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A culture of trust and how to create it

Posted on December 6, 2017 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (799)

By Lizz Chambers|December 6th, 2017|

Are you the person in your organization who seems to inspire trust? Are you known as the empathetic and trustworthy person who associates come to with workplace issues that may be sensitive in nature? Do you pride yourself on keeping a confidence while facilitating corporate change?

Usually, your associates will come begging confidentiality and they’ll need to know that that is exactly what they will receive, so long as it doesn’t involve anything outright illegal. This element of trust can leave any manager in a precarious position, yet it is worthwhile in an organization where hotels may be spread from coast to coast and employing a multitude of personality types for supervisory and GM roles. Moreover, a culture of honest communications is essential for reducing employee turnover and increasing productivity.

Crucial here is also the development of a sense of transparency where not only do associates feel comfortable bringing their issues to their supervisors, but managers can also openly express what decisions have been at the corporate level without any political distortions deemed necessary to maintain relationships. Transparency is a fixture of the modern workplace, and it behoves you to find ways to foster it within your hotel culture.

If this ‘trustworthy person’ does not happen to be you – the ambitious hotelier who actually allocates time to read op-eds instead of running on autopilot – are you confident enough to use this ‘trust agent’ to your advantage from time to time?

I have worked many times with extremely confident general managers who have even used training sessions to bow out gracefully and leave the room, thereby allowing their associates to ‘vent’ about issues that affect morale, productivity and service. These strong and confident leaders welcome the information received in these informal sessions to improve working conditions and associate relationships.

Then it isn’t long before associates stop going to an outside source, such as human resources, and start trusting their supervisors instead. Such managers like this also know that the information relayed to HR is simply an opportunity to welcome change and to start building an environment of respect so that the ‘open door’ will be their gateway to a successful career. Nine times out of ten the managers who choose this road do not generally need HR to mediate a second time.

So, do you create a work environment where associates feel comfortable in speaking out about any and all issues? Or is this only something in your head and the reality is that you have helped to foster one where fear of retribution overpowers honest and open communication?

Sometimes you should not concentrate on the answers but on the questions you should be asking as a strong confident leader. As such, here is a list to help guide you towards creating a culture of trust in your hotel, for which I’ll leave the answers up to you to decide, based on the above introduction, what is the best course of action.

  • Do your associates trust you enough to realize that if they communicate openly and earnestly at any level in the company their future will not be damaged or in jeopardy?
  • Do you help associates feel that the work they do is actually significant in the grander scheme of things?
  • Under what conditions do you delegate responsibility and are you personally comfortable in delegating authority?
  • Do you involve your associates in the decision-making process?
  • Is training and development a central part of your strategic plan?
  • How do you show your staff that you value them and appreciate their work?
  • What procedures are in place to reward the kinds of behaviours you want to see repeated?
  • Have you defined your company’s core values (at least 5) and do your corporate executives demonstrate these on a daily basis?
  • How much are real, honest-to-goodness fun people having at work?
  • If you ask your associates to take risks, do you embrace their failures as learning experiences?
  • Do you really believe your associates are capable of being fully empowered and, if not, do you understand that you could be at fault?
  • When an associate makes the decision to please the guests rather than please you, are they praised or reprimanded?


  • Do you survey your staff to find out how they really feel about their working environment as well as whether or not they really have the tools they need to fully take care of their guests?


  • Do you orient your associates to who you are – to the heart and soul of your company, your goals, your vision, and your values – so they can join you and not just work for you?


Remember, if we want our associates to create more value in your hotels for your guests, you need to create more value in the workplace for them – it’s really that simple!

The future of casual dining: what to expect

Posted on November 23, 2017 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (415)

Targeting future audiences is a longstanding marketing strategy, and that’s exactly what the casual dining restaurant industry is doing in a current effort to survive. Cracker Barrel’s Holler and Dash, is a new chain with a fast-casual concept built around fresh-baked biscuits. With bare-brick walls and concrete floors, H&D is targeting a younger demographic than its parent chain.

This is part of an industry-wide shift by outdated restaurant chains to reinvent themselves, by creating “offshoot” brands under a new name and image that are aimed at Millennials and younger diners.

Downward drift

A  casual dining industry analysis shows that during 2016 the sector experienced more rapidly declining sales and traffic than others. Although the slipping sales have been attributed to everything from the weather to politics, the fact is the industry has seen a downward trend in growth since the beginning of 2015.

The impact has been most significant for chain restaurants, which have been hard-pressed to close venues and lay off staff as the trend continued. Meanwhile, quick service restaurants, fine dining and upscale casual venues have all been in positive territory over the same period.

Incorporating new trends

For restaurant venues setting out to conceptualize a new image, new casual dining industry trends worth incorporating are:

  • Free wifi: 80% of Millennials have used free wifi in a restaurant in the past year, making this the highest-ranking consumer trend according to the National Restaurant Association.
  • Local food: 56% of consumers prefer food locally sourced from farmers and producers in their own community.
  • Saving the planet: 60% of consumers make restaurant choices based on the serving of environmentally-friendly food.

Combine these options with the streamlined service of the fast-casual environment, and the entire industry undergoes a metamorphosis.

Statistics worth noting

With total restaurant sales projected to reach almost $800 billion by the end of the year, feeding people now accounts for 4 percent of the U.S. GDP. Casual dining industry statistics showed franchise restaurants are the most common of all restaurant types, comprising one third of all venues in the U.S.

A report from Restaurant.org shows consumers are increasingly looking for healthier meals, with 70 percent likely to visit venues that offer locally-sourced foods. Diners also want dynamic options beyond the basic burger-and-fries, with 25 percent stating they wanted to try unconventional cuisine.

Keeping market share

In spite of the declining levels of the casual dining market share, restaurant brands in this space would do well to focus on three critical areas in their efforts to remain relevant. These are:

Innovative menu planning, which meets demand for healthier options based on locally-sourced produce.

Improved service, delivered by competent, trained staff. Since part of the casual dining value proposition continues to include full service, companies will need to continue investing in service that is exceptional, for patrons to accept higher price points.

The use of technology to streamline and automate processes, especially client-facing ones. Statistics show more than 70 percent of diners presented with tablets for ordering purposes used them, and were impressed by the chance to do so.

There’s no question the casual dining restaurant industry is currently going through some changes, but with careful planning and innovation a new version may rise and take advantage of the huge numbers of younger diners looking to enjoy eating out.

By Court Williams, CEO of HVS Executive Search

8 Things Exceptional Bosses Constantly Tell Their Employees

Posted on January 17, 2017 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (35)

Leadership always starts with great communication, so amazing bosses use these phrases daily.

By Elle Kaplan

CEO, Lexion Capital [email protected]

 

Whether you're managing an intern or running an entire business, your employees' success (and your own skin) depends on your leadership.

 

Thankfully, the solution for motivating your team and squashing any issues is right at the tip of your tongue. It all starts with communication -- the skill experts point to as the make-or-break factor for successful leadership.

 

Here are eight things that exceptional bosses tell their employees daily. Start using these daily (or begin looking for a boss who does), and watch your success skyrocket:

1. "I have total confidence in you."

 

There's nothing more discouraging than a boss who doesn't believe in a person's abilities and tries to micromanage them at every turn. Even ultra-confident individuals will see their self-belief plummet if they're treated like a white-collar toddler.

 

As President Theodore Roosevelt said, "The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

 

It might be tough to let go of the reins at first, but if you give your team opportunities to rise to the occasion, you'll find a happier and more motivated office environment.

2. "This is what I want us to accomplish..."

 

CEO and president of Lockheed Martin Marillyn Hewson found this to be the biggest key to success in her career: "Great leaders motivate and inspire people with why they're doing it," she says. "That's purpose. And that's the key to achieving something truly transformational."

 

What separates exceptional leaders from mediocre bosses is their ability to communicate their plans and tie the daily drudgery into big-picture goals. Charting a clear course for your team fosters a sense of job stability and drive at work -- so always take the time to explain "why" instead of merely doling out orders.

3. "What can we do better next time?"

 

As Arianna Huffington sagely suggests, mistakes are the best teachers. "We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes," she says. "Understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of success."

 

Every person on planet Earth has messed up at his or her job at least once (even me...well, maybe more than once). Mistakes happen, especially when you're trying something new.

 

As long as it's not a reckless or careless mistake, turn that error into a learning experience. Teaching someone what to do next time to avoid a blunder is much more productive than reprimanding them.

4. "I want to play to your strengths."

 

Warren Bennis, a renowned author and scholar on leadership, found that "Too many companies believe people are interchangeable. Truly gifted people never are. They have unique talents." He says, "Such people cannot be forced into roles they are not suited for, nor should they be. Effective leaders allow great people to do the work they were born to do."

 

Every person on your team has special skills -- that's why I embrace uniqueness at my company, and you should, too. This speaks to the idea of treating people as individuals in a world where employees are too often seen as expendable. Looking for greatness in everyone we work with can only lead to great things.

5. "What is your opinion?"

 

Top-notch bosses don't let ego get in the way of innovation -- they seek advice from everyone, regardless of where they are on the totem pole.

 

Asking your employees what they think is another great way to show that you have faith in them and value their input. Plus, I've found that the best insights come from the most unexpected places.

6. "How can I better support you?"

 

An excellent way of reducing employee turnover is a preventative approach. Take the time to check in with your team. Ask them what's on their plate and what you can do to help them succeed.

 

As Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, says, "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence."

 

If you serve and enable your team, they'll want to do the same for you and your company, too.

7. "Let me know if you have any questions."

 

Many people have had at least one intimidating boss whom they didn't feel like they could go to for help. Having an open door policy shows that you're available to your team and care about open communication and their productivity. The faster their questions are answered, the faster they can get back to accomplishing the task at hand.

8. "Good work."

 

Giving recognition is a lot cheaper than installing Ping-Pong tables or nap pods, and much more effective. No matter how much employees are paid and how cushy their perks are, they'll want to know that someone cares about their work. So take a few minutes to invest in well-deserved praise -- your team will always appreciate it.

The legions of hotel mystery shoppers around the world are just that: a mystery. And, they'd like to keep it that way, thank you.

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (435)

Try finding a hotel mystery shopper willing to dish on one of their stays. Ask them to reveal the dirt on the unkempt suite, the coquette of a concierge, or the wilted flower that sullied the room service tray. You can’t. According to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) there are some 30,000 of them in the U.S., hired by luxury hotel brands to check-in anonymously and judge mercilessly. But like a CIA agent or the rare hair stylist who’ll keep your secrets, gossip is not in the mystery shopper’s after-hours repertoire. Even if they don’t name names, everything they unearth is strictly confidential.

 

Perhaps it’s to be expected in an industry where everyone, from the booking agent to the bellhop, is famously discreet. If loose lips sink ships, a too-revealing mystery shopper could certainly submerge an hotelier or two. Thankfully, Stephanie Perrone Goldstein, vice president of sales & marketing for the New York–based Coyle Hospitality (whose clients include Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group), produced a nine-year veteran willing to answer a few questions. The catch: we would speak by phone, with Goldstein playing watchdog, and the mystery shopper would remain nameless and description-less—more incognito than Brangelina on holiday.

 

Even by phone, the woman radiated confidence. She’d completed over 500 mystery shops in luxury hotels on four continents, and her voice came through the wires sternly, as if she’d been in upper management a day too long. She works as an independent contractor (paid by the job). What she looks for at each hotel varies from client to client—some brands maintain a checklist of ten things to look for upon arrival, others more than 80. “I pack a measuring tape, because a few hotels want me to get down to the nitty-gritty,” she says. “Is the radius of light emitted from the lamp exact? Is the paint on the walls in a particular palette?” Occasionally, she’ll check in as the most obnoxious breed of hotel guest: the road-weary whiner. “I’ll call the front desk and say the room smells like smoke even when it doesn’t, just to see how they’ll respond,” she says. Fake-outs are staged and executed thoroughly; she’ll go as far as empty the batteries from the remote and grumble about the fritzy T.V., or unhook the chain from the toilet to time how long it takes the staff to fix it. It’s an exacting art. After she checks out, her report is written up, fact-checked by Coyle, and delivered back to the client in a matter of weeks. “My goal, honestly, is to get hotels to provide the highest possible level of service,” she says. “When I return to these properties personally—and I do, if they’re great—I get such satisfaction seeing that.”

 

In the era of Yelp and TripAdvisor, when travelers can report anything at all to the Googling masses, trustworthy accounts are more important than ever to hoteliers. Coyle isn’t alone in providing unbiased evaluations to luxury brands that clamor for it. Zachary Conen, senior vice president of sales and marketing at LRA Worldwide, a mystery shopping firm based in Pennsylvania, says they maintain a stable of 120 full time consultants who travel 42 weeks out of the year. They too are tight-lipped, but happy to tell you their standards, which alter depending on the client. Is there a seasonally appropriate fruit at the front desk? Did you get a call from the concierge within thirty minutes of check-in? Are the amenities Gilchrist & Soames, and perfectly arranged? Competition for the positions is fierce: you’re required to have three years of management experience in the hospitality industry, excellent written and inter-personal skills, and a credit line of up to $f7,500—presumably for booking your travel, which is reimbursed in its entirety. Once you’re hired, there are other hurdles (namely, weeks of training at LRA University, learning the intricacies of each luxury brand.) The coursework is hush hush, of course, but it may be among the cushiest of educational experiences on the planet. One can picture these people lazing about in hotel robes, fawning over thread count quantities and proper lobby manner with equal zeal.

 

The concept of sending in a ringer to report back is nothing new. Mystery shopping began in the 1930’s with three men touring the country, staking out Woolworth’s and Kresge’s (now Kmart) department stores. It gained traction during the civil rights era, when the government hired black and white “customers” to investigate the compliance, and the prolific lack thereof, to desegregation laws in restaurants and corner stores alike. Today it’s a $1.5 billion-a-year production, a large chunk of which is travel-based. “In the late 1980’s, Hilton was among the first luxury hotel brands to utilize the service,” says Mike Bare, co-owner and president of Bare International and one of the original founders of the MSPA. Three decades later, it’s common practice among hotel brands around the world. (Proof: LRA recently opened a satellite office in busy Singapore.) And soon enough, its taciturn nature may be over.

 

“You’ll see the secretive side of mystery shopping change; it’s becoming a vestige of the past,” says Jeff Gurtman, a former executive at both Coyle and LRA and now vice president of brand strategy for Dana Communications, a hospitality marketing agency. The wealth of online reviews has reignited the idea that the customer’s feedback is not only important, but critical to success. Starwood recently announced that it’s allowing guest commentary, both good and bad, on its own websites; and more and more guests are leaving feedback directly on Facebook. “Hoteliers read online reviews thoroughly,” Gurtman says. “If they notice a trend there that speaks to a problem, they have mystery shoppers to go in and test it with surgical precision.” Essentially, they’re hiring people to complain so you never have to. And in the thoughtfulness-driven economy of high-end hotels, that might be the most considerate act of all.


Why travel agents still matter

Posted on June 30, 2016 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (414)

I often get questions from my circle of friends and relatives about where to find travel deals or which website or mobile app to choose to get insider tips or travel off the beaten path. I guess it makes sense, considering I have always worked in the travel industry and I specialize on the travel and hospitality marketing side of things. Yet, many of my friends seem surprised, perhaps even shocked, when I tell them I like to use a travel agent whenever a trip gets too complicated. Apparently, I am not alone.

Skift recently reported that Millenials are more likelt to use travel agents than any other U.S. demographic, citing a recent study from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). “Millennials are leading the way in travel agent usage,” said ASTA president Zane Kerby. “30% have used a travel agent in the last 12 months, and they’re also most likely to recommend agents to a friend.”

 

So why does anyone still bother to deal with a travel agent nowadays, when everything is supposedly available online, and everyone can be their own travel agent? Here are four reasons why I believe travel agents still matter.

Time is money

When Google took a look at the typical customer journey to purchase in the digital travel ecosystem during the holidays, it found the average user looking at five videos and 380 web page visits through 34 different searches taking place over a two months period. That’s more than 419 digital moments that took place, with an overwhelming proportion of 87% taking place over mobile devices.


For the time-pressed customer, 419 digital moments (on average) can be too cumbersome and time consuming, and is something that can be easily delegated to someone who does this for a living. Which brings us to the next argument.

Expertise is key

Online travel agencies (OTA) such as Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com, Booking, Orbitz or even meta-search engines like Trivago, Hipmunk or Kayak, were supposed to kill off brick-and-mortar travel agencies. Well, they certainly had an impact – in fact it is estimated that more than 50% of traditional agencies disappeared between 1996 and 2006. Travel agencies that offered nothing special, added value or specific expertise in a given niche (cruises, rail tours, learning trips, etc.) are the ones that quickly died while the ones providing expertise are still around today.

 

The fact of the matter is this: the more complex is a travel request, the more you should want to deal with a travel agent. There is no need, or very little, to get help from a travel agent if you are driving up to a nearby city and simply need a hotel for the night. OTA, review sites or even good old-fashioned travel information desks – when in season – can give you all the information you need to make your own booking. But if you are traveling to Asia, with kids, during tropical rain season, and would like to take a special train journey while in Thailand or perhaps in Australia, where do you start your online search? And if you book your own journey, how sure are you that you did not forget an important detail (holiday visa, perhaps) or that you got the best deal and view on that cruise ship on the final leg of your trip?

That’s why travel agencies regroup under labels, such as Virtuoso or AAA, where standards are higher and agents are required to train intensively and participate in educational tours more often than average norm for the industry. It’s also why most destinations or specialty brands (cruises, Club Med, Sandals, etc.) have specialists program of their own.

 

Travel agents can’t be expected to have every answer, but the good ones will go out of their way to seek those answers and refer to colleagues to make sure all components of a trip, whether it is for business or leisure, are locked in to customers’ satisfaction.

Insurance and security

This third point is perhaps the most intangible and yet most important one in any travel agent – customer relationship. When I deal with a travel agent, I not only want to save time and get niche expertise, more importantly I purchase peace of mind. Oh, so that small airline I was supposed to fly with has gone belly up? Well, gee, I will call my travel agent to ask for flight alternatives.

 

Wait, what, the hotel I was supposed to stay at for the week in my fancy Carribbean destination is oversold or – you’ve heard this one before – is still under construction? If you booked on Expedia, good luck. With a travel agent? Miracles don’t happen every day, but at least you will have someone working hard for you to sort this out while you are sipping another Margarita.

 

Peace of mind is not a commodity nowadays, and this alone should be a reason enough to deal with a travel agent. Of course, to use up previous examples, your tolerance for risk might be higher for an overnight in a city during a business trip versus a three-week long family trip with complex components, at home or across the globe.

Human touch

At the end of the day, travel remains a people business. We sell dreams, experiences, aspirations and inspiration. I can certainly find my way through travel blogs, social media, user-generated content platforms and review sites. It’s what I do for a living, and I love it too. Passion goes a long way, as they say. But for the reasons stated above, I still deal with a travel agent whenever an upcoming trip gets too complex or requires specific requests, transfers or dealings in an area where I have never been before.

 

In fact, this is what we are observing for travel agencies that have brick-and-mortar locations. These places are transforming themselves where customers and potential customers can have an experience before the trip even takes place. Savvy travel agencies like Thomas Cook in Europe are banking on virtual reality to set the stage, while others are transforming their establishment into a destination of itself, with conferences, movies and talks about travel topics. All of these initiatives are meant to bring customers into the agency, discuss with agents and move onto a fruitful relationship that will go beyond the first transaction.


Does page two in Google even exist?

Posted on May 25, 2016 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (801)

“Second place is the first loser.” –Dale Earnhardt, American Racing Legend (1951-2001)

We all admire Google. Alphabet, its newfangled parent company, trades places with Apple as the world’s most valuable corporation, with a market value that exceeds half a trillion dollars. Google has its paws into literally everything.

 

While much is made of their self-driving car, Google Glass and other audacious new devices or applications, Google is also hard at work refining its core business – internet search. And this refinement has but one primary goal. However much the company espouses its noble goal of helping people find just about anything on the web, it is accountable to its shareholders and they want to see revenues which in Google’s case means Adwords.

 

Ever get unsolicited email guaranteeing your website to rank first or on the first page in a Google search? I am sure that we all have seen these and that we know the value of having our brand’s site appear ‘above the fold’ (that is, what’s visible without scrolling down) for the critical search terms our guests are utilizing. Somehow, through a magic genie or other programming wizardry, these companies claim that you will appear at the top. I am sceptical.

 

Never fear. Google is brilliant. They are well aware of these charlatan offers along with the other innumerable approaches taken by website owners to improve their SEO. As little as 24 months ago, Google’s search engine format supported two columns of information – the right-hand side was what they called sponsored links, leaving the left-hand side for organic search results. About 16-18 months ago, Google abbreviated the naming of their sponsored links to ‘Ads’, and inserting them to the uppermost positions on the previously organic (left) side of the page.

 

Roughly six months ago, Google eliminated its right-hand side entries. Ads now form the first positions of the ‘only’ column of results, that being on the left with other Google services occupying the right. A quick look on almost any monitor will reveal that pretty much the entire first half of page results on any Google search is taken up by advertisement positions. That’s not surprising, given that Google makes no money from organic, unpaid search, and accordingly has little interest from a stockholder’s perspective in prioritizing these free listings over paid participants.

Why you should Google your property

In many ways, organic SEO has been given its two weeks notice.

 

Search for your property with your own brand name and you’ll quickly see that the first positions are taken up by OTAs with a variety of other paid ad spots targeting your customers. Your site? Even though technically it should be first, it’s likely way down the page, following Expedia, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor and many other heavy bidding Google Adwords contributors. As a result, even when a potential guest is searching for you, they might not be able to find your site. A sad state of affairs indeed!

 

While we are still talking about only the first page of Google results, the title of this article implies something a tad more existential. When it comes to travel research and using Google for hotel reservations, does any customer even bother navigating to the second page of a search query? Why would they? If a property’s vanity site can’t be found on the first page and near the top, Google’s algorithm is insinuating that this hotel probably isn’t what this particular guest is looking for. Moreover, if the branded website can’t be found on the first page, then a user can click through to an OTA listing page to quickly get what they want.

 

First page, second or even third, corrective action is essential in all cases. Even if you have a limited budget for Adwords, your immediate responsibility is to ensure that your site ranks at the top every single time that someone enters your property’s name into Google. Even if that means sinking tens of thousands of dollars per month into Google, you have no choice but to fork over the funds to your marketing team to accomplish this objective because it’s your title at stake. The OTAs and review sites may have the resources to outbid you on regional or citywide keyword searches, but you must not allow them to dominate your own brand name.

I started this article with a short quote by my favorite race car driver. Listen to him, as this is a fear I now have. When it comes to user search behavior, until someone is conducting research for a college thesis paper, there is no second page. People want the quickest result possible – no scrolling, no additional load times. Discuss this issue with your website team, your SEO expert, your revenue manager and your Adwords controller – get them all together as a unified effort is necessary to ensure that your website is safe and secure above the fold.

Author: Larry Mogelonsky

Norfolk Island - World of Wonderlust

Posted on May 24, 2016 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (10)

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Hotels promoting direct bookings: It's about time!

Posted on May 16, 2016 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (55)

 

When it comes to hotel marketing, there is never a dull moment, in particular when it relates to online distribution. For the past decade, it’s been an ongoing tug-of-war between hoteliers and online travel agencies, better known as OTAs, such as Expedia, Booking, Orbitz or Travelocity, not to mention Google, TripAdvisor or even Amazon (for a brief moment, in 2015). And I won’t even mention that whole other debate about the sharing space, with HomeAway, Airbnb, OneFineStay and all the action happening on that front, along with mergers and acquisitions between large hotel chains. As I was saying, never a dull moment!

Why book direct?

Yet, while this action is a reality travel industry pundits are familiar with, the same cannot be said for the general public. Ask 10 people what is the best way to get a good vacation deal, and you will get 10 different answers. Not everybody has the same definition for a “deal”, to begin with. And not everyone seeks a travel experience based on price alone. Nevertheless, there is a majority of people out there that believe they will get a better deal when making a reservation through Expedia or Booking.com, rather than by dealing directly with hoteliers.

 

Why this misconception? Well, for one thing, it hasn’t always been a misconception. Better fares could be found on OTA sites, and even today this can happen, even though it’s far from being the norm. Truth is, for more than a decade, OTA were left almost alone in aggressively marketing through various online channels, developing savvy pay-per-click campaigns, remarketing tactics, social media and various iterations for their mobile applications. In fact, Expedia and Priceline together are estimated to represent 5% of global revenues for Google, with a combined spend of more than 8 billion dollars in 2015!

 

Not to mention the recent resurgence of loyalty programs, where customers get rewarded for making more and more bookings on Hotels.com or Expedia, for example.

 

But that was then, and this is now…

Nowadays, hoteliers are not shying away from messages that clearly tell users that lowest prices are to be found on their website, rather than anywhere else, i.e. OTA sites. Hilton Hotels has been the most vocal in the past couple of months, with public campaigns on television, out-of-home advertising and online tactics hitting on the same message, as can be seen above.

Other chains such as InterContinental Hotels have traditionally opted for a softer approach, with a “best rate” guarantee mentioned at the bottom of their corporate website. For Starwood Hotels and its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program, there is a subtle “Why Book Here” button in the reservation menu which, once clicked, leads to the benefits of direct reservations with the brand, as explained below.


Accor Hotels has also been active in this field, developing their own transactional site, opening up inventory and sales to non-Accor properties in order to get an interesting critical mass of rooms. A similar initiative to RoomKey, or more recently Fairbooking in France and the UK, gathering chains and independent hotels together to target direct reservations. So will these, and many other initiatives, work?

It’s the marketing, stupid!

 

As we have seen with RoomKey and other like-minded platforms, the success is highly dependent of a key factor: marketing dollars. If nobody is aware that best deals can be found by booking direct, or through a rewards program, then how can we expect customers to flock to our websites? And speaking of websites… too often, hoteliers handle marketing as an after-thought, pouring investments on infrastructure improvement or human resources training while neglecting to respond to online reviews or having a mobile-optimized website that answers 80% of most commonly asked questions less than a click away from the home page.

 

In the past 4-5 years, most major hotel chains and a majority of independent banners have caught up and embraced the online potential from mobile, social media and transactional sites. At the same time, there have been growing concerns about the omnipresence of OTA in the distribution landscape, with various ruling (in Europe, mostly) countering the rate parity clauses that were one of the root causes for the latent dissatisfaction.

 

This is why we are now seeing campaigns such as Hilton’s “Stop Clicking Around” mentioned above, as well as Marriott’s #itpaystobookdirect initiative, once again linked with a loyalty program, in this case Marriott Rewards.

At the end of the day, that is what it will all boil down to, and that is: whomever spends the most, at least the most strategically and with the most pertinent message, will get the lion’s share of online sales. Consumers have choice, perhaps more than ever, but they are not necessarily experts when it comes to travel, even though there are countless apps out there and social noise that help or hinder the decision-making process.

How will OTAs react?

So if hotels start hammering away the message that people should book direct, where will this leave OTA sites? Expedia CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has clearly stated this move could hurt these hotels brands on the Expedia marketplace, a similar take shared by Priceline’s ousted-CEO, Darren Houston. Could this the beginning of new battleground?

 Author: Frederic Gonzalo is passionate about marketing and communications, with over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere. Early 2012, he launched Gonzo Marketing and works as a strategic marketing consultant, professional speaker and trainer in the use of new technologies (web, social media, mobile).



The strength in soft brands: Interview with Filip Boyen, CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Posted on April 27, 2016 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (121)

Soft branding is a popular trend these days, showing no signs of slowing down at all in the face of billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions.

Unquestionably, soft brands fill a specific demand within the traveler mindset – those who desire an independent property to add an extra layer of exclusivity to their trips while also expecting certain standards to be upheld. It’s a fascinating space and one that has yet to reach full maturity or capacity.

Tapping in for a phone interview to elucidate how properties can succeed within a soft branded space is Filip Boyen, the newly crowned CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) and formerly the COO of Belmond who helped shepherd that organization through the Orient-Express rebrand. With its 520 properties spread across 80 countries, I’ve heretofore considered SLH to be somewhat of the ‘fourth flower’ in this arena alongside Preferred & Resorts, Relais & Chateaux and Leading Hotels of the World. SLH doesn’t quite have the same degree of brand awareness of the other three, but don’t let Boyen’s ebullient Belgian accent deceive you; the company has a strong vision to boost this awareness on its way to becoming numero uno in soft brand associations.

 

To start, SLH is unveiling a new logo this quarter to generate excitement for activities coming to fruition later on in the calendar year, including a holistic update to its loyalty program called ‘The Club’ with its 400,000+ members. Currently underrepresented in the Americas, the association’s primary goal is to thoroughly penetrate the US market and emerging South American destinations as well as gateway cities in Asia.

 

But what is SLH doing to improve the state of affairs in the hospitality industry and to elevate the bar for others to follow? I nodded and grinned profusely when Boyen confidently stated that SLH isn’t trying to be everything for everyone. The USP is to connect independently spirited hotels with independently minded customers, not necessarily to go head-to-head with a major chain or generate trial through discounted promotions. In this sense, SLH constituents’ largest competitor is now Airbnb, and Boyen certainly had strong words on that matter.

 

Airbnb is here to stay, as everyone knows. But now that the alternative lodging provider offers foodservice options, they are encroaching ever closer on the luxury accommodations segment which prides itself on its robust amenities. Boyen sees it as an ongoing arms race, and the only road to success is to be better and make each property even more exceptional.

 

After all, to the uninitiated, the SLH name means very little; it’s only after guests have experienced a property’s unique sensibility and the association’s 720 heavily enforced brand standards that they might choose to stay within SLH instead of Airbnb or booking through an OTA. Boyen placed special emphasis on the enforcement of these standards because reputations are so fragile these days that the only path to long-term success is through a consistent delivery of quality service, even at the independent and semi-independent levels.

 

As an interesting aside, two-thirds of SLH’s bookings still come through traditional travel agents. From this statistic alone, any hotelier can infer that there is a sizeable buffer between the target demographic of associations and that of Airbnb, and even the OTAs for that matter. As part of the strategy to widen this gap and become a niche leader, Boyen aims to drive greater levels of suite business (very high ADR guestrooms) and to work hard at the property level to become a facilitator for each destination – that is, developing programs to serve the local authentic guest experience and heighten guest education.

 

Even still, Boyen recognizes the need to gain traction amongst the millennials well before they are at a point in their lives where they are ready to adhere to one brand over another. It’s a long-term effort that requires continual attention. The new loyalty program opening in September 2016 will help by increasing engagement with guests and fans. The real ‘meat’ for this objective will come by creating special and specific guest experiences that connect with community while also not succumbing to ‘big brand creep’.

 

At a glance, these initiatives may not as appear to be anything revolutionary. it is their execution which will distinguish SLH over the coming months and years. “We steal with pride,” remarked Boyen. He isn’t ashamed in the least to source the best ideas already being successfully utilized within the hospitality space, and then adapt them to SLH properties. Even though the soft branding phenomenon may have overextended itself in the past few years, Boyen makes a very solid argument to support the notion that now is indeed the time for soft branding.

About the author

 

Larry MogelonskyLarry Mogelonsky is the founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991).


Wellness tourists spend more

Posted on March 31, 2016 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (8)

With popular culture focusing more and more on preventive health and fitness lifestyles, there is increasing demand for hotels that place importance on wellness (far beyond pampering). Buzzwords such as eco-luxury, gluten-free, cleansing, detoxification, vitality and mindfulness are all part of the wellness dictionary becoming commonplace in the hospitality industry.

More than ever, travelers want to reside in a property that not only leaves them rested, but restored and reinvigorated. Given the new always-on work mode, more people aren’t just stressed out, they’re burned out. On those precious days off, rejuvenation matters.

The wellness payoff

Hotels are rolling out healthy programmes because they’re taking note of these facts. More noteworthy however, is the fact that wellness tourists, on average, spend 130 percent more than regular tourists. So, the trend is good for guests and good for business. These moves towards healthier food and sleep, more engaging and deeper fitness practices, and overall care for a guest’s health are news for the hospitality industry. We must realize that consumers are more health conscious than ever before, and the hospitality offering needs to reflect this.

 

If trends are to continue, I suspect that an increasing number of hotels will undergo a wellness rebrand. This will involve reconsidering room design and cementing in wellness features like air and water purification, hypoallergenic environments, cutting edge sleep and productivity enhancing lighting and customised juice bars.

The way forward

Changes such as these are radical and many, if not most, will not have the space nor the budget. Nevertheless, there are ways and means around this. More and more emphasis can be placed on the execution of standards and a better and more consistent delivery of the spa experience. Time and attention should be devoted to ensuring that the spa personnel and menu delivers on what the consumer seeks, particularly crucial in a world with so many alternatives. If consumers require escapism, peace and solitude, then design and service features should take this into account with quiet, longer treatments such as yoga, tai chi and relaxation massages. Some spas may even provide self-discovery activities to help guests recharge both spirit and mind. These include alternative therapies, art and painting, healthy cooking or practicing mindfulness and meditation.

 

A spa experience is enjoyed regularly in groups and helps drive accommodation occupancy, but no longer should this sector be solely targeted at women. Men continue to grow as a segment of spa consumers and they are indulging themselves more than ever.

 

Consumers are also seeking out value-added deals as well as results, which may include discounts on services. For this reason, we need to develop creative ways to magnetize consumers to try the spa, and then choose to return.

 

With the current wellness craze turning into what is looking like a permanent lifestyle priority, spas have become an essential component of the high-end hotel resort experience. Wellness is a growing market – it is no longer just about a spa experience. I am currently working on a wellness project in Dubai and finding the whole new level of a spa experience energising and very different to 10 years ago when I was CEO of The Serenity Spa brand.

About the author - Debrah Dhugga is the Managing Director of the boutique hotel Dukes London. With a wealth of experience in both beauty brands and the hospitality industry, she has been offering expert advice on the growing wellness industry and its relationship with tourism and hotels.

How to create astounding customer experiences through social media

Posted on March 29, 2016 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (457)

In the hospitality industry, nothing is more important than providing a quality customer experience. Travellers are now turning to social media during every step of their journey, from the moment they begin their travel plans through to the point they upload their post-holiday photos and beyond. Intelligent business owners are evolving their social media to focus on building strong relationships with this loyal customer base by engaging in real conversations with them, in turn improving their experience.

A dedicated approach to utilising social media to amaze and delight your customers can result in happier customers who will spend more, a loyal fan base resulting in repeat bookings, and massive brand exposure on a personal level to a highly engaged audience.

 

Here are four key takeaways to help you go above and beyond the everyday and create astounding end-to-end social media experiences for your customers.

1. Be where your customers are

 

This seems like an obvious point, but is often overlooked by many businesses. With the huge variety of social networks available it is easy to overextend your reach through too many channels, diluting your message and making them difficult to manage.

 

To excel at social customer service, you must be where your customers are already socialising. The first step towards this is to search popular networks, or implement a social listening strategy, for mentions of your brand, allowing you to see what conversations are happening. You can then begin to include yourself in these conversations.

 

Another pertinent point is to keep your message both on-brand and relevant to the experience your guests are seeking. Some guests may love the creativity and freedom that photography provides, so enhance their experience by sharing high quality, emotive imagery on Instagram. If you run a more boutique outfit with different furnishings in every room pinning interesting ideas on Pinterest may help to engage with your audience. Others may place a higher focus on real-time conversation through Twitter, meaning you will need to monitor regularly used hashtags and resource your business to respond swiftly to these dialogues.

2. Be a proactive and informative resource

 

One of the main reasons guests contact hotels through social media is to find out local information before their stay. This could be anything from finding the best beach spots, to the names of local car rental services.

 

To stand out as a brand offering an excellent social experience, it’s important to be proactive when providing this information, rather than reactive.

 

Scheduling regular social media updates about what goes on outside the lobby doors is a great way to stay proactive. Take some time to photograph local beauty spots or secret locations to share with your guests via social media, or record a short video interview with a nearby restaurant owner about how great their modern twist on cultural cuisine is. Remember, these don’t need to be expertly crafted short films – a quality camera or smartphone will do a good enough job to keep your content looking natural, rather than corporate, and more importantly it’s done on a level that your audience can relate to.

 

Through imaginative updates like these you can build excitement for your guests before they’ve even packed their suitcase.

 

To take this a step further you can also implement a proactive approach when responding to guests messages. Imagine this scenario: a guest has sent you a tweet about how they’ve been travelling for twelve hours – they’re tired, their feet hurt and they can’t wait for a good night’s sleep. How do you respond?

 

In this case you have an amazing opportunity to provide a proactive customer experience guaranteed to delight the guest:

 

  • Pull up their booking information to find out their time of arrival and arrange for someone to meet them at the doors to escort the guest to their room.
  • Have a bubble-bath prepared for them to relax into.
  • Top off their arrival with a complimentary drink to ease them off to a good night’s sleep.

 

With all this prepared, tweet back with a photo of their concierge informing them that someone will be waiting to meet them. The hot bath and free drink will then add an extra layer of surprise creating a very happy guest.

3. Tailor the experience with guest profiling

 

The amazing thing about social media is how open people are about their interest, hobbies, ideals and life events. This provides marketers and business owners with a brilliant opportunity to tailor experiences based on profiles of their customers.

 

Do they regularly post about the amazing food they’ve tried? Put together a short mini-guide to the best local eateries or the newest special on the hotel menu.

 

Noticed a recent tweet about your guest experiencing neck-ache when they wake up? Include an extra pillow with a quick handwritten note about how you hope it will help.

 

Taking the time to understand your guest’s personalities and preferences can ensure you provide the best service possible.

 

“Sometimes we know so much about our guests’ preferences by the time they check out that we enter it into their profile to ensure that the next time they visit us, we can surprise and delight them; the little gestures go a long way.” Kelly Kroyer, Social Media and Marketing Manager, Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel.

 

I recently had a personal experience of guest profiling when taking a short trip. The company I was staying with noticed via my twitter profile that I have a taste for marzipan. By taking the time to find out my favourite brand (It’s a Thornton’s marzipan chocolate bar by the way!) and having some ready for my stay, I was immediately charmed by the brand and began telling all of my family, friends and co-workers about the experience.

4. Extend the experience beyond the stay

 

Your guests’ trips don’t automatically end the moment they check their room keys back in, so why should their experience?

 

Using social media to prolong an experience with your brand keeps you at the forefront of guests’ minds and their sharable memories. Something as simple as a ‘We hope to see you again soon’ message and photo of your team might keep your guests smiling long after they arrive back at home.

 

Similarly, pay attention to their social media profiles during the weeks following their visit. Most people will upload photographs from their trip to Facebook or Instagram as an easy way to share with their friends. Take some time to add a Facebook Reaction or comment on your favourite uploaded photos to make sure they remember who you are. Even better, ask if you can share their photos on your own brand pages – this is guaranteed to make them feel special!

 

These efforts can be used to exponentially increase your value to your guests’ and can be used for as long as you see fit. In fact, why not reach out a year later and offer a discount for them to stay again?

 

Obviously this article only scratches the surface of the multitude of ways you can use social media as a customer experience tool. As more and more people and networks come into play, strategies around social listening, social content development and guest profiling will be an essential component for any business operating within the hospitality sector and beyond.

By Giorgio Cassella

A four-pronged approach to property resuscitation

Posted on March 10, 2016 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (640)

By Wayne West   - March 10th, 2016

 

Hotel management isn’t rocket science; it’s blocking, tackling and caring. It can’t always be distilled into a formulaic approach. Too often management teams lose sight of their primary objective: to deliver excellent service to their associates who in turn deliver excellent service to their guests and to the community at large.

It begins with selecting the best, letting them know they are appreciated, training them from day one and indoctrinating them into the company culture. If the hotel leadership team adheres to this philosophy, they will prosper within their market. I’ve never believed in a ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Each area in which you conduct business is different. Whether it is due to economic challenges, market conditions or a shallow labor pool, you must always be adamant about your broader goals while allowing for improvisation day-to-day and week-to-week.

 

Several years ago, our operations team was tasked with taking over the management of a well-branded, select-service hotel. Located in a small town with no major corporate base, the hotel was built off a freeway exit that promised a future market which did not develop as expected. Making matters worse, the hotel’s competitive set was located at the town’s primary exit surrounded by known restaurants and gas stations positioned to draw travelers off the interstate. The hotel was a victim of a failed entertainment development and it was hemorrhaging cash trying to stay afloat.

 

Despite the challenge of the location, all was not lost. Within two years of taking over the property, we greatly increased revenues, realigned expenses, improved associate engagement and integrated the property into the local community. It was a classic case of swooping in with the defibrillators, making swift changes to bring the hotel up to speed and then readjusting according to the specific conditions of the locale.

 

Why had the prior team struggled for two years to ramp-up this hotel? Immediately, we recognized a few obvious shortcomings:

  • The property had been managed remotely without a real understanding of the local market.
  • Expenses had remained bloated as revenues failed to materialize.
  • Demoralized staff alienated guests and the local community.
  • The sales staff was that of a busy urban hotel where the additional payroll would have been better utilized for such tactics as highway coupon books, billboard advertising and visitor center displays.

 

Keeping in mind the above short comings while planning our strategy for a long overdue property ramp-up, we developed a four-pronged approach designed to stabilize the economics, strengthen the team and energize the community.


         1. Revenue recovery

 

The first priority was to stabilize the revenue. When the team stepped in, the property had failed to ramp up – evident by the annual occupancy of 28%. Given the property’s location and the lack of a strong local business community, the sales team on staff took a page from our old motor coach days.

 

We focused our sales effort on the interstate visitor centers. We worked closely with visitor center employees, set up displays and increased the visibility of our hotel. Within a short time, occupancies continued to improve and we could then begin to focus on rate management. We worked directly with the local community to gauge future demand so we could maximize rate in high yield periods. The combined impact of these efforts drove the RevPAR index from 62% to 109% in 18 months and increased the occupancy percentage by 79%. Overall revenues increased by $1.3M or 89%.


         2. Expense alignment

 

Equally critical to the revenue rescue, we had to stop the bleeding. The hotel was losing almost $200,000 annually when we stepped in. The team needed to reallocate expenses to make sure that we were investing operating dollars most effectively, which is no simple task. While many of the operating expenses were already in-line, the onsite sales office was staffed for a large-scale urban effort that did not exist.

 

Thus, we reorganized the sales team, reducing two FTEs, and then reinvested the savings into interstate coupons books and a billboard advertising campaign. The net impact of this change was to improve cost allocation while also drastically improving the overall sales and marketing efforts. We were able to increase operating profits by over 400%, representing a 15-point increase in margin in less than two years.


          3. Staff engagement

 

As you might imagine, staff satisfaction had suffered as the hotel’s fortunes waned. As one of our strategic pillars, we consider staff  satisfaction to be a key metric of success. To invigorate the onsite staff, a new General Manager was hired and tasked to revitalize the corporate culture. He utilized resources to improve the property’s training program and worked with internal teams to ensure that staff had a voice in the hotel’s operations – a voice that was actually heard!

 

As a result of this refocus, staff engagement and retention increased, smiles emerged and ideas to improve operations flowed. Satisfied staff also led to improved overall guest satisfaction scores.


         4. Community alignment

 

Lastly, our team instigated a program for the hotel leadership team to establish new relationships with key corporate entities and the regional hospital. We also worked closely with the municipal government and community leaders to provide a real cooperative business development effort. This quickly morphed into an endeavor whereby the community found benefit from the property and rewarded it with both lodging and F&B business.

 

Like everyone else at my parent firm, I not only take pride in our management philosophy, but also in our culture. My energy is always devoted to recruiting and selecting the best possible team members. And our organization is structured foremost to support and train this team, with our systems designed to reinforce their success.

 

This philosophy allows us to run each managed hotel as an individual operation with perfect alignment between broad goals and specific improvisation. Local teams set the vision depending upon the given needs of a situation and they are fully supported by a passionate corporate culture with deep operating knowledge.




Hotel check-in with credit cards: How hotel pre-authorisations work

Posted on January 28, 2016 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (13)


It's one of the main causes of shock and awe among travellers. You've just arrived at the hotel where you've booked a room and the check-in clerk asks to take an imprint of your credit card to pay for any incidental charges you might incur. This is a pre-authorisation, a pre-auth in hotel speak, and it's likely to happen even if you've paid for the full price of the room in advance.

 

They might also tell you that a pre-auth is not a charge and they're right, but it places a lock-down on some of your funds. Your available balance on your credit card is reduced by the amount of the pre-auth. If you've handed over a debit card it's even worse, the funds evaporate instantly from your account. The reservoir of funds that you can withdraw from an ATM or use to pay for restaurant bills or anything else takes a hit.

 

The pre-auth amount varies from hotel to hotel, country to country. Even hotels within the same group do not apply the same pre-auth amount but anywhere between $50-150 per night is within the ballpark. For example at the Courtyard by Marriott London Gatwick Airport hotel, the pre-authorisation figure is £50 (NZ$110.8) per night per room. Stay in a glossy six-star establishment such as the Raffles group's Le Royal Monceau in Paris and the pre-authorisation charge for a stay of just three nights and the pre-authorisation for a recent guest was €1200 (NZ$2035).

 

The total amount that a hotel blocks in the form of pre-auths from its guests adds up. Assume a medium-sized hotel with 250 rooms with an occupancy rate of 70 per cent. On any one day therefore 175 rooms are occupied. If the average stay is 2.5 nights and if the hotel's pre-auth is $100 per room per night, the hotel has effectively locked down guests' funds to the value of $43,750.

 

 

Apply that same metric to a major hotel group such as Marriott International, which now has 1.1 million rooms following its acquisition of Starwood, and at any one time they've put a hold on close to $200 million of their guests' money. So what is the hotel doing with all that loot? Answer: nothing. They can't because they don't actually own the funds that have been pre-authorised, they're sitting in financial limbo. Not until if and when the pre-authorisation is converted to a charge, which happens at check-out, will the funds be transferred to the hotel's bank account.

 

What's wrong with a pre-auth you might think? The hotel has to guard itself against the cost and inconvenience of chasing guests who incur charges and then can't or won't pay.

 

Note that the pre-auth comes with a sunset clause. Unless the hotel converts the pre-auth funds to a charge the pre-auth is cancelled within a specified period of time and funds are unblocked from the cardholder's account. The actual length of time a merchant can maintain a lock on funds in a pre-auth varies depending on their merchant classification code (MCC code) but five days is standard. After it expires a pre-auth can only be renewed with the consent of the cardholder.

 

Further, according to a Marriott spokesperson, "Credit card holds are typically released within 24 hours of checking out."

 

That sounds fine, but what that means is that the hotel has advised the financial institution that the pre-auth has been cancelled. Getting the cash back into your account is another matter. It can take several days after you check out for that to happen, or even longer. In its Booking Terms & Conditions, the Mantra group advises "The pre-authorised amount is set aside by the card issuer for a period of up to 14 days from the date of pre-authorisation."

 

The problem is not the hotel, it's the financial institution behind your credit or debit card. When the hotel has notified the financial institution to unblock the pre-auth it's in their interests to drag their feet. If that institution can delay handing back your pre-auth for a few more days it can use those funds for another purpose, and that's what it does.

 

There are a few lessons to take away from this. First off, use a credit card rather than a debit card for the pre-auth. When you check out, use the same card to settle your bill or it can take even longer for the funds to be restored to your account. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it's better to make a charge against your pre-auth, however small. This requires the hotel to make a charge against your pre-auth and your card issuer will refund the difference, although it can also happen that the hotel will regard whatever you've charged to your room as a separate charge from the pre-auth.

 

Another way around this problem is to use cash for the pre-auth. When you check in, the cash should be sealed in an envelope and held until your departure, minus any amount owing. That works most of the time, although cash carries its own set of risks, and if the pre-auth is to cover the room charge as well as incidentals the amount could be substantial. The hotel might also insist on local currency, although US dollars or euros will usually get you through.

 

Traveller.com.au



The secret to great TripAdvisor hotel reviews

Posted on January 18, 2016 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (20)

Reputation is everything in business, but never has your most valuable asset been more fragile than in the age of the Internet. Will Rogers was before his time when he said, “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” He had no idea how literal that single minute would one day become with the advent of online business reviews.

Today, with the click of a mouse, an angry or dissatisfied review can take on a billboard effect – drowning out all of the wonderful things past guests might have mentioned and inflicting irreparable harm on your brand. Sure, a hotel might handle the complaint quickly and gracefully, but the review remains. The best way for a hotel to protect their reputation is also the best way to deliver excellent customer experiences: by empowering your staff with both training and technology.

 

The modern traveler is no dummy. Empowered by the wealth of information available to them online and emboldened by opinions openly shared by others, consumers are making deliberate and well thought out purchases without consulting “experts.” As a matter of fact, 48% of people said that they would trust ratings on TripAdvisor as much as they do of a newspaper, magazine or professional. Earned media is taking its place on the content pedestal as almost 95% of travelers report regularly using travel reviews to make booking decisions.

 

According to a TrustYou study, a traveler is four times more likely to choose a higher rated hotel over its equally priced counterpart. Furthermore, a single point increase in reputation score gives a hotel the latitude to raise its room rates up to 11.2%.

While it might seem obvious, negative reviews have a significant and contrary effect on hotel bookings. Over half of travelers say that they would dismiss a hotel or even go as far as to cancel a booking due to a bad review. Negative reviews, at their core, can be attributed to one of two things: unmet expectations or poor service.

 

On TripAdvisor, half of all bad reviews are a result of poor service. Disappointing to say the least when service outcomes are something that can easily be controlled or improved by the brand. When positive reviews quite clearly reap tangible and measurable rewards, you can’t help wondering why so many hotels find themselves losing business because of service pitfalls.

 

So what exactly are the barriers to success for hotels? Where and why are they falling short when it comes to creating a superior guest experience? The answer is not as complicated as you might think.

 

In an industry with a reputation of being slow to adopt new technologies and methods, many lodging brands still rely on outdated forms of communication to handle guest requests. This means that often times service calls are passed along by word of mouth or handwritten note to delegate responsibilities and expectations. As we all know, humans are not perfect, and this antiquated form of communication opens the door for misunderstanding or the request getting lost in the shuffle of shift changes.

 

Siloed departments are another barrier to interdepartmental communication. Housekeeping may have one method of handling guest requests while concierge may use something else entirely. A lack of a centralized request system not only fosters confusion but often results in a lack of accountability.

 

While it is easy to place all the blame on communication, employee empowerment is another thing holding brands back from delivering excellent customer service. Employees often feel that it isn’t their place to step in and save a strained guest relationship or they lack the training to understand how exactly to handle the conflict.

 

On top of all of that, millennials – with smartphones attached at their hips – are fast becoming one of travel’s most important and influential consumer demographics. Millennials expect to use their phones to satisfy their every whim, and this includes making hotel requests. With this up and coming demographic spending most of their time in common spaces, it just isn’t plausible to expect them to use their in-room phone. Hotels must meet their customers where they are, and “where” is increasingly becoming mobile.

 

Moving into 2016, hospitality brands must adapt to a changing market environment or risk losing business to competitors or industry disrupters who built their entire model around technology. To put it bluntly, a comprehensive approach that includes training and technology is no longer optional – this is sink or swim in an already crowded ocean.

Hotels that empower employees to make decisions beyond their job descriptions through adequate training are already taking steps to combat service breakdowns. A large piece of the puzzle lies in the simple task of defining service and brand standards. If an employee is unsure of what is expected of them, how can they be expected to rise to the occasion?

 

To prepare staff for situations they have may have never encountered, hoteliers can look to one of the oldest tricks in the book – role-play. While many of us were forced to use role-play as children to understand how to share our toys, this tool can be utilized as a way to familiarize employees with common service breakdowns. Guests angry because their room is not up to their standards? Allow your staff to react and then follow up with a critique praising what they did well and offering constructive suggestions for what they did not.

 

By setting expectations and providing context for common service pitfalls, you are entrusting your staff to represent your brand and its values. But, don’t allow those standards to become so rigid that they prevent flexibility in roles. An angry guest combined with a staff member who doesn’t feel like they can help is a recipe for disaster – or a terrible review. Allow all members of staff some amount of leverage to appease an irritated guest without needing to call a supervisor. Those precious moments can ultimately save the guest relationship and possibly your reputation.

 

Beyond customer service training, hotel management can cut out the margin for user error by implementing technological solutions that cut down on communication failures. This means automate what can be automated and break down barriers that might arise in a tradition request environment. A process that ensures the proper teams are receiving the correct requests and carrying out these requests in a timely manner can immediately make a world of difference.

 

We came across ALICE recently, a hotel operations software platform that does just this, allowing for your staff to remain organized, focused and accountable. Staff can field requests on the go from anywhere on property, leaving them time to focus on creating special moments for your guests.

 

Just how important are these investments in service? When 58% of travelers indicate that they would go as far to cancel a booking due to a bad review, the answer is abundantly clear. Customer service improvements should be viewed on par with property improvements. Hotels should include training and technology into their yearly budget much in the same way as any other line item.

 

An environment that rewards employees for effective decision-making builds a sturdy base for a solid and successful brand. Mistakes will happen, but the way that staff is empowered (or not) to respond to those mistakes can have terrible or wonderful results. Providing staff with the tools they need to create superior guest experiences means they will find personal satisfaction in guest satisfaction. A staff that takes pride in their work lies at the heart of every successful brand, and ultimately, every five star review.


How will OTAs evolve in 2016?

Posted on January 14, 2016 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

In the past two or three years, I was fortunate to speak at a variety of travel industry events about the state of online distribution and the challenges stemming from the hotel/hostel/B&B relationship with online travel agencies (OTA). In my home province of Quebec, this has become a pressing issue that various hotel associations have put at the top of their agenda. It also affects restaurants, attractions and increasingly, vacation rentals. Yet I realize this is an equally debated topic in France where I attended various events back in 2013 and 2014, across Europe as well as North America.

 

Everywhere I go, a common concern arises: how can hospitality managers and owners reclaim control of their inventory and distribution without caving into the OTA downward spiral of lower profitability?

OTA domination

 

While control is a main concern, this doesn’t mean OTA don’t have a role to play into the online distribution equation. Of course they do, and they should. But to what extent? At what point should hotel marketers consider there is too much of revenues shares coming from OTA versus other channels?

 

According to a recent study by PhoCusWright, OTAs represent 58% of US independent properties’ online bookings in 2015 compared to just under 50% of the share for chains. This phenomenon is even more acute in Europe where intermediaries represent almost three quarters of independent hotel online bookings in 2015. Knowing big players like Expedia and Booking command anywhere between 15-25% commission levels, sometimes even more with premium advertising placement, it’s easy to see how they have become a serious thorn in hoteliers’ profitability.

 

The past year has been a pivotal one in the OTA ecosystem, with Expedia going on a shopping frenzy and pretty much buying its way to the top of the food chain. With the acquisition of Travelocity, and then Orbitz, and then HomeAway, Expedia is now the largest OTA in the world, ahead of Priceline (with its popular brand Booking.com). It seems we are more than ever dealing with a de facto duopoly in the OTA landscape.

Is the real danger perhaps Airbnb?

 

But while hotels and hospitality stakeholders concentrate their efforts on countering OTA domination, there are various other developments that should be taken notice of. Consider the purchase of HomeAway by Expedia, for example. HomeAway is the biggest competitor to Airbnb, the platform with a buzz ever since it was created back in 2008, but more so in the past two or three years as it went global. Why would an OTA like Expedia invest in the world’s biggest vacation rental platform? Both Priceline and Expedia CEO were recently quoted saying they don’t fear Airbnb – but why not? After all, Airbnb raised $1.5 billion this summer through private funding, and is estimated to be worth $25-30 billion. No small affair when you think that the purchase of Starwood Hotels by Marriott, making it the biggest hotel company in the world, was a $22 billion transaction!

 

In fact, we are starting to see partnerships between hotel chains and collaborative sites, such as the example of OneFineStay and Hyatt in the United Kingdom. It will be interesting to see how Expedia will integrate HomeAway in its business model and, more interestingly, how Airbnb will evolve towards a more integrated OTA-like approach in the year to come. As for Booking.com, industry experts noticed how a recent release boasted its 21 million bookable rooms, compared to Airbnb’s 2 million rooms listed on its site. Clearly, there is numbers game at play here, and it’s not just a “my house is bigger than yours” bravado, but rather demonstrating who has the most skin in the game for hotels and vacation rentals alike.

Lastly, it will be interesting to see what kind of treatment business travel gets in this new world. Business travel is estimated to represent only 8% of travel industry market share in terms of passengers, but close to 30% in terms of revenues, in North America. In 2014, Airbnb inked a deal with business travel technology provider Concur, and during this past summer started a pilot project targeting business travelers. Expedia has a dedicated site for corporate travel, Egencia, but is it growing and responding to market expectations so far? And what are Priceline’s intentions in this niche?

The future of OTA

 

So what can we expect from OTA in 2016 and beyond? We are already seeing plenty of movement from the last couple of weeks to see that things won’t stay stale for too long. Amazon came and went with its intention to become a player in the online travel distribution landscape. But perhaps the answer lies within how Tripadvisor and Google will play the game, forcing the duopoly into an uncomfortable foursome.

 

On one hand, we’re seeing Tripadvisor morphing from a review site into a full-fledged online travel agency, with its Instant Booking function. After signing a few big hotel chains, including Accor and Marriott, it signed an exclusive deal with Priceline and its Booking.com subsidiary, accessing its inventory and making it available for direct booking within Tripadvisor. Knowing restaurants, tours and activities are also within the scope of transactional capabilities, Tripadvisor thus has the klout to potentially become the next biggest OTA out there.

 

And let’s not forget Google. Ever since it purchased the ITA software back in 2010, Google launched Hotel Finder and Flight Search yet has been making slow inroads into the travel distribution ecosystem. Since Priceline and Expedia are considered to be among Google’s top 5 biggest clients in terms of AdWords revenues, there are many that thought and still think Google wouldn’t risk losing this business. In 2016, with the online advertising equation moving to mobile and social, Google is most likely reconsidering this risk, and we’re already seeing special offers and promos to book direct within Google. Rumor even has it that Expedia and Google are in talks for exclusive distribution, mirroring the Tripadvisor + Priceline deal mentioned above. Fact or fiction? Time will tell, but the below video points in a clear direction where Google is becoming more active in travel.

I believe OTA will continue to play a prominent role in the online travel distribution sphere, specially with their prowess in the mobile ecosystem and across channels. Have they become too big to fail or do you think hoteliers, in particular independent hoteliers, can turn the tide around?

 

So what do you think will happen next for OTA in 2016 and beyond?

Frederic Gonzalo is passionate about marketing and communications, with over 19 years of experience in the travel and tourism sphere. Early 2012, he launched Gonzo Marketing and works as a strategic marketing consultant, professional speaker and trainer in the use of new technologies (web, social media, mobile).

How do we build a better hotel room?

Posted on November 29, 2015 at 10:35 PM Comments comments (167)

The bed is freshly made. There are drinking glasses next to the sink. Magazines are lined up on a shelf under the television.

 

But nobody will be staying here.

 

The purpose of this room, a 13.5sq m prototype in an unfinished office building in Alexandria, is to help hotel executives figure out exactly what they do - and don't - want to replicate at the Pod Hotel when it opens in Washington's Chinatown next year.

The list of gripes is already three pages long: The floors are too light. The desk chair too bulky. Just about every light fixture takes up too much space.

 

"We built a room and thought we were done," said Aaron Katz, president and chief executive of Washington-based Modus Hotels, which is building the 245-room property. "But now we are rethinking nearly every part of it. Where everybody else sees a handle on a door, we see potential for a pocket to catch."

 

Across the region, hotel companies have found ways to test their designs and technological advances long before any guest steps into a room. The idea, they say, is to test function, durability and other practical concerns before they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying furniture, flooring and fixtures. Groups of guests and housekeepers often walk through and provide feedback.

 

Marriott International is constantly updating mock rooms for 10 of its brands in the basement of its Bethesda headquarters. Hilton Worldwide, meanwhile, uses heavy-duty cardboard to create its earliest life-size models of rooms and corridors. The Hilton McLean (Va.) Tysons Corner Hotel also serves as a testing ground for experimental technology such as Tesla charging stations and a robot named Ava that greets guests as they walk in.

 

"Real estate is incredibly tight and very expensive,"said Jim Holthouser, executive vice president of global brands for Hilton.

 

Rather than going out and spending $100,000 to build something in one of our hotels, we build it off-site in a cardboard room. That is typically where we start.

Step off the elevators into the innovation lab in Marriott's basement, and you are greeted by a Willy Wonka quote: "Invention, my dear friends, is 93 percent perspiration, 6 percent electricity, 4 percent evaporation, and 2 percent butterscotch ripple."

 

Think of this sprawling space, which formerly housed the company's archives, as Marriott's version of the chocolate factory, says Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of architecture and construction. This is where new ideas are formed, built and ultimately tested before being implemented in more than 700,000 rooms worldwide.

 

For example, when the company was toying with the idea of introducing a dining space that could quickly change from a coffee bar to a cocktail lounge, Marriott employees built a prototype using foam blocks. They stocked the shelves with bottles, added bar equipment and asked a bartender to mix drinks.

 

"We wanted to see if the space would work," Khalifa said. "Could the bartender do what he needed to do? Was the guest okay with seeing coffee equipment in the morning and more of a lounge atmosphere at night?"

Asking questions is a big part of Khalifa's job. When a guest says he or she doesn't like carpeted hotel rooms, for example, he needs to know more.

 

"We constantly have to ask 'Why, why, why?' " he said. "It turns out, it's not that they hate carpet - they just hate not knowing if the floor is clean. So how do you know a floor is clean? You have to be able to see that it's not dirty."

 

As a result, much of the carpeting across Marriott hotels has been replaced by flooring that can easily be mopped and cleaned. Other times, the advice the company receives is more practical: When housekeepers pointed out, for example, that a set of shelves was too high to clean, Marriott provided them with Swiffers with extendable handles.

 

The models in the basement are also a window into the hotel room of the future. The Renaissance prototype, for example, has backlit light switches with built-in USB ports, bright-yellow acrylic nightstands and artwork on the ceiling above the bed. The Residence Inn room down the hall, meanwhile, has an extended towel rack that doubles as an art piece. Property owners and franchisees are encouraged to incorporate the pieces they like into their hotels.

 

"We want to tease peoples' minds and inspire them," Khalifa said. "In the past, guests wanted consistency. Today, they expect up-to-date design."

Hilton didn't think twice when it nixed the full-length mirrors.

 

When you articulate these things out loud, it sounds so obvious, like 'Why didn't you guys think of that?' But when you're designing a room and trying to be creative, sometimes you miss things."

 

But when guests walked through the prototype room for Canopy by Hilton, the company's newest brand, it was the first thing they noticed.

 

"Female travelers came in and said, 'No, no, no. I insist on a full-length mirror,' " Holthouser said.

 

Designers also ended up removing a wooden canopy adhered to the ceiling above the bed after customers pointed out that they weren't comfortable sleeping under something that looked so heavy.

 

"When you articulate these things out loud, it sounds so obvious, like 'Why didn't you guys think of that?' " Holthouser said. "But when you're designing a room and trying to be creative, sometimes you miss things."

 

Back in Alexandria, Katz walked through the Pod prototype, pointing out everything that company executives planned to change after a three-hour brainstorming session.

 

"The coloring feels a little Miami Beach," Katz said, gesturing toward the light wooden floors.

 

The list went on: The metal table lamps overheated quickly and took up precious space on the nightstand. The stripes on the hallway carpet didn't line up quite right. A strip of LED lights framing the door looked tacky.

 

It will take months to make the first round of changes. Once everything has been fixed, Katz's team will replace the room's queen-size mattress with a bunk bed. (About one-quarter of the new hotel's micro rooms will have bunk beds.)

 

"And then," he said, "we will pick it apart all over again."


10 Destructive Habits To Avoid While Running A Business

Posted on October 31, 2015 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (18)

“The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.” – Stephen R. Covey

 

When I turned the last page of Kevin Kruse’s new book “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management”, I was inspired. My mind kept coming back to the notes I made on the pages of the book and the changes I was about to make to my routine the very next day.

 

In his book Kruse interviewed 7 billionaires, 13 Olympic athletes, and 239 entrepreneurs. He found that they all shared a number of habits. But it’s not what they were doing with their time, it’s what they weren’t doing that stuck with me. They…

 

Don’t do reactive work first

 

We all tend to do the same thing – wake up, immediately check email and get swallowed by the minutia of the day.

 

Successful people, however, know that they only have several highly productive hours in the day, in which they do creative work first.

 

According to Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, most people have the highest cognitive functioning in the first two hours after they’re fully awake. Instead of using this time on the tasks that require energy and creativity, most people spend time taking care of the quick and easy things, reactive work. That is a huge mistake. Not only because of the fact that those hours are highly productive, but also because it’s more likely that unexpected things come up as the day progresses and won’t allow you to fully concentrate on the important, strategic tasks.

 

Don’t create to-do lists

 

Why?

Pick a reason:

 

  • Items on the to-do list don’t have a deadline assigned to them.
  • One tends to choose completing the easy tasks on the list first, instead of important ones.
  • To-do lists cause unnecessary stress, as it’s a constant reminder of all the things you still haven’t finished.

 

According to iDoneThis, 41% of to-do list items are never completed.

However, what productive people do do is book time on the calendar to work on specific tasks, even if the allotted chunks of time are short (10-15 minutes). Productive people live by the mantra: “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t get done.” And they treat their time-blocked calendar entries as if they were doctor appointments, with discipline.

 

Don’t walk around without a notebook

 

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, said in one of his interviews: “I think the number one thing that I take with me when I’m traveling is the notebook… I could never have built the Virgin Group into the size it is without those few bits of paper.” He adds: “If you have a thought but don’t write it down, by the next morning it may be gone forever.” One time when he didn’t have his notebook with him, he scribbled the thought in his passport.

 

Successful people always write down their ideas, information about the people they met, things they want to act upon.

 

Don’t sit down during meetings

 

Multiple studies showed that sit-down meetings take longer, less effective, and don’t produce better decisions.

 

Stand-up meetings a much quicker, higher energy, and more productive.

 

Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and many others conduct meetings during long walks as well and find them highly effective.

 

Don’t say yes

 

Many small things have a tendency to turn into big things.

 

Productive people know that every yes is a no to something else. It comes at the expense of something.

 

You need to give yourself permission to say no without guilt.

 

Don’t do anything that someone else can do better, faster, cheaper

 

Outsource and delegate! ‘Nuff said.

 

Don’t return to the task that takes less than five minutes to complete

 

If a task can be completed in less than five minutes, they do it immediately.

Don’t get out during busy times

 

Productive people know that going grocery shopping during the busiest time at the store or driving to see their clients during rush hour will only add to stress and time wasted. So they rearrange their schedules smartly to avoid any detractors or time wasters.

 

Don’t ignore “hour of power”

 

Every productive person has an hour of uninterrupted “me time,” during which they eat a healthy meal, exercise, listen to the news or an educational program, meditate, and work on building up their energy in a way that works for them.

 

Important part here is that it is a part of the daily routine, consistently, without exception. They invest 45-60 minutes each day in rituals that strengthen their mind, body, and spirit. And a lot of times ends up sparking creativity and great ideas.

 

Don’t burn midnight oil

 

They know when enough is enough. Like athletes, who listen very closely to their own bodies, successful people know their limits and when to quit. They know that getting enough sleep and getting regular exercise are not time “wasters” and will only increase their productivity. And not just that, they know the value of prioritizing their lives holistically.

 

Sheryl Sandberg leaves office at 5:30pm every day to catch dinner with her kids at 6pm.

 

President Bush found time to read 95 books in one year.

 

Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, used to send 20 handwritten thank you notes a day.

 

Andy Grove, former Intel president, used to say: “My day ends when I am tired and ready to go home, not when I’m done. I am never done. There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.”

By Ekaterina Walter

I write about leadership, business culture, and marketing innovation


Getting your hotel staff to work for reviews

Posted on October 14, 2015 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (125)

The internet has changed the way consumers make their purchases in that people can research their options online and read the opinions of their peers. These opinions, or reviews, are far more influential on a consumer’s purchasing decision than any content created by the organization simply because the organization has little control over said content. And this applies to the hospitality industry just as much as any other sector.


A study conducted by TrustYou and Donna Quadi-Felitti, Academic Chair and Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, found that travelers are 3.9 times more likely to choose a hotel that has a higher review score than another if prices are the same. Furthermore, when prices rise, travelers are still likely to choose the hotel with the better review score, even if it is somewhat more expensive. When surveyed explicitly, 76% of travelers stated they would pay more to stay in a hotel that had a higher review score.

 

Clearly, positive reviews can and do have an impact on a hotel’s bottom line. And the more positive reviews a hotel has, the more business it will generate.

Focus on the experience to turn guests into advocates for your hotel

The key to maximizing positive reviews is to create a delightful guest experience at every touch point – i.e. for every interaction the guest has with your hotel. This means every department in your hotel has to work towards achieving this goal, from the hotel front desk to the housekeeping staff. The ultimate objective is to create guest advocates or evangelists. These guests are the ones who are so satisfied with your services that they become increasingly loyal. Not only will this increase the guest’s lifetime value and your overall retention rates, it will also play a role in generating positive reviews as these guests recommend your hotel to their friends, family and acquaintances.

 

Encouraging your team to go the extra mile and delight the guest is essential because delighted guests are much more likely to become advocates compared to merely satisfied guests.

Create a hotel culture focused on achieving guest delight

Creating a hotel culture focused on delighting guests is not only essential to generating more reviews and more business, but it also makes your hotel a more enjoyable place to work for your staff. A hotel with a guest-centric culture empowers employees to make decisions for the benefit of the guest. There is no rule book. There are guidelines and employees are encouraged to consider what the guest wants, as long as it isn’t immoral or illegal and doesn’t cost money. A guest-oriented hotel puts people first because the importance of their employees is paramount to achieving a delightful guest experience, so the staff is constantly engaged and more than enthusiastic when it comes to taking care of the guests.

 

By implementing such a culture in your hotel, you can be certain that all your employees are focused on achieving the same thing: a superlative guest experience that will translate into a higher number of advocates and into many more reviews.

Step 1: Define the guest experience

 

To build a guest-centric culture, you must define the guest. Every aspect must be clear, from how you want your guests to feel when they interact with the staff at the front desk to how you want them to react when they first see their room. Take your staff through examples of specific positive reviews on TripAdvisor or other review sites so that they know how these seemingly small initiatives can have a direct impact on generating a positive review.

Step 2: Ensure the message is understood

 

Every employee must know and understand your mission, which is the next step. Don’t limit them just to the areas that concern them. Make sure everyone in your hotel, whether or not you think they are directly related to the guest experience, is clear about your vision. Let them know that no role is too small to make a difference. For example: Even though your F&B staff is not facing the guest they should be aware that your hotel’s focus is on not just satisfying the guests, but delighting them, and that food can contribute strongly. They will make sure that all efforts are made to dish out a highly presentable meal that delights not just the taste buds, but all the senses.

Step 3: Provide training

 

The next step is to train your employees so they are able to deliver, otherwise your manifesto will remain nothing more than words. If required, take the assistance of Guest Experience Consultants who can do a professional job of training your staff as per your hotel’s goals.

Step 4: Lead by example

 

For your customer-centric culture to be truly adopted and internalized by your employees, you need to follow suit. Leaders should lead by example and encourage those who defend your new culture. Make sure your employees know it’s alright to make mistakes, but encourage those who are proactive and correct their colleagues.

Step 5: Praise your staff

 

Show your staff how proud you are of what they have achieved. Make them take pride in what they are doing. Praise them and encourage them. The more you acknowledge their hard work in creating an amazing guest experience, the harder they will work to create an even more delightful experience for your guests.

Step 6: Incentivize them

 

To make sure that review generation is an ongoing activity and not just a one-off initiative, you need to keep motivating your staff with incentives and drive them to perform. Regularly grade employees based on the number of positive reviews they have been responsible for and recognize their good work.

 

Since reviews will become your biggest business endorsements, you can even consider using your marketing budgets to offer incentives. It will let your employees know the importance reviews assume in your business.

How a guest-centric culture can help get more reviews for your hotel

 

One of the easiest ways to increase the number of positive reviews for your hotel is to ask delighted guests for them. Once you’ve created a guest-centric culture in your hotel, you’ve not only empowered your employees to go the extra mile for your guests, but also put them in a position in which they can confidently ask for reviews. Delighted guests will be more than happy to share their experience, especially if they receive a personal message from the staff who went above and beyond for them.

 

Encourage your staff to get innovative while asking for reviews. For example: They can video record guest feedback if they think the guest is really approachable and happy.

 

Your hotel’s staff is essential to generating more positive reviews because they are the ones who are responsible for the guest’s experience. If a guest enjoys a delightful stay in your hotel where the staff has exceeded their expectations, they are more likely to leave a positive review. And the most effective way to achieve such a delightful experience for your guest is to create a guest-centric culture where employees want to go the extra mile for the guest, thereby creating an emotional connection that can be capitalized upon to gain more reviews.

By Riddhi Maniar is the Marketing Communications Specialist at Hotelogix, a cloud-based property management and distribution system. Riddhi enjoys sharing her views on best practices related to guest experience and the current trends in the hospitality industry.


Why Quest needed to change

Posted on August 19, 2015 at 11:20 PM Comments comments (64)

By Hannah Edensor

One day after Quest Serviced Apartments relaunched as ‘Quest Apartment Hotels’, we decided to get the lowdown on the industry by speaking exclusively to Quest ceo Zed Sanjana.


And what an industry it is, with Airbnb, online travel agents, and a competitive landscape – all vying for the modern business traveller.

“Customer needs are changing, and expectations are shifting, and our brand is evolving to become relevant for them,” Sanjana told Travel Weekly.

“Everyone is talking about the millennial traveller, the travellers in their 20s and early 30s, but we want to extend beyond that.

Sanjana calls it a “millennial mindset”, which he says is a way of approaching the market and slotting their needs into a renovated hotel landscape.

“Millennials will be 78% of the workforce in 20 years’ time,” Sanjana said. “And they are a much more sophisticated customer than 20 years ago.”

“They want and need to travel. They’re driven by experience, driven by sharing, they’re connected, and they’re looking to determine their experience themselves.”

“They also have access to a lot more infrastructure to make their decisions than ever before.”

With all this in mind, Sanjana says this is a positive sign for Quest, as their position as an apartment hotel gives millennial travellers the chance to determine their own experience post check-in.

“Apartment hotels give a different type of experience than a person checking in to a hotel,” Sanjana told Travel Weekly.

“They can cook for themselves, have their family stay with them, get a cappuccino from the local place downstairs that we’ve recommended, live like a local – they are masters of their own destiny.”

And Sanjana believes Quest has “no standout competitor”, adding that the franchise is in “every CBD, suburban and regional market.”

Talking about Airbnb, Sanjana told Travel Weekly that while the home-sharing disruptor is “good at what they do”, what they don’t do is the ‘beyond booking experience’.

“They’re [Airbnb] good at technical experiences and are good booking channels,” Sanjana said.

“But beyond the booking experience they don’t have the ability to check in with the guests once they’ve actually checked-in, and that’s our advantage.”

“The OTAs and Airbnb don’t drive demand, and don’t create their own inventory.”

“Our game is to make customers warm to our brand, create that stickiness of our brand.”

“A customer is always going to judge you on their worst experience not their best. We’re playing to our strengths.”

And with a “robust pipeline” with a “number of sites around Melbourne and Sydney” in the works, not to mention outside Australia working with The Ascott Limited, Quest is showing no signs of slowing down.

Five reasons why your online booking numbers are low

Posted on August 3, 2015 at 4:25 AM Comments comments (75)

Hoteliers work vigorously to find ways to increase bookings. In today’s highly digital era, the online website is a hotelier’s strongest tool to attract more guests to the property. Over the past few years, the number of online bookings, especially from phones and tablets, have increased at enormous rates.

Unfortunately, there are still many hotels who negatively affect their booking frequency; and they don’t even know it. If you’re doing everything right when it comes to marketing your hotel, but you’re still not seeing an increase in your bookings, then you are most likely making one of these common hotel website mistakes.

1. Not optimized for mobile

 

According to research by the Pew Research Center, as of 2014, about 90% of U.S. adults own a smartphone. By 2018, about 49.4 million people will be booking hotel stays from their phones. If this is the case then why are, less than half of hotels optimized for mobile phones? Fewer people are booking from desktop computers due to the convenience of a smartphone. If your hotel does not have a mobile-friendly site, then you are missing out on a large portion of the market.

2. Lack of social media presence

There are approximately 5.4 billion accounts on the top 6 social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn). With so many people on these sites, hoteliers have a valuable platform available to directly reach the consumer. The saying is, “If you’re not on a social network, you don’t exist.” A social media page acts as a gateway to your website. By having a social media presence, you can post photos and videos of your hotel, give promotional updates, and make important announcements that will be seen by billions of people. Consumers can also directly contact you on your social media page.

3. Bad website functionality

If guests cannot easily navigate your site they will become frustrated and search for rooms elsewhere. Hotels that use a splash page as a home page may instantly turn travelers away. A splash page is the opening page that promotes the hotel, usually with an auto-playing movie or music. This splash page can serve as a disruption if someone is listening to music or browsing in a quiet place. Plus, it’s an extra page that slows down the process of your guests getting the information they need.

 

Another issue that may turn guests off is a slow loading page. If you have too much content on your page or large photos, it may take a little longer to load which can be frustrating in the “I want it now” generation. Most importantly, it should be easy for guests to book a room on your site. If you make your booking process complicated and drawn out, guests will leave your site before they choose a room.

4. Poorly written copy

The copy on your website may make or break you when it comes to how potential guests view your hotel. Copy with a lot of typos will definitely make your hotel come off as unprofessional and uneducated. Copy filled with cliches will also turn a guest away. Using too many descriptive words and fluff to describe your hotel may come off as deceitful and exaggerated. Using too many big words in your copy will make your hotel management come off as pretentious so keep your copy conversational.

 

Copy that seems natural will resonate more with your target consumer. Using keywords is also important to have in your copy, but beware of overuse. If you’re copy is filled with keywords and phrases it may not read naturally and may come off like a sales pitch.

5. Absence of reviews

You can tell travelers how great you are as much as you want, but your claims will not be credible in the eyes of the consumer without evidence. This evidence comes in the form of reviews on sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor. In a social media generation, word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. Reviews should be easy for potential guests to see when browsing your web pages. Reviews are also a good way to display your hotel’s customer service culture. By creating personalized responses to both negative and positive reviews, travelers can see that you actually care about your guests’ experience.

 

If you are not seeing an increase in your bookings, take a look at your website and see if you are making any of these mistakes. When booking rooms, guests want the operation to move quickly and run smoothly while receiving all of the information they need about your hotel. Don’t overdo it and remain honest when describing your hotel in the copy. Show potential guests what others love about your hotel and be sure to connect with the consumer on social networks. Hoteliers must do whatever it takes to get their booking numbers up.

 

 

About the author

Nigel J. Rodgers writes for the eMarketing Associates blog.



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