Why Secret Sumatra guests choose to return year after year  

6min read

Deep in the tropics of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, Dean Fergus celebrates yet another year of ‘No Vacancy’ at his beachfront resort. Last year, the surf experience curators at Secret Sumatra, celebrated their 12th season of 100 percent capacity. Ahead of 2019, spots are already filling up.

“We’re already at 85 percent capacity for 2019.” he shares excitedly.


Secret Sumatra is a 12-person resort providing bespoke surfing experiences for groups around the world. The serene bungalows and ocean views add to the appeal, but it’s Dean’s obsession for quality and dedication to the traveller’s experience that attracts birthday parties, bucks trips and galore.

As an avid surfer himself, Dean is committed to the delivery of exceptional customer experiences – through a combination of passion and local knowledge, each itinerary is customised to ensure visitors experience the best waves the island has to offer.

The Australian hotelier, launched Secret Sumatra 13 years ago, after his own surfing trip to Sumatra. Today, Secret Sumatra continues to achieve no vacancy due to a healthy rate of returning customers. Its success has largely been reliant on word-of-mouth referrals.   

“It took off more than we ever expected. We started off small but the first trip went well – everyone had a ball and the waves were pumping. I don't know whether you would call it luck or part or the experience we offered. Either way it had an effect on our guests because everyone came back the following year.” explains Dean.

How to maximise guest loyalty  

We asked Dean to share his secret to delighting and retaining loyal guests. The secret is out; here are four quick tips to leverage guest loyalty:

1. Promote and attract, honestly

Promoting high-quality and honest images to a specific demographic or group such as a bucks trip, 40th birthday party or families, has been successful for Secret Sumatra.

“It’s a simple formula: inspire your target market to visit, through imagery that depicts what Secret Sumatra has to offer all year round.”

Dean relies on authentic imagery from a collection of past trips to inspire future guests with a variety of experiences such as photos of people enjoying a campfire, playing snooker or enjoying the infinity pool.

“It’s an honest way of promoting the place because it attracts people who want to come here for a specific experience, because that’s what they want,” explains Dean.

Ensure guests have clear expectations of your hotel to minimise the potential of any unmet expectations or unsatisfactory experiences.

Tip: Photography plays a crucial role and attracting the right guests – read how to improve your hotel photography here.


2. Go above and beyond

With almost 13 years in operation, Secret Sumatra has had almost 100 percent occupancy year after year. According to Dean, providing value for what you’re offering is the key to customer loyalty.

Secret Sumatra is positioned as a mid-range resort but since its beginning, Dean’s mantra has been to offer guests more than what they had expected.

“We’re always getting people the waves they came here to surf. We can get the people who might not want to spend as much money, but we also have the guests who might want to do something a little more special. It’s about making it positive and fun for all,” explains Dean.


It seems simple enough but Secret Sumatra’s consistent dedication to the best waves has seen revenue increased by 60 per cent in the last five years.

“Our main of point of difference is how much we are into scoring waves ourselves. Our passion for scoring waves still exists today and that comes across into our guest experience. We want them to score the best waves,” said Dean.

Delighting your guests is easier said than done, but in Dean’s experiences, it’s a full-proof way of attracting return guests.

Key Takeaway: Take time to research and understand the motivations and desires of your guests – and target your guests by delivering more than just their expectations. 


3. Create hype and urgency

May and July are popular seasons to enjoy swells in Sumatra. In preparation for high seasons, Dean create excitement and urgency for bookings by creating a sense of exclusivity.

“There are certain times of the year we launch our teaser video; before that, we have a pre-launch that invites people to email us to get the dates of the next trip before everyone else sees it – a pandemonium starts, and an urgency is created to encourage people to ‘hurry up and get in before spots are filled,” shares Dean.

Try this: Time-sensitive campaigns are an age-old marketing tactic that aims to stir a sense of anxiety or ‘fear-of-missing-out’ with the idea that your product or service may not be available much longer. A simple countdown or mention of ‘only 3 spots left’ can encourage people to take quick action.  


4. Put your money where it matters

With new technology, Dean’s marketing efforts have transitioned away from print media to social media.  

“It’s a lot more immediate and it's measurable which makes it most attractive. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on a magazine ad, we spend a fraction of that amount on social media and see much better and measurable results. Having a clear view of how many people interacted with each piece of content is extremely important to be aware of.”

Don’t forget: Knowing what metrics to look for can help guide your decisions and investments on social media. For example, a post with a link to your booking page may have hundreds of likes with only ten clicks. This might signal a broken link or ineffective ad copy or an unappealing campaign. Rather than simply looking for ‘likes’, consider different measurements to truly gauge the success of your social media campaigns.

Creating guest loyalty relies a combination of branding, marketing and service but working towards an honest and fulfilling guest experience can pay off in the long run and help you achieve the coveted ‘No Vacancy’.

Perfect your hotel experience with our free guide to clever hotelier ideas here.


Experience Secret Sumatra for yourself.