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In Conversation with Dimitrios Panagiotopoulus, Sonnen Resort (South Tyrol/IT)

Marketing Automation 9 Minutes
For me, the ADDITIVE+ MARKETING AUTOMATION is an additional tool that reinforces the personal communication with the guest, which is so important for us, thanks to the continuous messages.

Dimitrios Panagiotopoulos is responsible for marketing and design at the family-run Sonnen Resort in South Tyrol, Italy. The creative mind and internationally active fashion designer also lives out his flair with his fashion label DIMITRI. The 4-star family and wellness resort appeals to active, design-conscious families with its extensive range of activities for children and teenagers.

Tell us about the uniqueness of the Sonnen Resort...

The Sonnen Resort is a thoroughly personal hotel where the whole family is involved: from my mother, the founder, to my two siblings and myself. Despite the size of the business, we always keep it personal: we know our guests by name. For years, we have been catering to a very specific target group: families with children or, above all, young people. Only in this way has our hotel been able to grow steadily, especially in certain areas. Our success is certainly due to the large number of regular guests. We are particularly pleased that more and more guests who visited us as children are now coming back with their own children and grandparents. These intergenerational guest stories are very impressive.

Are there any other factors that set the Sonnen Resort apart from other hotels?

We invest a lot of money every year to keep the infrastructure and especially the rooms and guest areas up to date - no room here can be defined as "old". At the same time, we are always looking to the future: What will be the trend? What else can we offer our guests?
Finally, the way we sell ourselves as a hotel certainly influences our success: our consistent visual language, which clearly conveys the feeling that you are not staying in just any hotel, the carefully chosen interior…

You are an internationally renowned and successful fashion designer. What is your role at the Sonnen Resort and where can we see your signature?

As a hotelier's child, I cannot and do not want to separate myself from our hotel, this is my home, this is where I bring my strengths. As the creative member of the family, I was involved early on in choosing the photos and text for our advertisements, and my input was always welcome. Of course, I also benefit from the fact that I travel a lot and get inspiration from my travels - for architecture and design, both indoors and outdoors. So everyone in the family plays to their strengths and is responsible for the area that inspires them.

What opportunities and risks do you see for a luxury holiday hotel in the increasing digitalisation?

Above all, I see great opportunities in marketing: In addition to the typical DACH guest for South Tyrol, it is possible to address potential guests beyond these borders. On social media channels, hotels can present themselves the way they want to be seen. This kind of presentation did not exist before. As a guest, you get an immediate and authentic insight into the hotel of your choice. Digitalisation makes hotel distribution easier, more direct and faster - also thanks to automated, perfectly coordinated landing pages.

And you don't see any risks in digitalisation?

No, I don't see any danger for the hotel business, but rather simplification and the absence of complexity. Of course, as hoteliers, we like to try to digitalise tried and tested processes, such as check-in, but especially in the holiday hotel sector, guests are looking for personal check-in and hotel management.

What does a successful (online) marketing mix look like for you?

I have to admit that offline still plays a role for me: interestingly, our regular guests attach great importance to the annual hotel magazine. Of course, Google Ads, Facebook, and Instagram and, above all, newsletters are part of our marketing repertoire. At this point, I would also like to mention - perhaps somewhat unorthodox from a marketing point of view - personal appreciation and personal exchange. We have an unwritten rule that a member of the family is always there to welcome or say goodbye to our guests. The bond between our guests is really strong - many of our guests have become friends who visit us even when the hotel is closed out of season and we are in personal contact.

What are the main digital distribution channels used and to what extent?

Mainly Google, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Especially the latter is not so easy: I put a lot of emphasis on professionalism and quality in every channel we use. I'm not satisfied with just shooting around the corner - but that's what makes TikTok special. Especially for young people, who are our main target group and our guests' co-deciders, the channel is simply relevant. As a super visual person, the visual language is extremely important to me; after all, it is the thread that runs through our entire hotel: uniform, modern, with a concept. Since the last renovation in 2020, I feel that our hotel has really become a brand. A brand keeps its promises. We have chosen to be a family hotel and we have been doing it for 20 years: just imagine, in the 80s we had children's entertainment in the hotel, something that was only known from the big club holiday companies ....

But the experience you have gained from building up your fashion brand has certainly come into play...

Exactly, I don't see any difference between this and my fashion label. Both the hotel and the label are companies that stand for certain values. Every brand has certain structures as a basis. Who knows, maybe in a few years there will be another company that is not based on families, but welcomes adults only as a target group - but still takes the Mediterranean, design and style as its cornerstones. For me, the claim is that a family hotel does not have to focus exclusively on a colourful children's facility, but should first and foremost cater to the aesthetic sensibilities of parents. But don't get me wrong, the children's area can of course be colourful.

Back to hotel distribution and the major irritant for many city hotels: How much do you rely on OTAs like, Expedia, etc. despite the marketing mix?

We hardly get any bookings via the OTAs, but admittedly we only offer a few rooms there and mainly in the low season. Especially in the high season, the OTAs are not very important for us, mainly because of the long booking lead times.
For us, direct sales is clearly the most important sales channel, where we can play to our strengths of personal proximity: We offer guests exactly the room they want. Consultation with the guest is still very important, especially with families, as everyone has different requirements and needs. Our family suites, which can accommodate up to 6 people, are sometimes booked a year in advance.

The Sonnen Resort has been using marketing automation in the form of ADDITIVE+ MARKETING AUTOMATION software for almost two years. How time-consuming was it to set up and run the software?

I didn't expect that setting up such a complex software would be so quick and easy. Anything I needed to do, or the final check of the texts, was basically done in a day. This was due to the good and efficient preparatory work done by the ADDITIVE staff and their understanding of our product. In short, there was really no effort or work involved for me, and certainly not in the running operation.

For me, ADDITIVE+ MARKETING AUTOMATION is an additional tool that supports the personal communication with the guest, which is so important to us, by means of ongoing messages. This would not be possible manually. It fits in perfectly with our communication style and the personal touch we give to our guests - who doesn't like to receive personal birthday wishes?

Can you give us an initial assessment of the results?

After the first five months of operation, the results speak for themselves: an increase in turnover of 500,000 euros is more than satisfactory. My initial concerns that the whole thing would be too much communication for the guest, or even intrusive, were quickly allayed. There has never been a complaint about this (smiles).

What other manual processes in the hotel should be digitized and automated in the future?

For example, we already use digital check-in, but as mentioned above, most guests prefer personal interaction at reception, preferably with a familiar face. Personally, I could well imagine a hotel app that opens the room or garage, and I would love to see the morning or daily mail projected on several large screens throughout the hotel complex. This would not only save paper, but also the time of the reception staff. In New York hotels, everything is ordered and paid for via the TV, but it will probably be a while before that happens.
Finally, an idea for a single interface for portals: It is very tedious for us hoteliers to put all the hotel information, offers and packages on each portal.

When we talk about outstanding hotel concepts in the world, which projects come to mind first?

I think of concepts that inspire me in terms of design, from design hotels to exciting beach clubs like the Skorpios in Mykonos (which now includes a boutique hotel) or the Aman Resorts.

Which ambitious project will be completed by 2025?

Here at the Sonnen Resort, we would like to expand the children's and young people's world, including our own sports hall, and extend the wellness area. Personally, I would like to run an adults-only hotel...

Is there anyone from the world of tourism (or any other sector) that you have always wanted to meet?

Definitely Karl Lagerfeld - how creative can one person be in any field? He really was a hyper-intelligent and hyper-creative person, or rather a phenomenon. I am particularly fascinated by his gift for illustration, his relentless work ethic and his commitment to trying new things. That's where I see myself again, because double challenges are exactly my credo: I wouldn't want to miss my work as a fashion designer or my work here at the hotel - both are great challenges that demand a lot from me - but I like challenges!
Dimitrios Panagiotopoulos tells more about the results of the successful cooperation with ADDITIVE in the video: