Monday, October 13, 2008

Now's the Time to Start Your Blogger Fam Program


If you've been in the hospitality business for any length of time, you're familiar with travel agent familiarization programs.  If you're not, then here's a quick summary. 

Travel agents help to direct customers to your service (airline, hotel, rental car, etc.).  You as a supplier want the travel agent to refer guests more often to your service than that of your competitor.  To do this you offer perks to travel agents.  One of the most popular travel agent perks was the familiarization trip or FAM trip.  The supplier drastically discounts the service, or comps it, when the travel agent uses the service for himself.  The idea being to attract them to stay at their property.  While there, some suppliers required the travel agent to take a tour and/or fill out some type of questionnaire to show that they could better sell their property.  Occassionally, CVB's or clusters of hotels would arrange these tours for groups of travel agents.

Fam trips haved declined in popularity and effectiveness over time as travel agents do less research for clients and have less of an impact on the actual decision making process.  Additionally, hotels and travel suppliers are looking to cut costs and reduce these marketing expenses that have no proven ROI.

Well the idea for familiarization trips may be making a come back.  Actually, it may be more of a familiarization meeting.  Bloggers have more influence and power than ever.  As more people look the internet for recommendations, reviews and resources on booking their travel.  Bloggers in the travel field are putting their mark of approval on hotels, airline seat placement and rental car programs.  More importantly, Jane Q. Consumer is listening.

This post from Chris Brogan about his recent visit to St. Louis and why local tourism agencies should be building relationships with bloggers highlights a program being started by VisitPittsburgh to reach out to influential people coming in for conventions to educate them about the city.  What struck me about this is that in the hotel industry, we often look at guest reviews as the holy grail of what's happening online, but we tend to lose focus on the influencers that are out there in our industry.

To that end, I am advocating that hotels start up their own "Blogger Outreach" program.  Here is my formula for getting this started at your property or organization:
  • Start by tracking what is being said about your hotel and your competition using tools like Google Alerts(Let me know if you have other tools you use to track buzz on your company.  I'll talk about them in future posts.)
  • Participate in online forums and leave comments on web sites that mention your hotel.
  • Identify the bloggers that have influence and forumulate a plan to educate them about your service.
  • Reach out to the bloggers and ask for more information about their stay and for additional feedback.
  • Next time the blogger is coming to town invite her to lunch.  Don't expect a review from it, but you never know.  Just opening up the door for conversation is what is important here.
Before long, you'll be ahead of the competition in using social media to make a difference to your bottom line.

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The Next "Hotel Evolution" in Increasing Ancillary Revenues

A new software company, Runtriz,
hopes to use the iPhone and iPod Touch to make it hip to carry these
gadgets when you stay at your next hotel.  An article in the Washington
Post highlights the test of the "Hotel Revolution" product from Runtriz at the Malibu Beach Inn in Malibu, CA.  The "Hotel Evolution"
application can either be loaded onto a guests existing iPhone or iPod
Touch, or in the case of the Malibu Beach Inn, the guest is loaned an
iPod Touch if they don't own their own.  The software makes it possible
for the guest to order room service, book spa treatments, retreive
their message and set wake up calls.  There are other options as well.  This could turn into a gold mine for hoteliers, especially those in the upscale and above categories.

is what I call bringing convenience to your hotel stay.  Runtriz says
that since the application is web based it will eventually be released
for Blackberries and other cell phone platforms, like Google's Android.  Imagine not being tied to making a call from your guest room when you want to have room service in the room when you arrive from a business trip.  How about being able to schedule spa treatments while out shopping.  Really, you can put the convenience and power of the hotel's concierge staff at the finger tips of your guest.

The cost can be a bit pricey.  The first month is around $20/room with subsequent months around $10/room.  The price does vary by hotel.

This is the first application of it's kind that I have seen.  How about you?  Any exciting mobile technology we should be talking about on eComm Insights?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Is the Effectiveness of Travelzoo Declining?

If you are in the travel marketing business, you have heard of Travelzoo. If you haven't you should look into it. Travelzoo is at it's heart an email list of over 12 million subscribers worldwide. Travelzoo uses this list to market travel deals for airfare, hotel rooms, cruises, Broadway show tickets and more.

Advertisers submit their deal to Travelzoo for approval and addition to their weekly email blast the Top 20. It can take weeks or months for a supplier to get an open space in a Top 20 Newsletter. Travelzoo's team of producers will evaluate the offer to determine if they believe that it will be successful. If they don't like the offer, they'll tell you what it takes to get in the newsletter and if you don't make the changes they can deny putting the offer in the email blast. By doing this they insure the success of the offer and the value to their customer.

When they create the newsletter, they also offer the participating travel supplier a landing page that is created by Travelzoo. The landing page is where most of the work happens as Travelzoo then editorializes the offer. They really try to sell the offer by providing their readers value and a comparison of other offers they have seen, like this landing page fore Playa del Carmen:

If the person is interested in booking they are then sent direct to the supplier web site. Which as we all know is the holy grail to online promotions we are running.

Travelzoo also offers cost per click advertising and placement in their Super Search product. These are relatively new services for them.

A recent post on the Compete TravelTrends Blog talks about the growth in site traffic for Travelzoo. Compete estimates that Travelzoo's site traffic increased 95% over one year from 2007 to 2008. Additionally, they are saying that Travelzoo was able to grow volume by 33% since the beginning of the year. This isn't too shocking to me. The current economic downturn has hit the leisure traveler the most and what most of us are looking for is a way to stretch our own dollar to get more out of our vacations. Travelzoo is the channel in which to do this.

They are agressive in growing their email list by only allowing users who have signed up for their emails access to their online deals. Additionally, they run promotions with existing users to submit email addresses of friends for solicitation in Travelzoo's Top 20 with the offer of sweepstakes entries. One such offer last year offered the winning entrant every special that was listed on the Top 20 during the week. Not too shabby.

The bigger issue in my mind is that with all of this growth, the demographic of the Travelzoo customer is changing as are the economic times. The post goes on to say that the visitors to Travelzoo have spent consistently less time on the site over the last 13 months. People have less money to spend on luxuries like travel. More often than not, people are traveling only when they have to so when they go to Travelzoo, they know exactly what they are looking for.

(Graphic courtesy of Compete Inc.)

No longer is Travelzoo being used as a place to find a quick getaway. It is being used more often to find deals for the trip you were already going to take. Additionally, with more suppliers offering discounts now, you don't have to just go to the Travelzoo site to get the best deals. You can find them just about everywhere.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Bring on the Mashups - Merging Hospitality and Technology

Quick - define the term "mashup". No I am not talking about mashing up the potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner or what happens when you leave free pieces of paper floating around in your laptop bag for a couple of days. I am talking about mash-up in terms of the internet. Here is how mashup is defined in wikipedia:
a web application that combines data from more than one source into a single integrated tool; an example is the use of cartographic data from Google Maps
to add location information to real-estate data, thereby creating a new
and distinct web service that was not originally provided by either
You've seen mashups before, like this one that shows YouTube videos on a map from the upload location as they happen or some hotel booking sights combine maps with hotel locations on them or this one where you input a domain name and it pulls information from various sources to give you a report about the domain. Most of the mashups, like those above, are based in a web browser.

Now, IHG is taking a step to move the mashup out of the browser and into Google Earth. The new IHG Trip Planner makes it easy for guests to plan and make their reservations for all IHG branded hotels, InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo®, Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express®, Staybridge Suites® and Candlewood Suites®. At the same time, they can see the weather, find out about the traffic, identify places that they would like to visit and see the hotel in 3-D. This truly is thinking ahead of the pack. By creating this mashup, IHG is giving travelers one place to go to make reservations, and since the icon can reside on their desktop, they don't have to go other places to comparison shop - this is there hope. Look for a review of this new offering here on Hotel Ecomm Insights next week.

I wonder how long it will be before other companies follow suit. Are you planning anything like this for your hotel? If you are please pass it along and I will review it here on the site.

Check out the link to download the IHG Google Earth Mashup here.

Lodging Interactive: TripAdvisor Launched a Hotel Mashup Tool in October, 2006
GoogleMapsMania: Other Hotel Mashups out there.
iGuide: Interactive Travel Guide

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