European Business: Mr. Hedegaard, you joined Danske Hoteller two years ago. What was your background before that?
Kenneth Hedegaard: My entire career has been spent in the hospitality industry. I started out as a chef and have worked for a very big hotel chain. I also ran my own company before taking on my current post.
European Business: What attracted you to join Danske Hoteller?
Kenneth Hedegaard: Although we have 23 hotels in the group, the company itself has a very compact organization which makes decision processes much faster and easier. The company founder is still chairman of the board and the continuity of vision is a major asset. Everyone believes in our leader’s competence and skills, and that conversely gives us a lot of freedom.
European Business: What is it that you bring to the group’s development?
Kenneth Hedegaard: When I started here, all of the hotels in the chain were seen as the same product from the outside. But all of them are different, especially when it comes to the standard of accommodation and what they have to offer. That is why one of my first decisions as Commercial Director was to group them in categories. Now our hotels are given hearts (instead of stars). Most of them have two hearts and are aimed at older guests and the local events market. We have some hotels in bigger villages and close to the ocean which have three hearts, and then we have the top drawer establishments that really set out to pamper guests in every way possible. They have four hearts and focus on a different customer group comprised of younger guests as well as corporate customers who use the hotel for seminars, conferences and workshops.
European Business: How do you think the chain structure benefits the individual establishments?
Kenneth Hedegaard: Within the chain we can cater to all different types of guest and there will invariably be a hotel in the group that offers them exactly what they need. A positive experience in one hotel leads to favourable associations for others in the chain. That is why we implement similar standards across the board. We want to deliver good food and good services at prices that everyone can afford.
European Business: The hotel sector is hugely competitive. What extra measures does Danske Hoteller take to stand out from the crowd?
Kenneth Hedegaard: One of the key strategies the owner has adopted is to pick his battles wisely. We focus exclusively on the smaller Danish cities and the countryside. For example, we are not represented in the saturated and highly competitive markets in Copenhagen or Aarhus. This gives us the freedom to do things the way we think is best, rather than looking over our shoulder to see what everyone else is doing. For example, this year we embarked on a cooperation with a Danish health organization to create a product for guests with heart disease. The specially tailored package included heart-healthy food choices and a programme of activities designed for them. For every guest that booked one of these packages, we made a donation back to the health organization.
European Business: In light of competition from online providers like AirBnB, what do you think is the secret to success as a traditional hotelier?
Kenneth Hedegaard: For today’s guests the most important thing isn’t money but time. We need to give them time to relax and help them make the most out of their time. Modern life can be hugely stressful. Everyone is stressed out by work and familial responsibilities. When they do take time off, they want to leave all of that behind. It is our job to make sure that they can do just that, and with our all-inclusive service, we are in the best position to give guests the stress-free experience they need.
European Business: What do you think will be the key trends in the professional hospitality sector in the coming years?
Kenneth Hedegaard: More hotel chains are moving into the bigger cities because that is where they think most guests want to be. However, we want to keep our focus on the countryside. That has an effect on our customer profile. Most of our guests are Danish or German and come to enjoy the natural beauty of Denmark rather than the hustle and bustle of its most popular cities. We have all read about the overcrowding at certain tourist hotspots and I think that is a turn off for a lot of people. We want to focus increasingly on online marketing to attract younger guests interested in true relaxation rather than simply ticking off landmarks.