Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Travel Awards Inflation and Marketing

Are travel awards still an effective branding tool and if so, how? Magazines, professional organizations, tour operators and more are giving awards on a regular basis. Some companies exist only for their award programs as a stand alone business, reaping revenues from entry fees. All of this has resulted in award inflation. And where they’re so prevalent, they’re less meaningful in the eyes of the consumer.

So what is their value? To the entity giving the award it’s an effective way to make new friends and reinforce relationships. Plus, in this age of social media, lists of Top 10 and Best of always rate high in views.   Award recipients undoubtedly appreciate the recognition, getting their name out there, and being in  rarefied company as in you’re known by the company you keep.

But how about their effectiveness for branding, and how to promote them through public relations? Here are  do’s and don’t’s:

First the “don’ts”:

Too often the knee jerk reaction is let’s do a press release. If an award is given by a media property, other magazines or newspapers won’t be interested – that’s the competition.

It’s important not to send too many award releases to the same media or run the risk of  overkill and their not opening your email after a while.

Think twice about how significant the award is. If it’s not from a well recognized organization, promoting the award can look as if the recipient is desperate to get a distinction and it won’t reflect positively on your brand.

Then the ‘do’s:

Think paid distribution channels as in online industry media (e.g.Hotels Online, HNET) as a vehicle to get the award news out. That helps build recognition within the industry and also helps SEO.

Send the award releases to past press guests who have visited your hotel(s), taken a cruise, whatever. It is a good way to keep in touch and reinforces the fact that you’re maintaining a quality product.

Social media which has an appetite for constant content is a perfect distribution channel for news of awards.

If the award is not from a media property, do consider sending it out to a wider distribution if it’s truly impressive, as in your being in the top 10, 25 or even 100 (e.g.Virtuoso’s bests, Expedia’s Insider Select).

And outside of PR, there are numerous ways to get the word out, especially if the award is impressive, from adding it to your signature and sending an eblast to your internal database, to highlighting it on your website, collateral,  and more.

Design and Fashion: What the Hotel Doctor Calls For

kwe blog AC by marriott

When even Apple, an icon of high technology, makes moves to become what tech analysis site Stratechery called a fashion house, you know there’s something major afoot in branding.  For those who haven’t read it, an important article, “Apple’s Team of Tastemakers” appeared in the New York Times recently about the company’s hires of tastemakers from Yves St.Laurent and  Burberry to the addition of Beats’ founders Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine for top management positions.  Their mandate is to remake the marketing strategy.

What is this about?  Design and fashon that are leading the lifestyle charge. We see this  across product categories and price points. If anything, expect it to accelerate with marketers’ attention turning increasingly to Millennials whom research has shown to  expect a major dose of style and good design,

This hasn’t been lost on the hotel industry as major groups continue to announce new lifestyle brands that they always bill as design forward, one of the latest being AC by Marriott. I couldn’t help but think will we soon see yet another new brand —  the hotel counterpart to a Zara or an H & M — low cost, big fashion statement,  and wildly successful? And then many of these same groups have new executive positions with serious titles who are like creative directors, helping ensure the brands continue to align with changing design and fashion values.

Travelers are seeing hotels with new eyes and new words to describe the hotel product.I  couldn’t help but think about the term “boutique hotel” which, when first deployed, implied a property with special style. Not so much anymore.With simple bed and breakfasts calling themselves boutiques, will this term become meaningless? I think so.

Amenities, even ones with a “wow” don’t seem enough to cut it these days. Travelers are going beyond that, looking for fresh new looks that excite and entertain.  A large dose of creativity is just what the hotel doctor calls for.

For more on hotels and fashion brands, click here to read a previous post on the topic.

 

 

No More Hotel Exterior Images Please

Why do so many hotels show a total view of the exterior as the signature shot? I can understand showing a façade in itself if it’s striking in design – a landmark design by a starchitect; a treehouse, tent camp or eco lodge; over the top villas, or something else unusual. Recently on an outdoor advertisement I saw the image of a new island resort with a tag line about the “American Riviera”. The image was of an undistinguished high rise. Wouldn’t it be better to show images that conjure up the glamour implied by the Riviera? How about very fashionably dressed couples lunching at the beach served by waiters wearing  crisp white starched jackets serving champagne as they do on the French and Italian Rivieras? The interior of a glamorous casino that could be out of a James Bond film with the men in tuxes? Or better yet, a collage of images that appeal to powerful visual sensibilities in this age of Pinterest. Tell the story visually. Showcase what’s unique. Focus on the details. That will capture attention.

New Twist on “Grab and Go” Hotel F & B

grab and go

Vending machine at Mondrian Hotel South Beach

“Grab and go” luxury products? You got it right. A pioneer in this was the Mondrian Hotel in South Beach which opened with a full wall of the lobby taken up by a Semi-Automatic, purple vending machine that helped put it on the hipsters’ map. Some go-to items: a feather vest ($400), a $28 T-shirt emblazoned with the word recession, and even 24-karat-gold handcuffs ($350). You could even buy a nearby condo, or rent a 1953 Cadillac DeVille convertible. Prices ranged from $10 to $1.2 million.

The vending machine phenomenon is accelerating, embracing even luxury food and beverage products. Here’s a rundown of some of the newest, latest and greatest brought to my attention by Chicago based Farmer’s Fridge which could have some interesting applications for the hotel industry with the burgeoning “Grab and Go” food and beverage concept:

Let’s Pizza .Let’s Pizza kneads the dough, forms a round, adds tomato sauce, layers toppings and then bakes it all in front of every customer in 3 minutes. Let’s Pizza is basically a mini-pizzeria that’s open 24 hours a day!

Moët & Chandon Champagne Vending Machine (UK): Located in the Selfridge’s department store in London, this Champagne vending machine holds 200 milliliter bottles for $29 each. Each bottle is decorated with Swarovski crystals and the machine uses robotic arms to deliver the Champagne safely to the customer.

Corner Chips (BE): Outside of Brussels, Belgium, this unique vending machine is a diet-breaker. For €2.50, hot fries are delivered in 95 seconds with your choice of condiment including ketchup and mayo. Built with high-tech technology such as remote-management that lets its operator know when it’s almost out of potatoes.

Beverly Hills Caviar (US): From $5 to $600, customers in Beverly Hills, CA now have access to the delicacy of caviar from a vending machine. The caviar is dispensed in a glass jar and has an expiration date of 365 days.

 

ABOUT FARMER’S FRIDGE

Farmer’s Fridge, a new healthy vending machine concept, delivers delicious gourmet salads and snacks to customers via automated kiosks around the Chicagoland area.  The idea to provide nutritious meals came from Founder Luke Saunders’ realization that health-conscious people were struggling to find nutritious meals and snacks that were easily accessible.  Building on that belief, Saunders drew on his background in manufacturing to create an automated kiosk that could dispense healthy food options.  Farmer’s Fridge offers people healthy, nutritious foods that are delicious and satisfying in a state-of-the art, innovative automated kiosk.  The salads and snacks are made from fresh ingredients available from local produce vendors.  Farmer’s Fridge salads and snacks are handcrafted each morning in a local Chicago kitchen and are stocked daily by 10 a.m.  The company also provides catering to businesses in downtown Chicago. For more information, please visit www.farmersfridge.com.

 

 

Service, Small Business and CRM

No one doubts the effectiveness of CRM systems and loyalty programs though for small businesses, the costs of implementation in dollars and human resources can be a challenge. So what’s a small business – be it hotel, restaurant, service provider to do? Here are two examples of the right way and wrong way based on my recent experiences, and then a look at the takeaway.

Two hair salons. Both I’ve been going to for several years. Salon 1: Oribe in South Beach. When the hair stylist is running late they let me know. If there’s a big traffic tie up they give a call. And the best yet, this week I called to make an appointment. First, and unbelieve, the receptionist recognized my voice ( I go every 6 weeks). Then, she asked if I’d like an appointment in the morning, remembering my preferred time. Whenever I walk in, she makes me feel as if I’m coming home.

Salon 2. They have all of the tech stuff – as soon as I make an appointment I get a text confirming it. Then, a day before I get another text and a call (overkill). The problem. When I call they always ask me for my phone number which is in the computer, act as if this is my first time at the salon, and have me spell my name more than once.

Now which salon will I recommend? What’s the takeaway? It’s so important in a service company to have a good receptionist and do whatever to keep him/her so there’s longevity and he/she gets to know the client. Tech goes just so far.

Madigan Pratt, President of MP & A Digital and Advertising who has serious credentials in CRM summed it up. “Today CRM software allows companies with a culture of great customer service to move up to another level. When they do they can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Problem arises when companies think office automation software is the answer to their customer service problems. Staff may know how to push buttons, but do they really know how to empathize a customer? More often than not, the answer is no.

“CRM with a human touch just may be the answer”, he concluded.

Images for Blogs: Branding and Photography

images for blogs

Just as all employees need to be trained on the importance of how to deal with online reviews, an equal amount of attention needs to be paid to training them on catering to bloggers’ photography needs. As we all know, images affect branding – especially in luxury. But the fact is, we can try to direct, but cannot control, bloggers’ output. And the best way to maximize your visual coverage is to train staff in effective ways to deal with bloggers’ photography and video needs.

Here are four tips:

1. Don’t ban photography.

By doing that, you risk having media decide not to feature you and/or it will create a bad impression. Case in point – I saw a handbag in a Madison Avenue storefront that I wanted to feature on my personal blog. Since images without glass photograph better, I walked inside the store and asked to see the handbag to photograph it. They said corporate policy prohibits photography in the store and that I’d have to call the PR department to waive the policy. The upshot of this? I used the photo taken through the window, not the best quality, so I could post it immediately. This inconveniences a reporter who is  probably on deadline and used to taking pictures — and sharing them with friends — whenever they want.

Besides taking the risk of not being featured in a publication, you also run the risk of missing a captivating image that you hadn’t thought to take. A case in point: as she recently told me, when former USA TODAY hotels reporter Barbara DeLollis took a hard-hat tour of the Capella Washington D.C. with Capella CEO Horst Shulze a year ago, she looked at the large, circular bathtub in the luxury boutique hotel’s premier suite and asked its size so she could tell readers about it. Before someone could respond, she stepped inside the tub and asked GM Alex Obertop to take her picture sitting inside it – in, of course, her suit and heels.

“The tub was so sumptuous that simply stating its dimensions wouldn’t give readers the whole story,” said DeLollis (soon to launch the travel site barbdelollis.com). “Showing them a photo of someone they know sitting inside it was worth 10,000 words. That picture, by the way, generated a lot of comments on social media.”

2. Make it quick and easy for bloggers to obtain images.

Have the staff know where to retrieve images for blogs (ideally online without a password) or, better yet, have them offer to get a particular image the blogger wants sent to him/her. If you know that a writer is on deadline, it would be wise to ask them if they would like you to email them a particular image to save them time. Or, at the least, have business cards for the PR contact/agency ready to be handed out by staff/employees or the list of contacts available at easy access to give to bloggers on the spot.

3. Create USB memory sticks with property or product images for blogs.

If they like the images, they’ll tend to use them rather than take their own. One caveat: Others will insist on taking their own images as they’ll want to express their own voice or take their own pictures because they’re more “real” than generic, touched up images.

4. Plan ahead.

When a press visit is confirmed, be sure that the person – before they arrive – receives a few relevant images (spa, food and beverage, sports, etc., depending on their interests) along with the link to the image gallery. Ideally they’ll have a look before their trip.

Push-Pull on Websites: Brand Identity and Conversion

brand identity

Puli Hotel, Shanghai

My advice to everyone is when developing a new website make sure you have two points of view at the table: representatives from the Branding perspective and the other from Sales/E commerce. You may think that’s obvious, but it isn’t. With so much emphasis now on analytics and ROI, too often brand identity takes a back seat. And, to some extent it’s understandable. A sales message can be immediately measured with clickthroughs, not so branding. What is often forgotten is that everyone who comes to a website isn’t necessarily a buyer. Many have to be “sold” on the product, motivated and inspired enough to want to buy. And how do you do this? Here’s a list of my web brand identity do’s and don’ts:

  • Play up your unique selling propositions. For instance, instead of just showing a sample guest room or suite show the details that make it special, separate it from the pack – the shower, an espresso machine in suite, unusual selection of mini bar items, or even the makeup lighting (e.g. in the Peninsula in Bangkok it’s a wow, never forgot it), etc.
  • Don’t clutter the homepage with too many calls to action on sales or those promotional boxes that scream out for attention (and thus distract the consumer from any emotional response to the images, graphics).
  • No to stock photos. They’ll make you look like everyone else. Plus, we’re living in a time when authenticity is paramount, so make it real and “you”.
  • Give specifics in copy, rather than overloading it with keywords. For instance, list the water sports you offer if you have a resort, nifty things to do that are nearby. And combine that with story telling.
  • To be sure sales conversion is important. You have to make it easy and quick for the traveler to buy so except for maybe a very small, exclusive hotel or resort, the outcome should be a compromise, not a one sided street.

For more on websites, check out my earlier post.

Tactics to Drive Direct Bookings Vs. OTAs

hotel direct booking

With OTAs (Online Travel Agents) driving over 20 percent of total room bookings, taking commission fees ranging from 10-25 percent, what can a hotel do to drive direct bookings to its website? A survey of 2500 consumers by Software Advice, a source for hospitality system reviews, revealed perks hotels can offer to get direct bookings. Here are the  results of their findings:

Main Takeaways to Drive Direct Bookings

1. A free Room Upgrade
It is the top incentive that will convince customers to book directly. This can be as simple as a better view, balcony or kitchenette.

2. Free Meals Top the List of In-Room Perks
When asked which in-room perk would convince respondents to book directly, 43 percent said they could be swayed with a free room-service meal. Tied for second was an in-room massage and free access to the minibar and snacks (19 percent), followed by free movies on demand (16 percent).

3. Free Food and Drinks Also Outrank Other Amenities
When asked which on-site amenity would convince guests to use direct booking through a hotel website, a vast majority (55 percent) chose free food and drinks.

For many hotels, offering a free meal isn’t new. Incentives like this already exist, and many hotels likely understand their effectiveness. The second most convincing amenity was a free spa package, at 23 percent. Trailing behind are a free fitness class (11 percent) and free golf or tennis reservations (7 percent).

4. A Restaurant Gift Card Is the Most Popular Offsite Perk

45 percent of respondents said they would be convinced to book directly if they received a gift card to a popular restaurant as an incentive over other types of gift cards. Far behind are free tickets to a popular event and free transportation services.

You can read the full report here: http://overnight-success.softwareadvice.com/skip-ota-with-incentives-0214/

Latest Trends: Men, The Rich Opportunity for Luxury Segment

luxury latest trends

New Berluti Shop in New York

 

Most everything comes full circle at some point, so in that sense it’s not surprising that men, once far surpassing women in sales of luxury goods, are back as a major target. And nowhere is this more evident than in luxury retail. LVMH, whom we know is the lead to follow, is investing tens of millions of dollars in the male market segment. This week they’re opening the first New York store of Berluti, the maker of expensive men’s shoes that they’ve turned into a full apparel and accessories line and are showcasing this in their new outpost. This is part of a $137 million investment they’re making according to the Wall Street Journal. During the Great Recession many women who previously traded up become introduced to the likes of H & M, Zara, Forever 21 and others, and realized they could get knockoffs of the latest trends, such as an “it” bag or clothing items, for a lot less. And it’s unlikely they’ll return to shopping as before. Not so men, who, according to the article, are more loyal to brands and care less about the latest trends. Plus, according to Bain & Co., between 2009 and 2013 men’s luxury spending increased 55% compared with 37% for women. So the luxury heavyweights are opening men only stores. In the past year alone, for example, in Miami’s Design District, Dior and Christian Louboutin have opened shops for men only along with a Berluti store.  If fashion leads the way in luxury latest trends, then what can we expect to see  for men in other lifestyle categories like hotels and spas?  Sounds like a real business opportunity.

 

Rent a Slum Dwelling, the Newest Hospitality Niche

 

 

The favela of Rocinho in Rio de Janeiro

The favela of Rocinho in Rio de Janeiro

We’ve written about tourism microniches from danger and grief to scandal and slum tourism. But all of that was about visiting sites – an in and out kind of thing. Now a new company is offering a chance to get up close and personal with Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, promising “cultural immersion, stunning views, and an alternative to expensive and boring hotels”. Fueled by the scarcity of rooms projected during the upcoming World Cup, a new start up called Favela Experience begun by an American is promising “affordable World Cup accommodations” in Rio’s slums. This can range from bunk beds to a private room or entire apartment. Many of the accommodations have WiFi and large screen TV as well as the promise of a favela tour by the owner, and rooftop terraces. Plus, they talk of an opportunity to do good as in helping to supplement the income of the favela dwellers. Part of the profits go to fund a DJ school for neighborhood youth. It’s very easy to believe that we could see the beginning of the gentrification of the favelas, already being snapped up  by investors who see the potential in the dramatic views commanded from the hilltop locations.