Low-Cost Airline Startup Sees Promise in Smaller Airports

Last week brought news of another new U.S. airline startup, the brainchild of Andrew Levy, United’s former chief financial officer who before that co-founded and ran Allegiant. This follows David Neeleman’s return to the U.S., with a startup targeting secondary airports with newly ordered Airbus A220s.

Levy’s new airline, too, will be an ultra-low-cost carrier. Last summer, he purchased a small charter airline called XTRA Airways, which already has an FAA operating license and a team of operations and safety executives in place. That means the new business model can be ready to launch as early as the fourth quarter of this year, according to an investor solicitation document seen by Skift Airline Weekly.

What exactly is the new business model? It will indeed be ultra-low-cost, a term that’s come to imply densely configured airplanes, quick aircraft turn times, intense aircraft, and airport gate utilization, high labor productivity, heavy outsourcing, few onboard amenities, low base fares, and heavy reliance on ancillary revenues. Levy’s new airline, more distinctly, will target all categories of travelers, which implies not just leisure and family-visit travelers but also those journeying for business. It cites successful low-cost carriers in Europe that have targeted multiple customer segments, an apparent reference to Ryanair and easyJet, both of which carry a lot of short-haul business fliers.

The new airline will be “utilitarian but reliable,” arguing that incumbent ultra-low-cost carriers in the U.S. have “a poor reputation for customer service and reliability. This leads them to compete largely against each other for a relatively modest segment of the market characterized by highly price-sensitive leisure and discretionary travelers who have no other affordable air travel options.” They lack, furthermore, the appropriate products, service, and flight schedules for all but the most highly price-sensitive fliers.

XTRA thinks the U.S. low-cost carrier sector is undersized. But its hints at targeting business fliers seem to suggest its vision is some sort of combination of Southwest and Allegiant, with the former’s appeal to short-haul business travelers but a less extreme version of the latter’s approach to cost-cutting and ancillary selling.


Where will the new airline fly? It’s not revealing any network details yet, other than highlighting an emphasis on secondary airports, echoing Neeleman’s approach. These airports will be in large metro areas, which in Neeleman’s initial business plan means airports like Providence, Rhode Island (in the Boston metro), and Gary, Indiana (near Chicago). Secondary airports, of course, have more room for expansion, experience fewer delays, and schedule disruptions, and are easier for travelers to navigate.

They’re also largely ignored by the Big Three carriers American, Delta, and United, which have in recent years retreated to their primary-airport mega-hubs.

Secondary airports are also less costly to serve, not just because fees and charges tend to be lower but also because it’s easier to execute fast-aircraft turns. The cost of serving primary airports, meanwhile, will likely increase as congestion worsens and bills come due for big expansion and modernization projects.

Consistent with its apparent targeting of business fliers, XTRA (which will have a new name) won’t be too aggressive when it comes to ancillary charges. Yes, it will charge for assigned seats and in-flight concessions. But it won’t have excessive charges for these items and won’t have any “gotcha” charges. It stresses convenient flight schedules, operational reliability, customer service, and “ease of use” — making it simple and straightforward to book a ticket.

Use of secondary airports is one way in which XTRA plans to quickly achieve unit costs equal to or lower than those of other U.S. low-cost carriers. That means, by inference, unit costs far below those of non-low-cost carriers. XTRA’s workforce will be non-union. It will make use of information technology. And it will charge passengers — including what they pay for ancillaries — roughly 40 percent below on average what they’re paying now.

Neeleman’s new airline will likewise look to undercut rivals, if not with an ultra-low-cost model, then one nevertheless heavy on cost efficiencies, including service from secondary airports. Both startups, indeed, identify a common opportunity born of primary airport congestion. In the eyes of both Neeleman and Levy, this congestion, following years of heavy traffic growth but limited airport expansion, has led to roadway congestion, overcrowding, flight delays, and an overall degradation of the passenger experience. Just as important, this congestion is increasingly costly for the airlines that fly there.


Incumbent U.S. airlines, meanwhile, are also seeing their labor costs increase substantially, with the Big Three on the verge of another round of pilot negotiations. That suggests an opportunity for a startup with a junior workforce and a rapid expansion plan, one that quickly gains economies of scale. What’s more, load factors are at record highs, fares are rather high following five giant mergers since 2008, and every major U.S. airline is profitable, collectively generating $18 billion in operating profits last year alone, good for a 10 percent operating margin.

In four years to 2017, as Neeleman argues, the U.S. economy grew 34 percent, but the number of domestic airline seats didn’t grow at all. At smaller airports in smaller markets, seat counts shrunk, in some cases sharply. Consolidation, his business plan notes, has reduced options while creating a “comfortable oligopoly” of carriers with high fares and higher-than-ever profits. No wonder why even notorious airline skeptic Warren Buffett now owns a big chunk of the U.S. airline business. Surely there’s room for other airlines.

Or is there? It’s still an open question whether enough passengers want to fly from secondary airports. They might be less congested, but they also have fewer amenities (lounges, rental car options, and restaurant concessions). They’re also by definition less convenient for people living and working close to city centers.

Incumbents have massive economies of scale and a high tolerance for short-term losses on limited portions of their giant networks — in other words, no second thoughts about dumping lots of low-fare seats into markets the startups choose to attack. Another challenge for the startups: a tight labor market in which even junior pilots won’t come cheap.


And then there’s the similarly tight aircraft market. For Neeleman, that’s no longer a concern. Early this year, he finalized a deal first announced at last year’s Farnborough Airshow, involving 60 A220-300s. The first won’t arrive until 2021, though its original business plan calls for flights to launch no later than summer, 2020, presumably with leased planes. And XTRA? It currently has a lone B737-400.

But its business plan envisions a fleet of five planes at the end of this year, 14 planes at the end of next year and 45 planes at the end of 2023. By then it hopes to be flying 12 million passengers a year and earning net profit margins exceeding 20 percent. Levy tells NPR’s Here & Now that he’ll use “new or nearly new” aircraft. According to Bloomberg News, the choice might be B737-800s, densely configured with 189 seats.

XTRA’s fate, under whatever name it calls itself, will be influenced by factors beyond its control, including aircraft prices, fuel prices, and the health of the U.S. economy. The ferocity of incumbent counterattacks will likewise be a wild card. The bet on its success though, is a bet on the $100 million war chest it plans to build before launching, Levy’s impressive credentials from Allegiant, and the mere fact that Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant are today three of the most profitable airlines anywhere in the world. If you’re going to start a new airline, one might reasonably conclude, start an ultra-cost carrier in the U.S.

The apparent attempt to capture business traffic, perhaps at Southwest’s expense, is an additional wrinkle with less of a track record. It’s also true that the success of Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant all rest heavily on the Florida and Las Vegas markets — markets that are getting crowded. Neeleman’s new airline might have a heavy Florida presence too.

Should incumbents be worried? Maybe not by either of these two startups in isolation. But their roughly simultaneous launch really does seem to signal a new era of fragmentation, at the same time JetBlue prepares to fly transatlantic and as Southwest grows its Hawaii presence. JetBlue itself its bracing for Neeleman’s entrance into transcontinental markets.

The low-cost carriers are increasingly battling each other, not just in Florida but also cities like Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Austin, Texas. Southwest and Alaska are still bloodying each other in California. Boston is another battleground. The Tokyo market is about to see lots of new capacity with new slot availability. Not that there was ever a time without bruising competitive battles. But as the new decade approaches, there’s a feeling of fragmentation.

Source: https://skift.com/2019/04/12/low-cost-airline-startup-sees-promise-in-smaller-airports/

Pizza restaurant to open in Finzels Reach development

A lot of work has taken place in the ever-evolving area over the years – now the prominent building at the heart of it is in the process of becoming something very special.

The former sugar refinery is being transformed by Cubex into a multi-use site which will include a new brew-pub headed up by Left Handed Giant and development kitchen led by Casamia’s Michelin-star head chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias.

Sanchez-Iglesias’ restaurant will have a small number of tables and will rustle up innovative food of the highest order, while LHG’s brewery will produce incredible beer.

And as if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, it has now been revealed that we will also be able to get our hands on top quality pizza once the new site opens its doors.

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of sinking their teeth into one of Mission Pizza’s creations will tell you just how delicious they are.

Headed up by former artisan bakers Jim Bishop and Sandie Tomlinson, Mission Pizza began life in August 2016 when it made its debut at Left Handed Giant’s taproom in St Philips and has appeared at markets and events in and around Bristol since then.

All of its pizzas are vegetarian and its most popular options include the Proper Job, which is topped with chilli flakes and fennel sausage, and the Kale Rider, with toppings including kale and red onion.

Source: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/casual-pizza-restaurant-announced-open-2750206

Indonesia intends to attract more Japanese tourists at Marine Diving Fair in Tokyo

The Tourism Ministry participated in the Marine Diving Fair (MDF) in Japan to promote the marine tourism sector worldwide. The event took place at the Sunshine City Convention Center in Tokyo from April 5 to 7.

“The ministry’s participation in this event is to promote Indonesia as one of the favorite marine tourism destinations, especially for diving,” Ardi Hermawan, assistant deputy of marketing development region II, said in a press release.

The promotional effort is expected to increase the number of tourists, thus achieving the target of 20 million international tourists by 2019.

The event, which began in 1993, is the biggest and most popular diving tourism fair in Japan. It attracted 50,598 people in 2018, 82 percent of whom are divers and another 18 percent of whom represent resorts.

The Indonesian pavilion at the event features 15 companies from eight provinces. Most of them are diving locations such as North Sulawesi Travel from North Sulawesi, PT. Indonesia Kaktus Wisata Tirta (Poni Divers Bali) from Bali, Lembeh Resort from North Sulawesi, Noah Maratua Resort from East Kalimantan, PT. Putra Papua Baru from West Papua, PT. Bali Ocean Adventure (Blue Season Bali) from Bali, Ena Dive Travel & Marine Adventure from Bali and Cocotinos Hotels & Resorts from North Sulawesi.

Also at the event are Sangalaki Resort from North Kalimantan, Grand Komodo Raja Ampat Dive Lodge from Bali, Siladen Island Resort & Spa from North Sulawesi, Pearl of Papua Indonesia from Central Java, Doberai Private Island from West Papua, Dive Dream from Bali as well as Garuda Indonesia, according to Ardi.

Apart from exhibitions, presentations on the main stage by Indonesian diving experts, spa services and cultural performances were offered by the Indonesian pavilion, as well as business and consumer meetings and a tourist information service.

Furthermore, Indonesia’s world-renowned coffee will also be served.

Tourist Minister Arief Yahya describes the MDF as a great opportunity to promote Indonesia’s marine tourism to diving enthusiasts in Japan, which would boost the national tourism industry.

“If we discuss marine tourism, I have no doubt Indonesia is the champion. Indonesia´s coastline is the longest after Canada. Moreover, two thirds of the world´s best reefs are located here. If you want to dive and snorkel, then go to Indonesia. This is what we are offering at the MDF this year,” the minister said. (sop/mut)

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/travel/2019/04/12/indonesia-intends-to-attract-more-japanese-tourists-at-marine-diving-fair-in-tokyo.html


Let’s be real: Game of Thrones marketing is kind of genius. These are the hype wizards who have, you’ll remember, not only brought White Walkers to London but coerced more than 3 million people to watch a block of ice melt for 70 minutes. But as HBO’s much-binged fantasy epic comes to a close, so too do all the opportunities to glom on to the fanfare, leading marketers to set their store of wildfire alight, covering the internet in a blaze of trailers, posters, brand partnerships, and “activations” that can make it seem as though winter is coming everywhere.

The marketing budget for this season of Game of Thrones,according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, is about $20 million, and frankly, it shows. Most television programs do not get Budweiser Super Bowl commercial money—and the marketing for Thrones is going far beyond TV spots. This time around there are sneakersalbums featuring guest spots by A$AP Rocky, and even a South by Southwest “experience” where fans were asked to literally bleed for a glimpse at Westeros.

This is to be expected. Game of Thrones has always been exceptional, a show with an outsized place in American cultural consciousness, but what that level of fandom apparently means to marketers on and off HBO’s payroll has been astounding. For the past few weeks, Game of Throneshasn’t been a TV show—it’s been an emblem of automatic newsworthiness and saleability.

In business circles, the success or failure of these activations will likely be judged by dollars earned, or by a more nebulous metric like engagement. But that’s not how we’ll be judging them here. Instead, the measure is how hard it would be to explain to an alien (or, you know, somebody who hasn’t watched Game of Thrones) what the heck this product or event has to do with a show about monarchy and dragons.

Among the best were HBO’s various #FortheThrone stunts. That SXSW event—actually an American Red Cross blood drive—was dubbed Bleed for the Throne, and it drained fans far beyond Austin. Create for the Throne is a collection of artist reimaginings of 18 of the show’s most iconic props, and the results are beautifully nerdy. Quest for the Throne was a worldwide scavenger hunt for six hidden Iron Thrones. The prize? A crown and bragging rights.

To be clear, just because a lot of these stunts sound over the top doesn’t mean people aren’t clamoring for them. As soon as the Quest for the Throne started, New York–based Game of Thrones superfan Natasha Speth found her Instagram flooded with news of the hunt. “There had to be one in New York, I just felt it,” Speth says. She was right. A throne appeared at the Fort Totten Torpedo Battery. Speth texted her “fellow nerds,” dressed herself resplendently as Sansa Stark, and set off to Queens. “I gotta do stuff that makes me happy,” Speth says. “So I waited in line for four and a half hours on a Saturday morning. It would have been a huge missed opportunity not to sit on the Iron Throne cosplaying as Sansa.”

Speth, like many other Thrones aficionados, is open about her fandom, and rather relishes seeing the world inundated with Westerosi kitsch like a behemoth throne in Rockefeller Center or Mountain Dew cans that display Arya Stark’s kill list when cold or an Oreo version of the show’s opening credits. “It’s pretty hilarious,” she says. “I think HBO is doing a good job pushing it without diluting.”

Most of HBO’s official marketing campaigns and partnerships center on products you can easily imagine a fan enjoying: White Walker whiskey and wines for each House to serve at viewing parties, AT&T stores turned into costume emporiums and Magic Leap AR experiences. But for others, the sheer effort put into all those limited-edition Oreos and $100 T-shirts and Las Vegas fountain displays and Urban Decay makeup palettes and secret Valyrian Shake Shack menus starts to take on a particular aroma: flop sweat, the anxious stench of companies aware that this season presents their final opportunity to milk the Game of Thrones cash cow.

Nowhere is this utter lack of chill more evident than in the most try-hard corner of social media: fast-food Twitter. Go on, tell me it doesn’t make you cringe a little to see the official Game of Thrones account palling around with Wendy’s and Mr. Peanut. This is a show that’s burned little girls alive. Now they’re selling luxury T-shirts and making “Nut’s Watch” jokes? Shame! Most of these products have nought to do with Game of Thrones but a sigil or a punny name, making them not just last-gasp attention grabs but unsubtle ones at that. And Thrones is so marketable that in many of these partnerships, it’s not really clear who is doing who a favor. Is a kinship with Bellagio Hotel and Casino really selling Game of Thrones? Or are we just witnessing a grand handshake agreement to make as much money from fans as possible?

In this time of maximalist marketing and peak Game of Thrones, commodification in the extreme was inescapable. It’s even lead to companies with no obvious HBO affiliations trying for the Game of Thrones spotlight. Fantasy-sports-style apps—like Game of Shows—are angling to get their slice of the hype. Streaming service Now TV is offering a chance at free Game of Thrones tattoos done by the same artist that inked Sophie Turner’s Stark family sigil. Dating app OkCupid offers a Game of Thrones “profile badge” meant to help single Thrones fans identify each other and find dates among their peers. Machine learning platforms are predicting each characters’ chances of survival. And, in what may be the craziest attempt of all, New York’s Highline Hotel launched #GameofWiFi, a challenge to other hotels to provide the fastest Wi-Fi in the land so guests may download Game of Thrones with maximum speed.

Does it all seem like a lot? It is. But love it or hate it, HBO is just following a proverb of internet capitalism: Make and market thy own wares, or somebody else sure will.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/game-of-thrones-marketing/

Entrepreneurs behind popular StreetAway app launch new hospitality platform

The entrepreneurs behind New Apex Ltd’s promotion app, StreetAway, are pairing with some big hospitality names as they launch a new smart hospitality management system.

Spark will be released this month, and has been trialled across various Newcastle venues. The founders aim to help the region’s hospitality industry with new tech.

Marketing director, David Cook, said: “With hospitality being such an important part of the economy in the North East and the large number of fantastic venues we’re lucky to have here, we can’t think of a better place to base ourselves and serve the industry.

“We’ve been lucky to have benefited from many of the local regional growth funds and are proud to do our part to bring new jobs and wealth to the region.

“We’ve brought together a team of leading hospitality experts to design a full hospitality management system, incorporating EPoS, unlimited reservations and CRM into one unified package.”

In a recent survey, 82 per cent of companies see ‘Online Ordering’ & ‘In App Payments’ as the most important future tools for their business – according to UK Hospitality in 2018.

Source: https://bdaily.co.uk/articles/2019/04/12/entrepreneurs-behind-popular-streetaway-app-launch-new-hospitality-platform

Accept and adapt – HR teams, take a note!

This is the age of gig-economy where career experiences take precedence over the brand value of the company and employees’ personal branding and marketability is more important than that of their employers. While it may be a tectonic change for the companies and their HR teams, this is the truth of today!

In the three decades of my professional experience, I have observed that the more people gravitate towards newer modes of communication, their ability to wait for responses comes down. Since the advent of social media, a sense of urgency has infiltrated the personal and professional lives of the people, especially those who are digital natives or have embraced the digital-way wholeheartedly. This is in stark contrast with the older generations that lived in an age when a 12-hour wait for a trunk call was considered ‘lightening quick’. This proclivity for quick turn-round-time has also percolated into the organizational work-culture across the globe. Performance management has ditched the TTYL approach and even ASAP has been deemed too slow for the future of work.

Millennials constitute a large percentage of today’s workforce and they seek a different experience than their predecessors driven by a culture of openness, better and more frequent communication, teamwork, timely mentoring and career progression programs. Traditional approaches are bound to fail in the technology-driven dynamic corporate environment; therefore, a modern performance assessment perspective properly aligned with business growth, employee aspirations and organizational values are essential. 

Evolution of Performance Management

Employee assessment has come a long way from the days of confidential reports which defined the draconian Bell Curve method imposed by companies to segregate the workforce into best, average and poor performers. This enabled the managers to control and define the distribution of payment especially for the variable component for the previous performance year and compensation revision for the future. However, this method was quite rigid and did not allow employees to alter their performance instantly as the feedback to their work-routine was shared by the managers once a year. Due to this rigidity, organizations started looking towards other alternatives that facilitated instantaneous feedback and evaluation. 

At first, removal of the Bell Curve started as an experiment but gradually this practice has found its way into most progressive organizations. They have realized that it is virtually impossible to attract and retain top-class talent without giving them assurance of constant feedback, engagement, and a defined career path. Modern-day performance management framework has ditched the old and dead-beat approaches and embraced a more holistic outlook that aims at balancing professional commitment with personal development. An indicator of this development has been the rise in the corporate trend of reserving a substantial part of the compensation as variable, sometimes with no upper cap for high performers. This practice not only motivates professionals to strive harder, learn more and be more efficient but also help companies in implementing feedback driven meritocracy.

Trends that drive the new-age work culture

The past decade has seen major revolutions in performance management as the business sectors have continued to steer away from conventional once-a-year appraisals bringing ineffective practices that symbolize the future of work. According to my experience, HR practitioners are aggressively looking to stay ahead of the curve and evolve their performance management strategies. Some such notable transformational approaches are: 

Rise of the authentic company culture

The foremost change in the performance evaluation system has been the rise of the authentic brand i.e. a company ecosystem that treats employees as an integral part and not mere means to an end. Today’s professionals want to be part of the decision-making process especially pertaining to performance assessment; they like being spoken to regularly and addressed on-the-spot rather than being in doubt about their credentials and performance. While the new-age work culture revolves around how much trust an employee has on his/her company, it is also necessary to distinguish continuous assessment form irritating interventions and prying. The social media savvy workforce of today is quite temperamental and their threshold for tolerating needless meddling in their day-to-day work is pretty low. The managers and the HR division have to efficiently harmonize their business requirements with the satisfaction levels of the employees.

Agile industries covet agile talent

As companies look to leverage emerging technologies, they have turned their talent management approach on its head.

Companies have embraced the notion that genuine talent cannot be assigned a label and while employees on fix payroll maybe at the core of their offering, it is often the freelancers who bring in the x-factor. Naturally, companies are seeking talent wherever and whenever it can be found and allocating them projects that suit their skill-sets and career aspirations. Trends indicate that enterprises prefer hiring contractual employees on need basis than keeping a bench of dormant employees.    

New skills and challenging projects

A few decades ago, employees were not concerned about evolving their skill sets and were content with the repetitive nature of work. The new-age professionals, on the contrary, do not like redundancy and whether permanent or contract-based, their priority is the enhancement of their profiles and competencies. Companies are accordingly aligning their scope of work with the preferences of their employees and facilitating necessary training such as those related to data and digital literacy. One such trend has been the provision of learning and development tools to the workforce, customized to their career preferences and tailored to enhancing organizational productivity simultaneously. Identification of skill-gap becomes an input for development intervention & for future career management for HR team.

Cognitive Performance Management 

Today, the singular characteristic trait of a successful company is the extent of technology integration across its various operations. By harnessing the power of technology, HR professionals can identify organizational readiness to take up new projects. Depending upon the requirements, the existing employees can be exposed to new skills and technologies or people can be hired on a temporary basis with the required expertise. Emerging technologies can help the HR system of a company to move beyond mere employee engagement and retention and facilitate detailed insights on managerial and operational issues. According to Deloitte, data driven tools can churn real-time insights to analyze employee work-patterns, time management, productivity levels, tendency to exit the company, fraud risk and level of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the existing process of the enterprise. 

HR Teams, take a note!

The seismic shifts in the thought process of the modern-day employees can be correctly attributed to the rapid pace of digital innovations. A 2018 report by Hootsuite highlighted an interesting fact, 82 percent of consumers expect an immediate response on sales or marketing questions from the brands. This social media driven exigent behavior is the new normal for the modern employee who values evolving job profile and rapid career growth over the longevity of service. This is the age of gig-economy where career experiences take precedence over the brand value of the company and employees’ personal branding and marketability is more important than that of their employers. While it may be a tectonic change for the companies and their HR teams, this is the truth of today that they have to accept and adapt to.


How Brands Are Improving Customer Experiences in the Travel and Hospitality Industry

Technology has been steadily improving customer experiences (CX) across a breadth of industries, with travel and hospitality among them. But to truly see how CX marketing is changing how we vacation, consider how we now book trips. What once started with a trip to a local agent, who you entrusted to take your needs and wants—and hard-earned cash—and translate them into the excursion of your dreams, now begins with an interactive online experience where consumers can not only consider reviews from other travelers, compare prices, and even live chat with customer service representatives, but they’ll also get tailor-made recommendations on when best to fly, package deals to consider, and inspiring and informative marketing content on locales when they’re booking their trip on their own, straight from home.

Sounds good, right? But what exactly is CX? I’m partial to this definition from HubSpot, which looks at both the context of CX and what brands must do to create it: “If customer experience (CX) refers to the sum of every interaction a customer has with a business, both pre- and post-sale, the customer experience strategy defines the actionable plans in place to deliver a positive, meaningful experience across those interactions.”

So how have technology and customer-centric marketing converged to improve CX in both travel and hospitality, and what can brands learn about improving customer experience from their example? Let’s dive in.

The Travel CX Is Not a Static CX: Prepare for Dynamic Customer Journeys

Technology is changing everything, from the way we book trips to how we experience destinations on the go. Think about it: You get a week off, so what are you going to do with it? A few years ago, you would have called a travel agent and said something like “I want to go to Ireland,” or “I really like vacationing by the sea. What’s on sale in June?”

Today, you talk to friends. You read travel guides. You browse TripAdvisor. And then you start searching—online. Maybe the bleak winter has left you tired and uninspired and you’re determined to get to Hawaii. In today’s market, you could end up at a branded resort on Waikiki, Airbnbing a spare room on a farm on Oahu’s north shore, taking a luxury cruise through the islands, staying on a houseboat, or booking a B&B package with a car rental. From the way you learn about the options available to you, to the ways people experience activities, all aspects of the travel experience have completely shifted as a result of CX marketing.

In large part, the customer journey has shifted from a chance to pick a standard trip to an opportunity to design a unique adventure. And in this journey, the touchpoints are nearly endless for consumers to discover brands, learn more about said brands, and ultimately make a purchase or enjoy products or services the brand specializes in. In a nutshell: The customer journey is no longer static.

So how can modern marketers continue improving customer experiences online while leveraging the latest technology? And what are some ways to look at this process systematically and creatively throughout the customer life cycle?

As Aberdeen notes, “Customer journeys, however, are dynamic; customer behavior evolves rapidly, and so do the related journeys. Therefore, to keep up with changing buyer behavior, companies must have real-time visibility into customer journeys. Only then will firms deliver truly omni-channel interactions.” Hospitality and travel brands have found ways to gather real-time customer data and create feedback loops that feed that information into the CX delivery system. Typically, that starts with effective technology-driven data gathering to power a dynamic customer journey.

In hospitality marketing, strong data can make the difference between attracting a stampede of customers and struggling to fill rooms. Beverly Jackson, MGM Resorts International‘s VP of social and content strategy, wanted to find out if her ads resonated with audiences on social media. She went through marketing insight company TrackMaven, which joined forces with Skyword in late 2018, to get to the bottom of it.

In an interview with TrackMaven, Jackson said: “People come to our resorts not to have a bad time, people come to our resorts to be entertained, to be wowed, to be inspired, to be delighted. The opportunity to retell their stories on social media, the opportunity to inspire them to have great fun and experiences and make lifelong memories, that’s the absolute best part of my job every day.”

In part, Jackson and her team seize that opportunity by using customer data to inform a smart, competitive CX marketing strategy. The company also works to meet the needs of different tiered properties, with ad effectiveness being one area they wanted to explore.

“What we wanted to really see was whether or not our television commercials were resonating on social with our audiences,” she explained. “What we were able to do with TrackMaven was to go in and see the ads we set out on Facebook, (and determine) what was the role of that ad in terms of bringing new customers into the mix … we were able to see in Vegas a couple of months that we have a competitor in the marketplace who, for the first time, was going big into video. TrackMaven was able to show us how our video campaigns, even at the organic level, were resonating in a way that their paid campaign was not. And that’s a very powerful piece of data for us.”

MGM’s inquiry showcases a critical reality in today’s complex environment: Things happen quickly, so quickly that without real market data, you’re at a disadvantage. By using data-gathering and analysis technology, you’ll be able to better understand how effective your campaigns are and narrow in on what steps you can take next to better reach your customers.

Technology Helps Solve Common Complaints

Vacations are meant to be a great escape, not a stressful event. Yet, too many of us have wrestled with the horrors of bad travel—delayed flights, screaming baby seatmates, hotels with bedbugs, poor customer service across the board—to not be wary when booking, or even resort to praying the vacation gods will smile down on us for this one, much-needed trip.

But times are a-changin’, as CIO notes, “For an industry that has been resistant to incorporating evolving technology into the mix, travel and tourism is ripe for disruption that will touch on every phase of the customer experience, from arranging plans to discovering new destinations with a local perspective. Service providers will also benefit, but it ultimately depends on all stakeholders embracing the valuable technology ecosystems being touted by the newer entrants to the industry and their plans to shake the foundations of the tourism industry.”

Currently, the travel and hospitality industry is improving customer experiences by using emerging technology to address common complaints. Hotel guests who don’t want to have to call the concierge for a wake-up call or to get room service, for instance, can simply ask the Alexa device in their hotel room or make a request using a hotel app on their smartphone.

Disney made waves with its MyMagic+ band, which not only made it easier for guests to access their whole itinerary and pay in the parks, but the technology created a data collection feedback loop for the brand to take advantage of as well.

The goal of the tech team who developed the MagicBands was to “root out all the friction within the Disney World experience,” according to Bernard Marr at Forbes. Some ways the bands leverage personalized data to build these seamless experiences include having restaurant hosts greet you and your family by name or having your child’s favorite Disney character meet them in line for a certain ride.

By putting technology at the heart of individual touch points, resorts and other travel businesses are getting foundational aspects of their CX right.

Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She’s worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.S

As CX marketing moves to the forefront of business models, companies need better strategies for deploying technology that improves the customer experience. Gathering data, eliminating chaos in the customer journey, and taking a touch point application on implementation can turn technology into a powerful asset. For marketers, there are opportunities at all stages—prospect, buying in, experience, and post-purchase—to integrate technology and provide a personalized customer experience, which can help your brand earn stripes in the eyes of prospective travelers and truly stand out in this competitive industry.


Smart Hospitality Industry Business: Impressed Guests Are Return Guests

NATIONAL REPORT—Any hotel manager who has tried to increase year-on-year sales is familiar with the marketing investment needed to achieve even modest incremental growth. And always, those marketing dollars could also be well spent on facility repairs and upgrades or a range of other business needs.

A cost-effective option to pursue increased sales while holding down costs is a renewed focus on impressing and delighting the guests you already have. Happy guests often make a point of returning again and again and recommending your location to family and friends, which can increase demand and revenues with minimal new investment.

The best way to impress guests is to focus on what’s most important to them—cleanliness. A recent study indicated that, for a whopping 97% of hotel guests, clean rooms and common areas were the single-most important factor in assessing the quality of their stay.*

A great way to ensure your hotel is clean is to provide your cleaning staff with the machines to address any kind of mess, whether high or low, in tight or open spots, during busy or quiet times or near or far from electrical outlets. The solution? Making sure your cleaning toolkit includes cordless upright vacuums, backpack vacuums and wide-area vacuums.

Cordless upright vacuums allow cleaning staff to easily and safely focus on efficient and powerful cleaning, even in crowded environments. Staff members don’t need to constantly find outlets, and guests don’t need to avoid dangerous cords.

The new Sanitaire® QUICKBOOST™ cordless upright offers the added benefits of operating for up to 47 minutes on a single charge** and at less than 70 dBA. With Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI)-rated cleaning performance, the lightweight and agile QUICKBOOST™ easily tackles both day-to-day and emergency 24/7 cleaning.

Backpack vacuums offer unique comfort and convenience advantages. Cleaning staff don’t need to push them around, freeing them to easily clean cluttered spaces, tight spaces, stairs, drapes and high-up spots like ceiling vents, to name a few. And when a backpack vacuum is lightweight, its even distribution across an employee’s frame makes it almost incomparably easy to transport and operate. The CRI-rated and LEED-qualified Sanitaire® TRANSPORT™ QuietClean® backpack vacuumweighs less than 12 pounds and includes a comfortable harness.

For larger, open areas like ballrooms, banquet rooms, conference rooms and lobbies, debris is both widely dispersed and easy to spot across large interior spaces. Delight your guests with dirt-free floors that were cleaned in a fraction of the time it would take with a traditional vacuum.

Wide area vacuums can cut cleaning time in half, especially if they include the right features. The Sanitaire® SPAN™ Wide Track® vacuum has a two-and-a-third-ft.-wide (28-in.) cleaning path for maximum efficiency. A 60-ft. cord and seven-gallon dust bag mean minimal stopping and starting. And most importantly for your guests, the SPAN™ wide area cleaner is CRI rated, ensuring a best-possible clean.


10 ways smart technology is reshaping the hotel industry

Smart technology is changing everything from the homes we live in to how our cities are managed. The hospitality industry is no exception. In many ways, the hospitality industry is leading the charge in the adoption of smart business technology. 

From operations to guest experience to marketing, smart hotel technology offers a variety of cost savings and revenue opportunities, and it is enabling hotel owners to reach new levels of profitability. Here are 10 ways in which smart technology will be reshaping the hotel industry in the very near future.

1. Smart Energy Management

Smart thermostats and occupancy sensors can monitor and respond to fluctuations in occupancy. Likewise, smart energy-management systems use sophisticated machine-learning algorithms to continuously analyze historical thermodynamics, local weather patterns and peak demand loads to optimize energy consumption in real-time, all year round. Smart energy savings aren’t just wild speculation. Smart energy-management systems can reduce hotel energy costs by up to 20 percent and generate some of the fastest payback periods in the industry (between 12-24 months). They can also significantly increase the resale value of a hotel.

The energy savings from Internet of Things technology is not limited only to heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Smart lighting technology also enables hoteliers to better understand their energy needs, automate consumption and adapt to real-time changes in occupancy. Just as smart HVAC systems use occupancy sensors and machine-learning algorithms to continuously analyze demand load patterns and optimize HVAC energy consumption, smart lighting systems similarly allow hotels to set preferred lighting times, track occupancy patterns and improve overall lighting energy consumption throughout the year.

For instance, when the Chatwal Hotel in New York retrofitted approximately 1,300 lamps in the hallways, common areas, and 80 rooms, it saved more than 410,000 annual kilowatt-hours, equating to a 90 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption. Indeed, the Chatwal Hotel saved around $124,255 in the first year alone.

2. Predictive Maintenance

Just as smart EMSs enable hoteliers to monitor, track and optimize energy consumption, predictive maintenance allows them to use sensor data to identify wasteful or hazardous trends and alert maintenance staff before a given issue escalates into a much costlier one. So rather than waiting for a component to break down before being serviced or replaced, IoT technologies are enabling engineering staff to predict maintenance needs based on system usage, prevent system failures and reduce the costs of operating a faulty system.

A single leaky toilet can cost as much as $840 per year. Add to that the cost of water damage that occurs until the leak is detected. By monitoring water lines with smart, low-cost IoT-enabled water meters, hotels can see a return on their water consumption in about four years.

Similarly, some online management platforms continuously collect data related to HVAC runtimes for each unique room and assigns them efficiency ratings. This rating is an indicator of how quickly a room can be heated or cooled back down to the guest’s preferred temperature and provides engineering teams with critical alerts when HVAC equipment needs attention.

3. Smart Guest Experiences

No hotel can operate without guests, and for that reason, hoteliers can expect to see smart technology further shape guest experiences and expectations. Not only can guest data be used to help better accommodate guest needs, but in conjunction with occupancy sensors, it can also be used to automate guest interactions throughout their stay, reducing both friction points and labor costs. In this way, smart technology will continue to make it possible for hotels to predict and personalize several guest services based on previous visits and aggregated guest data.

4. Big Data and Big Data Protection

One of the main benefits of smart technology is how it aggregates data and makes it actionable. But with big data comes big responsibility. According to Cloudbeds, “Big data is great when you can use it to take action—whether that’s tackling a new market segment or adjusting your rate plans to compete against your competitors. However, the biggest concern around big data and the necessary data harboring is the safety around it. Every data harborer’s goal is to keep their customers’ data safe, but that’s easier said than done. In recent years, we’ve seen massive data breaches that have literally put hundreds of millions of consumers at risk—like Equifax and Target.”

As the price point of big-data solutions makes them more accessible to medium-sized segments of the hotel market, we can expect to see more hotel owners adopt and invest in them. More importantly, we can expect solution providers who can guarantee data protect to dominate their market segments.

5. Smart Reserved Parking

Hotels now can use smart sensors and hotel apps to allow guests to reserve parking spots in advance of their visit and to have their space assigned upon arrival. This will save hotels the labor cost of manually managing parking inventory and it will give guests a smoother experience from the moment they pull in.

6. Remote Check-In/Check-Out

By enabling guests to check in remotely through their mobile device, hotel owners can better predict/manage their staffing needs and save considerably on labor costs. This technology can also alert hotel staff when guests arrive (enabling them to spend less time on the welcoming process), offer appropriate upgrades/upsells, and provide them with a more personalized guest experience, even on their first visit.

At the end of the guest stay, travelers can enjoy a seamless self-check-out experience that also allows them to arrange for their preferred transportation to their next destination (whether it be taxi, airport shuttle or a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft), further saving on labor costs.

7. Mobile Room Keys 

Today more and more hotels are offering guests room access via their smartphone app. This is saving costs from printing environmentally harmful plastic keycards and its eliminating the hassle of managing keycard inventory that is prone to loss and demagnetization.

8. Smart Roomservice

Smart occupancy sensors will also help hotels push menu notifications to smartphones at optimal times when the guests are in their rooms. These notifications can even include personalized suggestions based on past orders. Indeed, many home food-delivery apps already offer a similar experience, sending push notifications to frequent users at their preferred ordering times on their preferred days.

9. Smart Marketing Practices

Before hotels can deliver on a smart guest experience, they must bring guests through the door; that’s where smart marketing comes in. Data opportunities of smart technology offer hotels a more complete picture of their guests than ever before. Hotels that leverage data insight are the ones that will continue to succeed in the face of increased competition from Airbnb.

10. Online Reputation Management Technology

A hotel’s online ratings can not only help predict future bookings, but they offer owners valuable insight into how well a property delivered on guest expectations. Therefore, operators will continue to invest in platforms that help them monitor online reviews, manage their online reputation and use that feedback to improve both their operational and guest experience standards. Indeed, online reviews not only provide a source of direct feedback from guests, but they also impact a property’s bottom line.
These 10 trends are just the beginning. Other smart technologies such as customer surveys, smart loyalty-program management and smart hotel management will play a bigger role in how hotels operate in 2020 and beyond. The key to smarter hotel operations is implementing the right technologies that meet guests’ expectations and hoteliers’ needs to get to know these travelers better. 

As we move toward 2020, we can expect to see more hotel properties leveraging a variety of smart tech to reduce operational costs, improve guest experience and exploit new sources of revenue. The opportunity is in the data. The successful properties will be the ones that invest in collecting and analyzing it in an actionable fashion.


How Important Is Live Music In The Hospitality Industry?

Spring fever is currently taking effect in New Jersey and all across the East Coast. For the Hospitality Industry, the start of Spring season means an influx of people coming out of the woodwork to enjoy local restaurants and bars. The combination of good food, sincere service, and entertaining live music have become the key factors in a community member’s decision to come out and play on nicer Spring days and evenings.
“Start the fire buddy! C’mon man, play something from The Stranger!” screams an event attendee. “We strictly do 80’s Joel music sir…” reasons the musician.

Any idea where this situation goes after this interaction? Even if this Step Brothers reference just flew overhead, it’s no secret that live music is amazing–until it really isn’t. What’s more, young restaurant upstarts along with their guests do not realize that there is a ton of ground to cover in between the time that restaurant managers decide they want to have live music and when the event actually occurs. From booking the bands, setting a music schedule, playing music to the vibe of the restaurant, and doing it all over again; restaurant managers, servers, bartenders, and live musicians are constantly working to get on the same page in order to make dining out with live music an enjoyable experience. 

“There’s so many restaurants out there, so it’s nice when you have an opportunity to give a customer some added value to enhance their experience. Everyone can serve a burger and everyone serves pasta with shrimp but, live music is something that makes you different from everyone else,” said Joe Amore, a restaurant manager at The Blue Horse Restaurant in Highland Park. Amore and the team at CAM Hospitality Group recently opened the new restaurant back in October 2018 and decided almost immediately to introduce live music every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Since The Blue Horse is so new, the team had to start from the bottom up when looking for musicians and when setting a schedule. However, as soon as word got out that musicians were in demand, “there were weeks where I had six different bands coming in, asking if they could play. So, how do you organize that? We linked up with this gentleman John Bianculli. He’s a local artist with so many connections. He keeps track of our scheduling so we can focus on what we do best, which is food, beverages, and service,” said Amore.

A definitive schedule of events is one of the most important aspects when trying to successfully pair the Music and Hospitality industries. As much as customers appreciate a band or solo performance whilst sipping wine or slurping spaghetti, there is such a thing as “overplaying” live music. The Blue Horse, has three days of music each week and never more. Other restaurant owners like Kevin Trimarchi of 22 West Tap and Grill also have their own scheduling methods when it comes to booking musicians.

“When we opened, we had entertainment every single Friday and Saturday for the first five months. We really evaluated things after that, and instead we wanted to make it something special rather than make it repetitive or washed up,” said Trimarchi of his location in Bridgewater, NJ. “We switched every Friday to a band and every Saturday to a DJ. We focused on the acts that really brought in the money as well as special themed nights like 90s Night or Techno Night.”

Once a band has been hired and added to a restaurant’s schedule, the work still does not stop for restaurant owners and musicians. Restaurant managers must begin to anticipate the crowd that each live act may bring through the door.

“We get music from New York, South Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Each band always has followers, so it introduces the Blue Horse to different people every single week,” said Amore. “We have our regulars but we also like to have new artists as well because you get another 10 to 20 people that may have never been here.”

However, once the night begins and the music goes live, the restaurant staff and performer(s) must always prepare to adjust spontaneously. Being a proper judge of the crowd’s mood or the restaurant’s atmosphere is a necessary characteristic for both musicians and staff. 

“It is important that they are in tune with what’s going on around them. If there’s a musician that just plays the same 20 songs no matter what the situation well, that’s not the right person for us,” said Amore. “As we look for quality food and the right ingredients, we also have to look for the right musicians that can adapt to the crowd. Is it an older crowd or is it a younger crowd?  Is it too loud to converse or not loud enough? It’s music volume, it’s interaction, it’s music selection, it’s all of that stuff.”

Vic Della Pello, a musician out of Asbury Park, NJ agrees. “The place I’m playing tonight, I noticed that when I do their Happy Hour there’s an older clientele. So, I can’t go in there and hit them over the head with some of my harder material. I find they respond to things like the Beatles, James Taylor, or America. The types of bands that are a little bit lighter, a little bit more of the singer-songwriter type.”

Playing to a crowd is a tough, but a necessary skill when it comes to this line of work. Musicians like Della Pello have to be in sync with managers like Amore or Trimarchi when it comes to taking breaks in performance, keeping customers in the restaurant, and responding to the ever changing vibe of the evening.

Often times, a live performance can allow a server, bartender, or manager to take their time and get a dinner or drink order correct, instead of having to rush something out. “Music definitely gets a customer’s mind off of the question, Where is our food, when there’s something nice to listen to,” said Trimarchi. “I would say customers are also more inclined to hang out a little longer, get another beer, order appetizers before entrees, and stay out a bit later.”

While live music isn’t directly correlated to increased restaurant sales, studies do show that louder music volumes (such as those that are produced at live performances) do tend to lead to higher consumption of (alcoholic) beverages. Della Pello has noticed instances like this first hand… 

“I think for the most part people are going to leave when they’re going to leave, but the other night a lady asked if we played any Bad Company. So, I said Hang out a little and when we come back on we’ll play a Bad Company song,” Della Pello recalled. “We played, the night continued, and then I saw that this individual was ready to leave. I turned to the band and said, let’s Play Another Bad Company song. And she ordered another drink [laughs]. That’s a very specific instance, and I can’t think a whole room is doing that, but there you go.”

There is never any guarantee that a restaurant’s food or a band’s music can satisfy the palettes of each guest who comes in–that has to be why Yelp exists. However, coming to the table or the stage with a plan of action and the know-how to make adjustments will assure waitstaff, barkeeps, entertainers, and administrators are satisfying their guests during this budding Spring season and during the busiest time of the year for two industries that couldn’t be more suited for each other.