Category Archives: Online Resources

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.

Loyalty Takes a Backseat to Deals

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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

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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:

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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!

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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!