Creating music and video playlists for brand building

Music and other multimedia content can be an important part of experience design, and thanks to Michael I’ve become aware of a few ways this could work.

Pandora and Spotify playlists

What originally caught Michael’s attention was how the Wanee Music Festival was doing this – creating a custom Pandora playlist for fans of the event. Clearly, this could work just as well for lifestyle hospitality brands as it does for music festivals. I see opportunities for different types of hotel playlists: ones that highlight the best local artists, and ones that reflect the type of ambiance you’re trying to create.

In Europe, Spotify is the music suggestion tool of choice – and Staying Cool has created playlists on the site for their Birmingham property.

YouTube playlists

Earlier this year, YouTube introduced video playlists. (You can read the tutorial here) This could be helpful for not only a series of videos touring your hotel property and surrounding area, but also for linking a collection of stories.

It seems hotels have yet to really explore the opportunity here. How could you extend your brand experience by curating music and video content?

Share any examples you know in the comments below.

Starbucks Digital Network represents the future of digital content marketing

As I alluded to in my Think Mobile 2010 summary post, a highlight of the event was hearing Adam Brotman introduce the Starbucks Digital Network – a collection of content that will debut this fall in the US.

Built on partnerships

The initiative is built through a partnership with Yahoo! – but the real value to the user comes through partnerships that include:

  • iTunes
  • Foursquare
  • Wall Street Journal
  • New York Times
  • Zagat
  • Rodale (health publications)

Premium content for free

Through co-sponsorship, the site is able to offer premium content – such as the Wall Street Journal online – for free. The partnership with iTunes will allow Starbucks to make music recommendations and give away free samples.

This is a win/win/win deal for everyone involved. The users get free content, the companies get exposure, and Starbucks plays the role of content curator – building trust and brand value.

Becoming content curators

Starbucks feels their customers trust them as tastemakers, and want them to introduce new content. From their website:

The Starbucks Digital Network is inspired by Starbucks passion for elevating the third place experience to create a unique coffeehouse environment, its heritage of recommending music, books, films and other culturally relevant works to its customers.

That sounds a little too much like a press release, but the opportunities for other lifestyle businesses are clear. Whether that’s through creating a soundtrack like the Opposite House in Beijing or creating a community of artists like the Roger Smith Hotel in New York is doing.

Optimized first for mobile devices

Over 50% of people accessing the Starbucks wifi network do so through a mobile phone  or tablet device. From GigaOM:

Brotman explained how the site will be built in HTML5, will respond to touch and swipes, and will be optimized first for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices. This is a huge change from companies that traditionally optimize their web sites for Safari, Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer and expect users to view them on a PC or laptop.

Local focus

Having a local neighborhood focus is a key digital trend. Starbucks is doing this several ways.

Patch.com partnership. AOL’s Patch.com provides hyper-local news created by a local editor. It’s sort of like neighborhood gossip rag meets community discussion forum.

Foursquare partnership. Integration with Foursquare will provide the ability to check in on the landing page – without needing their mobile app. (Great if you only have your laptop)

MapMyRun & MapMyRide integration. These two services are incredibly useful if you’re a runner or cyclist in an unfamiliar city. Brotman said many fitness groups meet up at their local Starbucks before heading out, so this is a prime opportunity to serve this community.

Why this is cool (and why it should matter to you)

Starbucks is at the leading edge of content-as-marketing innovation here. What if you followed this model to deliver premium information to your guests and customers?

Most establishments with a wireless internet network use some type of landing page for registration. The Starbucks Digital Network presents a whole new opportunity to engage with and serve your customers.

Who do you need to partner with to create and share content like this?

Hotelier Highlights: 14 Great Hotel Marketing Websites

[Feature Photo from our Hotel Design Pool: One of the pools at the RIU Tikida Dunas Hotel in Agadir, Morocco. Thank you, Daniel Atkins!]

This week, I’m departing from Hotelier Highlights’ usual format and instead featuring the best hotel marketing sites and the innovators who publish them.

These featured sites:

  • Frequently publish, guest-publish, or host free and original digital hotel marketing strategies content.
  • Communicate effectively with readers via Twitter, Facebook, online forums, blog comments or though interviews and personal exchanges.
  • Prove through their own Google searchability that they know how to create and sustain a visible online presence — lending real-world cred to their digital marketing advice.

Basically, they encourage beginners like me to wrap our heads around a barrage of new digital applications, the hotelier-mindset, the shifting world of social media marketing, and every other development that’s shaking up the hospitality industry.

Even better, they inspire hoteliers and marketers to discuss and develop their own strategies. Haven’t given yours much thought? Eager to become an expert in your own right? There’s no time like the present; dive in!

14 Great Hotel Marketing Websites

1. HospitalityNet.org
Contact HospitalityNet.org
Recent Highlight: Revenue Management or Urban Myth?

2. Hotel-Blogs.com
Meet and Contact the Blogger: Guillaume Thevenot
Follow Guillaume on Twitter
Recent Highlight: This Week in Hotels #5 (Foursquare, Online Concierge, Hotel Website Review)

3. FabriceBurtin.com
Meet and Contact the Blogger: Fabrice Burtin
Follow Fabrice on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Managing the Last Impression in Hotels

4. a.nthonygreen.com
Meet and Contact the Blogger: Anthony Green
Follow Anthony on Twitter
Recent Highlight: What to Look for in a Hotel Booking Engine?

5. Hotelinsight.wordpress.com
Contact Hotel Insight
Follow Hotel Insight on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Nite Nite

6. YoungHotelier.com
Meet the Bloggers: Jitendra Jain (JJ) and Erin O’Neill
Recent Highlight: Hotel Stories: Exceeding Expectations with Exceptional Service

7. HappyHotelier.com
Meet the Blogger:Guido vanden Elshout
Contact Guido vanden Elshout
Follow Guido vanden Elshout on Twitter
Follow Happy Hotelier’s Favorite Hotel Marketing Tweeple
Recent Highlight: Using Tweepml to Manage your Twitter Contacts and do away with #ff and #tt

8. Blog.DanielEdwardCraig.com
Meet the Blogger: Daniel Edward Craig
Contact Daniel
Follow Daniel on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Is the Role of the Hotel Concierge Going Obsolete?

9. eHotelier.com
About eHotelier
Contact eHotelier
Follow eHotelier on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Revenue Management or Urban Myth?

10. HospitalityeBusiness.com/blog
About HospitalityeBusiness
Contact HospitalityeBusiness
Follow HospitalityeBusiness on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) to Present during Mobile Technology & Travel Keynote Session at EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit

11. HrabaConsulting.com/blog
Meet the Blogger: Michael Hraba
Recent Highlight: Facebook & TripAdvisor; an issue for Google or Yelp?

12. HotelMarketingStrategies.com
Meet the Blogger: Josiah Mackenzie
Contact Josiah
Follow Josiah on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Top 10 Reports for Hotels to run in Google Analytics

The next two blogs aren’t exclusively hotel marketing focused, but they’re joining the conversation, testing strategies, and producing some great content. Rock on.

13. MitaroyGoaHotel.com
Meet the Blogger: Mihir Nayak
Contact Mihir
Follow Mihir on Twitter
Recent Highlight: How Social search is Replacing Google

14. OnlineFantastic.wordpress.com
Meet and Contact the Blogger: Lucie Hys
Follow Lucie on Twitter
Recent Highlight: Social Media & Hotels: Top 5 Blunders

I’d love to find, read and share even more great sites. Give your favorites some love in the comments!

Hotelier Highlights: July 24-30

Happy Saturday everyone, and welcome to this week’s Hotelier Highlights: the best hotel marketing posts, tech news, and any other inspiring or entertaining stories that we stumbled across. Enjoy!

We received some great entries to our Hotel Design Pool this week; thanks for sharing your beautiful images, everyone. Dublin’s Gibson Hotel submitted our favorite: this beautifully lit internal garden. In their words, “Chic, understated and right in the heart of Dublin’s brand new cultural hub, the gibson hotel captures the essence of a vibrant city with a music pedigree that runs deep. Subtle, yet surprising, understated yet complex too, our hotel takes inspiration from its central location and unique design – the ultimate urban retreat.”

Hotelier Highlights: July 3-9

Welcome to round three of our hotelier highlights Saturday feature: the week’s best hotel marketing posts, tech news, photos, and any other inspiring or entertaining stories that we stumbled across.

Josiah recently wrote about the importance of recognizing loyal fans and their contributions. Dedicating some space to your favorite photos and hotels is a good start. If you can think of more ways to improve your experience on this site, send us a note!

This week’s feature photo was submitted to our Hotel Design group on Flickr by Brazil’s Hilton Sao Paulo Murumbi.

In their words, “Modern art hangs down from the high ceilings of this dramatic Sao Paulo restaurant, themed like an artist’s studio. Savor the Brazilian-flavored contemporary cuisine, special wines from the 170-label wine cellar or a creative drink from the bar.”

Would you like to be featured here? Upload your best photos to our Hotel Design pool, on Flickr.

Should your hotel use Tumblr instead of WordPress?

Ever since I started blogging about eight years ago, I’ve been a huge supporter of the WordPress blogging software. I still love it, and think it’s still probably the best all-around platform. If for no other reason, the huge number of 3rd-party themes and plugins make it a very customizable solution.

But as I work with hotels on starting blogging initiatives, the big thing most people lack is the time to write posts. Even though you don’t have to write a 500-word article each time, the thought of having to sit down at a keyboard and write a new post can be intimidating.

So I’ve been looking at some alternatives, and experimented quite a bit with Tumblr recently.

I know it’s not brand-new technology, and many others have been using this for a while.

With the little testing I’ve done so far, what I like about Tumblr is how simple it is. You can get a blog up and running in about 15 minutes, and there’s no cost. Even better, it seems to encourage multimedia publishing, with sharing photos, video, and audio very easy.

It seems that hotels interested in lifestyle blogging would find this a natural fit.

Morgans Hotel Group starts tumbling

A few days ago, Morgan’s Hotel group received some publicity for their new Tumblr “back of house” blog. As you can see, they’re reaching a specific lifestyle audience:

The content looks a bit unorganized right now, but I’m interested to watch as this develops.

Blogging can be easy

So maybe this works for you, or maybe it doesn’t – but I just wanted to let you know blogging can be simple. Whichever platform you use, just make sure you get out there and do it!

Has anyone else tried Tumblr? Share your experience in the comments below…

Greg Murtha explains VTour: A virtual tour platform for hotels

At the end of each week I like to look at a new product or startup in the hospitality technology space, and today we have Greg Murtha walking us through VTour – a virtual tour product. Rich media is becoming increasingly popular on hotel websites, and when done right, can give your site visitors a good idea of what to expect (setting expectations).

What is the big problem you saw that inspired you to create this?

The limitations of existing technology to allow a potential customer to move freely from one location to another and see and be sold on all of the unique attributes of a hotel property in an engaging environment. With our competitors’ technology all you can see are small snippets of one aspect of a property then you have to close that link and open another to go on to the next destination or to see a video or other rich media. Nothing is cohesively linked together. We wanted to create a dynamic environment in which you could move from one destination to another without having to open and close 30 links and wait for them to load in the process.

Explain how your product helps solve this big problem

VTour’s technological platform empowers the consumer with game-like interactivity to explore a hotel and learn about all of a properties unique amenities and offerings.

What key things have you learned as you created this?

In the current economic climate the consumer wants to make sure they are getting the most value possible for their money. Travelers want to see more than a few glamour shots or best of photos of a property. As a hotelier you want an engaged client and you want to show them and tell them why your property is the best possible option.

What surprised you the most during development?

One of the things that surprised us most was that after years of initial development how quickly we were able to fulfill our commitment to becoming the most immersive multi media technology on the web. Our ability to deliver large format high quality transitional imaging, spherical 360’s, integrated audio, video, 3-D animation, still photography, full screen viewing, closed captioning, multi-lingual international marketing and interface with existing on-line reservations systems in a single player environment has quickly made VTour a powerful sales tool.

How does this make money for you? For hotels?

We custom build each clients tour and can connect a hotel to the key attractions in the surrounding community. The modular nature of our technology allows for easy future expansion and revisions as a propery is remodeled or expanded. Our revenue model is based on the initial development of the project and subsequent hosting fees. For hotels the guest is immersed in a dynamic multimedia experience of their property with integrated sales content on everything from rooms and F&B to meeting and convention sales, spa, golf, skiing and other ancillary services. Direct links to a properties existing reservation system close the loop on the sale.

The goal of this blog is to encourage hotels to create memorable experiences for their guests. How does your product assist with this?

VTour engages the consumer in a game-like journey of self-selected discovery. You no longer need to open and close multiple links to see photos, videos, 360’s or other immersive content. The self directed nature of VTour’s technology allows a guest to see the key aspects of a property that are of interest to them personally. The guest is now empowered to discover what interests them. Our new Facebook application will allow guest to share their magical moments with friend and family in their network and will tie people and the places they visit together in a way that has never been done before.

What features do you have planned for the future?

We are working on a new mobile application, webcam integration, incorporating dynamic 3-D modeling for future developments and refinement of our Facebook application.

Can you give us some examples of hotels that have used this successfully?

If a hotel is interested in your product, how can they begin working with you?

Call or email me!

Topguest founder Geoff Lewis introduces next generation of geolocation-driven hotel loyalty programs

Location-based social networking services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp have exploded in popularity recently, and many hotels are still trying to figure out what role they should take in participating. What if it could be combined with a traditional hotel concept: the loyalty rewards program?

Topguest was created around this idea. Users of any of the major location-based services can earn real rewards program points by checking in on their mobile device.

I asked Founder/CEO Geoff Lewis about it….

What is the big problem you saw that inspired you to create this?

The popularity of geolocation “check-in” services has exploded globally over the past few months. Geolocation information has major potential for the hotel industry to drive conversion, increase transactions, and brand affinity. Topguest enables hotels to unlock the power of geolocation by linking your CRM and points/rewards system with the entire universe of geolocation applications.

I write this blog to encourage hotels to create better experiences for their guests. How does your product help with this?

Topguest enables hotels to leverage their existing points and rewards programs to reward their guests and prospective guests active on geolocation check-in apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Google Latitude. Your guests get rewards regardless of which application they use, driving engagement and affinity with your brand. If you don’t have a points program already, Topguest can power one for you!

Can you give us an example of a hotel that has used this successfully?

Andre Balazs’s Standard hotels are Topguest’s “preview launch” exclusive partner. Topguest has powered an out of the box points program for Standard based on geolocation check-ins. When a user earns 10 points, they have a choice of rewards including 25% off room reservations, complimentary Spa access, and gratis rounds of drinks. Thus fair in just 7 days the Topguest-Standard program has enrolled over 3000 people.

If a hotel is interested in this, how can they begin working with you?

Contact Topguest’s Partnership Team at partner@topguest.com . We’ll get back to you within 24 hours

DoubleDutch: A new way for hotels to provide location-based mobile services

ddLast week I met with Lawrence Coburn, CEO of San Francisco-based software company RateItAll, and an expert on location-based mobile services. His company is developing a new mobile application – DoubleDutch – that I think could significantly change the way hotels think about mobile marketing.

I frequently receive questions from people asking what their mobile strategy should be. Should they develop their own app? Should they rely on an online travel agency such as Expedia or Travelocity? Usually, neither of these paths is optimal. Creating a brand new application is impractical for the vast majority of hotels, and using another company’s tool doesn’t provide the level of branding and customization needed.

Plus, the principal opportunity I see in mobile is in service and cross-sellingnot in new room bookings.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the primary business benefit of a service such as foursquare is that it drives loyalty and repeat customers. Users can check in whenever they visit a location: a new extension of the traditional hotel loyalty model. Management can reward the specific activities they’re trying to promote.

score

This is where a  tool such as DoubleDutch may come in. Designed to be white labeled for individual hotel groups, it could be completely branded and customized to yield the experience you want to provide. Lawrence describes it as “a mix of Yelp and Foursquare.” (Two of the hottest geo-location platforms in US mobile right now.)

Geolocation services are perfect for travel. When I arrive in a new city I want to know which places are best in my neighborhood.

Lawrence envisions the tool being used as a concierge application. Something that people can take around with them as they explore the city. The advantage of DoubleDutch over foursquare is that it is a completely branded experience. It allows you as a hotel to connect with the guests even when they’re not on your property. Relationships could be developed with local businesses for cross promotion. It lets you help guests discover new places, and even connect guests with each other. It’s all about discovery.

Additionally, the hotels could keep info on separate tabs in the application. This might be used to share special promotions, or just updates from your hotel blog.

The application can update  Twitter and Facebook, so there is a viral component built in to encourage word-of-mouth buzz.

I guess I like this so much because it combines next-generation technology with my core value: a concierge-approach to marketing. This new service-based style of mobile promotions is the future, and I expect it to go mainstream in the months ahead.

I’d really like to create a case study on this could work for a hotel, and Lawrence has agreed to arrange this. We need a few early adopters to give this a test.

Anyone here want to try this out for your hotels?

Boosting Your Budget with Barter: Jody Merl on how Hotels Trade Unsold Rooms for Advertising

Jody MerlLast week, I was introduced to Jody Merl, and her company, Innovative Travel Marketing. I found her business model intriguing – something that could benefit a lot of people right now.

Josiah: Can you explain your barter concept a bit – what does Innovative Travel Marketing do?

Jody: Innovative Travel Marketing uses barter as the financial tool to bring added value to your marketing buy. As a strategic media buying and planning company, we barter with the media and hotels.Whether it’s radio, television, outdoor companies, trade magazines or consumer magazines, ITM trades with them, and that’s a benefit for the media. It’s very hard for one hotel to go to XYZ publication and say “I want free full page ads” because that publication may have no need for that hotel.

Our company acts as a fulfillment house to the media if they want hotel rooms anywhere in the country or printing done for their magazine. They may want help to close the deal. So we provide all the different merchandise, media and travel services to our media clients.

These deals are initiated by ITM reaching out to the hotels because we know where we actually need the inventory. Having done this for so many years, we know that we use millions of dollars of hotel rooms in major markets.

90% of our business is repeat business and word-of-mouth-business where hotels come to us to do a barter deal and have us help them buy media. But on the flip-side we also reach out to new hotels that are opening where we know we need that inventory.

How do you make money arranging these deals?

We’re also a media buying company. We do buying for our customers and provide hotel inventory to the corporate barter community. We make money between the cost of our services versus how we trade the hotel credit. We don’t charge any fees upfront, it’s really on the end of the trade.

How do you establish deal values for both parties?

The hotel value has to be the prevailing rate they’re selling rooms for online. It can also be established on an average daily rate.

With media it depends on the different types of media – whether it’s air time, what segment of the market, so we negotiate media rates that lets everyone gets a full value.

The media is negotiated and  the hotels are getting a great deal because hotel rooms that are utilized are given more value than empty rooms. And the hotel benefits from future business.  It’s a win/win for everyone.

When I speak to hotel clients, they’re thrilled with the business we direct to them because it’s not just a room that is given away or discounted so much online. They’re getting an end user. On the media side, the media representatives love the clients that we put in the magazines or on the air because they can show the placements to others. It’s a great sales tool for them.

Continue reading Boosting Your Budget with Barter: Jody Merl on how Hotels Trade Unsold Rooms for Advertising

Three reasons to keep an eye on foursquare

fs-signI don’t use foursquare. At least not yet.

But every time I go out to lunch with Michael, I see him checking in to the restaurant on foursquare with his mobile phone.

I’m at the place where I don’t feel like joining yet another social network. But as a marketing professional, I need to stay ahead of things. So I asked him why he takes part:

It’s a game which creates a different mentality than checking in on Yelp, or something else.  It keeps the users engaged.

A little of my paraphrasing on the potential he sees for the hospitality industry:

  1. Foursquare drives repeat business. People keep coming back to the same place to become “mayor.” People compete to stay mayor as well, and I have seen competitions get ridiculous.
  2. Foursquare partnered with Zagat. Not so much that foursquare will get a wider audience, but Zagat has direct, on the go, immediate advertising to potential clients that are branded as foodies.  Zagat gets to say “come here” if they are next door having a drink.  It’s amazing site-specific marketing.
  3. Foursquare is being used  like early adopters of Twitter…. and foursquare has a more direct capacity for commerce and B2P than Twitter.

This is a tool I’ll definitely be watching. In the meantime, be sure to read Michael’s blog for more social media goodness….

Can ReputationDefender Help Your Hotel? (Interview with CEO Michael Fertik)

ReputationDefender CEO Michael FertikToday I had the opportunity to ask ReputationDefender CEO Michael Fertik how his company can help your hotel maintain a great reputation online.

“ReputationDefender is sort of like a ‘hyper Google alerts.’ It crawls the deep web of content that may not be indexed by Google.” This can include review sites and message boards not indexed by Google and other search engines, but still play an important role in an organization’s online reputation. “Often, problems, start here before they are even picked up with a service such as Google alerts.”

Although ReputationDefender manages brand reputation, its specialty is in monitoring and defending the personal brands of individuals. Today, a search engine is one of the first places people go to find information about people, and so having a good presence is very important. “We can help hotel executives establish their personal brand as they establish their careers,” said Michael. In the hotel industry, your employees are part of your brand. For this reason, several hotel chains are using ReputationDefender’s service for their executives.

ReputationDefender is probably most famous for their work and dealing with unwarranted or negative rumors online. I asked Michael how this process works.

“First, it’s important to understand what we do not do. We do not create fake reviews, and we do not pretend to be customers of our customers.” Instead, they work with existing information online to cast you in a positive light. We use search optimization to “hide” information they do not want to appear, and instead deliver good content to people who are searching.

“80% of clicks are on the top three results in a search engine. If you are on page 2 or beyond those results are practically invisible. So we can take a positive article on Condé Nast is currently in position number 15, a move that up to position number three … for example.” Moving this content to the top of search engine results can avoid the likelihood of people finding out dated or inaccurate information about your hotel.

Continue reading Can ReputationDefender Help Your Hotel? (Interview with CEO Michael Fertik)

Using MeetingsBooker to increase revenue (Interview with Founder Ciaran Delaney)

From time to time I like to profile startups in the travel industry – to help you see who could be the big players of tomorrow.

I’ve known Ciaran through our blogs and Twitter for some time, and when I heard he was traveling from Dublin to San Francisco I jumped at the chance to meetup at one of my favorite coffee spots here in the city.

For this interview, we discussed his new project, MeetingsBooker, and talked a little bit about how it can be used to increase your hotel’s meeting room revenue. Let’s get started!

Meetings Booker Homepage
Meetings Booker Homepage

As a former hotel sales and marketing director, tell us a little bit about your experience with the selling meeting rooms: Is the traditional process is flawed? What inspired you to start this company?

I was marketing director of a 1,000 room hotel near Dublin. My challenge was there were very few sites delivering meeting room bookings for us. Lots of sites provide RFPs, but these were also being sent to all my competitors so success was hit and miss. Also, I didn’t have anything on my own website to capture small meeting room sales leads or present special offers. I didn’t have the tools – there was only an inquiry form.

And then from the customer’s point of view: when I tried to book meeting rooms myself, the process was slow. The whole process of contacting hotels for pricing, then waiting to hear back from them took a long time.

Can you tell me a little bit about how your website solves these problems?

We let the end-users see a hotel’s meeting room rates instantly. Whether it’s London Heathrow, Amsterdam, or Barcelona — our users can search for dates and details and get immediate pricing. It enables them to easily shop around and book meeting rooms online in a few minutes.

Hotels can manage availability and receive immediate live bookings or provide instant online quotes. From the hotel’s perspective, when one of our website users contacts them it’s more than an inquiry — the customers already know all the details of the rooms, distance from the city, amenities, and meeting room hire special offers — and they are ready to make a booking. They’ve already made their decision on where they want to hold their meeting.

We offer the MeetingsBooker.com software for placement on the hotel’s own website. For the hotel’s sales director, it greatly reduces management time. Hotels can choose from our live meeting room booking engine with live availability or our instant quote system.

The average size of group that books on our website is 40 attendees. These smaller meetings are often the most frequent and time-consuming for the hotel. By using our software on the hotels website, the hotel’s sales team can spend more time with larger conference business, which is more profitable. The software also offers hotels meeting room yield management options. For example, if you notice Monday and Fridays are quiet days for you, you can increase revenue by offering a 15% discount for meeting rooms on those quiet days. It’s the same thing you would do with bedrooms.

Are there other benefits for hotels using your service?

The main benefit we offer hotels are meeting room bookings. In addition to this, we tend to get good natural search engine rankings for the cities we operate in, so hotels that add themselves to our website get extra visibility online. Hotels that have joined us have also noticed an increase in phone calls as a part of being on the site.

We also offer the ability to set up a loyalty program. For example if a customer spends over $2000, they might qualify for a booker reward e.g. an overnight gift voucher.

Do you have any examples of hotels that are using your service?

Holiday Inn – Leeds:

hi-leeds

Park Plaza Belfast:

park-plaza-belfast

What is the process for getting started?

Hotels can begin using our website for free. They can actually begin the setup themselves… it’s a simple process. Many nation-wide hotel chains are using us, and they often do the setup at the property level. Just click on “Register for free” on our homepage and follow the instructions.

We only charge once hotels begin receiving bookings. We charge $500 (€390) for a one year listing once they receive over $650 (€450) in confirmed bookings. Our average booking is over €1000 so this fee quickly pays for itself. For hotels that want our software on their own websites, we charge a small annual license fee.

How do you plan to expand over the coming year?

We’re expanding quickly in Europe: UK, Ireland, Spain, Holland and Germany. We plan to focus on the major cities…and especially airport hotels [we get a lot of airport hotel business as a large proportion of our bookers are business travellers]. In the US, we are building a customer base in San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. In Asia, were expanding through a partner we have there.

Thanks for your time, Ciaran – and best of luck with your venture!

[You can list your property for free here]

Useful web-based productivity software for hoteliers

Photo by jurvetson on Flickr
Photo by jurvetson on Flickr

Several people have commented on how they like the suite of web-based tools we use at Gradigio, and asked for suggestions on how they could implement a similar system in their hotels.  So while this post isn’t about marketing per se, it contains some resources you may find useful for yourself or your hotel. In the “work from anywhere” world we live in today, using hosted software is very convenient, and helps you become more productive online.

(Note: None of these are affiliate links, and I do not necessarily endorse them in all situations. My intent is only to share some tools that have helped me in the past.)

Google Apps for Business – Includes hosted Google email on your own domain, Google documents (a cheap Microsoft Office alternative), and more. Probably the best $50 you’ll spend on technology.

Google Calendar – Even if you decide not to go with Google’s entire software suite, try using a public calendar for sharing special events and deals at your hotel. Or, you can use a private calendar internally with your staff.

GoToMeeting – Meet virtually with anyone and share your screen so you can view the same things. Very helpful in working with colleagues around the world, and reduces your need to travel.

Basecamp – Manage projects and collaborate with others online. (Backpack is a personal version by the same company, and also good for organizing online projects.)

Present.ly – “Private Twitter for business”

InOutBoard – Employee time tracking and more.

Freshbooks – Create invoices online, send by email or mail, and accept payment with PayPal.

Batchbook – Contact management system with task lists and mailing functions.

MailChimp – Email newsletter software that, unlike most, offers a pay-as-you-go plan.

Survey Monkey – Create easy online surveys for quick customer research.

Box.net – Backup and share files online.

Yotify – Saves time tracking things that are important to you (purchases, media, etc).

Interview with Steve Stollerman of TVTrip

Yesterday I met with Steve Stollerman of TVTrip at their offices in Paris. Below is an excerpt from our conversation:

What does TVTrip do?

TVTrip provides professionally produced videos of hotels. Travel planners can use the site to see what a hotel is really like before booking a room. Hoteliers can benefit from direct bookings and increased exposure. We operate in 15 markets, and are expanding to 25 next month.

What is your competitive advantage over other video review sites?

Consumers want professionally produced content. They like the videos shot the same way around the world. They dislike videos created by hotels that look like infomercials. We shoot a minute-long overview of the hotel, then separate videos of different rooms or hotel amenities. The viewer can access all information (rooms, rates) all in one place.

You say you’re independent, and the site is free to use for consumers. How do you make money?

We make money through CPC generated leads to merchant sites (hotel direct sites and online travel agencies). We also earn money through advertising and licensing our video catalog.

Does the hotel have an option which payment arrangement to use with you?

Yes, they can be part of the check-rate (on a CPC basis) or take part in TVtrip’s preferred partners program – which is a flat monthly fee.

Okay, if I’m a hotel owner, why should I use you?

It’s an affordable way to get into video. We’re doing well in this climate because we are a middle-ground solution: not really expensive like a high-end video production company or low end like user-generated content. TVTrip is high quality, low cost solution.

You get filming of your hotel in HD by professional cameramen, editing, hosting of the video (bandwidth costs are taken care of), and you get the video on your site in multiple languages. The content of your hotel is translated into 24 languages, and distributed around the world.

Explain the video production process

First you contact us through our website. We have cameramen ready in all the key cities, which gives us the flexibility to respond quickly. For hotels that are in secondary markets or remote places, there may be travel costs involved. The reason the setup cost is so cheap is that we finance most of the video…we absorb costs for filming, editing, encoding, translation. That’s the added value we’re providing consumers and hotels. The setup fee is a fraction of the total cost, more of a security deposit.

Now the videos have no voice-overs, right?

No they don’t. The reason is that we decided early on that video is the universal language. We did, however, translate titles and information into 24 different languages. So users in each country will be able to navigate the video player in their own language. Our player also shows rates, photos, a description of the hotel, and a map of the area – which the view can access without leaving.

Can the hotel place the video you produce on their own website?

They can’t place the exact player we use on our website, but they can have the video embedded on their website. Your website visitors will then be able to view the video, but it won’t have all the features as on our website.

How would you recommend hotels use the video for best results?

The video needs to be in the website’s hotel description or on the “about us” page. It should accompany the website visitor as they view the room descriptions. Doing this typically helps conversions.

Do you have any plans for mobile distribution in the future?

Great question! We’re still waiting to see how this will play out with all the operators. I think committing to mobile now would be a little premature just because things are still so much in the air with all the providers. But I think it’s not a question of if, but when. For the guy who just landed and doesn’t have a hotel…being able to view and book a hotel room on his Blackberry or iPhone makes a lot of sense.

Thank you for your time, Steve. Visit the TVTrip website to learn more, or watch a sample video of Ku’Damm 101 in Berlin.

Cool startup: 7scenes

Our Friday cool site of the week is an Amsterdam-based startup called 7scenes. Creative Director Ronald Lenz introduced the service during the PhoCusWright@ITB event.

Basically, it enables organizations to build tours that can be accessed on mobile phones. Users can take their phone out of their pocket, and see what’s around them. Content is downloaded on the go, and they can choose which tour they would like to take. From their website:

Consider the city an extension of your organisation, a fascinating place for you to publish and reach people in a different way. The city with all its (hidden) information is a beautiful stage filled with historic events, personal stories, cultural meaning, demographics, social relationships and much, much more. Something has occurred on every street corner and every brick can claim its own history.

Combining these surroundings, your content and phones that have made internet mobile and location aware (GPS), we can now interact with places in a whole new way! We are all about making these new experiences possible and offer a mobile and online platform that makes it easy to create, play and share GPS-based games and tours.

I think hotels could really build their brand value by developing customized tours of local attractions for their guests. As they say, the city you are located in is really an extension of your hotel. Make the destination exciting and interactive, and you’re subtly selling rooms.

To learn more about 7scenes, you can take a tour of how it works.

Tripr hotel video reviews: the future of user-generated content?

Tripr brings a new dimension to guest hotel reviews, allowing visitors to upload their video reviews. When someone books a room after viewing the video, the filmmaker receives a comission.

From their about page:

If you’re staying in the hotel anyway, you can put your video camera to use. There are a few requirements though to qualify: videos must have “good camera work”, good lighting, original sound, and the video clips should be a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 120 seconds long.

Because videos are created by the travelers themselves, you will get a good impression of the hotel before making a booking. Moving images are much more realistic than the often outdated pictures of hotels.

As a hotelier, you need to be aware your guests are probably already uploading videos about your hotel to sites like YouTube. I think Tripr’s revenue-sharing model will encourage more quality content being shared: a positive trend in user-generated content.

What do you think?

Insider information empowers your guests

Photo by Bohman on Flickr
Photo by Bohman

In a mass class age where travelers have acquired a taste for the finer things in life, gettin’ a little something for nothing is even more appealing given their stretched incomes.

To ensure the most bang-for-their-buck, Seat Guru popped up, (purchased by TripAdvisor in 2007) assembling the positive and negative benefits of each seat on a multitude of airlines’ passenger planes. In a similar spirit, Trip Kick aggregates not only guests’ general comments regarding price, ambiance and service, but allows them to rate the minutiae of room sizes, views, bathroom upgrades and transportation options.

Picky, picky, picky you say. Indeed – but if an informed guest is a happier guest, then putting more power in their hands from the outset just might translate to less customer complaints. Named by Time.com as one of the Top 50 websites of 2008, Trip Kick now includes 450 hotels in 21 American cities. Additional cities are rapidly appearing and there are plans to include locations outside the U.S.

Do you know if your hotel is included on the site – and is the information accurate?

Listing your property might bring added business; implementing your guests’ feedback will help you keep it.

Talk with your website visitors using Meebo

The best hotel websites engage visitors, and there’s no better way to do that than by actually talking with them.  Meebo is a cool little widget that enables live chat direct from your website. No one needs to download software, and it’s completely free.

You can see an example of how this works in the sidebar of this blog:

Try it out! Say “hi” if you see me online. :)

Marketing with Personas in Social Media: The Must-Use Tool

You’ve already created guest personas.  You know your marketing is less effective without them, so you’ve adjusted your website to create tailored messages for each group.

Great.

How does this work in social media?

It begins with understanding which social networks are most popular with each demographic. I’ve written before on 6 types of social media and the 5 groups to target, so now I’d like to get real practical and share a tool that will help you select social networks that reach your target audience.

Quantcast provides detailed demographics information on each major website. For example, when you type in “tripadvisor.com” you’ll see that visitors to that website are primarily:

  1. Female (54%)
  2. Older (66% above 35)
  3. Caucasian (85%)
  4. Have no kids in household (73%)
  5. More affluent (65% above $60k household income)

For social media marketing, this information is gold.  Be sure to use tools like this as you choose your media mix to ensure you reach the right people.

2 trend spotting websites hoteliers can’t afford to miss

As finances are stretched tighter and the market becomes increasingly competitive, hoteliers are challenged to stay on top of the hottest trends in order to bring something fresh to their guests and remain competitive.  A great way to stay current with the latest styles in fashion, travel, design, amenities, music and boutique brands from around the globe is to browse some of the fascinating trend watching websites that are filled with inspirational ideas a creative hotelier can adopt.

The Cool Hunter is one of the most recognized sites to track trends – and its founder Bill Tikos has also recently published “The World’s Coolest Hotel Rooms“, a fascinating peek into some of the most fantastic and creative spaces in hospitality.

Another on-the-money site is Trendwatching.com, which not only reports on the latest and greatest ideas but categorizes them into identifiable customer clusters and behavior patterns.  You’ll undoubtedly recognize some of your guests in these trends – and also gather ideas of how you can meet their needs.  In addition to free monthly emails, they publish an annual report of trends likely to develop in the next year. The InterContinental Hotel Group is one of many high-profile subscribers. Well if it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for you too!

(Bonus site from Josiah: “I also like to watch Springwise, which delivers new business innovations from around the world.  You may be especially interested in their Tourism & Travel channel.”)