All posts by Paul Manzey

Getting the Most Out of Multi-Channel Marketing

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A problem for hoteliers in today’s multi-channel world is having a database full of guests with which you cannot effectively communicate.  Whether this includes linking data from your mobile platform to your customer relationship management system, effectively using social data or combining online and offline information, a clear marketing plan starts with having all this vital information centralized.

No hotel company wants to base their marketing strategies on unsound data, but to overcome these challenges, hotel companies need a way to pull all of the data related to their guests into one system.

Why is integrating data from online and offline channels a challenge?

1) Understanding the emerging channels that comprise online data, bringing together that data and making sense of it all is no small feat.

2) Even traditional channels, such as guest profiles and loyalty program data, can produce problems because of missing or duplicate data.  Consider every time a brand new profile is created for an existing guest who makes a reservation through a new channel.

In a recent SASBlog post, Natalie Osborn, examines how using data integration and data quality capabilities can help pull your data into one system.  Osborn explains that data integration helps you consume the online data you have coming in, while data quality helps you match the online data with your offline customer profiles.

What are the benefits of a solid data management system?

Once you have your system in place, you can add to it with new sources of data and analytics.  Combining offline profile information with social media data may give you a clearer understanding of your guests’ needs.  The key is to have the data quality and data matching in place to maintain an accurate profile of your guests.

From here, you have the opportunity to take this data a step further with a preference center.  This allows you to manage interactions with your guests across a variety of platforms.  Preference centers can help you understand important information about your guests, such as email addresses and social media profiles.  You can learn ways in which communicating with customers is appealing to both sides.

To learn more about integration of data from online and offline sources, click here.

Death of the Cookie: 2014 Edition

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When someone says the word cookie, inevitably everyone thinks about chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and maybe even Christmas.  However, in this case we are talking about the online tracking device that may be on its way out.  Nearly a year ago, we wrote a blog post detailing how cookies affect your individual business listing and call tracking ability.  This time around, we’ll discuss why consumers are against the tracking code and who stands to benefit from their diminishing existence.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are small pieces of code that websites drop onto your browser as you surf the web.  They record what sites you have looked at.  Online advertising companies use this information to customize your online experience with ads generated off your browsing history.

There are two different types of cookies online:  first-party and third-party.  Almost every website serves a cookie, especially if you have to log into it.  Take online banking as an example.  The cookie reminds the bank’s website that you are logged in correctly.  If it were not there, the site would forget that you logged in and lock you out of your account.  Essentially, the web does not work with these first-party cookies.

The third-party cookies are currently under threat of extinction.  These cookies are served by other companies through the webpage you are looking at.  Going back to the banking example, the bank’s website might allow dozens of third parties to drop cookies onto your browser.  When you go to another site after the bank’s, those cookies will signal to other advertisers that a person with a recent history of checking their bank account has arrived.

Who is Attempting to do What to Stop Third-Party Cookies?

Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) are all planning to launch browsers with default “Do Not Track” settings.  These settings will be rigged to reject cookies or to signal the user does not wish to be tracked.

Paul Cimino, VP/GM of Brilig Digital Data Solutions at Merkle, said that his company found the number of machines you can see on the internet versus the number that you can cookie has been decreasing over the past three years to around 50%.

Much of this has to do with the fact that mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) cannot be cookied, and these have become a preferred way to “surf the net”.

Why are Cookies such a Taboo Subject?

In their simplest form, cookies are a breach of privacy for internet users.  Although they technically do not give away any personally identifying information about you, they do give advertisers an idea of what your interests are including what you are shopping for, where you live and into what demographics you fit.

The more web users who look at the internet with third-party cookies turned off, the fewer users there are for advertisers to target.

Privacy advocates hate cookies because they carry information about what you search for on the web.  Organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Abine have anti-cookie stances because, as EPIC puts it, “a cookie is a mechanism that allows a website to record your comings and goings, usually without your knowledge or consent.”

Who Stands to Benefit from a Cookie-less Internet?

James Lamberti, vice president of the device recognition firm AdTruth, says the upshot here is that the data companies get from first-party cookies will be of much higher value as the third-party cookie becomes obsolete, and members of the online advertising ecosystem who do not have the first-party data could be left out in the cold.  This becomes a “rich get richer” proposition in the grand scheme of things.

“This could create a situation where you could have a couple of players, namely Google and Facebook, just take over and have so much power where it’s not good for the industry,” said Lamberti.

How Does This All Apply to ResortsandLodges.com?

When shopping for a unique travel experience, leisure travelers typically visit a website multiple times.  If these consumers are accessing sites from different channels like a smartphone or tablet, there are no cookies to track where they have already been.  Ultimately, this decreases the perceived lead conversion rate for a given property.

Another effect seen at ResortsandLodges.com, which is referenced in last year’s “Death of the Cookie” post, has to do with Phonalytics, our state-of-the-art call tracking system.  Cookies enable us to direct a tracking number to a property’s website when they reach the site through ResortsandLodges.com.

If travelers are making multiple visits to a site, they may bypass our site and head directly to a property website.  Without these cookies, we are unable to re-direct the user back to the proxy site (your site with the tracking in place), and the transaction occurs without being attributed to a specific advertisement that generated the booking.

Based on the data, an argument could be made that nearly 42% of calls being generated by ResortsandLodges.com to our partner properties are not able to be tracked or reported on.

Using YouTube to Generate Bookings

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Content may be king of the marketing world, but the modern consumer is less interested in text-based advertisements and more interested in video.

The video content site YouTube claims to host more than one billion unique user visits to its website each month.  These one billion viewers spend more than six billion hours watching videos.  These numbers may seem astounding and nearly incomprehensible, but it follows the trend of a tech-savvy population looking for the quickest and easiest way to digest information.

Nielsen, a company known for producing television ratings, has noted that YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18-34 than any cable network.  Seeing that this age group, commonly referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, will become the core customer within the hospitality and travel industries over the next five to 10 years, it is important to understand the best way to reach them.

If these numbers are accurate and video marketing is the key to attracting attention of hospitality’s largest audience going forward, why is video so underutilized today?

According to DJ Vallauri, Founder and President of Lodging Interactive, hoteliers simply “need guidance as to how to create videos for search engine marketing and guest engagement.”

Marketers must continue the evolution from keyword proficiency, to content-driven marketing that helped maximize search results for websites.  Now similar practices will be required to optimize video.

Valluri believes that the best way of turning lookers into bookers is found in delivering creative, yet relevant, content that informs and entertains travelers and prospective guests, and there is no better vehicle to do that than video.

Why is Video Effective?

“Authentic, compelling and informative video content will entice travelers and convey a hotel’s unique experiences to online visitors,” said Valluri.  “A video embedded on the homepage of a hotel’s website and also uploaded to YouTube and the other leading social media channels can be what sets your property apart from other destinations.  Video conveys visual and emotional touch points which are present in almost every travel offering, and that is what drives bookings.”

Facts and Stats About Video

-Bookings are 67% more likely to happen when a video tour of your property is available.

-Internet shoppers who view your video are 89% more likely to book.

-Google purchased YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion when the video site was only a year old.

-Both Google and YouTube offer tools such as “Google Trends” and “YouTube Videos Keyword Tool” to help hoteliers identify keywords to use in video titles.

– When it comes to engagement, Comscore says online video is 5.33 times more effective than text, and, site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% closer to purchase.

Three Keys for Effective Video Marketing in the Hospitality Industry

1) Increase Awareness

2) Generate Buzz

3) Boost Bookings

To read more about the role of video marketing going forward, click here.

How to Make Metasearch Sites Work For You

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Metasearch engines are a topic that gets a lot of attention on the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog because they play such an important role in the supply-and-demand principles of the hospitality industry.  They enable consumers to search all the major online travel agencies (OTAs) at once through a single website simultaneously.

Metasearch channels are fantastic booking tools for the modern consumer, but they can also be a game-changer for hoteliers.  What remains to be seen is whether metasearch engines will have a positive or negative effect, and this depends on an individual property’s revenue management system.  Let’s take a look at a couple factors you will need to consider as your metasearch engine use progresses.

Metasearch engines expand your property’s compset exponentially.

By definition, your compset is a group of other brands offering a similar product or service to the same consumers.  Your traditional (geographical) compset is typically going to be quite small.  However, metasearch engines expand your compset to every hotel listed on every OTA on the internet.  Even if a property is only listed on one OTA, metasearch sites will present that OTA listing to consumers as well, turning that property into a direct competitor.

This drastic increase in competition forces hoteliers and property managers to constantly offer the most competitive prices.  These prices also need to be updated in real-time as the market changes.

Jean Franois Mourier, a contributor at Hospitality Net, explains that without a sophisticated revenue management technology necessary to update pricing as the market changes, and without channel management technology to manage your rates on all online channels, hotels will find it almost impossible to keep up.

If done properly, metasearch engines can drastically increase your online visibility.

Having the necessary technology mentioned above will allow your property to have a much greater online visibility without have to sign up with additional OTA channels.  You may be asking yourself, how does this work?  By having a presence on the major OTAs, your rates will be pulled into the metasearch engine results and will be visible to any consumer using that site to book a hotel stay.

Metasearch OTAs enable you to direct bookings through the channel of your choice.

When a consumer decides to book a room at your property, they will likely be looking for the channel charging the lowest rate.  Travelers using a metasearch engine will see multiple rates, and will (almost) always book through the least expensive site.

This is where you have an opportunity to direct consumers to the booking channel of your choice.  Advertising the lowest daily rates on OTAs that offer the lowest commission will allows you to maximize your revenue potential.

The modern consumer is tech-savvy, and focused on being more efficient with their search efforts.  Metasearch engines create a real demand as the potential “OTA of the future”.  In order to capitalize on this expanding online resource, you will need to adjust your revenue management strategy now to get the best possible results from this highly profitable channel.

Just How Big a Deal are Same-Day Hotel Bookings?

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Mobile devices have taken the travel and hospitality industries by storm in recent years with companies focusing their efforts on creating mobile websites, applications and more to help attract a new generation of travelers:  millennials.

Mobile and same-day booking trends are transforming the user experience in hotel bookings, but the travel research and booking experience is still very much a multi-device phenomenon.  Desktops, phones, tablets and even walk-ins all still play an important role in the booking process.

A recent Skift travel article looked at the user behavior from partners of Sojern, including major brands like Starwood, Hyatt and Hilton.  Sojern’s data showed that in Q4 of 2013, 29% of U.S. hotel bookings were done on the same day – defined as within 24 hours – of their stay.

These numbers clearly demonstrate a shift in the timing of hotel bookings, as well as the way rooms are booked.  Brad King, Sojern’s vice president of sales and marketing, says his company’s numbers do not necessarily portray the U.S. hotel-booking sector as a whole.  They are, however, worth considering for the directional trends they depict.

Why is this Important?

Although same-day and last-minute bookings, especially on mobile devices, area a resounding trend, it is still a multi-device environment.  Consumer behavior varies widely with some individuals and groups preferring to book much further out.  The accommodation type also typically has an effect on consumer behavior with travelers looking to book at luxury and all-inclusive resorts typically planning their getaways over a longer period.

Hotel marketing that focuses overwhelmingly on last minute and mobile would likely bypass a majority of bookers.  This is why travel marketers and revenue managers need to craft their campaigns to take this diversity of booking patterns into account.

To read the full Skift article and to learn more about what major players in the OTA industry had to say about the Sojern report, click here.

Personalization Equals Loyalty with Millennials

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A key question facing hoteliers and property managers in today’s travel landscape is how to build loyalty with the millennial generation.  Points-based loyalty programs are proving ineffective in capturing this ever growing demographic, so what is the answer to building this important connection?

Panelists at the 2014 Americas Lodging Investment Summit recently dove into this topic and what the trade-offs will be if hoteliers are able to build loyalty with millennials.

Teresa Y. Lee, a senior analyst at HVS and a self-described “token millennial”, explained that the loyalty of the generation is up for grabs. “It’s up to you to design a program we want to be loyal to.”

For travelers born between 1980 and 2000, personalization equals loyalty.  Benji Greenberg, founder and CEO of BCV, explained that millennials want to be wowed, and they want these amazing experiences built for them.  “They want to feel special,” said Greenberg.

Fortunately for the hospitality industry, today’s younger travelers serve up an abundance of personal data on a variety of websites and social networking platforms.  Lee McCabe, Facebook’s global head of travel, articulated that his company’s executives have recognized the potential and are working feverishly to make that information readily available to the company’s marketing needs.

“What we’re working towards is a very efficient marketing platform, a marketing platform built around people.  You’re not marketing to cookies, but visible faces.  You’re marketing to people,” he said.

Although hotel companies are getting better at this, the challenge is packaging relevant data to associates on property, most likely via property management systems.

To read more about this panel discussion, and how companies are paying for personalization, click here.

The Importance of Reviews in Shopping Research

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Reviews now play an integral role in the path to purchase among consumers inclined to do research on the internet.  According to a January 2014 survey of U.S. adult internet users conducted by YouGov, 79% of respondents checked online reviews at least some of the time before making a purchase, whether online or in person.

To put this in perspective, only seven percent of respondents said they never checked a review, underscoring how important they have become during the research phase of shopping.

Although online reviewers tended to lean towards writing good (54%) and mixed (57%), just over one-fifth (21%) of all those surveyed had left a bad review.

Bad reviews, in most cases, were written under the motivation of warning off other consumers about a poor product or experiences.  Nearly 90% cited this reasoning for a negative review.  Other top reasons for writing bad reviews were to feel less angry about the problem (23%) and hoping for a refund/help of some kind from the company implicated (21%).

Hoteliers should keep this last demographic, those looking for a refund or help of some kind from the company, in mind as it presents an opportunity for customer relations management to take over when a problem has been identified.  Interacting with these consumers and making the necessary adjustments can only help to build your brand loyalty and improve the experience for future travelers.

The State of the Online Travel Industry in 2014

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State of Digital recently released a Travel 360 report after collating the viewpoints and analysis of experts, thought leaders and key commercial players of both the hospitality and travel industries.  The report aims to act as a marker of the level of integration between travel brands and the various online channels within digital marketing.

The key trend throughout this report is the idea that companies must be able to adapt their business and marketing models in an attempt to future-proof their businesses.  Facilitating ongoing relationships and interactions with travel consumers has now become critical to survival.

The following are seven key points highlighted in this report that you should keep in mind going forward.  They address challenges facing businesses today, and the holistic approaches and angles that will provide real value, strategy and insight to your brand.

1) Communicating a holistic brand message, consistently across all channels, is now very important to a brand’s long-term prospects.  Consistency is crucial when planning your marketing strategy.  It is important that your message is the same whether consumers see it on your website, in e-mail blasts, on a mobile site or from a third party site (OTAs, vertical marketing sites, metasearch engines, etc.)

2) Brands need to install a startup culture and nurture a digital experience that runs through the business.  Word of mouth is a great way of advertising to dozens of people, but those numbers will not sustain your business over the long haul.  “Rewriting the rule book” should not be seen as a negative experience, but rather as growing with the always-changing digital landscape.

3) Storytelling helps the digital travel industry to get the right customers in the right way.  Honest, authoritative and local content, infused with quality storytelling is the future of travel content.  The millennial generation is looking for a unique experience when planning a getaway.  Capturing that audience by telling your own unique story will be an important marketing tool going forward.

4) Storytelling, marketing, PR and outstanding content will inspire loyalty and provide long-term success to a brand.    Brand loyalty has recently taken a step back to deals when consumers are planning to travel.  Re-establishing brand loyalty with quality content and marketing is a key to survival in the future.

5) There is going to be an increasing trend towards personalization and the creation of more unique experiences.  As noted earlier, this is precisely what a new generation of traveler is looking for.  Millennials are willing to spend the money if they believe their experience will be unique

6) Mobile is the biggest growth area in terms of sales.   Recent projections by PhoCusWright predict that U.S. mobile bookings will almost double in 2014 to $24.3 billion, up from $12.3 billion in 2013.

7) Mobile has led to the rise of the ‘always connected traveler’ and the possibility of in-experience interactions with brands.  Social media allows guests to provide feedback and interact with a company in a way that has nearly usurped the role of the on-site concierge.  Travelers use their mobile devices for everything from getting directions to their accommodations, to finding a restaurant or tourist attraction during their stay.

To download and read the full State of Digital Travel 360 report, click here.