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‘Scattered hotels’ offering village-type stays are taking off in rural Japan

A recent trend in the tourism sector that lets visitors stay in re-created traditional villages while experiencing local cuisine and cultural activities is growing in popularity in Japan.

The “scattered hotel” business is believed to have originated in Europe, and Maruyama Village — a facility that opened in 2009 in Sasayama, Hyogo Prefecture — is said to be the pioneer in Japan. Users of the facility can partake in activities such as agriculture, pottery-making and tea ceremony while staying at renovated traditional houses.

In Mino, Gifu Prefecture, which flourished with the production and trade of high-quality washi (Japanese paper) during the Edo Period (1603-1868), a traditional century-old house that belonged to a washi merchant was renovated into an inn. The inn opened in July and is named Nipponia. An association of local paper manufacturing companies is involved in the operation in a bid to promote the charms of Mino washi.

Many old merchant houses still stand in Mino. The front desk of the hotel is located in another renovated traditional house, while a vacant traditional house nearby is currently being renovated to become the second accommodation facility for the hotel. Six hotel rooms can be used, each by up to seven people. Rates start at ¥20,000 per person.

Jun Mizuishi, a 36-year-old resident of Saitama Prefecture, used the hotel for group training. “We could fully enjoy Mino by experiencing local cuisine and Mino washi-making, as well as by enjoying local landscapes,” Mizuishi said.

Scattered-style hotels are also found in Kyoto; Otsu, Shiga Prefecture; Obama, Fukui Prefecture; and other areas. Preparations to open such a facility are currently underway in Hokkaido and Kumamoto Prefecture.

Airi Ishikawa, from travel website Ikyu Corp., said scattered-type hotels are growing in popularity because business collaborations with local entities tend to work smoothly because of the expectation that such projects will help revitalise local communities and breathe new life into abandoned buildings. Those involved in the business are also hoping that it will encourage foreign tourists to visit their communities.


Dine and Dish: Virgin Hotels San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – The founder of Virgin Atlantic Airlines is back in the Bay Area in a big way.

Richard Branson opened up Virgin Hotels – San Francisco. In the city that’s known to party, the new Virgin Hotel is making a splash.

Opening night, complete with dazzling drag queens, Branson look-alikes and boy band’s Lance Bass — The real Branson arrived in a burning man bus.

Inside, non-stop music with dancing dj’s, bartenders behind the bar and on top of it.

Virgin’s Raul Leal, alongside Sir Richard Branson, talking about big plans for Virgin Hotels, Virgin cruises, maybe even a Virgin dating app, eventually.

You could say things are looking up.

The new San Francisco Virgin hotel is on Terra Firma but don’t be surprised if the next Virgin Hotel is on another planet.

Of course, you’re going to need to take Virgin Galactic to get there.


3 Ways Independent European Hotels Can Increase Direct Bookings

Reliance on online booking agencies (OTAs) increasingly affects the bottom line of small, independent European hotels. The room rate offered via an OTA’s advertised rate is less than a direct booking rate. As well as absorbing this loss, the hotel also pays a commission to the OTA for every booking (ranging from 18 percent to 25 percent). So, how can the hotelier increase direct bookings and sidestep an OTA?

The task here is to suggest ways independent European hoteliers can entice potential clients to book directly with their hotels. So, the first click from the OTA to your hotel website must bring you to an appealing, dynamic and easy-to-use site.

1. Hire a webmaster.

The chance to increase direct bookings will only be effective if hotels have a well-maintained and smartphone-friendly website. This advice is not only obvious; it’s mission critical! When travelers choose a hotel on an OTA, the next thing they do is visit the hotel’s site. The challenge is to ensure that the potential customer does not return to the OTA to complete the room reservation. Enthusiastic, active web managers can maintain and update your web space. You can then concentrate on the day-to-day business of running a hotel.

Web techs can interact with any platforms or software that are used by your hotel to keep the website up-to-date. They can make sure the special offers constantly change. And they can use the business smarts of any hotel platform that you use. Keeping track of conversions to your site is essential — that is, which offerings made the most converts. Maybe it was your easy-to-use smartphone app for check-in and out. Or maybe it was the pop-up ad offering a “free night for booking now” that made a potential client switch to direct booking.

2. Subscribe to a hotel network platform.

One solid way to have your webmasters stay on top of the latest innovations for direct booking: Join a network of small hoteliers such as The Hotels Network. This platform claims to offer state-of-the-art software and marketing for every hotel. Just click on its site to test drive services for conversion to direct booking. It boasts a rousing 32 percent conversion rate upon using its service.

The offering of predictive analytics sounds imposing, but it’s not really. Predictive analytics simply uses an algorithm to sift through tons of data. These data can help with the success of your business. You might need to know what a customer likes in a hotel choice. Or you might need to know if a guest returns directly to your website to book a room.

The Hotels Network tools also allow you to add a comparison of hotel prices directly to your own website. And it can suggest tips to assure customers that they are signing up for exactly what they want. They may request two queen-sized beds (chocolates and a teddy bear on the pillow). Or they may want a first-floor entrance to the room and pool. Then these guests’ requirements can be saved for their next visit to your hotel site. Web techs can monitor these and relay both positive and negative gains for an increase in direct bookings.

Another offering is to display the reviews of your hotel that are presented on major OTA platforms (TripAdvisor, Booking, Expedia, etc.). The Hotels Network tools allow hotels to automatically display these positive and reassuring reviews directly on your site. Specific review elements of your hotel (location, food, service) are tailored to each web space visitor. Sometimes it’s a review by language or type of customers, such as family or business. You choose, and your web gurus can add these to your web presence.

3. Leverage social media

Let’s dig deeper into what else can be offered on your hotel website. TravelClick can suggest travel rewards programs to attract return customers. Check out this site for a demonstration of what it says will “turn shoppers into bookers.” The reward could be displayed in a pop-up ad. “Leaving so soon? Book now and get a 10 percent discount on our summer rates.” Or “Five people have booked in the last 30 minutes.”

Another enticement might be an appealing take on a familiar social media platform. One hotel offers guest access to personalized social media stations. Indeed, I chose this hotel from an OTA and then opened the hotel site to book. What drew me to book directly was its offering to log on to my personal social media station by using a digital fingerprint. I enjoyed the novelty of posting my adventures at the hotel and its surroundings. My posts looked very professional (instead of my usual smartphone attempts). And the hotel got a big free ad that went out to all of my followers and their followers.

These suggestions for conversion from OTAs to direct booking are not a miracle cure. They are a start for the financial wellness of the independent hotelier. Celebrate the competition with the OTAs. Embrace your ability to directly reach prospective customers without million dollar TV ads and OTA fees. Grab your fair share of the booking revenue now!


Hyatt Place hotel thriving: Hospitality industry still growing

FLORENCE, S.C. — The hospitality industry continues to grow in Florence County. The downtown district in Florence saw the opening of another hotel in February.

Owned by East Evans Hospitality LLC, Hyatt Place joined its sister property, Hotel Florence, as one of two downtown hotels managed by Raines Hospitality.

“Downtown Florence was the ideal location for Hyatt Place, as Raines Hospitality saw a need for additional hotel rooms due to the success of Hotel Florence and the growth of the market,” said Brittney Edwards, vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Raines Hospitality. “We saw the addition of Hyatt Place as an opportunity to push development into what is a growing and unique market while placing a complementary hotel to Hotel Florence. Having the support of the community partners and a thriving city center allows all of Florence to continue to flourish.”

She said Hyatt Place was receiving a positive response not only from travelers coming to the Florence market but also from the community.

“With more business travelers coming to Florence, Hyatt Place offers the amenities this type of guest is looking for while also providing another brand option and bringing in those who are already brand loyal,” Edwards said. “Hyatt Place will draw new business to the area as well as support the businesses already here.”

“We have been so busy,” said Ashton Sankuer, director of sales at Hyatt Place in downtown Florence. “The apples are disappearing,” referring to their signature bowls of green apples placed throughout the hotel for guests to enjoy.

“We are extremely blessed to have so many people that are excited about the hotel,” she said.

The five-story, 103-room hotel represents one of the largest construction projects of 2018 in Florence, with an investment of $20 million in downtown.

Sankuer said she is receiving two to five inquiries a day about using the meeting facilities and three to five calls inquiring about group stays from corporate to sports to family reunions. She said groups are booked all the way to December.

The hotel is about 40 percent occupied during the week and more than 60 percent occupied on the weekends, Sankuer said.

“It takes time to get consistency,” she said.

Sankuer said the comments from guests have been encouraging. She said the upper-level terrace is one of the guests’ favorite places to unwind and relax. She said guests say there is nothing like the view of downtown from the terrace or the corner rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows.

Sankuer said being downtown has been great.

“It is a great opportunity to be part of something so much bigger,” she said. “The downtown is growing, and this is an amazing opportunity.”

She looks forward to getting more involved in downtown activities and the community. The hotel partnered with All 4 Autism during its Pacing 4 Pieces 5K and half-marathon and Piece Jam in March.

Edwards said 2019 will prove to be a busy year for Raines Hospitality, as it will “open two new properties and begin development on a few others.” In Florence, an 86-room Comfort Suites will open its doors in July, joining the Hospitality Boulevard cluster of hotels, she said.

“As well, development is under way with construction to begin later this year on a 175-room Holiday Inn/Avid dual-branded hotel,” Edwards said. “Avid is one of Intercontinental Hotel Group’s newest brands that was launched in 2017. The Holiday Inn/Avid will be the first dual brand of its kind.”


Hospitality War – Marriott Fights Back Against Airbnb With Home Rental Business

Hotel and hospitality company Marriott International (MAR – Get Report) is fighting back against home rental unicorn Airbnb by introducing its own home rental service, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

Details for the company’s first phase could be unveiled as soon as next month, sources told the Journal. 

The rooms listed on Airbnb currently dwarf the number of hotel rooms Marriott has available by a nearly four-to-one margin, according to the Journal. People had 4.29 million rooms listed on Airbnb as of December, compared to 1.29 million Marriott rooms in the first quarter of this year. 

Meanwhile, Airbnb is moving into the traditional hospitality business after its purchase of excess room inventory aggregation company Hotel Tonight.

Airbnb was rumored to be seeking to go public this year, but co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk told Business Insider that it might not occur in 2019.

Year to date, Marriott shares have gained more than 27%. The stock is down 0.1% Monday. 



Small business marketing resources help get your business noticed. Marketing tools are essential for any company to be able to succeed and grow. To accomplish that, you have to know who your customers are, what they want to buy, and how to get them to buy it from you. There are a lot of practical tools available that can help you accomplish these goals. If you are starting a small business, or your existing business has hit a slump, try using some of these marketing resources to expand your brand’s digital footprint.



Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all have millions of users who log in every day to connect with friends and get information about the things they like. If you are not using these sites, you are missing out on free, beneficial marketing for your business. Pique customers’ interest with a hint about a new upcoming product, offer a special limited time discount and keep people posted about the latest company news.


Remember, if customers do not know about you, they cannot buy from you. Above everything else, you have to make sure that customers can find your small business. Get your company listed in all the major online directories, such as Google, Yahoo!Business, and CitySearch. Online directories give your customers instant access to your phone number, location, website, and other details they will be searching for. Not only does it increase your online presence, but it also gives potential customers the chance to see why you are better than the competition.


There is now an entire industry devoted to telling other people about good and bad experiences with a business. The sites are called review sites, and they are another powerful small business marketing resource. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, made even more powerful by the internet and websites such as Yelp.

Surveys show that 84% of consumers trust online reviews to help them decide which local businesses to use. Your online reputation is essential, and when you give customers exceptional service, they will do some of your marketing for you by leaving good reviews on these sites.


Maybe you already have a loyal online following, but that does not mean that you should stop there. Email marketing is the most effective way to reach customers because it is both fast and affordable directly. Make sure that you are using this small business marketing resource to its fullest potential by having a way for customers to join an email list.

Each time you send a message about a sale or offer a coupon for 10% off, you will convert a percentage of those email readers into customers. Build your list continuously, so you keep expanding your base.


You might be tempted to stop your online marketing at social media and email lists. However, you will be overlooking another popular marketing tool, which is a blog. If you do not know what to write about on a blog for your business, take a look at some of your competitor’s blogs. Read blogs by other companies in your industry, too. An excellent place to start is to write about one of your products in detail, with some personal notes, or make a list of current trends and hot items in your industry.

Small business marketing resources are more than just a way to get your name noticed. They are tools for you to generate and continue interest in your small business’ products or services. The proper use of marketing resources drives traffic to your websites and customers to your door. Even if you are creating products that customers want and selling them at prices they like, first those customers have to know that you exist and that they can trust you. Use all the marketing resources at your disposal, and you will maximize that potential quickly and effectively.


San Francisco hospitality startup opens hotel-Airbnb hybrid in Uptown

You can check in anytime you like, connect to WiFi with the press of a button and relax in a living room all to yourself.

After securing the necessary license this month, Sonder, a San Francisco-based hospitality startup, has opened its first hotel-Airbnb hybrid in Denver.

The startup has leased the entire building at 630 E. 16th Ave. in Uptown, and is calling it The Essex. The three-story building, built in 1908, used to be a hostel but was closed for fire code violations in 2016. Denver-based developer GM Development bought it last year for $2.1 million and began renovations.

“The opportunity to bring a tech-driven model of hospitality to this old, historical part of the city and partner with a developer to bring old and new together, that was so attractive to us,” said Sonder spokesman Mason Harrison.

It’s not the first time Sonder has targeted old buildings to redesign into rentals. In New Orleans, the company is teaming with a developer to renovate a block of units along Canal Street that were damaged by fire; in Chicago, Sonder recently opened in what used to be a boarding school, Harrison said.

Guests booking rooms at The Essex can choose between eight two-bedroom and 11 one-bedroom units. Booking can be done through Sonder’s website or hotel booking sites.

Guests can download the Sonder app to request a late checkout, schedule a cleaning or connect to the building’s WiFi at the touch of a button. Each unit has laundry, keyless locks and Bluetooth speakers, Harrison said.

Sonder will have an onsite employee to help with check-in and any other concierge services. In addition, there also will be a communal area for breakfasts and other snacks for guests.

“Obviously we’re the type of company where we don’t have to have someone always there,” Harrison said. “Your check-in is never required to be done at a physical desk at a Sonder.”

The average nightly rate across all of Sonder’s locations is $129.

Although Sonder markets itself as a cross between a hotel and an Airbnb, it’s more the former in the eyes of the city. Eric Escudero, spokesman for the city’s Department of Excise and Licenses, confirmed that Sonder has received a lodging facility license for its spot in Uptown.

That’s the same type of license a traditional hotel would get. Airbnb listings, meanwhile, typically require a short-term rental license, and Denver gives those only to individuals renting out a primary residence.

Denver is the 18th market where Sonder – which has 170 employees in Denver – now offers rooms, joining cities like London, Rome and Montreal. Harrison said the average nightly rate across all of Sonder’s locations is $129.

Sonder has had a presence in the Denver market; it leased 30,000 square feet of warehouse and office space in Thornton last year for a customer service hub. Since then, the startup also has leased warehouse space at 2488 W. 2nd Ave. in Denver, the former headquarters of survival gear company Survival Frog.

The company has plans to operate more units in Denver, although Harrison declined to discuss specifics, saying the company was waiting on permits and other logistics.

“It would be impossible to speculate how many units we’d have by the end of the year,” he said. “We hope it’s a lot. We think that Denver obviously has become such a huge hub of hospitality. It was just a question of when, not if, we’d expand there.”


Hyatt Expands Loyalty Program to Include Its Two Roads Hospitality Brands

Hyatt Hotels is expanding its World of Hyatt loyalty program to incorporate properties from a recent expansion. In October of 2018, the acquisition-hungry hotel chain announced its intent to acquire Two Roads Hospitality, a network of 85 properties and several brands around the world. Now, Hyatt is releasing plans to incorporate those properties piecemeal into its loyalty program.

This follows a similar move Marriott last year when it consolidated its Starwood loyalty members into one program with Marriott’s, now called Bonvoy.

When it was acquired, Two Roads Hospitality oversaw 85 properties across the Alila, Destination, Joie de Vivre, Thompson and Tommie brands. The first batch of properties getting incorporated into World of Hyatt will be those of Thompson Hotels. For stays starting on March 28th, 2019, World of Hyatt members can earn and book points at eight of nine of the Thompson Hotels including the Thompson Chicago, Gild Hall and The Beekman in New York, the Thompson Nashville and the Thompson Seattle.

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World of Hyatt’s loyalty program assigns hotels to categorized tiers which dictate how many points each award night will cost. According to the team at Chicago-based Hyatt, most Thompson hotels will be assigned to award category 6, where rooms cost 25,000 points/night. The Thompson Seattle will be assigned category 5 while Gild Hall and the Thompson Chicago will both be in category 4. The most expensive hotels in World of Hyatt’s award chart are assigned to category 8.

On May 15, Joie de Vivre’s 22 hotel properties will be added into the fold. After that, Alila and Destination hotels are slated for incorporation into World of Hyatt, though the group hasn’t got an official timeline for those properties yet.

In total, Hyatt currently has plans to incorporate just over 60 Two Roads Hospitality properties into its World of Hyatt network through the year, which leaves about 15 remaining from the acquisition. Many of those remaining properties, such as the Thompson Playa del Carmen, have a unique relationship with Hyatt that may not permit it to join World of Hyatt, but as the hotel chain continues to forge partnerships it expects to release news through the year.

The addition of Two Roads Properties into the World of Hyatt program will eventually expand the program 5 to 10 percent up from the brand’s current portfolio of around 775 hotels. That’ll keep Hyatt solidly in the boutique category compared to monoliths like Hilton Worldwide and Marriott, which oversee about 5,200 and 6,500 properties respectively. For loyal World of Hyatt members, however it’ll be a significant expansion.


Hotel industry grapples with minimum-wage hikes

he federal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 an hour, but that doesn’t mean everyone adheres to that amount. In fact, 29 states and the District of Columbia pay a minimum wage that is higher than the federal one. Because these plans already are set in stone, and other states are at the bargaining table to follow suit, hoteliers are wondering how these increases will impact the overall industry and their ability to pay their employees—or even keep their doors open.

The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association voiced its opposition to one such minimum-wage increase in February. Illinois passed an initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, which is in line with the targets set by a number of states. IH&LA President/CEO Michael Jacobson said that such an increase may be necessary in large cities such as Chicago, but he expressed concern that many hotels throughout rural Illinois will be burdened by the increase and may face financial hardship going forward.

“There is a common misconception that hotels are cash cows and are generating huge profits. If you look property by property, the profit individual hotels generate is razor thin,” Jacobson said. “If you decrease that profit margin … many may have to consider cutting back or even closing their doors.”

Jacobson is in favor of raising minimum wage based on economic factors related to geography and an area’s median cost of living. Liz Washko, shareholder in the Nashville office of labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, said employers already are grappling with rising materials costs in all aspects of business, from construction to restaurant purchasing, as well as increasing healthcare costs. A rising minimum wage, she said, will have an adverse impact on the entire hotel business.

“Some hoteliers will be positioned to adapt to this, but you will see some businesses close,” Washko said.

Monster Under the Bed

Dave Morrison, principal at Chicago law firm Goldberg Kohn, is skeptical of just how much potential minimum-wage increases will impact hospitality. He pointed out that the American Hotel & Lodging Association already claims that the hotel industry consistently employs workers above the minimum wage, so he doesn’t think other increases will have a dramatic result on the industry’s operations.

Morrison also chose to dispel rumors that a higher minimum wage would discourage future hotel development, pointing specifically to Seattle. There, the minimum wage was increased to $11 an hour in 2015 for companies with more than 500 workers, and has reached $16 per hour as of January 2019. According to data from Lodging Econometrics, Seattle had 15 hotel projects under development in Q4 2014—that number reached 27 projects in Q42016 and 23 projects by Q4 2018. While this is just one area of the country, and a large city to boot, Seattle has seen an overall increase in its development pipeline.

Minimum-wages increases also may increase competition for workers from neighboring states, Morrison said. As Illinois’ minimum wage increases, neighboring states such as Iowa, which retains an average minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, may see difficulty attracting workers. This problem is further complicated in areas with a high cost of living.

“One interesting phenomenon we have is that in high-cost, touristy areas hotel companies are having a harder time finding people to work in their hotels because the cost of living is so high,” Morrison said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and I appreciate the concerns that are expressed by more rural locations regarding these increases.”

Never Enough

On the other hand, some consider a $15 minimum wage to be too little. Unite Here, a labor union in the U.S. and Canada with more than 265,000 active members, successfully organized a series of strikes against multiple Marriott International hotels in 2018, and at the Westin San Diego the union negotiated a $24-an-hour wage that will go into effect by 2022.

“The idea that the minimum wage is a living wage is a falsehood. There should be no rush to the bottom, and we can do better,” said Unite Here press secretary Rachel Gumpert. “Even $15 an hour doesn’t cut it in most major cities, especially in North America. In San Francisco, $15 an hour can leave people on the brink of homelessness. The floor should not be set so low.”

Despite scheduled increases in minimum wages already approved throughout the U.S., Washko said she anticipates tensions between employers and employees seeking greater pay and benefits to persist. However, Gumpert is adamant that the hospitality business is capable of offering workers what they demand.

“We negotiated with Marriott first because they are the biggest in this space, and if Marriott wouldn’t agree to our standards than no smaller organization would follow suit,” Gumpert said. “The challenge for employers is that if they aren’t solvent enough to pay employees a living wage, they can’t afford to run their business. Workers take pay cuts and pay freezes after every economic downturn. Now we are in a positive period, and they haven’t seen any benefit.”


Visit Buffalo Niagara drives record tourism to Western New York

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Buffalo reached new heights as a visitor destination in 2018. Opening new attractions, hotels, restaurants and breweries, the region has set tourism records.

Visit Buffalo Niagara released new figures showing the record amounts of tourism brought to the area.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Hotel room revenue in Erie County set a new record in 2018 of $257 million, an increase of $40 million from five years ago.
  • Tourism spending in Erie County now totals $1.8 billion, growing by 11 percent over the last five years.
  • Tourism employment has grown by 10 percent in five years, now supporting 33 thousand jobs.
  • Visit Buffalo Niagara generated a record amount of out-of-town media coverage about Buffalo, placing more than 230 stories and hosting more than 50 travel media on press visits.
  • VBN’s sales team and the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission collectively booked nearly 500 future meetings and sporting events worth $116 million in future economic impact. These events will fill more than 136 thousand hotel rooms.