Archive for October, 2011

Rolling Out The Welcome Mat

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Rolling Out The Welcome Mat

Here’s how the hotel industry is working to ensure that international travelers can get here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dan Marcec

 

Since 2000, international visitation to the United States has dropped precipitously. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the U.S. share of overseas arrivals has fallen from 17 to 12.4 percent in that period, even as worldwide travel grew by 40 percent over the same timeframe. According to the U.S. Travel Association, losing just one percentage point of the total world international travel market potentially costs the U.S. 161,000 jobs.

You may look at that timeframe and chalk it up to the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent emphasis on security constraints. But the larger issue goes beyond the War on Terrorism. Before the Travel Promotion Act passed in March 2010, the U.S. had spent exactly ZERO dollars on advertising itself internationally as a travel destination. Now that this legislation is in place, the Corporation for Travel Promotion, as well as myriad partners throughout the travel and tourism industries, are hard at work to make sure the U.S. is on the map for international visitors.

But travel promotion in and of itself is only the first part of the process. If you attract people to come visit and they can’t get in, it basically amounts to false advertising.

“The worst thing in the world is inviting people to a party and the door is locked,” says Nancy Johnson, executive vice president and chief development officer for Carlson Hotels Worldwide, as well as incoming Chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA). “International tourists want to come to America, and not only the top destinations like New York, L.A., and Disney, but also the mountains, the rivers, and everything in between.

“We need to put that welcome mat out there, and we need to make it easy to visit,” Johnson adds. “Not treating every tourist like a terrorist is essential.”

Headway on the Hill

Diligence from industry advocates like AH&LA and U.S. Travel have paid off. Just last week, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed the Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America (S.1746), or the VISIT USA Act, which is designed to create jobs. The bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to make improvements to the U.S. visa process, which is currently one of the largest barricades to international business and leisure travelers coming to the U.S.

According to AH&LA, provisions of this bill that will break down these barriers include:
• Expediting entry for priority visitors
• Introducing technology into the U.S. visa system, authorizing the Secretary of State to conduct a videoconference pilot program as a method for conducting visa interviews of foreign national applicants;
• Encouraging Chinese nationals to travel to the U.S;
• Encouraging Canadian tourism to the United States;
• Encourage U.S. travel during low peak season; and
• Expediting visas for allies not currently in the visa waiver program.

For more information on these provisions, please visit the AH&LA’s government affairs portal http://www.ahla.com/content.aspx?id=33230.

“Increasing the amount of business and leisure travelers to the U.S. brings significant economic benefits to the U.S. economy, and the VISIT USA Act is comprehensive legislation that makes America competitive once again in the $1.1 trillion international travel market,” says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Overall, AH&LA says that bill is a significant step toward the Discover America Partnership’s goal of recapturing America’s historic share of international travel. Last May, a U.S. Travel Association report identified difficulties international travelers experience with the U.S. visa system. The VISIT USA legislation includes several key recommendations in U.S. Travel’s report, which will help the U.S. regain market share in the overseas travel market, potentially creating 1.3 million jobs and producing $859 billion in additional cumulative economic output by 2020.

For more info on Discover America and the economic impact of international travel, please see http://www.poweroftravel.org.
Expedited Entry = Agenda Item One

As most people know, traveling through U.S. customs is, to put it delicately, challenging. On top of that, international travelers also have to go through a lengthy, and often inconvenient, interview process to get a visa. That’s precisely the issue political advocates in the industry are trying to impress upon the decision makers in Washington.

“From my point of view, the most important issue we need to resolve is setting a 12-day maximum waiting time for visas,” says Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide, who has dedicated significant efforts to improving visa issues. “ Getting wait times down is crucial to make us more competitive with other nations, and currently all the important markets we target take far more than 12 days to get approval.”

For example, Marlene Colucci, executive vice president, public policy, for AH&LA, notes that the wait time is up to 150 days in Brazil, one of the key emerging travel markets.

“If you have to wait half a year, it’s going to go by, and you’ll either have to re-plan your trip or you’ll decide to go elsewhere that’s less complicated,” Colucci says. “That’s the decision most travelers make.”

Making use of modern technology can also improve the process. Allowing videoconferencing for visa interviews would expedite visa approval immensely. Colucci adds that she understands the State Department’s preference to interview in person, and that security should always be at the forefront. However, the sheer volume of potential Chinese travelers necessitates a re-evaluation of the process. It can take a several hour trip just to be interviewed for a visa to the U.S., which is a challenge in itself.

“The travel and wait time in China is significant, and if you use this technology that’s already here, it expands the number of people you can interview,” says Colucci.

The International Tourism Facilitation Act, introduced by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), takes into account the State Department’s concerns about videoconferencing, and works to improve the process in an alternative way. Namely, the bill proposes “to incentivize the State Department – without risking security – to improve the visa process by allowing the Department to reinvest fees charged for visas if the Department improves the efficiency with which it processes visas, and allow the Secretary of State, in appropriate circumstances, to grant a waiver of up to 3 additional years (4 years total) for foreigners to renew their tourist visas without requiring the tourist to go through another in-person interview,” according to Klobuchar’s official news release.

“No matter what, we want to make sure the system is responsive to the market,” says Colucci. “Demand is up 234 percent, and we have to respond to the demands of the public.”

The good news is that the issue is being addressed in both houses of Congress and in the administration, but the book is still in its early chapters. From here, it’s up to those in the know in the travel industry to continue to make sure legislators and influential policy makers understand how important this is to the overall economy.

“I’m pleased to see the State Department and Department of Commerce working hand in glove with Homeland Security to finally ‘get it’ and collaborate,” says Johnson. “This is an awakening for America. The people who understand what’s happening have to have their voice heard.”

Nassetta agrees. “We started down this path two years ago in earnest, and there was not wide understanding of what facilitating international tourism meant,” he says. “But now, I think there is fairly wide recognition that this is beneficial to the country, and I think there is a very constructive, productive dialogue that’s occurring that will be impacted by this. If it’s done properly, it’s good for everyone, not just the travel industry.”

Recipe: Pumpkin Pancakes

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Pancakes

Imagine waking up on a crisp fall morning to the smell of pumpkin wafting through your home. Pumpkin? Yes, this supreme squash not only makes tasty pies and creamy cheesecakes but also scrumptious, fluffy pancakes. It’s an unexpected twist to the classic breakfast treat.

Pumpkin pancakes

Courtesy of the Woolverton Inn, Stockton, NJ:

Ingredients:

  • 2 2/3 cup flour
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger & cloves to taste
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt 8 eggs (separated) 2 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cup pumpkin (one 15 oz can)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 stick of melted butter, slightly cooled

Directions:

Whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. With a hand mixer or in a KitchenAid, whip egg whites until stiff but not dry. Mix together buttermilk, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla and butter. Make a well in the dry ingredients and fold in buttermilk-pumpkin mixture; do not over mix. Gently fold egg whites into batter.

Cook on a hot grill until bubbles form at the edges. Flip and cook 2 – 3 minutes more. Serves 10 – 12 people.

Let’s Work Together

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Let’s Work Together

We’re always looking for ways to promote our inns and be a part of your success. One way is to collaborate with you beyond your listing. Shared content, high-resolution images and special stories are all ways we can attract the media’s attention and also get the word out to the public about the many fabulous things B&Bs do. Here are a few ways we can work together (all at NO extra cost to you):

c. Many innkeeper associations repost parts of the BnBFinder newsletter, particularly the Mary White column, to their members because they find the articles to be chock-full of insightful information. We’re more than happy to share our knowledge about the B&B industry with you. If you read a blog post or newsletter article and think the information could be useful to your guests, feel free to repost it! Just make sure to change a few words or sentences so you’re not duplicating content and affecting SEO. Email press@BnBFinder.com and let us know if there’s content you’d like to repost.

c. All day, every day, we’re pitching your inns to the media. To have the best chance of being included we need high resolution pictures of your inn. Editors usually request large, beautiful, high-resolution (300 dpi) photos of the inn’s exterior, rooms, gardens, recipes, etc. to go along with these stories. So, if you have taken high-resolution images of your inn with a digital camera (check your camera settings to make sure the image quality is set to the maximum setting), log in to your account and upload them to the Media Photo Gallery located in the Media Room in the lower left. We’ll send them out immediately for pressing media queries or archive them for future opportunities with major outlets. The chances of gaining high-profile media mentions go up significantly when your inn is paired with a picture!

Tell Us Your Special Stories. We know you go above and beyond with special touches for your guests every day. We want to hear the most touching ones as these stories are a great way to spread the word about the special experiences at B&Bs and your inn, in particular. Did you set up a special scene for an engagement or surprise a solider set to be deployed by arranging a special celebration he or she would have missed otherwise because of being overseas? These stories don’t get the recognition they deserve and you don’t realize how big the little things you do are for a guest. We want to change that. Email press@BnBFinder.com with your special stories so we can archive them for future media pitches, blog posts and stories. Then, everyone will know what we already know: your B&B is where guests can wake up someplace special.

Waking Up To Great Value

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Waking Up To Great Value

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dan Marcec

 

The breakfast table offers an equal opportunity to make or break guest experience, especially in the midscale sector, where free breakfast garners higher and higher expectations as the category evolves. Here’s how hotel brands are approaching their analysis of this imperative amenity.

Over the past few years, hoteliers have learned quite quickly that the days of “build it and they will come” are well over, and “location, location, location” is not necessarily the number one factor influencing profitability. On the guest side of the equation, the mantra is “value, value, value.” By catering to the guest’s sensible nature, hotels can truly gain the competitive edge.

Hardly anywhere is there a higher perceived value than at the breakfast table. In Country Inns & Suites’ recent “Today’s Business Traveler” survey, 82 percent of respondents said they base their hotel selection on free amenities such as high-speed Internet and breakfast. Breaking it down further, 90 percent said high-speed Internet is the number one most important amenity (not surprising), followed next by hot breakfast at 70 percent. That’s not just any breakfast, it’s a hot breakfast. Especially in the highly competitive midscale sector, where breakfast is included in the rate, perceived value is crucial.

Of course, business travelers aren’t the only guests looking for value when they wake up in the morning.

“If I take my family to breakfast, I’m staring down a $35 to $40 check out of my own pocket,” says Steve Mogck, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Country Inns & Suites by Carlson. “So when you look at midscale hotel pricing, which is $70 to $90 per night depending on the market, the guest sees incredible value in that breakfast.”

The fierce competition to enhance the breakfast bar defines “amenity creep,”  and brands in the midscale sector have continued to add more and more for their guests as part of their complimentary offering.

“Breakfast in midscale is always evolving, and we’re not unique in that,” says Mark Southern, director of product innovation, F&B, Hilton Worldwide. “We all started somewhere different than we are today, and the lifecycle of the brands will be very different in 20 years as well.”

The trick to surviving this evolution is to not only to have a lot of food on the table, but also to have the right food on the table. That involves staying on top of consumer trends.

“From the macro perspective, I think individualization and customization is here to stay. We all get to customize iPhones, websites, newsfeeds, and we have to embrace a level of individualization at the hotel level as well,” says Southern. “So when you look at breakfast over the course of a week, guests want to be sure to have something unique every day.”

In other words, an attractive breakfast bar is not just about piling on whatever is the cheapest and most efficient. It’s about perceived quality, and – yes, this word again – value. Guests want options, and they want foods that fit their lifestyle. Responding to this trend, both Country Inns & Suites and Hilton’s Hampton brand recently added real oatmeal – not pre-packaged, and not quick cooking oatmeal – to their repertoire.

“Health and wellness is important to our guests, and I don’t think anyone will come in next year and say 2012 is the year of trans fats and corn syrup,” says Southern. “On top of that, transparency in food is big, and we’re moving toward cleaner of ingredient lists – in other words, when you look what’s in your food, you’ll only see ingredients you understand. It is what it says.”
Selecting Service

Of course, an important part of a good hotel breakfast is how it’s served. Midscale hotels again face a unique challenge because their guest base is so diverse. From weekday business travelers to weekend leisure guests, from small business meetings to large groups, fitting all this food as well as the people to eat it in a small breakfast room is a challenge.

“We really do have to be all things to all people at times,” says Southern.

Again, it’s all about options. Southern adds as long as you make space, guests will utilize it in ways they see fit, and in Hampton’s new Perfect Mix lobby, there’s been an organic flow because people have a variety of seating options and areas, but it remains one contiguous space.

Aside from ensuring the right staffing and attending to the guests – hotel service 101 – utilizing back-of-house space is an important consideration as well.

“When we add these elements, it becomes extremely complex to achieve high quality food preparation and delivery,” says Mogck. “We joke that our pantries are so small you can’t change your mind in them.”

Waste is one of the other major considerations when it comes to advanced offerings. To combat this challenge, Country Inns recently rolled out non-disposable dining ware.

“We decided to be the first to use non-disposable utensils. Even with adding a dishwasher, from a cost standpoint it’s very close to what we were doing before,” says Mogck. “But now we’re saving thousands of pounds of garbage from landfills. There is not an RFP out there that doesn’t ask about what you’re doing to be green, and we wanted something real.”
Rate of Return

In midscale, competition continues to up the ante and build on more and more amenities to differentiate outside the beige box. At the end of the day at the property level, the goal is always to create a better guest experience while simultaneously  raising rate to get a better ROI.

“When you look at ROI, [improvements to breakfast] are table stakes. A number of brands have skimped, and I see it everywhere,” says Mogck. “What are you saving, $1 a room? When guest perceives what you get at a restaurant, it makes a huge difference, and it gives you the ability to raise rate and drive occupancy long-term to establish yourself in the market.”

Mogck adds an example. Some hotels, for example, will try to lure guests by offering $20 gas cards or other incentives of the like. While that’s effective in its own right, a $20 gas card costs pretty close to $20 for the hotelier (taking into account discounts in bulk, etc.). If you look at breakfast at $2 or $3 per room, with the ability to raise rate accordingly because the guest understands the value there, it makes sense.

“When you have an asset you can leverage, you have to maximize it,” says Mogck.

The proof is in the pudding, pun intended. According to Country Inns’ Medallia ratings, the new “Be Our Guest” breakfast showed +.02 in the “overall breakfast” category; +.03 in “presentation of breakfast items”; and +.10 in “variety of breakfast items” over one year ago. With a .01 change being statistically significant on a brand-wide level, the numbers speak for themselves.

Southern says that Hampton also saw a big lift in guest scores when the brand added both waffles and, more recently, oatmeal. But at the end of the day, the value the guest sees is not only from the products, but also how that product is packaged with great service.

“Stuff is stuff, but the loyalty from our guest doesn’t come specifically from oatmeal and waffles, it comes from great products wrapped in unbelievable service,” Southern adds. “When you have those things together it becomes hard for the competition to touch, and that’s why there’s so much potential at breakfast.”

Kitchen Corner: Chutney – Making the most of the local harvest

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

#Kitchen Corner: Chutney – Making the most of the local harvest

 

By Carol Edmondson, Innkeeping Specialists, www.innseminars.com

Whatever fruit or nut crop is ripe in your area you can take advantage by creating a simple and delicious chutney that guests will love as an accompaniment to most any sweet or savory breakfast.  Chutney has been around for well over 100 years and is a sweet and savory preserve made from an open ended list of possible ingredients.  Follow today’s popular return to local ingredients and use what you grow or what you find in your urban or rural farmers market.  If you want to make a big batch go the market at the end of the day and buy very ripe or slightly bruised fruit at a great price.  The trip to the market is a great learning experience since farmers, fishermen and food people of all kinds know so much about their products.  If you live near a city market frequented by chefs, go very early in the morning and watch the pros make their wholesale purchases.  You’ll be amazed at who is there.

The following is a formula (and some suggestions for ingredients) for a perfectly delicious chutney.  Feel free to double or quadruple this recipe except for fresh herbs which should be increase only by half.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh fruit like apples, cranberries, peaches, pears, cherries, pineapple, apricots, grapes, bananas, dates, mangos.  If fruit is large, cut into ½ inch dice and remove seeds and pits.  Leave skins on all but the pineapple, bananas and mango
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar or ½ cup agave, maple or brown rice syrup
  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion minced
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Triple Sec or any cognac or brandy you like
  • ¼ cup apple cider or rice wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and fresh ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon each, sea salt, nutmeg and ground cloves or coriander
  • Coarsely grated zest and juice from one orange or two limes
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh sage and rosemary minced fine or herbs of your choice
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or pistachios

Preparation: Put all the ingredients into a large heavy non reactive sauce pan (stainless or porcelain coated pans work well)  You can mix two or three fruits though my favorites are single fruit chutneys.

Bring to a soft boil and immediately reduce the heat to medium/low.  Cook uncovered until the fruit is soft and the liquid begins to glisten from the natural pectins in the ingredients.  About 20-40 minutes depending on the fruit.  Cool in the pan and refrigerate covered.  Chutney will thicken as it cools.  Serve at room temp with breakfast.  Feature the local ingredients you use on your menu.

Some great flavor combinations:

  • Cranberry, walnut with Grand Marnier and fresh sage.
  • Pineapple, pistachios, cognac and fresh rosemary
  • Bananas, pecans, vanilla vodka and dried herbs de Provence

 

Carol Edmondson owned and operated an award winning 14 room B&B Inn on Cape Cod for 12 years. Carol and her husband Tom, a commercial real estate broker, formed Innkeeping Specialists in 1994. Their consulting partnership focuses on finding inns for clients and teaching their “Innkeeping from the Innside” seminar. Carol has developed and presented several PAII conference workshops, currently chairs the Cape Cod Bed & Breakfast Committee, and is a member of the PAII Advisory Board. She was formerly a marketing executive with a Fortune 500 high-tech firm and holds a degree in finance and marketing. Contact Carol via email at inninfo@yahoo.com or visit her website at www.innseminars.com.

What’s it REALLY like to be an innkeeper?

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

What’s it REALLY like to be an innkeeper?
By Sharon Danks, Vice President, WORDS of 100/Tweed-Weber, Inc.

“I wish someone understood my world.” Have you ever said that to yourself? No matter the profession, connecting with others who genuinely understand your world can be very empowering. It can boost your confidence when you’re feeling hesitant about the direction you should be setting, and it can offer you much needed support when you need it most. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel like you weren’t alone in your thinking…your excitement…your challenges…your ideas…your vision…and especially your decisions?

We have just released an e-book entitled, In the WORDS of 100, a unique glimpse into the real world of 100 Bed & Breakfast Owners/Innkeepers. We surveyed 100 Bed & Breakfast Owners/Innkeepers from around the country and asked for their opinions on a variety of topics that relate specifically to the world of innkeeping. Our sample of 100 was quite a vocal group, and they had a ton of things to say! What a great group of people they are. The responses we received were so genuine and clearly showed the commitment and passion it takes to operate a Bed & Breakfast today. When asked what they like most about running their business, one respondent stated, “On my worst day, when I do not want to open my door to another person, I am reminded that I work for myself and not some other person that I don’t like, or some corporation that can fire me at any time. It can be extremely difficult and it can be extremely rewarding, and often on the same day. We love and enjoy our guests, and that is our greatest satisfaction.” Another stated, “The best compliment we ever received was from a well-known minister who said that he thought we did more good for couples than he did. That’s why we enjoy being innkeepers.”

There was a nice mix of veteran innkeepers and newbies highlighted below that participated in the survey, and their collective voices offered some great advice for aspiring B&B Owners/Innkeepers.

  • More than 20 years – 9.6%
  • 16 to 20 years – 7.9%
  • 11 to 15 years – 18.4%
  • 6 to 10 years – 31.6%
  • 3 to 5 years – 20.2%
  • 2 years or less – 12.3%

Top 10 pieces of advice…

  • You MUST be a people person/friendly/outgoing
  • Be prepared to work hard…more than you think
  • Do your research before getting into it
  • Be prepared financially/don’t expect to make tons of money
  • Have good business sense
  • Take care of yourself so you can care for others/make time for you
  • Proactively learn from other B&B Owners/Innkeepers
  • Understand it’s a lifestyle, not just a job
  • Understand that your free time will be limited/sacrifices will be made
  • Join national and state associations/attend conferences/workshops

One issue that is certainly a hot button for current B&B Owners/Innkeepers is the whole area of marketing, especially in the world of social media and networking. One participant stated, “Standard marketing is hard enough, but now add to that the need to understand how to do all of the fancy Internet marketing stuff. It’s exhausting! We’re working with the local college to have a marketing intern work with us for a semester. I’m hoping he will teach me to become more comfortable in knowing how to reach the online audience. I’m excited to have a young person show me the tricks, since he lives and breathes the Internet world. Besides that, his generation will be my future guests, so I’d better dig into it.” Another stated, “Luring in the generation X and Y people with the amenities they want, like free Internet and iPod docks, and appealing to them using more modern methods like Internet advertising, social media and blogging, is a positive trend that innkeepers should not ignore.” Having an exceptional website that clearly highlights the amenities was mentioned as being extremely important, and the need for beautiful photos that really show what you’re trying to say on your website is essential. As one participant shared, “I saw the need for a completely new website in a year that was the worst year we’ve had, and where bad news was coming daily, but I spent the money anyway and saw a real difference in our reservations.”

This WORDS of 100 book is separated into three main sections of Insights, Ideas and Inspiration, and whether you are a current or aspiring innkeeper, you will no doubt feel what the group expressed in their own words. When asked what motivates them to excel as a B&B Owner/Innkeeper, one participant simply stated, “I have a tree with a swing nestled in the back part of our property. Every time I see a guest taking a moment out of their life to enjoy such a simple grace, I remember what motivates me.”

An overwhelming majority, 68 percent, said that PAII is the resource most often used to find information about the Bed & Breakfast Industry and/or profession with one participant saying, “Most use PAII at some point in time. They are especially helpful when first starting out. After a while, you learn the ropes, but PAII really helped me to not spend time reinventing the wheel. I learned a lot about how to do things right and be successful as a B&B owner.” Interaction with colleagues was also rated as being very important with personal networking and/or informal discussions with colleagues being the kind of interaction valued most.

Participants that took part in our WORDS of 100 survey certainly speak for themselves, and the whole purpose of this research process was to just let them without getting too technical on you. You will probably see yourself in the words of the participants as they share their stories and opinions about a variety of timely B&B topics that impact you today. Overall, our main goal was to connect with 100 Bed & Breakfast Owners/Innkeepers to better understand their world.

This 105-page (PDF format) WORDS of 100 e-book is available for purchase at www.wordsof100.com for just $24.95, and it downloads immediately from the website. We chose the e-book format to keep the cost extremely friendly in an effort to respect your budget in today’s economy, and we genuinely believe you will be pleased with the value for the price. This article only scratches the surface of what was shared by your colleagues in the industry. We hope you enjoy reading the book as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Tweed-Weber, Inc., a research firm located in Reading, Pennsylvania, has developed a series of reports entitled, WORDS OF 100. This report series is focused on targeted occupations, and in-depth interviews are conducted with 100 individuals currently working in those occupations. At the most basic level, Tweed-Weber finds out what people are thinking about, and develops e-books that clearly communicate trends, issues, concerns and opportunities in a way that offers an unrivaled connection with others in the same industry/position, and in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read about.

Get Your Breakfast Recipe Featured in food&family Magazine!

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Get Your Breakfast Recipe Featured in food&family Magazine!

food&family magazine is looking for breakfast recipes from innkeepers to publish in their upcoming Fall issue of the magazine. Recipes should be things like breads, scones, muffins, egg dishes, etc. The chosen recipes would be attributed to the innkeeper and possibly include a photo of the inn or B&B.

The recipes would need to contain a Kraft product, such as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Kraft Shredded Cheese, Breakstone’s or Knudsen Sour Cream or Athenos Yogurt. If your recipes calls for a generic version of these products, such as “sour cream,”they will brand it as Breakstone’s or Knudsen sour cream.

food&family is a quarterly publication that Meredith Corporation produces for Kraft Foods. Currently, there are about 1.2 million subscribers in the U.S. There is also a possibility that one of these recipes may be used by our French and English sister publications in Canada as well.

The Kraft Kitchens staff would not change the recipe, but they would, most likely, edit it for style. We would attribute the magazine to the innkeeper and possibly include a photo of the inn or B&B.

Any recipes should be sent to Marilyn Kruse at marilyn.kruse@meredith.com on or before Thursday, Nov. 10.

Horrifyingly Healthy Halloween Snacks

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Halloween can be a recipe for disaster. Candy corn, cupcakes, brownies, sacks full of treats — talk about sugar overload! There’s got to be a better option, right? The following recipes are simple to prepare, fun to eat, and sure to please everyone in the family.

BOO-nanas

Peel a banana and press in raisins or carob chips to make a spooky face! Use raspberries or strawberries as blood to make an extra-creepy treat.

Jack-O’(range)-Lantern

Carve an orange as you would a pumpkin by removing a piece from the top and scooping out the insides with a spoon. Cut out a design on the front of the orange using a serrated knife. Mix the pulp with diced strawberries and place back into the orange for a fruit salad in a fun and festive bowl.

Worms and Dirt

This treat puts a spin on the old classic without all the sugar and artificial candy. A small serving can be perfect as a snack, or try a larger and muddier mess for a chilling breakfast. In a bowl combine:

1/2 cup crushed bran flakes or your favorite brown whole grain cereal
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon peanut (or other nut) butter
Cinnamon to taste

Slice a banana into 1- to 2-inch strips and hide “maggots” all around.

Egg Eyeballs

Slice a hard-boiled egg in half and scoop out part of the yolk. Insert half a pitted olive for a frightening snack.

These are just a few frightening ideas. Get creative with your favorite snacks and see what spooky treats you can create!

Sarah Martin, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

Hotel Social Media Engagement Perspective | By Richard Walsh

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Hotel Social Media Engagement Perspective | By Richard Walsh

Hotel Social Media Engagement Perspective | By Richard Walsh

If you own or manage a hotel or resort and you have not accepted the importance of social media marketing as an integral part of your marketing strategy, it’s time you do. Social media marketing is not tomorrow, it is now and it affects all aspects of your business. Not to get ahead of myself, but your time is money and it is important.

Whether you try to manage social media in-house or it is outsourced, effective social marketing will require time, resources and professional skills. My following statements and recommendations are a result of years of working with all categories of hotels and resorts. This includes my personal analysis of industry surveys, daily activities and keeping up with never ending changes in the social websites and networks. The goal is to develop effective social touch marketing plans and initiatives with measured results.

Social touch is all about your written messages and engagement with consumers and past hotel guests online. Talking to consumers is not new, but the popularity of websites like Facebook, Twitter and dozens of others just makes it easier and the value is not so much what is said between you and the individual, but more the fact that hundreds of other people can view your comments and the sentiment you express online relevant to your hotel!

It’s all about when, where and how you touch a past guest, prospective guest, meeting planner, wedding planner or group organizer. Chances are the majority of your guests have looked at guest reviews, Googled your location, searched on local demand drivers and used their mobile phone’s GPS application to find hotels in your area. Just think about the time and money spent trying to get guests to fill out a comment card, to tell a friend about their experience at your hotel or to visit your booth at a trade show. Now it’s a whole lot easier, but there are some serious do and don’ts when answering a question, expressing yourself regarding a guest comment or asking your followers for their opinion or even for their business.

The time has passed for just dabbling in social media, although it still looks like that is where a lot of hotels are. Effective social touch is a lot more than just posting to your Facebook wall about a two for one special at the bar, tonight’s menu or the usual weekend package. Your social media marketing is an integral, intertwined and interdependent part of all aspects of your marketing from your printed material to your website to your search marketing.

Social marketing success demands planning, time, persistence and control on how you touch the right prospects with the right message at the right time. To maximize your return on your time and expense, you need a clear plan that connects all of your marketing initiatives. It is also important that everyone in your hotel from the housekeeper to the owner knows how your online reputation is perceived, who your partners are for collaborative promotions, and how you touch consumers everyday through your social engagement initiatives.

Social media is about your hotel’s online reputation or how your hotel is perceived and how you want it to be perceived when you touch the consumer. It’s not about what your franchise brand can do for you. The brands will set policies and standards to protect the brand and some will provide advice. But to reap the benefits it is a social relationship between your hotel management and the consumer.

That one consumer may be the one who wrote a review about your hotel, checks in or “Likes” your hotel on Facebook, tracks your hotel on FourSquare, viewed your video on YouTube or posted pictures on Flickr. These and other social channels are all real time touch opportunities that will produce productive results in many ways. To measure and maximize the return on your social marketing investment you need to put a value on your time and your staff’s time that is spent creating, managing and engaging with consumers online.

If you don’t have the time, resources and skills that are needed, there are, of course, marketing agencies that provide these services. But, remember when you outsource, make sure it is a service that knows the hospitality industry and has hospitality experience combined with social media marketing. There are also tools and services that can be used in house, such as sentiment search for tracking guest reviews; unfortunately, these have generally proven to be less than effective. Even when using a tool or online service, you will still have to commit the time and resources. Plus you need a plan for how you will apply this information or it is useless. For example, an overall trend scoring is nice, but of little value, scoring the service attribute in the review is more beneficial.

The return on your investment in social touch marketing can be significant, but it will not be quick sales revenue or even group sales leads. These will come in time with the right initiatives, but it will take some time to grow your follower networks. Also, you need to keep in mind that success comes from how you intertwine all of your marketing with your social media touch.

Show your social presence on print materials, links on your website to your blog and social sites. Connect your social sites to each other. Keep your Google places current and informative. Provide a mobile website that is easy to read. Track visitors from social websites that come to your website and blog, measure their points of interest and grow your viral networks.

Most important! Do not start a social touch initiative and become impatient and stop your effort, leaving the channel stagnant or full of outdated information. If a prospect visits your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, FourSquare or any social channel and your information or comments are not recent they will not return.

What do you expect to gain from your social media initiatives? Your expectations have to be realistic and measured. You cannot expect quick results because this is about knowing your followers and delivering the right social messages. It won’t always work! Your messages need to be sensitive, humorous in some situations, always more of a personal nature. A personal nature is about making it sound like it is special for your followers or a response to one person that will relate to thousands.

Sales is certainly your main objective, your first step in a good plan is to build your follower networks. To be successful you need a comprehensive plan for promoting your social presence and one that enables easy access to your pages from multiple points of consumer contact. This is accomplished through in-house printed materials inviting guests to visit your social pages, certainly significant presence on your website(s), active blogging to create a search presence for your blog and direct suggestions to consumers when talking to them. There are also significant search engine ranking position benefits. The more active you are socially the more your social marketing will affect your organic search rankings.

To add followers, you need to engage effectively. Twitter or Facebook social touch has to be more than an occasional wall post or an occasional response or tabs that don’t attract interest and engagement. Ask for the business! Your touch should target your local market demand drivers with collaborative promotions with local attractions and events.

Your social touch should focus on your follower’s profile information, where possible, so you can develop a demographic and a psychographic profile of your typical follower. Then adapt your responses, posts, promotions and timing around your follower profiles. Facebook special pages, Tweet and blog posts need to be frequent, but not annoying and repetitious. The value is based on the content. You need a controlled YouTube channel with your videos that will differentiate your hotel from your compset. Your Flickr pics should show activity and people, not just a building or a room. Develop alliances with local entertainment, sports events, attractions, recreation and other local demand drivers and feature these in your wall posts, tweets and specials. The results can be amazing.

In the end, you do what you have always done to promote your hotel, you engage with consumers, but in a written format in a social manner and always considering the fact that millions of consumers can see what you have to say and how you say it. So think about your objective before you blog, post or tweet.
Rest assured effective social touch marketing will continue to increase in value in the weeks and months ahead. Consumers will evaluate your hotel’s services, location, rates and specials based on your social presence and engagement. When you engage with a consumer the goal is to make your social touch a two way communication that is sincere and relevant. When you do, you will see the results you want.

It’s All About Delivering the Experience!

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

It’s All About Delivering the Experience!

Customers want what they want when they want it. The idea is to bundle it all together and get them to pay for access to experiences they’d never have otherwise without your help.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marko Greisen
Marko Greisen

Marko Greisen knows what we here at Hotel Interactive have been preaching: It’s all about experiences. As co-founder and CEO of the recently created Galavantier, Marko is bringing more than 20 years of experience in the Las Vegas hospitality industry to take advantage of the trends out there in the market.
That is, figuring out ways to get customers to pay more money for experiences. And he’s doing it by giving people what they want; to feel like a VIP and give them access to things otherwise difficult to experience. It’s a winning formula for hoteliers like you to learn from. Here’s how Marko is leveraging the trends.

Explain the premise of Galavantier and where the idea to start this new travel site came from?

The premise of Galavantier is to act as a modern day travel agent utilizing technology to offer Travel Experiences without sacrificing quality over quantity. We felt that online travel sites started looking more like travel Walmarts, basically selling anything they could get their hands on, regardless of if it was a quality product or not.  Yes you can find some of the lowest rates out there on these Walmart style travel websites as long as you don’t care if it’s a murder room e.g, next to the elevator shaft. The idea really started when we realized travelers were overwhelmed with so many options, sifting through countless unreliable reviews, and ultimately end up being frustrated when travel planning is suppose to be fun. We believe most travelers know what they want, it just doesn’t have to be so confusing like it’s grown to be in this space.

Do consumers really only care about the cheapest hotel room they can get?

I would say no unless you’re on a quick business trip. Matter of fact, I think it’s the complete opposite. We believe the leisure consumer is looking for value not cheap.  If a traveler saw for a few extra dollars they could have a larger room, a better sightseeing tour, or get great seats to a show or concert for close to the same price of the smaller room, basic tour and show tickets, it would be foolish not to in our opinion. Now I know we can’t win them all but that’s not what we are trying to do. Plenty of travel sites have been in that race for many more years, however consumers are realizing that their tripping over dollars to get to products worth pennies.

What are customers looking for these days in a vacation getaway?

I would say customers are looking for products that match their personal interest or the occasion; getaways that are memorable and hassle free while being price conscious.

What trends are you seeing with travelers booking experiences through Galavantier and any specific requests?

With us being still relatively new, it’s still hard to measure any definite trends; however we are seeing that travelers like the fact they don’t have to open a new window and search for that particular hotel or vendor they found on our site. As you know, most travel websites make it relatively difficult to get to the hotels or vendors website. We offer direct links to each of our travel partners and encourage you visit their site as well. Just because the package may no longer be available or you see something you would like to book separately, doesn’t mean it should be so difficult to book direct. Transparency is key and that’s how you build trust with consumers. When that customer is really to book a package, guess who they’re coming back to see? I can tell you, the same site that helped them book their last travel hotel or tour.  We are definitely seeing a good amount of special requests, from “can I request a certain view or table location?”, “can I have a bottle of champagne placed in the limousine prior to being picked up?” and “can Galavantier help curate something special for my husband’s 40th surprise birthday?”  We are also seeing that Galavantiers love that fact they really don’t have to pull out cash or pay bills for items within their package after the fact. One example would be, we included all taxes, gratuity and resort fees into the total package cost.

Are people more likely to buy into a trip if everything is planned in advance for them?

I would say there is a portion of people who would prefer the hassle free travel package but there are also some people know what they want and just need help getting it done.

How critical is giving customers “access” to activities and events they couldn’t do otherwise?

Well that all depends on that person’s lifestyle. For some it’s very critical and others not so much. The good thing about Galavantier is we do everything in our power to make each experience within a package unique. Say for example, a well known restaurant that doesn’t typically offer a prix-fixe menu but has personally created one for our Galavantiers that includes a personal table side visit by the actual Chef. Now some would say that’s just something not everyone has access to. We say everyone should have access to that. One happy customer means 10 more potential customers. I have yet to meet anyone that feels they have too much business, especially in this economy.

How do you make sure customers get enough value in an experience so they are not so price sensitive?

Value comes in many degrees and not just in price. We take the approach of acting on behalf of the traveler, doing everything in our power to secure the best rates possible without devaluing the travel package. Our motto is quality for less and it’s to the advantage of the travel partner to help us get there. Generally someone who wants something cheap is traveling on a budget and is unlikely to spend more on additional hotel amenities. The heads in beds concept may work great for the swinging door travel product but we are a big believer in creating evangelists who are the best and loyal customers that keep coming back.

How do you get customers to use social media to share great experiences you provide?

That’s easy. Who doesn’t want to share something that was unique or was a once and a life time experience? Several years ago prior to Facebook and Twitter, if you did something that was amazing, you shared it with your friends and co-workers through word of mouth. Today all it takes is uploading a photo or a simple tweet and status update which gets shared to all your friends, near and close.

How can hoteliers profit from creating unique packages and experience?

Well I think some hoteliers are limited to what they can do when creating a unique package or experiences. However if they get creative, I believe they can offer something to travelers beyond filling rooms and drive more revenue while developing a loyal customer to their brand. You can look at it two ways, if a consumer is looking for a cheap room rate, either they are on a tight budget or are trying to save money to spend on other things or not at all. Either way, they’re likely looking to do more for less. If a hotel created packages beyond the usually in-room F&B credits or access to the fitness center, I believe they would see more consumers staying and spending on property.

Right now the focus is on Las Vegas but how are you handling expansion into other markets and what do you look for in partners in the future?

Las Vegas is always going to play a big part of Galavantier because there is always something exciting and fun to do for all walks of life. We are already looking into other destinations for travel partners that provide superior customer service and a truly great product. When looking for a potential travel partner, we send a Galavantier team member unannounced to dine, stay, or enjoy their products and services. This way the potential travel partner isn’t giving us the royal treatment to score points. We want to see and experience it from the consumer’s eyes. If the experience doesn’t live up to our expectations, we pass on approaching them. If they meet our expectations, we want to share everything about them.

What separates Galavantier from the heap of online travel sites?

Other than what I’ve already mentioned above. What separates Galavantier.com from many of today’s travel sites is simply that we curate every travel experience offer as if was a package we’d purchase ourselves. Each travel experience package is carefully curated and each package within the package is fully vetted before it’s featured on the site. That means, if a room is less than 500-square feet, we don’t sell it. If the tour operator has a less than perfect safety record, we don’t offer it. If we get several complaints from our customers about a particular travel partner, we ask them to address the issue. If the same problem continues and isn’t resolved, we no longer feature their products and services. Since all our travel products are hand-selected, we don’t allow banner and display ads on Galavantier. We feel if you’re on the site, that’s the best advertising available on Galavantier. By representing the traveler and not the hotel or vendor, we look to secure the best rates possible for quality products without breaking the bank.  Another thing to mention is we don’t expect our customers to pay resort fees upon arrival. All our package prices included tax, gratuity and resort fees. Basically the price you see is the price you pay. Many travel sites try to show the lowest price possible. Before you know it, you’re booking it and between taxes and fees, you’re spending another $30 per night. Let’s not forget the $10-$20 resort fee per night once you arrive and check in to the hotel. No one likes surprise charges nor does Galavantier.

For more information about Galavantier please visit www.galavantier.com



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