In the world of business, the package holiday sector is just about as competitive and challenging as you can get. However, if you want a ‘masterclass’ on product differentiation and concept branding, then look no further than Thomson’s Sensatori holidays. Having just experienced a week in their Sensatori Crete resort, which boasts a fantastic range of 5 star stylish facilities, I want to share a few of the simple business strategies that have helped position the Sensatori resorts as a ‘cut above the rest’ in the highly emotive holiday market. I also want to tell you why, if you are holiday shopping, particularly with your family in mind, you should take a serious look at the Sensatori brand.

A few months back, I interviewed Thomson’s Marketing Director, Jeremy Ellis. Jeremy told me “the Thomson strategy in recent years has been to develop a range of exclusive holiday products, brands and experiences, which are carefully built around the very specific needs and requirements of our prospective and existing customers and the Sensatori concept is an example of this”.

Having now ‘road tested’ Sensatori myself, I can see exactly what they have done. The Sensatori concept was created and built entirely around customer feedback and research. Instead of having a product and then tying to find a ‘market’ for it, Thomson did it the other way around. They identified their market requirements and then designed a tailored product to match. The result … the ultimate purpose built resorts with 5 star accommodation for discerning individuals and families who are looking for high standards of facilities. They opened in Crete in 2008 with 412 lavish rooms and then added Sensatori resorts in Tenerife, Egypt, Mexico and Turkey and are planning ahead for Jamaica. So what exactly is the Sensatori concept? How does it differ and what kind of holiday experience can you expect from this brand?

Rooms / Accommodation – I checked out all room types. Regardless of category, they were all very spacious, very clean and comfortable, with huge sumptuous beds, balconies / patios and all had ‘jacuzzi baths’ and the best ‘multi jet’ power shower I have ever experienced. I have never been so clean! 

If you don’t want their standard room you can opt for a suite, or accommodation with your own small private pool, or best of all, something really special that I would thoroughly recommend … a swim up room. Imagine being able to sit on your own private patio on your own sunbeds and literally step into a pool on your doorstep. If you are travelling with family all these options are also available as special family sized accommodation.

Family facilities – It is for families that the Sensatori brand really excels. In addition to family sized designed accommodation, the Sensatori offers a nursery and a well organised daily children’s programme. They even offered a ‘sleepover adventure’ for those that wanted. Additionally, there was special entertainment and shows for children, excellent child friendly food options and the most wonderful children’s swimming / activity pool I have seen. One happy Dad told me: “If the kids are happy, my wife and I stand a chance of getting a great holiday. It’s not easy to find somewhere with these standards. This place really ticks all the boxes”.   

Couples – I was a bit hesitant at first, because there were so many families at the resort, but the careful zoning they had planned, for the most part actually worked. The complex is large and tiered, with different zones for the different types of holidaymakers. Couples really can go to a Sensatori resort and have a relaxing time.  

Swimming / Spa Activities / Activities – The Crete Sensatori has 6 lagoon style pools, each designated for different types of guests and for those that like to take advantage of spa treatments, be pampered and keep fit, there was no shortage of excellent facilities and choices. 

The daily programme of sports and experiences that are available at no extra cost include archery, Pilates, yoga, zumba and many others. 

What I particularly noticed and liked was that there was no pressure to join in any activities at all. You could choose to do as much or as little as you liked. 

Dining / Food Options – I am told that different Sensatori locations offer slightly different arrangements, but they all range from ‘full board plus’ to fully ‘all inclusive’. In Crete I experienced ‘full board plus’. This simply means that dining in most of the restaurants were included in your holiday price as were unlimited house wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. You could of course upgrade to an ‘all-inclusive’ drinks package. 

The choice of ‘no extra cost’ restaurants was also excellent. These included the large and spacious main restaurant, which is all buffet style. It had an amazing range of choices  … excellent by the way for vegetarians too … and you could choose to dine outside on the terrace if you wanted. Also on offer is the Mexican style Tex Mex, the Red Saffron serving traditional Greek food and the Five Flavours Thai. No prizes for guessing what type food it served! 

For guests who want to opt for something even more special and upmarket, guests in Crete are offered three options that are not covered by the holiday price, though a credit against your final meal bill will be offered. These were the Aroma Stone Grill, the Al Dente and The Japanese / Sugiyama Restaurants. 

Evening entertainment – This was more sophisticated and of a higher standard than on many package holidays I have experienced. Most evenings offers guests a West End style all singing and dancing themed musical show, or a good professional cabaret act flown in from the UK. Additionally guests could choose a more low-key piano and vocals presentation in the huge beautifully appointed reception lobby and once a week comedians were flown in for an evening at the Comedy Cellar. 

Arrival / Departure – When it comes to holidays there are two very strong emotional touch-points. The arrival after a long and tiring journey full of high expectations and the departure moment. The Sensatori Crete have really thought this out and it was the best I have encountered on any package. The arrival moment was seamless. Guests instantly get that ‘everything is going to be fine’ feeling and the ‘wow factor’ is secured with the impressive entrance area and the glass of champagne or orange juice as the bags are whisked away to your room. The departure moment was equally guest focused. Gone was the usual queuing at the airport check-in. Specially, for Sensatori Crete guests, the airport ‘check-in’ team came to the hotel on departure morning. You got your boarding cards there and didn’t see your bags again until after the flight home. It massively eased the travelling burden and for families it is fantastic. 

Branding – In branding terms, Thomson have really thought hard about the Sensatori concept and done their strategic homework very well, in order to give it an identity, ‘feel’ and style all of its own. Gone for example are ‘holiday reps’, here you will find ‘guest relations’. You won’t be subjected to a blunt sales pitch at a ‘welcome meeting’. At the the Sensatori you will be invited to a ‘Discover’ session, which is simply a presentation of the main information you need, delivered in a low lights almost corporate style. Indeed, the Thomson brand is almost invisible, as everything ranging from staff uniforms to the bottles of wine are themed Sensatori. A cynic might perceive all this as somewhat contrived, yet in the context of the holiday atmosphere it is all totally congruent and appealing. Holidaymakers talked to me about going ‘Sensatori’ rather than Thomson … a real branding victory for the marketing, communications and design teams.

Thomson created the word ‘Sensatori’ itself to convey the feeling of ‘fuelling the senses’. Does it really do this or is it just hype? Well, over many years of writing and speaking about business, I have developed an in built cynicism about linguistic marketing devices. The reality however is that the Sensatori concept is totally credible and delivers exactly what it claims to do. 

They set out to create a new style of sophisticated package holiday, that differentiated itself from other products in the holiday industry and they have done exactly that. 

© Ian Cooper 2013 

Thomson offers seven night holidays to Crete staying at the Travelife Gold awarded 5T Sensatori Resort Crete, on an all inclusive basis, from £1128 per person. Price is based on two adults sharing and includes flights departing from London Gatwick airport on the 5th September 2013 and transfers. To find out more about this holiday or to book visit your local Thomson travel shop, thomson.co.uk or call 0871 230 2555.