A Hotel Guide for Avoiding OTA Panic and Rate Parity Games

OTAs are a fact of life in our industry. But there are so many negative feelings about them, constantly being stoked by hotel media, that it becomes difficult for hotels to form calm, cohesive OTA and rate-setting strategies.

OTA-bashing articles surface every few months, no matter what cycle the travel business is in. These articles usually involve screenshots of OTA rates being lower than the hotel’s direct rates, leading to complete disgust and a ton of hate reading. Other times, these feelings of fear and loathing towards OTAs are triggered at conferences by speakers going for some cheap applause.

I would like to ask you to put all that aside, and keep an open mind. Please remember that, as a revenue professional, your goal in life is not to teach the OTAs a lesson. It is to make more revenue! You should try to avoid Maslow’s hammer approach when thinking about your relationship with your distribution partners:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Your revenue strategy cannot be focused on proving that the OTAs are an evil empire, and that only your rate parity games will topple them. The goal of pricing is to make sure that you convert all of your hotel investments into revenue.

Now, if you’re ready, please read on to learn about some OTA and pricing strategies that have delivered millions in revenue for owners and operators that have embraced it.

The Rate Parity Games

Rate parity surfaces a couple of times a year. Usually, it is:

  • Declared dead
  • Something that is killing your direct revenue

I am posting a third option for you to consider: Don’t play games.

People are posting articles filled with “screenshots of proof,” as if they have finally located the Chupacabra or Bigfoot. A lower rate published on an OTA versus a hotel website is highlighted as a “gotcha moment” and a complete failure of your parity-based pricing strategy. The “game over” vibes are pretty doom and gloom (even for me). They make me think of Bill Paxton.

Rate parity should not be misrepresented as loading the same rates on all channels… and then immediately going to bed, zero follow up. Dynamic pricing requires a little bit more work than that. Once your rates are loaded, you have to keep an eye on the OTA channels, like Booking and Expedia, and monitor what they are doing with the rate you gave them.

Here are reasons/examples of how and why they might be showing lower rates:

  • Are they running opaque promos?
  • Are they running mobile promos?
  • Are they running merchant model promos?

If the answer is yes, then please match these offers on your website. Instead of canceling your entire participation with them, do your best to implement competitive rates on your direct channels.

In other words, once the rates are uploaded to the OTA, don’t assume your revenue manager is then handcuffed and cannot make any edits! When you notice parity issues, do something about it right away. Some examples:

  • Run your own private promos.
  • Run your own mobile promos.
  • Offer direct value that OTAs cannot match.

If your current booking engine technology vendor does not permit you to take these actions, then find one who does. The answer is not abandoning parity; it is having the smarts to monitor and enforce it on all channels when possible.

Ah, The Good Ol’ Billboard Effect

A big argument against rate parity in pricing is the idea that there is no billboard effect for an independent hotel that is listed on a global OTA. This study was first published back in 2009 by Cornell University, with another follow up written in 2017.

I am not here to debate the billboard effect. If you feel strongly that this does not have any relevance, then please withdraw from the OTA channels and watch your competition overtake you.

It is very easy for direct revenue fanatics to throw the billboard effect under the bus. Do you know why? Most of them are not personally invested in the asset. And if there is one thing that I have learned from working in revenue optimization for 20+ years, it is this:

It is very easy to be a revolutionary with other people’s money.

I will elaborate more on these revolutionaries below. For now, let’s look at some traffic and revenue stats for the top OTAs in the business:

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If you want to opt out of this exposure and revenue stream because a consultant, marketing agency or software provider thinks you can 100% make up for it using their direct revenue software? Then all I can say is… good for you! Abandon all parity and put your lowest rate on your website. Then give it some time and watch your competitors do circles around you. The effect of this strategy is not sudden death but more like diabetes… a slow decline, which means that by the time you discover it, it’s too late.

There Is No Free Lunch!

It’s not just a saying! An actual mathematical theorem highlights a fact that we have all known for a while: There are no shortcuts to success.

Dealing with OTAs may seem painful when you just think of the commissions. However, do we expect them to give us traffic and revenue for free? Commission, while painful, is the cost of doing business. The Princess Bride probably said it best:

OTAs don’t owe you anything. You can try to undercut them and limit your participation to prove a point. But in the end, that decision is going to cost you revenue and loss of market share as an independent hotel. No amount of creative marketing or software can protect you from this outcome.

Guest Ownership Quandary

We can debate all we want, but hotels don’t “own” the guest. Neither do the OTAs or any other form of travel agent. Your hotel guest today is a little smarter than we like to give them credit for.

Since the pandemic, most hotels have seen their direct revenue share grow. In spite of the “death of rate parity,” the overall market share of every hotel that maintains true rate parity has gone up. How is this happening if the guests are mindless, price-driven sheep? This is happening for a simple reason: they are looking for value and not just a few dollars off the rate.

If you want guests to book direct, you have to showcase value in addition to a good rate. Flexible cancellation policies over the past two years drove a huge volume of bookings for direct channels. Hotels answering their phones and actually helping guests also enabled higher rates, plus more direct bookings and increased market share. Have you ever tried to locate someone at an OTA to quickly resolve your booking issues? There is no substitute for direct contact with someone who you are going to be staying with.

Give your guests a little more credit. Instead of “owning” them, offer them value that only you can give them. And please accept that people who are hooked on OTAs will always book there, no matter what. It could be loyalty, points, or just habit. Don’t wage a war to try to convert these guests on your website. It’s the same as trying to get a Marriott loyalist to stay at your independent hotel. Even if you have a superior product, he will pick the breakfast buffet with watered down scrambled eggs every time to maintain his status with the brand.

Playing Revolutionary With Other People’s Money

Direct revenue is a crucial component of your distribution strategy. You have to work to build and grow it whenever possible. Vendors often present direct revenue as a magical, pain-free solution to all your revenue problems. However, there is a limit to your reach and your budget when it comes to marketing your hotel to a global audience. This is particularly relevant to independent hotels that do not have a brand contributing to their revenue base.

I read something ridiculous last year along the lines of “You should withdraw your hotel from all merchant models and promotions.” Someone selling software and services was calling for hotels to withdraw from all the OTAs and then double down on offering mobile discounts on their direct channels.

I have noticed that most of the direct revenue revolutionaries are playing with other people’s money. If they were paying the mortgage, payroll, insurance and fees on a hotel asset from their own bank account, I guarantee you they would be participating in everything 24-7.

You see, I too fancy myself as a hotel revolutionary. However, I am not going to sabotage the asset owners’ finances to prove a point. That is highly unethical and risky behavior with negative consequences.

Your revenue strategy is not a zero-sum game that you play with your distribution partners. Celebrating lack of visibility on OTAs and assuming everything will magically come in “direct” is deeply flawed logic. An independent hotel today cannot afford this level of carelessness when it comes to their distribution strategy.


I wanted to share my thoughts on how your hotel can stop hating and start focusing on improving your revenue and distribution mix. My strategies have delivered millions in top line revenue for assets I have worked with over the years. So please view this article as more than a think piece. This is real cold hard cash we are talking about! And it might even feel good to let go of some of those negative feelings and start viewing the OTAs as partners. Focus on negotiating the best contracts with them, and make them work to your advantage. And take responsibility for maintaining parity by offering rates or added value that make your direct offers more appealing to guests.

Meetings: The Black Hole of Hotel Revenue and Productivity

Meetings are the black hole of productivity. I’m not saying this just to be dramatic. There is plenty of evidence coming your way. Keep reading!

I have been attending corporate meetings since my early days in the industry, so we’re talking about two decades now. However, things have recently gotten worse. During the pandemic, the number of meetings we all had to attend sharply increased. A Microsoft Study highlighted a 250% increase in meetings compared with what employees had to deal with before the pandemic.

Those who know me know exactly how I feel about meetings. When I get stuck on a long call, I catch myself internally chanting “This Meeting Could Have Been an Email” over and over like a monk. Meetings waste valuable time that I could be using to do actual work, like reviewing analytics, rates, content and strategy. You know, the stuff I enjoy and am getting paid to do.

Meetings are endemic to corporate environments. However, a cure is possible. It involves having leadership say no to unnecessary meetings. I think the “Anti-Meeting” movement can gain ground if more owners and senior leaders understand the huge negative impact that meetings can have on their bottom line.

There is also the fact that meetings are making you stupid, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been in the corporate workforce. But for now, let’s focus on the dollars.

A Very Expensive Hobby

What if I told you that meetings are really, really expensive? I wish it was mandatory for all meeting hours to be accounted for in the company P&L as a “cost of business” line item. I think if these numbers were released, there would be a quick change in how we manage our collective time.

How can you calculate the real cost of a meeting? Well, there is this simple formula:

Total Cost of Meeting  =  # of People Attending  x  Their Hourly Rate  x  Meeting Duration*

*Trigger warning: The numbers you will arrive at are staggering.

Let’s run a scenario for a small group of company managers. If five people in your organization with annual salaries of $100,000 per person spend 15 hours per week in meetings (three hours a day)… those meetings are costing you $3,846 per week. Keep up this pace, and these meetings end up costing your organization $200,000 per year! Here is a 2 min 35s montage of Owen Wilson saying “wow” to help you cope with this shocking reality.

What about larger/branded hotels? Larger organizations take this bad habit to a whole new level. Just peek into any big brand’s “FDD” (Franchise Disclosure Agreement). Every major hotel brand uses it to define services they will offer to their franchisees. You can access these hotel FDDs on the internets. Guess what item is included as a “service” that hotels must pay the brand for for? Answer: “Revenue Meetings.”

Your average revenue department managing several branded hotels likely spends a whopping 56+ “person-hours” per week on meetings alone! That’s approximately 2,912 hours per year of hours that ultimately get billed to hotel franchise owners as part of their fees. Even at a base rate of $50/hour, hotels are seeing $145,600 worth of time wasted on meetings. This time should have been spent on making your hotel more money.

Senior management is very likely spending up to 80% of their time on meetings. This is corporate sanctioned madness.

The reality is that meetings are a cost item which is entirely ours in the making. Meeting lovers are causing significant financial damage to your organization.

A (Long) Wrinkle in Time

Meetings do not only kill productivity. They also add another blow to everyone’s mental focus and health. If you have successfully stopped everyone from doing their day-to-day work, then you’d better wrap up quickly!

How long should a meeting be? My magic number: 30 Minutes Max. Going over 30 minutes indicates that either one or more of the following has happened:

  • Meeting agenda was not planned.
  • Pre-meeting prep was skipped.
  • Longer meeting time is being mistaken for “collaboration.”
  • Longer meeting time is being mistaken for “brainstorming.”
  • Someone really likes the sound of their voice and won’t stop talking.

Rarely, a slightly longer meeting is needed. However, the default one-hour meeting invite, that some folks just love to send out for every meeting, is not helping. First step toward change: email back requesting a shorter meeting. Offer to review items in advance… unless they were going to reveal the location of the Holy Grail to you… which we all know has to be done face to face with no advance notice or reading materials to prep.

Second step: encourage colleagues to change their default meeting invite setting to 30 minutes. It only takes a few seconds to save hundreds of future meeting hours.

A New Approach to Brainstorming

Just like meditation, clear thinking requires alone time. New ideas come from within and they can happen anywhere. Ideas cannot be scheduled and magically appear in a meeting room setting under florescent lights (or in front of a fake Zoom background).

Next time the senior managers get the “brainstorming” itch, try this instead:

  1. Share the topic/problem with the team via email in advance.
  2. Ask everyone on the team to email back their individual/independent ideas.
  3. Post all ideas in one place.
  4. Have attendees vote on the best ones.
  5.  Schedule the meeting.

Ok, you now have 30 mins to discuss and finalize best ideas. Good luck, we are all counting on you!

Stop Trying to Be “Synchronous” in a Remote Work Economy

Remote work is here to stay. Expecting everyone on your team to stop doing everything else to be “present together” at a designated time will keep getting harder. Meetings throw a massive wrench in the way we work asynchronously in real life. Teams work on different schedules across various time zones, reviewing files, data and statistics, and performing daily tasks that need to be done. Bringing everyone’s productivity to a grinding halt is a colossal waste of time and money. If you are calling an all hands on deck meeting, you’d better have something really important to share. Something that has to be shared synchronously…you know…like the exact location of the Holy Grail.

Don’t Confuse Meetings With Work

The theme from Severance starts playing in my head when I think of the massive number of hours I have spent in meetings (that could have been an email).  Meetings are corporate approved black holes of productivity that hide in plain sight, because they get absorbed as “work” hours.

True collaboration and brainstorming will never be confined to meetings. Employees or contractors whose calendars are filled with meetings are not really working for you; they are working for their calendar and running on a hamster wheel to nowhere. Real work happens when you stop talking and focus on the task at hand. Emails, Slack, G-chat, texts, and short 1:1 calls can resolve most of the issues in your day-to-day work life. We can collaborate without interrupting everyone’s workday to herd them into a meeting room.

Steven Rogelberg (Professor of Organizational Science, Management and Psychology at UNC Charlotte) conducted research on meetings and their impact on work. Here is a snapshot of the results:

“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work.
  • 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”

These are striking numbers, yet they should not come a surprise to anyone working in our industry. We are simply meeting ourselves to death.

A Few Good Meetings

If you can handle the truth…then yes, it is actually possible to have good meetings. This is my secret formula for how to make good meetings happen at your organization:

  • Limit meeting time to 30 mins, no exceptions.
  • No sitting whenever possible.
  • No news, weather or sports-related talk.
  • No tea, coffee (not even for the closers), or food. Only water.
  • No open laptops. Notebooks only.
  • Phones face down, on silent.
  • Email in advance: agenda, reports, videos, slides, etc.
  • Observe meeting free days of the week (eg, Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
  • Slide reading is always strictly prohibited. Summaries and discussions only.
  • Have attendees anonymously rate every meeting on a scale of 1-10, and share results with the team.


I am not saying all meetings must die. However, most meetings can and should be avoided or shortened. Be the leader in your company who starts declining useless meetings. I’m not saying you can decline all invites from your boss; this trend must start from the top. (I’m talking to you, leaders and managers.)

Instead of reading cliche management books, advance your management career by boosting your team’s productivity and your company’s revenue. Useless meetings are crushing your team’s morale, making them dumber and less productive. Give the people what they want, and get better results from them in return. You can be a hero!

Despite your best efforts, if you still find yourself in a terrible meeting, do not lose heart. Find a meditative chant that works for you, or borrow mine: “This meeting could have been an email.”

RIP BookingSuite: Protecting Your Hotel’s Digital Assets

On November 30th of this year, Booking/Priceline is shutting down its BookingSuite product, likely affecting hundreds of hotels worldwide. In short, they will stop running websites, booking engines, and revenue management software for their hotel clients. Even with the volume of hotels they amassed on their platform, the headache is clearly not worth it to them anymore. Sadly, they timed the shutdown during the toughest year on record for the hotel and travel industry. In addition to dealing with the pandemic, hotels on their platform now need to gather their digital assets and go vendor hunting. That’s not an easy task even in the best of times.

This is not the first or last time a crisis like this has hit our industry. In fact, it’s a lot like the hospitality industry’s version of Groundhog Day (Palm Springs for younger readers). The free/cheap/rentable/leased hotel website trap has sprung and once again hundreds of hotels are trapped. Why is it so hard for us to learn from history? If only someone were writing about digital asset management for hotels, warning us about a likely collapse of their digital assets platform?

BookingSuite’s demise in the middle of a global pandemic is yet another opportunity for hotels to learn that software companies are not their friends. Their core focus is their own balance sheet and profits. Concern for the long-term profitability of your hotel asset lies with you alone. The cheapest option will almost always end up costing you more in the end.

Here are some renewed thoughts on owning, managing and investing in your digital assets and revenue.

Play It for Me One More Time

History repeats itself, sometimes very quickly. Let’s take a quick look back at the BookingSuite origin story.

It starts like all hotel software disaster stories… with an acquisition. Booking.com acquired Buuteeq, a company peddling $150-$500/month websites to hotels and small inns. The platform was designed to churn out cheap, quick websites using templates and as little effort as possible. The operative word was cheap, and it took off in an industry that is always reluctant to make digital investments.

As with any typical hotel tech startup, funding was deployed on heavy sales and marketing, including paid speaking slots at hospitality conferences. “It’s cheap and I don’t have to do any work? Sign me up!” is how the industry responded. Hundreds upon hundreds of hotels jumped on the opportunity to rent their “most profitable channel” for a few hundred dollars a month.

Then one morning, hotels woke up to find that their most profitable channel was now a part of Booking.com (the word’s biggest Online Travel Agency)… you know, the guys they thought they were battling by spending a few hundred dollars on their Buuteeq websites and marketing plans.

At that point everyone came to their senses and started planning how they would manage their own digital assets, right? Nope. Status quo prevailed and people forgot.

A few years later in 2020, the alarm clock beeps at 6am, and I Got You, Babe starts playing on the radio…again. And I am writing yet another article on the importance of owning your digital assets.

Making a Bigger Boat

BookingSuite was run by some of the smartest people in the travel business. The Priceline Inc. empire knows a thing or two about making money. They quickly capitalized on the fact that hotels are always reluctant to spend on digital assets. With a marketing budget and knowledge base infinitely bigger than Buuteeq’s, Booking.com did what it knows to do: scale quickly and make more money! To take things to another level, they were going to need a bigger boat.

So, they expanded the product line by adding a booking engine (aka booking button) and revenue management software (which was made possible by their acquisition of a company named Price Match, based out of Paris). And just like that, a façade of “direct revenue channel presence” could be achieved cheaply. Owners and managers scratched it off their to-do lists and in one swoop migrated everything over.

Next, BookingSuite got rid of those pesky monthly retainers and switched to a straight-up 10% commission model. So get this: A typical hotel on the BookingSuite platform was already paying them a 10-15% commission on inventory sold on Booking.com. Now, in addition to that, the hotels started paying them a 10% commish on every room sold on their own hotel website! A racket so deep, it would make Tony Soprano blush.

I have mentioned this a lot in my previous articles, but I have to say it again so please take note: Booking.com is really, really good at making money. I wish hotels would watch and learn to operate with the same passion for revenue.

Titanic, Meet Iceberg

There were clear warning signs. This iceberg in the open waters was spotted by yours truly back when Booking took over Buuteeq and got into the hotel digital asset game. None of their acquisitions are designed to help hotels make more money. The goal for them has always been to gain insights and maximize their own profits.

Looking back, you can clearly see the warning shot they fired when they shut down online marketing services back in 2017. The smart folks at BookingSuite very quickly figured out that offering online marketing services for hotels was not worth their time. So, in the peak of the travel boom in 2017, they sent an email announcing their OG “difficult decision” of shutting down their SEM (Google AdWords) services.

They wanted to shift focus to activities where they could make money from you without actually doing too much work. Here is the email they sent back in the day.

Three years later, they pulled the plug on the whole BookingSuite program. No surprise.

Another Day, Another Difficult Decision

Fast forward to 2020, when another “difficult decision” email strikes inboxes across the globe. This time they are removing the trifecta of digital services: your hotel website, booking engine and revenue management software. If your hotel website and/or booking engine and/or revenue management system was with BookingSuite…then I think the “decision” part was made by them, but the “difficult” part is 100% your problem now.

Years of renting cheap digital assets and software has caught up with the industry, again. Hundreds of hotels are scrambling for support in the middle of the pandemic. Many are left with a zip file of their website, content, and photos (aka, their most profitable channel). If you have been reading my articles for a while, you know that owning your biggest digital asset is something I am very passionate about. Yet even in 2020, hotels are still not knowledgeable: they choose to be in the dark.

Shady agencies touting the gospel of direct revenue are also helping to make sure that the hotels working with them stay trapped in website content management system (CMS) dependency. Most agencies outsource all their work (eg, to India or Colombia), where your hotel website is managed in a digital sweatshop. Of course, you are assigned an overworked “account manager” here in the US who is simply forwarding emails all day to you and dozens of hotels just like you. I actually do not like the smell of cheap, generic strategy in the morning.

As these agencies grow, they super-optimize their offering and everything starts to look the same. This is the biggest reason we have a plague of sameness across the hundreds of design-heavy, content-free hotel websites; the same “book direct and save” Google Ads; the same social media posts; the same 50% off email newsletters. Yes, those drone videos, hyperbolic adjectives in content, and cliché photography all come from the same place.

Why would you choose to be an independent hotel if you want to use cookie cutter digital assets and strategy? Hotel brands have already achieved this level of mass production. Big brand hotels have dedicated vendors for conformity, from websites to toilet paper. Why masquerade as an independent hotel when everything you do is in the style of a brand hotel? Maybe it’s time to make a switch to digital independence.

A Brief Guide to Avoiding Worst Case Scenarios

You can prevent yourself from experiencing a vendor-induced disaster. You don’t have to let the next big industry acquisition destroy your digital assets. Here is a list of things you can protect today:

  1. Domain: This is the cheapest and simplest digital asset to always have registered in your name. Maintain ownership via a dedicated email address, phone number and address. Also, don’t be cheap; renew domains for 10+ years whenever you can. Having rescued several domains for hotels during acquisitions, I am here to tell you: do not take domain ownership lightly. I have seen/experienced some awful scenarios… I might write a horror series about it one day.
  2. Website: Never rent a website. That super low monthly fee or installment is going to come back one day and bite you. A proprietary content management system that is exclusive to your design or marketing agency is another red flag. And before you get caught up in the sales pitch, remember: If you are not using an open source platform like WordPress, you are going to eventually regret that decision. Don’t end up like Sisyphus, cursed to start from scratch time and time again. Please read this article every time someone tries to scare you out of using an open source CMS like WordPress. Remember, any design and any kind of website can be powered by WordPress, so you are free to pick any designer and any marketing agency you like. Just let them know you prefer to own your digital assets. If they protest…find another agency.
  3. Revenue Management Software: Many RMS systems claim to be built on magical, AI-powered, Machine Learning software. I don’t expect you build one for yourself using open source software. So, short of getting a team of engineers and data scientists, how can you protect yourself? The answer lies in something you provide to the RMS system every day so it can do its job: Data. No matter how established you think your vendor is, remember that they are one acquisition away from disappearing on you. As a small hotel, you can back up all your data using a simple service like Office 365. Larger management companies must invest in something more complicated and back up everything on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. RMS systems cannot do anything without your data, but please don’t rely on them to keep it safe for you. Your vendor might love you today, but do you think it will last forever? As Outkast aptly pointed out back in 2000:

    “I hope we feel like this forever
    Forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?”

  4. Hotel Booking Engine: As with the RMS, I’m not expecting you to hire a team of developers and code writers to make you an online shopping cart. This is a service you will have to buy. But you still need to look after your data. The most useful data export from a booking engine or shopping cart is your e-commerce conversion data. This info ties directly into analytics data from your other crucial digital asset, your website. Do not leave your historical data in the hands of a hotel marketing agency/vendor. I have been a Google Analytics evangelist for as long as I have been in this business. Do not let agencies push you into using expensive analytics programs like Adobe Site Catalyst (Omniture, for old people like me). Open a Google Analytics account that is owned by you and is 100% integrated into your booking engine to retain all of your e-commerce conversion data. That is your gold mine to hold onto when someone decides to pull the plug on you. Software is great; data is greater. If your vendor pulls the rug out from under your feet, you may fall hard… but you can retain your data and some dignity before you start with a new vendor.
  5. Marketing Campaigns: You’ve probably figured out what I’m going to say already: make sure you own your hotel marketing campaign. Paid search marketing is a powerful tool, but you must own the relationship with Google via your own corporate, hotel, or personal credit card. Set up a generic Gmail address that you control and make sure your vendor builds out the campaign for you using that address. Then, if your vendor ever makes the difficult decision to stop working with you, you can walk away with your own campaigns, which you have been paying for for years.

A Few Good Agencies

Yes, there are still a few good agencies and software vendors that are passionate about what they do. They are not looking to grow fast so they can sell themselves to a conglomerate. They are run by owners who are directly involved in working with you, and they are willing to help you own, run and manage effective websites built on open source platforms. These are the people who have cut back their retainers during the pandemic while continuing to support their clients at the same level of service. If you do decide to leave them at any stage, it is not a disaster. They won’t leave you with nothing but a zip file. If they are in it for the long haul, they are more interested in maintaining their integrity and reputation.

Now more than ever, marketing and digital innovation will be ushered in by smaller, smarter and leaner teams. Innovation requires hard work hard and commitment. The few good ones are hard to find, so do your research and ask questions. Clue: The larger they are, the more likely they are to cash out at the first opportunity to sell their business.


The bad habit of renting digital assets has already cost the hotel and lodging sector a lot of time and revenue. Restarting from scratch is a hard option, especially when it comes to your hotel’s digital presence. Your digital assets deserve the same respect as your physical assets. The alternative is to repeatedly to pay the heavy price of losing revenue and momentum every time you bounce from one low-cost vendor to another. This latest disaster for hotels might be caused by Booking.com, but hotels that chose to rent their digital assets have 100% responsibility here. When you sign up for something that is too good to be true, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work out in the long run. My goal here is to highlight a simple fact, over and over and over: Please invest in owning your digital assets and marketing campaigns. Then work with the right people and watch your revenue grow. Vendors will come and go, but your momentum and your profits should always stay with you.

Hotel Marketing and Revenue Management in the Time of Pandemic

Hotel Revenue Management the time of pandemic

As I write my first article during a global pandemic, my title inspiration comes from the Columbian literary superstar, Gabriel García Márquez. COVID-19 has rapidly decimated the industry I have worked in for over 20 years. There have been hardships before, but this one seems darker and more insidious than anything we have seen before. Nobody knows exactly what lies ahead, but the current reality is that thousands of our hospitality industry colleagues – many in my own personal network – have lost their livelihood or taken huge cutbacks in compensation and benefits.

March was a month filled with bad news that was staggered by geo-location, as my client base lies across varied geographies and asset types. The last of the hotel assets in my portfolio closed down on April 1. As most business comes to a grinding halt with everyone in quarantine, it has become a time for deep reflection and reconnection. I have had the chance to speak with many of my industry friends who are reeling from the effects.

With the world in quarantine, I have been surprised to see many hospitality vendors already posting their “recovery and marketing guides,” as if this is a just another minor hiccup and we are weeks/months away from business as usual. It is simply irresponsible to package a pandemic into a how-to guide. One of my close friends, industry legend Martin Soler, coined a term for this: vendsplaining.*

Vendsplaining (noun): When a hotel marketing/software vendor takes a complex problem – with specific implications for each individual client – and reduces it to a simplified “issue” that their one-size-fits-all proprietary guide or tool can solve. 

That term quickly inspired me to come up with my own term: vendcast.**

Vendcast (noun): A webcast sponsored by one or more hotel marketing vendors that addresses problems faced by hotels by offering regional or generalized strategies and tools.

* I have obtained Martin’s permission to use this word at every given opportunity.

**At the time of writing this, there are about seven vendcasts in progress, in which the vendors are vendsplaining how to beat the pandemic with a perfect plan/guide.

There is a ton of speculation on recovery timelines. I will not be doing that in this article, in case that is what you were looking for. But the one thing everyone can agree on is that a fundamental shift is inevitable in the way we operate hotels, restaurants, and airlines and plan our travel. This article is a summation of my thoughts on how things can and should change. Many of these thoughts arose from time I spent on calls with travel industry friends, ranging from Jedi masters, asset managers, investors, clients, and…vendors who don’t vendsplain (yes, they do exist!). I am focusing on the two areas of the travel business in which I have been professionally engaged for two decades: Revenue Optimization and Marketing.

There Will Be Blood

First things first. Nobody is coming out of this unscathed. From a remote four-room inn to the 650-room big box brand hotel across from the convention center in a major city, every property will be affected. I have seen articles from some so-called experts calling this “a swing of the pendulum.” That’s incorrect, as this is more a swing of the axe. No matter what the recovery timetable ends up being in the end…people and corporations across the globe are recognizing inefficiencies in how they conducted business before the global shutdown.

Here are some of the major travel industry players taking a direct hit:

In summary, there is no AI-powered pricing software, content strategy, or digital marketing ad campaign that can help hotels recover revenue quickly. Acceptance of loss has to be the first step in what looks to be a slow recovery. Anyone offering a swift hack to get everything back to business as usual should be avoided, like the coronavirus itself.

Hotel Revenue Management: What’s Next?

Some revenue optimization basics are always prudent, but all strategies need be tailored to your location, as well as regional and global financial trends. Pricing is crucial but your product still has to deliver corresponding value. Amenities like breakfast, upgrades, etc. will be more relevant than ever. So letʻs not forget the basics: your databases, room types, distribution mix, and most of all your offering all impact your profitability. What I have outlined below are some broader changes that may be coming into play over the next several months and years.

The Ides of March

2019, which now seems like so many years ago, was a good year for most hotels worldwide. To quote Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Why? Because the RevPar growth was already slowing down following the recovery from our last financial meltdown in 2008.

The warning signs pointing toward the end of boom cycle for travel were already there. In addition to it being an election year in the US, recession was already on the lips of many finance world soothsayers, warning us of imminent decline at the end of a growth cycle.

Asset managers, owners and operators worldwide were chasing ADR growth for 2019, as it was the only way to increase profits. But that was easier said than done. Why?

  • New demand in the market was nicely met by all the new hotels going online. This made it harder for the established hotels to pull in big ADR numbers.
  • Rate of inflation was higher than the ADR growth, which in simple terms means “it got more expensive to run a hotel.” Rising costs can eat into your profits real quick, and that is where the majority of hotels were losing money. Payroll expenses kept going up.

The general forecast for 2020 from top industry sources like STR and Phocuswright was never super rosy to begin with. A major correction in rates was already under way before the pandemic in markets like Seattle, Houston, Boston, etc. Markets were dealing with their own issues. Case in point: San Francisco was reeling from negative press, interactive street poop maps, and loss of major conventions (Oracle Open World) due to high ADR’s and “poor street conditions.”

We have a tendency to look back at the “good old days.” I want to make sure we stay cognizant of the fact that signs of the slowdown were everywhere…we were at the end of the 10-year growth cycle. But nobody expected 2020 to fall off the cliff like it did.

When people eventually start traveling again, the comeback will be slow and painful for a lot of hotels. As a revenue optimization professional, I foresee some long hours ahead on the road to recovery. As I look into the future, talk with my colleagues and make notes on my trusted whiteboard, here are some things I can see changing for our industry.

Goodbye, Non-Refundable Rates

You read that right. I think it is time to say goodbye to this incredibly tempting rate type, which the industry embraced during the good times. As a guest, nothing is more annoying than realizing after a change of plans (for a variety of valid reasons) that you booked a great deal at a hotel you are not going to visit anymore. Airlines are the kings of non-refundable fares; like everything else in revenue management that trickles down from airlines to hotels, we embraced it and made it a part of our industry. Check out the horrible press that Airbnb received for their complicated and confusing refund policies.

It is time for both independent and brand hotels to step away from this rate type and let people book with confidence. Taking people hostage with terms and conditions seems out of place in the world we are about to inherit. Recovery starts with flexibility and, yes, you can quote me:

“Recovery starts with flexibility.”

– Vikram Singh

We simply cannot take people’s wallets hostage anymore. A crisis like this presents the perfect opportunity to embrace flexibility and use it to build “brand loyalty,” something we all love to talk about but very few know how to transform into revenue.

Ending Direct Revenue Mania

This point will soon be published as its own lengthy article. It was slated to be my next topic before the outbreak. However, here is a very basic TLDR summary:

Over the past few years, there has been a certain fanaticism about Direct Revenue. Software and marketing vendors have made it their tag line. It has been cast as the holiest and purest of all revenue channels. The term “most profitable channel” has been used ad nauseam. I strongly believe that we need to make a slight correction here. Maybe chill out with the direct hyperbole, maybe do some meditation and yoga to relax?

The recovery, when it happens, will be one of the worst times to get picky about distribution costs and wage wars on your distribution partners. We already know that a massive correction is about to happen to hotels and their distribution mixes. Direct channel is and always will be important, nobody is arguing that but it is not free money. There is cost associated with it and it has its limitations when it comes to generating the volume of revenue it takes to make a profit.

Vendors with “I Love Direct” and “Direct or Die” facial tattoos will need to get off their high horses and walk a few miles to cool off. Let’s go back to the 80’s when Frankie say relax. Remember,  direct revenue is not free money. The industry needs to come to terms with the costs that are associated with all channels. We cannot afford to tilt at windmills anymore. (It’s also a great time to read/reread El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.) Obsession over an idea, no matter how noble, never ends well. You can quote me on this:

“Recovery will happen from all channels.”

– Vikram Singh

The Distribution Remix

Keeping in mind the unique recovery challenges associated with this pandemic, let’s take a brief look into the future. Groups and accounts associated with large meetings and conventions will likely take the longest time to come back. Corporate travel, which is traditionally the first one to bounce back, will also take more time based on the massive number of furloughs and layoffs. Hiring back always takes longer than taking an axe to the workforce.

Local drive markets will see the first signs of recovery. Eventually, the world will slowly but surely return to air travel, eager to meet family, friends and colleagues, and having forgotten about dirty airplanes, liquid bans, squalid airports, and the joys of TSA screenings. Maybe they will even cram themselves like sardines into basic economy fares to travel the globe. However, for the US market, incentivized in-state traffic will usher in the recovery, followed later by national and then international traffic.

For all your revenue management initiatives, remember that there has never been a more important time to be nice to your neighbors. I want you to read this with the Mister Rogers intro theme playing in your head.

The End of Resort Fees

I don’t think any two words have invoked a more venomous reaction from hotel guests over the last two decades than “Resort Fees” (aka: Urban Fees, Facility Fees, Destination Fees, Resort Charge, etc). A fee by any other name would be equally notorious. Critics of the fee have called it the “most deceptive and unfair pricing practice in the hotel industry.” It allows hotels to advertise a low rate and then ask for more money at check-in, even if the guest is not interested in using the amenities it supposedly covers. Even as a hotel revenue professional, it sounds pretty bad when I type it here. It’s basically drip pricing for hotels.

The resort fees trend started in the US (mid-1990’s) and has generated tremendous hate. How much hate are we talking here? I am glad you asked. So much that, as of this writing, 47 Attorneys General have opened an investigation into it. The most dramatic example was when Marriott Hotels was issued a subpoena by the Washington DC Attorney General for their non-cooperation.

In a most bizarre, almost surreal period in the travel business, the two top OTA’s are doing their part to “tackle resort fees” while major brands stay silent.

Expedia: They offer higher rankings to hotels not charging resort fees. Their official statement reads: “We know hotel-collected mandatory fees can be confusing to consumers, and we expect, among otherwise equivalent hotels, these changes will result in higher visibility on our sites for hotels not charging these fees.” In short, if you charge resort fees, Expedia will lower your rankings on their booking site and show guests a warning that you charge resort fees. Wow!.*

*In Owen Wilson’s voice. Please enjoy a 2-minute, 35-second compilation of him saying “wow”. You’re welcome.

Booking: It’s no surprise that in classic Booking.com fashion, they want a piece of the resort fees pie. They are including resort fees when calculating their commission. Official statement: “Hopefully, this will help continue to push the entire industry toward more transparency and fewer ‘surprises’ for customers.” 911, I would like to report a murderous sweet burn. If you can’t best them, make some money off of them in the name of transparency. Hey, nobody has ever accused Booking of not being great at making money. The fact that they used the word transparency is the ultimate atomic burn on our industry. Do kids still say atomic burn? Probably not, but you guys get the gist of it.

Post-pandemic recovery will be a great time for hotels (both brand and independent) to move away from drip pricing and give the guest confidence when they are booking their next trip. Big hotel brands like Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG have a tremendous opportunity right now take the lead on this. After all the complaints and articles about “evil OTA’s” stealing their customers, how can major brands let them lead the charge on transparent pricing? Are we awake, or is this a dream inside a dream inside another dream? Can someone please start playing Edith Piaf and give me an inception kick?

Brands need to show that they really care about their customers beyond sending everyone in their database a COVID-19 email, or posting videos of their CEO in tears, or yelling at them to “BOOK DIRECT” via expensive well-paid celebrities. An opportunity to take the lead has landed on the laps of the most powerful decision-makers in the hospitality industry. Please, let’s do the right thing.

Hotel Marketing: What’s Next?

As with revenue management, winds of change have been blowing in the marketing landscape for a while. All hotel websites look the same, everyone has a drone video, hotel ads look the same, all are inviting us to book direct and save, most mobile booking experience sucks, all have a best rate guarantee and, finally, all hotels are offering 20%- 40% off their best available rates in their email blasts.

A complete shutdown of non-essential travel is also the hard-reset button for hotel and travel marketing teams worldwide. This is the right time to start thinking about how you plan to be different when things get back online. Over the years, I have told hotels to:

Build Better Websites
Get Better Booking Engines
Stop Spending on “SEO”
Start Spending on Ads That Work
Stop Wasting Money on TripAdvisor
Send Better Emails
Have Better Hotel Events
Upgrade Their Success Metrics
Start Writing Better Content
Start Owning Digital Assets
Do Not Rent/Lease Websites

That’s enough content to publish a small book. Maybe I will one of these days. Until then, I encourage you to reread some the long-form content I have posted and get yourself mentally prepared for the changes ahead.

Here are a few other items I have been getting a lot of questions about.

You Can’t Growth Hack a Pandemic

The final stage of grief is acceptance. Let’s start there. A wide range of COVID-19 recovery strategy guides have already been published without any concrete “open for business” dates from the world’s governments. Based on the content produced so far, I can see that the mindset is still around how marketing is going to save the day. Example: Discount Gary Vee wannabes are busy posting “growth hacking” content that is completely detached from reality. This mindset might have partially worked after some of the other declines hotels have experienced in the past …but this is going to be different. As I write this, 16 million people in the US have lost their jobs. 

The unemployment rate in the US is predicted to hit 15%, which is the highest number since the Second World War. It is irresponsible to spin a marketing guide sitting here in the month of April. Recovery will be hard and extremely hands-on. There is no road to a quick bounce-back, but there will be an eventual bounce-back. It is more important than ever not to oversimplify recovery. Observe and report. Recovery will start locally and expand out from there.

Right now, it’s better to start with some things that are long overdue for an overhaul.

Move Beyond Vendor Management

For most hotels, this a moment of real change. People with the word ‘marketing’ in their job title will have to start doing actual marketing work. There is simply no money left to pay employees for emailing/harassing vendors and then spending useless hours in marketing meetings. There are some very talented people out of work; your recovery will be based on the caliber of people you choose.

There is hope for those whose entire career has been vendor management…they just have to learn how to do actual work. The shutdown is a great time to expand your skills beyond doing marketing calls and playing email jockey.

Hands-on agencies will survive as they are doing the work for owners who are busy running the property. On the flip side, agencies collecting monthly fees from hotels that were sitting at 20% to 30% occupancy even before the pandemic hit… will simply not make it. The luxury of paying agencies thousands of dollars every month to change a few words and photos on your website and run a few Google Ads are over. Specially when you have “marketing and e-commerce” in your job title these expenses cannot be justified anymore. You either do marketing or get out the way of ownership to work with someone who does.

Stop Spending on “SEO”

I outlined how the Hotel SEO Bubble burst back in 2013. If it is still going to appear in your agency invoices as a line item when you re-open…then Houston, we have a big problem. Google is great, but it is not your friend and owes you nothing. Google is here to sell ads and make money. If you keep your website healthy, lightning fast, and usable on mobile, and keep your Google my business listing current, then you will be fine.

Content, site speed and mobile usability reign supreme. Chasing rankings in 2020 and touting organic search results is the ultimate hipster move. Riding a unicycle in a bike race is cool but you will never win. It’s a great time to ask yourself what you are paying for and how you can migrate that cash over to something useful, like paid ads or content production.

Pause Paid Advertising for Now

When your hotel is closed, it is ok to pause your ads. Yes, this 100% includes brand name campaigns in Google and all metasearch campaigns. Agencies/vendors that are telling you that “cost per click” in the market is low should use use their time in quarantine to learn demand and supply 101. Please email them this list of classes to take.

Nobody is booking travel right now, and therefore the cost is low. This should not be packaged as a great opportunity to capture some future pie in the sky business. If there are no surfers in the ocean, then it is very likely that there are no good waves to be ridden or that a shark alert has been issued. When in doubt, don’t go out. (And just like that, I get to use a reference from my home in Hawaii.)

Don’t panic and fall for the whole engagement sales pitch. Take a deep breath. Is your website still running well? Google Business Listing updated? Good, now wait until we get an open for business date. Please don’t wave ads in people’s faces while they are locked down. It is annoying and in no way an inspiration for them to book travel.

Cash is tight, so please take care of your employees first. They will be crucial when the recovery starts. Google and others will take your money anytime…it’s like their favorite thing to do, every day. Also, if you are still clinging to TripAdvisor ads, it’s ok to let go now and reallocate your budgets.

Relax With Social Media

The road to social media is paved with disaster. It’s ok to tone it down and take a health break from it. There is nothing you need say on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram that is crucial to the recovery. I wrote in detail about influencers in my last post. This is the perfect opportunity to consciously uncouple from influencers and focus on taking care of your employees, neighbors, and communities. (I saw an article that highlighted “charitable acts as great hotel branding opportunities”. I rolled my eyes so far that they were stuck behind my head for a while.)

Please don’t succumb to the hubris that you need to entertain people on your hotel social media accounts while they are getting laid off and face an uncertain future. Leave that to Netflix/Amazon/Hulu, etc. ICYMI Here are some things that already have caused a terrible backlash on social:

In short: Avoid the urge to post at this time. When things open again, you can get back to posting “healing and inspirational photos” in no time. Just because you have a microphone does not mean you have to say something all the time.

Take It Easy With Email & CRM

I think everyone and their brother has already sent out a COVID-19 email. A company I brought a paper clip from in 1999 recently emailed me about their concern for my well-being. Every single hotel brand, including the one I stayed with once in 1995 (25 years ago), sent me an email. Idea: Instead of blasting your entire database you are better off putting your message on your home page and reserving email to communicate with people who have booked a stay with you.

Oh, remember the hotel group that sent me 60+ promo emails in a year? Guess what? They never stopped and were pushing a 45% Relax On Shores Of Cancun vacation to me in Hawaii late into the lockdown in the middle of March. You simply cannot make this stuff up!


Time to Retire Retargeting

I am going to keep this short and sweet. Retargeting was never cool and has always been annoying to your guests. It was nothing more than a violation of privacy that they let slide in the name of convenience. I had been planning to write something more detailed to make my point. But sometimes things just land in your lap and you close the case. A single image can deliver more power than a thousand words. In my case, make it 3000 words (my average article).

Banner ads for hotels and travel companies have been showing up in articles about mass graves and medical supply shortages! One in particular as hit me hard as I was reading about how doctors in Italy had stopped counting dead bodies. Lo and behold, there was an ad for a hotel brand with a BOOK NOW call to action. Again, you cannot make this stuff up:

Let’s take this opportunity to stop paying for retargeting. This is a marketing idea whose time has passed. Say your goodbyes.

Conclusion: Skilled Teams Will Lead the Recovery

If you are still reading this, I saved the best for last, just for you. Let’s start with an excerpt from one of the greatest stories ever told:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The recovery will happen. Speculating on its timeline is a waste of time. I refuse to speculate when there is still so much work to be done in our industry.

We have a massive challenge ahead of us, no question. Recovery efforts will be further complicated by the limited resources we will be left with after the shutdown. One resource that is going to be more crucial than ever is good people. Your success will depend on who you choose work with when we get back to business. The silos of revenue, marketing, and operations need to come tumbling down. From their rubble will rise the superhero recovery teams (minus the capes and spandex of course). The gap between the A-team players and everyone else is going to get bigger. Smaller, smarter and nimbler teams will shine.

Right now, we hold steady, think about the future, and wait for the safe time to start again. And remember: quarantine is temporary, but Wu-Tang 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.

My Top 6 Articles of 2016

2016 was a very interesting year and will surely be a memorable one. I have had the opportunity to grow and flourish personally and professionally thanks to support from many people.

First, I have to thank my readers for making this a banner year for my site. Social sharing this year was phenomenal, allowing my content to reach the far corners of the globe. I was especially thrilled to see Cook Islands on the list. Since my home base is in Hawaii, it’s nice to see my neighbors in Polynesia stopping by.

It was a great year of professional growth as well, thanks to my new role at The Rainmaker Group. I have been working with some amazing people on the art and science of integrating revenue management and digital marketing. More exciting updates on that role will be coming your way soon.

I loved having the opportunity to speak at many industry conferences and events, from Toronto to New Orleans, Las Vegas to Nashville. One major change I noticed this past year is that someone approached me at every single event to tell me that they subscribe to my blog! I am not famous yet, but it’s starting to feel like Almost Famous. When I started writing in 2013, I never thought I would get to meet the people who read my articles!

In 2017, I will keep writing content that you can use to grow professionally without getting bored to death. I’m still rooting for you to make more revenue and more profits. I am counting on you guys to continue spreading the word. As for 2016, the tribe has spoken. Here are my top posts based on traffic, engagement and social sharing:

  1. Hotel Website Design and Usability: Top 10 Mistakes
  2. BookingSuite: A Lesson in Direct Revenue Strategy
  3. Let’s Keep It Real: The Truth About Hotel Meta Search
  4. Super Metrics for Hotel Marketing & Online Revenue Optimization
  5. Dinosaur Metrics Are Taking a Bite Out of Your Hotel Marketing Performance
  6. Do You Really Need a Separate Brand for Millennials?