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Isabel Tapp – Founder, AllDetails PR

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Transcript

Asil

Hi, everyone, and welcome to another great episode of Turban Thinker. So today we’re going to be talking PR, specifically in the travel industry. Now, we all know that PR is going to be a key focus for any business going forward. And today, I’m joined by Isabel Tapp. Isabel is a communications specialist, and she has over 30 years’ experience. But 20 of those have been based in Dubai, which is where I met her. She came to Dubai in 2000 and set up the PR department for Jumeirah Hotels and then went on to build her own communications and PR business under the name of All Details.

So, All Details helps a lot of global brands as they launch in the GCC for the first time if they’re looking to enter that market and including hotels such as the St. Regis and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. Also, the travel company, which is a global company, Expedia. All Details also represent some of the most exclusive private islands and resorts in the world. And I’m desperate for this pandemic to be over so I can go and experience these incredible resorts.

So welcome, Isabel. I’m really glad that we finally made it on the recording because we were having some technical issues. But great to have you with us today.

Isabel

Thank you so much Asil. I’m very happy to be here.

Asil

I’m really glad to have the chance to speak to you on a really hot topic. And I’m sure that you’re going to agree with me. But first of all, let’s start with how are you managing your lockdown in Dubai? You’re obviously working from home with your team. So how’s that coming along for you?

Isabel

Well, I’ve tried to maintain a routine as much as possible, and I’ve even tried to maintain the kind of normal nine to five, although what I found is that I’m actually working longer hours at home. You don’t have the travel time to go to work. You’re not going to get back home. And I’m finding that I seem to be spending much longer hours working.

Asil

How interesting. So is your team working, obviously they are all working from home. So if we stick on that subject, obviously a lot of businesses, I think, as I speak to so many of them, are going to be adopting that as a constant because it just makes a lot of sense. You just mentioned a key point, the fact that you’re actually working longer hours because you’re cutting out the whole travel. So, do you think that’s something that going forward you might be thinking of for yourself?

Isabel

I have to say that I miss creativity of having the team together and also talking to members of my team. They’re also feeling the same. We have had zoom calls where we’ve all got onto a conference call together, however we all feel that there’s much more creativity when we’re all together in one room.

Asil

Yeah, I mean, I obviously definitely with PR, it is very much creative and very much about interaction. So, I can imagine from your perspective, yes, it’s hugely useful that you get back together with your teams physically. So, let’s just talk about a brief on your business. If you can sort of just bring the listeners up to speed about your journey really would be fantastic first.

Isabel

Well, as you said, I have been in the hospitality most of my life at the luxury end of the business. So, I’ve worked in travel and hospitality with luxury hotels both in Europe and the Middle East for all of my life. And as mentioned I ended up in Dubai in 2000. I was brought over by Jumeirah to set up the PR department for their hotels. A few years after that, once I started my PR company.

Asil

So, you got to Dubai when it was a very different Dubai, and it was just starting all the excitement and the dynamic movement. So, you’ve sort of seen that whole journey, which has been remarkable really up to date with them.

Isabel

I have, and it’s been an amazing journey and one that I feel very proud to have been a part of, it’s been a very exciting journey and one that there is never a dull moment in Dubai. There’s always something happening, always something new and a great place for hospitality.

Asil

Definitely. I mean, that’s one of the main attractions. What got me, you know, to that region so many years ago is they really, really do it best in class. So, let’s talk a little bit about the current situation. Obviously, hotels, leisure, all of these socially engaging, socially interactive. It’s going to be tough, right, with all the restrictions that we have and definitely with travel restrictions as well. And even if I think restrictions or removed, people are still going to be reluctant to go to these resorts or go to the hotels or, you know, it’s a lot of pressure.

And I think it’s going to take quite some time for people to have that confidence to get back into that. So how do you think from a PR perspective that’s going to affect I mean, you’ve got to not be PRing those hotels and resorts to encourage people to come back.

Isabel

Yes, you are quite right, and I think initially being in the business myself, it was a little bit of a shock to realize the huge impact that this virus was going to have on the industry. However, as the weeks have gone by, it’s become very obvious that the impact is not only on travel and hospitality and tourism, but actually on the majority of businesses and the majority of people. I mean, in Dubai this week, some of the restrictions have started being lifted, which we are very happy about. We’re able to now go out. Hotels are able to reopen and even restaurants are able to reopen. Yes, of course, there are many restrictions.

There’s a 30 percent occupancy maximum. So social distancing has to be maintained. The wearing of masks is mandatory. However, I feel very confident that the world will want to go back to travel, to hospitality, to hotels, to others. There’s a rumour going round that the Ras al Khaimah resorts have just reopened, including their swimming pools and their beaches. And there are reports that they’re already sold out.

Asil

No way. I guess people have been so locked up that they just want that, you know, that opportunity to sort of feel semi-normal and get back and sort of be a part of some kind of sanity. So, I wouldn’t be surprised. What’s your message from a PR to hotel groups? What do you think from a key messaging? What should their focus be on? How should they be communicating to their customers and their employees? I mean, you’ve got a huge stress, obviously, on the employee side as well as your customer side.

Isabel

Absolutely. Well, this is not a time to go silent and unfortunately, some organizations, some brands have gone silent and it’s really is not a time to go silent. This is a time to keep communicating with all of your stakeholders that your employees, your customers, your shareholders. This is a time to keep that communication going.

It needs to be very honest. It needs to be very transparent, honest, caring. However, the communication really does need to continue. And this is not a time to stop communicating. You need to be transparent. You need to share your key messages. You need to announce any changes to the business. You need to create editorial content.

You need to continue to operate, even if it that’s within the restrictions that are being enforced. However, the communication has to continue. This is really not a time to stop communicating.

Asil

I mean, on that point, I absolutely there’s so many businesses that I’m talking to as we sort of are trying to frantically re-strategizing. Obviously, they’re looking at their focus and priorities. And bizarrely, so many of them have stopped the marketing, slashed that budget, left it to a minimum. For them, communication is not a priority right now. It’s about reset. It’s about looking at that balance sheet. It’s about the costs.

And I don’t know how many times I say continually whether now in this situation or before cutting the cost on your communication is severing your relationship to any stakeholder. I mean, I’ve never understood it Isabel about I really haven’t in all my years in executive positions, communication, marketing, PR have always been one of the most important areas because you have to communicate. You have to. I love the fact that you’re saying absolutely being honest. If it’s not going great, then be honest about it.

If it’s going fantastic, tell the story and share it. But it’s so interesting that they’re just sort of so many have completely gone quiet and that’s not going to help the situation.

Asil

Totally 100 percent in agreement with you, and I’m very happy also to hear you echoing my thoughts. It seems that a lot of people and organizations and brands have just frozen. They’ve just gone into this kind of frozen state, which is, as you said, totally bizarre.

Isabel

And I firmly believe that no matter how small or large your business is, this is the most important element of your business strategy to maintain communication with all of your stakeholders. And as you said yourself, you know, it could be not the greatest of news, but is anybody going to hold you to that? Everybody’s understanding that the whole world is going through the most incredible experience. And so everybody knows that we’re all everybody’s having a hard time, with the exception of the supermarkets, I guess. However, as you said, it’s the first line that gets cut, whereas in my opinion, it should be the very last line.

Asil

I totally agree. And I’ve seen so many businesses make that mistake repeatedly over and over and again in a normal circumstance. And I think, you know, as I speak to so many and I advise many, you know, my constant message is unless you’re communicating, unless you’re sharing the exact reality to your employees and to your stakeholders, and it’s not going to get any better. As a matter of fact, you can’t assume that you’re going to sort of when the lockdown is over and business starts to come back to normal, those that have communicated, those that have continually engaged are the ones that will be in a much stronger position.

You can’t just sort of bounce back into it and expect all of your customers to still be loyal to you and still want to engage when you haven’t been there for them and they’ve always been there for you. And that’s the most interesting thing for me. It’s like this is not a time and it’s never been a time for you to be that complacent and to assume certainly as we move out of this, you know, InshAllah, that people are going to be very selective.

They’re going to want to go to the businesses, the brands, the organizations, the hotel resorts that have continually engaged them and shown that message of good times and bad times. We’re in it together.

Isabel

You’re absolutely right. Absolutely.

Asil

Aside the communication, what would you be advising, really, you know, like you said, small and big business to be doing. So, communicating obviously is the key agenda. But how do you think as they come out of it and those that are communicating, how do you think they should be coping with this? For example, you just mentioned this, just 30 percent occupancy. That’s a big hit. That’s going to really affect the morale.

You know, the business itself, the profits, all the different lines are going to be impacted and that’s going to be a tough strain. So how will you be communicating? Let’s talk about to your employees. How would you be sending that message?

Isabel

Well, with your employees, you need to be totally honest, you have to be giving them a little bit of a forward projection. I think this is personally I feel this is something that even governments have not necessarily done in the right way, governments around the world.

I understand that they don’t know what’s going to happen. They don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They don’t know what’s going to happen next week. However, it’s only now I mean, for the last seven weeks, I have been I have been waiting for somebody to give us some kind of an idea of what the exit strategy from all of this would be. And it’s only this week or last week, really towards the end of last week that we’ve started hearing what exit strategies could look like.

And I feel that the hardest part for any individual to deal with is not knowing what’s going on. So as far as your employees are concerned, you have to be transparent. You have to be honest, and you have to give them some kind of forward guide plan, a guideline, an exit strategy. Even if that’s a staggered approach, I believe it’s going to be a staggered approach of recovery for the whole world.

I don’t think we’re going to have a day when everybody says, OK, now everything is fine unless we have millions of vaccines, because even the millions of vaccines will take time to distribute. So, it’s been a good approach.

Asil

Absolutely. And I really hope that the CEO’s, the Chairman’s and the listeners out there, brand owners, business owners, are really going to sort of take that message and go with it because really, they should be.

Now, let’s talk about, of course, when you’re talking luxury hotels and luxury resorts and it’s all about experience, it’s all about experience and it’s all about building memories and creating those memories and those impactful moments for the clients and for the visitors. So now, more than ever, I think that they’re going to be having to work 10 times harder than they did before to create these incredible experiences and pull you towards, you know, going to those destinations. So, what are your thoughts on experience wise?

Isabel

Well, the luxury end of the industry has always been about experiences, as you said, yes, they may now need to work a little bit harder to offer those reassurances of the health and safety standards, making their guests feel more comfortable, more secure and more confident. However, I also believe that that’s easier. It’s easier to do that at the high end of the market because you have more confidence and reassurance that you’re going to have a clean hotel room in a five-star hotel.

So, I believe it’s actually a little bit easier at the luxury end of the market. But some brands are already doing this. And we are in the middle of Ramadan, as you know, and some luxury hotels and some of the top restaurants in Dubai have been delivering Iftar meals directly to people’s homes, which is something they’ve never done in the past. And they’re doing it amazingly well with lots of surprises and lots of feel good touches. So, they’re already creating these new experiences at very short notice to their customers.

So, I really believe that the luxury, the luxury business, particularly the luxury hospitality business, has always been about experiences. And they’re very good at creating those little touches that make people feel good. So, I can see that that is now going to be extended towards making people feel more comfortable, more confident of health and cleanliness and all the different touch points where people are going.

Asil

I mean, what’s interesting is that how incredibly creative people are becoming. And, you know, they’ve always in business, everyone is saying, be innovative, be creative and think outside the box. And people generally, because it’s so safe and business is ticking along, they never really push that additional creative thinking. So, it’s great to see businesses all around really going for that extra mile and sort of pushing on those details. And I think now is the time for all hotel groups and all chains to be looking at exactly that, because luxury or not, you need to be going that extra mile and you need to be providing that, like you said, that confident experience.

So, on a final and fun note, once this pandemic is over, where do you want to go to and what luxury resort would you love to be traveling to?

Isabel

Well, I think this time this time at home has made me want to travel even more than ever. It’s very, very difficult to name one place or even one country or one city. I think I’ve got a very long list now.

Asil

I think you’re going to have to work twice as hard so that you can afford that.

Isabel

Exactly.

Asil

What would it be oceans? What would it be?

Isabel

Well, I’ve got both on my list. I think oceans, particularly the Indian Ocean. So the Maldives, I think, will be one of the first on my list. Also, I’m longing to go on a safari in America. I went to Botswana many years ago and I would love to go back. I also have Finland and Lapland on my bucket list.

Asil

Gosh, OK, very diverse.

Isabel

I’ve got the Swiss mountain, but also to go back to really old favourites and places that I love, such as Scotland, and London and Malta, which is where I was born. So, I think we’ve all, we perhaps realize that we did a lot for granted. I just can’t wait to go back and visit all those places all over again.

Asil

And I think that’s a shared sentiment with everybody in the whole wide world. So, wishing you lots of love, Isabel, and health and peace and safety for all of you and everybody out there and everyone in the world. Thank you so much for joining us. And I hope that you’re going to be able to take off every single one of those on your list.

Isabel

Thank you so much for having me and wish you all the very best Asil.

Asil

Take care. Have a great day.

Isabel Tapp, a Communications Specialist with over 30 years’ experience and owner of AllDetails, PR agency, talks to us about PR specifically in travel and tourism in today’s world.
AllDetails represents luxury hotels such as the St. Regis and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and global travel company Expedia alongside representing some of the most exclusive private islands and resorts in the world.