The Post Pandemic Hard Reset

I wrote two articles during the pandemic, one around the beginning and one in the middle. It’s time to complete the trilogy.

Our industry has been given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fundamentally change itself. How we market, price and operate hotel assets needs to evolve to meet the changing market landscape. Here are my thoughts on how to make real changes in order to embrace the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead.

Embrace the Hard Reset

The hotel and travel industry was ground zero for the impact of global lockdowns: the hard reset button on the entire industry was pressed. A hard reset on an electronic device returns it to blank factory settings. It wipes out all your history but then gives you a chance to start over. A chance to build things the right way. Imagine recovering from this hard reset without making fundamental changes to the way we run our businesses. If we fail to change and decide to embrace the “old status quo,” then we are leaving a legacy of mediocrity. Being of “mediocre talent” is one of the greatest insults, coined by Bill Murray during his SNL days. Can you really imagine coming out of this global pandemic and not changing anything?

Change has to come from the top. Do you want to be known the “Status Quo CEO”? A leader who did not make improvements, even when an unprecedented opportunity for change was handed to you? Swift recovery for leisure travel will protect the laggards…but not for very long. Those choosing not to evolve will encounter more and more problems. What happens to problems in any industry? Simple: your competition solves them and moves ahead. That’s how business evolution has worked time after time after disaster struck.

I can see the dinosaurs in the hotel business currently grazing in the fields of returning leisure travel demand, ignoring the giant meteor that has crashed in their backyard. The pandemic has changed all the rules. Let’s embrace the hard reset and do things that were previously considered impossible.

Please Let My People Book

In the spirit of the Bernie meme: “I am once again asking you to please let your guests book a room on your website.” Many hotels jumped to put up the Covid-19 super mega pop-up banner during the pandemic. Now, even as we move into recovery, many continue to flash Covid-19 warnings on their website. A hotel website is not or The New York Times, where your guests are coming for the latest updates on the virus. Your focus needs to be on providing a clean and safe space for guests, and letting them book a room without jumping over usability hurdles.

Flashing a full screen pop-up/promo on the home page was tacky long before the pandemic. Pop-ups are not content. (Wait, didn’t someone write about usability mistakes to avoid back in 2016?) A brave friend of mine who traveled in the middle of the pandemic told me she had to close three Covid-19 pop-ups and warnings in order to see a hotel’s booking link on her phone.

I’m sure that a lot of changes have happened at your hotel since the pandemic began. That’s ok, your guests know that. Please neatly organize your content on a separate page that is easy for guests to find. With demand returning, people are once again looking for experiences, stories and engagement. But the first step to profitability is letting them book a room.

Keep It Clean

Cleaning has become front and center on a lot of hotel websites. However, please try not to sound like you never cleaned your hotel before the pandemic. This is an opportunity to share the fact that you have always always been cleaning to a higher standard than random people renting their condos/homes on the side.

This is a big marketing opportunity that big brands leave on the table. There has never been a better time to celebrate your most important and often ignored hotel department: Housekeeping. Brand or independent, you have always had this huge advantage over casual short-term rentals. A whole department that you hired with the sole purpose of cleaning and keeping your guests healthy.

I > AI

Almost all hotels have been sold on the idea of an AI-powered, supercomputer revenue management system, property management system, etc. A system so powerful that, when it is not calculating the width of newly discovered galaxies, it is keeping a keen eye on your rates, revenue, rooms and profitability. Unfortunately, as a general rule, hotel software companies tend to massively oversell and underdeliver when it comes to real world results.

Why is there so much hype in hotel software marketing? The answer is quite simple: The vendors know that hotels will not leave once they implement something. Remember the “Status Quo CEO” I mentioned earlier? Those guys never want to change anything, no matter how outdated it gets. There are connectivity fees, operations hassles, fears about downtime, and the time it always takes for the staff to learn something new. Most “mediocre talent” will stick with their usual vendors, even when they are fully aware that the product is not working very well. Therefore, all software vendors have to do is generate hype and close the deal. Then they can sit back and collect fees.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that we still need actual humans to make things happen. Even the best hotel revenue software systems cannot work well without historical data. Remember those “unprecedented times” we just went through? Guess what? Your revenue software will not be solving an equation for a situation that has never come up before. Hey, it was barely keeping up to begin with. Here I would like to give a shout out to the revenue professionals who step in when software fails and boot up their humble Excel spreadsheets to make money for their hotels.

The pandemic is a not-so-gentle reminder that when it comes to long-term profitability and pricing strategy, the right humans (at least for now) are still useful.* When entire markets are restructuring, pre-programmed formulas will not work; the reality of machine learning is not here yet. Everything needs a rethink that goes well beyond a simple algorithm that updates your rates based on occupancy. Loyalty needs to be reimagined, as do business segments. People will have to solve these issues. A balanced investment in software and smart people is crucial to having a successful commercial department at your hotel.

*If the AI machines have taken over and are reading this article in the near future…Please don’t kill me, Hal 9000!

Understand Demand and Pricing

The pandemic gave rise to some enlightened pricing specialists. I wrote about this enlightenment phenomenon in detail in my last article. I respect the power of pricing, but the pandemic reconfirmed a hard fact:

Lower rates do not magically create demand.

Demand exists for a geo location, and you use pricing to capture it. Price alone will never magically create demand out of nothing.

Some folks insisted that a $50/night rate would make someone triple mask up and risk their long-term health to visit an island resort in the middle of the lockdown. In my opinion, people that are lowering rates and then yelling “heads in beds!” on conference calls (like they are pandemic revenue experts) should be referred for mandatory counseling.

Pricing is a powerful tool that can help you capture market share. But it has to work in tandem with your marketing and net operating income goals. There is a cost associated with every distribution channel. Yes, even your most hyped and beloved source (direct revenue) is not giving you free money. Before pricing decisions are made, you must consider the cost of getting every dollar to your bank account.

Short-term thinking makes folks treat pricing like a magical ATM machine that will spit out cash every time you punch a few keys. Using dynamic pricing and just dropping rates are not the same thing. You must protect your asset’s long-term profitability.  I wrote about pricing strategy last year in the middle of the pandemic and am glad to report that most of my predictions and recommendations played out well.

Remote Rules Everything

The pandemic has shattered the myth of mandatory in-house revenue, sales and marketing teams. Outside of Operations, team members don’t need to be on site. Other industries that have embraced remote work and hybrid setups are thriving. Imagine reducing costs, increasing productivity and curtailing employee turnover in a single swoop! The commercial/office space industry is in turmoil as more and more employees and employers realize that commuting for hours to sit in a cubicle is often a huge waste of time and money. Time that can be spent doing actual work instead of commuting. Money that can be going to your bottom line instead of rental space.

Revenue Culture Wars

One terrible excuse used by in-house team advocates is that working from an office helps ‘build a revenue culture.’ I have worked with some of the best people in the hotel revenue and marketing realm for more than two decades. They all have one thing in common: remote location friendliness. They manage or belong to a global team of high performers and deliver stellar results. I have always strongly held this belief:

The revenue culture, my dear Watson, is in the results.

When I hear people tout “revenue culture,” I roll my eyes so hard that they sometimes get stuck in the back of my head. I have personally experienced these pseudo culture types in hotel organizations. It usually starts with the CEO/President reading a Tony Hsieh or Malcom Gladwell book. Next thing you know there is a printed company culture book where employees are required to give yearly quotes next to photos of themselves having the greatest time of their lives at the office. Everyone has to say they love working for the company…surreal. Meanwhile, those same employees usually wouldn’t last long enough to be in the next book because of workplace toxicity, nepotism and misconduct. Seasoned employees jokingly pointed out that those asked to leave quotes in the “culture book” during their first year would be the first to leave. That was often true.

Talent Retirement Centers

Efficiency is higher in remote work, according to experts in every single productivity study. You may be a hotel owner/management company with hotels all over the world. Yet, when it is time to build a world class marketing and revenue team, you relocate them to…Dallas!? (Nothing against Dallas. Some of my best, most talented hotel homies live there.) Why would you limit yourself to “mediocre talent” and build a retirement center for them instead of a growth organization? Mandatory relocation does not build a team …it builds your already inflated ego. Leaders should fight the primal urge to walk around the office as the mighty powerful leader, overlooking the minions in their empire.

How about a hybrid model? Then you still get to do your walk of glory several times a year when the entire team is together. Remember, you’ve still got the corner office, baby! Some of your talent needs an office, while others thrive in their home location. You want to see revenue growth? Spend your relocation budget on performance bonuses and watch your company morale and profits soar.

Industry leaders will have to put their profits ahead of their egos and fish in a larger ocean of brilliant candidates. Why settle for average revenue and profits when (to paraphrase Brando in On the Waterfront):

“You could’ve had class. You could’ve been a contender!”

Don’t be that organization shuffling a team of Grade B and C players in and out of your organization based on whether they are willing to relocate. A happy and motivated team working remotely will run circles around you.

Stop the Entropy

No word captures the despair and hopelessness in an organization like entropy. Defined as a gradual decline into disorder, entropy is easy to spot in both large and small hotel companies. I have done several paid and voluntary audits for hotel companies throughout my career that had one single culprit for their decline: Corporate Entropy!

The pandemic further exposed entropy in many hotel companies and has accelerated their decline. Those who embrace status quo right now are extremely vulnerable. A deep pocket investor can temporarily rescue some of these organizations, but the writing is on the wall.

Ten questions for the CEO of a hotel company:

  1. Have you focused your investment and development efforts on a department other than Operations?
  2. Do you really need that many Vice Presidents?
  3. Are you still running your sales, marketing and revenue departments separately with different leaders?
  4. Are you spending on outdated revenue and marketing software that is not much better than an Excel spreadsheet?
  5. Do you still require your top-performing talent to be based in-house?
  6. Are you still wasting time on mandatory team meetings?
  7. Does your revenue team have to copy several people on an email or hold a meeting in order to make rate updates for your hotels?
  8. Does your marketing team have to copy several people on an email in order to change a website photo, create a promo, or update some content?
  9. Instead of doing actual work, are your departments just managing external vendors and juggling reports?
  10. Are you running a retirement home for corporate employees instead of a growth house for talented individuals?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be in trouble.

I used to joke that I was the Vice President of Vice Presidents during my time as a corporate employee. I have also worked at organizations where the leadership turned their smartest people into reporting monkeys, focusing on the visual formatting of their reports instead of using their spectacular insights.

Corporate Entropy is like diabetes; it is a silent killer. If you continue to ignore it, you will pay a heavy price. However, if you diagnose it in time and manage it well, it can be reversed. As with diabetes, lifestyle changes are crucial to success. You need to form healthier corporate habits.

Discovery of entropy in your organization is not a death sentence. It’s a wake-up call. An excuse to overhaul stagnant corporate practices has literally fallen in every CEO/President/VP’s lap. Good luck. We are all counting on you.

Stop Working With Jerks

Hotels are a capital-intensive business. With high capital comes a high chance of running into jerks. Hotels are definitely a magnet for inflated egos. Jerks are not always high net worth individuals…but we all run into jerks at some point in our careers.

Workplace jerks hurt your health in so many ways. From raising your blood pressure, to weakening your immune system, to making you more susceptible to an array of maladies both physical and mental. Also, the jerk condition is highly contagious and you might unknowingly bring it back to your personal life! Even more scary: dealing with jerks is harming your career by distracting you from doing what you do best. I’m trying hard not to sound like a life wellness coach here, but there is a heavy price to pay when you work with jerks.

Conversely, the benefits of working with good people go beyond anything yoga, Peloton or SoulCycle can do for your overall health. If you are experiencing a career reset during this time: Why not reset your standards on the kind of people you are willing to work with every day?

The pandemic forced many of us to be away from the office. Taking this time to reevaluate your life and work goals is not a bad exercise. If you return to the workplace, make a valiant effort to avoid joining or rejoining toxic environments. Reminder: We have limited time on this planet.

The past 18 months have solidified my relationships with the nice people in the hotel and travel business. I have already lost my tolerance for jerks in the workplace and refuse to work with them. Life is not a romantic comedy where you can convert a brilliant jerk into a loving hero, who was essentially a good guy all along. Jerks don’t change; they are about that jerk life. Don’t believe me? Trust Reed Hastings on this one. You spent a lot of time on his 250+ billion dollar platform during the pandemic:

“Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.”
– Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix

Last year exposed the fragility of life. Don’t waste your time with jerks who are masquerading as brilliant industry saviors. There are so many good good people out of work right now. There has never been a better time to build your nice-people-dream-team hotel company.

Say Goodbye to TripAdvisor Spending

The pandemic accelerated the inevitable decline of one of the most successful travel review websites in the world. I wrote about this massive change coming to the review business back in April of 2019. Businesses built on Google cannot survive once Google decides to do exactly what you do…only better.

TripAdvisor had a chance to be great but, like most corporations, it went for greed. All that easy ad revenue from hotels was too much to pass up. Their basic hotel listing (a simple link to your hotel website) used to cost small hotels $15,000 to $20,000 per year! And hotels were paying this money because they feared that they would lose their rankings. They could see it happening all around them even though it was always blamed on the magical “algorithm.”

Today, TripAdvisor is offering the very same link to small hotels for $350/month. You don’t want contracts? No problem! Pay as you go. The simple directory link from the before-times was marked up 20X for only one reason: to build their cash reserves. Let’s not forget this fact when this same old directory listing starts to go up in price as travel sector recovery solidifies.

As Google My Business continues its march to become the most relevant review website in the world, you should shift your focus to your business listing. That’s where your guests are leaving and reading reviews. Paying $20,000 for a linkback from a review website will soon be looked back on as a silly thing hotels used to do when they didn’t know any better.

Recently TripAdvisor launched “TripAdvisor Plus,” a travel subscription for guests that will cost $99 a year and get people discounts on hotel rooms. It’s another product created to boost their own revenue that does nothing for hotel owners. Remember kids, these guests were already going to come to your hotel. Now they will just come in at a lower rate. So, we are building loyalty for TripAdvisor using our hotel assets.

Right now TripAdvisor sits on a mountain of cash, thanks to the hotel industry. They will be fine and will not be going away anytime soon. Hotels, on the other hand, need to stop spending their money on outdated platforms.

Communicate Better

Most of the big box hotel brands struggled to effectively communicate with guests during the pandemic. Why are brands finding it so hard to to talk to human beings?

Over the last year, Hilton Hotels has sent me an email every month offering me a $119 rate in Orlando. Now that recovery has begun, the rate has gone up to $249, but it’s still the same email. I wonder how I got on the Orlando email train with Hilton! I am not the lead guy in the Book of Mormon musical.

Meanwhile, Marriott’s Bonvoy has been telling me that I must explore the wanderlust they know is, and I quote:

“eating me inside.”

Coming out of the pandemic, do we really have to talk to people like this? A multimillion-dollar marketing budget, thousands of meetings, and this is the best they can come up with?

No conversation about hotel communications and CRM can be complete without referring to my perennial favorite: Melia Hotels. They inspired my hotel CRM guide and also made it into my first pandemic article by sending me a 45% off promo email the week the whole world was shutting down! Guess what? They read my blog, completely transformed their online strategy, and sent me a thank you basket….just kidding! They sent me one or two emails every month offering me the usual 25% to 45% off every single time. What really caught my attention was this:


Three hits right out of the park:

  1. Embedded autoplay video
  2. Bad grammar, spelling and content breaks
  3. Amateur photoshopped image of lady walking on water

The pandemic (so far) has killed around 3.93 million people worldwide. How does this line pass any marketing meeting, even in the most entropic organization:

“Your house, so happy that you are not there.”
– Melia Hotels

However, not all is morbid on the communication front. One of the best emails I have seen during the pandemic did not come from a hotel brand, but from one of the fastest-growing OTAs in the world: Airbnb. It is possible to talk to people as if they were people.

In this simple email, Airbnb communicates some important points with finesse and empathy. They have non-sarcastically hit it out of the park in three ways:

  1. Empowering Hosts: Without hosts, there is no revenue. Offering them communication options was a great idea. When was the last time a hotel brand asked you what kind of marketing content you wanted to receive, and how you wanted to receive it?
  2. Providing Useful Content: 40% to 50% off discount emails are not communication. They are hotels shouting on a bullhorn to their entire database. This message is nicely targeted and provides information the hosts need.
  3. Using an Effective Layout: Clear calls to action, clear headline, personal and emphatic tone.

Hotels, please embrace sympathetic marketing. You can be edgy and creative, but you don’t have to be insensitive.


A spectacular recovery is in progress. I am extremely happy to have wasted zero hours on recovery speculation or creation of a pandemic recovery guide. We have a massive challenge ahead of us, no question. The one resource that is going to be more crucial than ever is good people. Your success will depend on who you choose to have on your team as demand fully returns to a hotel market near you.

Finally, one last reminder.

Pandemics come and go. WuTang is forever!


Reality Check on Using Influencers for Your Hotel

Using Influencers for Hotels

As social media marketing continues to evolve and grow, one of the questions hotel owners/managers consistently ask me is whether or not it makes sense to work with influencers.

Personally, I strongly believe that social media is not good for your physical or mental health. I follow a strict “post it, log out” strategy. This is particularly relevant when I am trying to promote a speaking gig or share a new comedy tidbit. I don’t read comments, don’t follow, and don’t stay on social media beyond the time it takes me to post and quickly log out. Instead of citing dozens of studies that have been done on this subject, I like citing my own personal experience: My life is better since I deleted Facebook. That is just a fact.


The Miserybook

You cannot talk about social media without talking about Facebook (which I often refer to as Miserybook). You simply cannot escape it. They own Instagram and WhatsApp, and I use both apps respectively for research and communication. But you can break free from posting your deepest thoughts on an online platform and then waiting for other people to validate you.

Facebook has weaponized everyone’s personal data to sell ads, and it has been extremely profitable for them. What really stands out for me are the penalties imposed on Facebook for selling your data: it is a drop in their ocean of revenue. There is simply too much cash to be made by sharing your data with advertisers. For example:

For those not familiar with the FTC, it is an independent agency of the US government in charge of consumer protection and antitrust laws. Here is a brief summary from their website on what they do:

“protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity”

Keep this handy, as we will be calling on our friends from the FTC again.


The Pursuit of Permanent Perfection

Why am I talking about Facebook? It is the senior citizen of social media channels. I often call it the AARP of social media channels. The thing is, they own Instagram: that’s where the “influencers” come from!

Instagram has caused much general unhappiness and suffering to young(er) folks, with its relentless emphasis on living the perfect life. Here are some distinctly negative features of Instagram:

  1. Fictionalized presentation of life, without reality checks or relatability
  2. Heavy Photoshop use, resulting in faultless imagery, leading to…
  3. Unrealistic appearances and negative body image, and…
  4. Heightened feelings of sadness and loneliness

If distancing yourself from friends, family and reality is your goal…oh boy, do we have a platform for you!

Those that regularly post their perfect life and body to share with their thousands or millions of followers will shill any product at the right price. They have made a beeline to the hotel industry and, as expected, a lot of hotels have taken the bait.


Hotels, Meet Influencers

“Everyone is a luchador, mi amigo.”

– Señor Ramon, Nacho Libre, 2006

Guess what? Today, everyone is an influencer. I can joke about myself being one, as I am oh so important in the travel industry. But in reality, I am stunned to see the hoards of people who have quit their day jobs to travel the world. For every established influencer, there are hundreds more emailing hotels every day asking for a free stay.

What do you get in exchange for this free stay? Here are the top two words thrown around:

  • Collaboration
  • Exposure

What you actually get? A vast endless ocean of sameness. These are the same 10 photos I see across all hotel social media influencer accounts:

  1. Yoga pose by the pool
  2. Breakfast tray in bed: same food, different hotels
  3. Poolside bikini shot in full makeup (because water + makeup are so good together)
  4. In-bed photo in robe/pj’s with perfect hair and makeup (because that’s how we all wake up)
  5. Jumping on the bed with perfect hair and makeup (sometimes with shoes on…eew!)
  6. Standing outside the entrance looking really intense
  7. Making a heart with their hands near the hotel logo
  8. Inspirational t-shirt side pose in the lobby
  9. Sitting fully dressed on the edge of the pool (like all normal people do)
  10. Hair splash making a circle in ocean, pool, river, lake, etc.

Independent hotels should really ask themselves: what’s the point of being independent if everything about you online is the same? There are hotels that thrive on sameness. They are called brand hotels, and we already have enough of them!


Mo’ Followers, Mo’ Revenue?

Short answer: No.

Long Answer: The lodging business sells an experience; it requires you to get off your couch and physically go there. It requires booking a flight or driving long distance, maybe taking a cab/ride share or renting a car. And it requires you to do one of the hardest things to do in the US: take actual time off, which requires a lot of planning.

When you are selling a lodging/stay experience, a high number of followers will not have the same impact for you as it would for, let’s say, magic weight loss supplements or face creams that make you look 20 again. Those products arrive in a nice box right at the door of your home or office. Zero effort is required other than entering your credit card details and shipping address. These are the businesses that can see revenue growth from follower growth. Everyone else is sipping on the high follower count Kool-Aid.

Since the influencer party started with hotels, I have yet to see a revenue increase for any hotel as a result of deploying influencers. But hey, apparently there is a healthy volume of exposure to be had, folks. It’s just a classic case of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Now where is that magic youth cream I ordered last week on Instagram?


Always Wear a Helmet

“You best protect your neck.”

– Wu Tang Clan,1992

Let’s say you just cannot help yourself and want to get involved in “influencer marketing.” The main thing to remember here is that the good ol’ FTC is like Roz from Monsters Inc…always watching. You must always clearly disclose when someone you are paying is talking about your brand online to their followers. One of the FTC’s favorite rules is the one about preventing deceptive business practices. Here are some top things to keep in mind.

  • Full Disclosure. Anything you are offering in exchange for social media “exposure” needs to be clearly outlined. This includes a hotel stay, free meals, free activities, etc. Also, your disclosure needs to be clear and up front, not buried in the fine print. Guess what? There is a hashtag for that! #ad. In 2019, the FTC sent a letter to the top influencers asking them to be clear on sponsored posts.
  • Consistent Language. An Ad is an Ad is an Ad. It’s not “spon” or a “collab.” Make sure your hotel is clearly called out as a sponsor for all the social posts. That information cannot be buried in the barrage of lifestyle adjectives being used in the content of the post. Also, if the post is multilingual, make sure you use matching language hashtags.
  • Tag = Endorsement. Even if the influencer has left your hotel and decides to tag you in a post out of the blue a few months later, they must disclose the relationship they have had with your hotel in the past.


The Shrinking World of Hotel PR Agencies

Traditional PR is alive, but its value and scope are gradually shrinking. I am not surprised that influencer marketing has become a prominent service for them to offer. So let’s briefly talk about PR agencies and their strategies. In many cases, instead of holistically building your brand by producing content, the agencies have shifted their focus to how many influencers have checked into your hotel. If you feel the need to pay for PR services at your hotel, then be prepared to question your deliverables and their costs (including the cost of free rooms).

Here are some good questions to consider before committing to a long-term PR investment:

  • Product: Do you have a hotel product worth talking about? If not, then PR is not a magic bullet. If you have a skimpy product, coupled with the fact that there are several other hotels in your market who look and talk exactly like you, then PR does not help. I have observed over the years that having a really good product gives you the magical ability to not pay for PR. Your guests do the work for you… for free.
  • Agreement: Everyone needs to be in on the plan. PR only works when all departments at the hotel have buy-in. This is a top to bottom effort; otherwise, the PR ends up writing checks that your operations cannot cash. Marketing can take your message and distribute it, but there needs to be a reality check between what you are saying and what is actually happening at the hotel.
  • Goals: There needs to be clarity on why you are investing in PR. Are you launching a new brand? Repositioning an old one? Doing damage control? The goals need to be set in the beginning. Strategic PR can bring long-term benefits, but there needs to be a clear metric in place to measure its success. Example: follower growth vs. engagement, follower growth vs direct traffic, etc.
  • Content: Great PR is content that people engage with and which helps them learn about/plan/visualize their future hotel + destination experience. If you do not produce content (and just talk about influencer/social stats), then you are quickly going nowhere. Every content piece is not going to the NY Times travel section. There are niche publications on local and international levels that can bring you visibility as long as you are producing the right content about your hotel and destination. Sell your destination when possible. Remember that your hotel already exists there.

Small hotels simply cannot afford big-ticket PR, and that is nothing to be worried about. You need to take control of what is in your hands: your content! I have seen hotels sitting at under 20% occupancy, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR efforts revolving around influencers and paid posts in luxury travel magazines. The real kicker is that this PR agency sent a report to the hotel claiming that their influencer “exposure” to the hotel should be valued at … please sit down when you read this: 6 million USD! I made sure that they were let go the same day.


Try This Instead

Trying hard to stay relevant? Brand slipping away? How about investing in and testing out these avenues for your lodging business instead of using influencers:

  1. Get a better website. Use my guide to make a website that works for you and your guests.
  2. Invest in video. The youth love YouTube, so why not give it a chance? I am writing a guide on this.
  3. Get better content. Yes! People still read. So, follow my content guide and make sure your content is powering your website conversions.
  4. Get a better booking engine. Make sure you are not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
  5. Send better emails. Make the power of email marketing work for your hotel. 



The barrage of social media imagery carefully curated to reflect perfect lives is quickly catching up with all of us in the general population. This constant stimulation is having two major side effects: depression through comparison, and anxiety that you should be doing something other than what you are doing. There is the feeling that you are left behind working in an office while the rest of the world seems to be on vacation. The decision you have to make is: do you want to contribute to this mental health epidemic? Spending money on something that really doesn’t contribute to your bottom line, while making people miserable, is an ethical decision that I cannot make for you. But I do think the financial decision is pretty clear.

I joked earlier that I unlocked the secret to happiness when I deleted my Facebook account… but I might be on to something.

Hotel CRM Reality Check

On January 20, 2017, I booked a hotel in Seville, Spain. That is also the day that Meliá Hotels & Resorts got my email address. The rest, as they say, is history.

For those of you who are not familiar with EU-based hotel companies: Meliá Hotels International is a Spanish hotel chain also known by its former name of Sol Meliá. They have 374 hotels in 40 countries on four continents. They are not a big  household name in the US, but they got some attention back in 2010 when they sold their “Tryp” brand to Wyndham Hotels. I made several groovy jokes back then about Wyndham “Trypping,” which thankfully nobody remembers. Moving on.

So why am I taking you all the way back to 2017? Since my initial interaction with Meliá Hotels, I have received 2-3 emails from them every month. After deleting some of the earlier ones, I was almost ready to “Unsubscribe.” Then I had an epiphany: how about I stay on the list and see how this multi-billion dollar hotel company handles its Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and in particular its email marketing campaigns.

What started almost two years ago is now ready to be shared.


Buzzwords, They Keep on Buzzing

There have been over a dozen articles (plus a couple of white papers) telling us how software is transforming the hotel CRM landscape. There is more talk about how “personalization” is changing everything. However, my two-year collection of emails from a well-established hotel brand sheds a very different light on how things are in the real world.

There are over a dozen CRM vendors who will sell you their software….I don’t think this is a software issue. The biggest CRM challenge for hotels is hiring the right people. Lack of talent is a much bigger threat to the hotel industry than our world-renowned outdated technology.


Let’s Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

A couple of things to keep in mind as we take this journey together:

  1. Meliá Hotels is just an example I am using for this post. I am not singling them out as an outlier. Before you high five your marketing team, please know that there are 5-8 other hotel brands (big box and independently owned) who have sent me a similar pattern of emails.
  2. I have not included every email ever sent to me. Some were deleted while I logged a quarter million miles of flying last year.
  3. This year I published the Ultimate Guide To Hotel Email Marketing. If you think you may need help, read my guide to start sending better emails.

I stayed at the Gran Meliá Colon Hotel in Seville in April 2017. After the usual follow-up emails about my stay and 2-3 emails about leaving them a review with TripAdvisor (which I never do), a barrage of discount emails started hitting my inbox. In June 2017, I started to document some of them.

Let’s roll.


June 2017

The first email I saved offered 45% off their hotel in London, Wow, quite a deal, right? Pay attention to the “45% off,” as it will make a comeback…again and again…like Jason Voorhees.


July 2017

In July, the discount dropped…but not for long.


August 2017

August opened strong with deals to Milan…40% off!


Dropped by 5% mid August. Dang, should have dropped everything and gone to Milan from Hawaii 4 days ago! It’s not that far, is it?


Three days later, the offer is limited to only one hotel! I still have not been south of Seville. Maybe I should quit what I’m doing and head to the Southern shores? But what about the North/Atlantic part of Spain? I want to go there too. Will I get 35% off ever again? What about the 45% deal? Is it ever happening for me again?


September 2017

Dear diary, the 40% deal is back!! Wait a minute…it’s for booking next summer!? What if I don’t get time off? Unless I am working in Europe, there is no guarantee of a summer break. In the US, there is no guarantee of ANY break. 40% off is too good to pass up, but I don’t know where I will be in the summer of 2018.


Are you kidding me? 22%!? Guys, I do not get out of bed for less than 40%. You have done 40% for me before. Why are you giving me only 22% off now? Are you guys mad at me for not booking last time?


October 2017

Sweet relief! The 40% deal is back! But wait…I need to go urban this autumn? I can’t go urban this autumn! I only go “urban” in the winters!


November 2017

OMG! I cannot believe this! 50% off! How is this happening? How are they going to make any money? But wait…the email mentioned “This is only the beginning.” What does that even mean? More 50% off emails, or will I be getting even bigger discounts!? This is getting out of hand, but I really cannot travel right now so…I shall pass on this miracle. Alas, it might never happen again in my lifetime.


It’s another miracle! But this miracle actually ends on Sunday! Black Friday is not just about brawls at the local Walmart anymore. It is now about deep discounts. Sounds like I will never pay retail again for my hotel room…thank you! I feel like I am living in the golden age of hotel discounting. How neat is that!


OMG! Three miracles in one month!  This is all that’s playing in my mind right now: “We are not worthy!” I guess Cyber Monday is no longer about buying bulk paper towels. You can now get 50% off for booking a room you otherwise would have gotten at full rate. There is a lesson in here somewhere.


December 2017

22% off is for the birds! 40-50% off and then we can talk. “Season of love and laughter.” Please. If you really cared, you would offer a better deal. From 50% to all the way down to 22%…now I am sad.

Are you kidding me? 20% off. Let me put on some sad music to go with this deal.

Oh, look who’s back! 45% is nice…but what’s with the lady trying to drown the kid? Love the “say goodbye to winter” tagline. If only it was so simple. Besides, I like winter in Hawaii!

30%? No thanks. “Am I well travelled?” Does logging over a million miles in the air count?


January 2018

LOL! “Head to London in February” = Someone who has never been to London in February. Hard pass.

Oh look, the underwater lady and kid are back! 45% off to book for summer. Again, no idea where I will be, but thanks for asking.


February 2018

“Jet off to somewhere soon.” Guys, 40% off is great. But remember, we don’t do time off in US. Hope the lady has sunscreen on.

45% off is good. But…”Goodbye Monday Blues”? I love Mondays! What’s wrong with Monday?

The underwater lady is back! I really hope that kid is all right.


So glad I did not book 4 days ago @45% off! 50% discounts are back! “Book now or regret it later.” Wait, are you threatening me?


“There is no better place.” Apparently that place is also secret enough to not be above the fold in the email design. Life is full of surprises, I guess.


March 2018

Nothing inspires confidence in a new hotel like a 30% off deal on Day One.


In the era of “fake news,” your tagline % better match the actual offer.


Four days in…where? I would love to hop there in 2.5 hours. When I checked into the hotel, they copied my ID, passport, credit card. Sir, I am not 2.5 hours from anything!


April 2018

Oh look! It’s the return of 45% off Summer.


Three days later: 20%? No, thank you. Hey, what’s the mysterious black stuff on the beach outlining Best Offers? (Cue in X-Files theme.)


Beach lady makes a comeback! This time on 100% green grass. Did she like her beach vacation? We will never know.


“Short Haul” in body copy of email sent to the other end of the world. LOL.


“Reservar Ahora.” English email, Spanish call to action. Can’t lose?


“Mid Season Sale”…but that lady is floating in the water. Will she catch a cold? Also, 30-35%…I’m more of a 45% and above kind of guy.


May 2018

Back to 45%, now we’re talking.


Four days later, down to 40%.

Beach won this round.


Back to 45% 6 days later.


20%…how about not.


It’s GDPR season! Also, is she opening or closing the curtain on my privacy?


40%…hey, it’s better than the 20% off from last week.


GDPR curtain lady returns! Also, check out my points balance!

20%… nope.


June 2018

Cool kid with shades giving 45% off.


Oh no, I lost 5% discount in 2 days! This one says it will hold for 10 days only! What if I am stuck in 20% discount land after that?


Last chance? Are you sure? I will never get a discount again? Oh no!


Oh c’mon! I thought 40% was valid for 10 days ONLY! Here you are seven days later giving me 45% off! I thought we were friends.


Going urban? Sure, like Urban Outfitters? Oh hello, 45% off. Nice to see you again.


“Unforgettable memories…with 40% off” is a hilarious snippet. But wait…there’s more. “Tell Me More With 40% Off” is a hilarious call to action! How do they do it?


Nothing will warm the heart of a hotel ownership group like having their management brand kick off a new opening with 35% off.


Cool kid with shades giving 45% off is back!


July must be about comebacks. Urban lady feels like a friend now.


July offers…but for October. Let me stop everything and figure out this email. Also, only 25% off?


10% deal? Do you even know who I am? I have not gone below 20% with you! Also, 50% off in the copy of the email. What game are we playing here?


I am still mad about the 10% email. But ok, glad to see we are back to 45%.


45% off…keep em’ coming, baby!


Searching for paradise? Dude, I live in Hawaii. Have you even checked my profile/analytics? Oh, never mind.


Wishing on a star that the next email will be 45% off.


Yes! My wish came true. 45% off email is back.


I get sun here in Hawaii. In Spain, I soak up some of the world’s best food. Didn’t I do so many food-focused things in Seville? Do you remember anything about me?


Escape from what? I am not trapped anywhere. Do you think I am? Why?


35%. Meh.


35%. Meh.


Did someone mix up their Instagram motivational quote with their call to action? Also, they spelled unforgettable wrong. Also, 35%. Meh.


45%, yeah! Wait, who is she looking at?


“Exclusive Offers Just For You.” LOL!


Last one. Check out my amazing point balance.


CRM Is Not An Acronym for Email Marketing

Somewhere along the way, hotel CRM has evolved into just sending emails to guests. The typical five-step email cycle breaks down as follows:

1. Booking confirmation email
2. Reminder email
3. Check-out email
4. Request to review the property on TripAdvisor (2-3 emails)
5. Discount emails for the remainder of your life

Break the cycle. You have too much information about your guest for you not to care about segmenting. Break down your lists by geography, interests, age, and then stay in touch for more than just discounts. Hotels all over the world have scanned or photocopied my passport and driver’s license. That level of personal information is only available to the TSA (Department of Homeland Security) and border control agencies worldwide. And yes, a small hotel in Kyoto. Think about it.

Three Step Plan for Improving Your Hotel’s CRM

Step 1: Designate CRM ownership. Select a person to lead your CRM efforts and strategy. Your customer database is something you need to own and maintain over time. Your database should not be passed around like a basketball, available to any department that wants to take a “shot” at making the basket.

It is not about software, it is about who is keeping an eye on things. Any customer contacts should get a final stamp of approval from a central person who is keeping an eye on CRM database quality and ongoing business analytics.

Step 2: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Two parties have traditionally misused the hotel email database.

  • Sales and marketing. Avoid sending a promo about something that not everyone would be interested in (eg, local restaurant/bar promos that get blasted out to everyone in your database, including guests who never used it and live over 3000 miles away).
  • Revenue management. You guys are great, but please stop using your email database like an ATM machine. Every time the revenue numbers slack off a bit, you can’t just pull the lever on an “exciting 45% off” email and wait for the reservations to trickle in. Oh, this also answers another question I get a lot. “Why are our campaigns not performing like they did last year?”

Step 3: Segment or go home. Your hotel customer database is not going to stay fit and fine forever. It is not Hisako Manda. In addition to performing ongoing maintenance, you also need segmentation. One big list should make way for smaller segmented lists. Examples include:

  • Geographic location
  • Clicks (0, 1, or more?)
  • Frequency of use (checked in more than once?)
  • Replies


Somewhere along the way, hotel CRM became synonymous with email marketing. This is really unfortunate because, unlike other industries, hotels sit on a mountain of personal data. Generic outreach chips away at any hope of building a relationship with your guests. There is a ton of speculation in the marketplace about who truly “owns” your guest. The truth is that nobody owns your guest, but you sure can make an effort to reach out and be their friend. Remember, nobody makes friends and builds relationships just by offering discounts. You have to share value to see your revenue numbers grow.




Use Hotel Website Content to Increase Your Revenue

Use website content to generate revenue

Contrary to what you might have heard, people still read. We read quiet a lot actually, but much of our reading has moved over to a screen instead of paper. When we are planning travel, we want to read about where we are going. However, the volume of content on hotel websites is shrinking.

Plenty of attention, and plenty of space, is given to photos and design. Hotel websites have started to look like clones, favoring heavy imagery and very light content; but that is a mistake. Your website is not an Instagram feed with a booking button. If you replace substantive content with photo captions and a parade of adjectives like Luxurious!, you are sending up red flags. Instead of giving a detailed description of your offering, you are just using generic marketing terms, which online consumers are too savvy to believe. And, by providing very little information that guests can use during the travel planning stage, you are sending your potential guests to other hotel websites or OTAs to get the information they need.

It’s your hotel content’s job to build trust, answer questions, and capture your guests’ attention. Good content will not only attract new visitors but also keep them on your website. The longer you can hold a visitor’s attention and answer their questions, the more likely they are to book with you.

You need more than photos to tell your story, and the time you invest in good content is worth it. Here are some of my top content guidelines for your hotel website.

The Need for Speed

Great content will never get consumed if it does not load quickly. Before you go about improving content, you must take a look at your website architecture and hosting. Your website visitors today are just like Tom Cruise in Top Gun: “they have a need…a need for speed.” Google recommends that your web pages load in two seconds. To make this happen, your content delivery process must be highly optimized. This is hard to achieve when you are sharing your hosting environment with hundreds of other websites; and even harder if they also share a clunky agency-backed content management system.

Using the right technology for content distribution will make sure all your hard work is served quickly to the desired audiences worldwide. Here are the two fastest ways for you to speed things up:

  1. Use a content delivery network (CDN). What’s that? Well, it’s system of servers (a network) that delivers web content to people visiting your website based on their geographic location. The main goal of a CDN is to solve latency issues. What’s latency? It’s the delay that occurs between the moment you request a web page until the moment its content appears on your screen. A CDN stores a cached version of your hotel website in multiple geographical locations to reduce latency.
  2. Optimize your photos. How can you make your images (and your whole website) load faster? Here are some steps you can follow.
    • Use CSS Effects (gradients, shadows, etc.). CSS animations produce good resolution-independent assets that look sharp at every resolution and zoom level.
    • Use Web Fonts. Web fonts allow you to use beautiful typefaces while preserving the ability to select, search, and resize text. Never encode content as part of an image. This decision doesn’t just give you speed, but also represents a significant improvement in usability.
    • Compress images. Don’t use higher resolution images than you need; web images can and should be much smaller than images used in print magazines. You should also remove hidden data in your photos (eg, color profiles, geolocation metadata, etc.) Less is more and every byte counts. Also, use vector images vs raster images wherever possible. Vector images are zoom- and resolution-independent, which translates into better speed and usability.

Fast load times will make your website visitors happy and drastically increase your chances of converting them into hotel guests.

The 5 Fundamental Questions

I always bring up these questions during my speaking engagements on digital and revenue optimization best practices.

These are the five questions your hotel website must answer:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Where are you located?
  3. What do you offer?
  4. How are you different?
  5. How can I buy, or contact you?

Looks like a pretty simple list, right? These are some of the easiest questions to answer for any property. However, somewhere along the way, in the quest for “cutting edge” branding and design, these simple questions are not getting answered. Unanswered questions → confused website visitors → loss of confidence → lack of revenue. Hotel websites are all starting to look the same. One massive image, accompanied by a few bold adjectives that mean nothing to your guests. Of course, these adjectives were highly praised during the “branding meeting.” I suspect even a few high fives were involved.

Get to the point! Tell guests who you are, where you are located, what are you offering, and how they can buy that or contact you right away. Superlatives and adjectives do not get people to take action. The best home pages drive people further into the website to read more. Relevant content invites people to click deeper. Answering questions = making connections.

The Tagline Fallacy

From famous shoe companies (Just Do It!) to folks peddling diamonds (A Diamond is Forever)… everyone loves a good tagline. So why not your hotel? Sounds like a pretty good idea… right? Welcome to the dark and mysterious world of hotel website homepage taglines. Cue in Genesis’s Land of Confusion.

It’s not practical to take a hotel experience and condense it into a few words. Different travelers have different needs. Counting on a few words to be memorable and reflect your brand and build trust and put your website visitors at ease? To quote the late Bill Pullman, “Game over man, game over.” Your guests cannot act on something they cannot understand. Remember the core questions I highlighted above? No tagline can do the job of answering them. It’s downright impossible.

Now try telling that to a marketing agency’s “branding guru” and watch the fireworks.

Content Cleanup Strategy

Content is one of the easiest things to access and repair on a hotel website. (This is especially true if your website is powered by one of my fav content management systems.) Time spent on improving content will generate results for you, if you do the following.

Ask yourself one simple question: Would I describe my hotel to a close friend using the words that are currently on my website?

Yes: Success, your content is good.

No: Write down how you would describe your hotel to someone you know and care about. Then add all the extra information you would be giving them if this was their first time visiting your city from somewhere far away. That is the content your website visitors need.

The hardest part for many hotel owners/marketers is realizing that your hotel content should not be about you…it’s about your guests and the location they are visiting. Almost all the website content I see on hotel websites is focused on describing the product or experience, instead of highlighting the hotel’s location and how guests can best enjoy it. Very few hotels are iconic enough to be a destination. Like Biggie said, never get high on your own supply (ie, don’t drink your own Kool-Aid).

Formatting for Success

Readability is your friend when it comes to converting visitors into bookings. When a traveler has over ten website tabs open during the travel research phase, one of the best ways to stand out is to present readable, well-formatted content. Your website visitors are not reading a mid-19th century novel. Remember kids: everybody skims. People only click when something catches their attention or answers a question they are researching. If they don’t find what they are looking for quickly, they just bounce off the website.

Here’s how to keep things readable/scannable:

  1. Fonts. Google wants you to stick with a base font size of 16 pixels. I personally prefer larger. (That’s partly because I refuse to wear corrective glasses for my failing vision). The cute tiny little font size you are using might be directly contributing to your website bounce rate.
  2. Headers and Paragraphs. Don’t let your content headers and subheaders become a parking spot for adjectives. These are tools to help make your content scannable and create a typographical hierarchy. Shorter paragraphs with descriptive headers are going to make your content easier to digest.
  3. Lists and Bullets. If Buzzfeed has taught us anything…lists work. “If you are looking for clicks, then you must make lists” is something I would say to a classroom of content writers today. (I also know they would all hate me for it!) Bullets, numbering, and bold highlighted content can help you break down large blocks of content into readable bits of information. Think of it like bite-size incentives to read the whole website.

The assumption that website visitors will never have time to read anything on your website is a crime. They will make time for your content if you make it easy to read, and convince them bit by bit that your content is worth their time.

Using Design to Boost Revenue

How you lead guests through your website comes down to your design and navigation. Great content that cannot be discovered will just perish in the shadows. Many hotel websites with good content lose their guests by using cutesy navigations, drop-downs, and irrelevant calls to action. Competing calls to action (Book Now, Check Rates, Sign Up for Emails) need to be addressed on a page-by-page basis.

For those who want to read more about this, check out my guide to hotel website design. Don’t design first and then stuff content in there. Design around content and watch your most relevant hotel website metrics point to the sky.

Popup Intervention

Three words: Don’t Use Popups.

Check out this banner I was shown within five seconds of visiting a hotel website:

The fact that you offer better rates than the OTA’s should never be a full-screen popup for someone who is visiting your website for the first time. Instead, let them read your new and improved, content-filled homepage and see what you’re about before accosting them with an urgent message.

Who Has the Best Content?

A question that I get asked all the time is, “So who is doing travel content right?” I really wish I could say the name of one of the big hotel brands. They have been in the travel game for decades and their online content should probably be the best. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. A not so little startup founded in 2008 in San Francisco has the best travel content in the game. I am talking about, of course, Airbnb.

Hotels thrive when people travel. Shouldn’t hotel content be inspiring and encouraging people to travel? Shouldn’t your hotel take the lead in answering questions about your location and neighborhoods?

One of the best examples of travel content is the Airbnb neighborhood guide that was launched in 2012.

Not only do they have excellent content on these pages, but also give the pages extra credibility by adding advice from locals. They feature best-in-class writing with clear-cut titles. And they take the whole thing to a higher level by breaking down the attributes of each neighborhood, and even the moods you are likely to encounter in each location. Check out the killer segmentation matching travelers to their preferences:

You would think the big hotel brands would be all over this because they do have the bandwidth and franchise fee revenue to produce this stuff. Instead, we get office desks taken out of hotel rooms and are told to travel “brilliantly.”

Here’s another tip: people love maps! Adding curated maps with comments about different points of interest makes travel planning a breeze. It’s amazing what you can create with the Google Maps API. It’s in their header, folks: “Build the next generation of location experiences.”

And let’s not forget the quality of the photography being used on Airbnb pages. He is my version of the Friday night lights quote:

“Good content. Great photos. Can’t lose!”
– Vikram Singh

Too many hotels are waiting at the bottom of the funnel for revenue to trickle down. Great content is the perfect opportunity to feed the funnel and create demand. Instead of squeezing the life out of a “book direct and save” campaign, how about participating in the guest’s travel experience at a much earlier stage?


Good content is your competitive edge at a time when buying advertising is getting more and more expensive. With so many hotel and OTA websites competing on the web to attract travelers, content can be your salvation. If you have a content-poor, design-rich website, it is hurting your long-term revenue as well as your immediate conversions. On the other hand, the playing field is wide open for your hotel to start filling the travel-planning void. Inspiring and useful content will not only get you new business, but will also help you stand out in a crowd of mass-produced content-free websites. If you are not using content to capture the attention of people interested in your location, neighborhoods, and attractions…someone else will.

Hotel Website Design and Usability: Top 10 Mistakes

Hotel website design, like any kind of design, is subjective. Nothing is more painful than a website design “discussion” where stakeholders talk for hours about colors, content and photos. For every extra person added to these meetings, more useless things get added and useful things get taken out. By the end of it, you have a website that is not usable for potential guests, which hurts your conversion rate and, more important, your revenue.

So in this post, let’s worry less about design and more about usability. To that end, here is a list of mistakes that can hurt your hotel website revenue, no matter how much you love your design.

1. Missing Address & Phone Number

You need to give website visitors your address and phone number right at the top of your home page. This is more important than your homepage slider, and even that oh so trendy moving video on loop that you recently added. Assuming that your phone number and location only matter on mobile is flawed thinking.

Sometimes people want to call you. When they are calling you, there’s a good chance they’re going to book with you. Before they book, they are very likely to search for information about your location. Travel research is still happening on larger screens. You have to make it easy for them to discover your exact location, and even easier to contact you.

Don’t bury this information in your footer. Would you wear your name tag on your shoe? Mike drop. Next.

2. Fluffy Homepage Taglines

Hotel websites are notorious for fluffy descriptive taglines. I am not sure where this trend started, but it really has to stop. Home page is prime real estate for you to talk about who you are, what you do, and where are you located. Marketing is not stuffing adjectives like “Extraordinaire, Award Winning, Blissful Abode, etc.” on your home page. Providing the right information up front will lead your visitors deeper into your website for discovery, and not on an expedition to try to find simple answers about who you are, where you are, and what you offer. You have a few seconds to keep a new visitor on your website. Let’s not use that time to bombard them with fluff.

3. Music (Can you not?)

This is a public service announcement: Please don’t put music on your website.

Anything (music, videos) that autoplays on a website is a conversion death trap. The majority of bookings happen Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. People are at work…and nothing is more disastrous than suddenly having your office laptop broadcast the sounds of singing whales, crashing waves, or romantic piano music while you are trying to book your vacation. Especially while your boss is waiting on that TPS report.

4. Cannibalizing Your Own Traffic

I have written a massive article on this topic that you can read here. Obviously, not enough people have read it. Social media traffic is useful only when it’s pointing people inwards, into your website! I am always surprised to see social media exit signs all over hotel websites. Do you think anyone leaving your website to go to YouTube is ever coming back? I refer to it as the black hole of the Internet universe. All that effort you spent to get people to come to your website is wasted when you then lead them right out.

5. Poorly Embedded Videos

Videos can do wonders for your website engagement. I am always thrilled when a hotel website utilizes videos. YouTube is a great place to host videos that you can embed into your website. But beware one small setting that can wreak havoc: Suggested Videos. This totally defeats the purpose of having video embedded on your website, as people are now getting sucked directly from your site back into the Internet black hole of cat videos! What’s even worse than that? When your competitors’ hotel videos start showing up! Now that is really embarrassing.

So, when you are embedding YouTube videos on your website, make sure you follow these easy steps:

  1. Copy your video embed code.
  2. Select the “show more” option.
  3. Uncheck the “show suggested videos when the video finishes” box.
  4. Copy and paste the new code into your website.

6. Bad Photography

Photos make or break a hotel website. Still, a lot of hotels do not invest in photography at the level they should. I have seen some amazing website design themes ruined by bad photos. The importance of unique, high-quality photos is not limited to your website. They need to be used on every OTA that you work with. Instead of getting photos updated once in 5 or 10 years, organize a seasonal photo shoot to cover the full spectrum of your location and seasonality.

Sadly, there are countless hotel websites where I can instantly make out who made it thanks to the ubiquitousness of the marketing agency’s stock photos. From San Francisco to San Antonio, the same couple is having a great romantic dinner, day after day, year after year. Another couple is enjoying the generic beach in San Diego, and Miami, and South Carolina. You get the drift.

7. Press Releases

Some find it hard to believe, and even find this notion offensive, but I’ll say it anyway: a press release is not real content. Let me elaborate. A press release does not fall into any real content category people are using these days. Current news can be found on Twitter or an actual news website. Topical discussions and viewpoints are offered in blogs and podcasts. Having a press release page on your website does not help educate your audience. You need to convert that information into useful content potential visitors can use. A beautiful press kit available for download will run circles around any effort and money spent on press releases. News about renovations, re-branding, new food and beverage outlets, etc., needs to be broadcast live on your hotel blog.

8. The Dreaded Restaurant & Spa Menu PDF

Larger resort websites are top offenders when it comes to this. PDFs are awful when it comes to usability. First there is the download time and resolution issues that occur on mobile devices, combined with the need to “select” the right app to open them. PDFs are just a bad idea. I just want to see if I can get a salad! It shouldn’t require so much effort, and then become a permanent file on my phone.

HTML it instead! Let people view information without fixed borders. They are great for printing, but who is even printing anything these days? You can always offer a “printable” option for laptop users, but it cannot and should not be the only way to access information on your website.

9. One Call to Action

With the heavy emphasis on booking direct, it seems like every website has become a big “BOOK NOW AND SAVE” destination. You website needs to be a part of the larger travel booking conversation. If the only thing you are yelling is “BOOK NOW!” you are not distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of other websites that are doing the exact same thing. You have to do better.

Diversify your calls to action. Ask visitors to interact with you in other ways. Maybe your guest is still researching their options, trying to understand your location and value proposition. Make it easy for them to contact you by requiring very limited information in your contact form. “Give us your name and email, and we’ll get right back to you.” Help with the journey first, and the odds of them booking with you go up tremendously.

Pro Tip: The number of questions asked in a contact form is inversely proportional to the number of people who will fill out that form and convert.

10. Bad Booking Engines

Booking engines deserve their own very special usability article, which I will get to in the near future. For now, know this: For your guest, the booking engine is a part of your website. They do not know or care that you are renting this cart from a provider that has been making booking engines since 1989, or from a guy in his garage in Seattle. When you confuse your visitors with a bad booking experience, you are doing two things:

  1. Tanking all the marketing budget you spent to drive this person to your website
  2. Training them not to waste time with you, and instead use an Online Travel Agent that lets them book a room more efficiently

Your website is your storefront. There is NO point to having all the great photography, content, ambience, and offerings…and then a broken cash register at the end of the experience.


Yes, make a beautiful website! It should be modern, aesthetically pleasing, inviting, and show off your property. But also remember to avoid the pitfalls I have highlighted above. Start making your website perform better. It’s hard to remember that these small things can matter more than the expensive design things, but do not give in to marketing peer pressure. Usability beats trends. Make sure your most profitable revenue channel is more than just a pretty face. Stay Woke.

Do You Really Need a Separate Brand for Millennials?

Almost every other week, there is an article about how hotels are trying to “embrace” the Millennial traveler. Basically, anyone born from the 1980s to the early 2000s is in this group. It’s everyone’s new favorite generation to talk about in the hospitality and travel marketing realm. But are they really that different from the rest of us? Do they “Tru-ly” need their own brands?

The Brand Approach

All the big brands seem to be in a rush to get the Millennials’ dollars and build loyalty with them. Their solution so far has been large-scale branding. For a large hotel company, the biggest reason to launch a new brand is to create a new concept for more investors and owners to invest in. That is the prime objective. Besides, you know that there are only so many similar Hilton/Wyndham/Marriott-owned brands that can exist in the same city. A new brand is so much easier to sell to owners and investors because you will be the ‘first’. But is this really the best approach from a marketing standpoint?

Smaller independent hoteliers are having much better luck with Millennials. Why is this happening? Well, where do I start… Oh yes, let’s start with the concept of having a Hotel Brand. In the old Mad Men days of building a brand, there were concepts, meetings, Scotch, and then after-work drinks. Et voila! A brand was born, and everyone involved made a lot of money. Ah, the days before social media and alcohol-free workplaces. Constant connectivity, sharing, and reviews now let the customers (old and new) decide what you are, instead of relying the drawing board you made up in a Madison Avenue office.

Creating a large brand is not the best way to get attention from people who cherish small-scale uniqueness and value over gimmicks. Let’s see how this plays out in Hilton’s latest branding effort.

Tru Video Breakdown

Hilton recently overcame superstition and launched its 13th brand, called Tru. I see what they did there…took out the E in True. #innovation

Here’s what I learned from their marketing materials. Apparently, the new travelers like to work on a laptop in their tuxedo jackets and boxer shorts:

tru by hilton


Now I present to you… the brand essence video.


In case you don’t have the time or patience to watch the whole video, here’s a quick recap:

Bam Bam Bam, Wow Wow Wow. Fun Fab Fit. Now Now Now Now, Yum, Mmm.

OMG. Is all I could come up with when I was done watching it. You can decide for yourself.

This new brand is targeting those with a “Millennial mindset” who want (and I quote): “a brand that is simplified, spirited and grounded in value, filling a massive void in the midscale category in the U.S. and Canada. Built from a belief that being cost-conscious and having a great stay don’t have to be mutually exclusive, Tru by Hilton offers an experience unlike anything in its space, consistently delivered in a surprisingly affordable way.”

According to Hilton, no brand is meeting the Millennial’s needs at the midscale price point. Which is really odd, because there are so many midscale independents out there providing a very good price/location/service value.

Just looking at their top three big chain competitors, here are several examples of Millennial-themed midscale hotels:

  1. Hyatt: Hyatt Place
  2. Starwood: Element and Aloft
  3. Marriott: Moxy, Courtyard Residence (And, by the way, have you seen how much fun people staying @ Marriott Residence are having according to this TV spot: Take Over the Town at Residence Inn?)

Tru Features Breakdown

These are the “innovative features” Tru by Hilton offers the traveling Millennial (in their own words):

  1. No Desk in the Room
  2. The Hive – A first floor experience that’s more than a lobby – 2,770 square feet of open space with unique ways for guests to engage with others or spend time alone, in one of four distinct zones for lounging, working, eating or playing. (Obviously, nobody on the marketing team saw the Resident Evil movie or played the video game before selecting this name.)
  3. The Play Zone – Filled with table games, a large-screen TV (featuring DIRECTV), and tiered, stadium-inspired seating.
  4. Command Center – A re-envisioned front desk – featuring a social media wall with real-time content to foster engagement among guests, and a 24/7 market offering fun snacks and refreshments, single-serve wine and beer, healthy light meal options, and sundries for purchase.
  5. Complimentary Breakfast – “Build Your Own” breakfast consisting of a toppings bar with 30 sweet and savory items allowing guests to customize bagels, donuts, Greek yogurt, and oatmeal to satisfy their taste buds and cravings.
  6. Rooms – Smart and efficiently designed guest rooms full of the things that matter most – all-white comfortable platform beds, 55″ TVs, eight-foot wide windows, access to power everywhere, and surprisingly spacious bathrooms.
  7. Fitness Center – Defines wellness trends, rather than follows them, with a concept focused on cardio, strength and flexibility. (Say what?)
  8. Free WiFi & Mobile Key – (good)
  9. Free DIRECTV – (good)
  10. Cleaning – Rooms and linens cleaned with P&G Professional™ products (NYSE: PG), including Tide® Professional™, Swiffer® Professional™ and Febreze® Professional™ to help enhance the guest experience and drive operational efficiencies. (Hmmmm, ok?)

True Features Breakdown

1. No Desk ≠ Automatically Millennial Cool. Somewhere it got established that not having a desk makes a hotel room Millennial-friendly. But people have been using desks for activities other than just working for quite some time now and that is not going to change. Also, the Tru infographic clearly has the tuxedo guy working on his laptop; so is he working in his boxer shorts somewhere outside the room?

2. There is such a thing as a Free Breakfast. Their direct competitors like Aloft, Hyatt Place, etc, offer this already. Unless there is a regional/local twist, it really does not help you stand out.

3. No More Three-Letter Words. Bam. Fun. Fab. Fit. Now Now Yum. Littered all over the hotel lobby carpet. How about NOT. Educated Millennials have a decent vocabulary. Just because they use bae, woke and lit does not mean they are going to be impressed with your three-letter words. This may have worked in focus groups on which hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent. But to me it feels a little over the top.


It was time for Hilton to come with something to put up against the other brands in the midscale category. However, their hyper-Millennial(ized) marketing is more than a little phony; it will not resonate with a generation seeking uniqueness and local experiences. The essence video is a bit embarrassing for me to watch, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Millennials don’t want to feel like they’re a cheesy subset of society. They chase value as much as any other demographic would. Tru(e) dat. (Thud. Drop mike.)

Marriott’s War on Wi-Fi: Hotels Need to Stop Fighting the Future

Marriott's War on Wi-Fi

Big hotel brands have seen unprecedented growth over the past decade. Even when the global financial engines slowed down, they grew exponentially in global markets (ie, Asia, Middle East, Latin America). But unfortunately, they have forgotten what every Stan Lee fan already knows: with great power comes great responsibility. One of the leaders of the pack – Marriott – has decided to appropriate one of the most important aspects of modern human existence: Wi-Fi.

Let’s start with why Wi-Fi is such an integral part of guest experience in a hotel.

Now, here are your Captain Obvious facts for the day:

  1. Wi-Fi’s impact on hotel bookings: 73% (Yes, it’s beating your location.)
  2. Guests will not come back if they’ve have a bad Wi-Fi experience.
  3. Guests don’t only want Wi-Fi, but they also want it fast. Yes, they, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, have a need for speed.
  4. Your positive reviews, which have a massive impact on your direct revenue, are directly proportional to the speed of your hotel’s Wi-Fi network.

So that’s why you have to make sure your Wi-Fi is up to your guests’ standards. But what if it’s not, or they just want to use their own? Well, Marriott has a big problem with that.

What Marriott Did

Marriott wants its conference guests to use only their proprietary Wi-Fi network when they are on property. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? It gets better. At the end of 2014, Marriott Hotels was fined $600,000 dollars by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for blocking Wi-Fi signals at one of its hotels. Basically they were preventing guests from using their own Wi-Fi enabled devices, instead forcing them to use the expensive and unreliable “official” Wi-Fi network installed at their convention center.

Anyone who has ever attended a conference knows how annoying and unreliable open hotel convention center Wi-Fi networks are. That’s why anyone in the Internet trade (myself included) carries a broadband Wi-Fi device for two very specific reasons:

  1. Speed and reliability
  2. Security

Can you imagine giving a product demo or presentation on a hotel’s network? *Shudder* So, how much negative press did this get them? Plenty! The story was covered by the Economist. And CNN. Even Huffington Post took time off from covering celebrity wardrobe malfunctions to write about it. Here is the FCC’s official take on the investigation.

How They Did It

One word: jammers. Not to be confused with the little known band from Sioux City, “The Jammers.” Wi-Fi jammers are illegal devices that can be bought cheaply online and then used to block Wi-Fi signal. Here is the full definition of what the FCC considers a jammer. And here’s a quote from FCC’s head of enforcement, Travis LeBlanc: “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging customers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts customers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

Sore Loser?

So, you’d think Marriott would take this as a (big, flashing) sign of the times; maybe they could work on improving their Wi-Fi policies, and maybe their Wi-Fi service too? No, that would be too easy, and also the right thing to do (two things which rarely go hand in hand). Instead they recruited the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) and have petitioned the FCC asking for a declaratory ruling making Wi-Fi jamming legal. Is this real? Yes! You better believe it. Actually, don’t take my word for it…you can just read the official FCC filing.

Their official reason for doing this is even more ridiculous. Marriott argues that its hotels should be able to block guest Wi-Fi devices in the meeting spaces because their network provides:

  1. Increased reliability (LOL*)
  2. Better “cybersecurity” (LOL x2**)

*Personal Mi-Fi device can kick any convention center Wi-Fi’s behind.

**Cybersecuity is an illusion. If someone really wants something you have stored online, they can get to it no matter how hard you try to prevent it. The world is full of teenagers who hack the Department of Defense because they are bored.

Here is a quote from Marriott: “The question at hand is what measures a network operator can take to detect and contain rogue and imposter Wi-Fi hotspots used in our meeting and conference spaces that pose a security threat.” They are basically planning to use “legalized jammers” only in their meeting spaces…but for our own protection, of course. How thoughtful.


There is no way this is going to end well for Marriott, or any other big hotel brands that want to jump on the “security and reliability” bandwagon. Marriott, here’s the way out:

Step 1. Drop it like it’s hot.
Withdraw your FCC filing, issue a simple apology, and then issue guidelines on securing Wi-Fi connections in your meeting spaces.

Step 2. Give your guests free Wi-Fi.
Think bigger than “ancillary revenue.” Offer free and fast Wi-Fi to everyone, and win hearts and minds.

It’s possible that Marriott will ignore my advice and continue on their current path. But this time they are not going up against small individual owners or investment funds they can crush with their legal teams. This time they’re battling Google and Microsoft, who have deeper pockets, more lawyers, and stronger lobbyists than Marriott.

What other massive obstacle are they up against? Sheer public will. You can quote me here: “Charging for Wi-Fi in any form will soon lead to the quick and decisive decline of any hotel in the court of public opinion.” Think of it like indoor plumbing…hotels need to roll it into the cost of the room. Nobody is going to pay extra for “security and reliability” while using your toilet inside the room they paid for; what makes you think they’ll want pay extra for W-Fi inside the meeting space they paid for?

Marriott: Please get real. Wake up and smell your bulk-purchased, medium-quality coffee. Spending money to petition the US government to change its laws in order to make a few extra nickels is wasteful. Why don’t you spend your money on a worthy cause instead, like marriage equality, medical research, or world hunger? Even if you miraculously win the legal battle against FCC +Google + Microsoft, you have already lost in the court of public opinion. It’s a #FAIL no matter how you look at it.

If you’re a hospitality business who’s still charging for Wi-Fi:  Stop fighting the future. Internet is almost as essential as plumbing to today’s guest. Don’t hold them hostage and expect them to like you, or to ever return. Be gracious. Meet the future with a smile and some good, blazing fast, free Wi-Fi. It will do wonders for your revenue in the long term.


Why You Shouldn’t Sell Rooms for $7 on Hotel Tonight


This Thanksgiving holiday in the US was an eventful one for the hospitality industry. What got my attention was the Black Friday offer of $7 rooms on Hotel Tonight (my favorite mobile travel app). Important: Before you read this – No matter who got paid how much in the end or what the real breakup of advertised rate versus actual payment made by Hotel Tonight was was like. The fact is that the guest paid $7 for booking those hotels and that is what he/she will remember.

Hotels all over the US participated in this spectacular deal. Based on my zip code, Hotel Tonight sent me an email informing me that the following hotels in the Midwest were participating:

  • The Godfrey Chicago
  • The Edgewater Madison
  • The Kinzie Chicago
  • The Pfister Hotel Milwaukee
  • The Hotel Minneapolis (a Marriott “Autograph Collection” hotel)

HoteltonightAll were all offering a $7 rooms for a limited time starting at 7 am.

In general, discounting your rooms is not a great idea. But this super-aggressive deep discounting is a whole new dark territory. It’s not a good place for the industry to be, especially at a time when hotels and brands are struggling so hard to define their value thanks to hyper-successful travel startups like Airbnb.  This is scary on many levels. I am talking Wes Craven* and Eli Roth level scary.

*Sam Shank, Founder & CEO of Hotel Tonight, was an assistant to Wes Craven on the film Scream.

No matter how bad the market is, I am not a fan of discounting and never will be. Sure, discounting will fill your hotel…but at what cost? Who is this guest checking into your hotel for $7? What happens to your value perception? The fact is that you are better off giving away a free room instead of attaching a $7 rate to your product. Hotels dropping rates might appear to be winning the occupancy battle, but it pretty much ends there. When it comes to long-term profitability, GoPar and RevPar growth favor hotels who protect the value of their product.

A Great Win for Hotel Tonight

As far as creating buzz, this was an absolute win for Hotel Tonight. Sam went all the way to CNBC with his amazing “Get your $7 hotel room now!” segment. Kudos.

I’m sure Hotel Tonight reached several hundred thousand new people who now know about their wonderful deal-generating, money-saving, last-minute booking app. Are they the “enemy” for promoting themselves? Absolutely not. Likewise, I have always admired OTA’s for focusing their efforts where it truly matters: Online. Besides, anyone who is making travel better and easier for customers is in my good book.

Hotel Tonight has indeed taken mobile usability and distribution to a new level; none of the established hotel brands like Marriott, Hilton, Starwood etc. have even come close. I strongly encourage everyone in the travel business to take note of how well the Hotel Tonight App functions.

Deep Discounting Damages Your Brand and Revenue
Mo’ Discounts, Mo’ Problems (RIP Biggie)

Deep discounting conditions guests to de-value your hotel product. Value, like beauty, is not just in the eye of the beholder…. it’s based on what the beholder paid for it. Here is a chart showing the average rates I found on the participating hotels’ websites (most basic room type, for one-night stay, December 8, 2015):

[table id=4 /]

A severely discounted room rate also has a negative impact on your ongoing marketing and brand building efforts. Once you make public that a room at your fine hotel can be rented for a rock bottom rate of $7, you have created a baseline expectation that is way too low. Boosting your perceived value from $7 all the way up to your regular rate is a mighty task that you did not need to add for yourself. You can quote me on this: It takes years to build your rate, and a moment to destroy it.

To further complicate things, you are not the only hotel in the market. People will associate your competition with higher rates and therefore better overall quality. You will have to deal with this brand erosion long after the excitement of your $7 discount offer wears off.

Healthy Alternatives to Deep Discounting

Got your back against the wall? Low occupancy got you down? Want to create “buzz” for your slow season/dates? Here are some better options for you to consider:

Offer value, not discounts.
There are many ways to make your guest feel all warm and fuzzy. How about offering something extra rather than a rate discount? Adding something extra makes your customers feel they are getting something special instead of attracting bargain-hunters; and it doesn’t cost you your dignity.

Reward loyalty.
How about a special value-added holiday rate plan for your most loyal guests? Create a rate tier for them that they can use during the holidays and lean periods at your hotel. They will feel pampered by receiving extra amenities, and you’ll fill rooms with customers who like you (and vice versa).

Shift your revenue model.
How about a revenue system based on your guests’ overall value? Nobody should ever be sold a $7 room. But a case can be made for offering extras and upgrades to your most profitable guests – the ones who stay with you frequently and/or buy meals, drinks, spa services, etc. Airlines and casinos do this every day. As an elite frequent flier, I love that my total value is considered even on a small flight that I’m taking from point A to point B.

Segment better.
Whom are you selling to? Have you created segments that are priced to trigger bookings? Mass marketing and discounting are so 2001. Every hotel should be working on better segmenting every year based on geographical, corporate, and income-based data from their online and offline analytics.


Discounting is dead. Granted, it’s a zombie that comes back to life every now and then when hotel owners, managers and marketers completely run out of ideas. But you don’t have to be a victim of zombie discounting. There are many other approaches that can help you through a slow season.

I hope that next year on Black Friday we do not see any more $7 hotel rooms. Instead, I would love to see hotels offering great value to their guests for the holiday season, through creative outreach, packaging and upgrades. Going after a sustainable revenue strategy is harder. But, as is often true in life, the harder thing to do is also the right thing to do.



How to Supercharge Your Hotel Revenue After Rebranding


A Tale of Two Brands
(based on a true story)

Once upon a time in December 2012, there was a hotel asset. It lived in a spectacular location, right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. But alas, it was caught in the middle of an epic battle between The Brand (who managed the hotel) and The Bank (who owned the hotel). This 500+ room hotel was located in one of the fastest-growing cities in the US. The Brand had a strong presence in this location, and in other metropolitan cities. It was a regular haunt of A-list to D-list stars.

The Brand was strong, but The Bank was stronger. Someone had to intervene. There are very few private equity funds who could have made a bid for an asset in this much legal turmoil. But one did, and it had a very powerful reason to do so. That reason was pure profit. Even without The Brand, there was money to be made from this beautiful princess of a property.

knightThey called for reinforcements – enter my team in shining armor! Our goal was clear: supercharge hotel revenue after rebranding to minimize negative impact from the loss of the brand name.

How did we know we could do it? You see, when the hotel owners, the brand, and/or the management company disagree, something inevitable happens: the hotel loses focus and revenue stumbles. Even with all its advantages, we knew the hotel was not peak performing.

I define a lodging business to be peak performing when the % direct revenue booked is at its maximum possible number. Basically, that means you are selling more rooms directly to your guests than anyone else in your market.

No marketing/revenue management plan can ever be successful without setting goals. In this case, the goal was clear: not to have too much of a revenue drop when the old brand faded away at the stroke of midnight.

Into the Fray

The deal was finalized with a really, really big catch. The new owners would not be allowed to use the former brand name. And they meant it: not on the website, not in Pay Per Click ads, Display Ads, not even whispered over the breakfast buffet. Any utterance = massive lawsuit. Pow!

From an online revenue perspective, our first important task was to make sure all the property’s digital assets were acquired and accounted for. These included:

  1. Domain name
  2. Website files
  3. Analytics
  4. Social media accounts
  5. Historical revenue and online marketing reports

At the same time, we had to come up with a unique revenue recovery strategy. We had to match the revenue the hotel was producing as an established brand but without ever mentioning the old brand name.

Let the games begin.

What’s My Name Again?

There was no time for custom design jobs. But there was a working website which had been designed by a big box hotel marketing agency. We quickly ripped the site off the browsers and recode it using WordPress. Calls to action and device compatibility were addressed right away. (It’s amazing how many simple things are missing from expensive “custom” hotel websites). For the record, the former management was absolutely in love with their website and vendor. It never ceases to amaze me that when people really like how their website looks, they don’t even notice (or care) how poorly it is performing.

Well, no matter. No time for redesign! With the new asset managers backing us on the right usability issues, we deployed the new site in one week. With the keys to the asset in hand, we walked into the hotel with new asset managers for the takeover meetings. The official handover date and time was finalized, and that’s when we are slated to go live with out marketing campaign. At the stroke of midnight, our site and campaigns will launch with the hotel’s new name. There is one small issue…we do not have a name yet!

Amazing but true. We have taken over the online assets, have a website ready to be deployed, and a marketing campaign ready to be unleashed… as soon as the new owners can agree on a name.

the larry

This will be a sobering thought for a lot of brand name aficionados, but the name of the asset was not decided until 8pm on the day of the official takeover. Basically 4 hours before the legal deadline.

Ironically, the name they chose was a common first name. It was the equivalent of calling the hotel “The Larry.” The website and all the online campaigns went live with the finalized name. And at 12:15 am EST, the first reservation was booked from London at the hotel we now lovingly call “The Larry.”

The Results: 30 Days After Takeover

Here’s what we delivered in Month 1:

  • 48% increase in year-over-year total revenue
  • 23% increase in year-over-year web and mobile revenue

Instead of just minimizing the loss of revenue, we helped The Larry come out of nowhere and make 50% more money than it was making as a well-established brand in a major metropolitan beach market.

How did this miracle happen? Well, first of all, it is not a miracle. Brands no longer have the same power in major metropolitan areas. “The Larry” proves that a major brand simply is not required to pull in online bookings, you just have to know what you are doing.

How We Did It

There are five things that, when properly executed, can supercharge your new asset’s revenue when you are losing the brand name.*

  1. Manage Your Rates & Distribution. Value-based pricing is the best practice whether you are a brand name or not. Remember, no amount of online marketing or social media activity will make up for an inadequate rate and distribution strategy.
  2. Forget Groups. Probably the worst business you will ever get. Get FIT (flexible independent travelers) or go home. If your asset is in a major metropolitan area, capture direct demand and convert it.
  3. Leverage Online Travel Agents. You need and want the billboard effect. The only way to capture that is to get a solid relationship with one of the top OTAs ( or Expedia, your choice). In the end, if you have to go exclusive with an OTA for top placement, in the words of Nike marketing… Just do it!
  4. Budget for Effective Online Marketing. Budget to win, not to skim the surface of your location-based demand. Example: this 500-room hotel post-takeover was spending $40K/month on online marketing. Before takeover, the brand hotel was signed up with a $2000/month marketing package – which was producing nothing. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. It never works.
  5. Know the Difference Between Vendors and Partners. A vendor can be good at carrying out tasks. Do not confuse “doing things” with setting strategy. Rebranding calls for targeted strategy and fast implementation. Every case is unique; you cannot count on someone with 600 clients to give you a winning strategy.

* Also, a tremendous amount of caffeine was consumed in the making of this epic transition.

The End?

“The Larry” had one of its most amazing years in terms of total revenue growth. A lot of asset managers got hefty bonuses, you’re welcome. The private equity fund used “The Larry” case study at its global investor meeting, showcasing their strength in transforming underperforming assets in major metropolitan area. “The Larry” was closed for renovations after a super-successful 1½ years. It is now going to become a brand new concept hotel and residence brand.

How Airbnb Is Crushing Traditional Hotel Brands

In April, I wrote one of my first ever articles about Airbnb’s impact on the hotel industy. It started as a response to the Euromonitor report highlighting how little impact it was going to have. I fully disagreed. While I did not have the numbers to prove it, I have always known that Airbnb’s impact was going to be HUGE based on the steps they were taking, and the rapidly changing needs of the global traveller.

In the few short months since my first article, Airbnb has released some super cool stats that prove what I have always believed: they are changing the hospitality business.

• They created $632 million in economic activity just in New York in one year, and they supported 4,580 jobs throughout the five boroughs.
• They have 500,000 properties worldwide.
• They have found accommodation for 9 million guests worldwide (5 million in just the past nine months).
• Over 150,000 guests stay in one of its members’ properties every night.
• They expect to pass InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton Worldwide to become the globe’s largest hotelier next year.

This is big news for the hospitality business and hotel brands specifically. The lodging industry needs to brace itself if it hasn’t already.

So, how are they doing so well so quickly? Here’s how they went from startup to market leader in just 5 years.

Good Reviews Trump Brand Loyalty

Over the past few years, I have noticed a very interesting trend: People do not care as much as they used to about hotel brand when they plan their travel. What they care about is a hotel’s location, value, and reviews. Review websites like TripAdvisor have changed the game. Independent hotels that provide exceptional service and value get great reviews on TripAdvisor, and start moving to the top-ranked spots in their cities. This leads to a tremendous increase in brand name searches conducted by travelers who start researching on TripAdvisor and then move to Google search. In the end, this review-driven ecosystem funnels more revenue to hotels that are treating guests well.

To make things worse for hotel brands, Airbnb is spurning an army of independent hoteliers. Brand new entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and energy are surging into the market. All of these new travel entrepreneurs have the three things travelers are looking for – location, service and value. AND, these entrepreneurs are rated within the Airbnb ecosystem by verified users. This is genius! Why? Because unlike traditional and brand hotels who rely on TripAdvisor, Airbnb closes the loop by allowing its users to trustfully book and review their stay. Transparency is a huge turn-on for today’s travel planner. Coupled with general apathy on the part of the big hotel brands, these moves make Airbnb a darling among smart travellers worldwide.

Brands Devalue Themselves

Wise folks have argued that one should not bite the hand that feeds you. There are still legions of hotel loyalty point fanatics (ie, big spenders) out there. Most of them use points accumulated during business travel to take personal/family holidays. Yet every major hotel brand (including Hilton, Starwood, Marriott and Hyatt) has devalued its loyalty point’s value in the past 12 months. Basically, it is taking you a lot more points to purchase “free” room nights. Hilton in particular was pretty harsh on its most loyal customers this year with a brazen reduction in the value of their points. Marriott has taken it to a whole new level by creating a brand new top tier called “Category 9”and updating the category level for over a third of their properties around the world! The extra effort business travellers were making to stay loyal to their hotel brand is quickly losing its value.

This is an extremely shortsighted approach to profitability. It might look great on a balance sheet today, but it is setting up the brands for huge losses in the very near future. This is opening a nice window for Airbnb, as point-obsessed business travellers learn to seek better value via alternative lodging options. I can only imagine what big plans Airbnb has in store for their loyal users.

Airbnb Builds Trust & Community

Another area where Airbnb excels is in building trust and establishing personal connections. The hotel industry has never been particularly transparent. A lot of fancy adjectives may find their way onto a hotel’s user-unfriendly website in the name of marketing. Until the year 2000, there was no place for people to go to find out the truth. This huge vacuum was filled by TripAdvisor’s launch. Since then it has been making well-deserved millions for lifting the veil on an entire industry. Airbnb, unlike the big hotel brand names, is very open about everything. Hosts and their guests communicate before the booking, during the research phase, during the availability search, upon stay confirmation, before arrival – often offering concierge style advice, at check-in (often in person!), and even post check-out.

The host is the brand, and you have access to him at every stage of your travel experience. This is a huge reason why Airbnb has seen tremendous success. Meanwhile, hotel brands are chasing rankings on Google, fighting online travel agents (OTA’s), and trying to use online strategies to boost their reviews, rankings and authenticity on TripAdvisor and other review websites. On Airbnb, there are no ‘fake’ reviews because online reviews were not an afterthought. Expectations, questions and answers are exchanged between host and guest long before the check-in ever happens. This is how they make meaningful connections. Do I remember the guy who checked me into my last hotel room? Nope. Do I remember my last Airbnb host? You bet I do.

Online Marketing Done Right

There is a lot being said about the right way to do online marketing. Hotel brands are struggling to keep up with Google and the OTA’s, who are both moving quickly and with a clear agenda of making money. Meanwhile, the big hotel brand marketing machine is blithely playing Goliath to Airbnb’s David. Every time a hotel brand does a press release stating that they would like to “target the millennial traveler,” it ironically makes the millennial traveller cringe. Hyperbole and buzzword marketing is so 1999. Talking like real people, showing your value, and showcasing your location is the new black.

A classic example of how Airbnb has captured the imagination of an entire generation is their amazing city neighborhood guides. This is the way to reach out to young travellers that are looking to explore the world. The Airbnb online marketing plan is entirely based on location, value and connection. Meanwhile, hotel brands are too caught up in their own hype, are busy funding bad experiments like, or worse…counting on magical “Big Data” to save them.


For decades, hotel brands have been riding the inertia that was built by big demand, lack of options, and brand loyalty. The reality today is:

  1. Demand took huge hits in the past decade (9/11, global financial meltdown) and can’t be counted on as a strategy.
  2. There are a plethora of lodging options and entrepreneurs thanks to Airbnb.
  3. We have to acknowledge that Airbnb is rapidly becoming the biggest hospitality brand in the world.

And they are just starting. In today’s travel marketplace, brand transparency powered by innovative technology is what the people want. Give travellers the experience they are looking for: value, service, a great user interface, personal global connections, and social sharing. Mix these together, and you have a success story called Airbnb.