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On Chatbots and the Hospitality Industry

The premise of a chatbot is simple – automate communication and act as a window to access a service.

In the hospitality industry, one which is built around making the customer alpha, communication and information transactions must be smart, swift, insightful and analysable. Chatbots are hence the perfect tool for this type of communication and service provision. They live in messaging apps where today’s internet user spends a significant portion of his time, they are also cheap in the long run and can provide deep insights into customer preferences that can greatly improve offerings for the the customer, the alpha.

In 2017, the key players are still trying to figure out how to build the perfect chatbot – smart, capable of understanding complex semantics, and conversing with the customer as an experienced service rep would. Today’s chatbots, limited as they are by the available underlying technology have been deployed by several players in the hospitality industry – flight providers, hotels and more.

Hotels.ng, a Nigerian OTA looks at existing and projected applications of chatbots and attempts to estimate the net effect that they might have on the entire industry in years to come.

Bookings and reservations

Brands that require that bookings be made – flights, hotels, tour guides and more are already rolling out functional chatbots. Using these bots is convenient, simple and gives an air of chatting with a friend. Hipmunk recently upgraded their chatbot to allow for group planning and chats on their Facebook Messanger based platform. It’s easy to see how this can be adopted for OTAs providing group tours.

Expedia and Kayak are some other early adopters of chatbots for the purpose of making reservations.

Learn user preferences

By silently sitting in the background, and potentially collecting information such as correlation between geolocation and time versus brand-specific actions carried out, smart deductions can be made as to the user’s behavioural tendencies and preferences. Also, past responses, questions and queries that the customer made can be automatically processed to give actionable insights into the customer. Brands can as a result offer personalised and customised services to the customer and increase the chances of delighting him and spending less to acquire each dollar from him than they normally would.

Customers can also be retargeted in the future with higher precisions. Brands are able to engineer a greater correlation between the time of the customer’s need, and the content and timing of chats sent with a marketing intent.

Upselling to clients

With chatbots, brands can more easily induce customers to make more expensive purchases, upgrades, and add-ons thereby increasing the chances of squeezing more value out of the client without appearing over enthusiastic. Products and services can be upsold or cross-sold through casual suggestions to the client.

Top-of-mind awareness (TOMA)

The modern day internet user spends more time on messaging apps than they do on social media. In the fight for users’ eyeballs, chatbots which mostly live in messaging apps therefore provide very great opportunities for subtle top-of-mind awareness campaigns. TOMA is defined as awareness campaigns aimed at making a brand the first a customer thinks of when asked an unprompted question about a brand’s category.

Cost effective customer support

Eventually, AI driven chatbots become smarter through learning. When they become sufficiently smart and are able to handle complex queries, brands spend less on the supervision of chats, customer support, and can dedicate saved funds into other segments of the brand.

Challenges & Controversies

As with most novel technologies, chatbots too have controversies and challenges tied to their successful implementation. A few pressing ones are discussed below:

Threat to existing jobs:

As in all forms of automation, job shifts occur and jobs designing and managing the automation always displace the jobs that previously ran the processes. Markets will always demand for more reliable, cost effective, and faster processes making these threats to jobs an occurrence that can be managed but not eliminated.

Sharecropping:

To tap into what makes chatbots powerful for brands – large audiences, they have to be sharecropped on platforms that host the most people thereby expanding the potential reach and influence of the brand. Facebook, Wechat, and Amazon Echo are a few popular platforms that host numerous chatbots. They are popular because people want to interact with brands on platforms where they already interact with friends. Understandably, this hands over reins of control to the messaging and voice AI giants, but it’s a reasonable compromise that should be made.

  • Privacy concerns:

Chatbots have the potential to offer so much personalised information and services that they might come off as intrusive. Care must therefore be made while designing them to handle information transactions at levels of personalisation that are at par with the target audience’s temperament toward AI. Helpful can easily become creepy.

  • High cost of build:

Chatbots can be expensive to build. In the long run however, they are almost always smart investments as they bring down operational costs, open up new opportunities for brands and help generate more revenue.

  • Lack of empathy:

Chatbots can come off as stiff or robotic. While this is not a problem for many, a few people are put off by it. Most primitive chatbots work like a search engine that search for some keywords that then trigger predetermined responses. AI driven chatbots are however more capable of handling more complex queries and conversing as a human would.

Conclusion

Chatbots are simple, ubiquitous, and highly effective. AI driven chatbots also become better and smarter with use so while the wide adoption by hospitality brands will create job shifts, it will also create new opportunities that will allow for better personalisation of experiences for the customer.

In one line, the hospitality industry will be benefit greatly from the adoption of chatbots.

The perfect jobs for travel enthusiasts

s travel your everyday dose? Then, you must know that some jobs have a restricting nature that would restrain you from actively living that vacation dream life. Yet, there are others that will allow you to explore the world while working unrestricted by the office walls eight hours a day. Jumia Travel highlights 5 jobs that are perfect for travel enthusiasts without necessarily being minimalists.

Consultant

If you are an expert in your field of work, being a consultant rather than a full-time employee gives you the flexibility to be your own boss. It also enables one to have an extensive clientele, most of which require you to travel to on-site locations for physical consultations. This helps you to visit different places and work from luxurious locations such as hotels and beaches most often catered for by the company you are consulting for.

Pilot or Flight Attendant

There are those whose flying is the best part of their travel experiences. Stunning in those beautifully donned attires and well-placed smiles, being a flight attendant or the captain steering the airliner could give you a fulfilling thrill as you fly from one destination to another. These two jobs give you the opportunity to explore the world from high on the sky, and what other best way to live the travel dream? Often inconsistent working hours may however mean frequently being away from family and close friends.

Cruise Worker

Often associated with amorousness, cruising is something water lovers would want to try. Voyaging brings you as close to the sea world as possible, as you travel the different destinations and transits on the floating vessels. Jobs on the cruise range from engineering, to attendants, deck jobs and entertainment among others.

Destination photographer

The greatest beauty of travel is being able to perfectly capture each moment for memories, and for presentation of the destination to the world. Whether for weddings, corporate or social events, or just destination photography, one can make money selling their high-quality images for different use to different people. Creating a photography website for display could attract advertisers thus bringing extra income to fund your travels.

Travel blogger/writer

From the bustling attractions in Nairobi, to the gorilla trekking adventures in Uganda/Rwanda, and to Notre-Dame de Paris, there is a lot to write about the destinations you visit. Join the club of travel bloggers and writers making a fortune sampling and telling the world of their escapades. It is one of the most expressive ways to record your experiences, and in the tech era, you are sure to reach thousands, if not millions of readers online. The larger the travel record, the more the opportunities to also provide travel consultation and other travel related services; thus increasing your earnings and making the job even more exciting.

The list of the numerous jobs is endless, therefore these five are a simple guide to those wishing to venture into a more exciting career in line with their travel desires. To echo Hans Christian Andersen, “To travel is to live” – so go travel, go live your life.

Trend digest – hotel loyalty programs in 2017

A good loyalty program usually forms the backbone of a hotel’s business strategy, but thanks to changing consumer behaviour and expectations, the landscape is changing.

We take a look at the trends emerging in 2017, and how hoteliers can adapt to the evolving world of loyalty programs.

What to expect from hotel loyalty programs in 2017 – US News

Personalisation is the name of the game in 2017, according to top loyalty executives in the hotel industry. And with this increased focus on individualised value, loyalty members can expect more flexibility, earning opportunities and better options for redeeming points.

“When it comes to loyalty, transaction-based relationships are no longer enough. Consumers want meaningful, personal relationships,” – Liz Crisafi, head of loyalty, partnerships and portfolio marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group.

Looking at everything from expanded buying power, new benefits and smart apps, here’s what we can expect to see more of as loyalty programs evolve in 2017.

Read the full article >>

Fifteen mind-blowing stats about loyalty – CMO

Did you know that loyal customers spend 67% more than new ones? Or that 57% of consumers want to engage with their loyalty programs via mobile devices, but 49% don’t know whether there is an app associated with their loyalty program? Stats collected by CMO help paint a better picture of the landscape hoteliers find themselves operating in today.

“Building loyalty today means a lot more than handing out points. Meeting customer expectations at every step in the journey is the new mandate for loyalty marketing.” – CMO

But what are these expectations, and how are loyalty marketers meeting them?

Read the full article >>

Travel Trends for 2017: Loyalty Programs Evolve – Fuel Travel Marketing

Competition is fierce in the loyalty program industry, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. But hotel brands are learning that by providing innovative incentives that foster loyalty, they can compete just as fiercely without cutting profits.

“There are now over 3-billion loyalty programs in the United States alone. Now consider the entire population of the United States, approximately 325-million. That is a vast gap that clearly demonstrates the competitive battleground that loyalty programs have entered,” – Meisha Bochicchio, marketing specialist at Fuel Travel Marketing

Bigger certainly isn’t better in the loyalty market, at least not anymore. Often it’s the little things – like simplifying loyalty programs or offering smaller perks that guests can cash in on quicker – that count towards satisfaction and long-term retention.

Read the full article >>

The Shrinking Value of Hotel Loyalty Programs – Hospitality Upgrade

On the other side of the coin, it’s argued that people prioritise the convenience of a hotel’s location over loyalty to a particular brand, and thus hotel loyalty programs are losing their appeal to the modern business traveller.

“After reviewing five of the major brand loyalty programs, I realise 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.” – Vikram Singh, hospitality expert

Fostering true loyalty is going to be increasingly difficult for hotel brands in 2017 and beyond, and it will be interesting to see how they adapt.

Read the full article >>

The best hotel loyalty programs for 2017 – Smarter Travel

With literally billions of loyalty programs to choose from, how do you know you’re getting the best bang for your buck? With the landscape of hotel loyalty changing in 2017, Smarter Travel looks at 10 of the best programs on the market today.

“We view hotel loyalty programs through the lens of “ordinary” travelers, leisure or business, who travel enough to take advantage of a loyalty program but not enough to be considered road warriors. Our credit-card scoring was based strictly on points per dollar charged, without regard to enrollment bonuses.” – Smarter Travel

Smarter Travel used an in-depth methodology to determine its top entrants. Do you agree with this list?

Building Summer Occupancy for City Hotels

Temperatures rise. Humidity creeps up. Sounds like time to pack up and head to the nearest beach. While your team may be thinking ‘vacation’, you should be thinking ‘revenue’ when it comes to your leisure segment.

Every resort owner knows that the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is peak. The kids are out of school by mid-to-late June, making it family time. For a moment, though, let’s focus on city properties. Bricks and mortar are depreciated all 12 months of the year. There are no summer breaks in your debt service even as the meetings and conference segment wanes. You need a plan to cover your business through a quarter that will see limited, if any, group activity. So, let’s examine the fundamentals of a solid leisure plan.

  1. Know and be a part of your market. Product knowledge is essential. Look beyond your property’s walls to see what is happening locally. Typically, there is a schedule of activities covering everything from music, to sports and, of course, food. Get involved by sponsoring those events that are consistent with your brand strategy and target guest interests. Being the exclusive hotel partner is not necessary. You want breadth of coverage in this case and not necessarily depth.
  2. Flag your summer activities. It’s great to be a sponsor. I’m sure that some local, and perhaps regional, advertising and promotions are included in your sponsorship package. That’s simply not enough these days. You need to broaden awareness on your website and through other relationship channels such as e-newsletters and in-house materials. Then add your own onsite features to elevate your property from just a hotel to an outright destination.
  3. Everyone eats. What was considered exotic a decade ago is now thoroughly mainstream. Sushi, Thai, deep dish pizza, crazy burgers, gourmet tacos and even poke bowls and all have widespread awareness and appeal, meaning that you won’t be surprising anyone or winning accolades for their inclusion. Your guests want to try something new so you can just imitate what was trendy two years ago. As well, while it may sound sacrilegious to send a guest off property to eat, you must face the fact that unless you’re a destination resort in a remote location, guests will want to roam. Why not give them the tools to do so effectively and thereby stay relevant in the conversation?
  4. Everyone also drinks. Separate from food, beverage is a critical component in delivering a truly local experience. Most every region has local wine, craft beer or small-batch distilleries. Your responsibility is to proudly demonstrate your community spirit by giving your guests an opportunity to sample these unique creations, adding to their local knowledge and creating a memorable touchpoint. The lure of supplemental revenue from the national brands is strong, and I’m not advocating walking away from those long-established relationships. Rather, I’m suggesting a balanced approach that augments consumer choice.
  5. Bring back a little something. When traveling, I’m always looking for some souvenirs. Nothing distresses me more than seeing the same items in the hotel gift shop that I can find at a Walmart (with no disrespect to this fantastic retailer). Think of your on-property store as less of a profit center and more of a guest service reinforcement. If the goods are ho-hum and overpriced, you may make a buck or two more but, as a consequence, imbue a feeling that, once again, the guest is being taken for a ride.
  6. Summer is not just for kids. My wife and I travel extensively during the summer period, and our kids are definitely not in tow. Re-examine your marketplace positioning and consider outbound materials that show adult enjoyment, not just a bunch of screaming kids by the pool. Examine your property’s ability to simultaneously manage families with kids and those without. Once you’ve figured it out, amp up your promotions as the empty nesters are a vastly underserved demographic at present.
  7. Balance is key. You need to be true to your product. Know your limitations and plan accordingly. Resist temptations to overload your pool or restaurants. That additional bus tour stopover might have looked like great revenue when you booked it in February, but when they arrive in July and max out your facilities – thereby choking off high paying transients – well, you get the idea. While everyone strives for occupancy over 90% during these peak periods, your staff must be appropriately trained and services properly allocated to handle this surge, lest you tick off a few customers whose needs aren’t adequately met.

Tips To Operate With Living Wage In The British Hospitality Sector

The UK finds itself in tumultuous times – uncertainty has become somewhat of the norm. Besides questions raised about Brexit implications – ranging from the devaluation of the Pound and the resulting increase in operating costs to securing continued access to qualified and motivated labour – additionally, hotel and restaurant operators have had to deal with new, recently introduced governmental policies and regulations further impacting the bottom line.

On this basis, I sat down with Mark Kuperman, Chief Operating Officer at Revenue Management Solutions (RMS). Mark and his team assist the hospitality industry by providing data-driven solutions to better manage revenues. RMS takes “the guess work out of crucial business decisions while optimizing gross profit and protecting brand value.” Mark and I spoke about how a significant number of employees in the UK received their biggest pay rise to date as the National Living Wage leapt to £7.50 an hour on April 6th, 2017. In line with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement and Spring Budget announcement, more than two million employees over the age of 25 benefited from the 4% increase. Further to this, 21- to 24-year-olds received a rise of 10 pence per hour. This is in a bid to reach the government’s target of £9 per hour by 2020 for over 25s, with further demand to extend this increase to 21- to 24-year-olds. According to Tahola, an industry’s leading business analytics provider, this could result in operators facing an annual increase of £100,912.50. However, it’s not just labour costs that will hit operators; planned increases in employer pension contributions from 1% to 3% could elevate the cost to operators to more than £109,000 by 2020.

It is thus quite clear that UK hotel and restaurant operators must become smarter in navigating this challenging business environment, which, in the recent past, has put a lot of pressure on the bottom line. Consensus within the industry is that many restaurant operators will be forced, amongst other operational levers, to raise menu prices, whilst streamlining their staffing structure. However, Mark believes there are other ways to effectively offset rising labour costs — without the need to cut staff or dramatically increase prices. Here are some of his suggestions.

1) Better align staffing needs to optimise labour costs:

It may sound obvious; however, it’s often something that gets overlooked by operators in search of shrewd ways to offset rising costs. Cutting staff is not the way, as this impacts the overall restaurant experience for customers. The key here is to manage the value equation in the eyes of customers and never consider raising prices, whilst cutting service levels. In fact, there’s the saying, “food brings them in and service drives them out.” Operators need to better align staffing needs, with consideration given to peak verses off-peak staffing rotas.

2) The importance of taking a demand-based approach to pricing:

Multi-site operators can go even further. Reviewing item-level data for each restaurant on a site-by-site basis across the estate will reveal which restaurants could be organised into different price bands based on customers’ reaction to previous price moves. Taking the customer’s willingness to spend into consideration will ensure customers continue to see value for money when visiting the brand. For operators to successfully navigate price barriers, they must first understand a customer’s willingness to spend. For many operators, increasing menu prices is inevitable. However, there are certain price barriers consumers are reluctant to cross. Therefore, it is important that operators don’t simply go ahead and increase prices, without first analysing customer sensitivity to pricing across all menu items. If done well, an operator can expect higher profits without any signs of customers changing their buying patterns and behaviours.

3) Technology is the most powerful tool to let staff “serve up a storm”:

For the first time ever, technology really is becoming the driving force within hospitality. In such a saturated marketplace, operators are turning to technology, to not only get ahead of the competition, but also to deliver on that all-important customer experience. Think kitchen automation, delivery, online ordering, digital tablet ordering and mobile payments – the list really is endless. The beauty of technology for operators is that it seamlessly steps in as a silent partner to take care of the customer journey, leaving staff to deliver on that all-important experience.

4) Get ahead of the times and have a game plan:

Unlike increases in food inflation, which are somewhat unpredictable, rises in labour costs can be planned for. As such, operators need to get a long-term plan in place to address these additional costs. In an environment of increasing costs, operators will be in a much stronger position if they make price changes in smaller increments, which are spread over time, not touching the same items in consecutive rounds, rather than implementing them in one hit. The luxury of having time to plan also means that operators can test the water and assess what works best for their business, employees and customers before rolling it out across their entire estate.

5) Profit versus efficiencies – spring clean your menu:

Streamlining the number of items offered on a menu will help reduce labour costs and indeed improve execution. Chefs should be looking at the operational impact of specific menu items to see if the way certain dishes are prepared impacts profitability or throughput. Operators need to consider whether they have menu items that are profitable, but actually slow down service. To give you an example, a quesadilla could be a profitable menu item, but the resource needed to prepare it could be, in fact, slowing down operations back-of-house. Therefore, operators need to give serious consideration to where there are bottlenecks in delivering operational efficiencies.

Mark thus urges the industry to be prepared and consider a variety of mechanisms available in one’s tool box to combat the current business environment. Over a recent lunch with Mike Williams, People Director at Byron, Mike and I concurred with Mark’s conclusion and recommendation. He said, “When faced with unprecedented operating cost increases, it can put the squeeze on even the best organisation. In the past, I have seen operations cut labour and costs to such a degree that employee engagement and the customer experience were both negatively impacted. Thus, a vicious circle begins… cutting costs because of decreased sales and thereby continuing to negatively affect the customer experience, which, in turn, puts further pressure on sales, resulting in a new round of cost cuttings.” Mike continued commenting, “The solution is not so one-dimensional in such a complex and competitive sector. A blend of investment in technology, culture, service and consumer research can give you the best of chances to take advantage of this shift in the sector. While competitors cut costs and deliver less for more, those who invest and who are proactive will gain market share and continued consumer support.” A senior industry executive spearheading business operations at another well-recognised casual dining brand added to Mike’s comment, saying, “In times like these, characterised by a tight (and tightening) labour market, recruitment and staffing become even more challenging. We have thus re-doubled our efforts in regards to cross-training and building an internal talent pipeline whilst also further fine-tuning our processes and standard operating procedures to identify new best practices. Whilst none of this is revolutionary in itself, or even new, organisations are well advised to use these new market pressures and realities to re-direct and focus their efforts and energy.”

Cuba – A land that time forgot…

Have you ever fantasized what it would be like to be a Band member of the Buena Vista Social Club, take part in an episode of Lost, or go on a wild ride in Dr. Who’s Tardis – because that’s how a trip to Cuba would feel? As soon as one steps off the plane, the sights, sounds and smells of this place will whisk your senses away to a land that time forgot. Being stuck in a track of a vinyl record or a time vortex is what Cuba feels like.

For a photographer, a voyeur of architecture, a history buff, a 50’s car enthusiast, a Rum or cigar lover – this has to be on your list of must see – a bucket list item of the highest magnitude.

You require a Visa to enter Cuba. Check the Cuban government’s website to locate the nearest city where you can obtain one. Before the plane descends into Havana, the crew will spray the cabin for bugs. And be prepared to wait an hour for your luggage after you de-plane (have water and a fan with you – it’s hot!). They x-ray everything and bags come out 1-by-1. The ride into town is about 30 minutes, and after sunset, some of the streets are pitch black and riddled with pot holes. They tell me Cuba is a safe place. And they could be right as I never felt threatened while walking the streets late into the night.

Don’t expect to go to Cuba to bathe in luxury, or experience haute cuisine either. It just isn’t there. On the whole, the people seem friendly – but it’s one of the world’s cultures thatthey don’t know what they don’t know – and if you expect a five-star experience, you will be sadly disappointed – especially when paying five star prices for some things such as internationally publicised accommodations and meals at so-called, top restaurants.

Going out for a drink – a Mojito, Daiquiri or Cuba Libre – which one must at least try once when in Havana, can vary in taste from place to place – but the prices are very similar. A meal too can vary tremendously in both quantity and quality – regardless of what you pay. There is often a disconnect between cost and product. Veggie options are available, but don’t over expect simply because the raw materials lack in availability and quality. Cabbage, carrots, onions, sweet potato and tomatoes are the staple veggies – and long grain rice (that’s not the Asian type). For water drinkers like me, Aqua Panna and San Pellegrino are readily available, as well as a local spring water. Tap water is not potable.

If you seek international fast food fare – forget it. It does not exist. None of the names populating the high streets across the globe can be found here. Not even a clone. And if you want to use a public toilet (even in a restaurant), best to take your own tissues and wet wipes with you and be prepared to tip the Attendant.

One thing you will find is consistent inconsistencies – one day something will be prepared or cleaned in a certain manner, and the next time, it’s very different. Yes, this is a Training and Management issue, but like I said earlier,they don’t know what they don’t know and the talent pool is very thin.

Hotels can perform currency exchange, but it’s probably best to go to a money changer – “CADECA”. However, be prepared to wait in a queue under the hot sun for possibly 30-60 minutes as they process one by one inside a small shop guarded by a security guard sat on a chair inside a cool room, operating the manual lock. Oh, and did I say, they close for lunch? ATM’s are few and far between, and reject most international cards especially if they have a US link. You may be best to warn your bank card provider that you are going to Cuba to let them unblock the card. Phone roaming may also be an issue.

There are several wonderful watering holes around. Often Hotel lobbies serve drinks and snacks, and they are sometimes accompanied by live music that can be quite outstanding. If there is anything that marks life in Havana – it’s the abundance of amazing musical talent in almost ever bar in the city. “No smoking” areas are limited, and so you will likely be seated adjacent to someone enjoying a Cuban cigar – sold at that establishment, and lit by the Cigar Sommelier. That’s an interesting experience since they use wooden spills (made from the box liners – Spanish Cedar) to light the cigar versus a lighter, or heaven forbid, a candle or matches. Prices vary from 10-15 CUC for a decent smoke.

There are a few Pastelaria’s around town (frequented by locals), and a famous one is close by Hotel Inglaterra where you can find a coffee and Palmier type pastry at a very inexpensive price.

Taking a ride around the city in a taxi can be quite a treat! Parked along some central city squares are a wide array of colourful vintage 50’s automobiles that operate as taxis to choose from, some with open tops (no Aircon). Or you can simply hail a yellow cab. Be prepared to negotiate before taking off on your journey. The vintage cars could be 30-40 CUC per hour. It would be a shame not to take one of these rides having gone all this way. They are an Instagram dream!

Probably best to take an arranged tour to see the places of interest such as Revolution Square, the cemetery, museums, old city, Hemingway’s hangouts and the cigar factory etc. These can range from half to full day and with or without lunch. Your Hotel concierge will direct you to the Tour Desk ran by one of the government’s agencies like Gaviota. Your guide will speak English, and expect a tip. Take water and a hat. Try and take in a performance at the Opera House – it’s a fabulous place with superb performances in a world class setting. Quite an experience!

Internet is available in some locations and accessed by a pre-paid card – sometimes issued (free) by your Hotel. You need to sign on using 2 x 12-digit access codes, which you have to key in each time your device shuts down, or when you get thrown off the wifi. The card lasts 72-hours. Speed is acceptable. VPN’s work…and may be required for some services like Viber.

As I said, a visit to a cigar factory can be arranged – we went to Partagas which is very close to the city centre and not far from the Romeo y Julieta factory and shop. Here you will witness the process of leaf selection, rolling and bundling of cigars as well as labels being attached. What you won’t see is the final selection process, and boxing – this is something off limits – and I wonder if that’s part of their secret sauce. Cigars can be purchased at the RYJ shop –and expect to find the usual suspects – mostly Robusto sizes, and a very limited selection of upscale brands like Cohiba and Trinidad. You can buy single sticks, variety packs in small cello bags, or boxes. They are all fresh in nature, and most likely best to age them if you can avoid the temptation to light up. No limit as far as I can tell in regards the quantity you can buy. Cigars are touted along the streets, but I was not tempted to purchase what could well have been fakes.

If you seek an upscale cigar experience, I recommend the newly opened Cohiba Cigar Atmosphere shop and lounge in the Gran Manzana complex. Here you can enjoy a reasonably priced smoke with a Cuban coffee in air-conditioned surroundings and a very comfy chair. The staff will also perform the lighting ceremony for you. If coffee is not your thing, they have alcohol and cocktails. Don’t know if they do snacks.

Remember, nearly all businesses are government run – so when you buy something or consume a service, you are invariably supporting the regime – something the current US President is very anti. In fact, apart from souvenirs – hats, t-shirts and cotton shopping bags, rum and cigars, as well as cost of Hotel, travel and dining, there is not much else you can spend your money on. There are no malls, or corner shops. Having said that, a small gallery of boutique shops had just opened at the same Gran Manzana complex, but it’s unlikely you will shop there as the selection is limited.

Better spend your time walking around Old Havana, enjoying the sights of imposing and impressive buildings and imagine what life must have been in its glory days and listen to the lustful sounds of Cuban music drifting from the bars as you walk along the streets willing you to come in and dance to the irresistible beat of the salsa.

Cuba – a must see!

[Infographic] Majority of Travelers: Need to Use Mobile Devices on Holiday Stronger Than Cybersecurity Risks

PHOENIX – University of Phoenix® today released the results of its summer travel cybersecurity survey, which found that while half of registered voters worry about cybersecurity risks while on vacation, 55 percent feel that the need to use personal devices outweighs those risks.

“Vacations are often a time when we let our guard down, which can leave us vulnerable to hackers who want to steal personal information,” said Dr. Kirsten Hoyt, academic dean, College of Information Systems & Technology at University of Phoenix. “Whether you are in another country or down the street, it is important for people to take precautionary measures when travelling this summer.”

Summer vacation is often seen as a time to disconnect, yet three out of four respondents say they bring their smartphone with them, and half check their devices at least once an hour. Despite using their devices often, very few take measures to prevent hackers from potentially accessing personal information: 54 percent lock devices when not in use, but less than half take other precautions, such as hiding devices when away (40 percent), updating antivirus software (39 percent) or changing passwords (24 percent).

According to the survey, stolen bank information is the top concern for registered voters while travelling, selected by more than half of respondents. Other major concerns include losing devices (48 percent) and contracting viruses on devices (44 percent), while less than a third are concerned about hacked email or social media accounts. Some people are taking steps to be more secure: 86 percent of those surveyed say they update security settings if hacked.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Half of respondents say using devices on vacation is as safe as at home.
  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents feel more secure using their phone’s hotspot versus public Wi-Fi.
  • More than half of respondents check email or social media while on vacation.
  • Forty-one percent of respondents post photos from trips on social media accounts while away from home.

“There are myriad ways your personal information can be compromised while you’re away from home; the best method to prevent it is to be aware of how you can be hacked and take steps to avoid that,” Dr. Hoyt said. “Vacations should be relaxing and fun, but in today’s world of connected devices, we always have to be alert.”

The Need to Use Smartphones and Other Personal Electronic Devices on Vacation Outweighs Cybersecurity Risks for Majority of Travelers

The Unbound Collection by Hyatt Launches New Campaign Centered Around Rising International Music Star Dua Lipa

CHICAGO – The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, a global collection of unique and independent stay experiences, is celebrating the art of storytelling through a new campaign featuring behind-the-scenes content from Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” music video shoot. The short form videos highlight exclusive footage of the artist’s and video director Henry Scholfield’s creative vision and inspiration. The multiple pieces of content are set to be released today and throughout the month across Hyatt social channels. Themes include the music video casting process, Lipa’s interaction with fans, a live performance inside Nina’s House at the hotel, and an exclusive interview with the artist on her music and personal experiences that inspired her new album.

The Confidante Miami Beach, which draws its inspiration from the notion of being a trusted friend, playfully acts as a stage to help bring the “New Rules” song to life by offering the property’s unique features as a one-of-a kind backdrop. The music video features Dua Lipa with her trusted group of girlfriends as they help one another avoid making the same relationship mistakes twice and move past a breakup.

“The Confidante Miami Beach truly set the stage for my ‘New Rules’ music video and the hotel’s unique vibe helped bring the story to life,” said Dua Lipa. “This song was written as the breakup song I wish I had when I was going through one, and I wanted to make sure I told the story in a new and different way to inspire others to tell their own stories.”

“Just as every artist brings a distinct perspective to their audience, The Unbound Collection by Hyatt properties bring something uniquely special to their guests,” said Sandra Cordova Micek, SVP of global brands, Hyatt. “The Confidante Miami Beach offers a unique setting to tell a memorable story, and through branded content and this creative opportunity with Dua Lipa, we were able to create a broader campaign that serves as inspiration to modern travelers who seek adventures and story-worthy experiences.”

In addition to the short-form video content and “New Rules” music video, The Unbound Collection by Hyatt will be rolling out a branded Spotify playlist aligned with Dua Lipa’s distinct musical style.

Lipa’s “New Rules,” which was shot at The Confidante Miami Beach, part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt was released earlier this week and can be viewed on YouTube.

Follow @UnboundxHyatt on Facebook and Instagram to view the behind-the-scenes videos. To learn more about The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, visit unboundcollection.hyatt.com.

About The Confidante Miami Beach The Confidante Miami Beach draws inspiration from the notion of being a trusted friend, providing guests with everything they need for an uncomplicated and timeless Miami Beach experience. Taking cues from its mid-century modern design, The Confidante Miami Beach celebrated its unique, storied history, as well as its future, with historical details throughout its spaces, bright colors, whimsical accents, and a relaxed, elegant vibe.

With deep historical roots in Miami Beach, The Confidante Miami Beach is a three-towered property that pays homage to the vibrant feeling of the city in the 1950s. Serving at one time as the tallest modern building in Miami Beach, the hotel originally opened as the 18-floor Lord Tarleton Hotel on Collins Avenue, making headlines and representing a boom for the city’s economy. In 1955, it reopened as the Crown Hotel and later was converted into a three-tower apartment building.

Mid-Year Roundup

We’re halfway through 2017 and it’s already been a jam-packed news year, so we wanted to break down the trends and statistics that have been top of mind for our global team of Phocuswright analysts. This is what’s defining the global travel market in 2017:

DECEMBER

lection impact. Let’s start with the immediate aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Phocuswright fielded a survey of 1,500 European travelers November 12 – 14 to gauge their sentiment around travel to the U.S. and the potential impact of the U.S. election. The results should give pause: one in five travelers in the U.K. and France and nearly one in three German travelers said they are less likely to travel to the U.S. Across all three countries, women are also significantly less likely than men to visit the U.S. – 27% vs. 19%.
Read More: Election Impact: Some European Travelers May Be Less Likely to Visit the U.S.

Will Experiences move the needle for Airbnb? If Airbnb continues its impressive growth and revenues for 2017 approach US$3 billion, Experiences would be only 1.1% of its overall business (using our rosy assumptions). Even under far more aggressive scenarios, Experiences would still account for a relatively small, single-digit share of the company’s business. Only one third of Airbnb renters bought a tour or excursion on their last leisure trip, and Experiences would appeal to an even smaller subset.
Read More: The Media Loves Airbnb Trips, but Will Travelers

The fastest growing online markets: Developed online markets will grow just 15% from 2014 to 2017, compared to 61% for emerging online markets (led by APAC).
Read More: The Fastest Growing Online Markets

JANUARY

One in three U.S. rentals now in urban destinations. This is up dramatically from 13% in 2012. City rentals accounted for 18% of total rental revenue in 2015, and will rise to nearly one quarter of the U.S. private accommodation market as rentals take more demand away from hotels.
Read More: The New-Gen Renter

Five trends DMOs should know about. How and where travelers research vacation options is vital information to destination marketing organizations. This is the greatest opportunity for influence – especially for those who do not yet have a destination in mind.
Read More: 5 Trends You Need to Know About Destination Selection

An improving economy continues to provide a strong foundation for the European travel market.
View the infographic: 6 Quick Facts on the European Travel Market

FEBRUARY

Asia Pacific leads all markets in mobile booking adoption. APAC mobile bookings are projected to grow from 24% of the online travel market in 2015 to 37% in 2017.
Read More: APAC Leads all Markets in Mobile

Rental growth has surged in the past few years. Those gains will slow in 2017 and 2018, when the total private accommodations market will reach US$36.6 billion.
Read More: U.S. Private Accommodation Market to Reach $36.6B by 2018

U.S. online travel agencies continue their upward climb and have increased their share of the total travel market. OTAs’ share of the online travel market reached 39% in 2016 and will slowly continue to increase to 41% by 2020, with $81.4 billion in online gross bookings.
Read More: Hotel and Mobile Boost OTA Online Bookings

MARCH

American travelers’ desire to explore and get away remains unabated; growth in the 4-5% range is projected through 2020, bringing the total travel market to $403.3 billion that year.
View the infographic: 6 Quick Facts on U.S. Online Travel

China’s airlines lag far behind OTAs in the technology department. But after treating web- and then mobile-based distribution as an afterthought, these state-owned behemoths have begun to take digital distribution seriously. They’re growing their in-house mobile teams, and optimization of user experience and marketing are now strategic priorities.
Read More: Chinese Airlines Get Serious About Direct Bookings

The defining debate in online travel over the past two years: Hotels’ battle for the customer and direct booking amid tough competition and skyrocketing growth of OTAs.
Read More: This One Chart Explains the Hotel Loyalty-vs.-OTA Problem

Do pivots work? TRIP’s shift to metasearch and booking seems great in theory, but consumers just aren’t having it – at least not yet.
Read More: The Trouble with TRIP

APRIL

In the U.S., online will continue to outpace the market through 2020, but the growth gap is narrowing as the channel approaches dominance. By 2020, online channels (including mobile) will account for 49% of the total.
Read More: U.S. Market Booking Channels Shifting

Airbnb is smoking its competitors on repeat booking with its hip brand, unique market positioning and devoted customer base. Airbnb’s desktop repeat booking rate in 1H16 was roughly five times that of Booking.com and Expedia, and roughly three times that of the top hotel brands.
Read More: In Online Travel, Repeat Bookers Are Elusive, Except for Airbnb

Mid-Year Roundup

For Southeast Asian travelers, the most common motivators when planning a leisure trip are a desire to take a break, spending time with loved ones, and available vacation time away from work.
Read More: Get Inside the Mind of Southeast Asian Travelers

MAY

Are tours and activities the next big opportunity in online travel? We think so. But not for the reasons most might think.
Read More: The Real Revolution in Tours & Activities

The OTAs are crushing it. They are growing much faster than the U.S. hotel market. In fact, 2016 was the first year when OTA lodging bookings in the U.S. exceeded total hotel website gross bookings. And they’re growing even faster overseas in the more fragmented hotel markets of Europe, Asia and elsewhere.
Read More: Hotels vs. the (OTA) World – What’s Really at Stake as Hotels Take on Distributors

JUNE

The mobile traveler population has been growing each year as more travelers own smartphones and use them to plan and book travel. Today, two in three U.S. travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet).
Read More: In Mobile Travel, Comfort Leads to Confidence in Booking

Use of messaging apps is increasing among travelers overall. But the numbers vary greatly across demographics, specific apps and use cases.
Read More: Are U.S. Travelers Embracing Chat & Messaging?

n Mobile Travel, Comfort Leads to Confidence in Booking

Apart from the advent of the Internet itself, no phenomenon has both captivated and terrified travel executives as has the rise of mobile. Its impact continues to evolve – but the implications are profound.

Phocuswright’s The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017report provides a complete view of the mobile traveler in 2017, including who they are, how they plan and shop for travel, how they use their device in-trip, and what it all means for travel brands and the industry overall.

What Travel Brands Should Understand About Mobile Travelers
The mobile traveler population has been growing each year as more travelers own smartphones and use them to plan and book travel. Today, two in three U.S. travelers have shopped or booked either air or hotel on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). Nearly half of those mobile travelers are under 35 years of age. But don’t count out older travelers – they too are driving the move to mobile. Mobile travelers are getting more comfortable planning on mobile, even as the population gets a little older. And with comfort comes confidence: 69% of mobile travelers feel they can find the same flight and hotel info on a smartphone as on any other device; 66% of mobile travelers are comfortable planning and booking a vacation only with a smartphone.

When asked if travel is a very important part of one’s lifestyle, mobile travelers in the U.S. were more likely to “strongly agree” than non-mobile travelers. Plus, they take more trips and spend more on travel.

For mobile travelers, travel is a big deal. And that means they should be a big deal for travel brands. Dig deep into who the mobile traveler is, explore mobile traveler trend, and more with The U.S. Mobile Traveler in 2017