All posts by Paul Manzey

Discussing Hotel Distribution Strategies

parityrate 1 click logoIn a recent interview with EyeForTravel, Sascha Hausmann, CEO of Busy Rooms, discussed hotel distribution developments in 2013, as well as trends to monitor in 2014.  Here are some of the key points Hausmann covered in her examination of distribution strategies.

Major Developments in 2013

Alternative distribution, outside of the regular and traditional OTA business, was a hot button issue last year.  It is clear that travelers like the ability to compare products.  This is where metasearch engines have made great strides.  Allowing travelers to not only compare properties in a given location, but to find the best price from a range of OTAs has given metasearch channels a leg up on the competition.

Major Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2014

1) Continuous growth in mobile and a shift from web-based searching and booking to mobile web-based

2) A focus on direct distribution fostered by metasearch

3) Rate parity will become a tool used by hoteliers rather than forced by OTA/tour operators

How to Optimize Your Effectiveness

In recent years, the focus for most hotels has been which mix of OTAs will provide the most visibility for your property.  However, with the advent of metasearch engines and the growth of online advertising options, the right mix of OTAs is no longer enough.  Travelers do not easily group themselves around specific channels anymore, instead using a broad range of outlets.

The Role of Channel Management

The channel management industry came into existence to solve that problem of managing a variety of different outlets, both in terms of availability and pricing.  However, these channels have not progressed from being just another online travel agency management tool.

Hausmann predicts that the next generation of channel management will be able to go far beyond just managing the online booking sector, but will also allow for centralizing online marketing opportunities and direct consumer traffic while providing detailed performance metrics and market intelligence.

To read this EyeForTravel interview in its entirety, and to learn more about distribution strategies, click here.

Is Social Media the Best Customer Service Tool?

socialMediaCustomerService_v1.1In December, we talked about the natural merger of the on-site hotel concierge and social media manager.  Patrick Mayock of HotelNewsNow took this idea a bit further and examined whether social media is the best client service tool.

At the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Spain, Mayock sat in on a presentation about social media as the ultimate customer service channel.  However, he has some reservations about that designation.

It is obvious that social media has become a key tool in managing a customer’s online requests.  An eDigitalResearch survey found that more than one in 10 respondents expected to be able to speak to a brand represented via social media.

A similar report by the Aberdeen Group, conducted in 2012, found that 12% of service requests originated in the social sphere, with that number projected to have risen to 22% in 2013.

Companies have dedicated additional resources to marketing and social media subsets, and in general have seen success in this area.  Contact through social media is the quickest and most reliable way to get in contact with a brand and currently the only channel that will guarantee a reply to your query or complaint.

Companies may be responding to these questions due to fear of publicized customer rants on Facebook or Twitter, a common trend among the seemingly “Silent Travelers” who may smile about customer service on-site, but unleash when they have the right social media platform.

Mayock’s belief is that social media may not be supporting the increasingly digital customer service exchange, but rather the proliferation of handheld devices.  Because of the rise in these devices, hoteliers are creating new applications to reach guests – both on and off property.

The nature of these apps varies from company to company, but the consistent idea is allowing hoteliers to stay connected with guests, and vice versa.  The most important aspect of the conversation is that these companies are circumventing social media entirely.

To read more about Mayock’s travel industry insights, and to the read rest of this article, click here.

ResortsandLodges.com Forms Partnership With Barefoot Technologies

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ResortsandLodges.com Forms Two-Way Integrated Interface With Barefoot Technologies

Minneapolis, Minn., —  ResortsandLodges.com, a leading worldwide Resort and Lodge destination travel website, today announced it is partnering with Barefoot Technologies, one of the founding browser-based vacation rental systems in the travel market, in order to provide ResortsandLodges.com travelers access to more than 20,000 vacation rentals.

Founded in 1999, Barefoot was officially the first browser-based vacation rental system on the market.  They are currently one of the few systems to offer customer relationship management (CRM) software, social media, document management and the most innovative work order system on the market.  They have also attracted more than 20,000 vacation rentals properties, and offers online availability, rates and booking options.

 Thanks to the new integrated two-way interface, Barefoot Technologies will be able to publish comprehensive rental details with online rates and availability for ResortsandLodges.com’s nearly 10 million guests to book online.  This two-way interface offers Barefoot’s customers a new channel to attract new travelers and will save the property owners time so they don’t have to individually update rates and availability.

“We have an endless pursuit to ensure our travel audience is able to access the largest collection of accommodations across the world and be able to book them online. This ability will offer travelers the chance to create truly memorable vacation experiences. In order to meet our traveler’s demand we are connecting with where the availability isn’t typically sold on travel sites we may have become familiar with; Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com and Travelocity. Our partnership with Barefoot Technologies is very exciting; we will be able to offer our nearly 10 million guests access to book real-time availability with more than 20,000 unique rental properties across North America,” said Ryan Bailey, CEO of ResortsandLodges.com.

“Our customers are always interested in connecting with shopping sites to generate new customers and it is difficult to do so with major OTAs like Expedia and Hotels.com because of their traditional high commission rates.  It is exciting to find a company like ResortsandLodges.com offering a channel that is more feasible for resort and property managers,” said Ed Ulmer, President of Barefoot Technologies.

About Barefoot Technologies - Barefoot is a leading provider of browser-based reservation and asset management systems in the vacation rental industry. It has the distinction of being the first browser system in the industry, the first to provide online booking, tenant, owner access and to offer social media tools and is designed to be tailored to meet clients’ exacting needs. Barefoot is also the only system with a full Customer Relations program wrapped into the program, which in effect makes it the only full service system in the industry. Founded in 1998, by leading technology and industry players, the “.NET platform” has become a standard for those who are trend setters in the industry and those who desire to dominate their market with unique functionally. For more information, please contact Barefoot at 603-428-6255, A...@barefoot.com

 About ResortsandLodges.com

ResortsandLodges.com® is a comprehensive online resource for leisure travel with access to unique accommodations worldwide. The site provides the ability to plan and book memorable experiences at resorts, vacation rentals, cabins, holiday rentals, villas, condos, cottages, lodges, boutique hotels, B&B’s and vacation hotels.

 Founded in 1998, ResortsandLodges.com was one of the first major leisure travel sites established on the Internet. Over the years, ResortsandLodges.com has received numerous awards and accolades for web design, outstanding usability, fast page loading speeds, and skillful information display.

 

Mobile Travel Market Set to Double in 2014

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Regular readers of the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog have probably noticed that we dedicate a fair portion of content to emerging technologies and maximizing the tools available to the modern traveler.  Your website’s visibility depends heavily upon receiving views from a wide variety of sources, including smartphones and tablets.

How important are mobile devices for the future of the travel and hospitality industries?  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.  This means that mobile bookings – which include both smartphone and tablet bookings, but not reservations made under a “click-to-call” function – will account for 18% of the online travel market, and that $1 of every $12 spent on travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

With these numbers in mind, ResortsandLodges.com released a newly enhanced version of its mobile website at the beginning of the year, and has instantly seen positive results.  Nearly 30% of website visitors through the first three weeks of 2014 accessed ResortsandLodges.com through a mobile device.  Just over half of this demographic (15.9%) accessed the site on a tablet, while 14% of customers hopped on from a smartphone.

“I’m excited that our website now has an outstanding platform that caters to mobile users,” said Bryan Vargas, Director of IT.  “It is always important to deliver a first-rate experience to such a significant portion of our traffic.”

More Key Facts and Figures

-Despite having a similar visit duration time (2 minutes 48 seconds) as desktop (2:56) and tablet users (3:26), smartphone visitors at ResortsandLodges.com view more than three times as many pages (9.38) as those using a desktop (2.58) or tablet (2.77).

-Travelers from New York, Chicago and Minneapolis have been the most frequent users of the mobile site from smartphones.  The top three cities from which tablet users originate are New York, Houston and Chicago.

-Apple products dominate the landscape for mobile visitors at ResortsandLodges.com, with the iPhone (44.4%) and iPad (27.3%) making up 71.8% of the mobile viewing audience.

Marketing E-mails Going Mobile

Having mobile capabilities is not just important for a company’s website.  It is also important for marketing purposes.  According to a report from Movable Ink, an e-mail marketing provider, 65% of marketing e-mails were opened on mobile devices during the last quarter of 2013, up from 61% during the third quarter.  These percentages skewed heavily in favor of e-mails opened on smartphones (48%) over tablets (16%).  To see more data from the Movable Ink report, click here.

Examining Metasearch Online Travel Agencies

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Online travel agencies (OTAs) are a vital part of the supply chain in the travel industry. They are widely considered one of the main factors behind rapid growth in online travel bookings across both mature and emerging markets.

New online channels have been created in recent years with the intention of lowering hotel distribution costs without decreasing occupancy levels.  Of these options, the metasearch channel has separated itself from the pack as a highly successful venture.

In a recent interview with HotelMarketing.com, Siteminder’s CEO Mike Ford illustrated the opportunities that metasearch channels present for hoteliers.

Ford begins the discussion by explaining that metasearch OTAs collect room rates from multiple online channels and displays them to the consumer in a single list.  This allows potential travelers an expedited process to find and compare hotels and pricing options.  Some of the most popular sites include Google Hotel Finder, Trivago and Kayak.

Those hoteliers that are taking advantage and becoming early adopters of new sales and distribution technologies stand out, but ultimately the name of the game is converting clicks to bookings.  No matter the type of property, the number of rooms, geographical location, star rating or amenities offered, the companies that are the most profitable will be those with a high click conversion.

Ford also discusses his feelings about TripAdvisor’s TripConnect in comparison to the other major metasearch OTAs as well as tips for hoteliers on how best to implement metasearch channels into their online visibility.

To read this entire interview, and to learn more about the importance of metasearch OTAs going forward, click here.

Emerging Travel Trends: The Silent Traveler

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The rise of digital technology and marketing in the hospitality industry has created a new kind of traveler who is adept at all available online and mobile tools.  They use these tools to jump across all industry-defined silos.  These new travelers do not require a lot of handholding, they shun human interaction and know their way around everywhere they go.

These travelers were documented in a Skift report titled, “14 Global Trends That Will Define Travel in 2014.”  How can you reach these travelers and keep them satisfied during their stay at your property?  Let’s take a look at some options that are geared towards the newly emerging “Silent Traveler”.

Mobile Check-in Opportunities

No traveler really enjoys the tedious process of a front desk check-in.  Waiting in line can be a hassle, and Silent Travelers do not always feel comfortable with extended amounts of face-to-face interaction.  One of our recent blog posts, “Hotels Expand Mobile Check-In Options” discusses steps hotels are taking to make the check-in process simpler and mobile-driven.

Third Space Creativity

Silent Travelers still need a place to be able to operate the technology they travel with, putting a premium on creating a usable third space on your property.  All travelers are looking for Wi-Fi connectivity, and most of them believe this should be a complimentary service.  Click here to learn more about third spaces.

Response to Feedback

If the hospitality — the actual human to human interaction — part of the travel industry becomes less and less important, how does the industry define itself? How does it understand the needs of its customers and fulfill them?

Although these Silent Travelers may not be talking to people face-to-face, they are often jumping on review sites, or a property’s own website, to leave feedback about their stay.  It is important to manage these channels and respond to this feedback as soon as possible.  This ensures that the voice of the Silent Travelers is being heard, and their concerns are addressed like those of any other guest.

Roomer Travel: The Resale Marketplace Dynamic

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Have you heard of StubHub and EBay?  These well-known sites provide a secondary marketplace for buyers and sellers of valuable products.  What would happen if there were a secondary marketplace for hotel rooms bought in advance, that need to be sold because of unforeseen circumstances?  Welcome to the idea behind Roomer Travel.

Richie Karaburun, Roomer Travel’s United States Managing Director, was recently on the Emerging Market Trends Panel at the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association (HEDNA) conference, and he discussed the business model behind the startup.

Here is how Roomer Travel works:  travelers who have booked, and prepaid, for a non-refundable room can put their room up on the site, where they can re-sell it to another person.

On the surface, there is some fear from hoteliers and room suppliers that “hotel scalping” will become the norm, creating a potential disruption in the hotel supply chain.  For example, what is stopping a person from buying a room at $100 six months in advance, and then selling in later when the Best Available Rate is higher than the price originally paid – thus making a profit? Shouldn’t this profit be going to the hotel whose inventory is being re-sold rather than the customer?

Karaburun pointed out, the average discount they have seen on their platform is 37%.  He claims this is a far cry from scalping, and more of a way to help customers with not having to eat the cost of the pre-paid hotel room when plans change.

The main goal of the company is to connect sellers – traveler who can no longer use their hotel reservation, but do not want to pay the cancellation fee – with other travelers who are willing to buy the reservation for them.  This creates value for the hotels – which do not need to re-market the room and sell it for less (the hotel still gets the full price for a reservation).  Hotels also have the opportunity to capture the incremental revenues (WiFI, minibar, etc.) which would be lost if the room is not re-sold.

Four Immediate Challenges Facing Roomer Travel

1) The true size of the market remains uncertain.  Although Karaburun estimated that there are 80,000 hotel daily no-shows in the United States in an NBC News interview, this may be a slightly exaggerated figure.  The key here is that not all hotels are offering a resale market option, and some of these rooms may not be non-refundable.

2) Unlike airlines, hotels allow name changes on a reservation now.  If a consumer finds himself or herself unable to use a prepaid reservation, he or she can reach out to others using social media to see if anyone is interested in using a room.

3) Hotels may resist using Roomer if they believe it will have a negative effect on their revenues.

4) Simple convincing hotels to participate in this new marketplace will be a tough sell.  Roomer could find it difficult getting branded hotels to participate.  An easier angle to work may be independent hotels, but this reaches a limited consumer base.

The Declining Value of Social Marketing

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Is social media a marketer’s dream, or a dreadful nightmare that just does not seem to go away?  Is everybody using it, or are people just hopping on board right as the calendar changes to 2014?  NextStage surveyed 1,700 U.S. and Canada-based companies about their own social media use, and the results may surprise you.

It is first important to get some context on exactly what social marketing entails.  Social marketing means creating a social presence and using that social presence to drive conversions.  Conversions cover everything from loyalty to acquisition to retention, and even customer service.

All interviewees were director level and above, knowledgeable social managers with two or more years’ experience in social, with more years in marketing in general.  Companies ranged from mom and pop shops to Fortune 100 corporations.  Wide varieties of tools were used to glean information about social campaigns including Expion, Google Anayltics, HootSuite and ReviewAnalyst among others.

So what did these businesses think?  Would they do it all over again?

Marketers who said they are new to social media: 6%

It almost seems like a cardinal sin for a marketing manager to have at least two years of experience on the job and still claim to be new to social media.

That being said, with so many social media platforms out there, it stands to reason that some marketing managers may be new to outlets like Pinterest, Instagram or Reddit.  Part of people’s newness claims did amount to an inability to keep up.  One respondent even said, “We’re not sure the platform we need is out there yet.”

That “which platform” question will be a considerable challenge for marketers in 2014 and beyond.

Marketer who said they were happy with social media: 7.75%

This low a percentage should not be a real surprise to marketers.  All successful efforts came down to four essential details.  The top two spots in this regard were knowing and respecting their audience.  Those who claimed success talked about knowing their audience and showing it respect.

Respect came in several forms including shared interests, shared social causes and shared social beliefs.  Letting an audience have a say and digital transparency that was seconded on non-digital channels were also highly ranked.

The third basic element for success was the old “location, location, location” slogan.   You want to go where your audience is, while not trying to push them in a direction where they do not wish to go.

The final element was deciding what to measure and then finding or making the tool that could accurately measure it.  A marketing manager’s office is a revolving door of vendors with lots of solid products, but they have to be the correct product for what you are attempting to measure.

Marketer who said they are going to “do something else”:  10.5%

This can include everything from revamping social marketing campaigns to completely rebuilding social teams to everything in-between.  Although these people are unhappy with their results, they are not unhappy enough to abandon social media altogether.  However, they are just unhappy enough to consider alternative spends.

Did these companies consider this social spending a waste of money?  Definitely not.  All of them considered their social campaigns learning experiences, and most believed that the campaigns simply did not succeed as well as they would have liked.

To find out what percentage of companies were dissatisfied with social, and where the rest of respondents fell on the survey, click here.