Posts Tagged ‘value’

Establishing the USP of a hotel for online marketing

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Establishing the USP of a hotel for online marketing

November 7, 2011 By

NB: This is a guest article by Martin Soler, marketing director of World Independent Hotels Promotion (WIHP).

Every hotel needs to discover what is unique about its brand and then promote heavily in its marketing efforts on the web – that statement is simple.

This is true for independent hotels, for hotel chains, individual hotels within a chain and all the way to an inn or bed and breakfast.

But establishing the unique selling point (USP), however, appears to be more difficult than many property owners think.

Before taking on a hotel as a client, we do a thorough study of the property to determine it’s unique selling point(s). Several factors are used for this, but often to the amazement of many of our customers we’re often looking first outside of the actual hotel.

Typically one thinks of USPs by comparing against the competition or hotels in the immediate vicinity.

If there is a modern decoration, a hotelier will tend to think of that as the USP. If the interior design was created done by a famous designer, many a hotelier will choose that as the USP.

But there is something which is often omitted when working out a USP: customer perception.

What is it?

What do you want your guests to see and feel when they experience a hotel – this is ultimately what a property needs to take into account when working out the online marketing USP.

Walking around the hotel and actually looking is far better than work it all out from behind a desk. Equally, working out a successful USP also means talking to guests and finding out how they felt about their experience at the hotel.

A USP needs to be something that will personally affect the life of the end user. Not esoterically, not in some far-fetched manner, but at the moment they touch the brand for the first time.

Common mistakes

The biggest mistake we’ve seen in working out the USP is to forget that it has to be something that the guest will benefit from.

Some examples:

  • Using a historical fact as a USP. That Oscar Wilde lived in a hotel is not much of a USP because it doesn’t show much benefit to the individual.
  • Focusing on interior design elements. Mentioning LED lighting or other fancy technology features as a USP doesn’t help understand the comfort.
  • Using the decoration theme as USP. That the hotel is decorated based on Marylin Monre or after the theme of cars is nice but the guest isn’t staying there to watch the theme.

Key elements of a USP

There are three factors that determine a hotel’s USP and only three.

  • Location
  • Comfort
  • Value

A good USP integrates all three elements to form a clear concept of the hotel. If a hotel is unique (and positively so) on all three points, the USP will be perfect.

But that’s rare, a property will often find one of these points is totally unique and the other two are passable.

It can often happens that only one is great and the other two are not good at all, so better for a hotel to put all its focus on the positive element, as in could actually be enough to drive people to a property.

More about location, comfort and value

Here are some examples:

  • Location – if there is there’s a direct subway to the city center or other point of interest from a property, then use it to your advantage in the messaging around the USP
  • Comfort – tell a guest how they will personally benefit from it the design and asthetics associated with the property. Essentially, a hotel needs to tell the guest how a stay will make their life better.
  • Value – how will a hotel save a guest money? This does not necessarily mean a property is cheap, but a focus on value, rather than cost. Just like the classic ad campaign by Avis “We’re only number two but we try harder.” A hotel can use it’s negative position as an advantage.

Every property needs a USP, regardless of its size, status, cost, brand – simply because guests aren’t interested in staying somewhere that will not meet their expectations.

But don’t just sit and think! Go out and look, talk to people and read their comments, monitor what they say in social media and collect feedback. Lots of it.

Once a hotel has established its USP – it is still incredible now many do not have an understanding of what it actually is – then the rest of the web marketing campaign will be a lot easier to execute.

NB: This is a guest article by Martin Soler, marketing director of World Independent Hotels Promotion (WIHP)

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Waking Up To Great Value

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Waking Up To
Great Value

October 26, 2011



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

“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

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

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

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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 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

6 ways to leverage a hotel recovery

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

6 ways to leverage a hotel recovery

15 September 2011
By Patrick O’Neil columnist

Story Highlights
  • Value is not a simple formula we can sit back and calculate, but there are questions we can ask ourselves to help understand if our hotels exceed value expectations.
  • Never let unhappy guests walk out your door unhappy.
  • Hotels must do whatever they can to keep their people motivated and engaged.

I have been fortunate both in my life and my career to have had and continue to have amazing mentors. The most influential mentor I have had in both is my father, Paul O’Neil, who has been an hotelier for 45 years. Most everything I learned about the hotel industry I learned from him, either through osmosis or from his teaching me a lesson without me knowing I was being taught anything.

I have known since I was a young boy that my father was good at what he did, but being young I had no idea why, so I asked him. His response: “It’s not me. I just hire good people who know more than I do.” Consider it lesson No. 1.

With that said, I asked my father for his thoughts on hotel operations and guest service during a recovering environment. Below are points we find critically important to not only survive a slow-growing economy, but also to set the hotel up for future success.


Point No. 1: Value
First and foremost, travelers are looking for value. Value is not a simple formula we can sit back and calculate. It’s perceived and it’s personal. But there are questions we can ask ourselves to help understand if our hotels would be considered exceeding value expectations.
Are your rates competitive in the market? It’s OK to have the highest rate in the market, but there must be a perceived difference to the traveler when they book your hotel other than the name on the building.
How are your reviews? Sure, you could have great rates, but if your reviews are poor on reviews sites you will lose bookings.
What is included in your rate? Are there any value-added items included like water, high-speed Internet access, parking or breakfast?
How do your service levels compare to your rate? If guest have a great experience and service levels exceeded the expectations the rate has set, the perceived value will be high. If a guest says to himself or herself, “The service was excellent but it should be at US$400 per night,” the service did not exceed the expectation the rate premium set for your hotel.

Point No. 2: Keep guests happy
The saying “never let unhappy guests walk out your door unhappy” holds true now more than ever. As we all know, things happen from time to time where we could have provided better guest service. Hotel teams from bottom-up and top-down need to know how important it is to turn that experience around before the guest walks out your door.

There are many touch points with guests throughout their stay and plenty of times to solicit feedback. If someone on your team hears anything slightly negative, it is important they act and that they feel empowered to act. If unhappy guests leave your hotel, you may have lost those guests forever. Even worse, they might prevent you from booking new guests by posting negative reviews on a review site.

Nip guest issues in the bud. Make sure there is a culture in your hotel or company that fosters guest service and empowerment. Speak of guest satisfaction often, measure it, react to issues, reward positive reviews, involve all your associates (not just managers), give your team the tools they need to succeed (but hold them accountable to use them) and be sure the work environment is conducive to fairness and fun.

Point No. 3: Maintain appropriate staffing levels
As we all know, we have had to make tough decisions during the past couple years that has led to reductions in both expenses and payroll to match the lower revenues. Too many businesses cut the muscle along with the fat. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN! Guest interaction positions should not be the place to make cuts. Productivity levels must be maintained, but this is not the “low hanging fruit.” Too many companies are tempted to cut too far, and when they do the guests notice. Have you ever read the comment “the hotel seemed understaffed” in a positive review?

Point No. 4: Take reputation management seriously
With so much information now available online to “help” guests make a purchasing decision and with so many channels for them to shop on, reputation management has become just as important as revenue management.

Travelers can read reviews of your hotel on so many channels and review sites that staying on top of them is a full-time job in itself. But management’s attitude towards sites like TripAdvisor should be positive rather than negative. More than 74% of the reviews posted on TripAdvisor are 4 stars or better, so it is not just negative experiences that are posted. Use review sites as marketing tools. Encourage reviews and if there happens to be a few negative ones, respond. Guests like to see management’s engagement, which shows they are listening. Take reputation management and social media seriously. Our guests do!

Point No. 5: Make the booking process easy
Everyone has more on their plate including your clients and guests so ensuring your hotel is easy to book is critical. Hotels must evaluate all their booking processes. Don’t give the customer more time to shop around. Convert, convert now and convert often.

Take groups and meeting planners, for example: These clients want a simple booking process that is straightforward, quick and stress free. Are your contracts too long? Are you returning phone calls on a timely basis? Are you easy to communicate needs to? Are you flexible? If it’s taking too much time to close the deal or you find you or your team is always encountering the same issue when booking groups, meetings, weddings, etc., it’s you, not them.

Sometimes we inherit contracts the hotel has always used or menus the hotel has always used or pricing the hotel has always used. Take time to review these and put yourself on the other side of the fence and ask yourself if the process is too cumbersome. The easier the booking process, the more repeat business you will get. This evaluation, although slightly different, should be done to other booking processes like your booking engine and call centers.

Point No. 6: Keep employees happy
Last but not certainly not least is employee or associate satisfaction. This is important at any time, but even more so during down times. Hotels must do whatever they can to keep their people motivated and engaged. Associate satisfaction should at a minimum be measure semiannually, and managers must be incented not only on their departmental score but also on the overall hotel score. As the economy recovers and hotels run at higher occupancies and start demanding higher rates, there are going to be more hotel jobs available. We need to do whatever we can to keep our great people and not let them go.

A recovering environment can prove challenging for operations, especially if the economy has not really decided if it’s truly ready to recover. I know personally through pains and experiences that paying attention to the above has helped and I know my father would say the same—and not just during down times, but all the time.

In short, remember these three words: BACK TO BASICS!

Patrick O’Neil is Executive Vice President of Operations, NYLO Hotels. Previously, he was director of operations for Sheraton Hotels of New York, where he developed and implemented programs that increased profitability, productivity and guest satisfaction at the 2,400-room hotel. Patrick holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science degree from Boston College, majoring in accounting and finance. He can be reached at

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

Travel and Tourism Research Association’s International Conference

Monday, March 14th, 2011

For more information: Travel and Tourism Research Association,

Travel and Tourism Research Association’s International Conference

June 19-21, 2011

London, Ontario (Canada)


“The tourism marketing world should always be research based and driven by data.  There is no better place to keep up with the latest travel trends and rub elbows with the brightest in your field than at the annual conference staged by the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA),” according to Dee Ann McKinney-State Research Director for the Missouri Division of Tourism and Chairman of the Board for TTRA.


This year’s attendees will have the opportunity to hear experts on such topics as:


  • Understanding digital life and social media
  • Utilizing creative research and tourist motivations
  • Listening to the consumer changes the game for people and brands
  • What research matters and how to develop a research agenda for the next decade of the new millennium
  • Economic and travel outlook sessions: Surviving the Economy
  • Lodging trends
  • Heritage tourism corridors/visitor loyalty to cultural events
  • Crisis response
  • Managing sustainable tourism
  • Shopping Motivation for Tourists
  • Using research to develop creative


From the international student symposium on Sunday, June 19th to the Ideas Fair presented throughout the conference to thought-provoking conference sessions, there is no better way to invest in your future!  This is a conference you will not want to miss in Canada’s beautiful “City of Trees!”


For more information on sessions, the conference, and how to register, please go to  To receive a discount on registration, take advantage of the early bird special which ends April 15th!  Regular registration ends May 30, 2011.

The Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA), founded in 1970, is a nonprofit professional organization committed to improving the quality, value, effectiveness and use of travel and tourism research and marketing information. TTRA seeks to improve the industry through education, publications and networking activities.

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