Telum Talks To... Sarah Keates, CEO and Founder, White Orchid Insights

Telum Talks To... Sarah Keates, CEO and Founder, White Orchid Insights

Telum caught up with Sarah Keates, who leads luxury and business aviation-focused consultancy White Orchid Insights in Hong Kong, as she shares her top tips on mental health and what lifestyle brands and airlines should do to meet changing demands.

What inspired you to launch White Orchid Insights in 2019?
Having worked for more than 15 years in large multinational agencies or in-house, I observed a lot of “pile them high” mentality. I was often uncomfortable when encouraged to over-promise clients for a service that was often delivered by the most junior staff. I saw an opportunity to flip this business model and have the most experienced professionals take accountability for our client work. My former business was very transport and business aviation-centric in relation to the clients we served. In 2019, several of our clients were launching new products and expanding, so we felt it was the right time to launch White Orchird Insights (WOI). We now serve multiple industries, including aviation, education, wellness and luxury.

Having co-founded WELL, Magazine Asia and managed it for a year, what surprised you about the Hong Kong media scene?
I am always pleasantly surprised when I see how collaborative Hong Kong is, even in competitive spaces such as the media scene. We launched the magazine in the middle of the protests and despite all the challenges and stresses of that time, the community came together and supported the magazine.

What lessons from WELL, Magazine Asia do you apply to White Orchid Insights?
My role as Co-Founder was to get the magazine started, build business systems, develop content strategies and then run the launch. I applied lessons from my 15 years in marketing, communications, PR and events to the magazine more than vice-versa. That said, launching the magazine gave the opportunity to develop my skills in terms of content development, SEO, advertisers and consumer-focused stories. In recent years, my role has been centred around regional travel, business development, leadership and account management, leaving little time for the “nuts and bolts", so I appreciated the opportunity to get involved in the operations at WELL.

Under the current economic and social climate, what should brands in the lifestyle, travel and hospitality sectors do in terms of comms strategies to meet changing consumer needs and demands? 
Putting it simply: add value. The most successful brands are the ones that invest in their team, deliver solid experiences and tell a compelling story. Consumers still want to be engaged and delighted, and they are still looking for great values and immersive experiences. There are some wonderful examples in the F&B sector; for example, the Pirata Group introduced some great value menus to encourage diners back during COVID-19. Hotel groups including Sino Hotels, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Le Méridien also went above and beyond with their staycation offerings. 

For travel, information will empower consumers to make purchases once again, so brands need to help guide passengers on the how, why and when to travel. There are opportunities for us all, and although 2020 has pushed many brands out of their comfort zones, if they are headed towards a more valuable experience for their audience, this is not a bad thing!

Aviation has been hit hard in 2020. How do you see the future for the industry?
WOI serves the business aviation industry, which has been affected in different ways to the commercial airlines. With commercial travel at a standstill, those that can afford it have turned to business aviation. Consequently, our clients have been busy with charter flights, repatriation and getting stranded students and businesspeople home.

The future of travel remains unclear - both in term of COVID-19 and wider issues including climate change. Those airlines that return after the crisis will need to offer strong sustainability programmes, great incentives and experiences. As with all industries, aviation will have to “dig deep” and redefine their offering in a way that meets the needs of travellers during and after the pandemic.

You are also a big advocate for mental health and fitness. How can we best maintain personal wellbeing, especially during these trying times?
Mental health is becoming less stigmatised, which is a step in the right direction. It is an aspect that industries are also becoming more sensitive towards in the ways that they engage with their workforce and adapt to the "new normal".

We all need a safe space to deal with challenging emotions and to seek respite. For me, that space is in nature, exercise and with family and friends. My advice would be to get outside every day, find time for meditation and self-care, log emotions in free apps such as Helponymous, eat well, let go of perfection and invest in helping others. Community is everything.

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