Not Just a Pretty Room: Selling an Experience

Travel is a profoundly meaningful experience, and travelers — whether Millennials, Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers — are increasingly looking for immersive, authentic travel experiences. As travelers we don’t just want to see a place, we want to feel it, even at the end of the day when we return to our lodgings. Hotel stays are not just about tightly tucked beds, mini fridges and room service anymore; they are about memorable moments that complement and enhance the travel adventure.

The proof is in the success of services like Airbnb as well as new boutique-like brands created by traditional hotel chains (like Hyatt Centric and Marriott’s Moxy Hotels). Travelers are looking for distinctive stay experiences through which they can connect more genuinely with the location.

It’s clear; for hotels to appeal to the modern traveler’s desire for authenticity, and to stand out from other hotels offering all the same features and amenities, they should focus on selling an experience, not just a pretty room. In other words, a hotel should be a destination in itself.

This is where boutique and other independent properties have the upper hand. Not bound by cookie-cutter limitations, independent lodgings are in a good position to provide memorable stay experiences that reflect their local destination, the unique character of their property, and the desires of their target demographic. All it takes is a little passion and creativity — qualities independent lodging operators tend to have in abundance.

Here are some ideas for creating and selling the stay experience:

Experiential Amenities

Experiential amenities go beyond modern conveniences like Wi-Fi and coffee makers; they appeal to a guest’s sense of discovery and adventure. One way to come up with experiential amenities that align with your property and guests is to consider your connection with the local area and invite guests to experience it — on property as well as off.

A hotel that is a popular base for beach-goers might offer branded sunhats for guests to wear while soaking up the rays. An inn surrounded by vineyards could include a complementary bottle of local wine, along with a map pinpointing wineries, and perhaps even bicycles for self-guided wine tours. A downtown hotel at the core of city nightlife could provide martini glasses, a shaker and cocktail recipes to accompany the mini bar. Properties with stunning natural surroundings might offer bikes or kayaks for guests to explore the area.

Think about why people choose to stay at your property and try to come up with experiential amenity ideas that enhance their travel experience. Such amenities are far more memorable than cable TV and laundry service.

Activities

While most travelers have a general idea of the things they would like to do during their trip before they travel, much is left to spontaneity. Lodgings that offer or organize activities for guests not only provide guests with a much-appreciated convenience, but encourage them to experience the destination to the fullest.

Properties can work with local tour and activity operators or run their own activities to offer stand-alone experiences that can be booked on demand or included in stay-and-play packages.

Again, think about why your guests visit your destination and offer activities that will enhance their experience, be it guided gastronomy tours, paint-and-sip nights, guest receptions with local wine and beer tasting, tree planting, horseback riding, or beach volleyball tournaments. If you need help managing activity bookings alongside room bookings, WebRezPro PMS offers an ActivityEngine module that does just that.

The Human Touch

While it may seem that guests want less human contact due to rising demand for mobile services, an authentic hospitality experience can only be delivered through authentic hospitality. People are at the heart of hospitality; even the most luxurious hotels with the fanciest rooms will lose without creating positive personal connections with guests.

Hotel staff make guests feel valued simply by interacting with and listening to them and this plays a large part in creating a memorable stay experience. From warmly acknowledging a guest in the hallway, making sure they have all they need, to providing a complimentary bottle of wine for the couple celebrating their anniversary, to sharing local recommendations, simple gestures can be the difference between a standard stay and a memorable one.

Such personalized service is a fundamental element of the stay experience, so it’s important to listen to your guests and build guest profiles that will help you anticipate their needs during future stays.

Storytelling

The stay experience is what sets hotels apart over features and amenities. As consumers, we don’t always buy based on price — our purchasing decisions are often driven by emotion and based on perceived value of the experience. Properties that tell a great stay story on their website succeed in making an emotional connection with customers that’s more likely to result in bookings.

The key to great hotel storytelling lies in identifying your property’s USPs (unique selling points), in other words, why your guests choose you. Put yourself in your guests’ shoes and describe the experience (not just features) to tell a story that gets guests excited as they imagine themselves already there. Focus on the senses — the sights, scents, sounds, tastes and touch — to bring website visitors as close as possible to the actual guest experience. For example, instead of simply saying, “enjoy our sparkling outdoor pool,” describe the experience of enjoying the pool, like, “after a hot day out exploring the city, cool off in our sprawling pool, or poolside with a refreshing beverage under a shade umbrella, surrounded by our fragrant tropical gardens.”

Images and video are particularly effective at engaging the senses and conveying the experience. To make the most of visual storytelling, ensure images showcase your property in its best light. The WWT blog offers some tips on how to make the most of photos and video on hotel websites.

Hotels and other types of lodgings are and always have been intrinsic to the travel experience, but now even more so. No longer simply a room to sleep in, lodgings provide an experience — one that reflects a unique combination of their location, property and guests. Shifting focus toward the stay experience can help a property stand out from the crowd, make a strong emotional connection with customers, and sell more rooms!

Is Your Property’s Online Booking Engine Mobile Friendly?

Market research company eMarketer predicts that this year more than half (51.8%) of travelers who book accommodations and airfare online will do so using a mobile device. That’s up from 43.8% last year.

Improved technology and user experience as well as increasingly tech-dependant consumer behavior (think Millennials) contribute to the growing trust in mobile commerce. It’s pretty plain to see that mobile travel bookings are going mainstream. Properties that want to maximize room sales and remain competitive must offer customers the ability to book direct online — via desktop and mobile devices.

What Makes a Mobile-Friendly Online Booking Engine?

Just because you can see the booking widget on your property’s website when you look at it on your smartphone doesn’t mean it is mobile friendly. A long-winded booking process with hard-to-read font and hard-to-tap menus and fields is going to send all but the most determined customers packing (for your competition or an OTA).

When it comes to mobile bookings, user experience is key. From a simple step-by-step process to secure payment, a mobile-friendly booking engine should provide users with convenience and confidence.

How can you tell if your online booking engine is mobile friendly? The easiest way is to grab your smartphone and test it out yourself. An online booking engine that is optimized for mobile devices will offer:

  • A user-friendly experience – The quicker and easier it is to make a booking, the better. A mobile-optimized booking process is a simple one; it does not overwhelm customers with too many options and is ideally limited to two or three steps or pages. It should be easy to read and navigate with tap-friendly (not too small) drop-down menus, text-entry fields and buttons. It should also able to display rates in different currencies, and should load fast too.
  • Secure bookings – A secure online booking process will use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption to keep personal and payment data safe. Pages using SSL encryption will display HTTPS:// in the URL, rather than HTTP:// (missing the “S”), which tells users that the page is secure. Make sure the URL for the booking page that askes for personal and payment information begins with HTTPS. If a user clicks on the little padlock icon that appears alongside the URL, they can view the page’s security certificate and whether it is valid. Displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information also reassures customers that the booking process is secure.
  • Compatibility with various operating systems – iPhone or Android? Everyone seems to have their favorite so it’s important for an online booking engine to work well across various mobile devices and operating systems, from Apple iOS to Google Android to Windows Phone (and there are others!). Online booking engines that use responsive design automatically detect and adapt to the user’s device for an optimal user experience whatever the screen size or operating system.
  • Automatic booking confirmation – Upon submitting their reservation request, the user should immediately see an on-screen booking confirmation that affirms their booking was successful. The customer should also receive an automatic confirmation email.
  • PMS integration – When integrated with a property management system (PMS), a mobile-optimized online booking engine automatically offers customers real-time rates and availability, maximizing inventory and avoiding overbooking. Mobile bookings are automatically entered into the PMS and availability adjusted accordingly.
  • Prominent placement on your site – The booking widget should be prominently displayed on a property’s website with a strong call-to-action (“book now” button), whether viewed on a desktop computer or smartphone. If the online booking form is not easy to find, you risk losing customers who are ready to book.
  • The look and feel of your brand – A booking widget that reflects the branding on your website and includes the property’s logo and contact details on all pages of the booking process helps to inspire trust.

With more and more consumers turning to their mobile devices to research and book travel, it’s fast becoming essential for hotels and other lodgings to offer mobile bookings.

If your direct online booking engine does not play nicely with mobile devices, you are probably already losing customers. Feel free to ask us about our mobile-optimized, commission-free online booking engine, included with WebRezPro PMS, to capture more bookings on any device.

Peak Season Prep: An Independent Hotelier’s Checklist

As we head into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many properties around the world are gearing up for peak season. Preparing for a wave of summer vacationers (or winter adventurers in the Southern Hemisphere) can both excite and intimidate lodging providers. On one hand, occupancy and revenue are up (yay!), on the other, the pressure is on to maintain top service levels with less time and more stress (eek!).

High season is a crucial time to make a good impression on guests; welcoming a sea of new and repeat customers provides an ideal opportunity to earn a big bunch of loyal fans. It’s important for everything to go smoothly during a property’s busiest time, especially when the competition is also heating up.

For everything to go as planned, there needs to be a plan! Here are our suggestions for preparing for your peak season…

  • Spruce Up Your Property

Evaluate your property through the critical eyes of a guest; take a good look at the guestrooms, lobby, dining area and outdoor space and fix or replace anything showing obvious signs of wear and tear. Do room curtains need washing or mending? Do bathtubs or showers need re-grouting? Are all the coffee pots and TV remotes working? Is the patio furniture in good shape? Are exterior walls in need of a splash of fresh paint? Even minor improvements, such as hanging flower baskets, can make a world of difference.

  • Review Data for Optimal Pricing & Distribution

Review last year’s occupancy and revenue data to help you price your rooms and packages right and to optimize availability across distribution channels. It’s also important to take nearby competition into consideration, as well as other factors that impact pricing and availability (like major annual events), to ensure your property is priced competitively.

You might like to consider restrictions like minimum and maximum length of stay and closed to arrival too. If managed correctly, these strategies can be effective for increasing RevPAR during high demand periods. For tips on when and how to use length-of-stay strategies, check out this eCornell Blog post.

To optimize distribution, review which channels most of your bookings came from during last year’s peak season. Have you added any new channels since then? Use your data to help work out your optimal distribution strategy across channels. For example, if direct bookings soar for summer stays, consider reducing OTA inventory as appropriate and save on those commission fees!

Automated revenue management systems (RMS) are designed to simplify the complex task of yield management — and integrating your RMS with your PMS saves even more time.

  • Streamline Online Reservations

Dealing with reservations from multiple channels manually might suffice during quiet times, but it’s a risky practice during busy months. Without automated and centralized reservation management, properties are especially prone to accidental overbooking and data entry errors, resulting in lost room nights and unhappy customers.

To avoid this, and to reduce your administrative load, automate online reservation management by integrating your online channels (OTA and GDS channels, as well as your website’s own booking engine) with your property management system (PMS). Connecting your PMS to your online booking channels allows the PMS to send live rates and availability to online booking channels and to capture bookings coming from those channels automatically.

Your direct online booking engine (the one on your property’s own website) should also be user friendly, allow the sale of packages and special rates, be mobile optimized, and commission free.

Automating online booking management is key for busy properties, especially during periods of high occupancy.

  • Strengthen Customer Relationships

In addition to reviewing occupancy and revenue data, it’s also important to review guest profile data in your PMS or customer relationship management system (CRM) to get a picture of who your guests are. Guest data can provide such insights as where guests are coming from (are they weekend nearcationers or international vacationers?), how far in advance they book, what types of travellers they are (families, Baby Boomers, corporate eventers…), and their preferred ancillary services.

Once you know who your guests are, you can strengthen customer relationships through tailoring services and content marketing more effectively.

Creating seasonal packages and offers based on the interests and stay history of guests is a great way to add value and helps you stand out from your competitors.

Use your data to create segmented email lists for targeted email marketing campaigns too. CRM and guest communication systems like Guestfolio and Constant Contact make managing segmented email campaigns easy, and can be integrated with your PMS.

  • Gear Your Website for Summer

Fresh, relevant content is key for search engine optimization (SEO) and customer engagement, so shake the dust off your website to reflect your property’s summer vibe. Swap any cozy winter images for photos of your property’s best summer features (like the sparkling pool) and make sure all content is up to date, including rate and package information. Descriptions, images, videos, event calendars, local information and blog posts should all promote the seasonal appeal of your property and location.

  • Integrate Social Media in Your Summer Marketing Plan

Travelers use and are influenced by social media at an astounding rate, so any independent hotelier’s marketing strategy should incorporate social media.

Once website content is freshened up, share it on your social networks to help expand visibility and engage with prospective guests. Create social media posts about your property and location, and link back to relevant content on your website whenever appropriate — to the local events listing page, attractions and activities, special packages, blog posts, etc.

Peak season is a great time to ramp up your blogging efforts. Although time is short during the summer rush, it pays to produce regular blog posts when your online audience is larger. Blog content is personal, engaging, and provides good fuel for social media posts too.

To encourage online engagement and user-generated content, make sure guests are aware of your social media presence. Include social media buttons on your website and in guest email communications, and add your social media handles to printed materials like front desk signage and in-room welcome packages.

If you need some guidance on your social media strategy, check out our recent blog post on the subject.

  • Review Your Review-Management Process

The peak season is a prime opportunity to boost review volume with more guests to ask for feedback and more eyes on your reviews. Don’t forget to respond appropriately to any negative comments that slip through and act on feedback. Read our blog post about managing online reviews for tips on how to gather, monitor and respond to reviews.

  • Prepare Your Team

Smooth operation hinges on hotel staff. When preparing your team for periods of high occupancy, open communication is key. Regularly communicating goals and KPIs with your whole team, and discussing how every staff member plays a role in the property’ success provides clear direction and breeds a sense of ownership.

When occupancy levels are high, tricky situations are bound to arise, such as the inability to facilitate requested room changes and delays in tending to housekeeping requests. Reviewing policies and procedures and even role playing difficult situations can help boost staff confidence in dealing with various requests and complaints. Encourage staff members to bring up concerns during regular staff meetings or privately so that any issues can be nipped in the bud fast.

It’s also important for all staff members to have the tools they need to perform their jobs effectively, from vacuum cleaners to property management systems. Modern PMS improve efficiency and inter-department communication through integration and automation.

Last but not least, motivate yourself and your staff for the hard work ahead! Pizza nights, time off, and positive feedback are some ways you can show appreciation.

We’ve blogged before about how to keep hotel staff happy and motivated — it might be a good read now in preparation for the busy season.

The peak season is a hectic and stressful time for the whole team, but it’s so important for operations to run smoothly. A little preparation can earn a lot of loyal guests — and pave the way to a more enjoyable summer for you and your customers alike.

Family Travel is on the Rise! Kid-Friendly Ideas for Hoteliers

You may have noticed that family and multi-generational travel is featured on many travel trend lists for the year ahead (like this one from Condé Nast Traveler, and this one from Virtuoso®). Family travel is on the rise — perhaps that’s partly because the world is becoming more accessible and many extended families find themselves living farther apart.

According to the AARP, one of the top motivators of travel for American Baby Boomers (practically all of whom intend to travel in the coming year) is to spend time with family and friends. And with money to spend on travel, more and more grandparents are bringing the kids and grandkids along on vacation.

Traveling with kids comes with its challenges, from feeding the mob to keeping the kids occupied during downtime. But despite logistical challenges, families are still packing their bags and opting to travel — now more than ever. That’s why there are hundreds of blogs, online guides, printed guide books and even some TV shows about traveling with kids, offering family travelers tips on what to bring, where to go and where to stay.

When it comes to travel accommodation, families look for lodgings that are safe, convenient and fun.

For lodging operators who would like to increase their share of the family travel pie, we’ve compiled a list of simple ideas for making your property family friendlier. Even the smallest efforts are likely to stand out to guests traveling with kids!

Lighten the Load – Traveling light is next to impossible for families, especially for those with small children. But lodgings can help lighten the load by having space-taking items like strollers and playpens available to borrow or rent. Baby swings or jumpers, baby baths, in-room highchairs and bottle warmers are other convenient items that could be made available on request and would be much appreciated by guests traveling with infants.

Be sure to advertise these amenities on your website so that guests know they don’t have to bring their own.

Family-Friendly Local Recommendations – Staff members should brush up their knowledge of local family-friendly attractions, activities, restaurants, parks and other points of interest to be able to offer helpful suggestions to guests with kids. Highlight these nearby attractions on your website too, to help sell your property to family travelers.

In-Room Amenities & Boredom Busters – Kids can get a little crazy cooped up in a hotel room (even for 20 minutes), so providing items like colouring books and crayons, board games, books, a DVD library, and game console rental that can be enjoyed during downtime will go far to impress kids and adults alike.

Also be sure to promote regular in-room amenities that families would particularly appreciate, such as kitchenettes and rollaway cots.

Kid-friendly Common Areas – Family travelers often seek lodgings with playgrounds and swimming pools, but properties without can provide plenty of fun too. Consider dedicating some outdoor and/or indoor space for kids to play. Even a simple swing set, lawn games like badminton or swingball, a ping pong table, or a giant Jenga set will appeal to kids of all ages.

Family-Friendly Activities – Quality family time is important to vacationing families and properties can enhance those moments by providing activities that families can enjoy together.

For example, you could offer bicycles (including kid-sized bikes and helmets, and bike trailers) to borrow or rent, or family-friendly walking tour maps. Consider running a bocce ball or ring toss tournament, or simply provide fun family lawn games on demand (hint: Google “DIY lawn games” for inspiration!). How about a family-friendly morning yoga session? Or an evening toasting marshmallows around the fire pit?

Supervised Kids Activities – Properties don’t have to run an official kids’ club to offer fun activities for kids. Craft sessions, lawn game tournaments, colouring competitions, pajama parties and movie nights are some inexpensive organized activities that can be supervised by qualified staff members (with current first-aid certification, clear background checks, and great communication skills with kids!).

Kid-Friendly Food – For properties with onsite dining, offering a kids’ menu is a no-brainer if catering to families with young children. But if you really want to impress the parents, review kid-friendly menu options to ensure healthy choices are available, like grilled chicken with celery sticks and Ranch, oven-baked (not deep fried!) chicken nuggets, mini hamburgers with 100% fresh ground beef, and fresh fruit salad.

With food allergies on the rapid rise, providing allergen-free options will make traveling much easier and safer for many families.

Stock Your Store – If you have a small store on site or offer a few conveniences for sale, be sure to stock items like baby wipes, diapers and sunscreen for purchase — daily conveniences that families with young children often run out of or forget to bring on vacation.

Family Packages and Offers – Entice families to stay with year-round or seasonal packages and offers created especially for family travelers. Consider partnering with nearby attractions and restaurants to offer discounted or free activities and meals included with a stay. Or implement a “kids stay free/dine free” policy. Multi-generational family groups would likely appreciate a discount on additional (and preferably adjoining) rooms.

Get to Know Your Family Guests – Make note of any special requests, ancillary services or other relevant observations about family groups in guest profiles within your property management system (PMS) or customer relationship management system (CRM) to get to know your family guests. Comprehensive guest profiles are key to personalizing service — through proactively providing the things guests need during future stays (like extra towels, a playpen or gluten-free cookies) and targeting marketing efforts more effectively.

Promote Your Family Friendliness – Promote your property wherever family travelers are likely to find you!

Make sure your website highlights your property’s family-oriented features, including amenities and services, packages and nearby attractions. Convey a family-friendly vibe with bright photos of families and kids having fun at your property, and highlight positive reviews by family travelers.

Your property’s listings with OTAs and review sites should also portray family friendliness through descriptions, amenity lists, photos and special offers.

Use your social media channels to promote family packages, stand-out amenities and your proximity to nearby attractions too. Social media is also a great way to share glowing reviews and guest photos that can help persuade potential customers to make a booking!

 

Family travel is an ever more lucrative market, and it isn’t difficult or expensive to make a property family friendly. Even the smallest conveniences can make a big difference to families away from home. Putting some of the above-mentioned simple initiatives into place can help your property stand out and become a family favorite!

How a Booking Channel Interface Works with WebRezPro PMS

Lodging operators often ask us how and why WebRezPro Property Management System (PMS) integrates with online distribution channels. They are both great questions, and because they pop up so frequently, we thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about why a property should integrate their online distribution channels with their PMS, and how those interfaces work with WebRezPro.

The Advantages of a PMS + Booking Channel Interface

A direct, two-way connection between a property’s PMS and booking channel partners streamlines online distribution by automating the process of updating rates and availability on OTA/GDS channels and capturing OTA/GDS bookings in the PMS. By automating data exchange between the PMS and channel partners, the interface:

>> Saves time by eliminating the need to update OTA/GDS inventory manually through channel extranets.

>> Saves even more time by eliminating the need to enter OTA/GDS reservations manually into the PMS.

>> Reduces the chance of manual errors.

>> Reduces the risk of overbooking.

How a Booking Channel Interface Works with WebRezPro

There are two ways WebRezPro can connect to a property’s online distribution channels:

>> WebRezPro can connect to separate booking channels (OTAs and GDS channels).

>> Or, WebRezPro can connect to a channel manager, like SiteMinder, myallocator or Seekda, which provides a single point from which to manage inventory and reservations on multiple booking channels.

The decision to connect to separate booking channels (OTAs and GDS channels) versus a channel manager depends on a property’s online distribution strategy.

For example, properties that want to limit third-party distribution to one or two major OTAs, such as Booking.com and/or Expedia, connect WebRezPro to those channels via separate OTA interfaces. Properties that distribute inventory through many channels typically employ a channel manager (as described above) and connect WebRezPro directly to that channel manager through a single channel manager interface.

An interface to a separate booking channel (such as booking.com) works the same way as an interface to a channel manager (such as SiteMinder):

  1. Through the interface, WebRezPro automatically pushes inventory (as determined by the property) to the channel or channel manager. When changes are made to OTA/GDS inventory in WebRezPro, the interface automatically sends those updates to the channel or channel manager.
  2. When a booking is made through a channel partner, the channel or channel manager automatically sends reservation data through the interface to WebRezPro, and availability is automatically adjusted across all channels (in the PMS and on third-party booking channels).

The interface works 24/7, automatically updating inventory and reservation data.

OTA Interface Flowchart

Channel Manager Interface Flowchart

How to Get Connected

WebRezPro connects to numerous OTAs, GDS channels and channel managers and the list is always growing. Have a look at our Interfaces & Partners page to see if an interface to your channel partner is already available (if not, we can probably make it happen).

Then, simply contact your WebRezPro account manager and let them know which channel you want to connect your WebRezPro PMS to. They will let you know of any costs involved, and, along with WebRezPro Product Support, will guide you through the process every step of the way.

We hope this explanation helps clarify how WebRezPro integration with booking channels works. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you are interested to learn how integrating WebRezPro PMS with other hotel systems — such as POS, in-room entertainment and payment processing systems — can help save time and streamline operations, take a look at our Quick Guide to PMS Integration for an overview.

How a Budget Independent Motel Can Be a Lodging Superstar

When we think of a roadside motel, we probably don’t think of a business with five-star service and amenities, and that’s why independent motels are uniquely positioned to surprise and delight; most motel guests are simply not expecting to be surprised and delighted.

Designed to serve road trippers with cheap, comfortable and convenient accommodation, motels are the preferred choice for many travelers — travelers who expect to get nothing more than what they pay for.

Many independent motels operate within tight budgets, which can make going the extra mile for guests seem unpractical. But there are things any property can do to impress guests without breaking the bank — and the return on investment can be huge. Think rave reviews, loyal customers and no vacancy!

Here are some ways a budget independent motel can be a lodging superstar:

Deliver Service with a Smile

Service with a smile is of chief importance in the quest for guest satisfaction, and it costs nothing. The 2015 J.D. Power North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study found that there is a 50 percent reduction in the average number of customer complaints when guests are greeted with a smile “all the time,” compared to “sometimes.”

Engaged, empowered staff members who truly enjoy working with people are naturals at delivering service with a smile. But it also helps when staff is backed by efficient systems that make their jobs easier, rather than ineffective tools that create more work and stress.

A modern property management system, for example, automates administrative processes to increase productivity, reduce stress, and give lodging operators more time to focus on their guests.

Keep Guestrooms & Facilities Spick-and-Span

A motel doesn’t have to be new or fancy to be inviting, but it does have to be clean and well kept. Beyond vacuuming carpets, cleaning bathrooms and changing sheets, guestrooms — including kitchenette facilities and utensils, bedding and bath linens, furniture, lamps and TV remotes — should be inspected regularly for wear and tear and items repaired or replaced as needed.

Modern property management systems help to keep track of maintenance issues through housekeeping and maintenance reports. Cloud systems like WebRezPro PMS feature mobile housekeeping reports, which allow housekeepers to update room cleaning status and enter notes via a mobile device as they work so that nothing gets forgotten.

Replacing worn or outdated bedding and furniture and updating décor can be expensive. Most budgets won’t stretch far enough for everything to be tackled at once, but upgrades can be done gradually. Focus on the changes that will have the biggest impact first. Take a look at guest reviews for clues — do guests consistently criticize the beds or the peeling paint?

If renovations are in order, choose neutral (timeless) colors, classic styles and durable quality to maximize your investment for the long term. The goal is clean, fresh, inviting rooms, not bold design statements that are bound to go out of style.

The motel exterior and outdoor areas should also be well maintained for optimal curb appeal. From a freshly painted motel exterior to a clean and tidy pool area with quality outdoor furniture, cared-for grounds invite people to enjoy them.

Provide Guests with Current Technology

We are creatures of habit and used to our creature comforts, so when something we take for granted at home — like reliable Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs — is not available when we travel, it feels like a major inconvenience.

Wi-Fi, in particular, is as necessary as bathroom tissue these days; a 2015 study conducted by Hotels.com showed that free Wi-Fi remains the most sought-after amenity among both business and leisure travelers.

Modern guestroom TVs are another essential amenity for properties wanting to avoid the old, tired look. Flat-screen TVs are very affordable these days and are also a great way to save space in a small room when mounted to the wall.

To really stand out, some properties are providing guests with techy extras that put the spotlight on convenience, from in-room charging stations (or chargers for rent) to paperless check-in with e-signature.

Share Your Local Knowledge

Information about area attractions, restaurants, shopping and other points of interest is readily available online, but nothing beats personal recommendations from a local expert. Sharing local knowledge with guests face to face is not only helpful to them, but provides the opportunity to connect with guests on a more personal level — and it’s those moments of friendly interaction that make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary service.

Including up-to-date local information on your website can help boost bookings too.

Surprise and Delight with the Little Things

Most of us enjoy feeling appreciated, which is why greeting each and every guest with a smile is so important. But to make guests feel even more welcome, surprise them with a little something extra.

The simplest, most inexpensive things can make a big difference to the guest experience: a pre-arrival email with reservation details and helpful local tips (and post-stay emails too); in-room welcome treats, like a small bowl of candy with a simple hand-written welcome note; refreshing freebies in the lobby like a pitcher of fruit-infused water, coffee and tea, cookies, or a bowl of fruit; a DVD and/or board game library; or even just a quick phone call to the room shortly after a guest checks in to make sure they have everything they need.

Upon check-out, guests can be surprised with a small thank-you gift, such as cookies for the road, or a discount voucher for their next stay (if they book direct).

Even the smallest touches can go a long way to earning great reviews and repeat customers, turning an average motel into a lodging superstar.

6 Social Media Recommendations for Independent Hoteliers in 2016

Seventy-six percent of travelers post vacation photos to social networks, and 52 percent of Facebook users say friends’ photos inspire their travel plans. With social media playing such a big role in inspiring travelers and sharing experiences, a strong social media presence and strategy is more important than ever for lodging operators.

Whether you’re new to social media or have been using it for years, it always pays to have a plan and measure results to maximize the return on your social media efforts. A social media audit is a great way to start…

Conduct a Social Media Audit

Social media audits help businesses assess how well their current social media accounts are performing to identify which profiles need to be updated and which ones should be deleted. Social media marketing success depends on making a solid commitment to your accounts; many businesses choose to use just two or three networks, and to do them well.

Hootsuite’s social media audit template and guide provides clear steps to follow for conducting your own social media audit. By going through these steps, lodging operators can:

>> Identify which of their social media profiles are showing up in online search.

>> Evaluate each profile in line with business strategy, goals and target market, in order to determine whether or not it is worth maintaining a presence on a particular network. This can be done by reviewing metrics like your posting frequency, number of followers and fans, engagement (retweets, shares, likes, comments, etc.), and leads generated.

>> Make sure each profile is on brand, with quality and consistent profile and cover images and logos, complete bios and descriptions, and correct URLs.

>> Ensure that all social media profiles are secure and determine who is running them.

>> Create a process and criteria for determining if and how new social profiles will be established in the future.

Prioritize Visual Content

Social media feeds are intensely competitive spaces, especially for organic content. To get noticed, post more visual content.

Social media is becoming an ever more visual space; Twitter launched video auto-play on timelines last year, and between April and November last year, Facebook’s average daily video views doubled from four billion to eight billion per day.

Facebook rewards posts with video with greater organic reach, but it’s important to note that the platform prefers native uploads as opposed to YouTube embeds. Native uploads perform better than third-party players on Twitter too, with native video driving more engagement (2.5 times more replies, 2.8 times more retweets, and 1.9 times more favourites).

Posts that include images produce 650 percent higher engagement than text-only posts, and visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared.

This year, post (and share) more images and videos to increase reach and engagement.

Generate & Share UGC

User-generated content (UGC) is essentially the digital version of word of mouth, which has always been the most trusted form of marketing.

Marketing is becoming much less about broadcasting, and much more about generating opportunities for conversation — and UGC is excellent for driving engagement. We’ve written before about how to make the most of UGC, but here are the key points:

There are many ways a hotel can promote engagement and UGC, from providing share-worthy on-property experiences (like thoughtful in-room treats that surprise and delight guests, or special events), to running competitions and hashtag campaigns on social media that encourage customers to share photos, videos or their own stories. When asking for UGC, make it fun for your audience and tied to their interests — which, safe to say, is probably travel — and they won’t even need to be persuaded.

The next step is to share UGC through your own channels to amplify reach and encourage other customers to engage.

Share, retweet and like positive comments, reviews, photos and videos about your property that your customers post online. You can even incorporate UGC in your own storytelling efforts by featuring it on your website (for example, albums featuring guest photos, and live social media and review feed embeds), or marketing and advertising campaigns.

You can also learn a lot about guests from the content they share and engage with on social media. Relevant information can be noted on guest profiles in your property management system or CRM for enhancing the guest experience.

Use Social Media Monitoring Tools

It’s important to keep track of what your customers are saying to you and about you online. While it’s not difficult for a business to monitor customer reviews, comments, photos and videos posted or shared directly on the business’ social media pages, customers also talk about businesses across the Internet universe where the conversation is harder to track. Sometimes, a customer will try to tag a business in a post, but get the business’ handle wrong. In cases like these, businesses can easily miss customer feedback and UGC, and therefore miss the opportunity to share positive customer experiences or appease negative ones.

Social listening or social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite, Social Mention and Mention can help lodging operators stay on top of online conversations — and save lots of time — by automatically monitoring social media and the wider Web for any direct and indirect mentions related to their property.

Social media monitoring tools also allow you to schedule and post content to your social media profiles, as well as provide analytics and reporting that can help guide social media strategy — all from a single dashboard.

Respond & Interact

Being interactive online is key to increasing engagement and building strong customer relationships. Acknowledging your customers online shows them that you value them. And you don’t want negative comments floating around Internetland unchecked.

In our blog post about social customer service we offer some tips for managing customer relationships online, including: being a good listener (this is where your social media monitoring tool can help); developing a process for dealing with complaints professionally; responding to customer feedback and questions — and responding quickly; being human; and eavesdropping (monitoring indirect mentions — again, this is where a social monitoring tool comes in handy).

Pay to Play

Your customers spend a lot of time on social media, so it makes sense to advertise there. Paid social media advertising can be easily controlled, offering excellent reach at a relatively low cost.

Even a conservative budget can reap high ROI through targeting. Social media platforms like Facebook offer powerful targeting tools that allow businesses to hone in on consumers who are likely to convert. Promotional content can be targeted to custom audiences such as current followers, Facebook users matching a business’ email list, or people who fit certain profiles based on data like location, interests, income level, purchasing behavior and relationship status.

Social media remarketing is also worth testing for converting booking abandoners. This involves adding code to your website that tracks website visitors and then shows them customized ads on social media if they leave your site without making a booking.

Just like organic content, paid content should be engaging and inspire people to start dreaming about staying at your property. Think quality, eye-catching images and descriptive and emotive language. It’s also important to use clear calls to action (CTA) aligned with the stage of the customer’s purchasing journey. Social media plays a key role in the inspiration stage of travel planning, so using CTAs like “learn more” may work better than “book now” (except in the case of remarketing).

If you haven’t already, add a little paid social media advertising into the mix and monitor results based on KPIs like number of likes, click-throughs and resulting bookings. Experiment to see what works for you.

For travelers, social media is an intrinsic part of travel planning and experience. For lodging operators, social media can help strengthen a property’s brand, build customer relationships and create brand ambassadors. We hope these tips help you to achieve just that in the year ahead.

Getting to Know Your Guests: How to Gather Guest Data

In our increasingly connected world, today’s consumers expect more personalized service from brands and this is especially true of the hospitality industry. To stand out in such a competitive market, a hotel needs to provide personally relevant (and therefore memorable) guest experiences — the key to which lies in guest data.

Guest data has long been leveraged by luxury properties catering to discerning guests, but now operators of all types of lodgings, from motels to B&Bs, are recognizing the value in utilizing guest data to build stronger guest relationships that differentiate a property from its competition.

Here are some tips for building guest profiles that empower lodging operators to elevate the guest experience.

Guest Email Addresses

Guest email addresses are a crucial part of the equation. Without them, hotels are unable to take ownership of the guest relationship pre- and post-stay.

Most consumers are willing to provide their email address when booking accommodation online in order to receive a confirmation email. Therefore, properties that offer direct online bookings on their website are probably already collecting customer email addresses via their online booking engine — a process made even more seamless when the online booking engine is directly integrated with their property management system (PMS) so that direct online booking and guest data is automatically recorded in the PMS.

When bookings come through third parties, the property might not always receive the guest’s email address, but this doesn’t mean you should give up on guests with blank email fields. Front desk agents can politely ask for email addresses during check-in or check-out, telling guests they’d like to send them discounts for future stays or to pass to a friend. Or offer to email guests their check-out receipt instead of printing one. Properties with a loyalty program can gather email addresses (and other guest data) by inviting guests to join.

Customers are more likely to share their email address if there’s something in it for them.

Special Requests

From allergies to room preferences, special requests are like gold nuggets in the world of guest data, providing obvious cues for how to personalize the guest experience.

Modern booking engines allow properties to offer guests the opportunity to make special requests at the time of booking, such as requesting in-room extras like wine and chocolates, adding activities to the reservation, requesting a pet-friendly room, or informing the property of any special dietary requests. This data is automatically recorded on reservation folios and can be saved in guest profiles to anticipate guest needs for future stays.

Special requests and guest preferences can also be noted through direct interactions with staff (via email, phone or in person) and manually recorded in guest profiles. If a guest requests extra pillows, note their pillow preference in their profile. When a guest asks for local recommendations, their interests can be recorded. If a guest mentions it’s their anniversary, that should be noted too.

Ancillary Services

Ancillary services or on-property purchases can provide clues about guests’ interests. When point-of-sale (POS) systems are integrated with the PMS, these purchases are recorded automatically on guest folios, but services can be recorded on a guest’s profile manually too.

Imagine a guest utilizes your spa services during their stay, and their delight upon check-out when they receive a small sample of spa product to enjoy at home. Or perhaps you’ve noticed a guest simply loves your blueberry breakfast muffins, so why not give them one for the road when they leave? If a guest has a morning paper preference, make sure that’s the one delivered before they even have to ask.

Keeping track of the ancillary services customers enjoy helps lodging operators to surprise and delight guests, as well as target offers more effectively.

Social Media

It’s a pretty safe bet that most travelers use Facebook and/or Twitter and/or Instagram or some other combination of social networks, which makes social media an obvious place to look for information about your guests.

Are we actually talking about stalking your guests online? Not really… Think of it more like eavesdropping — something hotel staff have long been trained to do in order to serve guests intuitively. But to avoid crossing the line from intuitive to creepy, only gather information that can actually be used to improve the guest experience.

There’s nothing creepy about profiling guests based on their likes, shares or comments on your hotel’s own posts and campaigns. Whether a guest likes or shares a post about your special holiday package, leaves a comment drooling over a photo of your delicious waffles, or tweets about why they loved their stay, these interactions help to reveal the identities of your guests.

Some properties also look guests up online manually, checking the guest’s Facebook page, LinkedIn account or Twitter feed to find out what their interests are in order to enhance their stay. For example, if a guest is a coffee connoisseur, the hotel can surprise them with a small bag of locally roasted beans to take home. Imagine a couple’s delight upon discovering a bottle of wine and congratulatory note waiting in their room on their anniversary weekend.

Modern CRM (customer relationship management) tools can track guests online automatically to help build rich customer profiles.

Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are evolving — in particular, those of independent properties — moving from strict, points-based systems to more flexible programs that cater to the modern traveler’s desire for instant gratification and relevant rewards. As mentioned above, when a guest joins a hotel’s loyalty program they are usually more willing to share personal information with the understanding that they will receive more personalized service and perks in return.

Modern loyalty programs can help lodging operators learn about customers’ travel habits, spending and preferences, and tailor reward programs, offers and future service to guests more successfully.

Guest Email Communications

From booking confirmations that invite guests to customize their stay with special extras or upgrades, to post-stay surveys and campaigns, strong calls to action compel customers to engage with email communications, and the resulting bookings, click-throughs and comments tell you a lot about your guests.

We’ve blogged before about how to maximize customer engagement with pre-stay and post-stay email communications, so check out those posts for some helpful tips.

Data Management

While guest data is critical in personalizing the guest experience, it’s not very useful without an easy way to access it. The right data management platform is key to sorting, analysing and acting on data for personalizing service and targeting campaigns to the right customer at the right time. This is where modern PMS, CRM and marketing automation systems come in.

PMS support personalized service through detailed guest profiles that include stay history, demographics, preferences and comments about the guest. And guest management features like pop-up reminders and reservation alarms for staff, VIP flagging and automated guest emails help staff cater to individual guests’ needs.

Marketing automation solutions take gathering and acting upon guest data to the next level, automatically aggregating data from other hotel systems (like PMS, POS and CRM systems) as well as from social media and online review sites to create extremely comprehensive guest profiles.

With such rich guest data at their fingertips, hoteliers can surprise and delight each and every guest.

Hotel Website Design Trends for 2016

For lodging operators who are thinking about sprucing up their property’s website in the year ahead, here are some important current and emerging website trends that are particularly relevant to hospitality and tourism businesses.

Each trend highlighted below helps to tell a hotel’s story — which, due to travelers’ desire for unique experiences and personalization, is now more important than ever.

Clean, Simple User-Oriented Design

The user experience (UX) is a core focus of Web design. According to Google research, websites that are visually complex are less effective; users prefer websites that are easy to use and understand, and this means uncluttered visual design, simple and intuitive site navigation, easy-to-read copy, clear calls to action, and a smooth online booking process.

Flat and semi-flat design, large images, clear typography and lots of clean space are popular elements of simple yet striking websites. The Calgary Attractions website is a great example of a simply beautiful design, created with the user in mind.

Hero Images

As mentioned above, big images work well with simple, clean designs and are excellent at telling stories too. Whether it’s a full-screen background image or an image slider spanning the width of the page, a hero image is basically a large banner image placed front and center on a webpage and is the first thing a visitor sees when they land on your site.

The beautiful centrepiece photos on the Galapagos Reservations website have stolen our hearts!

Galapagos Reservations

Hero images should relate directly to the content of your website and should ideally be professional photos of your business rather than stock photography. It’s important to use sharp, high-quality images when photos are displayed so prominently, but don’t forget to optimize image files for fast page-load times and mobile devices.

Video Headers and Backgrounds

The practice of using video (without sound) for page headers and backgrounds has been gaining popularity over the last couple of years as browser technology has advanced and Internet speeds increased. Video is dynamic and engaging and perhaps the very best way to convey an experience — so it makes a lot of sense for lodging and tour operators to adopt this trend on their websites.

When adding a video background or header to a website, it’s important to use a widely-supported video filetype for compatibility with various browsers. And test video backgrounds on mobile devices; if the user experience is degraded, it’s better to automatically substitute the video for a still image on mobile.

A Personal Touch

Have you noticed that modern websites are all starting to look similar? This is in part due to popular patterns and themes emerging from responsive design and content management systems like WordPress. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — in fact, the Google research mentioned above found that people prefer sites with familiar design principles.

However, we do also appreciate uniqueness and creativity. Adding a personal touch to your website — like clever customizations to a WordPress theme, custom-drawn illustrations, or simply professional photos rather than stock photography — adds authenticity and personality to your site and makes you stand out from the crowd.

Wyatt’s Hotel takes a simple yet effective approach to showcasing its character through beautiful full-screen photos of the property. And we love their pretty peacock illustration (scroll down on their homepage).

Wyatt's Hotel

Captivating Animation

Movement is another effective way to engage and captivate viewers (and we’re not talking about garish flash animations or GIFS like the dancing banana).

We’re talking about animation that enhances storytelling and is more interactive.

Scrolling websites lend well to animated scrolling effects. Subtle scroll animations, such as elements and objects that slide or fade into place as the user scrolls down the page, as well as parallax scrolling (where background elements move slower than those in the foreground, creating an illusion of depth and movement) result in a smooth and memorable user experience.

The Inn of the Rockies website is a nice example of subtle scrolling animation, with headings and content blocks that slide in smoothly as the user scrolls down the page, as well as eye-catching hover effects.

Cinemagraphs (photos with moving elements) are becoming trendy too. Created in GIF format (yes, the GIF is actually back, but better than ever), cinemagraphs use less bandwidth than videos and are quite spellbinding. We love how the Island Plantation website uses cinemagraphs to magically transport you to their resort.

Cool Typography

The visual presentation of words is getting more attention with strong fonts, bold statements and the integration of text and images.

Google Fonts makes cool typefaces accessible to all. When choosing fonts and getting creative with text, make sure that typography reflects the style and personality of your business, is easy to read, contrasts adequately with the background, and is consistent throughout your website (don’t use too many different fonts).

The Calgary Attractions website places words on hero images, the bold font matching the style of the website and prairie city perfectly. Using words in this way makes it instantly clear to visitors what the website is all about, and it looks great too.

Calgary Attractions

So there you have it — our rundown of popular Web design techniques as we head into 2016. As with all trends, don’t just follow along because it’s cool; try out the ones you like and that work for your brand and your customers.

You may have noticed that responsive design is not included on the above list. That’s because by now responsive or mobile-friendly website design is more a rule than a trend. If a website isn’t mobile-optimized, it’s simply missing out on a big chunk of business.

Need help getting your website ready for the year ahead? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

How Independent Hotels Can Boost Bookings This Valentine’s Day

Love and travel go hand in hand and so many properties take advantage of Valentine’s Day to attract more bookings. In fact, as a hotel, it can be hard to stand out among all the other hotels touting red roses, bubbles and chocolates.

To be irresistible, try doing something a little different. Whether promotions are limited to Valentine’s Day weekend, the week, or available to guests throughout the month of love, here are some ideas for attracting more guests this Valentine’s Day.

Create Enticing Packages

It’s true that guests expect classic add-ons like red roses, wine and chocolates with romance packages, but if you want your Valentine’s Day package to stand out, go above and beyond the usual…

Think Local: What’s special about your destination or property? Is it the unbeatable skiing? Your award-winning dining? Think about the features that set your location or hotel apart — your unique selling proposition (USP) — and incorporate it into the design and marketing of your package.

You can get really creative; for example, if your destination offers hot air balloon rides, consider partnering up with a tour operator to offer a “Love is in the Air” package that includes a balloon ride. Or provide tickets to a big show and include dinner for two for the ultimate date night package. If your property boasts a pretty lakeshore or beautifully landscaped grounds in the Southern Hemisphere, why not create a romantic package that includes a picnic lunch, complete with a wicker picnic basket and a cozy blanket?

Think Beyond Couples: Valentine’s Day is often a tad tedious for singles, so tempt them to spoil themselves with an offer that focuses on friends — like a “Girls’ Night Out” package that includes tickets to a show. How about a “Girls’ Night In” package with free in-room movie rentals, chocolates, wine and popcorn? Or tempt singles to indulge with a spa package for friends, or a package that includes a fun activity such as free canoe or bike rentals, horseback riding or amusement park tickets.

Romantic evenings out are few and far between for parents of young children, so a romantic package (perhaps offering a couples massage and a candlelit dinner for two) that includes babysitting could entice family travelers that would have otherwise stayed home.

Throw a Fancy Party

Another way to stand out is to host a big event. Whether it’s a masquerade ball, an old-fashioned barn dance, or a carnival like Hotel Figueroa’s “Love, A Fair” held last year, people love to celebrate and Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse.

Make tickets available to locals, and include entrance with your Valentine’s Day package for overnight guests (which could also work to turn some of the locals into overnight guests).

Hosting such an event provides a great opportunity for boosting F&B revenue as well as overnight bookings, and makes for a great marketing and publicity opportunity too.

Organize Fun Activities for Your Guests

Throwing a fancy party does require a significant amount of effort and might not be right for all properties, but you don’t have to host a big event to get noticed.

Consider organizing special Valentine’s Day activities that are available to your guests, paid or free, or as part of your Valentine’s Day packages. Some ideas for activities include meditation or yoga classes, cooking classes, dance classes, romantic movie screenings, wine tastings, a love-themed happy hour, bocce ball tournament, or paint (and sip) night.

Share the Love on Social Media and Your Blog

Simply joining the conversation does wonders for boosting engagement and reach (and ultimately bookings). Use your social media platforms and blog to share romantic ideas and suggestions, such as the most romantic local date spots, gift ideas and fun activities for couples. Ask your followers to weigh in with their own ideas.

You could even create a hashtag like #myperfectdate and ask followers to share the story of their best date or how they met their significant other for the chance to win a hotel gift voucher or date night.

Finally, promote your Valentine’s Day packages, events and activities on your social media platforms and blog too, as well as on your website, via your e-newsletter, online ads and OTAs. Include enticing images to stand out from the crowd and engage your customers’ emotions. And use keywords like “romantic,” “gift,” “chocolates,” and “Valentine’s Day” to boost organic search rankings.

Valentine’s Day can be a lucrative event for hotels that put a little love and effort into their campaigns — after all, love is a two-way street!