Pinterest Provides More Than Just Photo Sharing For Hotels

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We were over at a friends house watching the Texan’s playoff game a couple of weeks ago and during one of my trips to the kitchen I couldn’t help but notice the wives hovering around the kitchen table staring at my neighbors’ iPad screen as she scrolled through some of her favorite recipes on Pinterest.

This was my first introduction into the world that is Pinterest and according to ReadWriteWeb, the excitement that is Pinterest has to do with the way the tool leverages everything that’s hot in social right now: great user experience, a clean retro visual design, content curation, social collaboration and subscription – and calls everyone who isn’t using it “a big dork”.

As many of you know I fancy myself as being up-to-speed with what’s going on with social media but I have to admit that I had no clue that Pinterest had been around for almost two years.  If that makes me a “big dork” then so be it.

In order to shed this newfound description of my presona, I decided to open a Pinterest account to` try to get a handle on what’s so intriguing about this new “top 10 social network” and how it may benefit the hotel community.

What is Pinterest? – Pinterest is designed as a place to organize and share online images that you find interesting or inspiring. Once uploaded or shared on Pinterest, these images become known as Pins, which the user can place on customized, themed Boards. You can create Boards for any topic imaginable and the possibilities for hotels are endless. Here’s how the Travel Channel uses Pinterest.

The Audience – Before we go any further it is important to note a couple of things as it relates the Pinterest audience (mainly women) and their purchasing power and social influence.  I’ve provided you with some demographics below but keep in mind that women should not be considered as a ‘niche’ market because they account for 85% of all consumer purchases including everything from autos to health care and a robust 92% of all consumer purchases as it relates to vacations!

In addition, interaction between women through online community Web sites, forums, and message boards have a ‘dramatic’ influence on driving product preference, loyalty, and purchases.  Reaching women more effectively isn’t rocket science but is well worth the effort no matter what the channel.

According to Experian Hitwise and comScore the site has over 4M registered users and 1.5M visit the site on a daily basis spending 14 minutes on the site on average.

Google Ad planner shows that users are:

  • Largely women (a 80% to 20% ratio). So there’s some truth to Matt Buchanan’s post on Gizmodo yesterday that proclaims Pinterest as “a Tumblr for ladies”.
  • Aged mainly between 25 and 44 (accounting for 55% of the group, 30% are 25-34, 25% are 35 – 44)
  • Just 25% of users have a bachelors degree or higher
  • The majority live off a household income of $25-75k

Creating an Account – I’m going to gloss over this step because most of you know how to create an account but it’s important to note that you can’t become a member immediately because you have to be “invited” by Pinterest to join the community.  This process takes about a day or two.  After you have been approved you can start Pining.

Settings – If your hotel is on Facebook and Twitter make sure you enable both of these networks through your settings so followers can potentially connect with you through these channels.

Pining – A Pin is an image added to Pinterest. You can link to an image from your Web site or upload an image from your computer. Pins can include captions, like “A relaxing day at the spa” or anything else you’d like to include in the caption.  I experimented with the caption and found that I could add a detailed description (this test was over 175 words) and was able to include a link to my site as well as my email address.

Thought – If you’re say the Omni Fort Worth and your hotel is running a promotion on your site called “Soothe Your Senses at Mokara Spa” you can use Pinterest to market the same promotion.

Here’s a quick example of how this hotel can use Pinterest to market this spa promotion:

  1. Create a Board and name the board “Spa”.
  2. From the Board Category drop down menu select “Hair & Beauty”.
  3. Select “Just Me” in the “Who can pin” question (you can invite others but that is and advanced lesson for another time)
  4. Select “Create Board” and your ready to start Pining.
  5. Next go back to your Web site page that contains the details of the spa promotion and Pin the spa photo and assign it to the “Spa” Board.  Here are the instructions to Pin a photo from your toolbar to your Board.
  6. Next Copy and paste the verbiage that has already been created on your Web site page and paste it into the “Description” field.
  7. Lastly, copy the page link of the spa promotion from your Web site (http://www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/FortWorth/Spa.aspx) and paste it into the “Link” field located underneath your caption.
  8. Run to your GMs office and show him how you’ve created another distribution channel for your hotel and make sure you let him know that it didn’t cost a dime.  Next book a ticket to Paris and pay for your vacation with the bonus money he included in your next check.

SEO – I have purposely side-stepped the topic of SEO and how it relates to linkable image assets so I have provided those details for you here or just forward the blog to your e-Commerce team for their review.

Thought – If you are a full or limited-service hotel think of all of the amenities that you have on site and outside of your four walls and create separate Boards to attract members of your Pinterest community (possibly your next customer).

In the “Description” field make sure that you include links back to your hotel’s Web site and any other pertinent information that will allow a member of the community get in touch with you or the hotel.

  • Create a Board that features your room categories and include some salient points
  • Create a Board that features dining options, your menus, and promotions
  • Create a Board that includes background information about your management team and fellow (front and back-of-the house) associates
  • Create a Board where you can share photos of a guest’s wedding or family reunion
  • Create a Board that includes information about your city
  • Create a Board that includes information about upcoming events in your area
  • Create a Board that includes local restaurants and nightlife
  • Create a Board that includes attractions such as historical buildings and museums
  • Create a Board that includes the location of a movie theater and shopping
  • Don’t forget video.  One of the best channels to market your hotel is through YouTube videos. If a video link is Pinned, Pinterest embeds that video inside the Pin. It’s a good way of sharing additional info with your current and prospective customers.

When you get comfortable with some of the marketing options at your disposal start inviting your audience to contribute to your Boards.  To add a contributor to one of your Boards, click to the Board’s edit page. There, change the Pin setting to “Me + Contributors.” Then, you can add his/her name. You must be following at least one of that user’s Boards to add them as a contributor.

Here is how I am experimenting with Pinterest and I see some great opportunities with which to incorporate it into my client’s social media strategy.  Let me know if you come up with anything that could be helpful!

As they say, “Happy Pining!”

Tom Costello is a Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter or contact him by email.

Google, Google, Google. What Have You Done Now?

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So you need to book a flight.  No where do you go to book it?  Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak or now Google?  Google (and direct with the airline) that’s who!

I conducted a search for a flight on Google that will send me from Chicago O’Hare to Los Angeles, CA.  In the Google search field I typed in “ORD to LAX”.

Then I clicked on the return link provided above Flights from Chicago, IL (ORD) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX) and was directed to this return view which included a selection of outbound flight/arrival times, carriers, and roundtrip airfares.  Simple, short, and sweet.

Next I simply click on the departure time, carrier or price that suits my needs (I’ll choose Continental at $239) and then the screen expands to offer return flights.

I choose which flight I’d like to return on and click “Book

Which then sends me to Continental’s website to finish the booking process.

As of this correspondence Google does not offer car and hotel but I am confident that those options will be available within a short period of time.

Tom Costello is a Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter or contact him by email.

Hotels Need To Get Past “Small Talk” On Social Media Channels

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I remember when social media began to take shape in my life as thought leaders, web strategists, and futurists like Pete BlackshawJeremiah Owyang, and Brian Solis emerged to pave the way for individuals like me to become content creators.

Then came the boom of social media channels like FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn that heightened one’s ability to create and exchange User-generated Content and substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicated and shared information.

I was hopeful that hotels would discover the value of social media channels but for all that has been written about how hotels can create “buzz”, target an audience, stimulate website traffic and customer interactions, most hotels haven’t advanced much past “small talk”.

If you’re a hotel that’s serious about getting past small talk you’ll have to develop a strategy, trust it, and stick with it for as long as it takes to bear fruit.  You’ll need to apply realistic timeframes to each element of the strategy and identify metrics (those that are definable and verifiable) that will allow you to measure whether you’re achieving expectations (this goes well beyond friends and followers).

Let’s start with the obvious.

What Are Your Objectives? –  You can’t get past small talk until you define your objectives.  If you don’t have objectives then you will be apt to continue to produce more inane drivel.  No matter what your list of objectives looks like at the end of the day you’ll need to build a foundation that looks something like this:

  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Listen
  • Share
  • Listen
  • Support
  • Listen
  • Inspire

Your first and foremost objective is…you guessed it!  Please pass go and collect $200.  Your next objectives are learn, share, support, and inspire (not necessarily in that order) which will help you to eventually forge an active relationship with your audience and convert as many of them from a passive to an active participant.  This creates a network of advocates capable of spreading your message and sharing your brand in and outside of their networks.

The best use of social media channels is to help your hotel:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Launch new campaigns or services
  • Increase reach
  • Research and insight
  • Create word-of-mouth activity
  • Protect your brand
  • Drive traffic to your hotel’s website
  • Improve SEO
  • Competitive analysis
  • Provide customer service

I can hear you now.  “Tom, you didn’t include anything about sales.”  Here’s the thought.  You won’t convert a recognizable amount of sales through your social media channels.  You will convert a majority of sales through your hotel’s website.  Communicate with your current and prospective customers through your social channels…sell through your hotel’s traditional sales & marketing channels (see To Sell Or Not To Sell for more on this topic).

Who Is Your Audience? – You can achieve your objectives when you know whom you are communicating with.  Defining your audience is one of the most talked about, and least understood, challenges. You can establish yourself as the expert when you connect your expertise with the needs of your audience.

Here are 10 questions that will help you to define your audience:

  1. What’s their name?
  2. Where do they live?
  3. How can I inspire them personally or professionally?
  4. What’s the tone of their conversation?
  5. What do they do for a living?
  6. What activities do they enjoy?
  7. Where do they hang out on and offline and what are they talking about?
  8. What defines them?
  9. What keeps them up at night?
  10. What problems can I help them solve?

Oh BTW.  Do any of these tweets or posts reflect a hotel who has defined their audience or is it more of the same old same old?

“What’s your favorite winter drink?”

“What’s on your wish list this Christmas?”

“HG-YUMMY. HGTV for gingerbread people.”

Did I hear someone say OMG?

Who Are Your Influencers & Advocates?– Contributors and creators are your next influencers and advocates.  They say “I want to be a part of this”, “I want to own this”, and “I want to share this”. Be on the lookout for these tippers, reach out to them, be transparent, and instill their trust in you.  Provide them with a path to THEIR goal which often is not the same as YOUR goal.

Influencers – for the most part, require an incentive.  Some are exceptional at sharing a message but offer little in the way of engagement with their peers. Others generate little groundswell or buzz, but the peers they do touch take their advice.

Advocates – they talk about your hotel or brand (pay strict attention to them).  McKinsey & Co. reports that 90% of advocates write something positive about their purchasing experience; 40% of consumers recommend brands according to Comscore; and a study by Forrester Research Inc. says that while only 14% of consumers trust online ads, 94% trust word of mouth, making it among the most influential, cost effective and high return forms of marketing.

Regardless, it’s important to note that you should have a “guideline” in place prior to reaching out to your influencers and advocates.  Here is an example of Ford’s Rules of Engagement with Online Influencers.

Tracking Return On Interaction – Return on Interaction is the new Return On Investment.  The difference is simple IF you can get the GM to agree about the value of the return.  With ROInvestment you put money in to get more money in return.  With ROInteraction you put in interaction to get back more interaction which returns tenfold in trust, loyalty, and the development of advocates and influencers for your hotel.  What’s most important for now is showing that your social media campaign is an integral and effective part of your overall marketing strategy.

Three tools that can help you gauge your social interactions are Google AnalyticsGrader, and Hootsuite.

To Sell Or Not To Sell – Let me be perfectly clear about this subject.  One of the components of your sales and marketing strategy, whether it be on or offline, is designed to generate revenue.  Too often hotels feel the need to push “deals” on social channels when most have no clue as to what percentage of their audience is ready, willing, and able to purchase what your selling?

Yes companies like 1-800-Flowers have a fully functioning Facebook store and Dell has sold $6.5 million in products through its Twitter feed, but social commerce, as of this correspondence, is still nascent.  By 2015, the dollar volume of goods sold through social media should rise from $5 B to $30 B but this estimate is only for hard goods.  It’s coming but if you build it, IT won’t necessarily guarantee that they will come and convert.

Collaborate With Your Audience – Whether we realize it or not, we are a culture that is emerging from a Broadcast Era and now entering into a Collaboration Era.  This simply means that there is and will continue to be a marked change in the way we communicate.

How do you effectively mobilize your audience and enable them to collaborate with your hotel?  You open the door and invite them in because the opportunity to participate is changing us from content consumers to creators, participants, collaborators, and communities (please refer to my opening statement).

What are the benefits of collaborating with your audience?  Identify touch points, create new ideas, products and services, decrease costs, increase sales, customer retention, new vendors, and on, and on, and on.

Take a look at what Roger Smith hotels is doing with Roger Smith Life…the life of a New York art hotel to see what I mean.

What do you think?  Are you ready to communicate, connect, and collaborate with your audience and engage in a meaningful conversation instead of just small talk?

Tom Costello is a Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter or contact him by email.

Four Steps To Help Your Hotel Produce More Guest Reviews

Guest reviews not only serve as a point of reference that prospective customers generally trust, more than 80 percent of travelers include reviews as an integral part of their decision-making process when determining which hotel to book.

Here are five steps that will help your hotel get more guest reviews:

1. At check-in – provide your guests with a “tool” that invites them to write a review about your hotel.  Include a guide and a variety of links to sites that provide the greatest exposure for your hotel.  There’s no better time to plant the seed than after a flawless check-in.

2. On property – station post cards at various locations throughout the hotel that gently reminds your guests about your eventual goal.  If you feel this approach is overkill then place QR codes in high-traffic areas for your tech-savvy guests.

3. Incentives – great service and value provide the best impetus for your guests to write reviews.  Never entice them with “other incentives” to write a review about your hotel.  If you do and you’re exposed, you will lose any credibility that you’ve established on review sites.

4. On your site – if you can, have your web designer create a simple form that is available on your site or can be delivered as a link via email to a guest that has stayed at your hotel.  Keep in mind that if you provide third-party reviews on your site along with a link that will send customers away from you site, they may not return.

5. At check-out – since TripAdvisor will assume that your hotel generated a fake review if you allow guests to use a computer on site (TripAdvisor monitors the hotel’s IP address and will flag a review if it comes direct from the hotel) go back to suggestion #1.

It’s important that you develop a guest review strategy that everyone will embrace.  You will immediately notice that your campaign will quickly gain traction and provide you with new customers as the fruit of your marketing labor.

Tom Costello is a Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter or contact him by email.

Europe Hotel Prices Falling

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Hotel travel site trivago reports that hotel prices have decreased in Europe’s capital cities with Southern Europe leading the way.

Hotel prices have dropped significantly in a number of Italian cities, such as Venice (125 pounds, down 44 percent), Rome (100 pounds, down 31 percent) and Florence (91 pounds, down 30 percent). In Krakow, at just 51 pounds (down 23 percent), travellers are paying the lowest price for an overnight stay in a standard double room so far this year. In Vienna, the average has fallen to 99 pounds (down 14 percent) while Paris stands at 143 pounds (down eleven percent).

Starwood Fires The First Salvo At Hotel Review Sites

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Starwood has announced that they will provide a place for guests to review and rate their experience at one of their hotels. According to Starwood these reviews will be displayed directly on the page a prospective guest is viewing.

Starwood is also making sure all comments are from guests who actually stayed at the hotel. Reviews are verified by a hotel reservation confirmation.

What does this mean for hotel review sites?

This is the first salvo fired directly at the hotel review site community, (TripAdvisor), and you can be sure that brands like IHG and Marriott are stepping up the conversation with their social development partners and will jump on the bandwagon by no later than this time next.

So that means TripAdvisor has a few months to revisit their current processes and procedures and follow Starwood’s lead by making sure that all of the comments posted on their site are validated and genuine.

It also means that in the near future prospective guests will find enough review content that will allow them to make a credible decision about the subject property which should lead to more direct bookings.

Chris Holdern, Senior VP, Starwood Preferred Guest states “Our goal is to provide everything a guest needs to select and book their best hotel experience and there’s no better place to offer this information than on our own websites. Starwood’s new ratings and reviews platform provides a valuable new way for guests to learn from the experiences of fellow travelers.”

Starwood believes the key to building deeper relationships with its most loyal guests is through access to honest and transparent information. Guests can now post ratings and reviews based on a variety of criteria including: Overall Rating, Room Comfort, Staff Met My Needs, Room Cleanliness and SPG Recognition. Helping to create a more personalized experience, guests can also filter review content to see the information that is most relevant to them including: Star Rating, Purpose of Travel, Frequency of Travel, SPG Level, Above/Met Expectations and Below Expectations. Reviews can also be shared through social media channels, including both personal and property Facebook pages.

Do you feel that this is a long overdue decision by a major hotel brand and what are the implications for hotel review sites like TripAdvisor?

Tom Costello is the CEO, Partner & Co-Founder of Groups International, a company that provides marketing, consultative services, and technology solutions to the group and leisure travel markets.  Connect with him on Twitter,LinkedIn, and Facebook or contact him by email.

There’s A New Hotel Perk In Town

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Club, concierge or executive lounges, which typically require upgraded room bookings or frequent guest program membership, can be a lifesaver for busy business travelers.

Perks include being able to take a shower before the room is ready, meeting privately with a client or enjoying free meals, concierge services and cocktails in a private setting.

The number of lounges is growing, especially among high-end hotels. About 18 percent of more than 8,500 hotels at all levels surveyed last have a club floor or lounge. That’s up from 10 percent in 2004. Of those hotels, 89 percent of them were classified as luxury or upper upscale.

While club lounges been around for decades, they have become a renovation priority for hotels looking to keep room occupancy high and secure customer loyalty during the recession.

InterContinental Hotels Group Puts Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

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IHG is now offering guests a free night if they find a qualifying lower price on any other website. This promise is part of the company’s new initiatives – the launch of `Best Price Guarantee’ and the `Book With Us Advantage’. Any guest who finds a qualifying, lower room price for an IHG hotel elsewhere online will receive their first night free, and the rest of their stay will match the price found. The benefits of the `Best Price Guarantee’ are available at all eight of IHG’s hotel brands.

The Donald To Buy Doral Resort

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Doral You're Fired

Developer and reality TV personality Donald Trump has agreed to buy the Doral Golf Resort & Spa for $170 million.

But Trump, whose name adorns three Atlantic City casinos, said a push to legalize gambling at more South Florida locations will not play into his plans for the 693-room resort. “This really is unrelated to gaming,” he said.

A source with knowledge of the plans said the Trump Organization will invest at least $150 million in upgrades to the nearly 50-year-old hotel, which was put into bankruptcy earlier this year.

Built in 1962, the property sits on 650 acres with a pool complex, water slide, and five golf courses. Best known for hosting an annual pro golf tournament, the Marriott-managed hotel is also a popular destination for large groups, meetings, and local events.

Are You Worried About Flying In And Out Of Dangerous Airports?

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When you travel, you’ve got to get from point A to point B.  Some of us travel by car and some of us travel by plane.

For those of you who travel by plane, our friends at Travel & Leisure have listed the Top-10 airports that may cause some additional angst while flying in to or out of on your next flight.

To come up with the rankings, Travel & Leisure looked at the Federal Aviation Administration’s latest Runway Safety Report to determine which airports have the most near misses other runway incidents.

Here is a complete list of the studies ranked in the Top-10.

1. Chicago O’Hare
2. Cleveland Hopkins
3. Los Angeles International
4. San Francisco International
5. Honolulu International
6. Miami International
7. Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International
8. Phoenix Sky Harbor
9. Boston Logan
10. Dallas/ Fort Worth