to developing tourism, so this means finding innovative means of attracting business and leisure travellers all year round. We’re also messaging that hotels aren’t just for stayovers, they can be neighbourhood social hubs that welcome locals for entertainment purposes.

How do you see Protea Hotels fitting into the South African hospitality industry?

Our brand is a household name, so it’s essential that we maintain our standards and meet guest expectations. As preferences evolve – let’s say with a shift to digital and all that entails, developing mobile apps and enhanced booking and stay experiences – we need to adapt accordingly to stay ahead of our competitors.

Where do you think its place and brand is, and what makes the company unique in SA?

We’re privileged to enjoy top-of-mind awareness with SA consumers, and this is reflected in many accolades received by the Protea Hotels by Marriott group, including SA’s coolest hotel brand. That means we’re speaking to our audience, and providing what they want and need. When you’re a brand operating across SA, you need to make sure that each property in every location is consistent.

How do you engage your brand to the local SA market? Any engaging media initiatives and marketing campaigns that you run?

There are ongoing pricing initiatives that require marketing support, and these are central to summer and winter campaigns. Besides those main campaigns, we run inspiring, innovative promotions and events that drive interest around properties. You could be enjoying a Comedy Night at Protea Hotels Fire & Ice! Melrose Arch or a golf day at African Pride Hotels Arabella Hotel and Spa – it’s all part of providing added value that makes visitors excited and engaged. An essential role in engagement would be our social media channels, where we can actively converse with our market and share our ongoing adventures with them.

Danny Bryer’s Pop Quiz

What are the company goals for future excellence in the local industry

Our goal is to grow with our market, to tap into their minds and deliver service excellence. I believe that we’ll see more locals travelling to other parts of Africa, and, with our footprint growing there, we’re ideally placed to attract guests with a brand name they’re familiar with.

Let’s talk Sustainability and the steps you have taken to make a difference here?

Sustainability is part of what we aim for, in both the built environment and in the tourism sector in general. We’ve made a number of practical changes in hotels to cope with water shortages, from removing bathplugs to reducing laundry requirements by removing linen tablecloths and replacing linen napkins with paper ones. There’s lots more we’re doing, and this is communicated to all hotels in the group regularly. Besides that, we’re part of the tourism sector, so we must ensure that our market continues to enjoy the value in a hotel stay.

How do you incentivise and motivate staff as an organisation?

Each property has its own motivational and incentive schemes, but as a group, incentives range from the international opportunities being part of a global organisation presents to access to awards and more. We frequently run inter-hotel chef or bartender competitions that are enjoyed, and these also help to raise the profiles of our staff.

Trend Prediction for the local industry?

Globally, the trend is for hotel groups to provide more mobile-friendly hotel stays, allowing guests to do more when staying via their own devices. They can interact in real time with the hotel’s team, place food and beverage orders, gain keyless entry to rooms – there’s a vast amount of scope for local hotels to follow suit.

If you were going to teach a college course, what course would you teach? 

I’ve already lectured at UCT on brand culture of Protea Hotels Fire & Ice!, focusing on “creative thinking” and adapting to the ever-changing world of information and technology.

What leader or leaders do you look up to and why? 

Not Donald!

What is one truth you believe in that most people disagree with you on? 

Run towards a problem!

What’s one assumption people make about you that is dead wrong?

None – I’m very transparent

Who is your mentor/s and what recent challenge/s have you sought their advice for?

No one specifically, but I will always seek advice; no matter how old you are, there’s always someone who will know more and help you grow!

Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough business decision that supported your company’s purpose, but may have had a negative, short-term financial impact.

There have been many, specifically in today’s global-economic turmoil. I believe nobody owns the customer… but you can build a lifelong relationship with one. to that end sometimes you might consider a short-term financial loss with a customer/guest to protect the lifetime value of one!

If you could go back and give your 21-year old self a valuable piece of advice, what would you say? 

I started out as an economist, but I’d say to myself “being able to adapt to industry trends is as important as having an ongoing understanding of the economy. No matter where you find yourself, you’ll benefit from both skills.”

As you think about your career, who is a team member you had a huge impact on and what are they doing today as a result of your leadership?

Mentorship today is as important. I’ve mentored people not only on business skills but in life skills as well. You need both to be a good leader.  I think my biggest impact was/is helping people achieve personal goals (like finishing a degree /course / which they had given up on and getting them over the line).

If you could work on solving any problem in the world, what one problem would it be? 

I’d like to think that with our many ongoing developments across the continent, we are central to providing job opportunities for thousands, enabling individuals to develop skills, achieve more and for them to teach others. That’s a start, I think, in making an improvement.

What is your leadership philosophy? 

To let others lead and impart knowledge as soon as possible. Listen, process and act, with action being strategically motivated as a result.

What specific mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual activities do you engage in to keep yourself operating at your optimum level? 

Not many people know this, but I used to be a professional footballer; sports and the outdoor life in Cape Town help to keep me able to operate.

What are you learning right now?

Be lekker! Really, it’s about enjoying what you do, engaging the people around you and appreciating them, and making sure that there’s balance.

Favourite Inspirational Business Quote

Perhaps “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”. – Jeff Bezos