Category Archives: Online Resources

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How Instagram and Pinterest are Changing the Hotel Industry

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Hotel chains have found a way to use various social media platforms to increase their visibility on the Internet in recent years, but two applications that have been particularly useful in this regard are Instagram and Pinterest.

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury news talks about some key examples of hotels leveraging the power of these social media tools to reach a boarder audience.

Starwood Hotels owns 1,150 properties across the world.  It’s estimated that Starwood guests capture and share an average of 40,000 images per month on Instagram.  Guests are encouraged to add photos of their Starwood experience to a guest gallery on the global photo-sharing app.

The biggest Instagram “pioneer” of the travel industry, however, must be the 1888 Hotel in Sydney, Australia.  This newly-opened boutique property has billed itself as the world’s first Instagram hotel, and even based some of its décor and services on the photo-sharing app.

In an effort to attract tech-savvy guests to these one-of-a-kind accommodations, the hotel offers a complimentary night’s stay to any Instagram users with more than 10,000 followers – guests with some major clout.  The hotel also dedicated a “selfie space” where guest can take photos of themselves, use the hashtag #1888hotel and see it appear instantaneously on screens near the reception desk.

Similar to the 1888’s title as the “King of Instagram”, the Four Seasons claimed authority on the photo sharing site Pinterest.  Their Pin. Pack. Go. feature allows a traveler to create boards pinned with photos of their ideal vacation and specific destination city.  A virtual concierge from Four Seasons will then offer a personalized recommendation and itinerary based on this Pinterest board.

Pinterest, Instagram and other forms of social media should not be considered a fad or passing trend as a form of online advertising for the travel industry going forward.  Both Condé Nast Traveler and the luxury travel company Cox and Kings predict that geo-locating mediums like Facebook and Instagram will play an increasingly larger role in the travel space in 2014, either as an advertising platform for hotels, or as a “Wish you were here” postcard by guests!

How to Implement a Front Desk Upselling Program

Front desk Interalpen Hotel in Tyrol

 

The idea of “getting the heads in the beds” to generate a revenue stream is something that every hotel needs to work to get beyond.  Now the focus must turn to regaining ground on your average daily rate.  Implementing a comprehensive program for upselling guests at registration is a great way to increase your ADR.

Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, recently wrote an article discussing ideas to help you create your own program and turn-on the faucet to this extra revenue stream.  Because so many guests book online these days, and too many agents quote only one price – the lowest – the front desk registration experience might present the best opportunity of all.

Many guests may not be aware of upgraded options, possible due to reservations being made by a travel agent or over the phone.  Often times, guests are unaware of the value in the upgraded options.  Perhaps a guest’s needs have changed while en route to your property, or the impulse of the moment may cause them to be more receptive to upgraded options, specifically after a stressful day of travel.

A great advantage to upselling at registration is that your staff can be very specific about the offerings of particular rooms or suites, since the front desk knows the exact inventory of any particular day.  The potential impact of this focused upselling program will vary greatly depending on your hotel’s inventory of accommodations.  Some potential upsell opportunities include:

  • Special room types, such as junior or one-bedroom suites
  • Rooms or suites with special features like a whirlpool bath or kitchen
  • Preferred views or hotel locations
  • Special “exclusive” floors such as concierge or executive level floors
  • Packages that include additional amenities, services or activities
  • Adding on a second room at registration for a significantly reduced rate

Successful upselling programs commonly have three components:  a rate structure that makes upgrades a reasonable value, staff training to educate them on various techniques and tactics and a recognition and incentive program.

Structuring Rates to Make Upgrades a Reasonable Value

Most properties market a range of rates to various market segments including groups and high volume accounts.  But these travelers, as well as guests participating in special discount programs, are typically offered this rate for the least expensive room type.  The additional cost to upgrade simply does not justify the received value.

To combat this issue, properties are now implementing a “flat rate” for upgrading.  This allows guests to upgrade for the same fee, regardless of the rate for which they qualify.  The additional revenue is created from rooms which might have been given away at lower rates if your hotel was over-selling the lowest room type.

Recognition and Incentive Programs

A recognition and/or incentive program is a key ingredient in any upsell program.  Front desk upsell incentives are especially easy to justify, as the incremental upsell revenue can be documented.  Rewards for an individual associate can include a predetermined cash amount, points that can be redeemed for prizes or perhaps days off with pay.  You can build team chemistry by rewarding everyone in a team who works during a given time period equally for upsells.

Whatever incentive program you choose, it is important to post results in a prominent area for everyone to see on a regular basis.  Sparking the competitive fire among your staff and reminding all associates of the potential to achieve the same rewards will help focus your front desk team’s attention on upselling.

To read Kennedy’s tips and techniques for training your front desk staff on upselling techniques, or to read the rest of this article, click here.

Social Media, Concierge: A Natural Merger

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The hotel concierge was once a position that exemplified luxury.  These individuals offered their supreme knowledge of the local area and attractions as well as the ability to help plan activities, make dinner reservations or just to assist you along the way.

In recent years, the various electronic communications on a property’s social media platforms have replaced many of the tasks formerly attended to by the onsite concierge.  Past, present and future guests are able to send their digital queries and it is the hotel’s responsibility to respond with helpful information.

Larry Mogelonsky, President and Founder of LMA Communications, recently wrote a feature article about a natural merger that should take place at efficient hotels in the modern travel space: Concierge and Social Media.

Why the Merge?

In the past, helping guests was the primary duty of the concierge, but now that this role is being usurped by social media managers.  Wouldn’t it make sense to merge the two departments?

Even before the advent of the internet, guests were able to find key information about a property, but it could be a straining and time consuming process.  Enter the onsite concierge and guests’ stress levels were alleviated with immediate and specific advice that better helped travelers to enjoy their stay.

Today, guests have more resources to choose from in searching for hotel information, but the preference is to have a local expert who will be able to give a customized response tailored exclusively to them.  You are doing the leg work so that they don’t become fatigued from research, and the interactions build rapport and trust with potential guests.

The only real difference between these roles is the face-to-face communication with a concierge, a more emotionally driven form of communication that is more likely to spur guests to develop an actual bond with the hotel.

Social media has scattered communication across multiple channels and personnel, making it difficult to track in some cases.  Now, everyone is carrying around a cell phone or tablet and can contact a property wherever they happen to be situated at the moment.  Consequently, if true rapport is to be gained, there needs to be a coordination and integration between online and onsite staff-to-guest communication.

Inbound Versus Outbound Social Media

Mogelonsky is quick to differentiate between the two types of social media handled by a given property.  Outbound social media includes the advertising, marketing and public relations materials that disseminated to potential guests.  Inbound social media, on the other hand, concerns the communications received from consumers and your response efforts.  Developing a sound connection between your inbound social media manager and on-site concierge will help guarantee there is no breakdown in guest-to-staff communication.

The Guest Relations Department

Social media efforts can be divided across your PR and marketing departments, alleviating the pressure on your social media manager to dedicate his or her time to inbound consumer demands.  In order to build positive and genuine relationships with guests, there should be constant contact between the inbound social media team and the concierge staff, or the aptly named joined department:  the Guest Relations Department.

In this respect, you are not simply combining responsibilities, but you are also pooling your resources.  Given that the future of the concierge and all communications with guests are heavily dependent on technology, it is crucial that you give guests the most straightforward methods of reaching you.  There needs to be a base proficiency in both social media and dealing with guests face-to-face, in addition to a working familiarity with the area and access to the resources that can improve this foundation.

Take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  Live chatting has become a great way to receive real-time feedback from guests.  You can also encourage people to post their own pictures, comments and reviews of your location.

Mogelonsky summarizes his argument by explaining that the core of social media is two-way communication.  In the hospitality world this involves telling your audience about news, events and upcoming promotions, while also remaining accountable to them when they send a digital request, question, picture or anecdote.  Companies that cannot respond effectively simply are not using the medium properly.  The convergence of the concierge staff and social media will ensure a seamless guest experience for future travelers.

Defining the Role of Social Media Manager

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When creating the coming year’s marketing plan, the ever expanding presence of social media platforms must enter the discussion.  Specifically, the role of the Social Media Manager and what the ideal candidate should look like.  Are you going to hire these services out to a third-party company that will manage these platforms on your behalf?  Will this be a junior or senior position?  These questions and more are addressed by Julie Lepp, Director of Marketing for White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in a recent HotelExecutive.com article.

The current trend seems to be heading towards companies bringing on a social media manager as a junior position, typically a new graduate satisfied with a lower pay scale and very familiar with the various platforms.  You’ll be able to take care of what you perceive as more pressing marketing tasks knowing that the social media issue is under control.

The Voice of Your Brand

You should take into consideration that the voice in the conversation between guest and hotel should be warm and welcoming, presenting a friendly place to do business.  Is it right to trust the voice of the brand, with the potential to reach the entire world, to a new hire right out of school who has little to no experience with your hotel, customer service and the way you handle complaints?

Customer comment cards need to be taken very seriously in the travel industry.  They are an indirect way of having a conversation with your guests which may lead to return business in the future.  Print comment cards are still circulated to guests throughout their stay, but your new social media manager may, in a sense, be conducting online comment cards on a daily basis in the form of tweets, reviews and social media posts.

Because the return on investment is perceived to be low from social media, there has been some hesitance to hire Social Media Managers as key strategists in the hospitality industry.  The position is handed off to a junior person to simply manage.  The potential for a PR disaster with so little control or supervision is unprecedented.

The Social Media/Customer Service Relationship

Customer service is the cornerstone of the travel space, and social media should be seen as an extension of good customer service rather than some ambiguous marketing element that produces little ROI.  Conversations on social media platforms include anecdotes about the excitement of arrival to your property, disappointment in something that has gone wrong and even promoting the brand.  Because of this, the main criteria for managing your social brand is not just being familiar with these platforms, but having a strong understanding of the strategic plan for your company.  How, when and what you post, and how you respond to guest posts, should all reflect the company’s position, beliefs and goals.

Lepp points out that the argument can be made that a person interacting daily with your customers, who is directly affecting your sales and presentation to the world, should be a senior experienced member of your team.  At the same time, no experienced marketer is going to take on social media management for a junior salary, or be seen to be taking a step backward in their career development.

Until social media is seen and understood as a flexible marketing and communication tool as well as an extension of the customer service standards, little will change.  So you may just continue to see “Sally from the front desk” tweeting and posting away on behalf of major brands, composing whatever Sally dreams up that day.

5 Social Media Strategies for 2014

Taiga-Site_Social-Media-StrategyAs the calendar turns from 2013 to 2014, many companies have new goals and strategies ready to be implemented.  The evolving world of social media is no different.  However, the ultimate goal of those strategies remains the same:  to increase brand awareness, to enhance guest satisfaction and to drive revenue.

To help hoteliers reach these goals, Daniel Edward Craig, founder of the online reputation management firm Reknown, and his panel shared a list of social media strategies to adopt in 2014.

1. Identify and Target Social Media Personas

Historically, hotel marketers have been quick to segment guests into familiar buckets that commonly included group, transient and business.  However, these groupings are simply too broad to reach with a targeted, captivating message via social media according to RockCheetah’s CEO Robert Cole.

The who, what, when, where and how still matter, but the real question to delve into is why.  Why are travelers visiting a certain destination under certain parameters?  Why should they choose to stay with you?

To find those answers, it helps to create personas that represent a subset of travelers, giving each persona a name and detailed characteristics or traits.  Things to consider include age, income levels, interests and where your personas live.  With all of this specificity, marketers are able to tailor communications that are more likely to drive engagement with a specific cohort.

Although this example may represent a deviation from the high-volume aspirations of most hotel marketers, there is one thing to keep in mind:  You can’t be all things to all people on social media.

2. Integrate Paid, Owned and Earned Content

Paid content, including display ads, cost-per-click campaigns and online travel agency listings give marketers a high degree of control.  However, it typically has a low influence on traveler booking choices.

Owned content, such as a brand website, Facebook page or Twitter feed allows you to connect with a wide range of potentials customers, but still packs a rather feeble punch.

The third and most influential content is earned content such as user-generated reviews, views, media coverage and blogs.  Although traditional marketing has focused around owned and paid content, there needs to be a shift towards developing strategies around earned content.

To garner exceptional earned content, hoteliers must provide exceptional guest experiences.  Another way to encourage feedback is throwing out small pieces of content designed for engagement with guests and can be shared easily across multiple channels.

3. Make Reviews the Priority

Reviews, both good and bad, can be used as a tool to improve the guest experience for all of your future customers.  Imagine the type of reviews you want to have and become the hotel that inspires those reviews.

Positive reviews can act as a free advertisement for your property and encourage additional travelers to stay in the future.  If guests have negative feedback, changes should be made to remedy this issue immediately so that the same reviews are not recurring.

4. Get Social with Google

Google’s algorithm is currently placing an increasing emphasis on user-generated content, including reviews.  With the development of Google+ and Google Places, the company now has its own social media brand they can use in the search engine’s organic search results.  For example, if you want your hotel to feature more prominently, marketers should focus on capturing at least five reviews through Google+

Keep in mind that you can’t simply create a Google+ account and be done with it.  Like Twitter and Facebook, Google’s platform requires a constant stream of fresh content that will continue to drive traffic to your site.

5. Optimize Facebook for Graph Search

A number of recent changes have turned Facebook into a very important marketing tool for hoteliers.  Graph Search, one of the newer developments in the social network, is like a search engine within a user’s friend network.  For example, a user can use Graph Search to look for friends who have “liked” resorts in Cancun.

How do you get your properties showcased higher on these results pages?  The more guests who visit a hotel’s Facebook page, leave comments, take photos or just mention that page elsewhere, the more likely it will show up on Graph Search.

To see the rest of this list, click here.

5 Blog Post Options When You’re Out of Ideas

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All bloggers have been in this situation at one point or another: You’re facing an impending deadline with nothing to write.  Putting it off for a day or two just does not seem like a solid solution.  So what are your options?

According to Search Engine Watch’s Simon Heseltine, the important thing to remember is that no matter which type of content you decide to write, quality is the key ingredient.  It’s not always helpful to just throw a post together that adds nothing to the communal knowledge or is purely derivative.  Heseltine came up with a list of 10 blog post types that will save the day of bloggers who are simply out of ideas.

1. The Informative Post

You are knowledgeable about your industry, so you should have some idea of what would be an interesting read for your audience.  Think about challenges you have dealt with recently; there is a good chance that your readers have had similar experiences.  You may not consider this something worthy of a post, but it can act as an affirmation for your audience as you discuss how you’ve been impacted, how you’ve dealt with it and perhaps how it has impacted them.  Customers can realize they are not alone in going through these issues and it can even lead to someone commenting a solution you had not considered.

2. The How-To Post

The How-To Post falls under the same category as the Informative Post, but it can be an easy way to be seen as an educational resource for your customers.  Explaining how to use the latest technology, or new multi-channel applications will be helpful for you readers, and will remind them they need to keep coming back to learn more in the future.

3. The Timely Post

Timing is everything in the business world.  It’s difficult to break news weeks or months after events occur.  Your editorial calendar should tell you about upcoming events that may generate some great content ideas for you.  These events should be of interest to your audience while providing some crossover interest for readers searching for information about the event you are covering.

4. The Humorous Post

Knowing your audience fairly well gives you some insight as to what content is likely to tickle their funny bone.  Tell an amusing anecdote of a recent guest visit, or a story about your own recent travel experience.  Keep your audiences laughing and there is a very good chance they’ll visit your site again to see if you have another side-splitter.

5. The List Post

A list can be easily digestible to your audience with small pockets of information on a given topic.  If you are ranking items, your readers also have the opportunity to give feedback about your rankings, and the potential to dispute them in the comments section.  Building that connection with your readers gives them a feeling of value and will likely encourage them to return in the future.  Just remember to keep your list centered on a theme.

To read the rest of Heseltine’s list, click here.

Debunking Online Hotel Distribution Myths

Europe-US-myths

Erik Munoz, Siteminder’s head of strategic sales and global partnerships, shed some light on the truth behind many common myths in online hotel distribution.  Let’s take a look at some of this information focusing on online distribution channels.

Myth: Hotels Should Reduce Their Reliance on Online Travel Agency Bookings.

Munoz explains that there are many hoteliers who feel strongly about avoiding OTAs unless absolutely necessary.  Most of this stems from high commissions that these sites charge.  Although commissions can be high, many of these OTAs have larger marketing budgets which will help drive traffic and conversions more effectively than an independent hotel could to their own website.

For those markets that are geographically out of reach to the average independent hotel or regional chain, OTAs can be especially useful.  Emerging, local OTAs can be more effective channels to secure booking from outbound travelers in some markets.  If your hotel is not using these OTAs to market your property, you are missing out on bookings and revenues from these potentially lucrative source markets.

Munoz offers three keys when planning your distribution strategy:

1.  Make sure to select the right mix of OTAs on which to list your property.  The key here is not putting all of your “eggs” into one basket.  Try implementing a broad, far-reaching online distribution strategy.

2. Technology is an important part of leveraging the OTA channel most effectively.  Make sure you are not increasing your costs when choosing multiple, varied OTA sites.

3. Ensure you integrate your online distribution channels for maximum reach and minimal risk of inconsistent pricing or overbooking.

Myth: Metasearch is Most Useful for the Marketing Department, not the Online Distribution Team.

Historically, marketing and online distribution departments in many hotels have worked autonomously.  However, since metasearch providers started to connect directly to the hotel booking engine or CRS (Central Reservation System), the two teams now will need to work together in ensuring the best possible results from all channels.

A solid marketing team must be in charge of managing the pay-per-click and keyword bidding, while online distribution teams manage the live rates, availability and deep links from metasearch partners back to the hotel booking website.

Myth: All Channel Managers are the Same.

As online distribution becomes more complex, technology is being created that allows hoteliers to effectively manage online distribution channels.  Key components to look for when identifying the best channel managers include dynamic pooled inventory, two-way SML connectivity and self-mapping tools for faster speed to market with new offers.

Applying these core features from market-leading channel manager products will quickly make you realize that not all channel managers are the same.

Myth: The Global Distribution System is an Overly Expensive Channel that is Only Beneficial for Big Chains or Regional Hotel Groups.

The GDS is not only for big chains or multi-property hotels groups.  Regardless of your size, if you are a hotel in key corporate destination, the GDS channel can be an extremely lucrative booking source.  In addition, GDS bookings have a longer average length of stay and a higher average daily rate than bookings originating for other channels, as has been the case historically.

The perception of high costs from “middle men” that do business between the hotel and GDS booker, and the varying price models that exist from CRS and connectivity providers create a cloud that can be cleared up by doing some research before signing up with a provider.

4 Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

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Social media has become a tremendous tool for companies looking to generate traffic to websites, but what are you risking in your social media presence with a misstep?  Does your reputation become tarnished in some unknown way?  Are you failing to reap the full rewards of social media?

Social marketing is changing so quickly that everyone is bound to make a mistake or two along the way.  Here are four common mistakes related to the travel industry and ways to avoid making them.

Mistake #1: A Strict Business Focus

Focusing social media posts on company sales, promotions and news updates is fine, but it is also important to add a personal touch and a bit of fun and whimsy.  A general guideline to keep in mind is that a business page is successful when relevant information from others is shared 80% of the time. Focus on a balance between selling and marketing your travel products by sharing links, photos, video and content from suppliers, clients and destinations.

Let your personality and that of your business shine through!  Give your clients the opportunity to indulge in their travel dreams and they will reward you with their loyalty and hard earned money.

Mistake #2: Missed Opportunities

After spending an hour writing a blog post and another hour constructing your weekly newsletter, you realize that you never got around to writing any Facebook posts or Tweets.  Many travel professionals make the mistake of showcasing unique content on only one social platform.

When you are writing that blog article, take time to break it down into posts, tweets and pins, and make sure to link these back to your original blog post.  Repurposing your material allows your fans and potential new clients the opportunity to see your work on a variety of platforms.  If they miss your Facebook post because they were in a meeting, they can catch your tweet later in the day and have access to your newest blog post.

Mistake #3: Thinking Likes Equal Sales

Everyone is looking for fans, followers and contacts, but the focus still needs to be on keeping these people engaged so they remain loyal, revenue-generating clients.  Be vigilant about responding, listening and being pro-active to create new business.  People are always looking to do business with those who they really like – not just companies they “like” on Facebook.

Mistake #4: Not Having a Plan

Because social media plays such an over-abundant role in most people’s lives, you may be under the impression that you really do not need a plan for handling all of your accounts.  However, when it comes to professional marketing and communication expertise, you’ll want to leverage your success with a well-thought out long-term strategy.

A media calendar is essential and allows you to plan out your social posting themes so that they coordinate with your sales cycle.  You will also be able to integrate your social media posts, Tweets and pins with your traditional marketing.

When you sidestep these common mistakes, you’ll find that your social media presence will evolve and flourish.