Category Archives: Hotels

A Day in the Life of a Data Traveler

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Improving the travel experience is a goal across the entire hospitality industry.  Technology now plays a critical role in the travel experience and smartphones have now become one of the most essential travel accessories today.  In 2013 alone, mobile data traffic soared, reaching 12 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000.

Kelsey Cox of Marketing Tech Blog examines how smartphones have changed the travel experience, and influence how you make decisions.  Here are some of the key statistics she highlights in a helpful Infographic created by Mophie:

  • 82.6% of leisure travelers use their smartphones all the time on vacation.  This is a similar number to the percentage of leisure travelers (88%) who identify their smartphones as the top must-have device when on vacation.  Smartphones rank ahead of digital cameras, GPS and tablets.
  • On average, the top daily cell phone activities include:  talking on the phone (23 min./day), texting (20), e-mailing (18), browsing websites (16 ) and social networking (11).
  • Leisure and business travelers both have the need to feel connected while they are traveling, producing a skyrocketing of data usage while abroad.
  • Many travelers, unfamiliar with an area, will use their phones to find the perfect restaurant, an internet café or the closest beach, hotel or tourist attraction.

Find out more about a typical day in the life of a data traveler and take a closer look at the Infographic here.

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.

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.

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.

The Six Best Practices for Hotels on Twitter

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Twitter is a social media platform that offers your property an outstanding marketing device as well as a guest service channel.  With over 230 million monthly active users, the number of connections you can make with prospective travelers is seemingly limitless.

However, this social media network has a distinct vernacular that can be confusing and intimidating for new users.  Whether you are just composing your first tweet, or are a seasoned Twitter Pro, here are a few ideas that will make the most of your Twitter presence.

1. It All Starts with your Bio

Although your individual tweets provide content that you hope will lure followers your way, your profile is the most important message you will ever write on Twitter.  It will help people decide whether or not they want to follow you.  With a 160-character limit, you can’t say everything that sets your property apart, so choose a few keywords to describe your hotel and then say something that will set your feed apart from the rest.  Try including local tips, a unique passion or a value proposition.

2. Cultivate a Community

The more followers your Twitter account has, the greater your reach will be within the Twittersphere, but it is important to remember that it is not just about numbers.  Buying a list or indiscriminately following users in the hopes they will follow you back will mostly result in droids and people with no interest in your brand.

Instead, cultivate a community of users who share an affinity for your hotel or destination by using directories like Wefollow and Twellow.  Make sure to check out followers of industry partners or properties that are similar to yours.  From this point, you can grow your following organically by being active, resourceful and likable, by sharing and commenting on interesting, relevant content.  Make sure to include links and @ mentions.  The use of hashtags will make your easier to find and follow and will allow you to contribute to topics, thus allowing people to find you.

3. Listen First

It is important to think of Twitter less as a broadcasting channel, and more as a listening channel.  If nothing else, you can set up a profile to capture mentions of your brand through e-mail alerts.

Twitter is unique in the fact that most tweets are sent in real-time about what people are doing and thinking right now.  Many people use social media to talk about what they are doing while on vacation or during the planning phase of their trip.  That provides an opportunity to connect with them in a relevant way.

Sasha Kerman, content and community manager for the luxury boutique hotel operator Red Carnation Hotels, agrees with using Twitter to make that unique connection.  Red Carnation uses Twitter as a tool to listen to guests and provide them with the best possible experience.  This includes sending welcome tweets to guests they know use Twitter and occasionally surprising them with an in-room amenity.

4. Act Quickly

Like any other form of communication with guests, it is important to respond to Twitter in a timely matter.  Piper Stevens, the director of social media at Loews Hotels and Resorts, stated that customer service is the most effective use of Twitter for their properties.  This includes “being able to answer questions quickly and remedy issues for our guests that are on property.”

Often, travelers turn to Twitter when they want to vent about a negative experience.  In this case, acting quickly allows you to take the matter offline where a hotel can resolve the issue before it escalates.  If this is done properly, you may be able to turn an upset guest into an advocate.

5. Think Before you Tweet

Because there are no hard and fast rules that can be applied to Twitter, it can be difficult to determine what to tweet, or even how often.  Make sure that your tweets are interesting to your followers and relevant to your hotel or destination.  This could include road trip playlists, travel wellness or eco-friendly travel.

Try to maintain good Twitter etiquette by not tweeting rampantly or sounding off.  Use direct messaging or start with the @Name to avoid clogging followers’ feeds with private tweets.  It’s not a requirement that you use all 140 characters, and try to #take #it #easy #on the #hashtags.  It will only clutter the brilliance of your message.

6. Write Promotional Tweets that Get Noticed

It can be difficult to find a balance between overtweeting and undertweeting, and you do not want to lose followers with relentless selling.  However, many people follow brands on social networks specifically to receive promotions and discounts.  So do not disappoint them!

In order to maximize the impact of promotional or “direct response” tweets, try including a compelling offer, a strong call to action and a sense of urgency.  Words like “exclusive”, “free”, “sale” and “win” will drive higher click-through rates.  When you are working with promotional tweets, it is better to keep them free of distractions like hashtags, @mentions and imagery.

Incorporate all of these Twitter tips and tactics into your social media campaign, and you will reap the benefits with increased exposure and a better overall guest experience for your current and future customers.

Top 10 Hospitality Industry Trends for 2014

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With the calendar changing to 2014 in the next week, many industry experts are attempting to project what will happen, what changes will be made and how they will affect your business over the next 12 months.  HospitalityNet’s Robert Rauch created a list of the Top 10 Hospitality Industry Trends in 2014 that focuses on the emergence of a key demographic in the travel industry:  Millennials.  Let’s take a look at a few of Rauch’s insights.

1) Millennials will become the core customer within the travel and hospitality industries over the next five to ten years.  Most travel companies, hotels and airlines will benefit as this group enters their peak earning, spending and traveling years.  Exploration, interaction and experience are the major focus of Millennials, as well as within the subsets of this generation.

Many travelers are willing to pay more for a greater experience.  “Foodies” are prevalent in this subset of the market and are looking for an overall gourmet experience for a reasonable price.  This will likely cause the industry to revamp lobby bars, restaurants and food service in general.  Other groups including Internet bloggers, culture buffs, LGBT and Multi-generational travelers are looking for that unique experience that will command change within the market.

2) Speed and precision will be a requirement when accommodating Millennials in upcoming years.  This group is looking for fast booking, fast check-in, fast WiFi and fast responses to customer service needs.  If these are not implemented within hotels and other properties, Millennials will have no problem speaking out over a variety of channels like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or online travel reviews sites to voice their complaints.

3) WOW customer service will become even more influential in 2014.  Service today can be broken down into four levels:  basic, expected, desired and WOW.  Basic service can be found at a post office, whereas expected service can be found at most fast food restaurants and many standard businesses.  Good hotels will find a way to provide desired experience, but WOW service is really the only way to take that next step and ensure repeat business.

Creating an impressive, unique guest experience that exceeds all expectations will allow you to capture the customer.  It may also earn additional business when this guest announces their WOW experience on various social media platforms.

4) Leadership is showing your management team that there are more important things than just “talking the talk”; it is important to “walk the talk”.  Each and every employee has something that they can work on.  It is of extreme importance to form a connection with guests in a time where Millennials are looking for interaction and a unique experience.

Rauch states that it is his goal as a leader to instill the value of building relationships by sharing the knowledge he has while learning from both his employees and guests.  He runs with guests staying at one of his hotels, and offers personal training sessions for others.

5) Expectation of more international visitors.  Average rates and occupancy levels in the United States are likely to increase over the next few years, influenced by a very new market.  According to Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott Hotels and Resorts, leisure demand from abroad, fueled in part by the new Discover America campaign, will stimulate a new demand.

China is at the center of this international travel boom, preparing to send about 100 million leisure travelers abroad every year.  If the U.S. gets its typical share of this population, that will mean an additional 10 million visitors annually from China alone.  With the average Chinese travelers spending at least a week in the U.S., demand is created for an additional 70 million room nights in a market where prices are steadily rising.  Globalization in the travel industry will likely prove to be a massive force.

To read the remaining trends on this list, or to find our more information about Robert Rauch, click here.