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In Conversation with Sebastian Doll, HOTEL ZOO BERLIN

Interview 9 Minutes
We utilize the data we gather to tailor our communication towards the specific interests of our guests, ensuring that we only provide them with information that is pertinent to their needs.
HOTEL ZOO BERLIN, situated on the renowned Kurfürstendamm, is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious boutique hotels in the German capital. The hotel's marketing is skillfully managed by Sebastian Doll, who adeptly blends contemporary and classic elements. In our interview, Sebastian shares valuable insights into the effective marketing strategy that drives luxury hotels to success. He highlights how HOTEL ZOO BERLIN provides guests with an unforgettable experience.
What sets HOTEL ZOO BERLIN apart and establishes it as a strong brand?

On one hand, the rich history of our establishment is undoubtedly a significant factor. As the former residence of Walter Gropius and the venue for the West Berlin Film Festival, our listed building has been a witness to history for over a century, having survived both world wars virtually unscathed. With the help of designer Dana Lee, we have carefully refurbished and modernized the building, while still preserving its traditional charm and location. We take pride in seamlessly blending the elegance of the past with the demands of the present.

What specific responsibilities do you have at HOTEL ZOO BERLIN?

I strongly believe in the slogan "Marketing driving Sales." As a team, we strive to create compelling visual and content-based incentives through our marketing strategy to attract both national and international guests to HOTEL ZOO BERLIN and GRACE Restaurant & Bar. GRACE has quickly become a sought-after destination in the Berlin market, and we aim to capitalize on this success by sharing our unique selling points via digital channels. Our goal is to create content that highlights the exceptional features of our hotel and restaurant, and we organize targeted in-house events such as GRACE Bday, Rooftop Opening, Halloween, and NYE parties. 
By doing so, we showcase our authentic profile of strengths to the world and directly engage with potential customers, encouraging them to experience our offerings both during and beyond their stay.
For instance, when our sommelier Ben Weidenberg went on a wine tour to Turkey, we documented his journey on social media. Our guests love the exquisite wine selection at the restaurant, so we leveraged digital technologies to engage them directly. Through a transparent and personalized approach, our guests could experience new products from the beginning and enjoy them on-site if they desired.
What career path did you pursue to secure this challenging position?

My passion for the hotel industry developed during a childhood visit to India, where I first experienced the enchantment of a 5-star hotel. During my training, I was intrigued by marketing, while also discovering my zeal for operational activities like housekeeping and stewarding. Ultimately, I decided to focus on Sales & Marketing. I attended the first Kempinski Career Day, which led me to the Adlon, where I began as a Sales Coordinator. In 2014, I moved to China, which had a profoundly positive impact on my career. This move enabled me to gain critical experience in team leadership, as well as initial marketing responsibilities. My work with Swire Hotels and Opposite House Beijing was particularly influential, as it was my first boutique hotel with a significant emphasis on marketing rather than sales. Everyone can benefit from such cultural diversity and challenging experiences.
How significant is brand management within your company? To what extent do you need to be inventive with the strategies you employ, and where do you draw inspiration?

Brand management is of utmost importance to us, given that our unique interior design and GRACE concept are always at the forefront. While creativity and innovation cannot be forced, we must keep up with the times to stay relevant, as the saying goes, "If you don't move with the times, you get left behind." Therefore, we never rest on our laurels and always look forward. Inspiration can be found everywhere, and curiosity is certainly a helpful trait. We draw inspiration from various industries, such as automotive, fashion, music, and entertainment, which serve as our communicative focal points. In addition, high-end wines and spirits offer further inspiration, whether for potential collaborations or visually showcasing luxury items. Efficiency also plays a crucial role, which is why we produce our content in-house in close collaboration with relevant colleagues.

What does the term "digitization" mean to you in the context of the hotel industry, and what opportunities and risks do you associate with it?

Digitalization in the hotel industry is a multifaceted topic with various implications. For our hotel, digitization presents an opportunity to spend more time with the guests, while optimizing internal hotel processes to create a unique experience for them. 
Additionally, digitization allows for personalized and targeted marketing, which we strategically invest in to ensure long-term success. 
However, I understand the fear that digitization might replace human interaction. In our hotel, we prioritize interpersonal contact and see digital products like chatbots as additional conveniences rather than a substitute for personal relationships. Overall, while there are risks associated with digitization, we see it as an opportunity to enhance our guests' experience and improve efficiency.
In which areas of the hotel industry do you see potential for improving workflow efficiency through digitization?

As we mentioned earlier, digitization can enhance communication among departments, and every area in the hotel industry has the potential to benefit from it. Digital tools can facilitate faster coordination between departments, allow for the involvement of multiple colleagues simultaneously, and enable the direct assignment of tasks. However, whether one chooses to participate in the digitization process is also a matter of willpower, as it requires a significant amount of time, especially in the initial stages.
Data is often referred to as the "gold" of the digital age. Do you believe that there is marketing potential in utilizing guest and reservation data, as well as collecting information about guest preferences and interests?

We aim to collect guest data within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act. This includes data obtained through actions such as newsletter consent or table reservations through OpenTable. We use this data to tailor our marketing efforts to the interests of our guests and provide them with relevant information. This allows us to view guests as individuals, rather than just targeting broad-based advertisements. When segmenting our marketing campaigns, we consider factors such as interests, languages, whether the guest is interested in the HOTEL ZOO BERLIN or the GRACE restaurant. On social media, we take it a step further by including demographic factors such as age and gender of different groups. Additionally, it's important that guests have the option to receive information through their preferred communication channels, whether it be social media, phone, or email.
Can you give us some insight into what online marketing strategies you're already planning for the future?

There are a few online marketing strategies that I can share with you, while others are still in development. We are looking to further promote email marketing. To do so, we have implemented triggers on our website to draw guests' attention to the added value of our newsletters. We are also exploring TikTok as a potential channel for content marketing, specifically to reach a younger audience and showcase our GRACE brand. This is where digitization plays a crucial role, as it allows us to engage in targeted influencer collaborations to reach new audiences. TikTok is a fast-paced, trendy platform that provides an opportunity to give followers an unfiltered look behind the scenes. In addition, we are placing a strong emphasis on e-commerce, particularly in our online store. We believe that offering selected products that bring hotel and restaurant experiences to life is an important aspect of guest loyalty that extends beyond their stay.

Can you share any efforts being made to digitize the traditional concierge service, given that you already offer a digital fitness coach to your guests? Additionally, how does the hotel balance the benefits of digitization with the importance of personal interaction with guests?

concierge is irreplaceable, and we have no intention of doing so. However, our guests have responded very positively to our digital fitness coach, the VAHA Mirror. It is state-of-the-art, never tires, and serves as an additional perk for our guests in addition to the 24/7 gym.
While a digital concierge can provide selective information about the area and recommendations based on the guest's preferences, personal interaction with a concierge is still crucial. Some of the information we provide comes with the booking confirmation, so guests already know what's interesting in the area. However, a digital concierge cannot, for example, call a trendy restaurant that is fully booked to reserve a table spontaneously. This is where our concierge, who has built up personal contacts over the years, comes into play. Our guests value the personal experience and recommendations they receive from Stefan, our concierge, the most and trust direct interaction with him.
What is the degree of reliance on OTAs and booking platforms such as,, etc. for sales? Which digital advertising and sales channels are predominantly utilized?

Our reliance on OTAs and booking platforms remains at a healthy level, and we do not perceive them as a threat but rather an extension of our marketing strategy. Used correctly, OTAs can provide great reach, and we are selective when choosing partners to ensure we can sell our product with added value. However, if a guest books through an OTA twice, we analyze where the direct customer relationship may have failed.We also prioritize working with high-quality private membership programs to ensure a premium experience for our guests. TripAdvisor and other review sites also play an essential role in our marketing plan, as positive reviews impact occupancy and average rates. Additionally, social media channels, such as Instagram, have become important sales channels for us. By linking to our website, we can increase booking numbers through a steadily growing reach and consistent conversion. We are willing to invest in these marketing channels and continually analyze our return on investment.

What strategies do you have in place to encourage guests who have initially booked through an OTA to book directly with you in the future?

Building personal relationships is a crucial element of our hotel concept, and it begins at check-in. It's essential to take the time to establish a comfortable and welcoming environment for the guest, which can be sustained throughout their stay. This is the only way to convert first-time guests into returning guests. Educating them about the benefits of direct booking is an integral part of this process.
When discussing innovative and exceptional hotel concepts from around the world, what are some projects that immediately come to mind?

I find this question quite challenging to answer as there are numerous outstanding hotel concepts around the world that provide inspiration. The most that comes to mind is Bali, where there is a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendly living. The concept is centered around promoting well-being and conscious enjoyment in harmony with nature.
Is there a person in the tourism industry (or preferably from another field) whom you have always wanted to meet? If so, what would be the central question you would ask them and why?

As a Porsche enthusiast, I have always been intrigued by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche and would have loved to have met him. His unwavering commitment to the iconic design of the Porsche 911, which has been refined under the hood for decades, is particularly admirable. If I had the opportunity to ask him a central question, I would inquire whether his approach was guided by intuition or a persistent optimism.