“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” says the quote (oft attributed to Peter Drucker). Nowhere is this more true than the W Doha Hotel. The first W branded hotel in the Middle East, the hotel both silenced initial skepticism (how could such an edgy brand possibly survive in a conservative market like Qatar?) and blew away the competition, year after year (be it in terms of market share, food & beverage concepts or social media prowess).
What astounds me is not the fact that the hotel is always on the ball (everyone walking through the doors is treated like a minor celebrity), but that they are constantly pushing the envelope. Five to six years ago, they were the first in the region to adopt a ‘proper’ [in my opinion] approach to dedicated social media talent (called the eInsider, this person reported to marketing but had an equal work relationship with Operations, constantly on the move with service recovery, surprise & delight and influencer engagement).
Working hand in hand, the team was also the first to tap into popular mainstream tools like WhatsApp, BBM and iMessage to open up a channel of communication with guests. This initiative was so popular that over a 150 hotels across Europe, Africa and the Middle East now use the process. They then morphed the technique to tap into and service their most frequent guests…who’d want to go to an OTA or pick up the phone when you could just confirm your upcoming stay with a quick chat? The video below shows how easy and convenient the process can be.
Here’s another video showing the team’s approach to personalizing guest experiences:
The team has also been at the forefront of everything social media…from welcoming Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson (post merger with Starwood Hotels) with a timely staging of the Mannequin Challenge, to taking W’s passion for fashion to Snapchat and Instagram, with virtual Snapwalks and Instawalks.
So what keeps the team so passionate, driven and creative after all these years? And why hasn’t the competition been hot at their heels? The only possible explanation is culture. There’s only so much an agency or even a passionate employee (or two) can achieve without the wider cultural framework across the business to support it. Interestingly enough, the shared values and behaviours that make up W Doha’s culture are built on top of (or despite) very different individual backgrounds and cultures (the team has members from over 60 different countries!).
It starts at the very top, from the owners to the GM (who in this case are as passionate and driven as they get, constantly investing time, effort, talent and money into everything they do) and flowing down to all levels of the hotel. The process is by no means easy or without its unique share of hiccups. For example, when the hotel first introduced a dedicated social media e-Insider, it took them well over half a year to establish the role and overcome internal skepticism, plus nurture the cross-departmental working relationships that underpin the personalization, service recovery and surprise & delight many guests take for granted today. A lesser team, devoid of that ever-so-crucial culture would have struggled with the stamina required for success. Having that innovative, performance-driven culture (critically, including empowerment and eliminating the stigma of failure) very much puts the team at the forefront of the adoption curve (innovators and early adopters), whereas the rest of the industry waits on the sidelines, falling mostly into the early or late majority (and sometimes the laggards).
So…is culture a sustainable competitive advantage? Watch the following video of the W Doha team and decide for yourself… (yes, this is the actual team, from the GM at the DJ table to department heads and the rest of the talent busting a move)
Kudos to this amazing team and hope they continue delighting guests and pushing the envelope in the industry for many more years to come!