Opportunities exist for fixing what’s wrong with social today [Trend from PhoCusWright@ITB 2011]

Huge opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to build products and services that fix the common complaints we hear about mobile and social technologies. Complaints such as:

  • Overwhelming amount of noise, making it hard to identify what is important
  • Difficulty managing everything, setting priorities
  • Different amounts of relevance for each of the people we are connected with
  • “Check-in” fatigue for location-based services
  • No monetary compensation for locational-based check-in
  • Difficulty proving value of new media for management

Entrepreneurs made fortunes solving the problems of the first generation of the web – such as secure payment transactions that enable ecommerce. Now it’s time for a new generation of startups to address a new generation of technologies. (And it seems the companies providing the initial game-changing technology aren’t the same ones that solve the problems caused by their technology.)

Let’s discuss:

  • What are the biggest challenges that prevent widespread adoption of new technologies?
  • What are the most pressing questions for businesses trying to benefit from new media?

(Companies like TopGuest are solving problems and innovating, and I would love to cover more of these stories. If you know of a company well positioned to change the game in this way, let me know…)

Top opportunities (and misconceptions) for location-based services: Andy Ellwood, Gowalla

Andy EllwoodToday I caught up with Gowalla director of business development Andy Ellwood, who will be presenting at EyeforTravel’s Social Media Strategies for Travel 2011 in San Francisco next month.

What’s the most common misconception about location-based services (LBS)?

The interesting part for us is understanding all the different ways people use our service. So the most common misconception is probably that every user of Gowalla is the same. We’re starting to see a lot of differentiation in how people are using it – people use it for a lot of different reasons. Moms keeping up with kids, businesses using it as a way to tell their brand story around the locations their customers go to, and content providers creating material around places.

We give the ability to provide up-to-the moment information for where people are standing at the moment.

What are the biggest opportunities you see for hotels and travel in this area?

The way I think about the check-in from the users perspective is: this location is a part of my story.

Gowalla was originally founded around the concept of your mobile phone being a passport – and using it to tell a story about the places that you go. Each time I check into a spot, it’s because I’m viewing that as part of my story.

When I travel, I’m telling an even more interesting story.

So the big play for hotels is to take part in these stories?

Correct. I think an important way more and more businesses are thinking about it is: when someone checks into their location – whether it’s the coffeeshop on the corner or the W Hotel in downtown New York – they’re essentially putting their endorsement on that location. By saying “I am here” I’m broadcasting that out to my network. I feel attracted to the business enough that I’ll spend time and money here. I’m not just walking down the street and connecting with every store I pass.

So it’s building up the entire experience around the places people go, rather than just the narcissistic “I’m here and you should care.”

How can LBS be used to deliver remarkable customer service?

Just being conscious of who is at your location. There’s a pub that near me in New York that prides themselves in knowing who has checked in and on location. Most people have their photo avatar up, and the owner will match that to faces there. The other piece of it is if you’re connected – friends – on Gowalla, you’re able to engage with them on the places they go.

A great example is Red Bull. They gave the Gowalla account to their social media guy, and he would check in to places that were associated with their brand. So extreme sports, live concerts – people should be drinking a Red Bull. So he got a huge following of people wanting to live the “Red Bull lifestyle.”

On the flipside, The Four Seasons Hotels in California last fall created some content-curated trips that are like a playlist of spots. “10 places you need to see in San Francisco.” They worked directly with the concierge, asking them what the top places in the city that people should associate with the Four Seasons Experience. So now anyone who follows Four Seasons on Gowalla has access to concierge-level expertise.

Two questions for all brands considering location-based services

  1. What is the experience you want to create?
  2. Where are the locations you want that experience to exist?

When someone checks in on property, you obviously want to be a part of that. But where are the other locations in your region and around the world where you brand should be top of mind?

Thanks, Andy!

Case study: How Orange Lake Resort started their social media program

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Cathy Ann Sauer’s (@cathyannsauer) Orange Lake Resorts case study, which you can download in its entirety, below.

To help initiate your social media program, take a look at how one
hospitality company took the plunge over the past 12 months.

Orange Lake Resorts, home to Holiday Inn Club Vacations, is in the midst of a multi-tiered adoption and roll-out of a social media program for their brand. Their due diligence is a strategic primer in the careful consideration it takes to successfully enter the social media arena. From the early discussions of “Do we?” to the “Yes we do, and this is how,” the company is engaged in a phase by phase program integrating social media into their marketing and
operations mix.

“Making the decision as a company to enter into social media is not an easy one. But when considering the number of conversations that are taking place and the opportunity to be a part of them, then the value of engaging with social media becomes clear. Once a company decides to participate in these conversations, it’s important that the organization as a whole is ready to embrace it, and that the company’s voice will be both genuine and consistent.”
– Don Harrill, President & CEO, Orange Lake Resorts

Since the social media program extends beyond the corporate communications nucleus, it was important to establish a social media policy for the company. The policy details specific guidelines for employees defining what social media is to the company, the official use of social media, employee use of social media, and a company liability statement. This is a must-have document for any company engaging in social media.

The cornerstone of the policy is what the company calls its “Five Guiding
Principles”:

Authenticity
Being real and sincere in our actions and intentions. The company does not condone the creation of “fake” destinations and posts designed to mislead followers and control a conversation.

Respect
Respect the expressed views and opinions of others and demonstrate respect for the dignity of the company, its owners, its customers, its vendors and its employees. This also applies to the respect of copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, intellectual property and proprietary information.

Credibility
This is what drives the trustworthiness, believability and integrity of our Company and its messages. All social media solicitations, postings, replies and third-party endorsements are to be accurately cited, and any Company affiliations are to be fully disclosed.

Transparency
Helps others feel connected to the Company and is essential in expressing our culture of openness and accountability. We aim to remain visible to all of our audiences to ensure that these Online Social Media Principles remain current and reflect the most up-to-date and appropriate standards of behavior.

Responsibility
To protect our consumers’ privacy as well as our Company, its brands and
business practices. We also have a responsibility to conduct ourselves
appropriately, listen to the online community and engage according to best
practices.

“When you adopt social media, you adopt transparency. You say ‘I am willing to be responsible.’”
– Brooke Doucha, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications

Listen and Learn

The initial roll-out phases of the Holiday Inn Vacation Club’s social media plan came down to these three themes:

Phase One – Listen, learn, educate
Phase Two – Engage, involve, incentivize
Phase Three – Introduce, influence, like

“One of the most important aspects of social media is being able to listen. That’s what we do. Listen to our business units, listen to our customers.”
– Keith Strickland, Social Media Specialist

What they recommend for hoteliers still sitting on the fence:

Sutherland: The process right sizes itself. One negative comment is balanced by a positive comment, so it is not just a platform for complaint, it is about discovery and sharing.

Strickland: With the real time nature of social media we are improving our response times. Some guests use our WiFi while here to comment. We are seeing upticks on Trip Advisor. We have responded to every comment and have learned a lot. People are full of surprises!

DeJesus: Define a baseline for your metrics. Have all the proper tools in place, your ‘toolbox.’ Having these in place and learning from them not only makes you more social savvy they provide the detail about your ROI.

Doucha: Be strategic. Get informed about these platforms. Set goals and objectives. We are more about strategic and methodical. We got HR, rental, and other business units involved early so they understand it. To grow it, I suggest growing it in-house, in the organization.

Sutherland: We have the complete support of our business units and our executives. When we send issues to them that arise in the social media channels, they react immediately. The business managers bring their ideas to us on how social media might help with their challenges. It’s not just about the four of us, it’s what we can all do with it.

[Click here to download The Orange Lake Resort Case Study PDF]

Thank you, Cathy!

9 tech trends from 2010 you must understand as we enter 2011

Trend #1: Integration increasingly important

Example: Gowalla

Integration and compatibility is the most important trend I see as we move into 2011. In many ways, it’s what ties together the rest of the items in this story.

Gowalla is a great example of this. For a long time, I didn’t really get involved in the whole social “check-in” scene. Too many networks, and my friends were scattered across each. But version 3.0 of their application introduced check-in capability with arch-rival Foursquare, and I started using it much more often.

Integration is what pushes many people to try a new technology. It’s hard to convince someone to invest a lot of time to switch and try yet another network, but if you can integrate with existing platforms, it’s easier to gain adoption.

Trend #2: Photos as lifestreaming

Example: Instagram

Possibly my favorite app of 2010, Instagram exploded in popularity because it allows users to share vintage-looking photos easily with their friends. The service captured over 100,000 users in less than a week, and passed one million registered users a few days ago (12/21/2010).

I know a number of people who have very negative opinions of Instagram, but all great products are usually polarizing. I think the community aspect is what made this app succeed so quickly. I paid for a very similar app – Hipstamatic – but ended up discarding it after the first day. The cross-publishing capabilities were not powerful enough.

Personally, I find Instagram most useful when integrated with another service – like Tumblr – as part of a richer lifestream.

Josiah Mackenzie Tumblr blog

Trend #3: The evolution of blogging

Example: Tumblr

Tumblr saw rapid growth in 2010 because it gives the time-starved blogger an opportunity to share a little more than what fits into a 140-character tweet. An elegant mobile application lets their users quickly and conveniently update on the go.

This focus on rapid publishing, combined with a wide selection of free design themes, make it an attractive option for many.

Examples: InsideBuenosAires.com and WeLoveFierro.com

Trend #4: The Social Graph on your website

Example: Facebook & TripAdvisor

Again, integration is the key. I’m seeing more websites experimenting with bringing your social graph – your network of contacts – onto the websites that you use. Doing this helps provide a more personalized experience and should lead to you discovering more relevant information.

TripAdvisor has been gradually increasing its integration with Facebook over the past year. This instantly personalizes the site for each visitor – displaying trusted reviews from friends, sharing most popular destinations among friends, and showing an interactive social map.

Trend #5: Geo-location for city exploration

Social networks such as Foursquare and Gowalla have offered the opportunity to “check in” to physical spaces for a while now.

This year, we’ve seen these tools move from just a way to tell friends where you are to becoming a way for people to explore a city. Gowalla introduced a “trips” feature in January 2010, allowing any user to create a list of places for people to visit. “Foursquare 2.0″ announced September 2010 enabled users to create to-do lists.

Businesses are starting to use this functionality to create branded trips, which leads to the next trend….

Trend #6: Check-ins as part of a larger business strategy

Example: Topguest

As mentioned above, geolocation services allowing users to check in to local business have been around for a few years with tools like Foursquare and Gowalla. Facebook joined the game in August with Facebook Places. What we’re seeing now is business owners put a little more thought into how to use this to drive revenue and loyalty.

Topguest is now offering one opportunity for this - providing real hotel loyalty points for people checking in via Foursquare and Facebook places. I predict we’ll see this continue to evolve as owners start taking this more seriously.

Trend #7: Bridging the online/offline gap with mobile

More and more business owners are using QR codes and other mobile technologies to bridge the online/offline gap.

Google Places began giving out QR code stickers last December – though many establishments didn’t begin posting these until earlier this year. According to Google, the benefits include allowing shoppers to:

  • Read reviews to see what other users think about the business
  • Find an offer that the business has posted to their Place Page
  • Star the business to remember to check it out later, or to remember to visit again
  • Leave a review right after they leave the business.

But this is not limited to Google places. QR codes can be used to send traffic to any location, as I’ve covered before with Tailor Made Hotels promoting their Facebook page to people walking by:

Trend #8: Closed social networks

Example: Path

Perhaps in reaction to more open platforms like Facebook and the (perceived or real) privacy problems that go along with that, tools like Path enable small, closed networks you can share your life with.

I like Mike Isaac’s explanation of the service for Forbes.

“Because your personal network is limited to your 50 closest friends and family, you can always trust that you can post any moment, no matter how personal. Path is a place where you can be yourself.”

Trend #9: Group discount buying and Private sales sites

Example: Groupon & Jetsetter

When I opened my inbox earlier this month to find an ad for The Economist – one of the most traditional, conservative publications I respect, I knew Groupon had gone mainstream.

2010 was a great year for Groupon. Since its launch, Groupon has grown to an estimated $350 million in estimated revenue for this year. On November 30, 2010 Google offered a reported $5.3 billion to acquire Groupon, but was rejected. After this, Groupon was identified for an initial public offering in 2013.

The site is most popular with young, educated, female consumers. (Nice infographics here)  In this USA Today interview with Barb De Lollis, Andrew Mason says

“More and more, we hear of people using it for planning vacations. If I live in D.C., I will check out the Chicago daily deal for a few weeks in advance of my trip. I might see hotels, restaurants or a Segway tour. Then you can plan a lot of your vacation around things to do with your Groupon. I look at Groupon as a really interesting city guide that points out one really cool thing to do in a city every day,” he said. The discount serves as a nudge to get people to try it.”

But the success of Groupon doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it at your hotel. I’ve heard first-hand reports of Groupon buyers only coming for the discount prices and showing very little loyalty after the initial stay.

Private sales sites like Jetsetter offer a more exclusive twist on the limited-time-sale model.

I’ve heard passionate arguments on both sides for both of these sales models. Some complain of brand damage, others enjoy the market exposure it brings. Regardless of your opinion, group buying and private sales are two trends that you cannot ignore.

….

Additional trend #1: Sophisticated review management

Example: ReviewPro

Customer review analysis software has existed for years – ever since online reviews started gaining popularity – but now I’m seeing a lot more sophistication in this area.

Rather than being limited to one department or one person, savvy organizations are using info from the social web throughout their organization:

  • Identifying opportunities for improvement in operations
  • Knowing which parts of the hotel experience is most appreciated by guests with semantic analysis (useful for marketing and management)
  • Cross-comparing pricing data with reputation to maximize rates (helpful for revenue management)

Using a tool like ReviewPro helps hotels manage all this from one web-based platform. And I think as an industry we’re just beginning to understand the power of the social web for increasing profitability. I expect to see a lot more innovation in this area in the coming year.

(Disclaimer: I’m currently doing some industry research and market analysis work for ReviewPro)

Additional trend #2: Social CRM

Social CRM continues to evolve, but I saw it brought up in more and more management discussions over the past year. Organizations are wanting to supplement their traditional CRM systems with the vast amount of customer information available on the social web.

Jacob Morgan of Chess Media Group put together a nice intro to social CRM here, and Adam Metz is another thought leader on this topic that I recommend following.

And of course, I’ll be speaking about social CRM at EyeForTravel’s Customer Centric Strategies in Travel conference.

….

Alright, that was one long post. Tell me in the comments section below:

What are your top travel tech trends for 2011?

How business travelers use hotel WiFi [Research]

How are business travelers using WiFi at hotels? To answer this question, I talked with John Gallagher today about some new research iPass conducted on this topic. “Each quarter we survey hundreds of our customers – all of them business travelers. We’re also looking at nearly 30,000,000 customer user sessions in our analysis.”

The iPass Hospitality Survey findings are based on nearly 1,200 business travelers from around the globe. 48% of respondents were surveyed in Europe and Asia while 47% of respondents were from North America. To access the report visit http://bit.ly/hotelwifi

Research on internet usage at hotels

  • 95 percent of business travelers care if there is Wi-Fi or a wired connection in a hotel
  • 63 percent of business travelers confirm, prior to booking, whether a hotel has Internet, 24 percent assume a hotel has guest Internet connections
  • A poor hotel Wi-Fi experience influences 36 percent of business travelers on whether they re-book that specific hotel in the future
  • Business travelers aged 35-44 are more likely to post complaints on travel websites, followed by 45-54 year olds.
  • 79 percent of business travelers return to the same locations on business trips – 22 percent do this frequently
  • 17 percent of business travel hotel guests don’t inform the hotel when they have a poor Wi-Fi experience
  • 22-34 year-old business travelers are more forgiving with a poor hotel Wi-Fi service with only 25 percent stating it influences whether they book that specific hotel in the future

Reliable WiFi an essential hotel amenity

J.D Power & Associates indicated that Wi-Fi was a “top five ‘must-have’” amenity for hotel guests in a report earlier this year. “With hotels constantly reviewing their repeat hotel occupancy, it is increasingly important to ensure that internet connectivity for hotel guests works consistently,” said Marcio Avillez, vice president of supply management at iPass. “The business traveler needs high-quality internet connectivity at hotels, whether it’s an additional service fee, or free. Hotels cannot afford to overlook Wi-Fi quality as nearly 80 percent of business travelers return to the same destination. A bad Wi-Fi experience impacts half of the business traveler’s decision to re-book at the same hotel or hotel chain.”

Action steps for hotels to take

I asked John what hotels can do practically to offer better service in this area. A couple good quotes:

  1. “Make sure Internet service is of equal quality to the service you provide elsewhere in your hotel.”
  2. “Regardless whether your connection access free or paid, you need to offer a high quality connection.”
  3. “People just want to be connected, they don’t want hassles. Our customers literally open their laptop and see how easy it is to connect to a network.”

Think of WiFi as part of your overall service offering. Business travelers a lucrative market for hotels, it’s important hotels are providing good service in this area for their customers.

Hotel software d2o helps managers “think like a CFO” to improve profitability, guarantees 500% ROI

From time to time, I like to profile technology companies that might help improve your profitability. This week, I looked at Norwegian software company  d2o (deadline2online), and talked with CEO/founder Young Nguyen and North America Managing Director Scott Bunce about what their product does.

The vision

“With the technology today, we don’t need reporting deadlines. We need information faster than before.”

You need real-time access to information, rather than just at the Monday morning meeting with your managers. The product is designed to enable your organization to make the planning, forecasting and budgeting process more accurate, efficient and fun.

The problem

Current decision making processes in hotels are often not logical. To order a $50 item, three signatures are often needed on the purchase order. So you have a lot of managers putting expenses on their credit cards.

Additionally, there is confusion on the part of managers in where they stand in relation to their goals and targets for the year. Matching resources to targets is important.

The solution

We empower people to make decisions before it’s too late. Rather than making a business intelligence database, we designed a “real-time planning cockpit” for each decision maker.

The first thing they focus is the top line revenue, the occupancy – and then the resources linked to that. So we track three elements in Performance Management Intelligence suite (PMI): revenue/occupancy, food costs, labor costs.

What our customers do in the morning is login to PMI and see how the cost forecasts match up with performance.

You can listen in to the call here:

Learn more at d2o.biz or watch a 10-minute video demo here.

This blog exists to help hoteliers use new technology to better serve their guests. If you have a product that meets that criteria, get in touch with us here.

The value of immersive experiences and undivided attention in our always-on world

Even though I know it’s productivity poison, I often find myself multitasking by default. 16 pages open as tabs in my Firefox browser, a stack of research papers on my desk, live chat support open, taking phone calls and answering text messages. Your work environment might look similar at times.

Those of us in the hospitality business are always responding to requests. The downside to this is that multitasking lowers our performance. A University of London study for Hewlett Packard found this drop comparable to losing a nights’ sleep or more than twice as bad as smoking marijuana.

If you really wanted to get my attention – or the attention of anyone else – you would have to design an immersive experience. An environment where I had to focus on one thing only, with no opportunities for distraction.

With an abundance of information, attention is the most valuable commodity.

I’d like us as digital communicators to think about how to design communication that minimizes the risk of distraction.

It’s the logical next step after you’ve embraced content as the foundation of marketing.

Application design

I love the Kindle as an e-reader because it’s a near-perfect example of delivering digital information without distraction. Yes, Kindle books are available on the iPad and smartphones, but on these devices, the temptation to click away is constant. Thinking about the other things I could be doing consumes mental energy.

When I’m reading an ebook on the Kindle, I’m fully immersed in the writing. It’s an experience I enjoy so much that I try to replicate it with web articles using Instapaper.

It’s clear the design and presentation of the information plays a big role in how I absorb it. Perhaps as web designers we could think how this affects our page layout.

Delivery timing

Sometimes, the best time to communicate with someone is when they’re least connected. For us, this means making your digital communication available offline.

Self-contained mobile applications are a good opportunity for this. (Especially if they’re intended for use where wireless data isn’t accessible, such as a guidebook for international travelers.) The experience is neatly packaged within your parameters.

Mobile messaging also fits this to a slightly lesser extent. You’re sending content to someone offline that is (hopefully) helpful and timely.

However, this decision is ultimately made by the recipient. All you can do is think like a “content DJ” and provide the material in various formats for their convenience.

Distribution format

If I’m watching a good video – on YouTube or elsewhere -I’ll be watching in fullscreen mode and the creator has my undivided attention.

If I’m listening to a podcast while running or commuting, the same is true. (Well, almost. Sometimes I have to pay attention to where I’m going….)

The thing with media like this is you must have material worthy of undivided attention. The vast majority of videos are left by viewers after a few seconds. To fight this, you need to capture attention early and make sure you keep it by staying interesting.

Curiosity paths

Have you ever gone to Wikipedia to find information on one subject, and end up spending a half hour on the site, clicking your way through to something completely unrelated?

Of course you have. We all have.

The marketing genius behind Wikipedia is not the crowdsourced production, but their use of internal links. You go for information on one thing, and end up following your curiosity and click through to other pages.

How are you putting this principle to work for your website? Are you interlinking pages enough?

Quality of content

This applies to all of us, regardless of how much control you have over the viewing of your content. Your editorial decisions ultimately determine how engaging the material will be.

And remarkable content makes focusing attention much, much easier.

How do you plan to create and use immersive experiences to share your stories?

Charles Deyo on Why Hotels Should Embrace Behavioral Ad Targeting

Charles Deyo of Cendyn joins us today to explain how hotels and guests can benefit from targeted behavioral advertising. Listen to the full program here, or read the summary below:

[Download the mp3 file here]

Josiah: Can you explain to us what behavioral advertising is and why it’s so important for hotels?

Charles: Basically, behavioral advertising looks at web users and determines their behavior relative to where they’re going on the internet, and sends them relevant communication to make their web experience better.

In the case of hotels, we might look at somebody who’s going to airline sites as an example, and put them in a bucket with someone that’s potentially looking for travel options. With the new technology that we have today, with some of the ad serving platforms, we can put that individual into a bucket and start doing things like advertising to that person through messaging, or we can actually change the messaging to make that more relevant to the user.

Josiah: From the perspective of the hotels — the people doing the advertising — this gives us a much higher level of targeting. Are you seeing conversion rates go up as a result of this?

Charles: Yes, absolutely. One of the metrics that we use in the industry is “return on ad-spend”, and we’ve seen it go up significantly. Not just on display, but across all integrated campaigns. For example, someone’s doing a display campaign and a paid search campaign on Google; the combination of those are greater than the sum of the parts. We see a lift on both the paid search and on the return on ad-spend on the display campaign.

It’s a great win/win for the hotel and to the web user who gets more relevant content and a better web experience.

Josiah: Can you give us some of the top things that hotel operators need to know about behavioral retargeting? For someone brand new to this, what do they need to know?

Charles: What you need to know is how the process works, so that you can make the messaging very relevant to the end user. Then, you need to have what’s being advertised correlate to the targets that you’re going after.

For example, if I’m looking at potentially geotargeting and time-based targeting — the location of the individual and time that they’re looking at information — that would dictate the type of offer or messaging that I want to put on the display ads. You need to understand not only how the process works but also the different attributes that would make sure that the messaging is very relevant to that particular campaign.

Josiah: Are big brands interested in this or is this something you can only do on a small scale?

Charles: No, big brands are investing a lot of money into this technology now. They’re doing it more at the brand level. In many cases, when you look at some of the big chains, you’re not seeing a lot of retail-oriented ads, you’re seeing a lot more brand-oriented ads where, “Come stay at any one of our hotels; click here to learn more about our special offers”, and that’ll bring them to a webpage with multiple properties listed as an example.

With individual properties, we’ve seen great success with targeted retail ads, so what you see is a combination of both. You see the big chains investing in brand oriented campaigns, and we’re seeing a lot of investment from retail properties. For example, with big casinos or big resort destinations, they’ll do very retail specific advertising.

Josiah: Is Google Advertising where most of the behavioral targeting is used or are there other options?

Charles: There are a lot of different networks out there. A lot of them can access the same websites, and a lot of the ad serving platforms all have retargeting capabilities built into them. What’s happening in the online advertising space is that we’re seeing less focus around the networks and more emphasis, now, on the data.

When we talk about data in the online advertising space, we’re talking about the anonymous cookies that are used to really track those behaviors that people move around the internet. We’re seeing opportunities where you can build a proprietary cookie pool.

For example, we’ve built a proprietary cookie pool of people that we know are frequent travelers. We have the ability to track those anonymous cookies across the internet so we can send them very relevant advertising that should make their web experience better.

Josiah: You had an article published in Hotel Online in June 2010 where you said you had 200 million of these frequent traveler profiles. How detailed is the information you have on these people?

Charles: These are anonymous cookie profiles –we don’t have any information about who they are, but we do know in most cases the sites that they’ve visited. And then in other cases we’ll have other attributes that are more useful for more complex targeting.

For example, if there’s registration data associated with those cookie profiles, we might know gender, we might know income levels, different things that the user has filled out as part of a registration process on a website that is then linked on a cookie profile. But, anytime that occurs, we take it as a prompt to send out an email, where somebody understands that the information is used to provide them more relevant product information that would be useful to them.

Josiah: Is this something you’re building proprietary to Cendyn?

Charles: It is proprietary to Cendyn, relative to what we’re doing with the cookie pool, but it’s not to say that other companies aren’t doing something similar. What’s proprietary around Cendyn, is we’ve got a 360 degree marketing platform, and I think the big difference with us — aside from the cookie pool — is that we look at how we don’t only send the right message to the right user at the right time, but also through the right channel.

I think the most important thing is not only having the right data and using it for the purpose of targeting, but also understanding that an integrated campaign always works better.

Josiah: What’s the best way to targeting groups or audiences together? What are some of the different attributes that you try for effectiveness?

Charles: What we do, is we have a first ring — this large pool of people that we know — for the purpose of discussion, very travel oriented, and based on the campaign, we look at the behavior of how those cookies interact with our ads so that we can take them out of the big pool and put them “in market”, so they’re “in market” for that campaign. That’s how we create those subsets.

Josiah: From that article, you also mentioned a “game over” mechanism and making sure that if people want to stop the ads from following them around there needs to be a place to stop. How does that look practically?

Charles: The way that it works is, of course, someone can turn off their cookies, and the process doesn’t work. A lot of the networks now are also building in capabilities for people to opt out of some of the retargeting and behavioral advertising process.

For example, Google just announced recently that they’re doing behavioral advertising and are making available a preference page that somebody can go in and adjust the settings relative to their web experience.

Josiah: Can you tell me a little bit of what you’re working on to take advantage of this platform?

Charles: One of the things we’re doing is continuing to make our 360 degree platform more robust and creating the ability to provide this behavioral targeting across any channel – whether that’s social media, mobile advertising or display advertising, it doesn’t matter. We should have the ability to send the right message via the right channel.

The other thing that we run is a product called Insight which is like a customer analytics and campaign management tool that we market to hotels. We have all the guest history data out of our property management system, and then we’ve got a lot of information about somebody, and we’re actually interfacing that as part of our 360 degree marketing platform so we can plan a sort of “best customer” profile and use that to go out and find additional customers that fit the “best customer” profile for a particular property.

Josiah: Is there any push-back from guests or people seeing the ads?

Charles: My personal opinion — but of course, I am a marketer — is that it makes the web experience better. People want relevant information. We learned this many years ago through the email campaign process. All of us in the email marketing world strived very diligently to make sure that we’re sending the most relevant content we can to a recipient, and the same philosophy applies to the advertising space. If we’re doing our job of sending relevant content, we will make the web user’s experience better.

Josiah: Can you give me a specific example of a hotel that’s taking advantage of this technology in a good way?

Charles: We did a case study not too long ago, because we really wanted to get some firm metrics on what the overall value of this type of technology would be. To make sure that our case study was very empirical, we not only tracked online revenue, but we put the voice tracking in place so that we could record the phone calls associated with the campaign, and had somebody listen to the calls and key in the revenue values associated with that.

We also tracked, not only hotel online bookings, but also RFPs — requests for proposals — for meetings, that type of thing. What we found was that we had a significant return on ad spend - 17 to 1, where every dollar spent on an ad was returned 17 times. It’s very significant, and I think that’s representative of what you can expect when you’re running these types of campaigns on an integrated basis.

Josiah: Thank you very much, Charles, for explaining this for us.

Charles: It was a pleasure, and I look forward to talking to you in the future!

Bryan Bruce introduces the future of mobile apps for meetings

I do most of my technology previews on Friday, but since that was Digital Down Day for us, we’re doing it today….

Bryan Bruce is a hospitality technology marketing professional from Orlando, and today we talk about the future of mobile apps for meetings – and how your hotel can benefit.

  • The benefits of mobile apps for users
    • More efficient enjoyable attendee experience
    • Reduce printing costs (green initiative)
    • Increase sponsorship via banners (sponsor to attendee)
  • Why mobile meeting apps helps users
    • Agenda info on smartphone or ipad
    • Easily connect with everyone at the conference
    • Have easy access to post event content
    • Carry less folders, papers, etc.
  • How it can benefit a hotel
    • Could be a value add offering to earn business
    • Could help promote outlets (restaurants, spa, etc)
    • Could drive revenue (local area partners pay for exposure inside app)
    • Ability to move last minute group space to accommodate another incremental banquet)
  • What’s in the development pipeline for the future
    • Incorporating a Spotme type navigation right into the app (find people in large space)
    • Use GPS analytics while users are inside app to track movements on a tradeshow floor
  • How much does it costs to mobilize a meeting?
    • In the end we believe the apps should be free.  The cost to develop a simple functionality app available on the iphone, droid or blackberry can range from 10k to 100k.  However depending on the size of the conference and the amount of app functionality, we should be able to offset development costs with sponsorship dollar generation.  Earning much more than the app development costs is normal.

Here’s the conversation:

If you want to try some of this technology for your next meeting, I recommend you get in touch with Bryan via his website, Twitter, or Facebook.

Best iPad Apps for Hoteliers

I’ve been playing around with my iPad the past few weeks, and here’s my top 10 apps for hotel people (roughly in order of how frequently I use each):

Reeder

Reading updates on my favorite blogs in Google Reader via Reeder is my #1 activity on the iPad. I love the elegant, practical UI of Reeder – especially the one-click delicious bookmarking.

FlickStackr

My #2 activity on the iPad after reading RSS updates is browsing Flickr photos. I actually prefer using this app to browsing on Flickr.com – the visual layout is very intuitive.

Echofon

I like the layout of Echofon on the iPad.

[screenshot]

sobees lite

I much prefer the creative interface of this app to Facebook’s own app. (Notice a trend here? It’s all about the user interface)

Yammer

I’ve become addicted to Yammer over the past few days – loving the microblogging approach to staff communication. This app is made for the iPhone – not the iPad – but it works.

Keynote

iPad is a very good presentation tool with Keynote.

Good Reader

Helpful for reading PDF files – like our Savvy Hotelier’s Guides – and other documents.

Dragon Dictation

Almost more useful than the (paid) software version!

Evernote

Keep your life in order!

What are your favorite iPad apps?

What you need to know about switching to Google Apps

Would you love to switch to Google Apps and move your computing to the cloud – but don’t know how the process works?

Today I talk with Susan Cline and Jim McNelis of Dito, a firm that specializes in helping companies transition to Google Apps:

[Download the MP3 file]

I wanted to do this interview – and introduce you to Dito – because I know so many hoteliers that would gladly switch over to Google Apps, but don’t know anyone who could help them do this. So I hope this conversation helps explain the process.

On the call, we talked about:

  • Advantages for switching over to Google Apps
  • Common questions people have about switching
  • What people need to know before they switch
  • Data migration issues
  • The deployment process
  • A story of a company that switched over successfully
  • Where Google falls short, and how to supplement their tools

Thanks to Jim and Susan for explaining the process!

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

Tablet technology for hotels (A view from India)

Josiah’s note: I finally bought myself an iPad this morning, after mixed feelings on how it would benefit me. It may be the first step in a new direction for how we consume media, and have a few posts planned for us to explore this concept. But because I think this trend could be bigger than just one device – the iPad – I’d like to give you another perspective. Here, Mihir Nayak discusses a new device he’s looking at, and how he may use it at his Mitaroy Goa Hotel.

It was after a gap of 5 long years that I met Sharat, my old friend from London. When I first came to London, it was Sharat who showed me London’s nightclub scene and took me to see the shimmering blue waters of Brighton.

So it was with great anticipation that I walked up the stairs to see my old friend at his new place of work.

Over some delicious and a bhurjee (egg fry) and tandoori rotis at the nearby Punjabi Rasoi Indian restaurant, Sharat told me about the Magnum – Sharat’s new iPad killer!

Being the geek that I am, I was all ears as Sharat told me about their concept of the fourth screen. Through life, we generally use 3 screens: the television screen, the computer screen and the mobile phone screen. Sharat plans to make the Lacs Magnum the fourth screen in our lives, thereby taking care of all our data, gaming and communication needs.

Back at his office, Sharat showed me some of the things that you can do with this little Touch Screen Device. For example, you can hook up the Lacs Magnum to both your mobile phone and your car stereo system (or any fm receiving device) and drive hands free while listening to what the other person has to say through the stereo speakers. I mean, how cool is that? Sharat tells me he uses it everyday while driving back from work, to the envy of the other motorists :)

If you link your smart phone to the Lacs Magnum device via Bluetooth, then you can use the wider touch screen of the Lacs Magnum instead of the smaller screen on your smartphone. Sharat feels however, that the Lacs Magnum will be used mostly for touch gaming and watching movies on the go, what with the 3G auction just complete in India.

How I could use tablet computing for my guests

As soon as guests to my Mitaroy Goa Hotel exit the Arrivals lounge at Goa’s Dabolim International Airport, they are received by our hotel chauffeur. With the Lacs Magnum (embedded in the back of the headrests, for example), my guests can now see a video of my Goa Hotel and the services we offer before they arrive at the Mitaroy.

However, as a techo-hotelier (boy, I love that term), what interested me the most was the location-based services that Sharat’s touch screen device offers.

For example, as our chauffeur drives my guests from Goa’s Dabolim International Airport to the Mitaroy Goa Hotel, they can receive location based information as they pass by the important sights of Goa. They can also choose to see a video that starts and stops as we pass by the important sights and sounds of Goa.

Tablets as a virtual tour guide

Last week, I also bounced off a few ideas with my good friend Vinay from Royal Mysore Walks about the concept of a virtual tour guide, a concept that could fit in perfectly with Lacs Magnum touch screen device.

Instead of a personal tour of the Unesco Heritage Zone of Fontainhas, Asia’s only Latin quarter and the location of my Mitaroy Goa Hotel, guests could be offered a technological alternative. Using the Lacs Magnum touch screen device, they can replay videos, search for more information on the internet or simply receive location based information on Fontainhas as they stroll its quaint bylanes without the need for an intrusive, personal guide.

Technology has been improving guest experiences for a long time now what with check in kiosks in major American hotels, check out via the Television, sensor based minibars that automatically record consumption, key cards etc.

But the future certainly lies in location based services that could offer personalised holiday experiences through technology.

With touch screen devices such as the Lacs Magnum, the future is already here. All we hoteliers need to do is reach out an touch it!

Cloud Computing for Hoteliers: Six Services I Couldn’t Live Without

A few days ago, my laptop died. Since I usually work from 5 different computers, that usually wouldn’t be a huge deal. Except I’m on the road, and the other 4 are sitting uselessly at home.

Fortunately, I’ve shifted nearly everything to the “cloud.” While an iPhone will never replace the functionality of a desktop, I can still hobble by. It’s not catastrophic. At least not completely.

For that reason – and others – I recommend you makes as much use of cloud computing as possible. Here are my most valuable tools:

Web-based Email

Of course, it’s Gmail. There’s no contest – this is the hands-down best email service anywhere. Some of you may say “of course!” while others maybe have never even tried the service. Do yourself a favor and switch. Once you do, you’ll never go back.

With Google Apps for business, you can still have your branded email (you@example.com) while using the Gmail interface.

Web-based Documents

Since I use Gmail exclusively, it’s only natural I use Google Docs. I stopped using Microsoft products about 2 years ago, and switched to Google Docs for everything. It’s far easier for sharing files with others, collaborating on documents, and tracking changes.

If someone sends me a file, I”ll upload it to Google Docs. So it also acts like a file storage system.

Web-based Scheduling

And to round out my suite of Google Apps, I use Google Calendar for all scheduling. You can export, sync, and access this on many devices, so it’s very convenient for me.

Scheduling meetings is often very time consuming – so many back-and-forth emails – so you may look into a tool such as Tungle to make the process easier.

Web-based Project Management

For a very long time, Basecamp has kept my life a little more sane. From one dashboard, I can track milestones, updates, deadlines, and files. It’s great if you work with a team of people – especially if they are not all in one location.

Web-based Journaling

I’m trying to use Twitter more and more for keeping track of thoughts, story ideas, and questions. The stream-of-consciousness format is helpful: I can go back and review what’s happened the past week…

Web-based Bookmarking

I come across so many great sites and pages each day, it would be a nightmare to record them all in an organized fashion. Fortunately, Delicious makes this all very easy.

It’s still valuable to use browser-based bookmarks, and I use Xmarks to sync my bookmarks across all my computers.

The Bottom Line: Switch to Google Apps

My life would be so much harder if it were not for Google Apps. All email, documents, and scheduling takes place there for me.

Have you switched to cloud computing yet?

Using Skype for better service

skype for hotelsShould your hotel use Skype?

Many of the articles on ‘Skype for business’ I see talk about the cost savings potential. That’s an insignificant benefit in my mind…and not what I want to discuss today.

Instead, I see Skype as a tool for providing better service. If many of your guests come from overseas, you may want to consider using Skype to make it easy for these people to contact your hotel. Based on my work with a few hotels recently, we’ve noticed that by offering Skype — either as a phone system or simply a chat service — interaction significantly improves.

Personally, I find Skype extremely useful because of the way it enables me to make phone calls around the world from wherever I have to be at the moment. I’m on the phone almost constantly, and since the people I work with live around the world, the service has become a lifesaver for me.
More importantly, I think it has real benefits to hotels. When you have a broadband Internet connection, the call quality is excellent. You can barely even tell you are not using a landline. Unlimited calls to landlines around the world can be made for $13 a month, so it’s extremely affordable.

How hotels could use Skype

1) You can add country-specific phone numbers so people do not pay overseas rates to call you for reservations. For just a few dollars a month, you can have local phone numbers in all major markets you’re trying to reach. (My agency does this for every major metro area we’re operating in.)

2) You can place a Skype button on your website to encourage more people to talk or chat to your front desk staff.

3) You can add an extra layer of interaction to your web and social networking presence through Skype.

4) Video chat can be used to help answer questions about the hotel or area from prospective (or current) guests.

Do you use Skype? Let me know about your experience with this tool in the comments below.

Or call me…



My status

EyeforTravel: How To Use Mobile Across the Travel Buying Process

Google and Microsoft explain how consumers are interacting with mobile…and how suppliers can reach them.

Thomas O’Neil, Google Travel

Mobile landing pages: designing the user experience

  • landing pages are evolving
  • 4 great examples
    • Hotels.com/iPhone
      • being first moving has big advantage
      • have 1 million+ app downloads
    • m.toyota.com
    • m.cnn.com
    • iPhone.fandago.com
  • key take-away: there needs to be optimized landing pages for the consumer
  • not everyone has an smart phone…design for less
  • search google webmasters: “mobile seo”
    • search algorithm is different for mobile sites

Mobile search: what consumers are doing

  • not usually willing to do more than one search
  • probably won’t go beyond top 2-3 search result listings
  • they search for roughly the same amount of words…but search less often
  • SEO is extremely important. If you’re not in the top 1-3 results, you may as well not even be there.

Advertising on the go: opportunities to reach individuals

  • 4 types of Google advertising opportunities
    • WAP search
    • HTML search
    • content network (on other sites)
    • YouTube videos
  • understand which apps your audience is using to choose advertising opportunities
  • Google provides a high level of reporting options

Continue reading EyeforTravel: How To Use Mobile Across the Travel Buying Process

The race to launch mobile applications

A few weeks ago Choice Hotels became the first major franchise to launch an application allowing guests to book their room from an iPhone. With the integration of GPS capabilities, street-view images and the ability to amend or cancel reservations, Choice has positioned itself in the forefront of the competition for business travelers.

Yet they are still just a quick step behind the Kayak booking portal, which 2 weeks earlier launched its iPhone capabilities. Marketed as a stranded traveler’s best friend, the application allows a guest to access a comprehensive comparison of flights and hotels.

The dot-mobi version of the site has a special feature where hotels can be sorted by the categories “cheap”, “close” and “classy” depending upon the nature of the stay. And once the property is located your guestroom is just a phone call away. Say goodbye to sleeping in airport terminals. With international search capabilities, Kayak is zooming to the top of global booking sites. There’s no doubt the competition will be following quickly.

Has your hotel reserved its’ dot-mobi website extension – and is now the time to develop your iPhone application? If not, at least be sure to check if your hotel be found on Kayak’s search engine.

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.

PhoCusWright@ITB: Best Practices in Mobile Applications

Highlights from panel discussion:

  • Frequent travelers are usually the earlier adapters in mobile technology.
  • Don’t just take your existing web content and adapt it to mobile. Create mobile-specific content.
  • Notifications of travel changes is what makes the mobile platform unique.
  • Many hotel booking systems are too complex to use on a mobile. Will the future bring saved payment/profile information that eases this process?
  • In the US, 30% of iPhone users say it replaces their laptop usage
  • In Japan, more people access internet on their mobile than with a traditional computer
  • For many people in India and China, the mobile internet is their only access to the internet
  • Web-based content could eliminate the need to for traditional smartphone apps. However, there are cases when it’s good to have an application that does not rely on internet access.
  • The user doesn’t care of your service is an app or online, they only care about ease and speed of use
  • Advantage of apps: you can use device-specific features (like iPhone location services)
  • Travel suppliers are taking the lead in mobile innovation, not travel intermediaries
  • International data roaming is a big barrier and issue to work around

PhoCusWright@ITB: Travel & The Semantic Web

What is the “Semantic Web?” It doesn’t exist…yet. But we’re at a point where technology and available content could enable it.

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.” – Tim Berners-Lee

10 years ago, we would ask a friend or consult a guidebook for travel suggestions. 5 years ago, we began to get “Web 2.0″ with user-written web guides.

Now, as the amount of UGC explodes and there are millions of reviews, there is a new problem: understanding what is important in all that information. A hotel’s previously cohesive brand message has been fragmented by hundreds of different customer sentiments.

The Semantic Web draws intelligent conclusions from all the information. In the old web, content was king. With the Semantic Web, context is king. It’s a move from a data-centric view of the world to a knowledge-centric view of the world.

For example, TrustYou summarizes all UGC, and provides a one-line summary. (German example: hotels in Berlin)

The Semantic Web connects social media to revenue, customer satisfaction, and loyalty.

Free Kindle loan (with book of your choice) at The Algonquin Hotel

Springwise points out how The Algonquin Hotel in New York City is successfully blending its historical past with innovative new technology.

Guests there have the option of borrowing a Kindle pre-loaded with a book of their choice:

In keeping with the hotel’s literary history, the Algonquin’s eBooks on Demand offers Kindles loaded with a variety of best-sellers, modern classics, and, of course, books penned by the hotel’s Round Table members such as: Fanny Herself and Buttered Side Down, by Edna Ferber and Love Conquers All by Robert Benchley.  Additional titles can be added upon guests’ request.   Kindles are loaned on a first come, first serve basis for use in the hotel’s legendary lobby or in the comfort of one’s own guest room.

This is a great example of something we’ve discussed earlier: hotels using new technology as marketing to attract guests.  By offering this level of personalized service, the hotel can differentiate itself and get free publicity.

Thoughts on Mobile Marketing for Hotels

SMS message received on a Motorola RAZR wirele...
Image via Wikipedia

What do your customers want from you?  Specifically, what do they want from you when they’re mobile?

That’s the question you need to answer when building a mobile marketing campaign.

If they’re interacting with you on their phones, they need something – now. Think what this could be and how you can solve it from their perspective.

It’s probably basic information like:

  • Your phone number
  • Your email
  • Your address
  • Directions from where they are (perhaps from Google maps)
  • Important hours (check in, check out)
  • Special promotions

They don’t need to access your whole website, just the basics.  Consider making a separate, very basic website with just this information.

Or, start off by making your existing site mobile-friendly.  (This is easy with blogs.)  Mofuse.com offers a quick & easy converter.

An accessible website is one aspect of your mobile marketing campaign, but what about personalized communication?

Begin with people you already have relationships with: your best guests.  Ask what they want most from you (special rate alerts, etc). Only send what they ask for, and only as often as they ask.  You must be extremely sensitive to privacy issues, since nothing will hurt your relationship than sending unwanted messages.

However, if guests have specifically requested mobile communication from you, SMS is a good place to start.  Most people are familiar with text messaging, and nearly every phone supports it.  Some companies that specialize in SMS communications include MobileStorm and i2SMS.

The future of mobile marketing for hotels will undoubtedly involve proximity awareness, giving you the ability to serve relevant information based on the user’s location.   But for now, it’s important to make sure your basic hotel information is fully accessable to mobile users.

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Interview With Kevin Sturm: Hospitality Technology Trends

Today I’m joined by Kevin Sturm, a hospitality technology consultant, to discuss some trends taking place in the hotel industry.

1) Kevin, thank you for joining us. First of all, can you tell me a little about yourself and how you help hotels use technology?

Sure.  To put it about as briefly as I can I help hospitality venues with the evaluation, purchase, implementation, and optimization of hospitality technology systems.  I focus mainly in hotels and resorts, but also work with stadium/arenas, restaurants, and food service operations.  My goal for any client is to simplify their technology decisions.

I spent a large portion of my career on the vendor side of technology.  Those years of experience taught me a lot about how a hotel can benefit from technology solution, as well as how they can get stung.  If a hotel is purchasing a new system, I make sure all their needs are clearly defined and implement a decision process that quantitatively and qualitatively evaluates each system.  I’ve found this works very well, and generally much better than the historical RFP process.  For customers that are generally happy with their systems but want more out them or still have highly manual processes, I provide assistance in optimizing their systems.  Often this ends up being complex system integration projects.

2)  A little while ago I wrote on how Sheraton is using interactive tables in their lobbies.  Do you see information entertainment like this gaining popularity in the years ahead?

I do.  I’m not sure Microsoft Surface technology is were it is though.  It’s cool and fun, but I want to see for a hotel how it is either decreasing costs or increasing profits to justify the still high cost.

I think we will see apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch (and other personal devices) make headway in information entertainment with hotels.  It’s more personal (the device is mine and/or I can take it with me) and it’s already at a high adoption rate because of a palatable price point.  For high end resorts it may be more cost effective and memorable to provide guests with an iPod Touch that has the same interactive solutions as the interactive table, and provides a way for the hotel to send personalized marketing and messaging to a guest.  Information entertainment is and will continue to gain in popularity.  I’m excited to see what we have not seen yet that can immediately provide value to hotels.

3)  How else are cutting edge hotels using technology as a drawing card for tech-savvy guests? Free WiFi no longer is enough, right?

I think this really depends on the hotel segment and the type of travel.  I fit the tech-savvy guest profile pretty well, and decently fast free WiFi is still a major plus for me on business travel.  My other requirements have little to do with technology, rather just good guest service.  But if I’m traveling on leisure and staying at a high end resort I have different requirements.

There is some cool “newer” technology out there.  One I personally like is a device that allows me to connect my laptop or iPod to the television and play the movies I have for free.  Allowing guests to easily access the entertainment content available on the Internet, things like streaming TV and iTunes, is going to be a big move for hotels.  Historically it has been that hotels have tried to stay ahead of the guest with technology: Pay-per-View movies, WiFi, flat screen TV’s.  But the expectation is changing.  Tech-savy guests want a hotel to have the same conveniences I have at home.

There is another technology that hotels can use to draw the tech-savvy guest, and that is green technology.  The demographic of tech-savvy is also often green-savvy.  I think Smart Room technology is going to be an interesting draw in the future.

4) If I don’t have a lot of money to spend on technology upgrades, what are the most cost-effective additions I can make to my hotel?

This is a good question, especially given the current economic situation.  But my answer applies even when a hotel can afford a new system.

The best advice I can give to a hotel is to invest as much time as necessary into making sure the current technology systems are setup correctly for the business goals.  Much too often I find hotels recently replaced a technology system only to have the same or similar struggles with the new system.  When money is tight the best thing to do is make sure you current solutions are configured to meet your business goals, your staff is WELL trained on how to use them (buy training if you need to), and that actual problems with the system don’t get resolved by the “we’ll work around it” approach.  A hotel should be contacting customer support when any problem arises, as work-around processes are often expensive and inefficient.

If all of the systems are working well and there is budget for a single purchase I would recommend looking into an analytics or business intelligence system.  But that is a difficult recommendation as each venues requirements are a little different.  As mentioned above, smart room technology may be the right choice for a hotel to decrease operating costs.

To learn more about how Kevin Sturm can help your hotel, visit his website or contact him directly:

Phone: 805.425.0594
Email: kevin[at]kevinsturm[.]com

Future Trend Alert: Directions in Pictures

BreadCrumbz, a navigation tool for mobile phones, uses the built-in camera and GPS location tracking to build a picture-based map.  Watch the demo on YouTube:

I believe this is just the beginning of a trend.  Pictures will become the future of directions. Put your website ahead of the competition by offering directions to your hotel in pictures. Small, hard-to-find urban establishments have the most to benefit from this technology.

You could take this a step further and offer custom walking tours of local attractions.  The possibilities are limitless.

Connecting your guests with each other – online

New York’s Pod Hotel has started using an online forum that allows guests to meet each other before arriving.

The budget hotel, which caters to the young, hip crowd, offers many high-tech amenities: iPod docking stations, free WiFi, and flat-screen TVs.  But its PodCulture forum is most innovative.

After registering, guests are sent an email with a code that allows them to register on the forum. Once there, they can begin communicating with other guests under categories such as “Eat With Me” and “Shop With Me.”

The full story from The Globe and Mail contains even more information on the broader trend of making your hotel a destination.  I’d recommend you take a moment to read it.

Uptake – a different breed of travel website (and why it matters to you)

The vast majority of travel websites operate on a price comparison model.  While industry giants such as Expedia and Orbitz have dominated the scene for years, the market seems ready for a new way to approach travel planning.

Uptake.com, a Palo Alto, California-based startup, could represent the new wave of innovation.  Instead of just comparing prices, the site clusters information from around the web to present user-friendly themes such as “romantic getaway.”

“Our goal is to aggregate and collect all the information out there, especially on unstructured content like reviews, blogs and articles,” co-founder Yen Lee told Entrepreneur magazine. The company targets people who may not know their exact dates, and can be overwhelmed by the huge amount of travel information on the web.

As new startups like Uptake make it increasingly easy for travel planners to access multiple sources of information about your hotel, the need for a comprehensive web presence becomes even more clear.

Show photos of attractions near your hotel with Panoramio

Cleartrip recently announced the addition of Panoramio photos to their hotel booking engine.   Panoramio is a photo sharing website that organizes pictures by where they were taken – putting them on a map.

If you manage a hotel website, you could use Panoramio’s API to access their database of over 12 million photos, and help visitors get a better understanding of what there is to see around your hotel.

Using new technologies like this helps you create an destination resource website.  By guiding a potential visitor’s discovery process, you reduce their need to go elsewhere for this information.  It sells through education.  (And you just might reduce your 3rd-party booking fees.)

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?