Hotels Must Embrace Remote Work

Remote Work

After my last pandemic-focused article, my inbox was flooded with queries about remote work. I had urged hotels to embrace remote work and stop putting geographical restrictions on hiring the best talent. Most of the emails I received questioned the long-term feasibility of remote work, especially for a hotel organization.

I want to address some of these concerns and share some further thoughts on how work/office culture is already changing. Obviously, some jobs can never be performed remotely (front desk, housekeeping, etc). However, remote work is already having a direct impact on the hotel and travel industry, and this trend will continue. I recommend trying to embrace it. Not because it is trendy, but because it will increase your bottom line.

Dislike remote work? Ok, Boomer.

Much of the feedback I received about the idea of remote work was negative. Some people don’t see how it could possibly work. What if I told you that the majority of them are old? (Disclaimer: I am old too!) Sadly, the most apt response to a lot of these emails is captured by these two words: “Ok, Boomer.”

Memes and jokes aside, even some of the young(er) (40s-50s) hotel company CEOs are passionate about having their employees return to office-based work. Why the reluctance to embrace remote work? The answer lies in our past. If you do the math, you know that many of us did not grow up during the internet age. Bare bones commercial broadband really hit the market in 1998-99. That means that even geriatric millennials did not have access to internet in the early part of their lives.

Being older doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the past. As a senior person in the industry and as a parent, I never pass up an opportunity to check in with the youth on the latest trends. This is important, as they are the future, etc.  I always try and avoid the “how do you do, fellow kids” situations. Please take the time to talk to someone whose first ultrasound was posted on Facebook. Ask them how integral internet has been to their life, and how quickly the way they use it continues to evolve. Then imagine them commuting for hours to go to a specific room to do something that they can do from their home. Imagine relocating them to an expensive city so they can be in that room from 9 to 5, leaving behind everything they love and the lifestyle their preferred location offers. I know: we all used to do that. (Cue the stories about walking 10 miles to school in the snow.) But times have changed.

Being a laggard is not tied to age, but to a mindset. The youth are speaking. Are you listening? People in departments like marketing, analytics, revenue management, content, and digital have no business being tied to a cubicle. Your middle-aged VP/CEO might not agree, but the writing is on the wall.

Where did all the good people go?

Fellow Hawaii resident Jack Johnson asked this question back in 2005. Employees are on the move, and good ones are getting harder to find. There has been a shift in the way people approach their careers. I’m sure you have heard of the “Great Resignation” looming over the workforce. Here are some sobering reads on where the job market is headed.

  1. Employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers’ behavior during the pandemic has played a big part in why they’re walking away.
  2. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics saw four million people quit their jobs in September, which is the highest spike on record.
  3. An HR Company called Porsinio (UK and Ireland) conducted a study in which 38% of people surveyed planned to quit their jobs within 6 to 12 months.
  4. In a Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers, 41% were considering quitting or changing professions. 

The hotel and travel business is not exempt from this trend. Being forced to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic exposed a new life/work model to many people who had been practically living at work. The realization that you are working on a laptop and doing exactly same thing you did from the office is life-changing, as we can see from the millions of people looking to change their work environment.

We know how much time, effort, and carbon emissions go into commuting! And how much more you have to pay for an expensive place that’s near the fancy office building! Free office lunch is great, but no perk can match the comfort of cold hard cash being saved on housing, gas, dry cleaning, etc.

By the way, this re-examination of how and where you want to spend your time was not limited to the job. The pandemic saw an increase in separations among married and live-in couples. People started questioning who they were living with, once they started spending more time together.

The Jerk 

Let’s talk about the office jerks. The pandemic took away much of their power to harass fellow co-workers. When working from home, the jerk doesn’t sit behind you anymore. He has to log off when the mandatory Zoom call is done. This is a true galaxy brain moment: What if I did not have to work with jerks anymore? Not even on Zoom/Slack!

RIP “The Office”

People still want to work, but they do not want to join a cult.

I was amused by the texts and emails I got in response to my personal anecdote about manufactured company culture (last month’s article). It’s always great to connect with colleagues from time spent in the church of the office.

The old formula of: “Big Team + Big Office Space = How Successful You Are” no longer works.

Both companies and employees can see that people working on laptops at home are still producing the same results – or sometimes better results – in terms of overall productivity and mental health. Cutting down the commute and “office culture” time has boosted workers’ productivity. This phenomenon was outlined in several studies way before 2020. But it took a pandemic to force companies to really test out the WFH (work from home) system.

Result: A global WFH shift has shown that, even over an extended period of time, you don’t need an office for the majority of your departments. There is a reason why almost 20% of all NYC office space is empty. 

Offices have long been the extension of CEOs’ egos, with their higher floors, corporate logo on the building, lavish spreads, fancy digs. I get it, people like bling. But here is a not so novel idea: Why not use that wealth to create a happier workforce? Instead of paying rent, give employees bonuses instead. There will still be enough money for several team gatherings throughout the year.

Rethinking Middle Management

As soon as “the office is essential” façade was lifted from the corporate world, a crucial issue was exposed in the hotel corporate structure: middle management, aka The Workforce Police.

Some CEOs have the mindset that they essentially “own” the their workers during certain hours of the week, and need to corral them into an office during those hours. This desire has added a whole layer of middle managers to watch over them and whip them into shape. This is not how the youth want to live their lives. Why are we surprised that they don’t want to work in an outdated system?

Remote work eliminates much of the need to have middle management on your payroll. Most hotel management companies have a team of people employed just to make sure other people are physically present and doing their jobs. Middle management becomes redundant with remote work, as you start attracting and hiring people who are already doing the work on their own. What a concept.

Hotel and travel companies have always struggled to find people who actually do the work instead of managing the work. That’s why we have a parade of Vice Presidents and middle managers towering over lower waged, younger employees who actually can do the work they have been hired to do.

Leaders and middle managers fighting against remote work are afraid that their job is being rendered obsolete by remote work (which it is). But I don’t know how you justify paying for offices and managers when those funds can be given to your best performing employees, the ones who do the work that drives more profit.

Remote Work Culture Wars

For any good idea, there is always pushback from the establishment. It is not just hotel brands, but also global powerhouses like Apple and Chase, who are throwing shade on remote. Ironically, one of them makes phones and laptops that enable you to work well from anywhere in the world! To quote Alanis Morrissette “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”

It’s important that you read and memorize this: Remote does not mean that we never meet anyone in person ever again. It is not a prison sentence! People will still travel and meet up with their co-workers. It is not all or nothing. Teams will need to get together every now and then.

I see a lot of leaders posting about the “power of in person” on LinkedIn. It only takes about five minutes on their company’s Glassdoor page to learn about the bullying, back-biting, favoritism, or borderline illegal “happy hour” experiences that are taking place in their organizations.

Not all office culture is toxic. But idolizing in person as a singular/magical way to connect is overplayed. Remote work saves organizations tons of time! It is time that workers can use to… do actual work! Another plus is that people don’t have to focus so much on appearances. (I mean, do you even care about your company if you are not wearing Salvatore Ferragamo shoes to the next meeting?) Women are affected by this issue the most, and I’m guessing many of them would rather put more focus on their work and less on how they look.

When it comes to taking sides on the remote culture wars: Don’t pick the shiny embossed office mug, as it is not the holy grail. I recommend doing humble work while drinking from your well-worn cup at home to prevent your face from melting off.

More Flexibility, More Profits

Finally, let’s discuss the feature of remote culture that I think we can all get behind: the financial windfall!

Working in revenue optimization, I am not shy about admitting that I am all about the profits. It’s the reason people hire me! So, let’s talk about how remote work can help you cut costs and boost revenue in three easy steps.

  1. Save Office Rent: How much can you save by reducing or eliminating rent costs? If you’re not ready to completely let go, keep enough conference rooms to host teams when they need to meet in person. Twice yearly, you can book extra workspace and hotel rooms for larger groups. **Since you are in hotels, plan it during the slow season and get the best rates (tip of the hat to revenue managers).
  2. Hire Globally: I am not saying that you need to have your entire team based in another country, but how about people from another state? A state with lower taxes, for example? Or a lower cost of living? The possibilities are endless, so please Google “cost of living calculators by state and country” for a shock.
  3. Trim the Fat: People working remotely need less management. Eliminate management positions and spend the money on better talent.

Your profits were always there, my dear Watson. You were just spending them in the wrong places.


The office has long been the gym membership of the corporate world. It’s a place where your team is expected to show up, interact with each other, and keep up the appearance of working, even when they are not working. Commute, look busy, repeat. Look at any historical e-commerce stats: the majority of online research and shopping is happening Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Yes, during office hours! This was a fact way before the whole work from home thing hit the scene.

The pandemic revealed that office-based work can often be an excuse to spend time away from home and family. For many of us, 100% of our work can be done from literally anywhere in the world. And a lot of us would like to do it from the comfort of our own home, or even on the road. Anywhere we are happy and have WiFi, we can thrive.

As for the younger generation, they are deciding that the human cost of constructing your life around a physical office is too high. People who are good at what they do – the ones who don’t need excessive amounts of meetings or supervision – are flocking to flexibility. The A Team is working from home and running circles around people still trapped in the office. As we enter this new era of work, during a pandemic that refuses to go away, just remember one very important thing:

That 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. 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 (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, 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 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: 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, 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 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.

How Google Reviews Is Crushing TripAdvisor


An interesting trend has been brewing in the travel business. Quietly but surely, Google Reviews has been expanding their online review market share for brick and mortar businesses. Since hotels, inns and B&Bs are a 100% location-driven business, this change directly impacts both their revenue and branding.

Online reviews left by strangers have become almost as trusted as personal recommendations. However, placing this much trust in reviews requires the user to be able to filter real reviews from fake ones. This sorting process can be extremely frustrating, especially on websites like TripAdvisor where everything is controlled by an almighty “secret algorithm.” Still, hotels and inns have been under the TripAdvisor spell for a while now. TripAdvisor dominates the conversation to such a large extent that I felt the need to write a 3500-word article about how to curb your hotel’s obsession with TripAdvisor.

Meanwhile, Google with its “of course, we can do it better” mantra has beefed up its own review platform, which is fully integrated into its existing search and maps empire. They always play to win.

Let’s Talk About Yelp, Baby

Before trying to understand the impact of the new and improved Google Reviews on TripAdvisor, let’s talk about the other hyper-local-focused review platform…you know, the one that inspired a South Park Episode. I am, of course, talking about Yelp. Looking at where Yelp stands today is a window into how things might play out for TripAdvisor in the not-so-distant future. Here’s the story of Yelp.

The Beginning. Yelp was started in 2004 by ex-PayPal employees Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons (not Def Jam). PayPal has produced more billionaire founders than any other company. But I digress. Hereʻs the main thing. As was the case with many review websites, the best intentions did not lead to the best outcomes.

The IPO. User-generated (free) content fueled the massive growth of the website and led them into a 2010 IPO.

Greed. Two words…Advertising Dollars. This is where things got out of hand. Yelp pushed their ads real hard on local businesses, just like TripAdvisor does today with hotels. This practice brought about several accusations of extortion by business owners against Yelp. Most complaints focused on either positive reviews being removed from a business’s page if they did not buy ads, or on Yelp letting competitors pay for ads to remove/hide negative reviews. The similarities to some of the review/ranking/advertising issues TripAdvisor is experiencing right now is surreal.

Pushback. Enter lawsuits with the Federal Trade Commission. Although the FTC dismissed these cases, the cases highlighted the plight of small business owners being held ransom by Yelp ads and Yelp Elites. It always reminds me of the stressed-out B&B owner in tears about his TripAdvisor reviews. Most ethical business owners moved their advertising dollars to platforms that were not squeezing the small business owner. Of course, movies like Billion Dollar Bully did not help Yelp at all.

Winds of Change. Nothing good or bad lasts forever. Since 2014, the general population has been moving toward Google Reviews, Google Maps, and Instagram…and advertising dollars have followed. The accessibility of these platforms is much better than anything Yelp had to offer. While user reviews remain very relevant, the way people like to look at information has changed. People find it easier to communicate with businesses on Google/Instagram/Twitter than on Yelp. Result? Advertising declines → stock price declines.

Perception. As a travel industry lifer with friends in the restaurant business, I know one thing for certain. People writing Yelp reviews are not considered to be the smartest people around. South Park doing a full episode on Yelp Elites was instrumental in showcasing this issue. I also think about what the late, great Anthony Bourdain said about Elite Yelpers in an interview with Business Insider:

“There’s really no worse or lower human being than an Elite Yelper. They’re universally loathed by chefs everywhere. They are the very picture of entitled, negative energy. They’re bad for chefs, they’re bad for restaurants.”

I could not agree more. Likewise, my chef/restaurant friends have severely limited the time they spend on Yelp. Instead, they check food photos online to see how their product is being received and shared on sites like Google Reviews and Instagram. Instantly qualifying the person posting a review and having social proof is a great thing! Also, these mediums offer a greater chance for a business owner to interact directly with both negative and positive reviewers.

Declining But Not Dying (Yet). Yelp is not shutting down anytime soon. Hey, not that long ago (2009), Google wanted to buy Yelp for $500 million! Yahoo threw their hat in the ring with a $1 billion number soon after. Yelp is still going pretty strong, and still garnering new reviews and content. At the same time, even more reviews and ad dollars are pouring into Google and Instagram. Plus, we know that Google is definitely from the “if you can’t buy it, beat it to pulp” school of thought. So they will make sure that Yelp does not make a big comeback.

The TripCollective Elite Contributors Game


Guess what? The points earned by reviewers do not have a monetary value. It is apparently a game. A game in which you rank your entitlement on a website that then turns around and sells ads (for money) on the free content you uploaded on their website.

It’s like an episode of Black Mirror… where you are the game! If you are bored and into gaming, Fortnite and Red Dawn 2 are very good. Why not try those instead?

Also, see Anthony Bourdainʻs quote above. It also applies here. Same people, different platform.

*Psst…did you know there is a rumored Level 7 TripAdvisor Elite? (If this piques your interest, you might be reading the wrong blog.)

Rise of the Google Reviews

Google gets tons of cash from TripAdvisor spending on Google Ads. TripAdvisor sells advertising on their own website in part to support their Google Ads habit.

As more travel industry ad dollars shift toward Google and Facebook, TripAdvisor has gone hard into pushing their own advertising platform while offering very little analytics and support in return. One of their offerings: paying for a link. Can you believe in 2019 you can pay just to get a link from another website? You know, like an online directory listing circa 2001. It’s like if you did not have a link to your hotel from TripAdvisor, your guest would never be able to find you after reading your reviews. They must be familiar with this little thing called Google, where you can type in a hotel’s name and magically find it!

We know that Google is king when it comes to advertising. How else is Google Reviews tightening its grip on the hotel review market? Two initiatives stand out for me.

Local Search

Google has been a verb for a while now. So yeah, when you “Google a hotel” in search, you get the hotel’s location, hours, phone number, reviews, website, and rates in a nicely packaged search box. This offering is even more relevant on mobile.

Google My Business is the most visible of all the review sites, and therefore now gets more people to use it. Look at the simplicity in action:

Android Push

I am an Android user. (Apple still gets my laptop and power adapter dollars.) One of the main drivers of Google Reviews has been the frequency of Google asking you to leave a review based on where you are. I had to turn that off on my phone. But the fact remains that Google has made it super easy to get you to leave a review based on your GPS location while logged into your Google Account. This feature definitely adds to the review’s authenticity, as the user’s Google account and location provide some proof of them actually having been at your location.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor is penalizing hotels for any reviews posted by guests using the hotel’s computer/Wi-Fi network, etc. Feels like TripAdvisor is the upside down when it comes to people leaving reviews from a location they are actually in. They would rather have user ‘crazyboog1999’ trash your hotel from their mother’s basement.

Pro tip. If you are tired of Google asking you to leave reviews: Select “Settings,” then “Notifications.” Finally, tap on “Your contributions,” and then switch off “Questions about places.”

Based on a True Story

This year I took a trip to Tokyo and exclusively used Google Reviews to make my purchasing decisions. Here is my story. (Insert the Law and Order bell.)

Trip Origin. I have visited Tokyo many times before. All those trips were work-related, which means that I absolutely focused on location first, price second. This time it was a personal trip, and location was not the only factor. Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world. No matter where you are, you can get around quickly. All you need is cash, a Suica Card, and Google Maps.

Time Frame. I was visiting Tokyo from December 27 to January 3, and then heading to Kyoto. This is a time of year when many local businesses are closed, and there are fewer tourists than usual. However, there is a ton of domestic travel, with families taking vacations, staying with extended family, and visiting shrines in honor of the New Year. The busiest time of year in Tokyo is March/April (cherry blossoms) followed by fall; winter is mellower, but the New Year’s shrine and family visits still make it competitive. Yes, I work in the revenue optimization business.

Research. The first step for me with personal travel is to check with my industry friends. Sadly, I am not a big deal in Japan… yet. I narrowed my search to hotels in Ginza (Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue), which had less compression as a business district during year-end holidays.

The Winner. Good news! I discovered a hotel with incredible rates and a great location. Downside…it was not open yet. A minor detail like that doesnʻt bother me, as I am in the business of opening new hotels. I booked my dates and locked in an amazing deal. I was curious about the product, but the pre-launch website was just a smorgasbord of stock photos.

Realization. I waited for the hotel to get reviews. Two weeks before anything was ever posted on TripAdvisor, I started to see comments and photos on Google Reviews. Thatʻs when I had a moment of realization: the only place to find any reviews for the hotel from Day 1 of opening was Google Reviews. They were followed closely by Expedia/Booking/Agoda reviews that were very nicely integrated into the Google Reviews ecosystem.

Oh, in case you were wondering, TripAdvisor scored its first review when I was already boarding my flight to Tokyo at the end of December! (Cue in Carole King’s Itʻs Too Late.)

A Brief Guide to Optimizing Your Business for Google Reviews

The epicenter of your reputation management as a brick and mortar business should be Google My Business (GMB). The amount of time spent reviewing TripAdvisor reviews in operations meetings needs to change. A lot more time and energy needs to go toward Google Reviews. These are managed under your GMB. Here’s a quick list you can use to optimize this channel:

1. The Basics. Make sure that your Google My Business (GMB) listing is claimed. I am sorry if this is 101 information for you, but just this week I saw an established hotel with a neighborhood restaurant listed as the primary on their GMB page! (Yes, website link, phone, everything pointed to the restaurant.)

2. Update Everything. Your GMB has a direct impact on all the Google activities a potential guest will do in order to find and book your hotel (search, Google Maps, etc). Make sure your address, phone number, business hours, and types of payments accepted are updated, and all links point to the right places. This is a basic and endless chore, so get used to checking this information on a regular basis.

3. Enhance It. Google has added some great features to GMB that hotels should use. An enhanced GMB listing helps to grab your guest’s attention when they are researching your hotel. There is a possible impact on local search rankings, but I try to refrain from rankings talk ever since I posted this article on SEO a few years back.

3. Check Yourself. Anyone can suggest edits to your GMB listing and have them take effect. It’s a very good idea to log in and keep an eye on things. Have you completed your profile? If not, then someone else will…yes, that includes your competition. Also, you cannot count on GMB email alerts to work 100% of the time. I repeat…just this month, I encountered a 200-room hotel’s local listing pointing to a neighborhood restaurant! It’s like the Wild West out there.

4. Answer Questions. This is one of the most relevant sections of GMB when it comes to the travel industry. People have questions about places they are going to visit someday. Even after arriving/staying at your location, most people look for information on their phone before ever talking to a human. Try and get the Q&A section filled out with the frequently asked questions and answers you have buried on your website somewhere. Talk to your front desk and make a list of questions they get asked all the time. The TripAdvisor/Yelp complex has trained everyone to live in fear of bad reviews and keep your laser focus on their platform. Instead, you can help guests who are looking for information about you. Help them first, then work on converting them into paying customers in the near future. Alternatively, if you ignore the Q&A section, someone else will answer the questions for you. You might not like the answers they give.

5. Ask & Receive. It’s standard operating procedure for hotels to ask their guests to leave a review on the world’s most trusted biggest travel website (TripAdvisor). This needs to change right away. Instead, you should ask your guests to leave you a Google Review. Google reviews are clearly associated with their Gmail/G-suite accounts and in most cases are verifiable and not hidden behind an obnoxious username like “JoeMama90210.” Replying to Google Reviews directly and in a concise manner is a key advantage. You can be direct without being trapped in the despair-ridden TripAdvisor platform.

I am not going to tout GMB optimization as a ranking tactic. But I can say that it will help you make more revenue.


Online reviews are crucial for any business, not just travel. Over the past few years, the obsession hotels and inns have developed with TripAdvisor has caused them to lose sight of the real powerhouse: Google. All of Google’s recent upgrades have served to make them a better information center for the end user. TripAdvisor with its hyper-narrow focus might be the biggest review website in the world today, but it is getting pushed to the sidelines by a bigger and smarter competitor. You don’t have to speculate much. Just look at Yelp and how their story played out. I’d say we have a near perfect example of history repeating itself.

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.




Is Your Hotel Booking Engine Destroying Your Profitability?

Almost every other day, I see a headline about the latest trend that is going to have a massive impact on hotels and travel. Some might even be worth exploring. However, the fact remains that if your hotel booking engine is hard to use, none of the trends will have any impact on your net operating income and profits.

Having worked in hotels most of my adult life, and having traveled extensively, I have vast experience booking rooms every way possible: using phones, travel agents (yes, I am that old), OTAs, and directly from apps. The one consistent problem I find on hotel websites is a disregard for the basic usability principles that form the foundation of an online shopping experience.

Let’s review the Top Ten hits when it comes to bad booking experiences.

1. The One-Hit (One-Screen) Wonder

Let me take you all the way back to 2004. Booking engines were still in their infancy. That was the year the one-screen wonder was born. It was introduced to independent hotels as the greatest thing since the Beatles arrived in America. The catch? It was a usability disaster.

In this type of booking engine, guests were expected to review room photos and descriptions, and select dates, room types, and rates, ALL on one screen!

Hotel Booking Engine

I tirelessly campaigned against this technology back then, but the public relations machine worked harder and had a much broader reach. Their message – “Did you know our one-screen technology allows consumers to make a hotel reservation in one click?” – proved irresistible to many hoteliers. They installed this software on hundreds of independent hotel websites worldwide; each install was followed by a press release full of praise.

In 2010, I came face to face with this monster. While stuck at Chicago’s ORD airport, I tried booking a last-minute room. But the one-screen booking process took so long, I did not have time to complete my reservation before boarding the flight. The hotel got my booking from my Expedia account. They paid a commission because they had invested in the wrong technology. You can imagine how many other bookings were abandoned on their website and booked through online travel agent (OTA) websites.

Of course, the one-screen booking engine was eventually discontinued. But not soon enough. The real economic impact can never be accurately measured. Don’t forget: while bad tech was being sold to hotels using gimmicks and press releases, and Expedia were making it easier and easier for guests to book a room at your hotel via their own websites.

2. Way Too Many Questions

When a guest finally decides to book a room at your hotel, why delay the purchase by asking so many questions? I am on your booking engine, with my credit card/online wallet ready…so why not take the booking as quickly and easily as possible? Remember…there’s a good chance I’m at an airport, in the back seat of a taxi, on my limited lunch hour, etc.

This is one of the core issues I have with almost all of the mainstream independent hotel booking engines. The number of required fields makes the experience a little too much like an interrogation by a government agency.

As recently as 2014, I encountered one of the biggest hotel booking engine horrors of my life. I analyzed an asset and discovered that their booking engine had 43 questions before checkout! Later the same year, I saw this booking engine provider at a hotel tech conference and found out that 1500+ hotels and inns were using that system! I had to leave the exhibition hall and sit outside for a while to recover from the shock.

Hotel Booking Engine

Generally speaking, you need to severely limit the required fields on your booking checkout page. Require only what you absolutely MUST HAVE from your guest before giving them a reservation confirmation.

“Way too many questions, you must think I trust you.”

– Future (Jumpman)

Next: why use a teeny tiny asterisk for a required field, which then turns into a big red warning when it’s not filled out? Clearly indicate required items at checkout; don’t make guests go back and repeat steps.

Finally: in 2018, do we need a mandatory title field? Do you really need to know if I am a Mr, Mrs, Miss, Dr, HRH, Lord, Earl, Duke, Baron, or Knight? It’s awkward and even offensive. People of every gender, class, and profession pay with the same kind of money.

Wait, one last thing..

I present you with an asterisk to nowhere that cracks me up every time.

3. Land of Confusion

The optimal layout for the checkout process has been mastered by all the major OTAs, like Booking, Expedia and Airbnb. All the hotel technology providers need to do is follow the blueprint. The multi-million dollar investment in UX (user experience design) and usability testing has already been done for us! But instead of following these best practices, many booking engines continue to confuse the guests… resulting in a direct hit to your revenue and profits. Some of these checkout screens remind me of the 1986 Land of Confusion video by Genesis: way too much happening for anyone to understand what it means on their first try.

Check out this disastrous layout with my notes:

Hotel Booking Engine

What is happening here:

  1. Useless hotel rate code jargon is likely to confuse your guests.
  2. Default setting shows more than one room, even when one room is selected in the date/rate calendar.
  3. Odd placement of the “Continue” button in the middle of the layout makes your guest think too hard.
  4. Listing amenities during the checkout process is distracting and gets in the way. This info belongs on the rooms page.
  5. Four-step checkout? No, thank you.

4. Failure to Launch

According to research from Baymard Institute, around 70% of all shopping carts get abandoned. Slow and non-responsive carts are abandoned right away. The general consensus is that if you cannot efficiently collect my payment, you do not respect my time. That’s why slow-loading booking engines can seriously wreck your direct revenue.

The screen shot below is from a boutique hotel brand’s booking engine. This is what a typical user on high-speed internet was seeing when trying to book a room in NYC. Loading, if it happened at all, was taking over a minute (tested from multiple locations and internet providers).

Hotel Booking Engine

Guess what? This group filed for bankruptcy in 2009 due to massive losses in revenue. I am not a detective, but it’s elementary that a non-functioning booking engine might have hastened their demise.

Here is another example from a luxury hotel brand based in Asia, which has some of the highest ADR rooms in Hong Kong. Every non-responsive session is probably costing them a ton. Luckily for them, they are publicly listed and backed by heavy institutional investors. It’s easy to be lazy with other people’s money.

Hotel Booking Engine

What happens when your booking engine does not load quickly enough? Here are some possible outcomes:

a) The same booking comes in via OTA minus a 15-20% commission.

b) The guest books another hotel.

c) The guest decides to give up on their trip and stay at home (voted least likely outcome by revenue and digital experts worldwide).

A and B negatively impact your revenue, and option C is highly unlikely. One other possible outcome is that the guest calls your hotel reservations line…but kids these days don’t talk much on phones. So that outcome becomes less likely all the time.

5. Just Plain Broken

Every now and then I see a hotel asset that is completely failing online. In a time when the majority of bookings are happening online, you have to have a booking engine that works! Here is one that actually showed a System Error right on the checkout screen:

hotel booking engine

This booking engine worked great in some Western US states, but not so much on the East coast or London. It worked in Barcelona, but not Dubai. You get my drift? A shopping cart working part-time is just plain broken. It’s crucial to test, test, test, and repeat when it comes to your booking engine. An error message that literally spells out “system error” in red will decimate your brand, guest loyalty, direct revenue, and online marketing efforts.

6. Back in Black

Black is my favorite color. It’s good for a lot of things, but not as a background for a hotel booking engine. The top retailers of room nights around the globe (Expedia, Booking, and Airbnb) all use a white background for their ecommerce transactions. When it comes to website conversions, usability is the only thing that matters. In a desire to match the “look and feel” of their website, some hotels are using a dark background for their booking engine, making it really hard for everyone to use.

In the example below, selecting dates on a black calendar is really difficult…difficult enough for your guests to give up without completing the transaction. When you highlight dates, nothing happens to show you have done it. There is also a LOT of wasted space, where the booking engine could have displayed useful information. Is this blank space, or is something not showing up against the background? Either way, I’m inclined to run over to and take care of this booking quickly, in a more familiar layout.

Hotel Booking Engine

Solution: Please read this before designing your website and save yourself from design and usability disasters.

7. The Discount Horror

Showing your guests a popup that offers savings of “25% or more” when they are already INSIDE your booking engine and have already SELECTED the room they want is a really bad idea. Stop getting in your own way! This reminds me of a scene in When a Stranger Calls, a1979 American horror classic. When I saw this I exclaimed, “The discount popups are coming from inside the booking engine!!” It’s quiet ironic that this engine markets itself itself as a champion of conversions and direct bookings!

Hotel Booking Engine

8. Blast From the Past

In 2018, there are hotels that still have not integrated a booking engine into their website. If a date search on your website’s home page calendar triggers a pop -up window… please stop doing everything else and get it fixed.

Hotel Booking Engine

9. Too Much Information

Nobody likes folks who overshare. Why would you share your entire year’s business with me when I am just trying to book a room? Are you saving me more searches? Do you want me to change my vacation plan based on your availability? You don’t think I can find another place to stay in your town? Are you starting to see my point? Thank you and stop this.

Hotel Booking Engine

10. Do You Even Mobile?

Everything I have listed above gets compounded 100X when things move to a small screen. I could load up one hundred screenshots here, but the example below truly captures the struggle hotels have when it comes to mobile revenue and conversions. This hotel has done the unimaginable…served me THREE popups (including one survey and one special offer) when ALL I ever wanted to do was give them my money! This, folks, is the bad mobile booking experience to rule them all.

mobile booking engine

In mobile, you have to do testing. You cannot entirely outsource the responsibility to make sure your booking engine works properly on all the major screens your guests are using. You have to dive into your analytics and then follow up in the real world. One way is to go to your local phone store; time yourself and a bunch of your closest friends to see how long it takes to book a room at your hotel for some random dates. Brace yourself for the outcome!

The hotel brand in the example above has over 300 hotels in 40 countries worldwide. You’d think they would have friends to alert them…but guests never do. If you cannot sell them rooms on a mobile device, there are some spectacular mobile booking options available on the Expedia/Booking network that they will end up using.

Bonus Tip:

The single most amazing mobile experience offered in the travel business is the functionality of the HotelTonight app. If you have not tested it yet, please download the app to see mobile ecommerce done right. Anyone who can take the app experience to the mobile web will be the world’s top hotel mobile booking engine.

Oh, and my 2014 article still stands…do not sell $7 rooms on HotelTonight.


Offer protection, kill doubt. In a world of online scams and identity theft, you must make sure that you present guests with a secure and reassuring booking engine. A shady looking booking engine is certain to fail.

Make it easy. Most guests will abandon a booking engine that is hard to use while asking for too much personal information. Please note that booking engines and surveys are two very different things. Nobody should ever feel interrogated on your hotel booking engine.

There are many places where things can go wrong on your website. But none is more important than your booking engine. It is the core of your direct revenue strategy and deserves your undivided attention.

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.

The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Hotels

email marketing for hotels

Hotel email marketing has become more important than ever. The cost of click- and impression-based marketing on search engines and social networks continues to rise, not just for generic terms, but also for the historically cheaper brand name terms. Email marketing remains extremely relevant and cost-effective. It has become the best permission-based outbound tool in your marketing kit, hands down. However, as with every great tool, the responsibility to use it well lies with the user.

Smart hotels and brands have moved away from the mass broadcasting of spammy emails, and are now focusing on personalized, permission-based email delivery; and they are seeing their revenues go up. It’s time for you to do the same. This is my guide to email marketing done right.

No Plan = No Revenue

Email marketing cannot be an afterthought. There is a tendency for marketing departments to devote a ton of time to their paid marketing efforts, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Since money is being spent on buying traffic, everyone is focused on getting the best return on their investment. The fact is that your permission-based database of emails is as important and relevant as any other marketing channel. Just as you plan your paid marketing spend, you should also plan your earned (permission-based email) marketing efforts. Most hotel and travel email marketing campaigns still exist as low-level items on someone’s checklist of things to do. Invariably, the marketers who put the least amount of effort into email marketing will end up using one of my least favorite sentences in hotel marketing: “It does not work for us.”

Segment or Perish

Before any effort has been put into the content and design of your email campaign, you have to do some strategic planning. The most important and very first step is to segment and define your audience. I dislike mega lists (aka, “everyone gets the same email “). So, unless your hotel is changing its name, brand, ownership, or shutting down…you have no acceptable reason to send everyone in your email database the same exact message!

I have pushed the agenda of data segmentation in the hotel industry for years, and email lists are no exception. Here is an example of how a typical hotel email database could be segmented in a full-service hotel offering food and beverage outlets, spa, and meeting space:

  1. Newsletter/Blog Signups
  2. Deals and Specials Signups
  3. Guest Who Booked a Room
  4. Guests Who Cancelled A Room
  5. Guests Who Gave Email at Check- in
  6. Guests Who Gave Email at Check-out
  7. Guest Who Used Food & Beverage Outlets
  8. Guests Who Used Meeting Spaces
  9. Guests Who Used Spa Services
  10. Referrals

You can also segment by the last time someone interacted with you or opened your last email blast. The more you segment, the better the outcome of your email campaign is going to be. Just like in life, you cannot be all things to all people, all the time. Proper segmentation parts the clouds and makes it easier for you to answer the next crucial question: What are you going to say?

Write Email Content That Wins

Boring and uninteresting content will fail, no matter what medium you’re using. In the case of email content, you should start by thinking about the reason(s) that people subscribed to your list. Here are some common reasons people might subscribe to your list:

  1. They want to receive deals and discounts.
  2. They want to learn about seasonal local events.
  3. They have brand affinity.
  4. They are interested in your food and beverage experience.
  5. They like knowing what you are up to.

There are a few ways to figure out what topics most interest your email recipients. You can test different kinds of content, and see which users reply to different types of emails. You can also ask them some questions when they sign up (see below). Once you know their intent, you can match the segmented users to the right content.

I travel a lot for business, and I also travel a lot for fun. As a result, my email address ends up being in a lot of brand and independent hotel databases. So, I get to see plenty of poor email marketing campaigns. For example, Marriott sent me the following email with “deals” for destinations all over the US map.

marriott 3

The problem is that none of these destinations are currently on my radar for travel. You know what’s on my mind right now? Spain! So if you are sending me an email about “Honeymooning in Texas,” I will  just delete the email.

Speaking of Spain, here is an example of an effective email, leading to poor content on subsequent landing pages. The email has nice photos, catchy content, and… guess what? One of the destinations on the list (Spain) is on my mind! Everything is good, and I give the section on Spain a click. I give them 100% conversion on their call to action!


Landing Page 1: Things start to crumble. Check out the skimpy content they have provided on this landing page. I get a whopping 54-word summary of Spain for my trouble!


I lower my expectations way down. I guess they are not going to provide any useful information. It’s an inauspicious start, but maybe they have something else for me. Maybe their goal is to showcase their awesome hotel portfolio in Spain! Being the quintessential optimist that I am (ha), I give it another click (View Hotels) hoping for a spread of hotels in Spain.

Landing Page 2: Oh man, I get this. One hotel shows up!


My reward for clicking on your email: Kempinski Bahia in Estepona on the east coast of Spain for EUR 413 a night. I close the window hard… probably setting a world record!

Remember, it’s not just the click that matters. Once you manage to get someone to click through, make sure you give them a reason to stay. Poorly executed content and context will tank your campaign every single time.

A golden rule for writing email marketing content: If you have nothing useful to say, then don’t  say anything at all. Every campaign needs to be created with the user in mind. It has to be your #1 priority to reward the people who signed up. They cared enough about what you do to share their email address with you. But this can change with one click at the bottom of your next email.

Treat Your Users Like Royalty

This is something I strongly believe in and act on every day. Anyone who signs up for my newsletter joins what I call my “Super Friends” list. We are no longer just friends… we are now Super Friends. This  means that every article I write makes it to their inbox before any news outlet gets their hands on it. Any speaking engagement I get, any personal or professional update worth sharing, goes straight to their inboxes first. I ask them for feedback and get many people writing back with questions, answers and ideas on how to make things better. I answer every single email.

Email marketing is not about standing on a pulpit and filling inboxes with marketing fluff. You have to earn the privilege of having access to people’s inboxes. You can never send bad content that does not benefit your guests in some way (as in my Hotels in Spain adventure above).

What’s is in for them? Why should they open your email, let alone click through to take whatever action you are recommending? Segmentation and intent can help you learn what your subscribers want. Make sure every email from your hotel is about them, and not just about you. What are you doing to bring delight to your readers?

Please Don’t Become Your Own Groupon!

For those who are not familiar with Groupon…they used to be kings of building and monetizing an email database. Then they got into hotels and travel in a big way, and even partnered with Expedia. That partnership eventually fell apart, and finally everything crashed and burned.

Make sure that you do not become Groupon with your email marketing efforts. Don’t get me wrong, Groupon was/is amazing at doing emails. They are always offering a discount because it’s their core business model. But that’s not the right approach for a hotel. “Specials and Discounts” cannot be the only reason you send an email to your hotel database.

Example: A hotel in Miami has emailed me eight times in the past eight months. Every single email has been about a seasonal deal or discount in the range of 25% to 40% off the current rates. That’s absurd! I have been a full rate customer who booked direct with them when I stayed at their property. Why do they insist on bringing me back there at a discount? What if I don’t want or need a discount? Furthermore, I start wondering if there is something wrong with the hotel. Is their experience and quality in decline? If not, then why hasn’t any other hotel in the market sent me eight emails offering a discount?

Look, if the only thing you have to say to your guest list is that you have a “great deal” for them, then your hotel starts to brand itself as a hotel that is on a fire sale all year round. In addition, it looks like the only incentive to return there is a discounted rate. Do not break my cardinal rule of Rate over Value. It’s not going to reflect well in your long-term profit and loss statement.

What’s the Frequency?

It’s not just a great REM song but also a critical question in email marketing. How often do you send an email? Great question! There is no perfect answer for this. A hotel is not a news publication, and nobody wants or is expecting a daily or weekly tap on the shoulder from you. A monthly or bi-monthly schedule is optimal, unless you have something exciting to share. (Note: The excitement is not a 35% off mid-week special rate). Never skip more than one month, as some people may forget that they signed up for your newsletter. People have a pretty short attention span these days, so don’t give them a reason to unsubscribe.

Best in Class Tools

It’s not practical or advisable to send out emails from your own server. There are too many checks and balances in place that will prevent you from getting your emails delivered properly. Instead, go with tools that let you send emails the right way, give you excellent analytics, and help you grow your list effectively. My two favorites are:

Both of these services are highly effective and low in cost. They allow you to quickly send your email messages one at a time to everyone on your list. Both offer a nice dashboard, filters, automation and analytics. To prevent your email from getting trapped in firewalls, they use lots of different IP addresses to send your campaign.

Each has a user-friendly interface that helps you design slick and simple HTML email campaigns, so that your recipient’s email client does not wreck your image and text files. We all have received emails every now and then that do not display properly in the inbox. The culprit: email delivery services that are not using the multipart-alternative MIME format. This format ensures that, if for any reason your guest is not able to view your HTML email, a plain-text version will be displayed in their inboxes.

Neither of these providers will let you SPAM. Get a permission-based email list or go home.

Never Bother the Feds

Never spam. Here is what spam means according to Wikipedia: “Email spam, also known as junk email, is a type of electronic spam where unsolicited messages are sent by email.” In the US, the CAN-SPAM Act 2003 puts the penalty at $11,000 for every offense. That means $11,000 for every email sent out without permission. So yeah, please read this and then hard pass on buying lists, no matter how tempting it is.

Top Metrics of Email Success

Measurement is crucial for all marketing success. Emails provide both marketing and product departments a chance to interact with your guests and other people who are interested in you. It’s important not to get caught up in the “last-click attribution” trap. Instead, focus on these crucial metrics when it comes to measuring your email campaign’s success:

1. Open Rate

Open rate refers to how many people opened your email (as a percentage of the total number of emails sent). Please note that this metric can get corrupted by email clients that auto-open emails. Also note that open rates are tracked using an impression pixel (a 1×1 pixel image); if images do not download onto the recipient’s device, it will not be counted as an opened email. So, instead of chasing the data accuracy unicorn, focus on comparisons with your historical campaigns. Open rates are a report card on your messaging, your content headline and appeal. Here is my quick take on open rates:

Under 20% = Get back to the drawing board.
20% to 35% = Keep going. Be sure you continue to refine and test.
Over 35% = Congratulations! Keep winning.

2. Click-Through Rate

This metric gets counted when a recipient clicks on any link you have provided in your email message. Reflected as a percentage, it shows how many people followed your call to action. Definitely a deeper metric than open rate, it validates your relationship with your subscribers. I think 10% is a good starting point for most campaigns. Over time, you should aim for 20% or higher as you fine-tune your message. Chronic low click-through rates almost always point to poor responsive design and a disconnect with your target audience.

3. Unsubscribe Rate

I like to call this the annoyance rate. How badly are you annoying your recipients? You should work hard to minimize this bleed. Keeping it under 0.2% at all times is an industry best practice. Sound the alert when this rate inches upwards, as it indicates you have moved beyond losing touch with your audience. You are now annoying them.

4. Bounces

There are two bounces in email land: hard bounce and soft bounce.

Hard bounce happens when you send an email to an email address that no longer exists. Gmail monitors hard bounces very closely. You must remove your hard bounce emails ASAP before you forget to do so and send another campaign to the same non-existent email addresses.

Soft bounces happen when you send an email to an address that exists, but is either full or not taking your emails. Your emails might eventually make it into their inbox if they open up the space. This not as serious as hard bounce, but should be limited to 2% at all times to keep a squeaky clean list.

5. Revenue

If you have your hotel marketing house in order, you should be able to track revenue from every single email you have ever sent to your guests. This is more relevant for campaigns where your click-through target is getting a booking/reservation. This metric is not relevant for your educational and brand building campaigns.

6. Social Share

This is a fantastic metric. It measures how often your recipients open, read, and then like your email messages enough to share them on social media. It’s a true testament to the awesomeness of your email content and messaging. Sharing is the ultimate compliment you can get, because you are now reaching beyond your permission-based circle without breaking the law!

7. Churn Rate

In life and in email marketing, you cannot make everyone happy all the time. People will unsubscribe. Some will complain and break your heart. Hard bounces over time will add up. A lot of email marketers fail to keep an eye on the churn rate. An average email list will have a churn rate of 20% to 25%. This means that, despite your best efforts, you must always keep your new sign-ups hustle going!

Right People, Right Time Zone

Just like your digital marketing, email marketing must be geo-targeted. Your guests travel from all over the country or even the world. Modern email marketing tools help you avoid the costly mistake of prioritizing your time zone over your guests’. Never opt for a single send time based on email analytics (opens and click-through). Sending emails in the user’s time zone is the best solution. Example: NYC hotels sending email campaigns at 9am their time should know that it’s 6am in San Francisco and 3am in Hawaii. I should know. As a resident of Hawaii I get a lot of 3am emails!

Segment Early, Segment Often

Like voting in Chicago, segmenting early and often is the best practice when it comes to building a great email list. The most successful email list builders in the business use every ounce of data to personalize their emails. Be direct and ask clear, easy-to-answer questions at signup. Visual icons or buttons are better than checkboxes. Do not give the user a multiple choice exam requiring more than a minute of their time. Ask simple, visual questions and continue segmentation as you go. A great example of this is Airbnb’s business travel program:


Autoresponders – Don’t Put Them on Autopilot

Autoresponder is a program that automatically generates a set response, or series of responses, to a particular email address. A wonderful gift to email marketers, right? Well, like anything powerful, it can backfire if not used properly. Here is an example of how autoresponder campaigns can become irrelevant if not set up properly.

In this autoresponder schedule, the recipient receives the following messages, regardless of any behavior or action taken by the recipient. Day 1 starts when the user signs up for your email list.

Day 1: Welcome to our hotel email program!

Day 2: Here are some amazing things about booking direct.

Day 3: Here is a 15% off best available rate deal + exclusive rates for signing up.

Day 4: Apply for our co-branded credit card.

Now if a user/guest signs up and also books a hotel room on Day 1, the rest of the campaign becomes moot. So is there an answer? Of course there is! One word: Filters. An email filter removes people from the Autoresponder schedule based on their actions. Filters are your friends. Autoresponders without filters in place are like cars without seat belts. Any non-linear action by your target user can crash your entire campaign.

Avoid These Top 10 Mistakes

Here is a quick round-up of the most common mistakes. They are easy to fix, but can be detrimental to your hotel email marketing campaign if not addressed.

  1. Not using a permission-based list
  2. Using a list you haven’t used in a while (6-12 months)
  3. Confusing transactional email addresses with newsletter signups
  4. Not segmenting lists (by intent, location, purchasing behavior)
  5. Pumping discounts, not value
  6. Sending massively broad campaign emails
  7. Not including call to action or education
  8. Focusing on photos and ignoring typography
  9. Going beyond 600 pixels in width
  10. Not testing on multiple mobile devices and email clients

Keep Getting Better at It

There is an unwritten rule for successful email marketing. Every email should be better than the last. Nobody in the travel business understands this better than TripAdvisor and Kayak. Give Kayak your home airport and watch how targeted their emails become. You’ll start hearing about deals on places they know you are interested in based on your search history. It’s not creepy, since they clearly asked your permission when you signed up.

TripAdvisor’s emails also get smarter over time based on what cities and what categories of hotels you have been looking at. This kind of approach is much better than that “lost booking capture” tool your marketing agency is touting. Chasing someone who did not complete a booking is 2005. Anticipating where they are going next is where smart email marketing is going. Knowing where I’m traveling from is a good start, but it’s the destination that matters. TripAdvisor will be happy to show me where to stay and how to get there if they can figure out where I’m headed. As they collect data from on-site behavior and email clicks, the emails get smarter with price and location updates.


Email marketing is about two things: targeted segmentation and a high standard for content. Nobody wants to see mass advertising in their inbox. Successful email campaigns are not billboards for your marketing department. They are targeted taps on the shoulder of someone who actually wants to hear from you. Don’t let this wonderful opportunity for interaction go to waste. Use email to learn more about your guests, your product, and your message. Reward your participants with meaningful interaction. Be helpful and prosper.


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.