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Hotel CRM Reality Check

Vikram Singh ·29 November 2018
On January 20, 2017, I booked a hotel in Seville, Spain. That is also the day that Melia Hotels & Resorts got my email address. The rest, as they say, is history.For those of you who are not familiar with EU-based hotel companies: Melia Hotels International is a Spanish hotel chain also known by its former name of Sol Melia. They have 374 hotels in 40 countries on four continents. They are not a big household name in the US, but they got some attention back in 2010 when they sold their "Tryp" brand to Wyndham Hotels. I made several groovy jokes back then about Wyndham "Trypping," which thankfully nobody remembers. Moving on.So why am I taking you all the way back to 2017? Since my initial interaction with Melia Hotels, I have received 2-3 emails from them every month. After deleting some of the earlier ones, I was almost ready to "Unsubscribe." Then I had an epiphany: how about I stay on the list and see how this multi-billion dollar hotel company handles its Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and in particular its email marketing campaigns.What started almost two years ago is now ready to be shared.Buzzwords, They Keep on BuzzingThere have been over a dozen articles (plus a couple of white papers) telling us how software is transforming the hotel CRM landscape. There is more talk about how "personalization" is changing everything. However, my two-year collection of emails from a well-established hotel brand sheds a very different light on how things are in the real world.There are over a dozen CRM vendors who will sell you their software....I don't think this is a software issue. The biggest CRM challenge for hotels is hiring the right people. Lack of talent is a much bigger threat to the hotel industry than our world-renowned outdated technology.Let's Take a Trip Down Memory LaneA couple of things to keep in mind as we take this journey together:Melia Hotels is just an example I am using for this post. I am not singling them out as an outlier. Before you high five your marketing team, please know that there are 5-8 other hotel brands (big box and independently owned) who have sent me a similar pattern of emails.I have not included every email ever sent to me. Some were deleted while I logged a quarter million miles of flying last year.This year I published the Ultimate Guide To Hotel Email Marketing. If you think you may need help, read my guide to start sending better emails.I stayed at the Gran Melia Colon Hotel in Seville in April 2017. After the usual follow-up emails about my stay and 2-3 emails about leaving them a review with TripAdvisor (which I never do), a barrage of discount emails started hitting my inbox. In June 2017, I started to document some of them.Let's roll.June 2017The first email I saved offered 45% off their hotel in London, Wow, quite a deal, right? Pay attention to the "45% off," as it will make a comeback...again and again...like Jason Voorhees.July 2017In July, the discount dropped...but not for long.August 2017August opened strong with deals to Milan...40% off!Dropped by 5% mid August. Dang, should have dropped everything and gone to Milan from Hawaii 4 days ago! It's not that far, is it?Three days later, the offer is limited to only one hotel! I still have not been south of Seville. Maybe I should quit what I'm doing and head to the Southern shores? But what about the North/Atlantic part of Spain? I want to go there too. Will I get 35% off ever again? What about the 45% deal? Is it ever happening for me again?September 2017Dear diary, the 40% deal is back!! Wait a minute...it's for booking next summer!? What if I don't get time off? Unless I am working in Europe, there is no guarantee of a summer break. In the US, there is no guarantee of ANY break. 40% off is too good to pass up, but I don't know where I will be in the summer of 2018.Are you kidding me? 22%!? Guys, I do not get out of bed for less than 40%. You have done 40% for me before. Why are you giving me only 22% off now? Are you guys mad at me for not booking last time?October 2017Sweet relief! The 40% deal is back! But wait...I need to go urban this autumn? I can't go urban this autumn! I only go "urban" in the winters!November 2017OMG! I cannot believe this! 50% off! How is this happening? How are they going to make any money? But wait...the email mentioned "This is only the beginning." What does that even mean? More 50% off emails, or will I be getting even bigger discounts!? This is getting out of hand, but I really cannot travel right now so...I shall pass on this miracle. Alas, it might never happen again in my lifetime.It's another miracle! But this miracle actually ends on Sunday! Black Friday is not just about brawls at the local Walmart anymore. It is now about deep discounts. Sounds like I will never pay retail again for my hotel room...thank you! I feel like I am living in the golden age of hotel discounting. How neat is that!OMG! Three miracles in one month! This is all that's playing in my mind right now: "We are not worthy!" I guess Cyber Monday is no longer about buying bulk paper towels. You can now get 50% off for booking a room you otherwise would have gotten at full rate. There is a lesson in here somewhere.December 201722% off is for the birds! 40-50% off and then we can talk. "Season of love and laughter." Please. If you really cared, you would offer a better deal. From 50% to all the way down to 22%...now I am sad.Are you kidding me? 20% off. Let me put on some sad music to go with this deal.Oh, look who's back! 45% is nice...but what's with the lady trying to drown the kid? Love the "say goodbye to winter" tagline. If only it was so simple. Besides, I like winter in Hawaii!30%? No thanks. "Am I well travelled?" Does logging over a million miles in the air count?January 2018LOL! "Head to London in February" = Someone who has never been to London in February. Hard pass.Oh look, the underwater lady and kid are back! 45% off to book for summer. Again, no idea where I will be, but thanks for asking.February 2018"Jet off to somewhere soon." Guys, 40% off is great. But remember, we don't do time off in US. Hope the lady has sunscreen on.45% off is good. But..."Goodbye Monday Blues"? I love Mondays! What's wrong with Monday?The underwater lady is back! I really hope that kid is all right.So glad I did not book 4 days ago @45% off! 50% discounts are back! "Book now or regret it later." Wait, are you threatening me?"There is no better place." Apparently that place is also secret enough to not be above the fold in the email design. Life is full of surprises, I guess.March 2018Nothing inspires confidence in a new hotel like a 30% off deal on Day One.In the era of "fake news," your tagline % better match the actual offer.Four days in...where? I would love to hop there in 2.5 hours. When I checked into the hotel, they copied my ID, passport, credit card. Sir, I am not 2.5 hours from anything!April 2018Oh look! It's the return of 45% off Summer.Three days later: 20%? No, thank you. Hey, what's the mysterious black stuff on the beach outlining Best Offers? (Cue in X-Files theme.)Beach lady makes a comeback! This time on 100% green grass. Did she like her beach vacation? We will never know."Short Haul" in body copy of email sent to the other end of the world. LOL."Reservar Ahora." English email, Spanish call to action. Can't lose?"Mid Season Sale"...but that lady is floating in the water. Will she catch a cold? Also, 30-35%...I'm more of a 45% and above kind of guy.May 2018Back to 45%, now we're talking.Four days later, down to 40%.Beach won this round.Back to 45% 6 days later.20%...how about not.It's GDPR season! Also, is she opening or closing the curtain on my privacy?40%...hey, it's better than the 20% off from last week.GDPR curtain lady returns! Also, check out my points balance!20%... nope.June 2018Cool kid with shades giving 45% off.Oh no, I lost 5% discount in 2 days! This one says it will hold for 10 days only! What if I am stuck in 20% discount land after that?Last chance? Are you sure? I will never get a discount again? Oh no!Oh c'mon! I thought 40% was valid for 10 days ONLY! Here you are seven days later giving me 45% off! I thought we were friends.Going urban? Sure, like Urban Outfitters? Oh hello, 45% off. Nice to see you again."Unforgettable memories...with 40% off" is a hilarious snippet. But wait...there's more. "Tell Me More With 40% Off" is a hilarious call to action! How do they do it?Nothing will warm the heart of a hotel ownership group like having their management brand kick off a new opening with 35% off.Cool kid with shades giving 45% off is back!July must be about comebacks. Urban lady feels like a friend now.July offers...but for October. Let me stop everything and figure out this email. Also, only 25% off?10% deal? Do you even know who I am? I have not gone below 20% with you! Also, 50% off in the copy of the email. What game are we playing here?I am still mad about the 10% email. But ok, glad to see we are back to 45%.45% off...keep em' coming, baby!Searching for paradise? Dude, I live in Hawaii. Have you even checked my profile/analytics? Oh, never mind.Wishing on a star that the next email will be 45% off.Yes! My wish came true. 45% off email is back.I get sun here in Hawaii. In Spain, I soak up some of the world's best food. Didn't I do so many food-focused things in Seville? Do you remember anything about me?Escape from what? I am not trapped anywhere. Do you think I am? Why?35%. Meh.35%. Meh.Did someone mix up their Instagram motivational quote with their call to action? Also, they spelled unforgettable wrong. Also, 35%. Meh.45%, yeah! Wait, who is she looking at?"Exclusive Offers Just For You." LOL!Last one. Check out my amazing point balance.CRM Is Not An Acronym for Email MarketingSomewhere along the way, hotel CRM has evolved into just sending emails to guests. The typical five-step email cycle breaks down as follows:Booking confirmation emailReminder emailCheck-out emailRequest to review the property on TripAdvisor (2-3 emails)Discount emails for the remainder of your lifeBreak the cycle. You have too much information about your guest for you not to care about segmenting. Break down your lists by geography, interests, age, and then stay in touch for more than just discounts. Hotels all over the world have scanned or photocopied my passport and driver's license. That level of personal information is only available to the TSA (Department of Homeland Security) and border control agencies worldwide. And yes, a small hotel in Kyoto. Think about it.Three Step Plan for Improving Your Hotel's CRMStep 1: Designate CRM ownership. Select a person to lead your CRM efforts and strategy. Your customer database is something you need to own and maintain over time. Your database should not be passed around like a basketball, available to any department that wants to take a "shot" at making the basket.It is not about software, it is about who is keeping an eye on things. Any customer contacts should get a final stamp of approval from a central person who is keeping an eye on CRM database quality and ongoing business analytics.Step 2: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Two parties have traditionally misused the hotel email database.Sales and marketing. Avoid sending a promo about something that not everyone would be interested in (eg, local restaurant/bar promos that get blasted out to everyone in your database, including guests who never used it and live over 3000 miles away).Revenue management. You guys are great, but please stop using your email database like an ATM machine. Every time the revenue numbers slack off a bit, you can't just pull the lever on an "exciting 45% off" email and wait for the reservations to trickle in. Oh, this also answers another question I get a lot. "Why are our campaigns not performing like they did last year?"Step 3: Segment or go home. Your hotel customer database is not going to stay fit and fine forever. It is not Hisako Manda. In addition to performing ongoing maintenance, you also need segmentation. One big list should make way for smaller segmented lists. Examples include:Geographic locationClicks (0, 1, or more?)Frequency of use (checked in more than once?)RepliesConclusionSomewhere along the way, hotel CRM became synonymous with email marketing. This is really unfortunate because, unlike other industries, hotels sit on a mountain of personal data. Generic outreach chips away at any hope of building a relationship with your guests. There is a ton of speculation in the marketplace about who truly "owns" your guest. The truth is that nobody owns your guest, but you sure can make an effort to reach out and be their friend. Remember, nobody makes friends and builds relationships just by offering discounts. You have to share value to see your revenue numbers grow.

The Ultimate Guide to TripAdvisor for Hotels

Vikram Singh · 5 September 2018
When TripAdvisor was founded in February 2000 in a small office above Kostas Pizza on 315 Chestnut Street in Needham, Massachusetts, I don't think anyone could have predicted the amount of time and energy it would consume, and the strong emotions it would conjure.Since I started my blog in 2013, I have consistently fielded questions about TripAdvisor. Looking back at the sheer volume of time I spent answering these complex emails, I think it's time to for me aggregate my knowledge, experience and advice in one place. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, along with my responses.Is my competition trying to take my hotel down on TripAdvisor?Short Answer: Yes, it's possible.Long Answer: I get asked about this a lot by hoteliers around the world. "You are not being paranoid" is how I start most replies. There are some hotel owners/operators who turn to the dark side when it comes to TripAdvisor. Instead of improving their own product and service, they trash their competition. These are the folks that the youth today refer to as the haters.The hospitality industry has always had its fair share of bad apples. Anytime you claim something is powered by algorithms, there will be a group of players ready to game the system. In a time when so much power is bestowed upon TripAdvisor, a lot of time people feel desperate to win. Desperation should lead to hard work...but often leads instead to a "win by any means" mentality. How many hotels walk on the dark side by writing/sponsoring their own glowing reviews and/or posting negative ones for their competitors will never truly be known.Offenders are not just mom and pop operations. Let's not forget Peter Hook*, a senior executive at Accor Hotelswho took it upon himself to write awesome reviews for his own hotels while posting negative ones for competing brands. He got caught when the TripAdvisor Facebook app linked his anonymous username "Travare" to his Facebook account -- after he had posted 106 reviews in 43 cities!This incident happened all the way back in 2013... so how have things changed? Elementary, Watson. The bad guys have gotten much smarter.*Self-fulfilling prophecy: He described himself in his Twitter bio as the "Director of Propaganda" for Accor hotels in Asia-Pacific.Can you game the TripAdvisor "algorithm"?Short answer: Yes.Long answer: It has been done, and has led to some epic fails for TripAdvisor.Bellgrove Hotel, Glasgow. In 2013, this "hotel heaven," a hostel for the homeless, made it onto the list of TripAdvisor's 100 best places to stay, thanks to the efforts of pranksters who posted numerous five-star reviews.La Scaletta, Italy. Italians know their food, fashion and automobiles. Apparently they also know how to expose the flawed "algorithms" of the largest review site in the world. Read how a non-existent restaurant made it to the #1 spot. I gotta give it to the Italians on this one...the phone number for the restaurant was that of the city's police station! Prendere in giro! The final burn: In December 2014, theItalian Antitrust Authority fined TripAdvisor EUR500,000, complaining that the site had failed to adopt controls to stop false reviews while promoting its content as "authentic and genuine."The Shed at Dulwich, South London. All the British food jokes aside, London now has a ton of exciting chefs and restaurants competing for dominance in a growing food and beverage scene. Enter freelance writer Oobah Butler. His fake restaurant in South London became "London's Top Rated Restaurant" on TripAdvisor. And this was all happening in 2017, not that long ago.The Riu Imperial Marhaba, Tunisia. This story is really tragic. Thirty-eight people were shot at this hotel, and it had closed its operations. Yet TripAdvisor included it on its coveted "2016 Traveler's Choice Award" list. Makes you wonder, when do you become too big to do basic research when making your award lists?PSA: Don't put your life in the hands of a review site.Let's take a brief moment to address something terrifying about TripAdvisor: Profits will always be more important than people.For me, the darkest side of TripAdvisor's unchecked power and accountability was exposed in 2017 by The Milwaukee Journal, which uncovered how reports of rape and assault at some all-inclusive resorts in Mexico were deleted from their site. These two publicly posted excerpts really highlight the problem:Exhibit A:Milwaukee Journal: Why were these warnings deleted?TripAdvisor: They were "determined to be inappropriate by the TripAdvisor community," or removed by staff because they were "off-topic" or contained language or subject matter that was not "family friendly." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked to see the posts that were removed. The company refused.Exhibit B:When there were murmurs that the US Federal Trade Commission would be getting involved, TripAdvisor put out an official response via The Verge and Engadget. Here is an excerpt:"We are not aware of an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission nor have they contacted us. TripAdvisor is a global user-generated content platform that enables travelers to post positive and negative reviews and forum content about their experiences. We receive 290 pieces of content a minute and need to ensure that information posted on our site adheres to our content guidelines to ensure the integrity of these posts. We stand by our publishing guidelines and how they are applied."What I heard:The FTC is not coming after us, we are funded and have tons of cash for lawyers, so all is good with us.We get 290 pieces of content/minute for free. You really think we should be expected to hire enough people to go through it?We stand by our "publishing guidelines"... too bad about your death, robbery and sexual assault.Now if you'll excuse us, we will go back to selling ads to hotels and restaurants.The fact of the matter is, when you book a room at a hotel and make the decision solely based on the "world's largest review site," you are sometimes taking your life into your own hands. Remember, just as with Facebook: it's a free site and they owe you absolutely nothing.Do you use TripAdvisor to research personal travel?People on my blog ask me a ton of personal questions. Should I feel like a celebrity? Short answer: No.Whether or not I personally use TripAdvisor is a common question. Yes, I do. But, like anyone who does research on TripAdvisor, I've had to learn how to analyze what I'm seeing. I almost feel like Sherlock Holmes when I am reading a hotel or restaurant's TripAdvisor page, looking for clues and using astute observation to determine what's really going on.I do not have a degree in psychology or behavioral sciences, but I have to say that I am a Quantico-level fake hotel review spotter. The sheer number of hours I have spent on TripAdvisor has given me almost perfect clarity. I feel like Neo in The Matrix...making the bullets slow all the way down. (Here is a link for some of you young readers.) The fact is that anyone (with a little practice) can spot the low-quality reviews posted by competitors, tricksters and desperate owners.Here is my typical process, in case you want to sharpen your own methods:Look Beyond the Algorithm. I check to see how heavily the hotel is investing in TripAdvisor advertising. The amount money a hotel is spending on TripAdvisor advertising equates to how much time, energy and money is NOT getting spent on things that matter. Example: I can see when a hotel general manager's bonus has been tied into their TripAdvisor rankings. That means the GM is spending a ton of time online, instead of in the hotel lobby talking to guests. As a user, you need to realize that TripAdvisor stars and rankings are guidelines, not commandments. To find real value, you have to dig deeper than the surface and play with the price and location filters. As with any set of data, you have to segment to win.Are They Trying Too Hard? I look out for hotels that press too hard for you to leave reviews online, offer special prices in exchange for reviews, etc. When a hotel steps into desperation mode, you know a lot of time and energy is going into collecting the volume of reviews and not the quality of the product itself. I have seen it all...from hotels offering to "complete" the review for me, to them sending me 10 emails requesting a review, to placing TripAdvisor review cards in the W/C. Remember folks: Desperation is never attractive.'Everything Is Awesome.' Oh, great... I now have that song from the Lego movie stuck in my head! For those who don't know, here is a gift that is sure to take over your day (and night!). These hotels are easy to spot because everything there is awesome. It is impossible to run a hotel that is all things to all people. When I see a barrage of awesome reviews non-stop over a short period of time, it pretty much signals that there is something going on that deserves more scrutiny.Go Direct. What do I do when I have a question/doubt? Email the hotel. It's easy. Click on the contact page and reach out to a real human who might be able to answer questions, make recommendations, etc. Believe it or not, it works 99% of the time! If you do not have a positive experience doing this, you will know what's behind the curtain of the TripAdvisor reviews and rankings.Diversify. TripAdvisor is not the only review site out there. Don't forget the little search engine that is out to take everyone's lunch. Google's hotel reviews are a good source for quick concise content. Before I dive into TripAdvisor and start psychoanalyzing their "trusted" reviews, while getting hit with terrible banner ads and being yelled at to "book the best deal I will ever see in my whole damn life"... I locate the hotel on Google and see if there are some usable reviews. Let's not forget there are a ton of professional travelers that post some truly amazing long-form hotel reviews. Here is a link to one of my favorite hotel review sites. They are not the "biggest review site," but they are definitely covering a decent spread of small and large hotels in long story form with clear photos.Log Off. Last but not the least. Friends don't let friends browse TripAdvisor while logged into their account! Right now is a pretty bad time for privacy. Let's not divulge more information about ourselves to a multibillion dollar corporation! You don't need them to serve you more "targeted" banner ads that you ignore, while they are heavily pushing hotels to buy these useless ads. TripAdvisor's "Just For You" recommendations is not a feature designed to make your life better...it's an avenue to sell more ads.PSA #2: TripAdvisor's homepage tagline evolution tells a story.There is no hiding the fact that American companies love their taglines. TripAdvisor went after the whole trustthing hard for the longest time, until trade law finally caught up with them.2006: "Get the Truth. Then Go."2010: "World's most trusted travel advice"2011: (April) "Over 45 million trusted traveler reviews & opinions"2011: (September) TripAdvisor is banned from claiming that their reviews are "trustworthy" and must remove the following phrases from their website, courtesy of British Advertising Standards Authority:"Read real reviews from real travelers""Reviews you can trust""More than 50 million honest travel reviews and opinions from travelers around the world"2013: "The World's Largest Travel Site" (The word "trust" is completely gone.)2018: "The world's largest travel site. Know better. Book better. Go better."Are TripAdvisor's sponsored placements and ads a good idea?Note: This is probably the most common question I get.Short answer: NoLong Answer: Don't pay to drive traffic to OTAs. They definitely don't need your help making more money. If you need "brand exposure," invest in your service and product instead. Investing in impressions and click-based ads on a platform that is not connected exclusively to your website and booking engine defies logic. Unless you are P&G/Unilever/General Electric with money to burn...spending money on banner impressions is a huge waste of your marketing dollars.*How about you invest in these 5 things instead:Make a better hotel website.Invest in better hotel content and photos.Get a better hotel booking engine.Improve your product value.Invest on Google, and drive direct traffic.Bonus tip # 6: Subscribe to my blog. It's free!*I refuse to debate folks who love to talk about how much traffic VOLUME they get from TripAdvisor, or how well their campaigns are currently performing. I get it, you read things on the internet. I will someday run ads for the hotels I am working with ONLY when I can link the ads directly to the hotel's website from TripAdvisor. You know, like the cool option I have with Google? If I am spending on ads, I want to exclusively close them on my most profitable channel. Thank you.What do you think of the good ol' TripAdvisor business listing?Short Answer: This prehistoric marketing tactic by which you spend money for a link, which is declining in volume every year, deserves to be in a marketing museum.Long Answer: I am old enough to remember when TripAdvisor launched their infamous Business Listing for hotels. I am also old enough to remember when you could get some pretty interesting results on Google from listing in online business directories. Wow, this took me all the way back to the late 90's, early 00's!Fast forward to 2018. TripAdvisor still successfully charges a lot of money for placing a link to your hotel website. I must hand it to their marketing machine for showcasing the yuge value of this link. The word "convenience" gets thrown around a lot. How helpless are hotel guests that they cannot open another tab in their browser and just Google the hotel that has piqued their interest on TripAdvisor?Here is the kicker. Over the past several years, the volume of traffic from a TripAdvisor business listing has dropped across the board for all hotels that I have worked with. The success of the new TripConnect CPC and InstantBook products has something to do with this. Why sell you a click for just a flat fee? Why not make a % commission on top of it by converting those clicks. The whole convenience argument starts to fall apart when you realize that anyone booking travel in this day and age has at least 5-10 tabs open on their browser.So I cannot understand why hotels continue to pay for a simple link to their website from a page on a third party site. Possible answers:Convenience. You really think someone smart enough to read online reviews cannot open a new tab in their browser and Google you? Spending thousands of dollars every year to save your guest a click?Fear. There is heavy speculation that your TripAdvisor rankings 'allegedly' might decline when you stop advertising with them. Lawyers, pay attention that I am using the word "allegedly."Habit. There is the "we have always done this and it's now a part of our annual budget" reasoning. An average hotel in NYC is probably paying 10K to 15K for a link. Now imagine they took that cash and spent it on better coffee for guests in their lobby. Or how about renting puppies to hang out with the guests on weekends? Imagine the possibilities!How do I deal with business listing hyperinflation?Short Answer: Just say no.Long Answer: Only in the hotel business can you have the audacity to ask for more money (2018 vs 2017) for a link to YOUR own website from a page where YOUR guests have contributed all the content. But wait, there's more! You are getting fewer clicks than before. It feels like an episode on Black Mirror.But this is actually happening. TripAdvisor has raised the price of their business listing for every hotel I have worked with in 2018 (that's over 70 hotels). This is happening even when the total number of referral clicks from TripAdvisor has gone down for ALL properties when comparing 2018 with 2017 YTD. But, guess what? You can keep your old rates if you start buying TripAdvisor sponsored listings! Alrighty then.Can you imagine a hotel asking for a higher rate, while sharply reducing the value of their hotel product compared with the previous year? People would lose their minds and go right to....oh snaps!....TripAdvisor to post a barrage of negative reviews.Sometimes it really feels like that hotels are stuck in the sunken place. Get out!Do I have to promote my new hotel with TripAdvisor Sponsored Ads?Short answer: No.Long Answer: Here is a simple two-question test you can use to find the answer for yourself.Question 1. Is the ego of the owner/operator tied to TripAdvisor rankings?Then yes, you will have to run banner ads on TripAdvisor, get little or no reporting in return, and listen to someone talk about Billboard Effect in your marketing meetings. Everyone will be pleased and there will be high fives all around.Question 2. Is the owner/operator a professional who wants to generate net operating income while offering a good product?Then no, there are better options for promoting a new hotel. You need to perfect your product first and then grow organically. Organic growth is much more permanent than plastering the internet with banner ads that nobody cares for. In addition, you need to target guests at several different points in the buying cycle. There are many other channels where you can list your hotel and get exposure, just to get a baseline on your newly opened product. There is even this little billion-dollar hotel booking site out of Amsterdam and another one in Bellevue than can help you get exposure without annoying people with sponsored listings. (Alert: these sites also offer banner ads, so watch out for that!)Are your revenue and TripAdvisor rankings related?Short answer: Yes.Long answer: There is no denying that your revenue is going to take a hit if you lose your rankings. But please understand that it is not the end of the world. To make a profit, you must diversify. Google, Expedia and Booking all have reviews too; don't put all your review eggs in one basket. Recovery from a TripAdvisor meltdown is possible, but your pricing, marketing and product quality need to be in full alignment. Please do not tie your distribution to a review website. That way, when the TripAdvisor "algorithm" is not your favor, the odds might still be in your favor.Pro tip: Do not tie your personal sanity to TripAdvisor. Stay focused on the real world and engage with your guests in real time. The saddest thing I've seen in relation to TripAdvisor was at a trade show. A hotel owner was in tears pleading with TripAdvisor staff, saying that his negative reviews were affecting his marriage. Don't be that guy; don't give so much emotional power to a review website!ConclusionTripAdvisor is a social media network that uses free content to make money. Your hotel is a physical brick and mortar business in the real world that people can experience by booking a stay. Before you know it, someone will acquire TripAdvisor; then the new owners will figure out more ways to increase their bottom line. You cannot obsess over it, or automatically spend your hard-earned revenue on buying advertising without thinking it through. You are not in high school anymore. In the long term, it really does not matter what people say about you. Run a good hotel, work hard, be kind to your guests, and it's inevitable that you will make money.
Article by Vikram Singh

Is Your Hotel Booking Engine Destroying Your Profitability?

Vikram Singh ·16 April 2018
Almost every other day, I see a headline about the latest trend that is going to have a massive impact on hotels and travel. Some might even be worth exploring. However, the fact remains that if your hotel booking engine is hard to use, none of the trends will have any impact on your net operating income and profits.Having worked in hotels most of my adult life, and having traveled extensively, I have vast experience booking rooms every way possible: using phones, travel agents (yes, I am that old), OTAs, and directly from apps. The one consistent problem I find on hotel websites is a disregard for the basic usability principles that form the foundation of an online shopping experience.Let's review the Top Ten hits when it comes to bad booking experiences.1. The One-Hit (One-Screen) WonderLet me take you all the way back to 2004. Booking engines were still in their infancy. That was the year the one-screen wonder was born. It was introduced to independent hotels as the greatest thing since the Beatles arrived in America. The catch? It was a usability disaster.In this type of booking engine, guests were expected to review room photos and descriptions, and select dates, room types, and rates, ALL on one screen!I tirelessly campaigned against this technology back then, but the public relations machine worked harder and had a much broader reach. Their message - "Did you know our one-screen technology allows consumers to make a hotel reservation in one click?" - proved irresistible to many hoteliers. They installed this software on hundreds of independent hotel websites worldwide; each install was followed by a press release full of praise.In 2010, I came face to face with this monster. While stuck at Chicago's ORD airport, I tried booking a last-minute room. But the one-screen booking process took so long, I did not have time to complete my reservation before boarding the flight. The hotel got my booking from my Expedia account. They paid a commission because they had invested in the wrong technology. You can imagine how many other bookings were abandoned on their website and booked through online travel agent (OTA) websites.Of course, the one-screen booking engine was eventually discontinued. But not soon enough. The real economic impact can never be accurately measured. Don't forget: while bad tech was being sold to hotels using gimmicks and press releases, Booking.com and Expedia were making it easier and easier for guests to book a room at your hotel via their own websites.2. Way Too Many QuestionsWhen a guest finally decides to book a room at your hotel, why delay the purchase by asking so many questions? I am on your booking engine, with my credit card/online wallet ready...so why not take the booking as quickly and easily as possible? Remember...there's a good chance I'm at an airport, in the back seat of a taxi, on my limited lunch hour, etc.This is one of the core issues I have with almost all of the mainstream independent hotel booking engines. The number of required fields makes the experience a little too much like an interrogation by a government agency.As recently as 2014, I encountered one of the biggest hotel booking engine horrors of my life. I analyzed an asset and discovered that their booking engine had 43 questions before checkout! Later the same year, I saw this booking engine provider at a hotel tech conference and found out that 1500+ hotels and inns were using that system! I had to leave the exhibition hall and sit outside for a while to recover from the shock.Generally speaking, you need to severely limit the required fields on your booking checkout page. Require only what you absolutely MUST HAVE from your guest before giving them a reservation confirmation."Way too many questions, you must think I trust you."- Future (Jumpman)Next: why use a teeny tiny asterisk for a required field, which then turns into a big red warning when it's not filled out? Clearly indicate required items at checkout; don't make guests go back and repeat steps.Finally: in 2018, do we need a mandatory title field? Do you really need to know if I am a Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr, HRH, Lord, Earl, Duke, Baron, or Knight? It's awkward and even offensive. People of every gender, class, and profession pay with the same kind of money.Wait, one last thing..I present you with an asterisk to nowhere that cracks me up every time.3. Land of ConfusionThe optimal layout for the checkout process has been mastered by all the major OTAs, like Booking, Expedia and Airbnb. All the hotel technology providers need to do is follow the blueprint. The multi-million dollar investment in UX (user experience design) and usability testing has already been done for us! But instead of following these best practices, many booking engines continue to confuse the guests... resulting in a direct hit to your revenue and profits. Some of these checkout screens remind me of the 1986What is happening here:Useless hotel rate code jargon is likely to confuse your guests.Default setting shows more than one room, even when one room is selected in the date/rate calendar.Odd placement of the "Continue" button in the middle of the layout makes your guest think too hard.Listing amenities during the checkout process is distracting and gets in the way. This info belongs on the rooms page.Four-step checkout? No, thank you.4. Failure to LaunchAccording to research fromGuess what? This group filed for bankruptcy in 2009 due to massive losses in revenue. I am not a detective, but it's elementary that a non-functioning booking engine might have hastened their demise.Here is another example from a luxury hotel brand based in Asia, which has some of the highest ADR rooms in Hong Kong. Every non-responsive session is probably costing them a ton. Luckily for them, they are publicly listed and backed by heavy institutional investors. It's easy to be lazy with other people's money.What happens when your booking engine does not load quickly enough? Here are some possible outcomes:a) The same booking comes in via OTA minus a 15-20% commission.b) The guest books another hotel.c) The guest decides to give up on their trip and stay at home (voted least likely outcome by revenue and digital experts worldwide).A and B negatively impact your revenue, and option C is highly unlikely. One other possible outcome is that the guest calls your hotel reservations line...but kids these days don't talk much on phones. So that outcome becomes less likely all the time.5. Just Plain BrokenEvery now and then I see a hotel asset that is completely failing online. In a time when the majority of bookings are happening online, you have to have a booking engine that works! Here is one that actually showed a System Error right on the checkout screen:This booking engine worked great in some Western US states, but not so much on the East coast or London. It worked in Barcelona, but not Dubai. You get my drift? A shopping cart working part-time is just plain broken. It's crucial to test, test, test, and repeat when it comes to your booking engine. An error message that literally spells out "system error" in red will decimate your brand, guest loyalty, direct revenue, and online marketing efforts.6. Back in BlackBlack is my favorite color. It's good for a lot of things, but not as a background for a hotel booking engine. The top retailers of room nights around the globe (Expedia, Booking, and Airbnb) all use a white background for their ecommerce transactions. When it comes to website conversions, usability is the only thing that matters. In a desire to match the "look and feel" of their website, some hotels are using a dark background for their booking engine, making it really hard for everyone to use.In the example below, selecting dates on a black calendar is really difficult...difficult enough for your guests to give up without completing the transaction. When you highlight dates, nothing happens to show you have done it. There is also a LOT of wasted space, where the booking engine could have displayed useful information. Is this blank space, or is something not showing up against the background? Either way, I'm inclined to run over to Expedia.com and take care of this booking quickly, in a more familiar layout.Solution:8. Blast From the PastIn 2018, there are hotels that still have not integrated a booking engine into their website. If a date search on your website's home page calendar triggers a pop -up window... please stop doing everything else and get it fixed.9. Too Much InformationNobody likes folks who overshare. Why would you share your entire year's business with me when I am just trying to book a room? Are you saving me more searches? Do you want me to change my vacation plan based on your availability? You don't think I can find another place to stay in your town? Are you starting to see my point? Thank you and stop this.10. Do You Even Mobile?Everything I have listed above gets compounded 100X when things move to a small screen. I could load up one hundred screenshots here, but the example below truly captures the struggle hotels have when it comes to mobile revenue and conversions. This hotel has done the unimaginable...served me THREE popups (including one survey and one special offer) when ALL I ever wanted to do was give them my money! This, folks, is the bad mobile booking experience to rule them all.In mobile, you have to do testing. You cannot entirely outsource the responsibility to make sure your booking engine works properly on all the major screens your guests are using. You have to dive into your analytics and then follow up in the real world. One way is to go to your local phone store; time yourself and a bunch of your closest friends to see how long it takes to book a room at your hotel for some random dates. Brace yourself for the outcome!The hotel brand in the example above has over 300 hotels in 40 countries worldwide. You'd think they would have friends to alert them...but guests never do. If you cannot sell them rooms on a mobile device, there are some spectacular mobile booking options available on the Expedia/Booking network that they will end up using.Bonus Tip:The single most amazing mobile experience offered in the travel business is the functionality of the HotelTonight app. If you have not tested it yet, please download the app to see mobile ecommerce done right. Anyone who can take the app experience to the mobile web will be the world's top hotel mobile booking engine.Oh, and my 2014 article still stands...do not sell $7 rooms on HotelTonight.ConclusionOffer protection, kill doubt. In a world of online scams and identity theft, you must make sure that you present guests with a secure and reassuring booking engine. A shady looking booking engine is certain to fail.Make it easy. Most guests will abandon a booking engine that is hard to use while asking for too much personal information. Please note that booking engines and surveys are two very different things. Nobody should ever feel interrogated on your hotel booking engine.There are many places where things can go wrong on your website. But none is more important than your booking engine. It is the core of your direct revenue strategy and deserves your undivided attention.

Is Your Hotel Booking Engine Destroying Your Profitability?

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·13 April 2018
Almost every other day, I see a headline about the latest trend that is going to have a massive impact on hotels and travel. Some might even be worth exploring. However, the fact remains that if your hotel booking engine is hard to use, none of the trends will have any impact on your net operating income and profits.

Use Hotel Website Content to Increase Your Revenue

Vikram Singh ·24 October 2017
Plenty of attention, and plenty of space, is given to photos and design. Hotel websites have started to look like clones, favoring heavy imagery and very light content; but that is a mistake. Your website is not an Instagram feed with a booking button. If you replace substantive content with photo captions and a parade of adjectives like Luxurious!, you are sending up red flags. Instead of giving a detailed description of your offering, you are just using generic marketing terms, which online consumers are too savvy to believe. And, by providing very little information that guests can use during the travel planning stage, you are sending your potential guests to other hotel websites or OTAs to get the information they need.It's your hotel content's job to build trust, answer questions, and capture your guests' attention. Good content will not only attract new visitors but also keep them on your website. The longer you can hold a visitor's attention and answer their questions, the more likely they are to book with you.You need more than photos to tell your story, and the time you invest in good content is worth it. Here are some of my top content guidelines for your hotel website.The Need for SpeedGreat content will never get consumed if it does not load quickly. Before you go about improving content, you must take a look at your website architecture and hosting. Your website visitors today are just like Tom Cruise in Top Gun: "they have a need...a need for speed." Google recommends that your web pages load in two seconds. To make this happen, your content delivery process must be highly optimized. This is hard to achieve when you are sharing your hosting environment with hundreds of other websites; and even harder if they also share a clunky agency-backed content management system.Using the right technology for content distribution will make sure all your hard work is served quickly to the desired audiences worldwide. Here are the two fastest ways for you to speed things up: Use a content delivery network (CDN). What's that? Well, it's system of servers (a network) that delivers web content to people visiting your website based on their geographic location. The main goal of a CDN is to solve latency issues. What's latency? It's the delay that occurs between the moment you request a web page until the moment its content appears on your screen. A CDN stores a cached version of your hotel website in multiple geographical locations to reduce latency. Optimize your photos. How can you make your images (and your whole website) load faster? Here are some steps you can follow. Use CSS Effects (gradients, shadows, etc.). CSS animations produce good resolution-independent assets that look sharp at every resolution and zoom level. Use Web Fonts. Web fonts allow you to use beautiful typefaces while preserving the ability to select, search, and resize text. Never encode content as part of an image. This decision doesn't just give you speed, but also represents a significant improvement in usability. Compress images. Don't use higher resolution images than you need; web images can and should be much smaller than images used in print magazines. You should also remove hidden data in your photos (eg, color profiles, geolocation metadata, etc.) Less is more and every byte counts. Also, use vector images vs raster images wherever possible. Vector images are zoom- and resolution-independent, which translates into better speed and usability. Fast load times will make your website visitors happy and drastically increase your chances of converting them into hotel guests.The 5 Fundamental QuestionsI always bring up these questions during my speaking engagements on digital and revenue optimization best practices.These are the five questions your hotel website must answer:Who are you?Where are you located?What do you offer?How are you different?How can I buy, or contact you?Looks like a pretty simple list, right? These are some of the easiest questions to answer for any property. However, somewhere along the way, in the quest for "cutting edge" branding and design, these simple questions are not getting answered. Unanswered questions - confused website visitors - loss of confidence - lack of revenue. Hotel websites are all starting to look the same. One massive image, accompanied by a few bold adjectives that mean nothing to your guests. Of course, these adjectives were highly praised during the "branding meeting." I suspect even a few high fives were involved.Get to the point! Tell guests who you are, where you are located, what are you offering, and how they can buy that or contact you right away. Superlatives and adjectives do not get people to take action. The best home pages drive people further into the website to read more. Relevant content invites people to click deeper. Answering questions = making connections.The Tagline FallacyFrom famous shoe companies (Just Do It!) to folks peddling diamonds (A Diamond is Forever)... everyone loves a good tagline. So why not your hotel? Sounds like a pretty good idea... right? Welcome to the dark and mysterious world of hotel website homepage taglines. Cue in Genesis's Land of Confusion.It's not practical to take a hotel experience and condense it into a few words. Different travelers have different needs. Counting on a few words to be memorable and reflect your brand and build trust and put your website visitors at ease? To quote the late Bill Pullman, "Game over man, game over." Your guests cannot act on something they cannot understand. Remember the core questions I highlighted above? No tagline can do the job of answering them. It's downright impossible.Now try telling that to a marketing agency's "branding guru" and watch the fireworks.Content Cleanup StrategyContent is one of the easiest things to access and repair on a hotel website. (This is especially true if your website is powered by one of my fav content management systems.) Time spent on improving content will generate results for you, if you do the following.Ask yourself one simple question: Would I describe my hotel to a close friend using the words that are currently on my website?Yes: Success, your content is good.No: Write down how you would describe your hotel to someone you know and care about. Then add all the extra information you would be giving them if this was their first time visiting your city from somewhere far away. That is the content your website visitors need.The hardest part for many hotel owners/marketers is realizing that your hotel content should not be about you...it's about your guests and the location they are visiting. Almost all the website content I see on hotel websites is focused on describing the product or experience, instead of highlighting the hotel's location and how guests can best enjoy it. Very few hotels are iconic enough to be a destination. Like Biggie said, never get high on your own supply (ie, don't drink your own Kool-Aid).Formatting for SuccessReadability is your friend when it comes to converting visitors into bookings. When a traveler has over ten website tabs open during the travel research phase, one of the best ways to stand out is to present readable, well-formatted content. Your website visitors are not reading a mid-19th century novel. Remember kids: everybody skims. People only click when something catches their attention or answers a question they are researching. If they don't find what they are looking for quickly, they just bounce off the website.Here's how to keep things readable/scannable:Fonts. Google wants you to stick with a base font size of 16 pixels. I personally prefer larger. (That's partly because I refuse to wear corrective glasses for my failing vision). The cute tiny little font size you are using might be directly contributing to your website bounce rate.Headers and Paragraphs. Don't let your content headers and subheaders become a parking spot for adjectives. These are tools to help make your content scannable and create a typographical hierarchy. Shorter paragraphs with descriptive headers are going to make your content easier to digest.Lists and Bullets. If Buzzfeed has taught us anything...lists work. "If you are looking for clicks, then you must make lists" is something I would say to a classroom of content writers today. (I also know they would all hate me for it!) Bullets, numbering, and bold highlighted content can help you break down large blocks of content into readable bits of information. Think of it like bite-size incentives to read the whole website.The assumption that website visitors will never have time to read anything on your website is a crime. They will make time for your content if you make it easy to read, and convince them bit by bit that your content is worth their time.Using Design to Boost RevenueHow you lead guests through your website comes down to your design and navigation. Great content that cannot be discovered will just perish in the shadows. Many hotel websites with good content lose their guests by using cutesy navigations, drop-downs, and irrelevant calls to action. Competing calls to action (Book Now, Check Rates, Sign Up for Emails) need to be addressed on a page-by-page basis.For those who want to read more about this, check out my guide to hotel website design. Don't design first and then stuff content in there. Design around content and watch your most relevant hotel website metrics point to the sky.Popup InterventionThree words: Don't Use Popups.Check out this banner I was shown within five seconds of visiting a hotel website:The fact that you offer better rates than the OTA's should never be a full-screen popup for someone who is visiting your website for the first time. Instead, let them read your new and improved, content-filled homepage and see what you're about before accosting them with an urgent message.Who Has the Best Content?A question that I get asked all the time is, "So who is doing travel content right?" I really wish I could say the name of one of the big hotel brands. They have been in the travel game for decades and their online content should probably be the best. Unfortunately, that's not the case. A not so little startup founded in 2008 in San Francisco has the best travel content in the game. I am talking about, of course, Airbnb.Hotels thrive when people travel. Shouldn't hotel content be inspiring and encouraging people to travel? Shouldn't your hotel take the lead in answering questions about your location and neighborhoods?One of the best examples of travel content is the Airbnb neighborhood guide that was launched in 2012.Not only do they have excellent content on these pages, but also give the pages extra credibility by adding advice from locals. They feature best-in-class writing with clear-cut titles. And they take the whole thing to a higher level by breaking down the attributes of each neighborhood, and even the moods you are likely to encounter in each location. Check out the killer segmentation matching travelers to their preferences:You would think the big hotel brands would be all over this because they do have the bandwidth and franchise fee revenue to produce this stuff. Instead, we get office desks taken out of hotel rooms and are told to travel "brilliantly."Here's another tip: people love maps! Adding curated maps with comments about different points of interest makes travel planning a breeze. It's amazing what you can create with the Google Maps API. It's in their header, folks: "Build the next generation of location experiences."And let's not forget the quality of the photography being used on Airbnb pages. He is my version of the Friday night lights quote:"Good content. Great photos. Can't lose!"- Vikram SinghToo many hotels are waiting at the bottom of the funnel for revenue to trickle down. Great content is the perfect opportunity to feed the funnel and create demand. Instead of squeezing the life out of a "book direct and save" campaign, how about participating in the guest's travel experience at a much earlier stage?ConclusionGood content is your competitive edge at a time when buying advertising is getting more and more expensive. With so many hotel and OTA websites competing on the web to attract travelers, content can be your salvation. If you have a content-poor, design-rich website, it is hurting your long-term revenue as well as your immediate conversions. On the other hand, the playing field is wide open for your hotel to start filling the travel-planning void. Inspiring and useful content will not only get you new business, but will also help you stand out in a crowd of mass-produced content-free websites. If you are not using content to capture the attention of people interested in your location, neighborhoods, and attractions...someone else will.
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Use Hotel Website Content to Increase Your Revenue

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·10 October 2017
Contrary to what you might have heard, people still read. We read quiet a lot actually, but much of our reading has moved over to a screen instead of paper. When we are planning travel, we want to read about where we are going. However, the volume of content on hotel websites is shrinking. Plenty of attention, and plenty of space, is given to photos and design. Hotel websites have started to look like clones, favoring heavy imagery and very light content; but that is a mistake. Your website is not an Instagram feed with a booking button. If you replace substantive content with photo captions and a parade of adjectives like Luxurious!, you are sending up red flags. Instead of giving a detailed description of your offering, you are just using generic marketing terms, which online consumers are too savvy to believe. And, by providing very little information that guests can use during the travel planning stage, you are sending your potential guests to other hotel websites or OTAs to get the information they need.

Colorado Springs, Airports, TV: EP008

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·12 May 2017
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Last Click Attribution Is Killing Your Hotel Marketing Campaigns

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)· 4 May 2017
Marketing success today can be measured using many diverse metrics. Analytics programs let you measure everything from who and where your website visitors come from to what content they are interested in. These engagement and conversion metrics can help you understand what is really working when it comes to your website and marketing efforts.
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Interview With Daniel Edward Craig: EP007

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)· 3 May 2017
The post Interview With Daniel Edward Craig: EP007 appeared first on Vikram Singh.

The Shrinking Value of Hotel Loyalty Programs

Vikram Singh ·30 March 2017
Why have I not done that? The reason is simple: I am a location-based business and leisure traveler. That means that I choose to stay at the most convenient location irrespective of brand. I know I am not alone in this thinking, as many people prioritize location over brand. Let me elaborate.Location, Location, LocationCliche title aside, location is everything for some folks (like me). I am laser focused on location on business trips, as I like to optimize my time and control my FOBL (fear of being late).When I am speaking at an event, I do not want to be far away from the conference location. A simple traffic snarl can ruin your reputation. (Digital marketing and revenue management speakers are not accorded the same indulgence as rock stars when they show up fashionably late.) Most of my business meetings are also at hotels, as they are often my clients. I try my best to stay at the meeting hotel for two reasons: a) To experience the asset; and b) To ensure that I am not relying on any transportation other than an elevator to get to my meeting. It's a peace of mind thing that allows me to remain focused.Likewise, when it comes to leisure travel, I don't want to spend extra time commuting to the places I want to see. If Hotel X is located near the activities or attractions I want to see, or is in a neighborhood that I particularly like (eg, Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, Gothic Quarter in Barcelona)... then I am staying at that hotel.I also have an affinity for independent hotels. I especially like staying at independents when I am traveling internationally. I think it gives me better insight into the local mindset and how people run their hospitality businesses in other parts of the world.The Incentive Games: May the odds be ever in your favor.I have been monitoring the loyalty programs of the major hotel brands and have noticed a clear trend over the last several years: the rewards for loyalty are shrinking. Basically, the bar is getting set at a higher level while the benefits are being slashed. These devaluations are due to consolidation in the marketplace, and attempts by brands to increase their profitability.In my opinion, loyalists have three major reasons to stick with a hotel brand:Points. Earn free nights that can be spent either at a fancy aspirational hotel or a basic property. In other words: spend on business, vacation for free.Upgrades. Get a better category of room at check-in because of status.Amenities. Enjoy a welcome gift, free breakfast, better WiFi, lounge access, dedicated reservation support, late checkout, etc.While people have been chasing points and status, every major loyalty program has devalued their program by doing one or more of the following:Increasing the number of nights you need to attain statusIncreasing the number of points you need to book a free room by upgrading the hotel categoriesCreating a new category of rooms and/or elite status level (which devalues the whole program)You know who else has done this recently? If you guessed airlines, you are right. It's "working" for the airlines, right? Passengers may not be happy, but they need to keep flying on the major airlines to get around. It's not that easy to open up an "independent" alternative airline to meet their needs. But can hotel brands continue to reduce program benefits for their most loyal and point-obsessed guests, and still hope to keep them?Following is a brief overview of the recent changes I've seen in five of the biggest hotel loyalty programs.Marriott RewardsIn 2015, Ideaworks (a consulting firm) published a study naming Marriott Rewards the most generous hotel loyalty program in terms of earning future room stays, with a return of 9.4%. Translation: For every $100 that you spend at a Marriott, you can expect to earn $9.40 worth of points you can apply towards a future stay at a Marriott branded hotel.They also calculated the return on three other major brand programs:These results were based on 1,440 queries conducted globally. The number of points required for a "free" hotel stay was compared to the room rate in dollars. The value of points was translated into dollars based on how much spending was required to accrue them.That same year (2015), Fortune Magazine also named Marriott as having the best rewards program in the hotel business. So, how has the world's best loyalty program changed since then?The latest change happened on March 7, 2017, when 23% of their hotels and resorts were moved to a higher or lower category. Of those that are changing, 60% will move up; US-based hotels are disproportionately affected. This is not a new trend - it's been happening every year for the last five years. 2013 was the big jumping off point. It was also the year Marriott added the new, super expensive Category 9.After the Starwood Hotel merger last September, Marriott became the largest hotel chain in the world. Since the merger, Starwood and Marriott accounts can now be linked, points can be moved around, and statuses can be transferred. This is a massive increase in the sheer number of people who belong to the joint program (rumored to be over 100 million!). The fact that status can be transferred = so many elites! It's a classic supply-and-demand scenario. If you've been a Marriott loyalist, now you have lots of elites from Starwood Hotels getting the same benefits as you. When has that ever been a good thing for an elite program?Favorite Stay:My best Marriott experience was at the JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia. Amazing hotel and staff, and the cutest guard dogs at the front doors.Starwood Preferred GuestStarwood's SPG program has always had some serious fan boys and girls. There is a very good reason for that. For a long time, Starwood Preferred Guest has been one of the plushest preferred hotel programs out there. A mere 25 nights a year gives you a guaranteed 4pm checkout at most of their hotels! In comparison, Marriott (aka, the new owner) makes no such guarantee. In Marriott's case, please insert everyone's favorite customer service phrase, "subject to availability."Likewise, I have heard nothing but amazing things about the Ambassador program from my Starwood-addicted friends. Anyone staying 100 nights a year is assigned a private ambassador who makes reservations, hounds hotels for upgrades, etc. etc. Like I said, pretty plushy!Industry friends always mention that it's easy to maintain this level of customer loyalty focus when you have 1300 hotels. (Marriott now has over 4200.) Besides, to quote one of my favorite airline blog writers Gary Leff:"It's not hard to just fall out of an airplane into a Marriott. You have to make a choice to be loyal to Starwood."I agree with him 100%. You can find a Marriott almost anywhere and at almost every price point.Marriott Rewards has well over 54 million members, more than double the 21 million members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program (estimated numbers at the time of the merger). Today, as an SPG member, you are competing with a pool of close to 100 million people for everything: late checkout, upgrades, free rooms, lounge access, ambassadors, etc. No wonder so many fan boys and girls were livid about the merger. Some of the comments were a case study in entitlement, and really made me laugh. A classic case of first world problems. But still relevant to our discussion.The simple fact is that there are many more Marriott members than Starwood members. Marriott folks now have access to some really fancy hotel assets where they can splurge with their points to get free stays. This fact sums up the lack of enthusiasm from SPG loyalists. But, you know what? Time heals everything.Credit card experts have crowned the Starwood Branded Amex as the best credit card for frequent fliers and hotel guests (if they often stay at Starwood properties). It offers up to five points per $1 spent at participating Starwood Hotels, and two points per $1 spent at Marriott properties. For cardmembers redeeming points for hotel stays, this card gives the most points per dollar. Points can also be transferred to more than 24 airline programs.Starwood's last category adjustment was in 2013, when 200 hotels went up in price and fewer than 50 hotels went down in price.Favorite Stay:My best Starwood experience was at the St. Regis Princeville, Kauai. Stunning ocean views right from the lobby, and also from everywhere else on the property.IHG Rewards ClubIHG has long maintained the bragging rights for having the most loyalty members in the world. (Marriott is close on their heels with their Marriott + Ritz + Starwood numbers). IHG's approach to redemption has been different from the other brands I talk about here. They don't have a category-based points chart. Every individual hotel has its own points requirements for a free night. The lower end brands (Holiday Inn/ Express) go for 5K to 10K points, and the high-end hotels (like Intercontinental) go for 60K+.In 2016, IHG made some big changes their redemption policy:650 hotels changed their redemption point requirements.For 75% of the 650 hotels, the points requirement went up.As with the other brands, their changes mainly applied to assets located in the United States. Here is the current guide to points required to redeem "free" nights at IHG hotels.In 2015, IHG had its Marriott/Starwood-style moment (though definitely not at the same scale) when they acquired the iconic Kimpton Hotels brand. It inspired me back then to write about the transformation of the boutique hotel business. The fan favorite rewards program Kimpton Karma continues to operate separately and has not been rolled into the IHG Rewards Club (as of today.)Favorite Stay:My best IHG experience was at The Intercontinental Hong Kong. Fantastic food and beverage, with iconic views of the Hong Kong harbor.Hilton Honors (The Program Previously Known as Hhonors)This year Hilton dropped the extra "h" In their Hhonors program and renamed it Honors. Now that we have that out of the way, Hilton has been in the running as one of the top hotel loyalty programs for a while. Their massive hotel footprint of 4,000+ hotels in 91 countries ensures that you do not have to struggle to find one of their branded hotels on any trip. All the way up to 2014, Hilton Honors was offering zero blackout dates to their reward program members. They also allow you to earn hotel and airline points during the same stay.Hilton's biggest devaluation (that I remember) was in 2013. They really shook things up by:Adding Categories. They went from 7 up to 10 categories! Even with 4K+ hotels in 90+ countries, this was a blow to redemption enthusiasts.Introducing Seasonal Reward Pricing. Redemption points required for free rooms began to fluctuate with seasonality and demand.They have not implemented any major updates since 2013. Instead, they do a quarterly shakeup of their hotel categories.Favorite Stay:My best Hilton experience was at the Hilton Caribe in Puerto Rico. Massive infinity pool, old school hospitality, and a cool talking parrot in the lobby.World of Hyatt (Previously Gold Passport)Hyatt just went through a massive overhaul of their entire loyalty program. Hyatt Gold Passport is now called "World of Hyatt." For a hotel brand with a relatively small footprint, they have some serious followers. Why? Their Diamond members get:Upgrades to the best room available upon arrival (excluding suites)Access to lounges featuring complimentary breakfast and evening hors d'oeuvresComplimentary full breakfast in hotels without a club lounge (including Park Hyatts!)Four suite upgrades every yearA special welcome F&B amenity during each stayA dedicated reservations lineWow! I think answered that question. So it's no surprise that most of their top elites are not thrilled with the most recent changes. Here are two major updates:New Status Tier. Hyatt Passport used to have two elite tiers, Diamond and Platinum. Now there are three: Discoverist, Explorist, and Globalist (none are typos). The loyalists getting demoted used the #WorldOfH2O hashtag on Twitter to make their feelings known. The "Stay Thirsty Elites" meme really made me laugh. I'd like to explain adding a whole new elite tier by using the airline example. First Class and Economy Class have now become First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy Class, and Economy Class (and even Basic Economy) - all in the exact same airplane! Mostly, they just moved the rows of seats around, and made minor changes in amenities. A new tier is never a positive upgrade for existing elites to any program.Pay to Play. The old program allowed you to qualify for status based on # of nights or # of stays (stay = one check-in and check-out). You can no longer qualify for elite status based on number of stays. It's gone. Instead you have to stay X number of nights or spend a minimum $ amount per stay. Wow, a revenue-based model...hmmm, I wonder where I have seen this lately? Oh yes! Here: Delta Airlines. Then here: United Airlines. And now here: American Airlines. I see what you did there, Hyatt.Hyatt's top-tier guests who used to get Diamond status just by staying 25 times (one-night stays) at any Hyatt now have to spend 60 nights at Hyatts to reach the same status. This completely changes the elite status earning game. Earning 60 nights with a relatively tiny footprint is not going to happen for a lot of their existing Diamond level members.Since we are looking back to 2013 for most of the other brands here, in 2013 Hyatt did introduce a new super category for redemption. It's not as drastic as what the others have done, but then Hyatt has a very limited number of properties (as of now).Favorite Stay (Someday):I am a huge fan of Bill Murray. While in Tokyo, I just had to visit the legendary Park Hyatt Tokyo. It's an iconic property that I aspire to actually stay in one day.ConclusionMoving forward, earning elite status with a single hotel brand is going to be more difficult for a lot of people. I know many are still reeling from the Marriott-Starwood merger. However, please note that the M&A activity has not yet peaked in the hotel industry. Hold on tight, because I agree with the experts that there is much more to come. After reviewing five of the major brand loyalty programs above, I realize more than ever that I cannot be the only one with a razor sharp focus on location over brand. If the industry continues to see more devaluations and major changes, maybe the points and loyalty game will finally lose its appeal.
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The Shrinking Value of Hotel Loyalty Programs

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·28 March 2017
My work revolves around travel. Every night away from home is spent at a hotel or Airbnb property. I was recently asked about my hotel brand preferences and which loyalty program I use. The answer is that I belong to all of them but never achieve a high status due to the fact that my hotel nights are spread across many independent and brand hotels. If I were to pool all of my annual room nights into one brand, I could easily qualify for top tier status.

The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Hotels

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·27 February 2017
Hotel email marketing has become more important than ever. The cost of click- and impression-based marketing on search engines and social networks continues to rise, not just for generic terms, but also for the historically cheaper brand name terms. Email marketing remains extremely relevant and cost-effective. It has become the best permission-based outbound tool in your marketing kit, hands down. However, as with every great tool, the responsibility to use it well lies with the user.

BookingSuite: A Lesson in Direct Revenue Strategy

Vikram Singh ·27 October 2016
William Shakespeare, King LearYour website, booking engine, digital marketing efforts, and revenue management strategy are the pillars of your direct revenue. Viewing them as cost centers instead of investments in your future is the root problem underlying disadvantageous marketing decisions for hotels of all sizes. This cost vs investment approach (looking at departmental budgets instead of overall growth and revenue) is causing hotels to act against their own self-interest; it makes you pick the wrong vendors for wrong reasons.Not to get all Nostradamus on you, but I would like to quote myself from all the way back in 2014:"Ownership of your digital assets is more important than ever before in the history of the lodging business. Who provides your technology and in what format really matters. In this case, if your hotel is using a website made by Buuteeq, your site is now essentially a subsidiary of one of the biggest OTAs in the world."This Is the Checklist You NeedThe fact remains that the majority of hotels and inns worldwide are renting their digital assets; and this is hurting their long-term direct revenue potential. When you make all your marketing decisions on the basis of lowest possible cost, your long-term profitability will suffer.If you're ready to take control, here's a five-step checklist to get you back on track.Website. Pick any designer/website vendor in the world... but build and power your website using WordPress as your CMS. It is always the right time to start running and managing your most profitable digital channel using open source technology.Search Engine Optimization. Google is all about website speed, health, usability, and useful content. There are no secret algorithms that any agency has in place to tackle this. You can read in detail here how search engine optimization has changed for the hotel and travel industry over the years. Staying with a vendor because they are good at SEO and "keyword rankings" is like investing in the stock market using a psychic as your portfolio advisor.Pay Per Click. Here is some detail on why PPC is one of your most powerful marketing tools. Pick any vendor you like as long as you use your own credit card to pay Google directly and own your AdWords account. Yes, you should own your AdWords campaign so that you maintain control of your history and retain the quality score built over years of spending and testing. That way, when your vendor wants to peace out on you (example: what BookingSuite is doing now), it won't be a big deal. You will have to find a new vendor; but you will not have to start from scratch again.Social Media. Make sure the ownership of all of your social media accounts stays with you. Use your email address, and not a vendor's. This includes Facebook and all other social media marketing campaigns that you are currently running.Analytics. Stick with Google Analytics. Here is a detailed article on staying away from expensive solutions designed with agencies in mind. When working with Google Analytics, always set it up with a Gmail address that you own. You might have several vendors working on your account with access to the same data. But they shouldn't control the account. Avoid the headache hotels experience every day when the vendor who owns their analytics account decides to walk away, taking years of website data with them.Here is a detailed guide on managing all your digital assets. Successful hotel and travel marketing departments own and continually build on their marketing and digital assets. Just like you would not build a hotel on land that you do not own (or lease for a long time), your online assets should not be built in someone else's proprietary digital environment. Of course, you will always need someone to help you maintain your hotel/home. But you don't have to give someone the deed to the house in exchange for making sure the plumbing is working. *mic drop*ConclusionPeople I have worked with over the years know that I do not believe in declaring "wars"; I believe in making revenue. The hyperbole in the marketplace around the "war on OTAs" is impractical and annoying. Using this article to launch a tirade against BookingSuite is a complete waste of time. You cannot blame others for your poor decisions. Also, please remember that Priceline Inc. and Expedia Inc. are not going anywhere anytime soon. So, buck up, Champ.My goal here is to highlight that now is (still) the perfect time to invest in owning and maintaining your digital assets and marketing campaigns. Marketing agencies and vendors will eventually get acquired or lose interest. Nobody can control or predict when that will happen to your marketing agency. I could not have predicted the exact date when Buuteeq (the helpful agency who wanted to take all your work and worries away at a super low price) would sell out to the world's largest OTA.... or the date when they would later shut down the SEM services that were not making them enough money. What I can do and always will do is to recommend that you own and invest in your own digital assets and marketing. Remember: your profitability needs to outlast your current marketing agency. Stay woke.
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BookingSuite: A Lesson in Direct Revenue Strategy

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·18 October 2016
Throughout my career in revenue optimization for the hospitality and travel industry, I have always stressed the importance of owning your digital assets. This means having control of your domain, your marketing campaign’s analytics and history, and especially your website. As a strong supporter of open source technology, I have stepped in every time a marketing vendor (“expert”) started trashing new and innovative options for hotels. Of course, vendors will always favor their outdated proprietary systems over new technology. They have made a huge investment and have to keep selling. But being tied to old technology is never going to give your hotel an edge in the online marketplace.
Article by Vikram Singh

Hotel Website Design and Usability: Top 10 Mistakes

Vikram Singh · 9 August 2016
Hotel website design, like any kind of design, is subjective. Nothing is more painful than a website design "discussion" where stakeholders talk for hours about colors, content and photos. For every extra person added to these meetings, more useless things get added and useful things get taken out. By the end of it, you have a website that is not usable for potential guests, which hurts your conversion rate and, more important, your revenue.So in this post, let's worry less about design and more about usability. To that end, here is a list of mistakes that can hurt your hotel website revenue, no matter how much you love your design.1. Missing Address & Phone NumberYou need to give website visitors your address and phone number right at the top of your home page. This is more important than your homepage slider, and even that oh so trendy moving video on loop that you recently added. Assuming that your phone number and location only matter on mobile is flawed thinking.Sometimes people want to call you. When they are calling you, there's a good chance they're going to book with you. Before they book, they are very likely to search for information about your location. Travel research is still happening on larger screens. You have to make it easy for them to discover your exact location, and even easier to contact you.Don't bury this information in your footer. Would you wear your name tag on your shoe? Mike drop. Next.2. Fluffy Homepage TaglinesHotel websites are notorious for fluffy descriptive taglines. I am not sure where this trend started, but it really has to stop. Home page is prime real estate for you to talk about who you are, what you do, and where are you located. Marketing is not stuffing adjectives like "Extraordinaire, Award Winning, Blissful Abode, etc." on your home page. Providing the right information up front will lead your visitors deeper into your website for discovery, and not on an expedition to try to find simple answers about who you are, where you are, and what you offer. You have a few seconds to keep a new visitor on your website. Let's not use that time to bombard them with fluff.3. Music (Can you not?)This is a public service announcement: Please don't put music on your website.Anything (music, videos) that autoplays on a website is a conversion death trap. The majority of bookings happen Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. People are at work...and nothing is more disastrous than suddenly having your office laptop broadcast the sounds of singing whales, crashing waves, or romantic piano music while you are trying to book your vacation. Especially while your boss is waiting on that TPS report.4. Cannibalizing Your Own TrafficI have written a massive article on this topic that you can read here. Obviously, not enough people have read it. Social media traffic is useful only when it's pointing people inwards, into your website! I am always surprised to see social media exit signs all over hotel websites. Do you think anyone leaving your website to go to YouTube is ever coming back? I refer to it as the black hole of the Internet universe. All that effort you spent to get people to come to your website is wasted when you then lead them right out.5. Poorly Embedded VideosVideos can do wonders for your website engagement. I am always thrilled when a hotel website utilizes videos. YouTube is a great place to host videos that you can embed into your website. But beware one small setting that can wreak havoc: Suggested Videos. This totally defeats the purpose of having video embedded on your website, as people are now getting sucked directly from your site back into the Internet black hole of cat videos! What's even worse than that? When your competitors' hotel videos start showing up! Now that is really embarrassing.So, when you are embedding YouTube videos on your website, make sure you follow these easy steps:Copy your video embed code.Select the "show more" option.Uncheck the "show suggested videos when the video finishes" box.Copy and paste the new code into your website.6. Bad PhotographyPhotos make or break a hotel website. Still, a lot of hotels do not invest in photography at the level they should. I have seen some amazing website design themes ruined by bad photos. The importance of unique, high-quality photos is not limited to your website. They need to be used on every OTA that you work with. Instead of getting photos updated once in 5 or 10 years, organize a seasonal photo shoot to cover the full spectrum of your location and seasonality.Sadly, there are countless hotel websites where I can instantly make out who made it thanks to the ubiquitousness of the marketing agency's stock photos. From San Francisco to San Antonio, the same couple is having a great romantic dinner, day after day, year after year. Another couple is enjoying the generic beach in San Diego, and Miami, and South Carolina. You get the drift.7. Press ReleasesSome find it hard to believe, and even find this notion offensive, but I'll say it anyway: a press release is not real content. Let me elaborate. A press release does not fall into any real content category people are using these days. Current news can be found on Twitter or an actual news website. Topical discussions and viewpoints are offered in blogs and podcasts. Having a press release page on your website does not help educate your audience. You need to convert that information into useful content potential visitors can use. A beautiful press kit available for download will run circles around any effort and money spent on press releases. News about renovations, re-branding, new food and beverage outlets, etc., needs to be broadcast live on your hotel blog.8. The Dreaded Restaurant & Spa Menu PDFLarger resort websites are top offenders when it comes to this. PDFs are awful when it comes to usability. First there is the download time and resolution issues that occur on mobile devices, combined with the need to "select" the right app to open them. PDFs are just a bad idea. I just want to see if I can get a salad! It shouldn't require so much effort, and then become a permanent file on my phone.HTML it instead! Let people view information without fixed borders. They are great for printing, but who is even printing anything these days? You can always offer a "printable" option for laptop users, but it cannot and should not be the only way to access information on your website.9. One Call to ActionWith the heavy emphasis on booking direct, it seems like every website has become a big "BOOK NOW AND SAVE" destination. You website needs to be a part of the larger travel booking conversation. If the only thing you are yelling is "BOOK NOW!" you are not distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of other websites that are doing the exact same thing. You have to do better.Diversify your calls to action. Ask visitors to interact with you in other ways. Maybe your guest is still researching their options, trying to understand your location and value proposition. Make it easy for them to contact you by requiring very limited information in your contact form. "Give us your name and email, and we'll get right back to you." Help with the journey first, and the odds of them booking with you go up tremendously.Pro Tip: The number of questions asked in a contact form is inversely proportional to the number of people who will fill out that form and convert.10. Bad Booking EnginesBooking engines deserve their own very special usability article, which I will get to in the near future. For now, know this: For your guest, the booking engine is a part of your website. They do not know or care that you are renting this cart from a provider that has been making booking engines since 1989, or from a guy in his garage in Seattle. When you confuse your visitors with a bad booking experience, you are doing two things:Tanking all the marketing budget you spent to drive this person to your websiteTraining them not to waste time with you, and instead use an Online Travel Agent that lets them book a room more efficientlyYour website is your storefront. There is NO point to having all the great photography, content, ambience, and offerings...and then a broken cash register at the end of the experience.ConclusionYes, make a beautiful website! It should be modern, aesthetically pleasing, inviting, and show off your property. But also remember to avoid the pitfalls I have highlighted above. Start making your website perform better. It's hard to remember that these small things can matter more than the expensive design things, but do not give in to marketing peer pressure. Usability beats trends. Make sure your most profitable revenue channel is more than just a pretty face. Stay Woke.
Article by Vikram Singh

Super Metrics for Hotel Marketing & Online Revenue Optimization

Vikram Singh ·16 June 2016
Analytics metrics have evolved over the past few years. In my last article, I discussed the dinosaur metrics that have fallen in value since the last mass extinction event. Since online marketing and digital advertising are rapidly changing, looking at outdated metrics can allow you to be completely blindsided in regards to your online revenue and profitability.In this article, I cover the five super metrics that now dominate the analytics and marketing world. These metrics have been around forever but are more relevant today than ever. These metrics have always been are near and dear to my heart - this is not just an infatuation. They have helped me evaluate and transform hotel assets worth over $1B. So grab your cape. Let's dive into the future.#1: Bounce RateBounce rate has been one of my personal favorites since 1999. This metric will tell you explicitly whether your design, content, navigation and marketing are working for you. It's my ultimate reality check metric.According to Wikipedia, bounce rate "represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave ("bounce") rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site."My personal definition for bounce rate is the failure to get your website visitor to perform any action on your website. In the case of hotel/travel websites, that action is not necessarily limited to booking. You can expect a visitor to do a number of things, including: sign up for your newsletter, check dates and rates, read blog posts, browse your photo gallery, watch a video tour, etc.As with all super metrics, you must segment and dig deeper to get the best outcome and insights. You can segment your bounce rate by Source, such as:Google AdWordsGoogle DisplayFacebookDirect Traffic"Bulk data generates reports. Segmentation generates insights."- Vikram SinghWhat's a good bounce rate? Great question. For hotel and travel websites, anything over 40% deserves scrutiny. One exception is a blog, where most people will read your landing page and be done. But, dig deeper. How many of the bounced visitors are already subscribed to your list? Did you have a call to action on your blog post? Context is king, y'all.Here are some of the key culprits behind a high bounce rate:Bad website/landing page design. High bounce should help you look beyond the high fives your team gave each other when your new website launched. Design conversation needs to move beyond colors, rainbows and unicorns on your home page. Your content and layout need to lead visitors to take action.Bad navigation. Bad navigation is one of the leading causes of visitor confusion. Somewhere along the way we had an unfortunate invasion by the hamburger button. Today, many hotel websites are using it for vanity; it looks cute and doesn't interfere with their mood-setting photography. However, if visitors cannot navigate to the content they are looking for, they will be bouncing off your cute website. You know the thing about making your website visitors feel stupid... they start to feel the same way about you.Slow load times. Not since Tom Cruise mentioned it in Top Gun have your website visitors have had such a strong need... a need for speed! Load time for your website cannot be over four seconds on the very high end of the spectrum. Slow load time is one of the top reasons for high bounce rates. There is a whole section in Google Analytics where you can monitor this and stay on top. Log in and start exploring.*Pro tip: Don't test load times from the work laptop, desktop, or mobile device where you regularly view your website. Test from a random device to avoid the cookie monster.#2: Average Order Value/Lifetime ValueThis is a critical super metric that gives you good insight into how much your website is producing for you per visitor.Average Order Value = Total Revenue / Number of ReservationsThis metric is extremely helpful when you are trying to figure out ways to reduce visitor churn. It also helps you identify and reach out to better-performing segments with your inbound marketing efforts. Even better, you can start to figure out the average lifetime value of your guests, who may book with you several times over the course of a year.Running specials in your low demand period? Adding a new restaurant? Renovations? Service upgrades? Knowing the average order value and average lifetime value of your guests will help you reach out to your most valuable guest segments first. TripAdvisor cannot be the only source for news and information about your hotel. Identify your most loyal guests and talk to them regularly.#3: Custom GoalsNothing is more painful for an analytics fan like me than hearing people say that the only website metric they care about is tracked ROI. Nothing else matters. (You know, the Gordon Gekko types.)In fact, tracked revenue is a small part of what you need to be looking at when deciding on your marketing budgets. Last click attribution models will show quick gains, but won't account for changes in the market (sometimes big ones). Examples include a new hotel opening, airline pattern changes, a drop in your user review score, etc.The smartest people in marketing and analytics are looking at the bigger picture. Instead of staring hard at the bottom of the funnel, pay attention to the other actions visitors take on your website, such as:Contact form submissions. What were the top questions visitors asked about the hotel? Were they interested in weddings? Food & Beverage? Meetings?Video watching. What videos were played on the website, and at what point were they paused/abandoned? (Yes,Google Analytics tracks videos /events.)Newsletter/blog/email signups. These are the guys who are interested, and likely to do business with you more than once in their lifetime.Set custom goals for each micro action you want your visitors to take, and watch what happens. You'll quickly find out what's working, what's not, and which visitors are the ones you want to attract and keep.#4: Website Conversion RateThis is a powerful metric that tells you what percentage of your website visitors actually put money in your pocket. Simple, right? No. Because most marketing managers quote their booking engine conversion rate as their website conversion rate, and that is a problem.Important: In order to get this metric right, your booking engine must be connected to your website analytics software. No connection = No conversion data.True story:Once during a pitch meeting with a hotel group in Santa Barbara, my partner (who is a marketing Jedi) asked the hotel's ecommerce manager their website conversion rate. He did not know what that meant. Let's just say we did not win that contract. Or as kids these days say...Awkward!Not knowing the conversion rate is one thing. Telling people that your website is converting at 14% is much more dangerous. When I hear super high numbers like that, I know that someone is quoting:a) Booking engine conversion rate = how many visitors got into the booking engine versus how many checked outAnd not the ...b) Website conversion rate = how many people visited your website and then clicked into the booking engine and thenchecked outQuoting someone a 14% overall conversion rate means you are breaking all the rules of Internet Physics! High fives may occur... but do not expect a call from MIT or CalTech.Conversion rate is a Boss Metric. Basically, if you can move this number up by a few percentage points, you'll see a massive change in your overall revenue. By converting more of your total visitors on the website, you are multiplying all of your marketing and advertising investments!#5: Booking Engine & Website AbandonmentWe have just covered some rock star metrics. ...but booking engine/website abandonment is like a shot of adrenalin administered straight to your bank account. All you Pulp Fiction fans know what I am talking about. That scene with John Travolta and Uma Thurman flashes in front of my eyes every time I think of the power of Abandonment Rate. Let me elaborate, starting with the definition.Abandonment Rate = Abandoned Bookings* / Total Bookings Initiated(*Abandoned Bookings = Bookings Initiated [?] Bookings Completed)So, why is this such a powerful metric? There are two specific reasons:No other metric can have a faster and more positive direct impact on your revenue.It involves fixing just a few steps in your final checkout process. It does not require an elaborate audit and a corporate committee to figure out what to do.Now there is a scary reason why this is not talked about more in the hospitality business: the majority of hotels are running one of many conversion-poor booking engines. To make matters worse, these engines are deployed across thousands of hotels. Any customization to help you reduce your abandonment rate is going to be deeply frowned upon.You can always take your abandonment rate optimization game to a new level. Here are some ideas on segmenting your abandonment rate. Try segmenting by source:AdWordsGoogle DisplayFacebook AdsDirect TrafficAnd by product:Room TypePackage TypeRate TypeThis segmentation will help you get insights into which visitors (from what sources) abandon the booking process. This allows you to check any messaging and rate issues that are causing them to leave. As you analyze, please know that there are always rate shoppers hitting your website to find the best rate, and they might leave the booking engine to just to confirm elsewhere out of habit. You are looking for the details, not bulk numbers.The solution is not to sign up for a software to send automatic emails to people who left the booking engine after leaving their contact info. Maybe their boss walked in asking about the missing cover sheet on the TPS report. The real reason for doing this analysis is to find out where the revenue bleed exists.ConclusionAnalytics is rapidly evolving; the metrics that mattered just a few years ago are obsolete. Google and Facebook are brawling for online marketing dollars, and those are things you cannot control. What you can do is reject the ridiculous post mortem style monthly report that is filled with data but no insights. Instead, start getting your hands dirty by digging into your own open source website and analytics program. Embrace Google Analytics and start looking for information and insights that will bring you more revenue. Armed with these powerful Super Metrics, you can become a hero by increasing your hotel's profitability and revenue.

Dinosaur Metrics Are Taking a Bite Out of Your Hotel Marketing Performance

Vikram Singh · 5 May 2016
Marketing is evolving as I am typing this sentence. I'm here to make sure you are not wasting your time, energy and marketing budgets by focusing on outdated metrics. Many of the metrics you're using have become irrelevant because of the seismic change in how people are researching and booking travel today. If you are still measuring what does not matter, you will end up getting blindsided. Don't let a false sense of security, or an unwillingness to change, cost you market share and revenue.Outdated Online Marketing MetricsTrafficMeasuring straight up year-over-year traffic is a quick way to lead yourself into the land of confusion. Because of the way Google has personalized the heck out of their search engine, those massive droves of online visitors that used to reach your website are now:Finding the information they need in the Google universe (Google Hotel Finder, Google Flights, etc)Seeing their own version of Google based on their browsing history, their click-thru history, and the retargeting associated with their Gmail accounts. Basically, they are not seeing universal results, which used to result in massive traffic numbers.Over the past several years, I have seen a decline in website traffic across the board in hotels and travel. The way people are moving across devices throughout the day, coupled with their growing concerns about privacy, means it's getting harder to track them. Don't worry: those wanting to sell you ads are working hard on a solution. But conversion and engagement metrics, not traffic, need to be center stage.Childish Gambino sums it up: "Yeah, you got some silverware, but really are you eating though?"Keyword RankingThe personalization of search engines that I highlighted above directly affects another popular favorite from the days of old timey marketing: the beloved Keyword Ranking report. Back in the day, you know pre-2005, you could really hang your hat on this one. Rankings meant traffic, and traffic converted. Ah, the good old days! Today you are paying someone to dominate a list of keywords as part of SEO. You might as well burn cash to stay warm. Read these articles instead to learn how SEO has evolved, and why 'pay to play' is the new (old) king.Meaningful content and website expansion have replaced keyword rankings. Looking at the Top 10 Keywords report in 2016 is like looking at a newspaper from 2005 to predict the weather today.Email Open RateBragging about the size of your email database is so last decade. The more relevant question is: how many segments or groups do you have within your database? Male vs. Female? USA vs. International? City vs. State? Sending massive email blasts without any segmentation is a sure shot way to get ignored/unsubscribed. Your content is key and needs to be segmented to succeed. Here's an example of an email campaign that is WAY too broad, and therefore destined to fail.You can beat your competition by embracing the power of segmentation. Like search engines, email systems also are not doing what they used to do back in the day: the good ol' pixel-based tracking. One of the biggest email clients (Gmail) does not open image emails by default, which singlehandedly derails the "opened" metric. Anyway, sending emails like the one above does not help, even if they register as opened. I may have opened the email, but I will not sift through 100+ deals to find what I need, thanks. I have Google/Expedia for that!Social Likes, Shares, FollowersStill counting Likes? Followers? Well, you can stop doing that. Neither of these things is anything more than a suggestion that someone might pay attention to you. For hotels and travel, this is where discussion is a better KPI (Key Performance Indicator) than the number of likes, retweets, and shares. A discussion can be an online interaction on social media, a phone call, or an email exchange. These interactions can take place during the trip planning phase, at the property during the stay/event, or post stay. All of those activities mean more than clicking on a Like button.Social media is not the place to be broadcasting a message and expecting to get revenue. I fondly remember the days when agencies could make money by adding a "BOOK NOW" link on Facebook! But that didn't last long. Today you need to look at the level of discussion you are having online. So, have you engaged your customers? What content have you produced that they should care about? These are the real questions to ask.Pro Tip: Look at Insights section of your Facebook page. Go here to see your Twitter situation: http://analytics.twitter.com.ConclusionTravel is one of the most competitive segments online. You have to up your analytics game if you want to stay relevant. Pats on the back and high fives for outdated metrics are bad for your profitability (and your street cred). It's always a great time to update your online marketing metrics to stay competitive. In my next post, I will cover the exciting metrics that actually drive your profitability. Stay tuned, stay woke!

Dinosaur Metrics Are Taking a Bite Out of Your Hotel Marketing Performance

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)· 3 May 2016
Marketing is evolving as I am typing this sentence. I’m here to make sure you are not wasting your time, energy and marketing budgets by focusing on outdated metrics. Many of the metrics you’re using have become irrelevant because of the seismic change in how people are researching and booking travel today. If you are still measuring what does not matter, you will end up getting blindsided. Don’t let a false sense of security, or an unwillingness to change, cost you market share and revenue.

Do You Really Need a Separate Brand for Millennials?

Vikram Singh · 1 March 2016
Almost every other week, there is an article about how hotels are trying to "embrace" the Millennial traveler. Basically, anyone born from the 1980s to the early 2000s is in this group. It's everyone's new favorite generation to talk about in the hospitality and travel marketing realm. But are they really that different from the rest of us? Do they "Tru-ly" need their own brands?The Brand ApproachAll the big brands seem to be in a rush to get the Millennials' dollars and build loyalty with them. Their solution so far has been large-scale branding. For a large hotel company, the biggest reason to launch a new brand is to create a new concept for more investors and owners to invest in. That is the prime objective. Besides, you know that there are only so many similar Hilton/Wyndham/Marriott-owned brands that can exist in the same city. A new brand is so much easier to sell to owners and investors because you will be the 'first'. But is this really the best approach from a marketing standpoint?Smaller independent hoteliers are having much better luck with Millennials. Why is this happening? Well, where do I start... Oh yes, let's start with the concept of having a Hotel Brand. In the old Mad Men days of building a brand, there were concepts, meetings, Scotch, and then after-work drinks. Et voila! A brand was born, and everyone involved made a lot of money. Ah, the days before social media and alcohol-free workplaces. Constant connectivity, sharing, and reviews now let the customers (old and new) decide what you are, instead of relying the drawing board you made up in a Madison Avenue office.Creating a large brand is not the best way to get attention from people who cherish small-scale uniqueness and value over gimmicks. Let's see how this plays out in Hilton's latest branding effort.Tru Video BreakdownHilton recently overcame superstition and launched its 13th brand, called Tru. I see what they did there...took out the E in True. #innovationHere's what I learned from their marketing materials. Apparently, the new travelers like to work on a laptop in their tuxedo jackets and boxer shorts:Now I present to you... the brand essence video.In case you don't have the time or patience to watch the whole video, here's a quick recap:Bam Bam Bam, Wow Wow Wow. Fun Fab Fit. Now Now Now Now, Yum, Mmm.OMG. Is all I could come up with when I was done watching it. You can decide for yourself.This new brand is targeting those with a "Millennial mindset" who want (and I quote): "a brand that is simplified, spirited and grounded in value, filling a massive void in the midscale category in the U.S. and Canada. Built from a belief that being cost-conscious and having a great stay don't have to be mutually exclusive, Tru by Hilton offers an experience unlike anything in its space, consistently delivered in a surprisingly affordable way."According to Hilton, no brand is meeting the Millennial's needs at the midscale price point. Which is really odd, because there are so many midscale independents out there providing a very good price/location/service value.Just looking at their top three big chain competitors, here are several examples of Millennial-themed midscale hotels:Hyatt: Hyatt PlaceStarwood: Element and AloftMarriott: Moxy, Courtyard Residence (And, by the way, have you seen how much fun people staying @ Marriott Residence are having according to this TV spot: Take Over the Town at Residence Inn?)Tru Features BreakdownThese are the "innovative features" Tru by Hilton offers the traveling Millennial (in their own words):No Desk in the RoomThe Hive - A first floor experience that's more than a lobby - 2,770 square feet of open space with unique ways for guests to engage with others or spend time alone, in one of four distinct zones for lounging, working, eating or playing. (Obviously, nobody on the marketing team saw the Resident Evil movie or played the video game before selecting this name.)The Play Zone - Filled with table games, a large-screen TV (featuring DIRECTV), and tiered, stadium-inspired seating.Command Center - A re-envisioned front desk - featuring a social media wall with real-time content to foster engagement among guests, and a 24/7 market offering fun snacks and refreshments, single-serve wine and beer, healthy light meal options, and sundries for purchase.Complimentary Breakfast - "Build Your Own" breakfast consisting of a toppings bar with 30 sweet and savory items allowing guests to customize bagels, donuts, Greek yogurt, and oatmeal to satisfy their taste buds and cravings.Rooms - Smart and efficiently designed guest rooms full of the things that matter most - all-white comfortable platform beds, 55'' TVs, eight-foot wide windows, access to power everywhere, and surprisingly spacious bathrooms.Fitness Center - Defines wellness trends, rather than follows them, with a concept focused on cardio, strength and flexibility. (Say what?)Free WiFi & Mobile Key - (good)Free DIRECTV - (good)Cleaning - Rooms and linens cleaned with P&G Professionaltm products (NYSE: PG), including Tide(r) Professionaltm, Swiffer(r) Professionaltm and Febreze(r) Professionaltm to help enhance the guest experience and drive operational efficiencies. (Hmmmm, ok?)True Features Breakdown1. No Desk [?] Automatically Millennial Cool. Somewhere it got established that not having a desk makes a hotel room Millennial-friendly. But people have been using desks for activities other than just working for quite some time now and that is not going to change. Also, the Tru infographic clearly has the tuxedo guy working on his laptop; so is he working in his boxer shorts somewhere outside the room?2. There is such a thing as a Free Breakfast. Their direct competitors like Aloft, Hyatt Place, etc, offer this already. Unless there is a regional/local twist, it really does not help you stand out.3. No More Three-Letter Words. Bam. Fun. Fab. Fit. Now Now Yum. Littered all over the hotel lobby carpet. How about NOT. Educated Millennials have a decent vocabulary. Just because they use bae, woke and lit does not mean they are going to be impressed with your three-letter words. This may have worked in focus groups on which hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent. But to me it feels a little over the top.ConclusionIt was time for Hilton to come with something to put up against the other brands in the midscale category. However, their hyper-Millennial(ized) marketing is more than a little phony; it will not resonate with a generation seeking uniqueness and local experiences. The essence video is a bit embarrassing for me to watch, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Millennials don't want to feel like they're a cheesy subset of society. They chase value as much as any other demographic would. Tru(e) dat. (Thud. Drop mike.)

Do You Really Need a Separate Brand for Millennials?

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·23 February 2016
Almost every other week, there is an article about how hotels are trying to “embrace” the Millennial traveler. Basically, anyone born from the 1980s to the early 2000s is in this group. It’s everyone’s new favorite generation to talk about in the hospitality and travel marketing realm. But are they really that different from the rest of us? Do they “Tru-ly” need their own brands?

Marriott's Acquisition of Starwood: Winners and Losers

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·16 December 2015
Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood is great news for investors, but unfortunately not for Starwood hotel guests and employees. The quote that sums up the reasoning behind this deal came from Starwood Chairman Bruce Duncan. “We are committed to what is best for shareholders.” Notice that employees and guests are not mentioned. This is because they are not the focus of the consolidation. Industry consolidation is aimed at increasing investors’ profits or killing a competitor in the industry. With this deal, Marriott is hitting both those key points. When a deal like this is made, the numbers have been run and re-run hundreds of times. Everything must look good on paper, first and foremost. Banks and investors are going to be the clear winners in this deal.
Article by Singh Vikram

Hotel Brands' Struggle to Understand Airbnb: The IHG Edition

Vikram Singh · 8 October 2015
When I'm on Twitter, I'm usually catching up on some of my favorite comedians (mostly comediennes) and posting my own material. But every now and then, some non-comedic items capture my attention. This live tweet caught my eye on September 30.Sean McCracken* with Hotel News Now posted this update from IHG's annual conference.*(Let's get our "release the kraken" jokes out of the way. I bet he hears them a lot.)Wow. The "Solomons" referred to in the above tweet is not some mid-level manager at IHG trying to shake up the crowds. He is the Big Kahuna/CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group! At first I could not believe that the CEO of one of the biggest hotel brands in the world would go on stage at their annual conference and say something this ridiculous and detached from reality. Then I realized that he was engaging in the long-standing tradition of hotel brands building up a boogeyman to rally against. I will elaborate on this later.Solomons' comment also sums up the very reason why hotel brands today are struggling with the reality of the rapidly changing travel landscape. If this is the belief held by those on top, there is very little hope that the brands will manage to stay relevant in the near future.The Struggle Is RealInterestingly, IHG is one of the brands I often refer to when speaking about Airbnb and its impact on travel. The ex-CMO of IHG shocked me at a conference three years ago when he did not know what Airbnb was. They now have a new team in place, but the struggle continues.The fact that the CEO of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (aka, Wall Street; aka, the folks who brought us "Greed is Good" is calling Airbnb (unlisted) the product of "Silicon valley greed" is painfully ironic.The real kicker here is that Richard Solomons' bio comes straight out of the world of investment banking. To quote his Wikipedia page:"Solomons worked in investment banking with Hill Samuel Bank for seven years, including two years in New York. He worked for seven years in investment banking, based in London and New York. Solomons qualified as a chartered accountant with KPMG in 1985."Meanwhile, according to Wikipedia, the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, has a BFA in industrial design from the Rhode Island School of Design. And he was broke when he started Airbnb to make ends meet.This is usually my "drop the mike and walk away" moment. But since this is not a stage, I will keep writing.Hey Guys... How's Kimpton Doing?Brands have been notorious for creating a boogeyman when facing change. The past few years have been all about Online Travel Agents stealing their share. Now they have a new entity to blame for their issues: Airbnb.IHG's recent acquisition of Kimpton, which I wrote about here, is playing very much in line with my prediction. The brand that took years to build is succumbing to the giant shadow its new owner is casting. Case in point, the loss of key landmark Kimpton assets in San Francisco:Kimpton's single largest market was San Francisco, and they have now lost more than 75% of their presence. This is a much bigger threat to Kimpton than Airbnb and OTA's put together.So many of these iconic assets are getting renamed, losing the brand recognition that Kimpton employees built over so many years. I really hope Keane played "How to Save a Life Brand" at the IHG show.ConclusionHotel brand annual shows are squarely focused on hyping the brand, and that is understandable. What is not acceptable is to misinform your franchisees and owners about where the business of hospitality is heading. They are hungry for education and knowledge, not just their Pancake Selfies at the "Stack Station." Google it.

Hotel Brands' Struggle to Understand Airbnb: The IHG Edition

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)· 7 October 2015
When I'm� on Twitter, I'm usually catching up on some of my favorite comedians (mostly comediennes) and posting my own material. But every now and then, some non-comedic items capture my attention. This live tweet caught my eye on September 30. Sean McCracken* with Hotel News Now posted this update from� IHG's annual conference. *(Let's get our The post Hotel Brands' Struggle to Understand Airbnb: The IHG Edition appeared first on Words of Vikram.
Article by Vikram Singh

The End of Hotel Rate Parity: Much Ado About Nothing

Vikram Singh ·19 August 2015
The reactions to a scenario in which rate parity will not be required or enforced have ranged from "OMG! This is the greatest thing ever!" to "This will destroy the OTA's!" to the proverbial "Meh." Some industry veterans have declared it to be a "revolution" or - even worse - have employed one of my least favorite phrases in the English language - "game changer."I recommend putting jubilation on hold if you're anticipating the quick death of OTA's and the beginning of a new era of tremendous profitability for hotels. Some may believe that that the duopoly of Expedia Inc. and Priceline Inc. were built on the simple and magical hotel rate parity clause, and that they will perish without it. In response, I'd like to offer a gentle reminder:The market cap of these companies as I wrote this article today:Expedia Inc. - $15.87 billionPriceline Inc. - $66.49 billion(Source: Yahoo Finance)The Myth of Hotel Rate Parity as an Obstacle to ProfitabilityRate parity agreements put in place by OTA's were never fully implemented by independent hotels. The complex distribution structure of an independent hotel operating in the real world made it impossible. Brand hotels have probably done a better job at implementing rate parity across their thousands of hotels. Even then, rate parity is just not that easy to implement and control.Smart asset owners and managers devoted very little time to this clause in their OTA contract. Instead they focused on getting the most out of the OTA's and building their direct revenue. On the opposite end of the spectrum were people who ran around in circles worrying about maintaining parity like it was life and death. Just recently I had to console a very concerned Director of Sales who would freak out every time he looked at the rate plan, yelling "What about rate parity?"Rate parity is, and never will be, a "gun to the head" for hotel revenue managers or owners. Rate parity has not prevented independent assets from building direct revenue, nor does its demise automatically supercharge their revenue. I've worked on asset turnarounds totaling over $1.5 billion over the last decade; rate parity has never once been a factor that kept us from reaching our revenue goal.It's actually pretty simple. Hotel and lodging business managers who have not 100% outsourced their reading, learning and critical thinking are profitable today, and will stay profitable when the rate parity clauses go away. Rate parity, whether it's in place or not, doesn't override the many other important decisions that drive profit.This Changes Everything... Not.Some people are so excited about this development, they tout it like it's the beginning of a phenomenal new age in travel and distribution. This is not the launch of the iPod, iPhone or i iPad, and we are not at the Apple developer conference.Rate parity was not holding you back from taking control of your distribution and profitability. A new channel manager software is born every week. You always had the power to set your distribution priorities, and you will still have that power in the future.The fact remains that if you still have not convinced your guests that your own website is the best place to book, it's a failure of your online marketing and distribution strategy. Giving so much power to an OTA, and a clause in their contracts, is the very reason a lot of hotels are struggling today to build direct revenue. That, and the fact that their marketing department does not really do any work but totally excels at "vendor management."Controlling and Contributing to the Travel CycleThe OTA duopoly of Expedia and Priceline has been actively focusing on owning the travel cycle. From planting an idea (inception), to research (content), rate search (metasearch), transportation, things to do, and loyalty points and rewards.To think of rate parity as the pillar on which the OTA's have built their revenue and profitability is flawed. The key to their success is their unflagging commitment to investing online, which is where people are researching, dreaming and shopping travel. In complete contrast, a Hotel Brand's # 1 prime objective is to build the "brand" to collect brand licensing fees. That's the revenue that impacts their share price.Controlling and contributing to the travel cycle has never been part of the brand hotel's master plan. Hiring expensive ad agencies to stay current with the latest marketing fad seems to be the modus operandi for most of them. You see, perception rules everything around them. It's never online revenue or their guests' ever-expanding needs, you know, like fast and free WiFi.Smart hospitality asset owners recognize that their guests' needs are basic and evolving at the same time. They are creating their own brand loyalty by doing more for their guests and ensuring repeat business via engagement.Looking Beyond Hotel Rate Parity GamesInstead of worrying about parity, extreme channel management tools, and data overload, how about you shift focus to the guest and their travel cycle? Just like the OTA's. Here are some things that should be happening in your hospitality business right now:Diversification The guest and their travel cycle needs to be your focus. Diversify your efforts and instead of just thinking of them when they are ready to book a room, think of them in different stages of their travel from their home to your hotel. As the asset owner/manager even with all the online tools available to them - You can still can solve a lot of issues for your guests and build a relationship with them beyond "Book Now" button. This relationship ensures that they take your word for the Best Rate Guarantee and book direct with you irrespective of where they are researching airfare, activities and transportation.Using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Tool Every hotel today has some sort of a CRM system, but very few actually use it. Nameless, faceless throwing of room keys at your guests at the front desk has to stop. Reaching out to your guests (establishing a relationship) and then staying in touch (relationship management) has to start.Robots will not build relationships (unless you are watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Not staying in touch and not keeping track of your guests drives them to channels that offer a better travel experience and better support. Hotels that truly connect with their guests, and provide what their guests crave (information, support, service, appreciation) are the ones who will continue to build profitability.ConclusionHotel parity is another red herring preventing you from truly building your hotel's long-term profitability. Even if hotel rate parity were to disappear overnight, thousands of hotel CRM tools would still be collecting dust. Sales Directors would still be outsourcing strategy and marketing to agencies who service hundreds of clients, including their own competitors. Hotel websites would still lack fresh content, and offer guests a substandard booking experience. Your front desk staff would still not recognize loyal guests, and would still fail to encourage them to spend more at your hotel via special dining or activity promotions. Need I go on?If you are obsessed with rate, you are bound to neglect a lot of important work that needs to be done. You can quote me when I say, " If you live by the rate, you die by the rate."

Your Marketing Focus Must Shift To Hotel Value Over Price

Words of Vikram (By Vikram Singh)·28 July 2015
It's amazing how much time and energy gets poured into The post Your Marketing Focus Must Shift To Hotel Value Over Price appeared first on Words of Vikram.
Article by Vikram Singh

Shift Your Marketing Focus From Price to Value

Vikram Singh · 7 July 2015
Now, where is the value report? You see, identifying your competition based on the size of your bed and the bathroom sink is an idea that is past its prime.Boutique hotels (a term that needs to be retired) are a good example of how to look beyond pricing and instead put forth a unique personality and guest experience. They took the time to define who they were. Many were able to create a unique identity and following.Any hotel can do this if they make the effort (unless a brand is calling the shots). Here are some suggestions on how to shift your focus toward providing value to guests.Don't Get Dragged Into the Price WarA lot of the traditional independent hotels under pressure from stakeholders have turned to price-level competition. When your biggest USP is your price, then that is all that you will be judged on. A lower room rate becomes your only significant offering. But the guest you are targeting has a goal: to keep searching the internet for an ever lower rate.Pricing is a shortsighted play. If you are looking for long-term profitability, you need to look at the value your are providing to your guests. Taking the time to educate your guests can make all the difference in value perception, allowing you to charge more for your rooms.Better Perception = Better Price = Better Profits.Be YourselfJust last week I saw an email from the Director of Sales for a small, no-name hotel asset in the middle of nowhere. He wanted his website to look like that of the Four Seasons or Jumeriah Hotels - both super high-end luxury products. This kind of reality/website mismatch often happens often when decision-makers start to view their hotel's website as an extension of their own ego. But take note: a fancier website won't make your hotel better (or make you better either).Your value as a hotel is in being who you really are. There are independent hotels with their own unique offerings, and there are cookie-cutter brand hotels. Every time a property tries to be something it's not, it ends badly: with disappointed guests, bad reviews, and falling revenue numbers. Lying about your value is actually worse than not showing any value. So please keep it real and check your ego at the door.Step up and embrace who you are. If your value is authentic, it will be your best competitive edge, and won't be easily replicated.Segment or Go HomeThe first step to segmentation is accepting that your hotel/lodging product is not a good fit for everyone, and that it's OK. The next step is knowing which guests are a good fit. Before embarking on an expensive capital expenditure, or shelling out marketing dollars on a "branding" agency, ask yourself who your target audience should be. No one should be better qualified to answer this question than you.I am not just talking about who is checking into your hotel today. Who will be checking into your hotel in the next 10-15 years? Who do you want them to be? Are those the people you are targeting? You can't relate well to anyone unless you narrow down your focus. Pretending to be all things to all people is impossible. That's when things gets complicated and you start to use price as a flotation device.Leverage Your Location and StorySimple test. Get your friends to walk up to your hotel's front desk and ask, "Why should I be staying at this hotel"? What they hear might surprise you. Many times what they hear from your own staff has never been mentioned on your website or in your value pitch.What's your frequency, Kenneth? Do you have a story to tell? Does your hotel's location (city, neighborhood, building) have a story? This is what you should be telling your guests online and in person.A good story helps with value perception and is generally reflected in your online reviews. Start training your guests to leave the reviews that you want them to. Don't wait until after the fact; you have a first-mover advantage that you need to hit. Show your guests - from their first interaction with your website through their last interaction with your staff - what makes you unique. Sometimes your company history can be an important part of your story: why you are in the hospitality business and what your philosophy is. Whatever your story is, keep it consistent and keep it coming.You also have to own your location. Be the expert on your surrounding area. Know where your guests should dine nearby, and what attractions they should visit. Answer as many questions about your location as you can on your website. Let them know before they even book how to get there from the airport and how long it will take. Where they can find the nearest playground or opera house or monument. How far ahead they need to book their theater tickets. Make yourself the local expert, and guests will want to stay with you.I know everyone has a smartphone, but your guests are still looking for a human touch (cue in Bruce Springsteen).Have Confidence in Your Product and RateIf the only way you can highlight your product is by lowering your price, then you will always be struggling to compete. Anytime a hotel resorts to selling rooms for $7, the value lost is irreplaceable.When you get your guests to the booking stage and are about to get money in your account, do it with conviction. Matching your price to your value is a cycle that needs to take place on every page of your website and lead all the way into the booking engine.Highlight your property's features and what you bring to the table. One Golden Rule is not to speak poorly about the competition. The minute you spend any time discussing the competition, you have already lost the sale.Emphasize Your Human TouchOne way you market your product is to mention the high thread count sheets, fancy toiletries, fast WiFi, and other bells and whistles. But everyone has sheets and shampoo. Your competition is providing some variation of the same amenities. Even though their version of linens or WiFi might be a few levels above or below you, this is hard for your guests to understand and truly differentiate. And, in the end, it probably won't be the thing that makes their stay exceptional. Guests who write the best TripAdvisor reviews talk about how well they were treated, how welcome they felt, or how a hotel staffer saved the day when some misfortune happened.The example I like to give is of two Starbucks at opposite ends of the street. Everyone has a favorite location. Even though the product is the same, it's the people that makes the difference.People prefer to give their business to someone who cares about them. This is where your human workforce comes into play. It's your greatest differentiating factor, and you should use it at every opportunity.ConclusionRunning any form of a lodging operation means:You are competing globally with people who can outspend and outmarket youYour business is going to be seasonal.Your guests are willing to pay more for a product they think has a special or significant value. If you present your product to them in just the right way, the revenue is yours to take. Pricing is short-term; it will let you win a few battles. Establishing value, on the other hand, is the only way to win the war.

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