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Why do companies give up on customer service as they grow?

Everyone experiences second-rate service from a trustworthy brand at some point. Some recent examples of large brands plagued with a reputation for poor service include wireless service providers, airlines, auto manufacturers and Internet service providers. One need only look at Twitter feeds to see the angst that their customers are feeling. In the airline industry, United Airlines seems to be getting the brunt of customer complaints and media coverage as of late due to the infamous dragging of a passenger from one of their flights that went viral. Now, they are once again in crisis management mode because a United employee tried to wrestle an 18th-century violin away from a passenger who wanted to carry on the rare and valuable violin but was being forced to check it in.

Apart from the odd exception, top brands are not able to retain their status as market leaders as long as they used to. As companies grow, they try their best to ensure that service standards are maintained at the highest levels possible. However, in the long run, a decline in quality of either products or customer service is one of the greatest risks. There are many reasons for this degradation. When companies shift more focus on cost savings, they may consider outsourcing offshore to cut costs. Also, as hospitality management evolves, companies that develop software may have employees that are not up to speed on the latest variations made to the software. This all but ensures they will short on helping their clients with technical issues. Large companies can also become constrained by the fragmented departments and processes they put in place to streamline operations, but these processes can backfire and actually slow down responsiveness. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, McKinsey claimed that disloyalty is caused by a lack of understanding of the various touch points rather than by customer dissatisfaction with a single interaction.

It takes a long time to steer a big ship

In the hotel technology industry, some big companies have experienced declines in service because they have not been able to adapt to change quickly enough. Their infrastructure is aging quickly. We live in a world of instant gratification. For a software company in the hospitality space, the delivery of reliable, knowledgeable service and support is paramount to building a successful business. Software that runs a hotel or connects a hotel to its guest needs to be working at all times. When something does occur that inhibits the software from performing correctly, there can be no delays in a resolution to the issue. Smaller hotel technology brands can be more agile, modern and responsive.

Domain expertise makes all the difference

The people on the front lines of hotel software service and support not only need to have exceptional knowledge of the software in varied configurations, but they also need be specialists on how the hotel business works. They need to be able to identify if the issue is of an operational nature or related to the technology itself. Without an adequate background and understanding of the complexities of our industry – service, and support can quickly fall apart. One survey discussing customer dissatisfaction states that a whopping 91% of its respondents complained about customer service because they had to contact the same company several times before their problem was resolved. Regardless of industry, exceeding customer expectations requires the right mix of personal service, quality interactions, and first-call resolution.

It is time that customer service returned to its roots

With customer service often being a key differentiator, companies cannot settle for declining service levels, especially in the hotel industry as high touch service is the hallmark of our business. The first step for hotel technology providers to stay on track is to determine what constitutes superior customer service, and learn how to deliver it. The next step is to be aware of industry trends and new technologies that emerge as they impact not only on the industry, but they also impact software with issues like new integration requirements, compliance and more. Finally, companies should always plan for success rather than planning for failure. If you plan for success, you will be able to ramp up your support services to address the growth of your company and thus be able to meet the needs of your customers.

No matter how big or small our companies may be, as software providers, we are part of the service value chain right down to each and every guest. By providing excellent service to hotels – we enable them to provide exceptional service to their guests. Hotel software companies need to maintain the highest levels of support to ensure that their technology does not negatively impact hotel operations or their ability to exceed guest expectations.


How to deal with bad online reviews

The online component of owning a restaurant is the single biggest change in the restaurant industry over the past ten years. Websites that encourage guests to post reviews and feedback, like Yelp, Urban Spoon, and Open Table, have grown exponentially and are very influential for many potential guests. This is the case anywhere, but especially so in cities dominated by transient guests and out-of-towners, who are more likely to be swayed by online restaurant reviews.

The frequency with which potential guests read online feedback about restaurants before making decisions means that it’s essential to manage a business’s online reputation. In fact, this trend has spawned a new parasitic sub-industry – online reputation management. Few restaurants have the time or inclination to pay someone to manage an online reputation. But bad online reviews can be costly, inaccurate, and influential. The collection of a few of them – especially when they repeat the same message – is a serious red flag to many guests.

Restaurant managers have to tackle bad reviews like they do most everything in this business – by getting out in front of the problem. A few tips for dealing with bad reviews online:

Pay Attention

It’s worthwhile to make spending time on review websites a once-a-week routine. It’s imperative to know what people are saying about you, whether it’s good or bad. This is especially true in the restaurant business, governed as it is by subjective standards and emotional responses.

Google Alerts is a good option for any restaurant, because it will send reports on any online content covering your business. It’s also worthwhile to maintain a Facebook page, which offers guests the chance to post feedback and reviews. Some bad reviews are essentially meaningless, such as a negative comment on the hostess’s wardrobe or the ice content in the daiquiris. But some undermine a core product of a restaurant – like a critique of the steaks at a steakhouse. It’s essential to know these exist, and to spend time learning how to find them.

Respond to Your Guests

Dialogue with guests about their experiences demonstrates that you care, and that you’re responsive to feedback and criticisms. It shows that you don’t hide from problems and you value input. Most people recognize these traits as the foundation of a good business owner, even when they’re response to a bad online review.

Bad reviews don’t have to be followed up with a treatise on good taste and decorum (as can be found on some review websites – it’s worth a look). Instead, follow-ups should be succinct and fact-based. They should be the product of some background work into the specific problem and your work to resolve it. They’re strictly positive, and grateful toward the guest (easier said than done, I know).

It’s also worthwhile to thank guests for positive feedback, online and in personal correspondence. Email discounts or offers to people who give feedback is a great and simple way to win a lifelong customer.

Post Your Own Reviews

Is it ethical? Probably not. Does it save you a huge headache? Yes. Getting a known fan of your restaurant to post a review takes the spotlight away from mediocre reviews, especially when they’re listed first on a review site. The internet culture reduces attention spans, making the top couple of reviews on most sites essential.

It’s also important to leverage Facebook and Twitter in this way, perpetuating positive reviews, special events, and discounts. This is what online reputation management enterprises do.

The Online Game

It’s important to remember that not all online reviews are bad. In fact, good reviews strung together on multiple websites offers the free advertising every business can use. Something about the restaurant industry motivates people to respond in writing. It’s worth it to remember the value that paying attention to those responses carries.


Marriott International combats homelessness among LGBTQ youth through #LoveTravels

In the United States, nearly four in ten American youths experiencing homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender*, and the number has been rising for the past decade. Marriott International, along with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt actor Tituss Burgess, True Colors Fund, Casa Ruby and social influencers Raymond Braun, Shannon Beveridge and Amber’s Closet, are inviting people everywhere to join the global #LoveTravels movement this week to spread awareness and stand in support of the LGBTQ homeless youth community by raising funds to combat this growing issue.

Marriott is dedicated to helping LGBTQ Homeless Youth

“Marriott created #LoveTravels four years ago to send a clear message that our company, including more than 6,100 properties in 124 countries and territories has a long-standing commitment to welcoming everyone,” said Apoorva Gandhi, Vice President of Multicultural Affairs, Marriott International. “This year, as the #LoveTravels movement grows, we are expanding our commitment to include support for Casa Ruby and True Colors Fund, two organizations dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youth that help ensure safe and reassuring homes and services so they may thrive.”

On Thursday, June 8 and Friday, June 9, ahead of Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., an art installation will rise in Freedom Plaza in support of LGBTQ homeless youth. Expressions of unconditional acceptance and love in the form of paintings, doodles, photographs and hand-written notes created in-person and on Twitter and Instagram tagged #LoveTravels and #MyPride will be brought to life on the collaborative #LoveTravels Mosaic.

How are they making a positive change?

Throughout the two days, celebrities, influencers and local personalities are scheduled to stop by to add their own expressions of love. In addition, seven Marriott properties, including Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront; The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City; Renaissance Sao Paulo Hotel; AC Hotel San Juan; Charlotte Marriott City Center; Moxy New Orleans and Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center, will hold ‘expression sessions’ to invite their guests to create and contribute their own pieces of art to be included in the global #LoveTravels Mosaic.

For every original submission created on site or tagged #LoveTravels and #MyPride on Twitter and Instagram, Marriott will donate to True Colors Fund and Casa Ruby. Working locally, Casa Ruby is the only bilingual multicultural LGBTQ organization providing lifesaving services and safe shelter to many of the most vulnerable transgender residents of Washington D.C. The True Colors Fund is working on a national level to end homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, creating a world in which all young people can be their true selves, and recently created the first ever True Innovation Fellowship, underwritten by Marriott. The fellowship will provide a young person the opportunity to participate in the development of technology solutions that address homelessness among LGBTQ youth.

Marriott unveiled the first glimpse of the #LoveTravels Mosaic in 2016 with contributions from Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, Ross Mathews and thousands of LGBTQ supporters from over 90 countries around the world. This year, actor/activist Tituss Burgess is joining the movement as official ambassador.

“As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, I am proud to stand with Marriott International in support of the True Colors Fund, Casa Ruby and everyone fighting to keep kids and young adults in need of help safe and warm,” said actor Tituss Burgess. “And as a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I am humbled and honored to join in the unveiling of the #LoveTravels Mosaic. It warms my heart to see people from around the world participating in such a powerful expression of love.”

Launched in 2014, #LoveTravels brings to life Marriott’s longstanding commitment to ensuring every person is valued and welcomed whenever they enter the doors of its hotels.  It serves as a platform for sharing diverse perspectives on the importance of travel, including those of Jason Collins, Geena Rocero, Tim Howard Angela Simmons, Diane Guerrero and Diego Boneta.  The cornerstone of Marriott’s culture is its ‘put people first’ philosophy coupled with its belief that everyone deserves a welcome.  Just weeks before marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide, #LoveTravels hosted the wedding of George Carrancho and Sean Franklin in Washington, DC’s Capital Pride Parade, with TV personality Ross Mathews as officiant.  The campaign has also raised donations for recent immigrants at the Open Arms Community Center in South Florida.

Want to learn more?

Liquitex, creators of the first water-based acrylic paints will be donating art supplies for the #LoveTravels Mosaic. To learn more or join the conversation, travelers can visit, follow #LoveTravels and @MarriottIntl on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Marriott International’s commitment to social impact and sustainability dates to our founding and our core value to “Serve Our World.” Through volunteerism, strategic partnerships, charitable giving, and lasting program development, we focus our efforts on social and environmental issues that affect our business, our communities, and our planet. We identify these issues as our Purpose Priorities: Protect the Environment, Advance Human Rights and Cultural Understanding, Empower through Opportunity and Build for the Future. In 2016 alone, Marriott provided over $28M in cash and in-kind support to its local communities, as well as over 720K hours of volunteerism. Awards and recognition for efforts over the years include Ethisphere’s Most Ethical Companies List, Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, Forbes’ Just 100: Best Corporate Citizens List, the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Tourism for Tomorrow Award for Sustainability” and a 100% Score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.


5 Hotel marketing tips for better Google search results

While bringing in website traffic certainly is one of Google’s most important functions, it’s not the only way hoteliers can leverage success from the search giant.

Google offers a variety of different services that can help hotel marketers expand their reach, increase online visibility, and ultimately improve their business – and better yet, they’re easy to implement and most won’t cost you a cent.

Below, we take a look at some simple and effective ways hoteliers can boost their brand with Google.

#1: Get listed on Google My Business

Google My Business (previously known as Google Places) is a must-have, free-to-use platform for hoteliers. It combines Google Search, Maps and Google Plus (also known as Google+) to help your hotel connect with potential guests by making it much easier for them to find you in an online search.

For example, people will very often use a blanket search term like ‘hotels in London’ when using Google, rather than searching for a specific hotel directly. And it goes without saying that when they do, you want to be among the hotels listed on the Google Maps and Google+ entries in the search feed – especially if the search is made in the nearby vicinity of your hotel.

A comprehensive Google My Business listing will ensure that:

  • Your hotel will be pushed much higher up Google’s search rankings
  • You’re able to make the booking process far easier for potential guests by uploading photos, videos, GPS coordinates, phone numbers and more
  • Reviews are also pulled through to your unique information feed displayed on the Map entry, or to the right of the search results page (also known as a Knowledge Graph or Card) – and if they’re positive, people will be more compelled to make a booking
  • Your listing will be linked to your Google Analytics page so you can monitor your traffic and popular page hits

It’s free to use, mobile friendly and allows you to upload multiple locations if you have more than one property in a city.

Simply visit Google My Business and follow the prompts to get the ball rolling. Managing multiple properties can get a little confusing, but luckily you can follow Google’s handy guide to simplify the process – check it out here.

#2: Update your Google+ pages

Google+ is Google’s very own social network that allows you to connect with other users who have the same interests and ideas. While the success of Google+ is often debated, its impact on your SEO, and the fact that it’s connected to your other Google features, makes it something worth paying attention to.

What you need to know:

  • Your Google+ page data forms part of your Google My Business listing, so make sure your information is up-to-date. It will add even more value to the Knowledge Graphs displayed in Google’s search listings
  • Google+ pages are good for your SEO (or organic search rankings)
  • Guests can submit reviews that users will see when searching your hotel or seeing your hotel featured in a knowledge graph
  • Remember: any information or posts you publish on your Google+ page will feature in Google’s search results so make sure it’s fresh and unique

After creating your Google My Business account in the point mentioned above, Google will automatically create a Google+ page for you. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you add text and images to your profile.

This is where it can get a little confusing. If you already had a Google+ page, adding a profile to Google My Business will create a duplicate Google+ account (which you don’t necessarily want). So to avoid that, if you already have a Google+ profile for your hotel, make sure you’ve connected it via your Google My Business dashboard.

TIP: Visit the Google+ homepage and do a search for your hotel to make sure there is only one listing. Duplicated listings could result in the wrong information being pulled through to the search results.

You can go a step further by using your Google+ account to create networks among guests to foster loyalty, attract and recruit people passionate about your brand, and keep abreast of happenings in your area by networking with nearby attractions.

#3: Give your guests a visual tour with Google Street View

Google’s popular Street View functionality isn’t restricted to, well, the street. Marketers looking for a new approach can give potential guests an engaging online tour of the hotel’s interior by using this innovative platform, also called Business View. With a collection of high-quality images, you’ll be able to put together a beautiful 3D showcase of your hotel for curious online viewers, and inspire greater confidence among potential guests.

According to a study done by TripAdvisor, good quality photos not only drive higher user engagement but are also a key component to the decision making process: compared to hotels without photos, hotels with at least one photo saw a 138% increase in travel engagement. If this is the impact an image can have, immersing your guest within a virtual tour could make booking at your hotel an even easier decision.

It can offer an innovative, fresh way for your hotel to market itself. And remember, first impressions mean everything.

Google highly recommends hiring a professional to film the 360-degree tour. While this isn’t a free service, the lasting benefits in the long run will be worth the money spent now. Click here to find out more.

#4: Get even more traffic with Google Hotel Ads

If you want to take your Google search listings to the next level, consider using Google Hotel Ads. Google Hotel Ads can be used by OTAs or hotels themselves to make sure that their stock and prices are also listed across Google’s different platforms (searches, Maps, Google destinations, etc.).

Having a Hotel Ads account will also open the door to Google’s new Book on Google functionality. This feature will allow travellers to make a direct booking without leaving the main search results page. If you have a Hotel Ads campaign running, adding the ‘Book’ button is essentially a free service provided by Google.

What you need to know:

  • To get started, you need to work through a ‘Hotel Ads Integration Partner’ (find one here). These are the guys who will give Google your hotel rates, availability information and manage your campaign.
  • You can choose a PPC (pay per click) or commission based model

#5: Understanding Google’s new event search feature

Google is constantly looking for ways to improve the mobile user experience. As part of that quest, the search giant has been busying itself with a new event search feature that, much like point one mentioned above, will allow mobile users to enter a blanket search term like ‘events near me’, and return search results most relevant to their geographic location.

What you need to know:

  • Google has partnered with a growing number event websites like Ticketmaster, Bandsintown, Eventful, Meetup, Yext, Vividseats, EventBrite, Seatgeek and a few more, to drive their search results.
  • All you need to do to make sure you hotel’s events are displayed is sign up to one of these partners.

At the moment, it looks like this feature is being predominantly rolled out in the US, but keep an eye out for updates going forward.

As you can see, Google is far more than a simple traffic generator. The search giant is quickly becoming a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all things travel related, and if used properly, can help you increase your online footprint and attract more business.


The Future Ski Resorts – Will they Survive?

Over the past decade and a half, regional ski resort visits throughout the U.S. have been largely stagnant or in decline. Per Snowsports Industries America 2015 Fact Sheet, nationwide visits peaked at 60.5 million in the 2007/08 season and dropped to an almost 15 year low of 52.8 million in the 2015/16 season. Why is this and what does the industry need to do to remain viable long-term?

Lack of Early Adoption

First and foremost, early adoption is key in determining whether or not a consumer will EVER get involved. In a 2014 Ski Essentials survey almost 32% of people started on the mountain between the ages of 2-5 and a whopping 82.5% began before the age of 18. Of those that started before the age of 18, 94.5% are still skiing.

Sadly, even high retention among those that get started early may not be enough to save snowsports long term. In the late 70’s there were roughly 735 resorts in the US. By the 2013 season, that number was down to 470, says Unofficial Alpine. That means the nearest ski hill is getting further and further away from the average family, making it even more of a hassle to get involved for those who are interested.

Skiing is a Lifelong Sport | By John Stocki

Skiing is a Lifelong Sport | By John Stocki
(source:, Mountain Rider’s Alliance, and Antelope Butte Foundation)

Exorbitant Costs

Above and beyond issues around interest and access, the increasing cost of participation has also put a damper on consumer behavior. In the 2013/14 season, the average weekend lift ticket price was $93.33 per Ski Essentials. Factor in equipment rentals and food and you’re talking about well over a $150 day…per person! Now you may be thinking, “yeah, but those are Colorado prices,” and you would be correct. But cutting the number in half for smaller local hills still makes a day trip for a family of four roughly $300. Numbers like these are a still a significant investment for many families and a tall barrier to entry for new consumers interested in giving the sport a try. To take it a step further, look at what it would cost to BUY all new equipment for a family of four, with having to replace equipment for growing kids around every two seasons, the total costs become even higher.

We Think Lift Tickets Are Overpriced, But Still Pay for Them | By John Stocki
(source:, Mountain Rider’s Alliance, and Antelope Butte Foundation)


First and foremost, ski resorts must work to build relationships with local schools if they want to help groom the next generation of lifetime skiers. Roughly 11% of those surveyed by Ski Essentials said they were introduced to skiing through a ski club. Beyond that, the average estimated ski club trip costs between $26-$40 unlike the typical family trips mentioned above. That means there are swaths of youngsters out there with the potential to get into skiing while young and at an affordable rate. I call that untapped potential.

Furthermore, those small and medium “beginner” resorts need to rethink the overall costs of a day of skiing. Discounted lift tickets are helpful, but the price of equipment rentals and food often make a seemingly affordable day anything but.

School Ski Clubs Are Being Under Utilized | By John Stocki

School Ski Clubs Are Being Under Utilized | By John Stocki
(source:, Mountain Rider’s Alliance, and Antelope Butte Foundation)

Second, everything possible must be done to keep small local ski hills open. They are key to ushering new skiers into the fold. So much so, that over 60% of skiers surveyed say they learned on local hills with less than 1600 feet of elevation. And once they’re involved, they tend to stay involved for life. Many of these ski hills are community funded and/or non-profits. If you’re passionate about snowsports, make sure you advocate for continued funding for these type of local ski hills and help with fundraising efforts to keep them alive.

Industry consolidation will play a key role here as well. If large players like Vail Resorts continue to purchase and invest in small properties (like they did recently with Wisconsin’s Wilmot Mountain) there may be hope for the little guy. Investments in diversifying entertainment options at these properties creates viability by bringing in much-needed non-skiing revenue. However, this type of consolidation can also lead to price increases, which could ultimately be detrimental to the industry as a whole, as research shows that cost of entry is a large barrier to new consumers.

Finally, the industry must embrace dynamic pricing as quickly as possible. This means taking everything from the weather to on-premise hotel inventory into account when setting prices vs. working with a dated static pricing structure. It means offering discounts for those who purchase lift tickets in advance, raising prices as the date approaches, and potentially cutting them drastically on days with low turnout or poor weather forecasts. While this sounds complicated, companies like Liftopia have been helping resorts implement this model for the past decade. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area told Bloomberg that it increased its advance sales by 15% the first season it implemented the model.

Only time will tell if the industry is going to respond appropriately. Will the major players in Colorado put today’s profits ahead of nurturing tomorrow’s customers?


Airbnb’s CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback:

Here’s What Hotels Can Learn About What Guests Want
By Alex Shashou, President & co-founder of ALICE

Alex Shashou
When Airbnb’s CEO asked his Twitter community for their Airbnb product wish list, what he got was a comprehensive look at what guests want from lodging today.

When Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky asked his Twitter followers for Airbnb product recommendations in the late hours of Christmas day, Chesky said he expected about 10 people to respond.

Instead, some 2,200 people offered their suggestions, with product recommendations still coming in.

Chesky spent the rest of the 25th, and then many hours on subsequent days, responding to input from users. The Airbnb CEO facilitated a wide-ranging conversation about short and longer-term product ideas for the company, and also fielded commentary about issues important to Airbnb’s future, like regulation and discrimination. User feedback has long been integral to Airbnb’s model. But this real-time user dialogue, initiated by the company’s CEO, and facilitated by Twitter is something new altogether.

Reading these exchanges between Chesky and Airbnb users is instructive for hoteliers on many fronts.

  • It is uncommon for CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies, in hospitality or otherwise, to solicit feedback from their users, let alone engage in such thoughtful, open and candid discussion. How can hotel management take a similarly direct approach to feedback, rather than rely on post-stay TripAdvisor commentary and largely ignored guest surveys that often feel like an afterthought?

As the editors of Hotel Management put it, “One has to wonder if a hotel CEO asked the same seemingly innocuous question, would it bring the same kind of deluge of response? Had, say, Hilton Worldwide CEO Chris Nassetta asked on Twitter: ‘If @HiltonWorldwide could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?’ would it be met with thousands of replies? Better yet, would he have answered them?” Perhaps, as the leader of public company, Hilton’s CEO might not be able to take to Twitter in the same way, but Chesky’s question is a crucial reminder of the value in seeking feedback from your users or guests. This is especially true now that Airbnb – what many see as the industry’s biggest threat – has set this precedent, showing users its openness to feedback and eagerness to improve its product.

  • Chesky’s exchange with his users offers foresight for hoteliers, in that the discussion pointed to the CEO’s vision for the company long-term – a future in which Airbnb graduates from being a platform for lodging to a platform for all things travel. How will this affect the hospitality industry (beyond just hotels) in the long term?

User suggestions for the company included financing options for homeowners, more service partnerships, tools for landlords and property managers, RV rentals, and disruption of the rental car industry.

Chesky and his followers also discussed “Flights” – Airbnb’s much anticipated move into booking air travel, which Skift reported on last month. Flights would potentially give Airbnb an advantage over hotels in packaging deals, helping to engender more loyalty.

But within lodging itself, the discussion also raised a number of trajectories for Airbnb that would circumvent some of the company’s recent regulatory hindrances, and, in so doing, threaten incumbents in more fundamental ways.

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou
Indeed, Airbnb has already started experimenting with first-party lodging. The company unveiled a communal housing project designed to revitalize a small town in Japan in August of last year. If successful, the company says it will scale this model to declining small towns across the world.

And we’ve speculated ourselves about what an actual Airbnb hotel might look like. The company’s platform approach to hospitality gives it several advantages should it decide to build or invest in its own hotels. Hosting its own long-term rentals specifically would circumvent many of the regulatory restrictions placed recently on the company, and reinvigorate its advance on traditional hotel demand.

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou

  • One particularly interesting aspect of the conversation was that a (possibly surprisingly) large subset of user recommendations had to do with ideas for Airbnb that are already hallmarks of hotels or innovations spearheaded by the hospitality industry more generally.

These ideas included, but were not limited to, loyalty programs (complete with credit cards), business travel rewards programs, provision of amenities to guests (from gyms to shower gel), better corporate travel functionality, a stocked fridge, on-demand meals (aka room service), a true luxury segment with full-service treatment, eco-responsibility, and accepting Bitcoin for payment. Many users expressed a desire for quality controls and the institution of quality standards, pertaining to everything from the cleanliness of rental spaces to the speed of the WiFi.

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou

  • But hotels shouldn’t get too comfortable. Chesky’s response to many of these product requests was either to directly or indirectly confirm that these popular features or characteristics of hotels would soon be coming to Airbnb.

Hotels might have taken a collective sigh of relief after what’s seemed like a worldwide crackdown on Airbnb in recent months, but if this conversation is any indication, they shouldn’t get too comfortable. As the tweets above illustrate, many of the things that have formerly set hotels apart from Airbnb might soon be features of the Airbnb product. It’s imperative hotels continue to innovate and ask their guests what else they can offer to set themselves apart.

  • To that end, it’s worth looking at the many user ideas for Airbnb that could improve the hotel offering as well.

Connecting Travelers
Users asked for ways to connect with like-minded travelers, Airbnbing in the same location. Many asked that this happen over food – either through shared cooking experiences, or by connecting with local chefs or foodies. As Chesky noted, food is the largest area of spend in travel after accommodations and flights. How can hotels capture some of this spend (especially since room service in the traditional sense is possibly being phased out) and connect their guests in so doing? (Other players in travel, like TripAdvisor acknowledge this growing trend, announcing this morning their integration with EatWith to power “social dining.”) And, dining aside, what else can hotels do to foster connections between like-minded guests?

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou
Group Travel
Similar to requests for ways to make connections between fellow travelers or with locals, many users asked for better functionality for group travel. Hotels often make it cheaper for two people to book together rather than separately, but how else can hotels reshape their offerings to appeal to guests who might be traveling in larger groups? Could hotels innovate by directly controlling group purchases and communication?

A “Smarter” Concierge and Virtual Travel Agents
Users also asked for more personalized local experience recommendations, based on user data, as well as app functionality that helped with arranging all aspects of travel, not just lodging. Frequent ALICE partners Hello Scout and Porter and Sail are growing players in the AI-driven concierge and travel planning space. How can hotels support their concierges with data-driven tools to improve guest recommendations? And can they expand their own (app or partnership) offerings to provide more comprehensive travel services to guests?

Local Experiences and Activities
In addition to more personalized experiences, users asked Chesky for more nuanced sets of local activity recommendations, like “parents in town,” or “Saturday morning in Madison” (similar to how Netflix built a competitive advantage by catering to the long tail of movie preferences). Users also asked to be able to rate these experiences. How can hotels start to curate their guest experience beyond the room and on-property amenities? How can they differentiate themselves by drawing on truly local experiences? As Skift writes in their prognostications for 2017, “Hotels need to stop thinking of bringing “local” into the hotel through artisanal hand soaps or ‘locally sourced, free-range bacon.’ … Hotels need to start thinking more about their local community, too.”

Smart Home Functionality
Airbnb users also clamored for smart home features that would centralize control for Airbnb while also providing a better customer experience. Skift has identified the “Smart Hotel” as a guest experience trend for 2017. All eyes are on the innovators in this space, like the Wynn Las Vegas, which recently equipped every room with its own Amazon Echo smart speaker device. While hotels are often saddled with legacy in-room systems, Airbnb might have an advantage here, since homeowners are more likely to upgrade their spaces with the latest Amazon, Google, or Apple product, which is naturally integrated with the web. The openness of consumer electronics allows for integrating systems easily, potentially easier than enterprise versions.

Dynamic Pricing
Airbnb already uses what it calls “smart pricing,” which modulates the price of rentals based on supply, demand, timing and other factors. One user suggested, however, Airbnb take these pricing manipulations even further by asking hosts for a minimum price and a “desired” price. Airbnb would then drop the price of the rental over time to guarantee a booking. Hotels have long employed pricing variations to capitalize on their fixed inventory, and have gotten more comfortable with steep last minute discounts, in partnership with companies like Hotel Tonight, but there’s more room here for innovation. ALICE friend Beewake, and a host of similar startups, offer hotels the opportunity to make money from extra daytime capacity. How else can hotels using pricing to their advantage?

Airbnb's CEO Took to Twitter to Ask His Users for Product Feedback: | By Alex Shashou
Content Marketing
Some users were critical of Airbnb’s approach to content marketing, encouraging the company to make more use of real, unscripted video and vlogging. Marriott has set a high bar for the industry with its marketing initiatives, which include experiments in virtual reality and 2015’s real-life, city-wide guest request simulation #AppYourService. What else can hotels do in marketing to set themselves apart?

In the couple of weeks following Chesky’s conversation with Airbnb users, many other tech CEOs have taken to Twitter to ask their own customers for product ideas. Among those are Jack Dorsey, Twitter and Square (who asked his followers about both products), Jon Oringer, Shutterstock, Chris O’Neill, Evernote, and Brian Armstrong, Coinbase. It’s not surprising these are all companies actively disrupting incumbents in their respective spaces — being actively attuned to customer needs and market opportunities is how these companies have set themselves apart and built customer loyalty, gaining market share in the process.

Hospitality is an industry preoccupied with guest experience. But most hotels conceive of their loyalty programs as a way to lock-in guests, rather than endeavor to build real loyalty by listening to their customers. Brands that actively seek customer feedback have an incredible opportunity to gain market share. Brands focus on transactional loyalty instead of engagement may eventually lose their customers altogether.

What would happen if hotel CEOs also followed Chesky’s lead and asked their guests about what they want? Would hotels get an opportunity to learn about the next generation of customer needs and distance themselves from Airbnb by innovating, as the homeshare company is catching up? Would engaging in a genuine dialogue with their guests about what they want seed the future of a new breed of customer loyalty? It’s clear that if hotels don’t ask how to innovate, once Airbnb reaches parity with hotels, the company will surely be asking where to go next. And Airbnb will be bringing its customers — and hotels’ customers — with them.



How to Jumpstart Your Hotel’s Direct Bookings through Multichannel Campaigns

Multichannel campaigns are one of the most effective ways to boost direct bookings, build one-to-one relationships with current and future guests, and ultimately, encourage repeat guests throughout the customer lifecycle.

According to Google, the travel planning journey is influenced by over 19 different touchpoints. While we have big-picture insight and data points that reveal the extensiveness of the travel planning journey, the path to a booking and the micro-moments along the way vary and key customer segments need to be reached through multichannel marketing campaign efforts.

Why are multichannel campaigns so powerful? By effectively reaching potential guests in intent-rich micro-moments across channels and devices with one cohesive brand message, multichannel campaigns are a great strategy to shift distribution from the OTAs, drive ADR, increase length of stay, capture a new segment, and achieve returns as high as 2,500%.

If you are ready to get started and increase direct bookings, you can begin building your multichannel campaign by answering the 5 W’s of any great narrative and any successful multichannel campaign: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Who: Use customer data, campaign insights, website analytics, and customer research to build a customer persona of your campaign’s target audience. It’s important to uncover both the emotional benefit and the functional benefit the target audience associates with your hotel brand and make sure this resonates in your marketing message.

What: Based on customer insights, craft the campaign message and brand narrative to reach the target segment with one cohesive message across channels and devices in key micro-moments.

When: Determine the best timing and campaign flight to effectively reach your target segment in the appropriate booking window.

Where: Map the path to purchase and determine the right marketing mix to reach the target segment throughout every touch point of the travel planning journey.

Why: Clearly determine the goals the campaign is trying to achieve in both performance metrics and positioning in the mind of the consumer.

Now that we’ve covered the basic infrastructure of multichannel campaigns, read on to learn the top 10 best practices to jumpstart direct bookings through multichannel campaigns.

1/ Ensure you have an adequate, flexible budget to launch multichannel campaigns.

Every year hotel marketers face a number of business needs such as seasonality and occupancy needs, revenue management needs such as increasing length of stay and driving ADR, as well as general business objectives such as increasing group business, targeting a new customer segment, and lessening the dependency on the OTAs.

In order to successfully accomplish these goals and answer key business needs, it is important to reserve 15-25% of the overall digital marketing budget for multichannel campaigns. This portion of the budget should remain dynamic and flexible as the year progresses.

Be sure to properly allocate your budget to each campaign, mapping out seasonality, business needs, top target segments, and any other big-picture business goals that a multichannel campaign can achieve. When allocating budget across campaigns, we recommend a budget of at least $10,000 dollars with a two month minimum flight to ensure success.

2/ Clearly establish business needs, campaign goals, and key performance indicators before you begin planning your multichannel campaign.

To build a successful multichannel campaign, you must establish an overarching business need your multichannel campaign is trying to solve, determine clear campaign goals you wish to accomplish, and set relevant key performance indicators to gauge success.

Really getting to the core of your hotel brand’s business needs when building a multichannel campaign will help you choose the most effective marketing initiatives and provide the blueprint for setting the right campaign goals and KPIs.

3/ Utilize your CRM data to build target customer personas tapping into the demographics, psychographics, and online behaviors of your target segment.

Capitalizing on CRM data to fuel your digital marketing campaigns is one of the best ways to ensure you are targeting the right audience and reaching your “best guest.” CRM data provides insight into your “past guests” and can help strategically shape and develop the profile of future guests you wish to reach with your campaign.

To build the target customer persona, pay close attention to top demographic trends, trends in online behavior and travel planning, as well as research psychographics and more in-depth online behaviors once you’ve established the general profile of your target segment.

The process of building customer personas helps hotel marketers tap into the passion-points, interests, and online behaviors of the target segment to further ensure the campaign message will resonate with the target audience.

4/ Map the path to purchase and key micro-moments to ensure you are reaching your target segment throughout the travel planning journey at the right place, the right time, and with the right initiative.

Understanding the target segment is just one piece of the multichannel campaign puzzle. Once you’ve established your target audience, you then need to map the path to purchase to ensure you are reaching potential guests with the right marketing initiatives throughout each touchpoint of the travel planning journey.

For instance, a mom planning travel for her family may start with a high-level Google search for “family beach destinations” before even deciding on a destination. To help aid her in deciding on a destination, she then may turn to social media and ask her peers for family beach destination recommendations.

On the other hand, a solo traveler planning business travel already knows their travel destination and the area within the city they will be meeting. Therefore, they may start their travel planning journey with a direct visit to a hotel website where they have loyalty points, or they may start with a destination specific search on Google that’s not only city specific but neighborhood specific such as “Hotel in Downtown Denver.”

This is just one quick example of how the travel planning journey can vary from segment to segment. In light of this, it is extremely important to go through the exercise of mapping the path to purchase for each segment. These travel planning touch points will help determine marketing initiatives such as mobile SEM, intent-driven Dynamic Rate Marketing across travel planning websites, TripAdvisor display, and more.

5/ Ensure you have the right marketing mix to effectively reach your audience and ensure high campaign return on investment.

To set your campaign up for success, it’s best to start with your revenue goals and work backward to determine the appropriate marketing mix.

Based on your number of rooms, ADR, and occupancy during the need period you wish to address, determine your revenue goal for the campaign. Once you determine your goal revenue, work backward to determine the minimum budget you would need to spend to achieve the desired revenue with an ROI goal of at least 600% – 1,200% ROAS. The smaller the budget you have to work with, the larger share of funds you will need to invest in high ROAS campaign initiatives to achieve your revenue goal, while minimizing your investment in lower-yielding initiatives such as social media or creative content distribution.

A general rule of thumb for a successful multichannel campaign marketing mix is 30-40% investment in core revenue drivers such as SEM, GDN, Email, etc., 20-30% in display and social media advertising initiatives, 10% in organic campaign content, and 20-30% in campaign creative.

6/ Plan a multichannel campaign that is cross-device ready.

A successful multichannel campaign doesn’t just reach key customer segments throughout the path to purchase, it reaches potential guests in key micro-moments seamlessly across devices.

According to Google, 90% of travel planners use multiple devices sequentially when booking a trip, making it extremely important for your multichannel campaign content to be cross-device ready.

For instance, the target segment of the mom planning travel doesn’t just start with a Google search for “top family beach destinations,” she may start that search on her mobile device while waiting with her children at the doctor’s office. So in this example, desktop SEM campaigns wouldn’t effectively reach our target mom. Our multichannel campaign would need to include Mobile SEM and GDN to effectively reach her at the first touchpoint of the travel planning journey.

Just this one small example reveals how extremely important it is to launch fully-responsive campaign creative and marketing initiatives that are tailored to the three screens to ensure success.

7/ Ensure your campaign utilizes a cohesive message across channels and devices that resonates with your customer segments and their passion-points.

If you reach the right customer with the wrong marketing message that doesn’t resonate, you are not only wasting potential guests’ time, you are wasting your hard-earned marketing dollars.

For a multichannel campaign to inspire a booking, it must tap into both the functional and emotional benefits the target segment associates with your property or brand, or the functional and emotional benefit they associate with the “ideal hotel” for their upcoming stay.

As Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and this really rings true in building effective multichannel campaigns. Once you determine the right campaign messaging, it’s extremely important to embrace Aristotle’s philosophy and ensure that your campaign message is cohesive across channels and devices to amplify the power of your marketing message, build traction, and effectively drive bookings.

8/ Utilize powerful and engaging technology that assists in lead generation, relationship building, and driving direct bookings.

Aside from the right message and marketing mix, planning a powerful multichannel campaign requires rich, engaging technology to convert potential guests once they reach the campaign landing page or application.  A highly successful multichannel campaign must have a destination mini-site or application that includes rich images, share functionalities, and dynamic content personalization that will interest and engage users enough to encourage repeat visits, increase time spent, and ultimately drive bookings.

An Interactive Limited-Time Offer Application is one example of such digital technology applications capable of maximizing revenue. Serving as the central hub for the campaign, this highly-visual, fully-responsive application features a prominently displayed countdown clock, booking functionality with embedded promo code, large, rich images of the hotel, social and viral sharing features, an Email sign up widget, and key information about the sale, benefits, and rules.

Example Limited-Time Offer Application:

Another great example of an engaging application is an Interactive Promotion Application with a robust automated backend and algorithm offering daily and grand prizes.  This application also features a prominently-displayed countdown clock, large, rich imagery of the hotel, social and viral sharing features, Email sign up widget, and engaging add-ons such as photo sharing.

Example Interactive Promotion Application:

9/ Utilize your CRM data to launch data-driven marketing initiatives that utilize the power of intent to reach your best guest on a more cost-effective budget.

To launch “smarter” multichannel campaigns, fuel your campaign with the balanced utilization of CRM data and intent data to increase incremental bookings and ensure you are reaching your “best guest” at the right place, at the right time, and on the right device during the travel planning process to your hotel’s destination. Not only does this allow you to reach the right potential guest who is most-likely to book your hotel on an extremely cost-efficient budget, it will also provide rich data and insight to replenish your CRM data and utilize for future campaigns.

10/ Ensure you have the right analytics to effectively track and optimize conversions.

Without proper tracking, the perfect strategy can fall flat as you try to navigate campaign success. It’s important to use state-of-the-art tracking applications such as Adobe Analytics, Adobe Media Optimizer, and DoubleClick’s DART for Advertisers (DFA), which are the industry’s standard solutions. With the right tracking capabilities, it will be easy to optimize campaign performance, measure KPIs, and adjust the marketing mix as needed to achieve desired goals and ROI.

It’s also important to remember that a successful campaign requires consistent, ongoing optimization based on the KPIs of your campaign. Campaign metrics such as share of voice, impression pacing, and engagement are important criteria to monitor and adjust in real-time to ensure success.

Lastly, A/B testing of campaign messaging and/or one isolated campaign variable such as colors and images is another great way to optimize throughout the campaign and ensure optimal results.



How to Use Reputation Management to Influence Hotel CapEx

Hotels have a lot of options when it comes to allocating capital expenditure, or CapEx, budgets each year and without proper data and research, it’s nearly impossible to choose the most impactful improvements that will maximize return on investment.

Hotels that take the time to analyze their existing data, i.e. guest reviews, have the the opportunity to choose the best projects. Here’s how you can use reputation management to allocate your hotel’s CapEx.

What is a capital expenditure?

A capital expenditure is either a newly purchased asset or an investment in a current capital expenditure that extends the life of the asset, according to Investopedia. For example, a new capital asset would be a new table and chairs, where as an improvement would be reupholstering or refinishing the table and chairs.

A capital expenditure has a specific meaning because of its tax implications. If something is categorized as CapEx, it is usually depreciated over a certain number of years. There is a difference between a CapEx and operating expenses. Operating expenses are necessary to continue running your business, where as CapEx has a broader impact. Therefore, eliminating the guesswork behind allocating hotel CapEx dollars is especially important.

How your hotel can identify where to spend your CapEx

Capital expenditures usually require research and planning due to the size of their budgets and project scales. Hotel CapEx must have a tangible impact on your property and are usually thought of as cash generating expenses. Thankfully, the research most hotels need is already available.

As a hotel owner or operator, you understand the usefulness of user-generated reviews. Usually when we discuss reputation management, we focus on the short-term aspects of the reviews, for example, the staff’s friendliness, the cleanliness of the room, etc. But, what we’re also able to track with reviews is how larger issues, that are often harder to change, affect a guest’s stay.

If you analyze your guests’ reviews over a longer period of time, you’re able to discover problems that will eventually require your attention. Maybe your rooms are starting to show their age or your pool deck could use a revamp. Every property’s projects vary based on type, size, and customer demographic. We suggest performing a sentiment analysis against your reviews on a regular basis. If that sounds difficult, don’t worry. There are already solutions that will do this for you. For example, with TrustYou’s advanced sentiment analysis, you’ll be able to identify what’s most important to your guests and where they’ll notice changes, in an instant. After you identify the aspects your guests do and don’t enjoy, you’ll be able to pinpoint what needs to be addressed.

Hotel CapEx projects end up impacting a property for years. Guests are usually upfront in their reviews about the status of everything from your rooms to the bathrooms to your lobby. Using reputation management software, you’ll be able to identify what your guests talk about the most.

Changing trends will also influence how your hotel should allocate your capital expenditures. Of course certain expenses, like guest room improvements, will always be important. But, the way guests use other areas of your property may change over time. For example, large, open lobbies and public areas are in high demand right now. Travelers want a place to mingle with other travelers or hang out with their friends. Technology has also become an important factor that many hotels may want to address. Tracking trends and aligning them with your current guest feedback will help you identify the most impactful projects.

There are hundreds of different options when it comes to updating your property. Use your reviews to identify what’s most important to your past, present, and future guests. Keeping an eye on your reviews will eliminate the guesswork involved in budgeting your hotel CapEx and help you build a hotel product you know guests will love.

Guest satisfaction can and should be the ultimate ROI on any improvement you make at your property, but it’s especially important when making long-term decisions.

Measure the results

After you identify and complete the investments to your property, continue to monitor guest satisfaction and listen to what they’re saying. If you make the correct decisions, your market will react positively and vice versa.

If people continue to complain about the same aspects of your property, then you may have allocated your budgets ineffectively. But, with a proactive approach using your guest satisfaction as the ultimate ROI, you can make sure that doesn’t happen.


The Impact of Advertising on British Online Travel Consumers

When travelers go online to research and book their next trip, what kind of influence does advertising have? When are shoppers most likely to notice — and better yet, remember — ads?

Our research conducted by comScore uncovers the digital shopping habits of travelers in the UK and gives us an insightful glimpse into how and when advertising is most effective.

More than half of British online travel shoppers are still deliberating where to go when they grab their phone, tablet or computer to start researching1. There are many factors that affect travelers’ decisions, and advertising is a key part of the mix. For three in 10, or 30%, of travelers who are undecided, advertising influences where they ultimately book2.

When we drill down farther and consider just how many ads travelers are exposed to during the path to purchase, it’s apparent that targeted travel advertising can be highly effective. In the UK, travel advertising accounts for just 2% of all display advertising.

But for British online travel bookers, 10% of ads are travel specific during the 45 days leading up to their purchase3.

In other words, travel bookers are five times more likely to see travel advertising than non-bookers. For travel marketers, this means that targeting is key.

As the research into British digital consumers shows, advertising does influence travelers. But that influence isn’t static. As consumers move along the purchase path, their receptiveness to advertising changes.

Week by week, digital travel shoppers see more travel ads as they get closer to booking. This includes all ads, not just those served directly on travel sites. But with increased ad exposure, recall weakens.

At the start of the purchase path, more than half of British travel bookers recall advertising. This recall drops to just 16% by the end of the path4.

For travel marketers, this means it’s essential to target advertising throughout the entire purchase journey, from inspiration to booking. Keep in mind that the opportunity to maintain share of voice is most powerful at the beginning of the booking path (when ad penetration is lowest and recall is highest).


Creative Hotel Marketing that Gets Your Guests to Listen Up

Bärbel Pfeiffer

14 November 2016

Want to stand out in a powerful way? Incorporate the vibrant and colorful stories of everyday hotel life into your marketing.

The fresh salmon for today’s VIP lunch is yet to arrive, the lady in suite 501 has an emotional meltdown and no-one is quite sure what it is all about; turns out you have an overbooking that effects one of your best repeat guests and the main AC in one of the banquet rooms stopped working.

What happens inside the walls of a hotel within one day, some people don’t experience in a lifetime. It’s part of what makes working in a hotel so attractive and special (and admittedly sometimes also pretty stressful).

And it provides you with a unique marketing advantage – a rich source for storytelling, right at your fingertips.

In the age of information overload and an evershrinking attention span (it’s now reached a stage where a human’s attention span is supposedly less than that of a goldfish), story telling still stops people in their tracks.

Think about it. You hear a great tale or anecdote and suddenly, you get pulled in. Your imagination starts to engage your feelings and emotions and you are literally living the experience. And if it’s a real good story, it’ll not only linger in your mind, but you’ll be eager to share it with others.

Stories matter, and experiencing dozens of them each day first hand provides you with a huge advantage. Most brands have to carefully craft their stories – a hotel generates some of the most unusual and creative ones on a daily basis – a goldmine for marketers!

The majority of hotels, for example, use their homepages to summarize information about their features and location. This provides your audience with a great first overview of what you have to offer, but is not a good differentiator. Your prospective guests have read those same sounding descriptions probably a hundred times before.

If you however slip into the personality of your hotel and share your information by packaging it in an intriguing way, you create an immediate and meaningful connection.

As British author Carol Birch sums it up nicely: “Storytelling strengthens the imagination. To imagine is to envision, to see with the inward eye. This ability to imagine is the basis of all creativity. Creativity is being able to see beyond what is readily apparent.”

What about your room inventory?

Have you ever thought about letting your hotel room do the talking? About it’s unique Text Spot On /Bärbel Pfeiffer features, it’s pros and cons and the kind of guests it has hosted? Give it a voice and personality, infuse humor, pride, quirk and let it amicably chat with the reader. It makes you unique and it makes you stand out, and it might even help you get rooms booked that are difficult to sell.

Storytelling works for all areas of your hotel. From meeting rooms to restaurants, to front of the house and behind the scenes – invite your audience to look at your offer and perceive it in a very different way, and go from being just another hotel to being a unique brand.