Big Interview: Mark Warner puts renewed focus on quality at heart of strategy

Big Interview: Mark Warner puts renewed focus on quality at heart of strategy

David Hopkins reveals how he plans to build on the strength of the Mark Warner brand and deliver better quality holidays with help from the trade

European resort operator Mark Warner has adopted a new strategy based on better quality holidays and is seeking greater support from travel agents to communicate that message to customers.

Five years on from the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from a Mark Warner resort in Portugal, the operator looks back and credits the strength of its brand for seeing it through.

Now a new strategy, which has seen it reduce commitments to hotels while increasing its committed flying programme, aims to build on a reputation for quality among its customers.

So while Mark Warner may not now have exclusivity in its nine beach properties, 70% of its flying is with British Airways out of Heathrow Terminal 5 with family-friendly Saturday morning departures.

Managing director David Hopkins said following the demise of XL Leisure Group the quality of charter flying has not necessarily remained in kilter with that of the holiday itself.

He said: “We want to lift the overall holiday experience. It’s where we see the market going.

“There is no secret in the fact that charter airlines have long been trying to meet the expectations of the holidays people are going on and XL was probably doing that better than anyone else ever had.”

Another manifestation of a focus on quality is Mark Warner’s new five-star flagship resort on the Greek island of Rhodes, the Levante Beach Resort.

The property has been conceived and developed in partnership with Greek Cypriot developer Aquasol with whom it has a long-standing relationship.

While Aquasol will not operate the hotel side, Mark Warner will have its own staff running signature elements such the tennis centre and the kids’ and water front facilities.

“It’s a real step forward for us because it enables us to pool everything we want to do into one site,” said Hopkins.

He said at the end of 2000 Mark Warner reviewed the long-term leases it had with hotels and since then has been seeking to agree only partial commitments of the sort it has with its Sea Garden Beach Resort in Turkey.

“We were very committed at one point in time and that was a difficult position for us because the internet was coming in and everyone was self-packaging,” Hopkins said.

“Over the next few years we want more resorts on the Turkish model where we are not taking the whole hotel, but we are committing to flying a whole aircraft full of people in.

“That’s a good model for us and for the hotelier. It makes it worthwhile for them to set up our waterfront and childcare facilities because they need a critical mass.”

For a brand that built its reputation, in part, on the quality of its childcare programmes, such a high profile incident as the Madeleine McCann disappearance was particularly unfortunate.

Hopkins, who was personally involved in dealing with the aftermath of the toddler’s disappearance, working closely with the family and investigators, believes a weaker firm may not have survived.

“We did everything we could at the time – to support the family.

“We survived it when a lot of other companies would not. It was a sign of the strength of the brand and the good crisis management procedures we have.”

With a repeat customer rate of 25% for its summer programme and up to 40% for winter ski, Hopkins said while Mark Warner has built a reputation on quality, now it needs to be “more edgy” in how it promotes itself.

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