All posts by Paul Manzey

Your Website: An Online Dating Profile for Travelers

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With Valentine’s Day upon us and love in the air, it is time to talk about hearts and Cupid.  Well…maybe not Cupid, but we will talk about hearts, specifically the heartbeat of your eMarketing program:  your website.

Because travelers research hotels in a variety of ways, it is important to place the correct content in the correct medium, whether that is online through your website, on social media channels or on mobile devices.  To show customers and potential guests that you care and want their business, hotel marketers need to learn how to romance these potential travelers with appealing and relevant content.

A recent HotelMarketing article, written by DJ Vallauri, compares setting up a hotel website to setting up a dating profile.  This is the channel that will tell prospective guests everything you want them to know about you.  It is important to know what your potential “suitors” are looking for, so here is a list of five things your dating profile should include to help garner the most potential “dates”.

Make Sure Your Content is “Fresh”

Fresh content does not mean tweaking the copy you use for social media, and placing it on your website as well.  Your site needs to look its best in order to attract the most prospects.  Make sure your services and amenities are up to date, and give other tempting tidbits to keep travelers away from the generic OTA sites.

Widgets are Useful and Helpful Interactive Tools

Attaching widgets to your website that link to various social media outlets allows travelers to connect with other individuals who have already visited your property.  They also can add some additional interaction between your site and potential guests.  One recent trend is offering a live chat widget, which allows travelers to connect to your property in real-time, although social media channels can be used in the same capacity.

Make Sure Your Mobile Website is User-Friendly

Based on consumer demand and the prediction that there will be more mobile users accessing the internet this year than desktop users, extra attention needs to be placed on the mobile web.  The latest responsive design technologies adapt website content to a variety of screens making them easily viewable across whichever device travelers prefer to use.

Make Sure Your Social Media Content Matches the Social Media Channel

We have consistently discussed the importance of using social media channels to attract a greater following for your property, but truly reaching prospective customers requires hoteliers to respect the context of each platform.

Users of each social media platform are different, and they like to be communicated to in the context of their social media platform.  You will not be effective in communicating to Instagram or Pinterest (photo-based platforms) users with a lot of wordy content.  Effective online marketing is about using all the tools available to reach and engage with potential customers wherever they are online.

Storytelling is a Great Way to Connect

Build an experience for a guest, and you may be able to build loyalty and future business opportunities.  Use video resources to give potential travelers a tour of your property, or to showcase annual events that draw large numbers of visitors.  Give your potential guests a typical experience, whether overnight or extended, they can expect when they stay with you.

Guest Acquisition: E-mail vs. Social Media

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I cannot go a day without seeing a social media-driven article on many of the top hospitality and travel marketing websites.  Social media is everywhere and plays an important role in your marketing campaign, helping you connect with potential travelers.

With that being said, is social media the most effective marketing tool available, or should you stick with more traditional options like e-mail?

A recent study by predictive analytics firm Custora discovered that customer acquisition via e-mail has quadrupled in the last four years and now accounts for almost seven percent of customer acquisitions.  The study also found that organic search is the most powerful acquisition channel, accounting for 16 percent of customers acquired.  Despite substantial recent growth in social media channels, Facebook and Twitter lag far behind in customer acquisition.

Custora’s data also gave some insight into Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which refers to the future profit a company expects to earn from a customer throughout his or her relationship with the business.  Similar to the customer acquisition model, organic search lead the way with a CLV of 54% higher than average.  Twitter ranked dead last in this category with the lowest-value customers (23% less than average).

E-mail may not have some of the flash and pizzazz of social media, but it’s a medium that generates revenue.  Whereas Facebook, the highest-ranking social media platform in CLV, ranks at 1% above average, e-mail has a level of 11%.  Simply put, customers who come to businesses through e-mail tend to shop more and spend more.

Social media is at its most effective when it is used as a customer engagement tool.  It can be a two-way communication line between a company and potential customers.  Twitter is typically used to relate breaking news and deals, while Facebook users usually want to increase their contact with a brand.

Mobile Plays a Role

One reason why e-mail is so effective is the fact that it is permission-based.  Customers typically have to opt-in to start receiving e-mails.  Moreover, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, they are always listening.  In fact, e-mail is the top activity for most people on their phones.

People check e-mail constantly, wherever they are, and that enables you to stay connected with them.  However, people who read their e-mail on a mobile device do so quickly, meaning your messages must be powerful enough to grab their attention.

For all of its positive aspects, mobile also offers some drawbacks for marketers.  Forty percent of all e-mails are now viewed on smartphones, which means they must be coded to be attractive on a phone screen.  If your message looks bad on a mobile device, 70% of customers will unsubscribe from your e-mails.

The Importance of Online Reputation Management

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In October 2013, a Huffington Post contributor, John Rampton, wrote an article questioning whether online reputation management was dead.  In a more recent Hotel Business Revew article, Jane Coloccia, President and Chief Creative Officer of JC Communications, asked how important online reputation management really is.

The answer to both of these questions:  online reputation management is incredibly important, and is certainly not dead.

While the spectrum through which hotels and other properties view the importance of online reputation management varies widely from companies that consistently check review sites, social media and OTA review columns, to those with a completely hands off approach, it is clear that the growth of the worldwide web makes this an issue hotels at least have to consider.

Coloccia talks about a time when a hotel’s only concerns were the actual physical appearance of a property, the professionalism of your staff, efficiency of operations, how your brochure and collateral materials looked, and what legitimate journalist said about you.

Now, you have to concern yourself with a new set of principles including website presence, the need for a booking engine and e-mail marketing.  Hoteliers who were on top of traditional marketing techniques needed time to catch up to the internet-driven, tech savvy traveler.

Why a Change is in Order

Dan Sorenson, president of the well-respected reputation management authority Big Blue Robot, posed the question, “Why would someone want to band their head against a wall?”

This may seem like an off-topic question, but he explains that metaphorically companies are banging their heads against a wall with their reputation management strategy.  Although the search world keeps changing, these companies still employ the same tactics they always have in an attempt to mold a great search engine results page and solidify their diminishing returns.

These companies are using these same strategies because in most cases, they do not realize they need to change, or do not want to put the effort into creating a new strategy.

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reports that, “A dissatisfied consumer will tell between nine and 15 people about their experience.  About 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.”  A decade ago, this was done by word of mouth.  Now travelers are getting on social media channels and reviews sites to voice their concerns.  Their reach with these outlets is no longer limited to 20 people, and may actually be closer to 200, or even 2,000 people.

Today, if a traveler has a negative experience with a surly front desk attendant, you can bet that by the time they have reached their room, the news has already reached Facebook and Twitter, if not TripAdvisor or the OTA site where they booked the room.

The Growth of Social

Just a few years ago, it was still okay for a company to ignore the social web.  Facebook, Twitter and other social sites were considered immature and unproven.  Some companies still consider social media as a young person’s fad.  However, today’s fastest growing demographic for Facebook is the 55-plus crowd.

Today, social needs to be a part of any marketing strategy and is essential to successful reputation management.  Social profiles are easy to create and they take up space in the Google results, improving a company’s online reputation.

Just having a social media profile is one thing, but truly managing a social media channel can make or break your online reputation strategy.  Consumers are taking the time to contact companies through these channels to complain about a situation.  In fact, many media today are actually advising consumer that if you are unable to get a response through a company’s customer service line, you will get a more immediate response on social media (nine out of 10 times this is in fact the case).

Not Everything Has to be Negative

Keep in mind that while your online reputation might be negative, it could also be quite positive.  You may be searching for your property on Twitter and find an amazing experience someone had at your hotel.  Travelers may post photos on Instagram and Pinterest of the mouth-watering meal they had in your dining room.

It is important to address this positive feedback the same way you would if it were negative.  A timely response is important in our “always on”, mobile-friendly landscape.  This is just a single example of how you can positively manage your online reputation, and how to leverage social media to create awareness for your brand.

Key Points

-Online reputation management is far from dead, and will continue to be an important aspect of your marketing campaign as the internet continues to play a large role in the vacation planning experience.

-Social media has recently driven, and will continue to drive companies to focus on their online reputation management.

-Having a solid online reputation strategy requires being aware of not only social media, but travel review sites and OTA review sections as well.

10 Reasons Why Your Social Media Campaign Will Fail

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Social media is a growing piece of the marketing puzzle, providing a unique place for guest to property interaction.  Before social media, relationships with a hotel could only develop as a guest booked their room and during their stay.  Now, you have the opportunity to communicate before, during and after a trip has been booked.

You now find yourself posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest regularly, but your social following is not increasing.  Is it because you are not reaching the expectations of online interactions?  Are you “over posting”?  What are you missing?

Sherry Heyl, the Director of Social Media for the Sensei Project, discussed 10 reasons why your hotel’s social media efforts will fail in a recent Hotel Business Review article.  Here is a brief overview of a few of these traps you should avoid going forward.

1. Your Content is Too Promotional

Outside of the Super Bowl, how many times do you sit down in order to watch a bunch of commercials?  There is a reason online video providers like YouTube have added a “skip this ad” button for viewers.  People do not always enjoy trying to be sold a product, good or idea.

Instead, you should focus your social media efforts on educating, entertaining, informing and perhaps even inspiring your following.

It is true that many people follow brands looking for great deals, but this should only be done from time to time through your social channels.  Trying helping a guest to relive the most recent experience they had with you and build anticipation for their next trip.

2. You Ignore Complaints

An important part of successful social media campaign comes from realizing that your campaign is a two-way communication channel for all to use.  Guests use these forums to vent and occasionally to complain about your property.

You can use this negative feedback as a way to showcase your customer service skills in action.  People will watch how your team responds to a complaint, and this will give them some indication as to what their experience will be like.  Make sure to take corrective actions when needed so that more complaints and negative feedback do not pop up.

3. You’re Not Proactive

According to Ipsos MediaCT, 65% of travelers begin researching their trip online before they have decided where they are going or how they are going to get there.  Many of these individuals use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to ask questions and seek advice from peers.  Having these discussions in an open forum allows you to “listen in”, and potentially engage in conversation to persuade a potential traveler in your favor.

The worst-case scenario when engaging potential consumers is that you will create new relationships.  In the best cases, it leads directly to bookings.

4. You Don’t Use High-Quality, Compelling Photos

Photos are your most valuable asset on social media, especially with the recent growth of Pinterest and Instagram, two photo-centric social media channels.  Even Facebook and Twitter posts with photos have a higher engagement.

As important as photos are to a successful social media campaign, the wrong photos can damage your efforts.  If the quality of your photos is poor, it presents a negative reflection on your brand.

Utilize photos to tell a story about your property.  Highlight features that are unique and inspire potential travelers to start planning their trip with you, and make sure to reinforce your specific brand values.

5. You’re Not Giving the Community a Voice

A common mistake when using social media channels is speaking at people instead of having a discussion with the community.  Every day, people upload photos, share their stories and experiences, and may even recommend your property to their friends, family and followers.

When hotels share other people’s posts with their followers and fans, they are showing that they are tapped into the community.  Another way to build your community is to ask your followers about a favorite local spot or a favorite memory they enjoyed while staying at your property.

To read about the remaining five traps to avoid with your social media campaign, click here.

RALBook Online Booking Continuing to Grow

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Are you getting the most out of your ResortsandLodges.com business listing?

Our vertical site allows travelers to view your unique business profile and compare your offerings to other properties in the area.  We strive to keep our search engine results page (SERP) placement high, driving potential travelers to our site through major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing!  Because travelers are a single click away from your own personalized website when they visit your business listing, this placement on these search engines is important.

However, we are not stopping there.

On January 31, Good Ol’ Days Family Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota, and Willow Point Resort in Buchanan Dam, Texas, became the first two properties to offer online availability and booking directly through the ResortsandLodges.com website.

Currently, we have four properties offering their availability on our website with Mill House Lodge (Flat Rock, NC) and Winter Clove Inn (Round Top, NY) joining the fold in the past week .  This brings our running total to four properties in four cities with 124 unique accommodations, a great start but still a long way from our goal.

Why Should You Be the Next Property to Join Us?

Online travel agencies (OTAs) have recently dominated the travel landscape, but in doing so have taken away some of the power the suppliers hold with high commission rates ranging from 15 to 25%.  They also have not found a way to make listing your unique vacation rentals cost effective.

Our business model does not revolve around nickel-and-diming travelers and property owners with high commissions and fees, which is why we are offering our online booking and availability at a 3-5% commission.

We want to showcase your unique lodges, cabins, cottages, vacation rentals and more on our website.  The vacation rental industry continues to grow with nearly $55 billion in annual revenue.  Despite this overwhelming number, the market penetration in this area of the travel landscape is somewhere around five percent.   Adding your vacation rentals to the ResortsandLodges.com database will increase your visibility thanks to our nearly 10 million annual travelers, and it will give you the opportunity to sell your availability at a lower commission price.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you already have a business listing on ResortsandLodges.com, contacting your account manager is the next step to getting your availability online.  If you do not have a business listing with us at this time, head to our Marketing Center and get listed for as little as $20 per month!

Do not fall behind your competitors!  Make today the day you decide to upload your availability at ResortsandLodges.com!

Metasearch Trends Shifting Supplier Balance of Power

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How metasearch is shifting the balance of power

Metasearch engines in the travel space have made great strides towards becoming a user-friendly, cost effective way to search for travel accommodations.  According to Pia Vemmelund, the managing director at Momondo, “we’re going to see further mass adoption across new geographies – and explosive growth”.  This has the potential to drive further consolidation in the metasearch sector in the coming months and year, with smaller players finding bigger bedfellows.

Let’s take a look at a few key trends that have helped metasearch grow in recent years, and will continue to foster growth in the future.

Metasearch aims to be a convenient tool for travelers.

How are metasearch engines fulfilling the convenience factor for travelers?  Metasearch players have focused on ensuring that search technology renders results quickly and accurately, in an east-to-use display.

By working closely with travel suppliers and OTA partners to improve the booking process, metasearch engines have been able to dramatically increase their product over a short period.  These players have also strived to improve their website experience across every possible screen, allowing for an optimized experience across all devices.

Personalization is a mega differentiator.

As we discussed in an earlier blog post, the millennial generation views personalization as a form of loyalty, and there is a growing trend towards personalizing search results to offer all users a more targeted results.

Vemmelund believes that metasearch engines will attempt to branch out from ‘pure’ search, and those seeking a blend with booking.  Ultimately, this could change the business model of some major players.

Going forward, it will be important to establish brand loyalty among potential travelers with the right mix of push notifications, bonuses and retargeting.  No single person is the same, which will place an added importance on acquiring as much meaningful data about a customer as possible.

Just having this data is important, but another goal for metasearch engines will be to integrate this data across multiple channels.

Finding new ways to boost revenues is important.

How can metasearch engines generate additional revenue?  Here are three opportunities:

1) Selling new products – airport transfers, insurance, physical goods (travel bags), tours and activities.

2) Cobranding with other verticals – partnerships with financial institutions for co-branded credit cards is an example.

3) Selling meta-metadata – statistics on queries, purchases, destinations, etc.  Selling these analytics to suppliers has the potential to be a tremendous revenue booster.

The balance of power is shifting back to the supplier.

Most industry experts believe that metasearch engines will continue to bypass OTAs, and this will be due in large part to forming direct contracts with end suppliers.  Why does this make sense for metasearch engines?

-Because metasearch sites are implementing changes faster than most OTAs, they are able to do more for the supplier in less time than OTAs, or at least do it cheaper.

-Metasearch sites are a cheaper channel for suppliers than OTAs.  Use of metasearch shifts the balance of power back to suppliers.

-The end user experience is better in a direct model.

Key Points

-Recent metasearch improvements have made them a favorite choice among consumers when planning to travel.

-The next step for these metaseach engines is to form direct connections with the suppliers as they have the potential to be a more cost effective channel going forward.

-Integrating consumer data across a multi-channel travel space will make metasearch engines a more powerful and cohesive tool.

The Rise of Mainstream Mobile Analytics

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Google Analytics are a great resource for finding out how consumers are using your website.  The next step in the analytics field is attempting to unearth some valuable information regarding a user’s mobile interaction with an application or a mobile website.

EyeForTravel’s Ritesh Gupta conducted an interview with Seshadri Krishnan, co-found of Trip38, a location aware mobile app, about the role mobile analytics plays in an emerging, yet critical, business area.

Krishnan explains that 2014 is the right time for mobile analytics to take off because of major technology players starting to offer this as part of their overall analytics value proposition.  Because of all the recent front-end growth of the mobile platform, it makes sense that it would take time for backend aspects to gain traction and scale.

Areas that continue to gain traction or tools that are not quite on par with traditional web analytics tools include:

1. Conversion – mobile conversion is still lower than the web conversion models.

2. Tracking Mechanisms – these are still rudimentary given the limitations on the app footprint and limited fallback options unlike on the web where cookies and other behavior targeting aspects have been perfected over the years.

3. Brand Names – bigger players focused on mobile analytics are set to emerge as leaders in this space.

Google Analytics in the Mobile Channel

The same Google Analytics that are used in the traditional web model are still valid in the mobile platform including statistics such as app usage time, time spent per session, time spent on various paces and user activity.  Trip38 is able to track these analytics because they have built a tracking code into their app that allows greater insight into user behavior.

Despite how far the market has come in the past few years, there are still strides to be made in this arena.  Aspects like a single dashboard across all devices, enterprise-wide access for analytics in the corporate setting and lightweight built-in mobile analytics are a few of the innovations Krishnan expects to see going forward.

Key Criteria for User Engagement

Trip38 currently measures user engagement in terms of time spent on the mobile app, features they use such as reviews, ratings, or social likes that they do using the platform.  Krishnan emphasizes the importance of the social and search aspects of the app in creating a network effect to get more users.

The read the complete EyeForTravel interview, and to learn more about mobile analytics, click here.

Analyzing Hotel Operating Profitability

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STR Analytics recently analyzed the 2012 profit and loss data from more than 6,000 hotels across North America to determine what the most profitable establishments have in common.

Dividing the total survey between full-service and limited-service (hotels with less than 5% of revenue coming from food and beverage as compared to revenue), and comparing these groups as a whole with the top 10% in each category, STR was able to glean some important information hoteliers should consider going forward.  Here is a brief overview of the analysis findings.

Key Statistics

-Room count differences between the Top 10% of hotels and survey average is not striking in the limited-service category (Total-114, Top 10%-123), but they are in the full-service category (Total-287, Top 10%-183).  This might attribute to smaller full-service hotels typically having leaner food-and-beverage operations, which lend toward greater profitability.

-Chain affiliation lends to a hotel’s profitability in both the limited- and full-service categories.  When comparing limited-service properties, 96% of all hotels of this type were brand-affiliated while 98.1% of the Top 10% fell under the brand umbrella.  In the full-service category, the Top 10% showed similar brand-affiliation as the limited-service category (98.4%), while industry-wide this number was only 88.8%.

-The most telling statistic in this study found that the average daily rate (ADR) was lower and the average occupancy was higher in the Top 10% of both limited- and full-service hotels than across the industry average.

During the past few years, demand has recovered from the previous peak of 2007 at a faster rate than ADR.  As demand continues to break records and ADR plays catch-up in the markets where it has yet to reach previous peak levels, there is an expectation of a positive impact on overall U.S. hotel industry profitability.

To dive deeper into the numbers and to read more about what makes the top hotels in the U.S. profitable, click here.