Ian Bulleid, International sales and marketing director for Troon Golf, Europe, Middle East and Africa, talks about the third-party management company’s plans for the future and how all clubs can attract more new members.
How has the golf sales and marketing landscape developed in recent years?
The pace of development in this area continues to be remarkable. There is such a multitude of marketing opportunities compared to a decade ago that plotting the right course has become a key skill. There was a time when your choices were limited to traditional print advertising. But the advent of low-cost digital opportunities has changed everything, and the clever sales and marketing people are the ones who can work through the maze of options and use the best avenues. The right choices vary on a case by case basis, of course, and keeping your strategy up to date is more important than ever.
What about managing your perception among business clients?
This is easier for us, because our brand is very well known in the ‘B2B’ side of the golf world. We’re particularly recognised in Asia on this level, and people always want to talk to us. Yet we can’t steal the show from our clients: the golf facility will always fly the flag and Troon will be a ‘back office’ partner. The Grove, for example, scores incredibly well in our audits but there is little or no visible Troon branding. That’s how it has to be, but it can make for interesting sales and marketing challenges.
What are the challenges of being a worldwide operation?
Understanding the expectations and limitations of different markets is key. We want our facilities to be the best in every market. Language is a huge challenge; I think we cover around 90 different languages across the International division. Priorities are different everywhere, both for the client facilities and for their guests. Our aim is to be recognised as the benchmark wherever we operate, but the mind-set has to vary depending on where that is. Troon does things differently in different countries.
What about the different needs for different clients?
The challenge always varies from facility to facility, especially because Troon doesn’t have a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy. There’s a perception that goes with ‘third party management’ that such companies come in and shake up everything they can get their hands on, upsetting a lot of people along the way. That’s not our philosophy. We let the client lead. They tell us the areas that are important to them and we focus our attention there. We advise across the whole business but only implement in full agreement with the client. At Pfalz, the brief is to improve the golf course, so that it would be seen as a standout success in the area after a year or so. That brief made it a project primarily for the agronomy team. But at Fairmont St. Andrews it is about optimising the golf business within the Resort whilst in Abu Dhabi it is about the businesses in their entirety.
What can facilities do to enhance their reputations and drive business?
There’s been a tremendous growth in online review sites. Millennials in particular tend to use peer reviews as a key element of their decision making process. Our research shows that word of mouth is still a very strong factor when it comes to choosing destinations – and word of mouth increasingly means online reviews. There’s nowhere to hide these days, but that’s a good challenge for us all. Understanding the impact that a poor review can have leads to a better service culture within a company, bringing greater consistency of delivery and better reviews. A true virtuous circle! The market for these review platforms has matured, with more players meaning competitive pressure has driven the standards up, so that rogue reviews (both positive and negative) are less common.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The talented people I get to work with every day. Then the support mechanisms and skills available throughout the Company. There are some great people throughout the Troon business, who are specialists in their field. For example we have a social media expert in Scottsdale who is blogging and posting all day long as well as advising all our properties on the best way of being effective. We have communications specialists in different regions who take care of press releases, press trips, launches, media relations and publications like our Troon Golf & Travel. It’s extremely helpful to have such experts in place when there’s so much news to share from our facilities around the world.