Category Archives: Online Resources

Top 10 Hospitality Industry Trends for 2014

3024169-poster-travel-trends-for-2014-post-image

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.

Loyalty Takes a Backseat to Deals

BrandLoyalty_627x330

According to Accenture Hospitality’s Global Consumer Pulse Research, in the hotel and lodging industry loyalty takes a backseat to price.  The results of this survey, which questioned more than 12,000 customers in 32 countries, showed some information that hoteliers should keep in mind when planning marketing campaigns in 2014.

Accenture’s research found that 41 percent of customers find offers and deals as a top differentiator when choosing a hotel.  Umar Riaz, the North American lead for Accenture’s Hospitality practice believes that customer loyalty has dissipated with the rise of digital channels, which has made it incredibly easy for customers to shop around for deals.

According to the survey, 79 percent of customers made their hotel and travel bookings online.  This was a seven percent increase when compared to 2012. Currently, 41 percent of consumers use their mobile device frequently for online product searches and 33 percent use a device to make online purchases.

Customers are moving more and more towards digital and mobile channels.  Online travel agencies have made it easy and transparent to shop for deals.  Travelers may think that a particular product is good, but with so much technology at their fingertips, they still feel there’s a better deal out there.

If all of these other numbers did not convince, this may be the most important statistic of all: 75 percent of hotel customers have conducted business with two or more providers over the past three years, while only 14 percent stayed loyal to one company.

The travel industry as a product is strong, but the loyalty is low and this is one of the biggest challenges facing a lot of companies in the industry right now.  This may just make 2014 the year of increasing loyalty rates.

Holiday Marketing Campaign Wonders and Blunders

holiday-marketing-inner

The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year…IF you’re marketing team is prepared!

Having the right social media campaign during the holiday season can mean the difference between presents or a lump of coal in the company stocking.  Retailers, consumers and marketing departments all feel the tension this time of year as everyone tries to stay on top of demand, trends and of course, the competition.

Because religious holidays are the reason for the season, it is important to be sensitive to the needs and thoughts of consumers.  No one wants to see brands and businesses capitalizing on the occasion and taking advantage of employees’ family time to generate more revenue.

Companies that use the right amount of planning and careful considerations will be able to create holiday marketing campaigns on social media that generate buzz and even get your brand in front of potential customers who may have otherwise missed it.

In a recent Marketing Land column, Alison Zeringue took a look at some of the recent Wonders and Blunders of holiday social media marketing.  Here are a few examples of each:

Wonders

OfficeMax – Elf Yourself

In December 2007, OfficeMax launched a user-generated viral video campaign called “Elf Yourself”.  Visitors of ElfYourself.com were encouraged to upload photos of themselves, friends and family, and even pets, whose faces were then placed on dancing elf bodies.  These videos could then be shared on social media or as e-cards.

This website was able to reach 39 million unique views in December, making it the fastest growing site of the month.  Over the length of the campaign, the site attracted more than 100 million unique views worldwide.

WestJet – Christmas Miracle

This year’s best and fastest growing marketing miracle is the WestJet Christmas Miracle video.  This international airline left no doubt about which of Santa’s lists they should be on this year thanks to a real-time giving project that no one can find fault with.

Fliers were given the opportunity to “talk with Santa” in the terminal of the airport.  Their Christmas wishes were recorded, and when they arrived at the baggage claim of their destination, their luggage was not the only thing on the carousel.  Presents from socks and underwear, children’s toys and even a big-screen television were waiting as well.

In a subsequent blog post, the company ensured that it “wasn’t about branding, it was about you.”

Sephora – SephoraClaus

In 2009, beauty and makeup giant Sephora launched their “SephoraClaus” campaign, asking customers to tweet an item from their holiday wish lists (up to $150) using the hashtag #sephoraclaus.  Sephora then granted a wish to one lucky tweeter each day for 30 days.

Sephora utilized a simple form of entry (tweeting @sephora) and a dedicated hashtag to create a widely visible campaign that generated 50,839 tweets by the end of the month.  Consumers were also talking and tweeting openly about various Sephora products for the entire month, keeping the company in the conversation throughout the holidays.

Blunders

Kmart – Black Friday Crisis Management

Black Friday has become a holiday in and of itself as the major shopping day following Thanksgiving.  In a race to get the most guests through the doors this year, Kmart announced it was going to open earlier on Thanksgiving Day than it ever had in the past.  This is a practice that is occurring across the retail industry, but Kmart was not ready to handle the public outcry.

Critics took to Twitter to vent on the ethics of the decision, and the clearly unprepared Kmart social media team responded rather robotically:

Kmart-Thanksgiving-Twitter-Snafu

The company’s lack of a social media crisis management strategy landed them among Business Insider’s list of 2013 worst social media marketing fails.

AT&T – Never Forget Tweet

Although it’s not a traditional holiday, September 11th is recognized and remembered by Americans annually with reverence.  Similar to religious holidays, consumers are not eager to appreciate a brand’s attempt to commemorate an event like this.

This year, AT&T made a marketing faux pas when they tweeted an image of a smartphone capturing the Twin Tower memorial lights with the text, “Never Forget.”  Many people found the tweet to be opportunistic and distasteful.

With these examples in mind, here are four real life tips for running your own holiday social media marketing campaign that will help you avoid the blunders mentioned above:

1) When using a holiday theme in your marketing, don’t have a pushy sales message unless it’s a coupon.  Consumers are sensitive to overt sales messages during this time of the year.  You should also avoid using any religious figures unless they are appropriate for your company

2) Don’t just set it and forget it.  Check your scheduled content frequently.   Plans can change when unexpected events pop up.  Remember to check back on previously scheduled messages to ensure they are all appropriate.

3) Have a crisis plan in place.  If your campaign could offend anyone, be sure to have a PR professional to avoid saying the wrong thing.

4) If your audience is diverse, consider a charitable campaign.  Rather than a giveaway or deal-centered campaign, be a good corporate citizen during the holiday season.  No one can complain with that!

Pinterest-Instagram

How Instagram and Pinterest are Changing the Hotel Industry

Pinterest-Instagram

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

concierge-guest-experience

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

SMMS_Logo

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.