Cheering a star experience

It’s a tourist attraction, but what may be less obvious is the Heineken Experience, set in a 19th-century brewery, makes a central contribution to one of the world’s most forward-thinking marketing efforts.

Dirk Lubbers, general manager of the Heineken Experience, explains that his role is to create ambassadors for the brand. “Everyone who steps into the Heineken Experience should come out with stars in their eyes – red stars,” he says, referring to the brand’s logo.

But the way he does this is to focus on running one of Amsterdam’s main tourist attractions as successfully as possible. He talks animatedly about his results from the past five years. The number of visitors grew from 365,000 in 2009 to nearly 900,000 in 2015 and should broach a million in 2016. More impressively, for an attraction with 95 per cent of its visitors from overseas, it boasts a repeat visit rate of 15 per cent.

“My trick is simple,” he says. “You should leave the building thinking, ‘This is not what I expected, it’s much better’.” The Heineken Experience provides a selling point that customers will understand and a goal that employees can rally behind.

And this is crucial because in hospitality, as Mr Lubbers sees it, the only way to look after your customers is to look after your staff. “To make money, many companies cut the cost of labour, but if I want to increase revenues, I do the opposite. I place more people in my tour, so there is more interaction between visitors and staff,” he says.

The Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience

He employs 35 permanent staff and 180 “ambassadors” who are mainly students. They are selected through an in-depth recruitment process. What he looks for are those with natural people skills. He wants them to be “open and enthusiastic, but also to listen to others and be genuinely interested in them”.

People enjoy their visit and come away more engaged with the Heineken brand

Those selected are trained in how to pour the perfect pint, serve people, conduct tours, and talk about the brand and the beer. In this way Mr Lubbers ensures people enjoy their visit and come away more engaged with the Heineken brand.

And he sums up his approach in a single phrase: “Beer, entrepreneurship and people.” Being able to talk about and enjoy the beer is at the heart of the role.

And entrepreneurship is about change. He says: “If you want to entertain people, you need to do something different every day. For example, once when it was raining outside, we offered people free umbrellas and another time on a hot day, we provided ice cream made from alcohol-free beer.”

If you surprise people, then it creates a buzz. “They’ll tell their friends and put it on social media,” he says. All of which is good for the Heineken Experience and good for the Heineken brand. TripAdvisor reviews are testament to this strategy too; many of them praise the staff for making a visit so enjoyable.

When it comes to his staff, Mr Lubbers says he treats them like first-class ambassadors. “My job is to create a culture where they come to work with a smile,” he says. But he also offers some great incentives. Those who excel in their roles are given the chance to work at high-profile Heineken events around the world, whether it’s the Rio Olympics, the Italian Grand Prix or a Champions League football match.

When they leave, often at the end of their studies, they are ambassadors for life. And this sums up the Heineken Experience – run a great attraction that people enjoy visiting and where staff enjoy working, and you create authentic advocates for one of the world’s largest brands.

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