All posts by Paul Manzey

Hotels Expand Mobile Check-In Options

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As you have seen in many of our recent posts, a number of key trends and tips in the hospitality and travel industry focus on the expansion of multi-channel travelers.  Everyone is traveling with a smartphone or tablet, and hoteliers need to recognize how important a tool these devices can be throughout the travel process.

The recent boom of mobile websites and applications allows travelers to book rooms with the click of a button.  Now, because of a growing demand from tech savvy travelers, properties need to incorporate mobile check-in options to help guests avoid the front desk lines.

A recent Business Travel News article took a deeper look at what some brands and individual hotels are doing to make checking in an easier and faster process for travelers worldwide.

While check-in kiosks and other methods of avoiding the front desk line in recent years have become the commonplace at hotels, there has been a slow integration of mobile technology into this sometimes tedious process.  There has been a greater adoption of mobile technology across some major hotel brands.

At the same time, some third-party technology suppliers are providing tools for hotels and distributors to offer mobile check-in.

Major Brands Getting Involved

Marriott Hotels will offer mobile check-in at all 500 of its hotels globally during the first half of 2014.  Guests who are members can check in via the Marriott Mobile App from 4 p.m. on the day before arrival.  When these guests arrive, their key card is waiting for them at a designated mobile check-in desk.

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has a similar process at select hotels, with kiosks available for incoming guests to retrieve keys.

Another big name, Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, has taken a slightly different approach with nine properties currently piloting the Smart Check-In program.  Guests receive a Starwood Preferred Guest Card and, on the day of their arrival, receive a text message telling them their room number.  From this point, they can head straight to their room and use the SPG card as their key.

To learn more about third party technology suppliers that are providing mobile check-in options, and to read the full Business Travel News article, click here.

Five Ways Hotels can use Facebook’s Insights Platform

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Analytics software has moved to the social media platform as Facebook has released Facebook Insights, a new platform for all business listings.  With Insights, you have access to more data that shows just how likeable your brand is.  Here are five tips to keep in mind that will help you to better connect with your audience:

1. Follow Your Page’s Weekly Trends

The Overview section of the platform provides you with a quick look at Likes, Reach and Engagement over the past week.  You will also find a log of your five most recent posts.  Viewing this information on a weekly basis allow your to see trends and capitalize on the elements that are creating engagement in your campaign.  You will also have the opportunity to troubleshoot negative performance trends before they become an ongoing problem.

2. Figure out Your Optimal Posting Time

Marketers have put a substantial amount of research into discovering what the best times are to post on Facebook.  The Insights platform takes this a step further by tailoring this information specifically to your audience.  This is a great tool for helping you to organize your posting schedule during the days of the weeks, and hours of the day, when your audience is most reachable.

3. Customize Your Content for Your Audience

It is not enough to know only who is reading your posts, and when they are reading it.  The Post Types tab of Facebook Insights will show you what type of content your audience is responding to, as well as a post-by-post breakdown of recent posts.  It is still important to diversify your content, but focusing on post types that generate the most reach and engagement will certainly help your cause.

4. Make Sure You Are Not Alienating Your Audience

As with all forms of social media, your Facebook Page can never be all things to all people, but you do want to make sure your content is generating more positive reactions than negative ones.  The Reach Tab on Facebook Insight helps you determine when you are reaching people and how they are reacting.  Here, you will be able to see Hide, Report as Spam and Unlikes in a graph right below Likes, Comments and Shares.  These will all be a direct reaction to your posts, so if the negative reactions surpass the positive, you should look up that day’s content and avoid similar items in the future.

5. Get to Know Your Fans

You will be able to find a demographic breakdown for a wide variety of categories including those people checking into your property, those who are seeing or engaging with your content, or just your overall fan base.  This information will be helpful in tailoring your content to your audience, or planning future fan acquisition campaigns.

If, for example, you are seeing a demographic that is particularly engaged with your content or a demographic that is lacking on Facebook but is typically a strong market for your property, you can plan future campaigns to reach those users.

Understanding Why ResortsandLodges.com Works For You

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In today’s travel and hospitality industry, it is clear that brand loyalty is on the decline and consumers are looking for the best value, deals and the most choices.

This is where Niche marketing comes into play.

Consider the decision to buy a television from an online retailer. When you search for a Flat Screen TV, you can search for a certain brand (Samsung, Vizio, LG, etc.), and you likely will find these brand websites on Google, Yahoo and Bing!  However, consumers statistically will choose to click into sites such as Best Buy, Target and Amazon.

These sites allow shoppers to compare the televisions produced by multiple brands, making a comparison and ultimately choosing the product that fits all of their needs.  Some may choose to buy online during that initial user session, however, most will purchase at a later date and may come back through a different search, or even purchase at a local retail store.

Similarly, travelers who are looking to find a specific accomodation type in a certain location head to major search engines to help them find properties.  The search engine is not where they transact however, it is the means to finding a niche shopping site to research all of their options.

These niche shopping sites in travel include OTA (online travel agents ie. Expedia, Hotels.com) Meta Search Sites (Kayak, TripAdvisor) and Niche Portals (ie. ResortsandLodges.com, Bed&Breakfast.com) Although travelers who prefer consumer choice enjoy the option of searching for the perfect destination, they only spend five percent of their time typing in search queries.

Maximizing the 5%

If consumers are spending such a limited amount of time searching to shop, your property needs to be visible, and visible early on a search engine’s results page.   Most companies bid for premier placement on keyword searches, but on average, you will likely only be able to advertise on three out of every ten sites with front-page placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing!

Like television shoppers, travelers want the ability to compare travel accommodations in specific areas.  Would you prefer to click-in to see a single Pocono Mountain resort, or head to 800Poconos.com or ResortsandLodges.com and compare multiple resorts, lodges, VRMC’s, Inns and B&B’s in the Poconos?  The choice between a niche and individual business usually weighs in favor of having more options.

Since most properties already dominate in hyper-local keywords (ie. St. Pete Beach Hotels) and of course their own brand search, the challenge of many marketing directors is in expanding their reach to target travelers further up the funnel, then influence them to come to their destination and furthermore, stay with their property.  That is the role of ResortsandLodges.com.

Do a quick Google search for Arkansas Resorts or Wisconsin Lodges. ResortsandLodges.com uses Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and keyword bidding to keep placement of Search Enginge Results Pages (SERP) high.  In addition to our region pages, you will find independent region directories or individual properties.

You will not be able to advertise on individual property websites, and regional sites can limit the range of comparison to certain territories. ResortsandLodges.com offers the opportunity to be one click from a detalied property profile, and at the top of many Google, Yahoo and Bing! SERPs.

This is only one of the ways ResortsandLodges.com brings 1,000’s of travelers direct to our partners each and every day.

 

Quick Tips and Takeaways:

1. On average, consumers will only spend five percent of their online shopping time typing queries into a search engine, putting a premium on high placement on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).

2. Niche shopping sites allow travelers to compare similar properties in a given location, allowing  them to choose the property that fits all of their needs.  At ResortsandLodges.com, you are one click away from being linked directly back to your property website.

3. Because most major companies bid for premium placement on SERP, and on average you can only advertise on three out of ten sites with first-page placement on Google, Yahoo and Bing!, it is important to spend your advertising dollars wisely.  Essential things to consider are the right media, the right message and the right time.

 

Survey: Majority of Americans Planning to Travel

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A recent survey by the U.S. Travel Insurance Association (USTia) found that a majority of Americans plan to travel in 2014, taking more than two trips.  The survey found that 61% of the participants said they will travel in the coming calendar year with an average of 2.4 vacation trips planned.  Of that group, 30% said they will take three or more trips.  Here are a few other numbers and notes you might find interesting regarding the survey:

  • The survey found that respondents’ likelihood of traveling rose along with income levels.  Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents earning $50,000 or more will take at least one vacation trip, while only 46% who earn less than $50,000 said they plan to travel.
  • Respondents’ travel likelihood also rose along with education levels.  Of the respondents with college degrees, 70% said they will travel in 2014, compared to 56% for those without degrees.
  • 70% of married respondents said that they plan to take a trip in the next year, while only 52% of unmarried individuals responded the same way.
  • Domestic itineraries will likely dominate the travel landscape in 2014 as 85% of respondents said they will vacation within the U.S. and Canada.

Understanding the Third Space and Your Property

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The third space describes the place where people meet outside of the home (first space) and office (second space).  Engineering parts of your hotel as flourishing third spaces will play to your advantage for higher occupancy levels and hotel cache.

Whether you have heard the term “third space” before or not, it is something that should be given some thought going forward.  Recent shifts in consumer behavior dictate that you fully understand this concept and its potential to enhance your property’s atmosphere.

The term third space was originally coined by the sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place” to describe a public or neutral center for community building, civic engagement, intellectual discourse, peer encouragement and group validation.

Some examples of third spaces in your community may include cafes, markets, bazaars, pubs, bars, clubs shopping malls, barber shops, recreation halls and even post offices as long as they are designed correctly.  Third spaces, in essence, are places where people can unleash their inner social animals by exchanging opinions, stories and theories to the benefit of everyone present.

Starbucks provides an excellent example of a third space.  Over the past two decades, the franchise has experienced exponential growth thanks to superb products, but also because of the atmosphere the store exudes.

The vibe surrounding this java haven is not one of “grab and get out as quickly as possible.”  Instead, Starbucks uses warmly colored furnishings and humble décor to encourage customers to sit and enjoy their beverages and snacks.

Why Care?

You may be asking yourself, why should I care about promoting a part of my property as a third space?  Third spaces are almost as important as the home and the offices because they are the places that individuals frequent to enrich their lifestyles.

Working in the hospitality industry has to mean more than just looking at the numbers.  Property owners and hoteliers should aim to nurture guests and offer them a common area to develop their own identities.  This quality is not captured in accounting ledgers, but will certainly have an emotional impact on your guests.  You will see this impact with increased loyalty and positive word of mouth.

Because more people are working from home – thus combining the first and second places – there is a developing desire to offset the monotony of a single space.  Visiting a local hotspot, for example, can service the need for the external, novel stimulation.  People want to be where the action is.

Why Now?

In addition to this tech-dependent trend (as digital communications have accelerated the merger of first and second spaces), neutral third spaces such as cafes, bars and restaurants  are now much more likely to double as hosts for casual business meetings and interviews.

You have probably already seen some sort of shift in consumer behavior that corresponds to the rise in buying power of the Gen X and millennial generations.  More surplus cash equals increased spending and more time allotted for public gathering, and both of these outcomes make these two demographics key proponents of the third space, especially as they continue to mature.

These groups are also most associated with Internet fluency, electronic communications and social media usage.  All of these digital interactions are forms of social discourse and provide numerous platforms to speak out in this ever-increasing social world.

Smartphones and other mobile devices play a significant role in our collective culture.  Any individual who is accessing the Internet for social discourse in a neutral setting is, in today’s standards, a third-space participant.  They could be on their device anywhere, but they choose to be in, and contribute to, a social ambiance.  With greater smartphone proliferation comes a greater need for third spaces.

Third-Space Criteria

It is your job to ensure that different parts of your property are optimized for a third space.  It is not necessary to meet all of these standards, but the more you can check off, the better your chances will be or creating a hotspot in your hotel.

  • Accessibility – Consumers must be able to find your neutral space, and that means making your restaurant, bar or lounge convenient for everyone.  A spot in the lobby, within sight of the front desk and elevators provides maximum visibility, and appropriate signage helps consumers identify your space.  Extended hours and a reduction of barriers (cover charges, membership requirements, dress codes, etc.) help promote belonging and equality of conversation.
  • Ambiance – It is important to strive for an informal, unassuming manner in your overall décor.  Excessively dim lighting and loud music do not allow guests to gather for work or casual purposes.  Try to aim for a playlist that inspires a lighthearted spirit.  Additionally, you can consult an interior designer to learn some more clever ways to induce a steady flow of conversation.
  • Stylish yet Ergonomic Seating – Try to give your patrons comfortable, upright chairs positioned around tables large enough to spread out a few papers or laptops.  An abundance of these set-ups allows a large group to congregate.  It is also important to allow for a reasonable amount of people watching.
  • Quality Food and Beverage – Good dialogue and a great experience can be enhanced by quality food, coffee, craft beers and mixology.  The third-space lubricants of yesteryear were pints of ale.  Today, you must weigh the positives and negatives or libations in your third space.  Alcohol and food are not mandatory, but it can certainly help set the tone for a great atmosphere.  Fascinating cuisine and cocktail choices can also make great conversation starters.
  • Tech Support – People are not hanging out “alone” in the 21st century.  Everyone has a device they are traveling with whether it is a smartphone, tablet or laptop.  Power outlets should not be sparse or hidden, even if that means running a few extra wires around the place.  If you are really looking to create a bustling area, make Wi-Fi free!
  • Savvy Staff – The final main characteristic of a modern third space is the presence of regular patrons.  Just like the hit TV show “Cheers” pointed out, sometime you just want to go “where everybody knows your name.”  The wait staff at your third space provides the connective glue to nurture stead guests and convert first-timers into long-standing “regulars”.  You cannot just hire anyone for this role.  Staff members need to be socially smart, remember who regulars are, be thoroughly knowledgeable on all menu items and receptive to inducting newcomers by opening conversation.

Online Content and Readability: They Both Matter

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With recent updates to Google’s infamous search algorithm, creating high-quality content is of the utmost importance.

Blog posts, articles and other forms of written content should be both highly relevant to your audience and tailored to them.  This is especially important in the language you are using.

Before you begin writing, it is important to understand your audience.  If you are writing for travelers in a particular area, it can be helpful to use less formal language, and perhaps throw in some of the local jargon.  Make sure the language you are using, and the readability factor, match for the audience you are trying to reach.

Some Best-Practices for Writing for the Web

Writing online content uses skills, language and design elements which are different from those used in standard print.  Here is some basic information to keep in mind when creating text for the Web:

  • Do not be afraid to use white space.  Keep paragraphs shorts (no more than six lines) and ensure there is clear white space between each.
  • Use shorter words and sentences, depending on your audience.
  • Use language that is known to the target audience.  Some jargon may be necessary, for example, when writing for technology or corporate markets.

Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scoring

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test was created by Austrian-born Rudolf Flesch, one of the earliest proponents of writing in plain English.  This formula works because it is based on some very complicated facts of human psychology, and is based on the way the human mind works.

Boiled down to the basics, the longer the word, sentence or paragraph, the longer the brain has to suspend comprehending ideas until it can reach a point where all of the words make sense together.

Because they require more mental work by the reader, longer words and sentences are harder to read and comprehend.

Flesch based his readability formula on three key variables:  total words, number of syllables in these words and sentence length.  On a score of 0 to 100, 0 is measure as the most difficult and 100 is the easiest.  To view the readability chart, click here.

Basic English is considered to have a Flesch-Kincaid score around 60, and if a text’s readability score is between 60 and 70, 13-15-year-old students should easily understand it.  You may think you are insulting your readers by sticking to a score of around 60, but you are not; you’re just writing in plain understandable English.

Here are some examples of average scores for various types of content:

  • Comics – 92
  • Consumer Advertisements – 82
  • Reader’s Digest – 65
  • Time Magazine – 52
  • Harvard Business Review – 43
  • Standard insurance policy – 10

It is obvious that scores differ according to the target audience.  Harvard Business Review assumes a readership with a certain level of education.  Most insurance policies will include a lot of industry-relevant language, causing their readability scores to be quite low.

Microsoft Office users can check readability statistics when reviewing a document, and can edit their work accordingly if it does not meet your content standards.

Troubleshooting

Let’s say that you have finished your blog post, and your readability score is 25.  Some editing options to consider would be breaking up long sentences into one or more smaller sentences and cutting out words of three syllables or more.

One of Flesch’s overriding principles is that there are no complex, legalistic words that cannot be translated into plain English.  Use the thesaurus to help you find alternatives that will make your content more readable.  It can also be a good idea to use contractions, such as don’t and they’re, to help keep your content flowing.

To sum it all up, the key to writing good content is to use language that won’t detract from your message.  Just because you, the expert, understands dictionary terms doesn’t mean your readers will as well.  Keep it simple, use plenty of white space and let the Flesch-Kincaid formula help you craft plenty of solid content!

6 Reasons Consumers may not Like your Travel Images

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It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what happens when your specific picture just does not measure up to rest?  Visual content represents some of the most effective marketing practices in nearly every industry, especially in the hospitality industry where travel images are powerful elements.

If you do not realize just how important images are to your property, take a look at your social media marketing campaign.  The sites you are using (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have become image-driven with the advent of camera phones and increased technology.

Because of this push towards images across the board, it is not enough to just have photos on your website or business listing.  You must have the correct images that will capture the eye of potential customers and drive business to your site.

Do you think you may have an imaging issue on your website or online listings?  Here is a list of reasons why consumers may not like your travel images.

1. They Look Old or Small – As computer screens continue to grow in size and definition, your visuals need to do the same.  No one enjoys seeing a 300×300 image on a 2880×1800 computer screen.  Many travelers will click away from your site if photos are too small to see or enjoy.

2. They Are Outdated – It is important for hoteliers to renew their visuals approximately every two years in order to avoid discrepancies between what the guest sees online and upon arrival.  Updating your images also allows you to showcase recent renovations, changes in décor and allows viewers to know your property is under constant care.

3. Confusing Galleries – Many hotels do not allow their images to be expanded into a full-screen view.  This can be frustrating for potential customers if they want to see a close-up image but are unable.  Make sure your images can be displayed as large as your website allows.

Also, avoid making viewers jump around to different pages to view the different types of media you have.  Photos, virtual tours, floor plans and videos should all be included in a single media player.

4. The Color Is Not Right – Color and lighting make a tremendous difference when users look at images.  Many photographers use color calibration software when enhancing visuals, which may adjust how color appears on your user’s computer screen.

There could be a highlighting and shading issue, or the tint of the sky and grass may be just a little off.   Make sure to test the color and brightness of the visuals on different computers to make sure this does not happen.

5. Not Mobile-Friendly – Although smartphones make accessing websites on-the-go a simple task, “mobile-unfriendly” images can complicate the matter.  No one enjoys zooming in and out just to see a picture, and touchscreen sensitivity can send you to a whole different site with the unintended press of a button.

6. Few Images – Recent travel statistics show that properties with more than 20 photos get 150% more engagement than those with less than 20.  It is not enough to just take one photo of a bed and one of the front desk.  Guests are looking for something that sets you apart from the crowd.

Showcase various photos of your guest rooms, and views from the room.  Use images to point out unique amenities and features that will attract additional travelers to your website and eventually to your property.

It is important to understand that a guest’s final decision can be highly-defined by the hotel’s website visuals.  Take your time to plan and produce high-quality images in order to engage and convert viewers more effectively!

How Much Should You Be Spending on SEO?

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Nearly every business today must make a decision about how much to spend on search engine optimization (SEO).  This is no longer an “if” question for businesses as a robust online marketing strategy is imperative for survival in a web-driven world.

“How much will we spend on SEO?” is the question that every business professional must ask themselves in 2014.  One of Search Engine Watch’s 10 most popular stories of the 2013, written by Jayson DeMars, took deeper look at SEO spending.  Here are a few helpful tips from DeMars, and hopefully all the information you will need to help make a decision about hiring an SEO agency and forging a crucial partnership with an online marketing firm.

SEO Payment Models

To get a better understanding of the dollars and cents you will be spending on services, it is important to understand the payment models used by agencies.  Typically these agencies offer four main forms of services and payment:

  • Monthly Retainer:  Clients in this model will pay a set fee each month in exchange for an agreed-upon array of services.  This is the most common payment model because it provides the greatest return on investment (ROI).  These arrangements commonly include regular analytics reports, on-site content improvements, keyword research and optimization.  (Average Range of Rates: $750-5,000 per month) 
  • Contract Services at Fixed Prices:  Typically before a client is ready to engage in a monthly retainer, they will select contract services they wish to have completed.   SEO agencies will commonly list their services on their site, along with a price.  An example of one of these services could be an SEO website audit, which will help determine your current strengths and weaknesses as well as keywords with the highest ROI potential.  (Variable Prices dependent on services)
  • Project-Based Pricing:  Project fees are similar to contract services, but they are customized specifically for the client.  Pricing will vary according to the project.  A local business may want an agency to help with local online marketing by establishing social media accounts.  Together the business owner and the SEO agency will decide on the scope and cost of the project.  (Variable prices typically between $1,000 and $30,000)
  • Hourly Consulting:  This familiar consulting model is an hourly fee in exchange for services or information.  (Average Range of Rates: $100-300/hr.)

Things You Should Be Suspicious of

With the amount of money you will be spending on SEO, it is important to heed a few warnings to ensure that you are getting the best service available.  Be suspicious of the following promises:

  • Guarantees – SEO firms generally cannot provide guarantees due to the constantly changing nature of the industry.
  • Instant Results – It is true that using some SEO tactics will garner “instant results” by gaming the system, but these can hurt you in the long run.  Instant results often involve SEO practices that are against the webmaster guidelines put out by search engines.  Major search engines like Google seek out these techniques and penalize them, resulting in a loss in rankings that could take months to make up.
  • #1 Spot on Google – It always sounds great when a company makes a promise like this, and hopefully you will be able to get it.  However, this is not something a firm can promise to hand over to you.
  • Costs Lower than $750/Month – When it comes to SEO, it is always great to find a bargain, but you really are not shopping for the lowest price.  What you should be looking for in your SEO agency is the best level of service.  Be wary of rock bottom prices or “unbelievable deals.”
  • Shady Link Building Services – Link building is an incredibly important part of SEO.  It is impossible to have a highly-ranked site without inbound links.  As with most things, there is a dark side of link building.  Link trust is gaining importance to appear high in the rankings.  Make sure your agency’s link building services are ethical, white label services.  You may even want to ask them where they may be able to gain links for a business in the hospitality industry.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • SEO Takes Time.  A Monthly Retainer is Best. You must think of SEO as a long-term investment.  Aggressive campaigns and major pushes have their place, but the best and most enduring SEO results come from a long-term relationship.  The best agencies do not just wave a magic wand and get instant results.  Instead, they perform extensive operations that will produce results months down the road.
  • SEO Changes, and Your Rankings Will Change, Too.  There are plenty of competitors out there for your company to battle, and rankings will rise and fall with the changing of algorithms along with the entrance of new competitors.  It takes constant monitoring to keep your website ranking high on results pages and performing at top-notch levels.  Stay away from the one-and-done SEO tricks that simply do not work!
  • Not All SEO Services are Created Equal.  You have to keep in mind that SEO is not about shopping around for the lowest prices.  You should be focusing on finding the finest agency you can.  An SEO agency that defines its scope of services and takes the time to educate you is what every company should be looking for.
  • SEO is Important.  Do it.  The point of having a website is to increase and/or improve your business.  Unless people are finding your website, it is not even worth having one.  Do the smart thing and pay what it takes to keep your site findable by the people who are looking!
  • Hiring an SEO Agency is Best.  Do not fall into the mindset that you will be able to manage your SEO on your own.  A tiny percentage of business owners or professionals have the skill and savvy to do their own SEO.  On top of this, comprehensive SEO takes much more time than most business owners can afford.  Save yourself the stress because more than likely you will never get the same level of ROI that you would with a competent SEO agency.

For many modern businesses, SEO is the highest ROI marketing effort.  Direct mailing, broadcast advertising, online ads and other forms of advertisement do not provide the value SEO can.  It is no longer a question of whether businesses will spend, but how much to spend. As long as a quality SEO agency is the choice, the decision has the potential to lead to incredible amounts of revenue.