Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Maximize PR from a Celebrity Visit

How to maximize public relations coverage from a past celebrity visit beyond mentioning the name in a description of the hotel’s  or cruise ship’s history? The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has come up with a terrific promotion that could be a case study, around Frank Sinatra’s centennial birthday. Granted, every celebrity doesn’t have the high wattage of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and it does help that there’s a recent, very successful three part TV series about his life (fascinating, see it). But there are takeaway elements that can be applied to lesser celebs as well. Here’s the scoop:

The hotel is doing a 100 day countdown to Sinatra’s 100th birthday, kicking off September 2. They’re using it to reinforce the image of the Fontainebleau’s “Golden Era glamour”. A highlight will be an exclusive photo exhibit curated by Sinatra’s family and 1966 Americas of personal and historic images. In the iconic Bleau Bar (a favorite of mine)

Bleau Bar

Bleau Bar

guests will be invited to enjoy a sample of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select whiskey as they toast to Sinatra’s upcoming birthday. Additionally, the hotel will also debut unique in-room amenities and packages inspired by the man, while the signature restaurants will pay homage to Sinatra’s favorite meals at the Fontainebleau including throwback, 1950’s-inspired ‘Brunch with Frank’ menus, cocktails and intimate dinners.

For guests who want to ‘Live Like Frank’, there will be a Sinatra-inspired package for $1,915, commemorating the year Frank was born. The package will include a two-night stay in a junior suite or above, a vintage Fontainebleau canvas bag, a Fontainebleau Luxury Art Book, one bottle of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, daily breakfast for two, two 50-minute ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ massages at Lapis Spa, a $250 credit for dinner for two  at one of four signature restaurants and the ‘Ultimate Sinatra’ CD featuring the singer’s greatest hits.

The 100 day countdown culminates with a performance honoring Sinatra’s legacy. The performance act will be announced at a later date.

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.

Insatiable Luxury in China

luxury in china

Peninsula Shanghai image from www.sienacharles.com

Post by Karen Weiner Escalera

We’ve all read about the boom in sales of luxury products in China. But nothing prepared me for the reality — the quantity and size of stores of the big names in luxury brands. Staying at The Peninsula Beijing, within two blocks there were several Chanel stores, one larger than the next. Within the hotel itself, besides the entrance being flanked by Chanel and Louis Vuitton shops, there’s a two story arcade exclusively with all the big brands. And this is repeated throughout the city.  Curiously, walking past the shops there was seldom anyone inside. Why? Our guide said that wealthy clients get the brochure of the new collection (or see it online), call the shop, and have the item or items sent to their residences much as mere mortals would order take out food.

I asked the same guide why there weren’t more top Chinese fashion designers. She said why would anyone buy a local fashion brand and pay a lot for a name no one knows. Anyone in the luxury business should not miss a visit to the “knock off” multi-leveled emporiums – the Silk Market in Beijing and several in Shanghai. It’s fascinating to see what brands are being counterfeited besides the obvious – Hermes, LVMH, Prada, etc. Beats headphones and speakers seem to be “hot” items. No wonder Apple recently announced a possible purchase of Beats. It was also interesting to see how luxury brands have to quickly come out with new lines to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. Of course new models help fuel purchases but you can’t help thinking that in any case, this counterfeiting greatly debases the brand.

Speaking of luxury and hotels, I also had a chance to see the latest in hotel technology in action by the master, Peninsula. At the hotel in Shanghai, here are some of the picks for top features:

  • Built in “nail dryer” in the dressing room
  • VOIP for free international calls
  • Humidity control for the guest rooms
  • Preset internet radio channels
  • A Yamaha speaker built into a lacquered cabinet, totally unobtrusive
  • And then the bathtub that even they have taken up a notch: luxuriate in the tub watching tv, having a conference call by speaker phone, choosing your favorite spa music, and more

All this being said I kept asking if and when the bubble will burst. As someone said, throughout the country there are thousands and thousands of unoccupied apartments bought for speculation (said one friend, in China the crane is the national bird). Makes for an unstable situation, no?

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.

 

 

Budget Luxury

luxury budget

Flying a private jet doesn’t sound “budget” to me but new European jet carrier Wijet bills itself as “budget luxury”, charging $3,000 an hour for a Cessna Citation Mustang 510 that accommodates four people. As quoted in the New York Times, Alexandre Azoulay, owner, says the “budget” comes in since there’s no need to buy a minimum number of hours.

I guess if you’re an exec that has to get someplace in a hurry and millions or billions of dollars or Euros are at stake – or if you’re a billionaire, then $3,000 an hour is a “deal.” More apt, though, would be to call the service “value” luxury.

All of this prompted my thinking about what luxury means in today’s travel world.

The term “affordable or budget luxury” has been around for a number of years, meaning you’ll have a “luxury like” experience that’s within many travelers’ grasp. The expression packed some punch at the time it was first used, but now – with overuse – it has become almost meaningless.

Today, three-and-a-half star hotels and resorts are claiming to offer luxury – not in terms of service or expensive millwork, but with other elements such as top-of-the-line mattresses, designer linens, marble bathroom countertops or rainfall showerheads.

“It’s a challenging time for anyone who wants to cater to upscale consumers, regardless of their price point,” said Barbara DeLollis, the former USA TODAY hotels reporter. “Why? Younger generations who have vastly different expectations and needs than their parents are forcing new definitions of luxury.“

So this begs the question, what qualifies a hotel or resort as offering total luxury and how do consumers substantiate the claim? Prestigious awards certainly help. Invoking brand names of products used – from suites conceived  by fashion designers to luxury branded amenities and facilities. Not easy. And interesting that another word has not arisen to take the place of “luxury” so I guess we’re still stuck with it.

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/

Estate Manager: New Career Path for Hoteliers

estate manager

Have a track record in hotel management and looking for a new career path? In reading an article about the new breed of estate manager for the world’s elite affluent, it occurred to me this could be a  career opportunity for a hotelier who wants a change. The management, leadership, diplomatic skills and versatility of a hotel GM could well fit the bill demanded for this new breed of estate manager. As described in the article in the New York Times, a job ad could read like this:

“Seeking an experienced Estate Manager to oversee the day to day function of multiple homes around the world. The ideal candidate must be comfortable working with a full range of home technology, managing a multi million dollar budget and overseeing a domestic staff of 20 including a curator, filmmaker and a flight attendant.”

The job is said to pay in the mid six figure range and come with what could include everything from a 401K plan to extra “hardship duty” pay and a generous bonus during the holidays.

Then there’s the opportunity of providing the Estate Managers. In the same article they referenced Mahler Private Staffing which started twenty years ago and now has offices in four cities serving 900 families, an increase from 300 seven years ago. And the potential can only increase given the tremendous growth in wealth of the 1%. Last year according to the Credit Suisse Wealth Report more than 45,000 Americans had a net worth of over $50 million, an increase from 38,000 in 2012 (they call these people “ultra high net worth individuals”). Sounds like another opportunity.

Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Vetting Bloggers and Social Media Influencers

blogger outreach success

Much has been written about evaluating social media influencers in general and bloggers,  in particular. With good reason. For travel public relations professionals, vetting influencers  is one of the more time consuming activities, especially when they ask for comp hospitality.One of the better discussions about the topic was in an article by Daniel Edward Craig, a colleague for whom I have great respect, who compiled his input and comments from a webinar on the topic (see below). Here’s one of the highlights:

“How to find and vet social media influencers? Resources like Klout, Twiangulate, WeFollow, Twellow and TBEX will help, but they only tell part of the story. During the webinar, panelist Liz Borod Wright, who teaches social media at Columbia Journalism School and is founder of Travelogged.com, recommended looking beyond the number of followers to quality of content.

Another way of measuring social media influencers and blogger outreach success is by looking at the ratio of followers to following and how engaged they are. Are they sharing and commenting on content – or is it an endless stream of updates that most have tuned out?

Qualifying bloggers

Another challenge for hotels is deciding which bloggers to host. One of our listeners, Sarah, remarked that hotels are often misled by bloggers who either don’t have the audience they claim and don’t produce the posts they promise.

How to avoid this? In addition to evaluating the blogger’s audience, engagement and content quality, you can check traffic stats on sites like Alexa and Compete. However, Borod Wright cautioned that this data isn’t always reliable. An option is to ask the blogger for a screen shot of visitor stats from Google Analytics. But “only if it’s a borderline case, because some may be offended,” she said. And you certainly don’t want a snarky blogger on property.people can skip over.”insider tips.”

Since starting my personal blog, MiamiCurated, where I’m the recipient of press release material, invites and pitches, I have both old and new perspectives on the subject. The old? The same problem all journalists have complained about over time — inappropriate, untargeted information.Especially for planning a blogger outreach, one has to take a good look at the market segment addressed. To be sure, numbers are important, but reaching a qualified audience  for the product is equally, if not more important. Is the audience affluent or mass? What kind of products do they cover? Am I in the right company? What’s the tone – positive or sarcastic? It’s also important to ask about whether they post on review sites, especially in food and beverage – sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon.  In addition, some bloggers are active in forums of other travel and food bloggers, so have more influence than meets the eye. And, a word of advice. If one can’t download images from the website (And I suggest you do allow images to be downloaded, if need be with a password), PR should either send a file of images or give them the images while on property. To be sure, the blogger may want to use his or her own images as part of their own voice. But others just use their own images because it’s quicker, and it often turns out they’re not the most flattering to the property. And, as for asking a blogger for a screen shot, I wouldn’t recommend it as many would take serious offense. To listen to the entire webinar, here’s the link:

Related Link: ReviewPro’s free webinar on “How to Leverage Social Media for Public Relations” (free registration) <http://resources.reviewpro.com/webinar-pr?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=webinar-pr>

Using Art to Market Hotels

the betsy

Hotels have been using art to appeal to the affluent market for years. I remember when we launched Ritz Carlton Hotels years ago, art in the public areas was promoted as a major amenity, as it would become with many other hotel groups and individual properties. Artists in residence, experiences with art such as the Peninsula Academy’s class in Chinese brush painting, art tours, and even one with the word “museum” in its name (21C Museum Hotel), have all been part of the appeal. But now, especially at the recent Art Basel in Miami, it has been taken to the next level, both in uses in marketing and in reaching out to new audiences.

And that’s not just travel products, but lifestyle in general, brands ranging from American Apparel and Fiat to Maserati, Harper’s Bazaar and Samsung. Publishing, apparel, automotive, beverage, food, they’re all jumping on the bandwagon and in a major way. According to a recent New York Times article, “In Marketing, Art’s the Thing”, they’re using art to reach consumers in their 20’s and 30’s who are already making art part of their lives, as a differentiator in the luxury category, and as a point of reference for relating to the beautiful and artisanal.  Miami hotels chose to wave their flag during Art Basel with popups – from The Newstand at the Standard Spa Miami and all night dining at The Raleigh to cultural events at The Betsy. The Betsy’s tie-ins were especially notable, featuring exhibits in its dedicated visual arts space, programming inviting guests to interact with the artists, and a cause related marketing initiative. Percentage of all works sold is contributed to the Zara Center for AIDS Impacted Youth in Zimbabwe.

Restaurants and bars got into the act with special themed menus like Red Steakhouse’s “Red Basel” and cocktail bar The Broken Shaker serving up drinks with their companion art. Pamela Drucker Mann, publisher of Bon Appetit cited food and art coming together, giving examples of restaurants designed to look like art galleries and “tablescaping”, designing table arrangements or centerpieces. Indeed, art sells.

Blogpost by Karen Weiner Escalera, President & Chief Strategist