ALH Hotels’ managing director Paul Walton looked back on an incredible year for the group’s pubs, and discussed how the group’s new segmentation strategy delivers a new framework for venue operations.

As the first year that ALH Hotels was able to operate without any pandemic-related impediments, 2023 was a fantastic year for the group.

“It has been an incredible year for ALH with our customers remaining at the heart of everything we do,” stated ALH Hotels managing director Paul Walton.

“It’s been a phenomenal effort from all of our team to help bring us to where we are now…all the while maintaining a focus on value and convenience, where we can help to create social moments together.”

2023 was a big year of achievements and accolades for ALH, including the $31m redevelopment of the Brook Hotel in Mitchelton, representing ALH’s single largest investment in a hotel asset in Queensland.

The venue comprises a new public bar, sports bar, beer garden, bistro with outdoor dining terrace and kids play area, function room, gaming room, and a four-storey hotel with 40 state-of-the-art accommodation rooms.

“Every element of this hotel was also designed with the local community in mind, while at the same time ensuring this iconic venue was well-positioned to cater to visitors from all around Brisbane and beyond the border,” explained Walton.

“The Brook has exceeded our expectations, with people in awe of the full service offering that it provides.

“This was a venue that was underserved and underpinned by a great local community, with great development opportunities to deliver great returns.”

In 2023, ALH Hotels was also named the second most desirable employer by Randstad, being the only hospitality business in the top ten, in a list dominated by government entities and departments.

“Our team and purpose is central in our strategy to make sure we have a safe and inclusive culture right across our network,” stated Walton.

ALH Hotels utilises an annual Voice of Team survey to understand what its people are looking for, and responds to the results of the survey with actions such as providing training to build product knowledge, building role-specific training, introducing pathways programs and a career framework to help its team develop in their careers.

“It’s important to be true to what we can deliver and do well, and therefore when people start working with us, it matches and/or exceeds their expectations, which was reinforced in our Voice of Team survey last year,” stated the MD.

“We also think we have performed well because of the size and stability of our business and a clear strategy for growth. We are Australia’s largest hospitality company and we can offer career opportunities that aren’t available in other organisations, to people who want to advance their opportunities.”

Rising to the occasion

Occasion-based visitation was a key growth driver for ALH Hotels in 2023, with families in particular filling the venues for a range of celebrations and events. A record number of meals were served on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, with 86,000 and 63,000 meals served, respectively. With 262 of its more than 350 venues open for Christmas Day, that was another massive day of trade for the group (see the stats to the right).

Sporting fixtures were also massive for ALH, with the footy finals, the Rugby World Cup, and the Spring Racing Carnival entertaining the sports lovers right across the country. The FIFA Women’s World Cup was the biggest event for ALH in the sporting calendar, with thousands packing out the venues, and 1.2 kegs worth of beer sold every minute in its hotels during the semi-finals and final.

“The atmosphere hadn’t been so electric since the Sydney Olympics in 2000,” stated Walton.

Live music was also core to the ALH offer, centring Australian acts – both emerging and renowned – throughout its pubs.

“As the largest local booker of Aussie entertainment, ALH Hotels have helped pave the way for recent emerging artists including Amyl and the Sniffers, King Stingray, The Chats, Polaris, Hockey Dad and Dune Rats, as well as household names like Hoodoo Gurus, The Angels, Screaming Jets and Jon Stevens.”

A new operations model

Late last year, Walton announced that ALH Hotels would move from a decentralised, state-based model with lean support, to a new model of segmentation categorising venues as inner city, suburban, regional, destination and entertainment, with three levels of affluence in each category. The goal is for each venue to retain its brand and identity, with a framework overlaid to understand the characteristics of each segment.

“Our hotels businesses are already well positioned to continue to grow in this environment and we have already seen some good momentum in the first quarter of F24,” explained Walton.

“Our investment strategy will deliver growth and diversification with a continued increased focus on food, bars, accommodation and entertainment.

“ALH has a real potential to build on our great collection of hotels and unlock more value for our customers.”

ALH continues to look for opportunities for its venues that align with the group’s values.

“We look for opportunities that can deliver an omnichannel experience for our customers including great food and beverage, entertainment and where possible accommodation options. This also has to be served by great locations that are intrinsically connected to the local community.”

These omnichannel capabilities are being aided by digital advancements, including 343 of its hotels already equipped with contactless order and pay technology.

“We are also remaining focussed on the Group’s optimisation program ‘endeavourGo,’ which has already delivered $60 million in cost savings. Through that, we have been able to use innovation to devise sophisticated workforce planning and with the roll out of our “Pub Plus” loyalty program (which will come online this year) we will be able to get an even deeper understanding of our customer.”

While macroeconomic conditions may be challenging and continue to change, ALH Hotels’ core focus on providing its customers with value and quality experiences remains the same.

This piece was first published in Australian Hotelier’s 2024 Annual Industry Leaders Forum, which you can view below.

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