Category Archives: Online Resources

Top Weekly Travel Ads: A Family-Friendly Summer

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As companies begin to gear up for family-friendly summer in 2014, travel ads use children and parents to capture a large and profitable portion of the traveling public.  Skift.com put together a list of the five top travel ads from the past week, which you can view here.

You may not have advertising budgets that allow you to create and distribute commercials like this, but capturing the family message is important because it is such a key travel demographic.

Priceline’s latest ad features William Shatner reprising his role as the Negotiator.  He plays the role of a protective parent after his daughter’s date books a room using Priceline’s no-bid Express Deals hotel booking tool.  Negotiator Rises

Disney Theme Parks is not marketing to protective parents, but they do encourage them to create unforgettable memories with a child’s first trip to this vacation wonderland.  Disney’s message is simple: Take your children to a Disney theme park if you want to make them happy.  Magical “Firsts” at Disney Theme Parks

Expedia’s new ad tugs at a parent’s heartstrings, following a young boy whose bedtime storybook seems to come to life when on vacation with his mom.  The ad encourages would-be travelers to discover their real-life fairy tales via travel.  Create Your Storybook

A To-Do List for Hotels in 2014

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Kelly McGuire of the SAS Institute created a to-do list for analytic hospitality executives in 2014.  This list includes higher-level items that will help to build a strong strategic analytic culture.  There are also tactical items that will help you stay on top of trends McGuire thinks will have a major impact on the industry in the near future.

1) Think More Strategically – This is a common goal for every company at the beginning of a new year, but it is easy to be bogged down by the day-to-day analyses or job tasks.  Keep asking the important questions like where you and your team are, and where you want to go.  Do you understand your organization’s business strategy?  Do your goals line up with this strategy?

2) Encourage Cross-Departmental Decision Making – With digital marketing coming into the forefront, and the recognized value of review and ratings data across multiple departments, cross-departmental thinking will be even more of a focus in 2014.

It is important to establish regular communication with counterparts in other departments (marketing, operations, finance and revenue management).  Bringing your best information to the table and making decisions as a team will strengthen your group as a whole, as well as the individual members.

3) Develop a Common Business Language – A number of companies have started data visualization projects to pull together data from across the organization and provide “single version of the truth” reporting for executives and managers.  Without first establishing a cross-functional team to come to agreement on definitions of key metrics, kata access and data acquisition rules, these projects will fail.  McGuire believes there will be much more of a focus on data management in 2014 as these initiatives get underway.

4) Carefully Evaluate New Data Sources – With plenty of new data sources available to you on a daily basis, it can be tempting to gravitate towards all that is new and shiny.  However, you need to realize that adding new data sources can be time-consuming and resource intensive.  You need to fully understand what the data is and how it can contribute to your decision making process.

Make sure you can develop clear answers to the following questions:

Can the data enhance or augment existing analyses or business insights?

Do you have resources available that can understand the data and be able to use it in analyses?

What actions could you take with insights gained from that data source?

5) Tell a Story With Your Data – Getting your point across to a wide range of personas within your organization requires careful thought about how you use data in your presentation material.  Rows upon rows of numbers, mathematical formulas or complex graphs will not grab the attention of any but the most advanced audiences.  Instead, use a couple of “pictures” that make your point with the most impact.

To read the rest of McGuire’s to-do list for the new year, click here.

Getting the Most out of Deals and Promotions

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A great way for a company to focus on strengthening its awareness and garnering more followers on social media is to advertise deals and promotions.  Initiatives like this can be a push for short-term tactical sales growth.  They can also strengthen a major strategic message or unique selling proposition (USP), or simply raise awareness.  However, it is also important to deliver a high-quality experience with these deals and packages.

Carol Cork, the marketing director of PrivateFly.com believes that “Travel marketing is about experiences, more than just travel – there is a need to be disruptive and different.”  A successful digital travel marketing approach is to connect the brand with the reasons that customers travel.

PrivateFly.com combined strong content marketing and a partnership with Ski Verbier to create an amazing, all-inclusive ski experience promotion for the discerning skier.  Cork explains that it is not about selling a ski holiday.  Rather, it is about connecting the PrivateFly brand with target customers’ lifestyles and making it relevant and desirable.

Be Prepared

Here are a few things to keep an eye on when creating promotions:

-When finalizing a promotion, make the decision whether the campaign is a brand-building exercise or commercially driven.

-Offer travelers opportunities to buy an attractive value product while accounting for extra capacity.

-Underline the brand position/message while coming up with an attractive deal.  Some examples of this include find the lowest prices and smooth ways to confirm a booking.

-Target new customers, meet their current needs and match their propensity to buy.

Do’s and Don’ts of a New Marketing Campaign

Do:  Involve the team.  Marketing ideas and energy should be encouraged as widely as possible.  Members of a sales team, development team or finance team provide a vision not considered by a marketing team member.

Do:  Have a commercial lens.  It is important not to prize speed and agility over commercial success.  Create a criteria checklist to make sure your marketing campaign fits your target market.

Don’t:  Plan too far ahead.  Companies used to plan annual or semi-annual campaigns.  Now it is more about quarterly planning and a consistent flow of daily and weekly ideas.

Don’t:  Assume things are working when they are not.

 Some Tips for an Appropriate Communication Plan:

1) Deliver a message that is easy to understand.

2) Make the proposition an attractive one (whether financial or tangible).

3) Be relevant with the theme and content.

4) Ensure uniformity in communication across media channels and platforms.

5) Do not come across as just another deal or promotion.

Combining Business Needs with the Right Rewards

One thing that should always be considered when planning a deal or promotion is seasonality.  Campaigns should be worked out considering occupancy level, and key calendar dates; the validity of the period is always important.

When talking about rewarding customers, there always needs to be an element of benefit for the consumer.  This could be in the form of monetary saving or included amenity.  Overall, sustaining a structural approach to the execution of a campaign is crucial to remain feasible in operations.

Data Security Breaches: What Hoteliers Need to Know

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When retail giants Target and Neiman Marcus experienced security breaches with customer credit cards during the 2013 holiday season, it highlighted a growing crisis that must concern owners and operators of hotels as well.  Bob Braun, a senior member of Hospitality Net’s Global Hospitality Group looks at the issue of data privacy, and offers some ways to ensure hacking does not happen to you.

The Target and Neiman Marcus Problem:

Approximately 50 million Americans – more than 15% of the nation’s population – woke up one morning in December to find their credit card information had been compromised while Christmas shopping.  We are not talking about local small businesses that may not be completely tech-savvy, and have the wool pulled over their eyes.  In total, more than 70 million victims were compromised thanks to a security breach at major retail outlets.

Hoteliers Beware:

Hotels are obvious targets for identity and financial theft for many reasons.  Hotels transact a majority of business through credit cards, and those cards remain on file and are accessed multiple times during a guest’s stay.  As items like room service, a spa charge or a restaurant bill are charged to your card, the opportunity for an identity thief to access the information using sophisticated computer hacks, and other malicious software, normally without the hotel’s knowledge, increases substantially.

The recent technology boom across the travel industry has forced many properties to offer wireless internet access.  Typically, this service is unsecured, and an unsecured wireless network is “just as dangerous as leaving files of your most important personal documents on a curb for all to see.” (PC World)  At the same time, hotels have little say in the matter, as guests are constantly demanding wireless internet service.

Finally, hotels typically have a large number of employees, and many of these individuals have access to the credit card and other personal information of guests.  No matter how well trained and supervised, more personnel correlates to greater risk.  Factor in that low-level employees typically have access to this key information, and a historically high turnover among hotel employees and the problem becomes exacerbated.

What Should You Do?

There are some general considerations that all firms should be aware of that are essential to securing information.  These include:

1) Inventory and Identify Information – Hotel operators should inventory potentially sensitive information and document on which computers, servers and laptops it is stored.

2) Restrict Access and Collection of Data – Operators and owners should keep sensitive information on the fewest number of computers or servers.  The fewer copies of data you have, the easier it is to protect.

3) Use Technology – Hotels should utilize encryption and other means for storing, and secure connections for receiving or transmitting, credit card information and other sensitive data.

4) Design and Implement Effective Policies and Procedures – Firms should design, institute and follow and effective privacy policy, including policies for using social media, and should be careful not the overstate effectiveness of these measures.  It is always important to remember that no system is completely safe.

5) Passwords and Access – For internal communications and information, protect sensitive data with strong passwords, and change these passwords on a regular basis.

6) Deal with Vendors – The growing trend in computer systems and services is having expert vendors, outside the company, handle these matters.   Make sure to check their security practices, review agreements with these vendors to ensure they are implementing the best practices and that they are responsible for the security of the information they handle.

7) Review you Insurance – Cybersecurity insurance has gone through tremendous changes in just the past few years.   Make sure to review your policies and ensure that they are effective in providing meaningful coverage for your business.

Most importantly, hotel companies need to make a commitment to securing sensitive information.  The investment in protecting your hotel today prevents you from being front-page news – for all the wrong reasons – later.

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.

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.