Bring Home a Memory: Social Hospitality, Wine, and The Waldorf

Social hospitality and wine are a great mix for the Waldorf Astoria NYC.   The Waldorf in NYC makes memories!   I always enjoy a glass of wine when I arrive at my destination.

The Bull and Bear Wine Gallery Waldorf Astoria NYC
The Bull and Bear Wine Gallery in the Waldorf Astoria is a great place for guests to relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

The Waldorf Astoria wants guests to remember their stay and share the experience with others.   The Waldorf Astoria gift shop has found that some of the most popular gifts are wine accessories.   A wine gift that represents the Waldorf Astoria will be used again and again.  It is also a conversation starter to  share experiences….”When I was at the Waldorf……..”

Custom Wine Stopper with Waldorf Astoria Medallion
The Custom Wine Stopper with Waldorf Astoria Medallion designed by Classic Legacy is a great gift that will be remembered and used.
Wine Carrier with Custom Waldorf Astoria Metal Medallion
The Wine Carrier with Custom Waldorf Astoria Metal Medallion is a wonderful way to carry one bottle of wine. Cheers!

These gifts enable guests to bring home a memory of the Waldorf Astoria New York.   Classic Legacy creates these custom gifts with the Waldorf Astoria medallion.   Enjoy!

How John Knowles is Reinventing Retail (And New Media Marketing) at The Roger Smith Hotel with Pop+

Despite the fact that retailers and hotels could be perfect partners for lifestyle branding, it rarely works out that way. From stodgy luxury stores at downtown hotels to overpriced, kitschy gift shops at resorts, shopping at hotels has been very boring for a very long time.

John Knowles at the Roger Smith Hotel wants to change that.

The Roger Smith Hotel is often referred to in marketing circles as not just one of the most innovative hotels in the world, but also one of the most creative brands in social media – in any industry. The Roger Smith management did this largely by building an environment where “everyone is a content generator.” Marketing and creating their online presence was not just the job of a few people. “We view our hotel as a media company, and our space as a stage.” They also pioneered the concept of social hospitality that extends beyond just the people staying at the hotel, and into the extended community – which has turned the property into a hub of creativity.

Now, John and his team want to reinvent the way the hotel engages with retail and e-commerce – something they have been involved in for a while with the RS POP shop.

The original pop-up shop concept was based on Japanese consumer culture and its devotion to rare and limited edition products,” explains S.D. Rockswell in his FreshlySerious article. “Initially, at a moments notice, customers would arrive at a clandestine location that housed a particular brand or product. Once the products were sold out, usually within a matter of hours, the store would be closed until the owner received more product and was able reopen the store again. After the first few runs the concept took shape, then evolved and took flight and landed in the mouth of corporate America.”

The RS POP space, a midtown Manhattan fixture on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Terminal, has hosted a number of innovative brands over the last couple years. And, as the owner and director of Panman Productions, John has spent years working with innovative brands, helping them visually communicate their story through media. In the months ahead, the environment will combine these benefits to become a showcase for what John envisions as the next incarnation of retail in hospitality.

He plans to partner with a select number of brands to provide them with not only a physical display space – but a portfolio of promotional services that provide a holistic, 360° exposure to a core group of very connected, influential consumers in New York City. This will present the partners in a completely new light, and extend both brands beyond their typical audiences.

The concept: Pop+

The new concept is going to be called Pop+, based on the fact that this experience is all about the partner brand plus strategy, plus marketing, plus audience, plus community, and so on.

Providing the space with all of these additional media and PR services adds a whole new level of engagement. “We see this in the pop-up shop already, but now are offering a new kind of opportunity that’s a higher level of marketing.”

The opportunity is designed for brands that understand the environment – the social space and the marketing space – and want to test out ideas they wouldn’t be able to test out elsewhere.

“As part of your pop-up, we’re going to build you an integrated SEO program, set up a Google Plus profile, set you up with Google Wallet – or provide whatever mix of services you need. Whether it’s a content strategy or mobile initiative – we can assemble the right team of people to help you reach your goals.”

Built on partnerships

To deliver these services, and extend the whole “Pop+” concept, John will be engaging with local media professionals and other service providers to barter services that will be useful for the partner companies he’s engaging with.

“It’s creating an environment where everyone benefits from greater exposure and everyone builds into our greater community.”

When thinking about these partnerships, John wants the collaboration to fuel the marketing of his hotel as well. “We want to partner with forward-thinking companies. Collaboration is essential. Their success is my success.”

Inspiration for the project

“My motivation is the space we have,” said John. “I see our space and recognize the opportunity. Hotels have space. Space is value. So what we’re doing is not just one piece but a combination of efforts.”

“You take the existing pop-up model that happens in the pop-up shop, and the value of corner real estate on Lexington Avenue, and the value of our services – the opportunity is extraordinary.”

The hotel used to have a shoe store in the space, but John felt they were not contributing to the larger Roger Smith Hotel brand. “So I asked myself how can we regain control of this?”

Providing urgency and a real-world presence

By design, popup offers are time-sensitive, providing a level of urgency. “We might run a two-day program for authors. Showcase a book signing. The benefits of having our interactive community bring their work forward is huge.” And this is critical in our era of always-on digital communication.

Imagine a thriving online company that is launching a major new initiative. Google. Amazon. Gilt Groupe.

Technology companies may have an online presence, but they’re missing the real world presence and interaction, so this opportunity will be helping these companies establish a physical presence and connect with new audiences. It’s additional value they’re unable to get elsewhere.

“They don’t have the opportunity of physical space, brick and mortar everywhere. It’s incredible for them.”

Time sensitivity – plus a real-world presence – is a new opportunity for many of these organizations.

Why this matters

John’s story shows us how staying at the edge of innovation is not just about creating cool hotel marketing, but innovating areas like retail and mobile communications and e-commerce. The more you can pursue projects that push the envelope, the more you’ll build buzz around what you’re creating.

“The last two years our hotel got a lot of press in the hospitality industry when it comes to customer service and new media. What I’m working on now is the story that hasn’t yet been surfaced, and is what we’ll also be focusing in the future. All of these stories are what makes Roger Smith special. We’re a community and brand that thrives on staying in the spotlight.”

If this Pop+ concept sounds interesting for you, email John now to discuss partnership opportunities: jknowles@panmanproductions.com.

John will be sharing further insights into the Roger Smith Hotel’s on-site mobile strategies at EyeForTravel’s Social Media & Mobile Strategies for Travel conference, March 5-6 2012 in San Francisco.

Romancing ordinary people into extraordinary advocates through live events with James Kinney Live


In this interview, James Kinney – founder of James Kinney Live – shares how hotels can improve their content strategy and increase social currency through music and live events.

Josiah: Your marketing materials say you created James Kinney Live to “create intimate experiences that successfully communicate the culture and feel of a particular brand.” What does this mean?

James: What I see from a macro standpoint is that brands – if they have a million dollars to spend on marketing, advertising, external communicates – say, “OK. Let’s throw half of it at Google and half at Facebook, and maybe we’ll spend a little bit on mass media i.e. TV, billboards, radio, etc.” But what I’ve found through my research is that people really don’t want to be spoken to that way. People want to be wooed. People want to be romanced by a brand. When that happens, you turn ordinary people into extraordinary advocates.

You can use a shotgun approach out to a million people, but your ROI or your ROE – return on engagement – may only be one to five percent. However, if you make 50,000 true believers, those 50,000 people tell 50,0000 people, and then you’re in a whole new ball-game.

Josiah: Your tag line is “Increasing social currency through music.” What role does music – especially live music and live music events – play in creating these unique brand experiences?

James: Music, as you know, is one of the most powerful mediums that we have in the world, and live music, specifically; there’s a human interaction that exists within live music that is in no other form.

Since we started the Forty Four Live Music Series for Morgans Hotel Group – literally Josiah, every night – we see brand engagement at its finest. We see everything from small children on vacation with their families to businessmen in their 50s and 60s staying an hour or two extra at the Royalton.

Josiah: Do hotels have a unique opportunity to host live music events?

James: Absolutely. Hospitality companies are in an extraordinary position because real estate is king and most established hotel brands have real estate throughout the world. And when you look at the state of the music industry as a whole, it’s lost about half of its revenue. So a lot of amazing talent is looking for a way to market, generate income and gain new fans.

Hotels have an extraordinary opportunity to become mavens of culture, which increases their brand impressions and their bottom line. In the case of the Forty Four Music Series that we have at the Royalton… we’ve had Grammy Award nominees, Grammy Award winners – literally the best in New York City – play right in the lobby of the Royalton and people absolutely have that WOW factor, like, “Wow, I never expected this to be here.” We’ve seen an increase in sales and in their social media and digital assets as well, because the artists are tweeting about the property.

Josiah: How do you match music genres to hotel brands?

James: My content strategy is to first meet with the Director of food and beverage and the Director of nightlife to get a sense of what they think that their brand is and how they want it to be communicated. Then it goes into everything from the cocktails on the menu to the food that’s served, to the actual ambiance of the room.

For example, I know that in Midtown Manhattan, the demographic is very different than it is at Mondrian Soho or at Hudson. The music I program at Royalton is based on how the room feels to me; for instance, if you’re drinking a sazerac or a scotch, that is much more conducive to a warm jazz or soul sound than rock and roll.

Josiah: I get the impression that this is a very holistic experience that’s more than just a marketing play.

James: Oh, absolutely. It has to be; a lot of marketers don’t give people enough credit these days. We’re constantly bombarded with advertising and marketing and what we specialize in is creating an authentic experience. I put myself in the place of some guy who’s been flying for eight hours, just got off the plane, just walked into the hotel, and perhaps his room is not ready and he has to sit in the lobby. What kind of experience is he having at that point?

We try to appease all five senses when a guest walks in. If you can hit at least three of the five, they’re more apt to tell 10 people – or Yelp – about a positive experience.

Regarding food and beverage, we’re there to increase sales. At the Royalton, David Sewell is the Director of food and beverage; we meet weekly to make sure we’re not only increasing food and beverage, but rev par as well. So it is a holistic experience, yes.

Josiah: What steps do hotels have to think through as they’re working with you to launch a series of events?

James: At the project’s inception, I would meet with the President down to the Director of food and beverage. On the marketing side – the CMO of the company down to the Director of Marketing, as well as the hotel’s operational and engineering people.

I want to know from them, “What’s the problem? What are you trying to accomplish here? Are you just trying to put on word class entertainment that people talk about? Are you trying to sell more margaritas between the hours of 5:00 and 8:00? Are you trying to sell more brunch items on Sunday from 10am to 4pm?” Once I identify the problem and what exactly they need moving forward, I design a program that tackles that, specifically.

Josiah: Give us an example. Could you tell us a little bit more about your work with the Morgans Hotel Group?

James: Since November 16th of last year, we have had Sasha Dobson, who did a South American tour with Nora Jones. We’ve had Cedric the Entertainer – one of the largest comedians in the world. We’ve had K.J. Rose, who was on BET’s Music Matters. We’ve had Raphael Saadiq – a multi Grammy award winner who just played with Mick Jagger at the Grammys. This week, we have Jerome Bell, who’s Top 40 on American Idol this season.

On the nights that we program entertainment, we’ve seen a 14 percent increase in sales. In addition to that, our Twitter numbers for @RoyaltonNYC are up 308 percent since we began.

Josiah: A live event almost seems like optimal environment for some social media activity to take place, right?

James: You are absolutely right. Content is key, and there’s this big thing around social media where people go, “Oh, if I tweet that ‘you get 25 percent off of your next drink,’ then I’m going to have a herd of people coming over to my hotel.” As you and I know, that’s not the case. Whether you’re doing music or a movie screening or live dancers or whatever you’re doing, the content itself is how you communicate the property’s brand.

We have so many artists that are on the verge and that are famous coming to the property; when they’re tweeting and they’re taking pictures — “Oh, we’re at Royalton NYC at Morgan’s Hotel,” we’ve automatically increased their content strategy and their social currency and, specifically, their digital assets; all these things are very real in the digital world that we live in. But saying that you have a special on pancakes just doesn’t work anymore.

Josiah: No, absolutely not. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

James: I’ll just say, it’s a very exciting time right now for hospitality brands; there’s this whole celebrity culture. Look at how the chef world has just blown; the hospitality world and hotels are an extension of that. The brands are quasi-celebrities in their own right. It’s not just a place to stay anymore. It’s a place to do a movie premiere from Sharon Stone. It’s a place to do a concert from John Mayer, and it’s a place to launch a new chef menu from Bobby Flay.

If I had anything to say to hotel brands out there it’s, “Take advantage of this exciting opportunity to be the creators of content.”

Josiah: How can our readers contact you?

James: Anyone interested in branding their properties and making more money should give us a call; they can reach my cellphone 24 hours, seven days a week (817-675-3122), or they can email me at James@JamesKinneyLive.com.

Thanks very much, James!

[Click Here to Download the Full Interview PDF]

(And a big thank you to Katie and Alex for turning a Skype conversation into this story!)

90% of travelers ready to book elsewhere (You’re only unique if guests say you are)

We all like to think we’re unique and special – like a snowflake – but recent research by Tealeaf is giving travel companies an alarming wakeup call.

The study suggested that an incredible 90% of UK travelers booked through a different website each and every time they make an online travel reservation.

How can we fight that trend?

Loyalty is crucial for long-term success. That’s not something new. Analysis over the past 20 years indicates it can be between 5-10 times cheaper to get an existing customer to buy from you than it is to acquire a new customer. So what can you do to get those guests and customers coming back?

Leisure travel planning typically takes place over a long period of time. The numbers vary slightly from study to study, but it’s probably fairly accurate to estimate that consumers are researching travel between 2-6 months before they make the purchase.

86% of consumers using reviews as a deciding factor

In an article published earlier this month, ComputerWorld.com reported that while the internet is killing brand loyalty, 86% of consumers are using reviews and ratings as a deciding factor in their purchasing decision. The amount of information written by consumers helps travelers feel they can avoid a bad experience if they do enough research. And the research they do is often to find reviews written by consumers like them. It’s this social proof that makes people feel secure with their purchase.

Build loyalty by making them feel secure!

According to Internet psychologist  Graham Jones, websites must inspire confidence.

As the study from Tealeaf confirms, there is a large amount of browsing and going from site to site. Central to this is the assessment of trust…and central to that trust is social proof.

Human beings behave in ways designed to protect them from harm. Clearly, if many people are doing something and they don’t come to any harm, then it is ‘the right thing to do.’ As a result, people are always looking for signals on a webpage that what they are dealing with is acceptable to more than one person.

They want to see the product on offer is being used by many people–it is social proof that it is okay to buy. With holiday purchases, social proof becomes paramount.

That’s where social proof comes in…

Trust and confidence online is built through social proof.  As managers, actively encouraging the creation and collection of this social proof – often in the form of online reviews – must become our top priority.

We need to turn our guests and customers into salespeople and spokespersons. This happens through creating a great experience in our hotels, and then encouraging people to talk about that online.

Monitor, collect, and re-publish

When people go online to talk about their travel experiences, that might do that anywhere. You don’t have a lot of control over this. So to take full advantage of opportunities online, use tools and systems to quickly join conversations that happen about you and about your brand wherever they take place.

And then use these conversations as an opportunity to build guest loyalty.

Think about ways you can collect and publish positive feedback on your website and marketing materials. This is the social proof that will set you apart from the claims made by others, and lead to higher customer retention.

………………….

ReviewPro provides hotel managers with access to one of the industry’s largest databases of online guest opinion: over 50 million reviews in 8 languages from 55 different travel review websites. The ReviewPro Quality Seal aggregates review scores from multiple review sites and OTAs into a single score to give your website visitors a clear picture of your overall reputation online. Get the details here.

99 Hotel Marketing Strategies stole my brand (Dealing with Brand Hijackers)

Alright, I know Hotel Marketing Strategies isn’t exactly a unique name. But I think it’s safe to say that within the online hotel community, I’ve built it into the #1 source of original hotel marketing content over the past few years.

Since HotelMarketingStrategies.com has a top-2 ranking in Google for the ultra-competitive phrase Hotel Marketing (~34 million results), I know there are dozens of other websites gunning for my position. A lot of “gurus” and agencies are pissed off that they can’t walk the talk and use their great SEO strategies for their own websites.

But competition is good. I like it. May the best websites win.

What makes me angry is when someone tries to cheat and hijack the brand I’ve built here to accomplish this.

Which is what 99HotelMarketingStrategies.com appears to be doing.

Published by an Italian company, Futura Hospitality, it promises to include hotel marketing tips. “The first guide of its type ever” Not true. My own guide – 1001 Hotel Marketing Ideas – came out at least 5 months earlier – and I know there were other digital guides before mine.

My team is evaluating legal action on this, but for obvious reasons I’m not going to discuss that here.

Even if Futura is not doing this intentionally, it’s still a big issue. Negligence in doing research to avoid trademark infringement before launch of a website like this is a fault.

I’m fully aware that writing this post may send a lot of traffic their way. They’ll probably make a bunch of sales too.

But this is a reputation issue. So to clarify: I am not in any way affiliated with 99 Hotel Marketing Strategies or 99HotelMarketingStrategies.com.

I know this post may come off as a rant. And it is. But you know my goal here: to keep it real and walk through everyday, real-world scenarios.

So what are the lessons for you?

Be aware of other websites and organizations trying to steal traffic off the brand you have established.

Be vocal in clarifying the (non)relationship. I’ve seen several hotels face impersonators in social media and elsewhere – being silent about this isn’t the solution. Make sure people know you’re not affiliated to minimize brand damage.

Finding your brand position: How Fierro Hotel is standing out in the crowded Buenos Aires design hotel market [Case Study]

Buenos Aires is paradise for design aficionados. Travelers are spoiled by the quality and personality of small hotels opened over the past decade.

If you were opening a new hotel in this market, how would you position it?

That’s the question I’ve been examining with Martin Rosberg, Managing Director and co-founder of Fierro Hotel – a new hotel opening in Buenos Aires this September. Fierro is an Insider’s Circle partner: a very design-focused hotel with all the best amenities. iPads in the lobby and suites. Double-glazed windows to ensure a silent, relaxing environment. The sort of place where you would love to spend a week or two.

Fierro Hotel Marketing - Brand Positioning case study

But we both know having the best product is just the first step. We need to help travelers visualize the guest experience through our communications. So as we prepare for opening, Martin and I have been thinking:

“How can we communicate the Fierro Hotel difference, and separate the property from all the other boutique design hotels in Buenos Aires?”

It may help to have a little background.

The building will include the Hernán Gipponi Restaurante. From HotelChatter

Chef Gipponi, by the way, is a local lad done good, having spent time in Michelin-starred kitchens in Spain before returning home to Argentina. We hear that the restaurant promises to become a local hotspot, but be warned that this does not mean it will be classic meat-haven parilla.

We’d happily eat steak day after day in BA, but if you’re a vegetarian or simply need something other than beef in your diet, you will be pleased to know that Gipponi will be serving up dishes such as Foamy Yogurt with caramelised pumpkin seedsm and Grilled Scallops with bok choy, pineapple and ginger juice, and pine nuts.

Additionally, the hotel’s wine cellar is run by Martin’s brother, Andres Rosberg – president of the Argentine Sommelier Association.

Fierro Hotel Wine

So here we have this beautiful design hotel, paired with some of the best food and wine in the city. Now, the brand position is obvious.

Fierro Hotel is the place to stay for the gourmand visiting Buenos Aires

Or, “The best lifestyle hotel for foodies.” If you’re a bon vivant, you need to be here.

We’re still finalizing the wording, but the difference is clear: If you’re serious about experiencing some of the best food and wine that Buenos Aires has to offer, Fierro Hotel is the logical place to stay. Not only do you have these great options on-site, but you have some world-class experts to recommend other establishments in the city.

The positioning lesson for you

Examine your story to find what position your brand can occupy exclusively in the market. Fierro Hotel has this strong emphasis on food and wine, but you will have something else. Whatever that is, define that…and then repeat it over and over in your communications.

Want to work together on branding for your hotel? That’s just one of the areas we cover in my Insider’s Circle program. See details on the special end-of-season offer available now.

The USP and power of one

Josiah’s note: Mihir Nayak, owner of the Mitaroy Goa Hotel, has been a big supporter of this blog, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know him over the past few months. For the next few weeks, he will be posting a few guest posts on lessons he learned from running his hotel. Today, he discusses the ‘power of one.

Although it is a term that is thrown about a lot these days, the USP or Unique Selling Proposition is the most important weapon in any hotelier’s arsenal.

Last week I was sitting with a hotelier friend of mine while he and his team were designing their latest advertising brochure.

It was really amazing to see how his team of hotel marketers, who had surely studied the concept of the USP, were throwing everything and the kitchen sink onto their brochure.

Talk about our comfortable rooms, said one. Talk about our French chef, said another. Don’t forget our spa area, said the third. And on it went for the next hour or so.

They ended up with 4 slogans, 1 long title, 3 subtitles, 14 unique selling propositions and 8 different photos. As a result, the size of the hotel name had to be reduced so that it was barely visible and the website was in a font too small and tucked away in the right hand corner to be visible at all. Oh, and there was absolutely no call to action whatsoever!

At the end of it all, I was totally confused.

Research shows that guests are bombarded with so much advertising they find it hard to concentrate. If they want to even concentrate on advertisements at all. And in the hotel industry, the case is the same.

As I said earlier, the solution is to have a USP (there shouldn’t even be a plural) that sticks in peoples minds.

A wonderful book called the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing dips into this concept. The authors say that as a hotelier, you should try and own one attribute in your customer’s mind. And that one attribute should have great importance for your guests.

Four Seasons is associated with luxury. Marriott is associated with standards. And W Hotel is associated with design.

I sat down and did the same exercise myself. What single word was special to my Goa Hotel? What attribute could I own?

And then it hit me.

Space.

Unlike other hotels in Goa or indeed the rest of the world that offered guests rooms of only 20 sq mts, my Suites at the Mitaroy Goa Hotel were a spacious 100 sq mts or 5 times the size of my competitors.

That was what was unique about my Goa Hotel and why guests would choose my Goa Hotel over the other hotels in Goa.

And I went about telling changing all my marketing to bring the point home.

  • My website said “Stay at our spacious Suites!”
  • My advertising said “Stay at our spacious Suites!”
  • And my business card said “Stay at our spacious Suites!”

(See what I am trying to do here?)

I also stripped away all my other attributes from my marketing materials, concentrating on my spacious Suites – how they are 5 times larger than my competitors and why space is so important.

When concentrating on one attribute, you will be forced to sacrifice all the other attributes you may want to be associated with. But this has its advantages. Not only do you own an attribute in your guests’ minds but your advertising also becomes much clearer. And the best thing is that research shows that if your guests rate you highly on one attribute, they also rate you highly on all the other attributes that are important to them.

So, as a hotelier, you need to sit down and ask yourself what one attribute do you want to own. What is the single reason why guests should choose your hotel and not your competitors. In short, what is your USP?

Let me know what you come up with…

The White Company

The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world. Among its 1,200 stores, you can find pretty much anything from anywhere.  It’s possible to spend all day shopping and only be scratching the surface. (I speak from experience – I’m writing this from a cafe here to rest my feet.)

The choice at this mall is overwhelming. But there’s one store – The White Company – that narrows the selection by selling in one color only.

It doesn’t matter if they find a really cool product in green. It doesn’t matter if the customer wants a widget in blue. Even if yellow is the next big thing, they won’t stock it.

They only sell products colored white.

Limits are essential for building a brand. Constraints make the buying decision easier, and define what you stand for.

Do you clearly state what you offer and who your customer is?

Do you make it clear what you do NOT offer and who your customer is NOT?

Blurring this line in an attempt to add revenue will confuse how people see you among the competition.

What Hotels Can (and Cannot) Outsource

(Josiah’s note: This is the fourth and final part of Alicia’s outsourcing for hotels series. You can also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

Having explored the benefits and potential pitfalls of outsourcing in prior posts, it is important to use these criteria for assessing when it makes sense to outsource a particular task and when a hotel is best served by keeping it in house.

Front-of-House responsibilities require the ability to react quickly to guest demands; therefore, it is crucial that staff be empowered by the management’s support to do so. Communication needs to be instantaneous with as few hurdles as possible – not always the case with outsourced services managed by others. In order to maintain control over the quality of the face-to-face interactions guests have with staff, it’s a good idea to manage in-house employees who provide the hotel’s core services, i.e. front desk clerks, doormen, car valets, bellhop, concierge, etc…

Tangential functions of the hotel can be grey areas when assessing the suitability of outsourcing. Since increasingly more restaurants, clubs, spas, and fitness centers are co-branded, the hotel’s responsibility for these services are diminished. But when they are in fact brand extensions of the hotel, it again necessitates in-house management to maintain quality-control. Conference Facilities are an aspect where some, but not all, of the duties could be contracted out. While staff which interface with meeting inquiries and scheduling should remain under direct hotel management, outsourcing on an as-needed basis the supply, maintenance and support of the associated technologies could be best satisfied by an outside specialist.

Some Back-of-House and Administration functions are more likely candidates for successful outsourcing, Housekeeping and Facilities Management are examples where an outside contractor could either be cost-effective if the workforce remains consistent and knows the physical nuances of the property – or a financial loss if money is spent reeducating a quick turnover of staff.

Sales and Marketing roles are also instances where outsourcing makes sense for many, but not all, of the job responsibilities. Having an onsite Sales Director is of course crucial, but the majority of marketing duties can be successfully performed by an outside expert. Hotel marketing efforts are shifting exponentially towards online strategies as research and bookings are increasingly web-dominated. Remaining competitive requires a team of professionals with specialized knowledge of online interfacing. Partnering with the right marketing consultants is a terrific example of how outsourcing can make and save money.

Unusual Hotels of the World (And a Lesson for You)

Hotels certainly do come in all shapes and sizes. While yes, the trend is to create brands and designs geared towards more specific target markets, some of the global hotels on Unusual Hotels of the World really take this to the extreme.

Properties are ranked from being merely “Different” to somewhat “Wacky” to an outright “WOW”. In addition they are categorized by some truly Unique Selling Propositions: igloos, underground caves, underwater submarines, prisons, lighthouses and tree houses are just a small portion of the imaginative variety of experiences.

Interior of the Jumbo Hostel
Interior of the Jumbo Hostel

Take for example the newly opened Jumbo Hostel near Stockholm, in which guests not only spend the night (on the ground) of this retrofitted 747 jet, but plane aficionados also have the chance to climb around the engines.

Another off-the-charts hotel is Kokopelli’s Cave in Farmington, New Mexico.

Photo credit: Entrepreneur
Photo credit: Entrepreneur

This one-guestroom luxury hotel is located in a 65 million year old sandstone formation with a sweeping view high above the La Plata Rivera.

Today’s adventurous travelers are craving the added value that comes with the one-of-a-kind experiences offered by these hotels – and they’re not likely to be replicated by Starwood any time soon. While perhaps not going to the extremes seen here, could these hotels inspire you to add elements of surprise to your property?

Risk Management and Priority Alignment with Outsourced Service Providers

Part I of our look at outsourcing in the hotel industry explored some potential pitfalls that could reduce a property’s overall strength. This second segment focuses on communicating your hotel’s priorities to service providers while reducing the likelihood of errors. When considering the option of outsourcing, it’s essential to select suppliers that understand and support your business goals. Specifying these objectives within their contracts may help a property avoid potential conflicts.

Following are some aspects to consider when evaluating the suitability of outsourced service providers, along with some practical ideas for minimizing risk:

A. Does your outsourced provider juggle many clients? How much time can they devote to your property? One idea: insist upon regularly scheduled check-in meetings.

B. Will your service provider’s bigger clients be more important than you, leading to your loss of control and quick reaction time to problems? One idea: set monetary incentives for promptly and sufficiently resolved problems as well as penalties for slower responses.

C. Are confidentiality agreements enough? Could your outsourced supplier leak proprietary information? One idea: password protection and strict monitoring of the access of sensitive data and documents.

D. Can your outsourcers adequately evaluate the levels of risk that are acceptable for your hotel? One idea: include in the contract a comprehensive database of potential scenarios and your hotel’s desired outcomes.

E. Is there consistency with the proficiency of those employed by your outsourced provider? Surging demand for less expensive skilled labor could lead to hiring insufficiently trained staff, which decreases quality and speed levels while defeating the cost savings intended by outsourcing; i.e. a booking engine maintained in an emerging technological region such as Bangalore. One idea: verify the employment and education credentials of your outsourcer’s team leaders.

G. Are the outsourced provider’s corporate ethics aligned with yours? Do they have unfair labor practices or irresponsible environmental/waste policies? It’s not just the matter of being unprincipled; could their actions harm your brand’s reputation? One idea: stipulate as a qualifying factor for awarding the contract your first-hand observation of the company’s actual work environments/factories, not just the corporate headquarters.

Successful outsourcing is all about due diligence to make sure your hotel is put into good hands without giving away your knowledge base. In the process you may decide it is not the most fruitful path to strengthen your brand. Part III explores this scenario with some ideas of how insourcing can make better use of your current staff resources.

Logo Redesign for Brand Repositioning

With the majority of reservations being made online, a hotel’s look-to-book ratio has some mighty slim margins for making a lasting impression. Within seconds guests form an opinion about a property and how it fits into their lifestyle or the one to which they aspire. It’s essential that a hotel brand’s core DNA can be quickly perceived and is consistent throughout its marketing.

The nexus of a hotel’s identity lies within the messages conveyed by its logo. Strong symbols and fonts evoke instantaneous, emotional responses from their viewers. As hotel brands evolve in response to social, environmental and technological guest preferences, so must their logo in order to ensure it speaks to their target market.

Take a look at the following multi-industry examples that show how revisiting a logo as well as an entire product or webpage can breathe new life into a brand. Holiday Inn’s former insignia conveyed an old-fashioned family environment and really hadn’t changed since today’s parents were children themselves – planting the notion that perhaps the hotel’s facilities hadn’t either. The updated logo is designed to attract modern, casual families and implies a relaxed, welcoming spirit.

An updated visual identity that retains elements of its former logo will reposition a property in the guest’s mind. In such a competitive economy, this shift in focus can be a strategic tool for capturing additional revenue.

What do your hotel’s marketing materials say about your brand image– and is it the message that draws in your target market? Will refreshing your brand’s identity give you an added edge?

Hotel Outsourcing: Can it reduce your overall strength?

City Stars , the swimming pool in InterContine...
Image via Wikipedia

During tough economic times, it’s understandable that a hotelier’s initial inclination would be to adopt practices that generate the quickest increase in RevPAR and occupancy rates. The growing trend towards outsourcing appears beneficial as it introduces competitive bidding among suppliers while alleviating some of the hotel owner’s risk.

Nearly every aspect of running a hotel can be parceled out, from the property management and reservations system to front desk and housekeeping staff to conference, gift shop, spa and restaurant administration. As The Economist recently reported, flags such as InterContinental are moving towards an “asset-light” business model where only 16 of its 4,186 hotels are actually owned by the brand, with the remaining operated as licensed franchises. Will this strategy weaken the longevity and quality of InterContinental’s brand value?

We’ll be taking a three-part look at when outsourcing makes sense – and when it jeopardizes a hotel’s service delivery promise. While the immediate financial benefits are well-known, making an informed choice that addresses the potential pitfalls might allow outsourcing to be a robust solution.

Critics argue that outsourcing is short-sighted as it sacrifices long-term success for short-term growth. Following are some red flags to consider as to how uninformed outsourcing might reduce a hotel’s overall strength:

A. Lessens a hotel’s flexibility to respond to unique tasks & surges in workloads

B. Lessens consistency in the property’s message and customer service quality control

C. Reduces creativity in management decisions, as the key players must stick to their defined roles

D. Reduces personal pride and ownership among staff

E. As noncore services become noncritical they tend to be neglected or left behind

Clearly it is essential that a hotel selects outsourcing partners that share similar brand values while promoting open channels of communication. In Part II of our look at outsourcing we’ll explore the potential conflicts in priorities between owners and outsourced providers, as well as provide some strategies for avoiding these risks before they have the chance to occur.

Brand Creation in Troubled Times

Despite the tumbling economy, consumer desire continues to grow for services that in past days were considered a luxury – those that are highly customized to individual preferences while offering out-of-the ordinary experiences.

In recent times, hotel groups have rose to the challenge by creating more segmented brands – earlier examples being Starwood’s Aloft and Element. But as funding sources have become scarce the introduction of new microbrands is a riskier investment. The brakes have been put on some brands, either slowing them down or putting them on hold completely, such as with Baccarat, Crillon and 1Hote1. Perhaps once Starwood Capital’s newly announced SH Group finds it feet, financial lending will have loosened up a bit and these brands can move forward. But as travelers are tighter than ever with their disposable income, is it a smart time to introduce the over-the-top luxury of Baccarat and Crillon? Or will there always be a market for super premium lodging?

Hilton’s announcement of their new microbrand Home2Suites seems to take a more practical response to guest requests by targeting tech-savvy extended-stay travelers who also would like “sensuous retreat services.” This concept has a theme also seen in our earlier post about women-only hotel floors: the desire of travelers to be pampered during off-work hours.

Is now the time to increase the promotion of spa services to your extended-stay business guests for added revenue? How can your hotel capitalize on this trend?

Hotel and Automobile Cross-Promotions Shift Into Reverse

One of the earlier forays into lifestyle automobile and hotel cross-branding came with Volkswagen’s venture into the hospitality business.  Each of the 21 rooms of the Hotel Fox in Copenhagen was designed by a different international artist in commemoration of Volkswagen’s release of the Fox automobile.  Great idea that photographs well when it’s new, but here’s some food for thought – what happens when the inevitable carpet stains set in or housekeeping slips below par?  Would a disgruntled guest’s experience (and subsequent word-of-mouse) lead to a negative impression of the Volkswagen brand?

Hotel loyalty programs that offer rental car discounts to its members are nothing new; but the concept of giving prestige car owners perks at lifestyle hotels provides an interesting reversal of marketing roles to this profitable relationship.   Mercedes’ launch of its Destinations program not only provides room upgrades and gifts, but also allows members to drive different models while staying at select luxury resorts.  It’s the perfect opportunity for a genteel up-sell, baiting guests with short-term use of the latest models while creating desire for its associated prestige.

Reversing the dynamics of the hotel and auto industry cross-branding relationship looks to be a smart move.  What other marketing relationships could be reexamined from new angles to strengthen your brand’s identity?

How to Promote an Unpopular Hotel

Ahh social media, a hotelier’s best friend or worst nightmare!  Positive “word-of-mouse” publicity attracts guests and builds reputations, but when a hotel’s missteps are documented – either deservedly or unjustly – the repercussions can be long-lasting.

Most readers will overlook the occasional critique if enough positive reviews exist, but when sites such as TripAdvisor list multiple complaints and photos of dirty bathubs and leaky ceilings, the majority of would-be guests stay as far away as possible. The transparency that results from openly-shared opinions forces hoteliers to deliver upon their marketing promises, and can leads hoteliers with negative reviews to see the internet like an elephant that never forgets.

So the question is, what’s a hotel to do that wants to attract positive attention and/or recover from poor publicity?  The beauty of social media is that it also has the power to change the tides since it is a reflection of truth – but as such the opinions must be warranted.  Here are some ideas for the initial steps on the road to recovery:

  1. Proactively monitor social media sites to check what your guests are saying about you. Their opinions are actually a goldmine, as they can alert you to unforeseen issues that, if caught early, can be remedied before causing further damage. Make sure your physical site matches your web site by addressing the issues raised and following-up to see that they don’t reoccur.
  2. Ask guests who have had an enjoyable stay to leave feedback either on a social media site or provide an option for doing so on the main hotel site.  Offer an incentive for guests who leave feedback.
  3. Strike preemptively.  Establish goals for WSO and SEO.  Make sure your website uses accurate, articulate and well-researched content that reflects your target market’s aspirations without misleading them. Consider building a microsite for better promotion of your spa or restaurant.
  4. Monitor your competition. Where are they winning and what could be improved?  Be a fast-follower but provide your own twist. Find their weakness and offer something that fills the void.
  5. Try unconventional pricing. The Hoxton Hotel in London offers a seasonal 1GBP/night online promotion for a limited number of rooms.  After repeating this sale over the course of a year, the buzz it generated helped turn it into one of the hippest places in town.
  6. Look at business successes outside of the hotel industry. Establish cross-promotions with unconventional partners that are relevant to your target market. Use Google Trends to see what’s hot with your guests and integrate these ideas into your strategies.  Remember, “You are who you’re linked to.”

These are just a few ideas for bettering a hotel’s image while tailoring it to a more specific set of customers. Every hotel has room for innovation in order to remain competitive.

Let me ask you this: How could you improve your hotel’s image?

What Influences Hotel Design: History, Architecture, or Marketing?

Does a hotel’s architecture and interior design influence its marketing strategies, or does a hotel’s target market dictate the decor? Well, that depends…

If the hotel is a historic property, respecting its architectural heritage is often not only desirable but required by law. Capitalizing on its individual story, as well as the guests and events which have occurred there, contributes to the brand’s prestige. (See a good example of how the Algonquin in New York did this.) Maintaining authentic period-styles within the design will help support the hotel’s USP.

On the other hand, a property that has been built (or renovated) with specific clientele in mind often develops the design brief based around a customer profile.

Take a look at The Five Hotel in Paris’ Latin Quarter for an example of design dictated by guest preferences.  Long known as being the district for avant-garde artists and student-life, each room features a different decor designed to integrate all five senses. While certainly a far stretch from the Haussmannian style of its classic exterior, its interior design reflects the French revolutionary spirit that is well-alive in the quarter today.

In this case, it is the market’s expectations that have shaped the design and reinterpreted the essence of a property’s history – not the actual architectural details.

Using Personas in Hotel Marketing

Using typical guest personas is very helpful for anyone trying to promote a hotel.

David Meerman Scott‘s writing on the topic has been very influential in shaping the way I view marketing.  In his excellent book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, he explains:

“It can be daunting for many of us to consider who, exactly, is visiting our site.  But if we break the buyers into distinct groups and then catalog everything we know about each one, it makes it easier to create content targeted to each important demographic.”

Think about all the people that visit your hotel for a moment.  How many distinct groups can you create from your regular guests?

If your hotel is like most, there are several categories.

Business travelers.  Leisure travelers. Conference attendees. International visitors. Families. And the list could go on and on.

Each group has different needs, and uses a different set of criteria to select hotels. The business traveler might want a staffed business center and would be attracted by your city center location. Leisure travelers may appreciate a guide to local attractions. Visitors from abroad may need staff that speak their language. Conference attendees may be looking for a hotel with a great fitness center.

Everyone is looking for something different from your hotel. For this reason, you need different messages for each major category of visitors. Doing this helps you communicate your value offering, and improves the effectiveness of your overall campaign.

The “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work anymore.

Unconventional Pricing for Hotels?

Timberline Lodge Ski Area on Mount Hood, showi...
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Seth reminds us how changing your pricing model can build buzz and attract a whole new group of customers.

  • Law firms charging by project
  • Ski lifts charging a small entry fee, then a per-lift charge (more during peak hours)
  • Airlines auctioning off seats “baseball card style” – with resell rights

Could your hotel implement a new pricing model?

It’s not something this blog typically covers, but still an interesting thought to consider.

Hoteliers Reveal Their Tips for Attracting Foreign Guests (Plus: Surprising Must-Have Amenities for Europeans)

mock of generic EU passport With an expected slowdown in US travel, some hotel managers are making the most of it by catering to international guests attracted by a weaker US dollar.  Leon Stafford from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shares one example:

When [Atlanta] W Hotel general manager Marylouise Fitzgibbon played host this month to a French meeting planner, she could have settled for learning a few quick French phrases or sought help from Atlanta’s French Consulate.

Instead, Fitzgibbon assigned four members of her leadership team to conduct the entire pitch in French. From running down the hotel’s features to explaining the prevalence of Peachtree in the city’s street names, W Buckhead went Gallic in an attempt to land the business.

“It goes beyond making them feel like home,” Fitzgibbon said. “It’s about services and experiences.”

Intentionally hiring multilingual and multicultural staff is a great way to ensure positive experiences for your foreign guests.

“For guests, if you can speak their language, it puts you heads above the rest,” said Ronen Nissenbaum, regional vice president of operations for InterContinental Hotels and Resorts. Languages spoken at the company’s flagship InterContinental Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead district include Hebrew, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Polish, Arabic, Mandarin, Swiss-German, Malay, Turkish and Russian.

Having a diverse staff with international experience also raises cultural awareness and sensitivity. “The reason I worked in so many countries is that I wanted to be more culturally aware,” said John Reilly, who has worked around the world – from Aruba to Tunisia. As general manager of Twelve Centennial in Atlanta, he notices that German guests appreciate precision and efficiency, while Americans prefer lots of communication.

A new study by J.D. Power revealed air conditioning as the top “must-have” amenity for the more than 13,000 European hotel guests it surveyed. In North America, that’s usually standard so you’re probably off to a good start there. Other top amenities included free breakfast, wireless internet availability, soundproof windows and free parking. The study also showed a trend toward smoke-free room preferences, and lower hotel brand loyalty compared to North American travelers.

Let me ask you this: What are you doing to attract international guests?

Recession-Proof Hotel Marketing, Part 2: The Price Game

For some hoteliers, the first reaction they have when facing an economic slowdown is to slash prices.

But is this really a good strategy?

If you look at historical data, the answer is clear: you should never, ever reduce prices as a quick-fix remedy.

All studies carried out in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York City showed that price cuts damage the long-term health of your business.  One report by Cornell University, titled “Hotel Pricing in a Networked World,” shares this insight:

“It should come as no surprise that discounting has a chilling effect on revenues. The discounting concept is based on the core micro-economic principle that reducing your price means that additional consumers will enter the market and you will sell more rooms.  The hotel industry has never been able to apply this principle successfully, and the CHR study demonstrates why this is so.

New consumers do not enter the market in response to hotel discounting.  Instead, current customers simply get more for less and revenues fall.

So what should be your pricing strategy?

Try this: Leave your prices where they are, but increase your perceived value.

Instead of discounting, focus on building your overall value package.  Sell the experience – work to position your hotel as a destination.

Explore social media networks, and look for recurring themes of what guests like about your hotel.  Improve and showcase your specialties.  Put them at the core of your marketing efforts.

But never fall for the price cutting trap.

Make money from more bookings, NOT AdSense

As a hotel marketer, it really, really bugs me when I see hotel blogs (or worse, websites!) with AdSense on them.  That tells me a few things:

  1. You’re willing to trade a potential $300+ room booking for $0.10 in click commission
  2. You don’t understand the value of branding
  3. You don’t know what you’re doing

Your blog’s purpose is to book more rooms.  Don’t jeopardize that opportunity for a few cents.

It makes you look bad.

Hotel Sax: Using technology as marketing

Continuing on yesterday’s idea of using cutting-edge technology as a marketing tactic, reader Fred pointed out Chicago’s Hotel Sax.  In another partnership with Microsoft, they have created an experience for their tech-savvy guests that led the Chicago Tribune to crown them “king of next-generation hotels.”

From their website:

“Playfulness and Sophistication are not mutually exclusive. You discover this throughout Hotel Sax Chicago, where a unique partnership with Microsoft blends technology and entertainment seamlessly with high-end luxury. Select guestrooms feature Zune mp3 players and Xbox game stations adjacent to top-shelf mini bars and private dining menus. A one-of-a-kind Microsoft-powered luxury entertainment lounge invites every guest to play, watch, listen, relax.”

Credit: Hotels Magazine
(Credit: Hotels Magazine)

Offering free WiFi is a nice start, but it isn’t remarkable anymore. 

What new technology could position your hotel as a market innovator?

Engaging guests with interactive tables

Springwise shares how Sheraton Hotels is using technology to turn deserted hotel lobbies into activity planning centers for guests.  Launched last week in Sheraton’s Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle hotels, 30-inch displays using Microsoft’s Surface technology allow guests to find local attractions.

(Credit: Stefanie Olsen/CNET News)
(Credit: Stefanie Olsen/CNET News)

How else could you use technology to engage your guests and build brand loyalty?