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Good photography can do a lot for a hotel or resort. Especially if you’re doing any print advertising or consider what a visual medium your website is. But it doesn't always work out that way.

Take a minute, fire up the Googletron and search images for, say, “New York City hotels.” Then try something like “Caribbean resorts” or “Florida resorts.”Anything stand out? Probably not. Certainly not the rooms, lobby, beach, restaurant or spa. They all look pretty much the same don’t they? (Don’t you wish you had a dollar for every picture you've seen of a white woman in a white one-piece bathing suit wearing a big hat sitting on a beach looking out at the water with her back to the camera? )  

Sure, there are certain photos you have to have. Potential guests need to see what the place is all about. But it’s not a selling tool when your photography is interchangeable with that of another property. The idea is to convey your personality and Brand, not just the fixtures and furnishings.

Fortunately, it’s an easy fix. It involves trust. Try giving your photographer some freedom to shoot what strikes them along with the shots you need. If they are any good, they’ll be excited. If they want specific "tell-me-this-then-that-this-way-exactly" instructions, you’ve got the wrong guy. 

In nearly 30 years in this business, we’ve looked at a lot of photographers’ portfolios. Almost without exception, some of the very best stuff turns up in the “personal work” section – the part where they shot what poked at their imagination, not what somebody told them to shoot.

So when you get onsite, carve out a certain amount of time to give your photographer free reign. Thing is, these people have shot a lot of hotels and resorts and they’ve got a real good idea of what’s “been done” and what will stand out. A real good idea.

You’ve got the room shot you need, now let them shoot the room shot they have in mind. The restaurant photography is done, now keep the models on hand for a while and let the photographer produce some art. Maybe even just turn your shooter loose for a whole day all alone to see what appeals to them. If you've got the right photographer, he or she will relish the opportunity and deliver something special.

You don't have to use it. But odds are, you're going to want to.

"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." - Mark Twain

Actually, they can do something. They can get out of town. And that's good news for hotels and resorts -  if you're ready for it. 

Just think - the summer can be nasty hot and humid in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and South Florida. Winter in New York, Baltimore, Boston and Philly means freezing temperatures, snow and ice.

And the good thing about those particular cities is that they usually have direct flights to just about anywhere, which makes it fairly easy to pick up and run away for a few days.

So get those ads ready ahead of time. And get familiar with your channel options in your target cities. That way, you can be ready to run something fast. Snow and freezing weather on the way in the Northeast? "Think about the Caribbean, New Orleans or South Florida, y'all."

Another week of hot, sticky, South Florida summer weather ahead? "Boy, it's nice in the mountains, upstate New York and New England this time of year." And most Caribbean islands are better than Atlanta in the summer.

Tell your story on the local weather app, sponsor the weather report on the local radio or television station, run a digital ad on the local news website or even run a print ad on the weather page of the newspaper. Wherever people might be checking the weather and groaning, give them an alternative.

Bad weather ahead? Just flip that switch.

So check those direct flights, get those ads ready to run and make sure you know where you can run them.

Then go get one of those Farmer's Almanacs.

February 2017


There is no way to easily measure ROI for everything.

Especially not in the advertising world.

Management often wants proof that for every dollar they spend, they're going to get three, four or five dollars back. This can drive you to use the same advertising channels exclusively, because they lend themselves to measurement, if not marketing effectiveness.

But those channels best suited for measurement are also the ones best suited for direct transactions (spelled p-r-i-c-e), not brand-building (which is what will drive rate). And that measurable ROI is usually going to be fairly low if you're selling on p-r-i-c-e. It also assumes that the last touch was exclusively responsible for the purchase decision. Which is almost never the case.

Think about full path attribution (and you should). This includes everything that affects that decision to book – the commercial they heard that made them more receptive to the ad they saw that nudged them to click through the Google listing they saw to the website where they actually reserveda room.

A smart independent hotel will move away from spending as little as possible on low-cost digital channels and think more about spending on an overall effort. An integrated family of tools. Don't base your media decision solely on what is the least expensive. After all, if the only thing that counts is the cost, then doing nothing at all is free, isn't it?

Besides, how did you calculate the ROI of whatever that recent renovation cost you?

November, 2016

The ROI of Brand Development

Brand Development for an independent hotel or collection can cost between $7,500 and $15,000. That's way less than what some multi-national probably spent, but it's not exactly chump change either. So you're going to need some justification. Here it is.

Let's say you have 100 rooms, and you're looking at $10,000 for Brand Development. That's a one-time investment of $100 per room. One that will easily pay for itself. A clear brand can easily increase your ADR. Significantly. But for purposes of simple math, let's say it's only 50¢ a room. That's an additional $18,250 in revenue. Or an ROI of 82¢ cents back for every dollar invested.

Increase your ADR by a buck and it's a $36,500 increase, or $2.65 back for every dollar put into Brand Development.

So maybe 50¢ or a dollar per room per night doesn't seem like much of an increase after a $10,000 outlay. Three things:

1) With a clear Brand, you can tie together all of your marketing communications, making it all work harder and more cost-efficiently.

2) The investment in Brand Development is a one-time deal, while the benefit to your bottom line goes on and on.

3) And most important, you're not going to see a 50¢ increase. It’s going to be closer to $10. Or more.

Do that math.

July 11, 2016

How do you react to a new idea?

Ad legend George Lois says: "Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything." Totally agree.

Creativity is, in fact, the most practical and cost-efficient tool available to an independent hotel or resort today.

We’re talking about new ideas and different ways of doing things. And if your first reaction to a new idea is “we can't do that because . . . ", you’re cheating yourself. The most important thing to consider - and consider first - is whether or not doing something will benefit you. If the answer is "No" then drop it like a hot rock and forget about it. Ah, but if there is a benefit, then you work out how to do it. It's a simple process really.

1. Here's an idea. Will it be good for us?   Yes: Do it.  No: Forget it.

2. The answer is "Yes." Are there any issues with carrying it out?  Nope. Then let's get to it.  Yes:  Then let's figure it out.

3. Did we figure it out?  Yes: Cool. Let's do it.  No: OK, we'll keep thinking.

4. Did we nail it this time?  Yes: Great.  No: Maybe it’s not as workable as we thought it was. But at least we tried.

This is not to say that every idea has value. Or will be easy to carry out. Or even can be carried out. It's just that you ought to think first about whether or not an idea will provide some benefit before you dismiss it out of hand. When your first thought is why something won't work, you're starting from a negative place and nothing good ever came from a negative place. Your first thought should be whether or not there’s a potential benefit for you.

If something is worth doing, it's worth figuring out how to do it.

If television is dead. . .

. . . why are you going to watch the super bowl?

This time of year even people who hate football get together to watch the Super Bowl. It's the commercials, right? And, even though nobody in the civilian world (as opposed to the advertising world) ever chatters about their favorite SEO, PPC or digital campaigns on a Monday morning, we sure do go on and on about those Super Bowl commercials, don't we? And yet, we read again and again that nobody watches television commercials.

Yes they do. And they remember the good ones.

What's that you say? "An independent hotel can't afford to advertise on television!"

Sure you can. Check the local cable prices in specific markets. Like those that are a non-stop flight away from your resort hotel, for example. You can afford it. And if you go to the trouble (note that we didn’t say "extraordinary expense") to do something compelling and creative, you can drive a lot of potential guests to your web site to book direct.

Just a little food for thought while you get ready to head out to that Super Bowl Party. 

February 2, 2016

Don't use Facebook to promote your property

Use it to tell stories. And make friends.

And another way to spell "friends" is "c-u-s-t-o-m-e-r-s." As in, people who aren’t just shopping around for a special deal. Unless you want to sell on price.

Let's back up a second. Think about Facebook and the friends or organizations you follow. Could be a friend who puts up a regular stream of good jokes. Maybe it's all related to your passion for animal welfare or Star Wars. It could even be (gasp) cat videos. You follow these pages because you like what you get from them.

OK, now take a look at the General Motors Facebook page. And Nordstrom.  "Here's a sale, there's a sale and here's something else wonderful about us." Who wants to read a steady diet of that?  On the other hand, L.L. Bean is interesting. So are all the various Ace Hotels' pages.

The Pier House Resort in Key West once used Facebook to get people to suggest names for a new drink at the Beach Bar. And, although they didn't pick our suggestion, a lot of people participated.

The point is, Facebook is a really inexpensive tool to market yourself. And inexpensive is important to independent hotels and collections. But if you're only going to use it to announce special packages or a new menu in the tea room, well, you might as well not bother. You probably don’t actively seek out ads and press releases to read do you? Nobody does.

Howard Gossage, an ad maven from a while back, said: "Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad." He was right. So look at your Facebook page as an insanely cost-efficient way to make friends. Don’t limit yourself to pictures of your sleeping rooms or the beach and announcements of things like your special packages for Mother's Day.

Be a storyteller.  Put up things that interest people.

January 6, 2016

Is digital marketing the only answer?

Digital marketing tools like adwords, retargeting and such are great for independent hotels and collections.  Just don't assume that it's as cost-effective as it used to be, back when all of us fell in love with it. 

In fact, the cost is going up. Many will say you need to be spending $10,000 a month to get any value out of it. $120,000 a year is a healthy media budget for a smaller property.

And, you can't attribute every reservation to last-touch (like Adwords). Unless you're using full-path attribution (which you should), it's hard to pinpoint exactly what drove a potential guest to actually book a room. 

Digital tools like adwords can't deliver your unique Brand Position very well - if at all. The keywords that most frequently drive responses are the actual name of the property. Which begs the question, how did anybody find the name of the property in the first place? And what drove them to respond to it? A creative, compelling delivery of your Brand distinction can be a powerful competitive tool.

Do you really want to compete on price? Because these sorts of tools work best when promoting price breaks and special offers. It's retail. That's not the way to a better ADR.

This is not to say that digital should not play a role in the marketing of an independent property or collection. It should.  It absolutely should. Digital gives you another arrow for your quiver. But the key phrase here is "a role" It's not the only answer. 

We posted an essay on this topic on LinkedIn recently and got a comment from a social media consultant to the effect that they had increased the "participation and engagement" for one property without spending anything on paid media.

Never mind that spending nothing on paid media isn't the same as spending nothing at all, this – at least in our minds – raised a question: how much of that participation and engagement resulted in actual bookings? After all, that is the point of the exercise.

Isn't it?

December 28, 2015

Creativity, Problems and Solutions.

"Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

George Lois said that. A legend in the advertising business, he's straight out of the golden age of advertising, and he's done some great things. You can look them up,  but what's important right now is what he said.

Because if there is one single tool, one equalizer, one thing that can help an independent hotel or collection compete with the national and global brands, it's creativity.

Creativity can be more powerful than the most elaborate adwords or retargeting campaign. Do more for you than packages, offers or loyalty clubs. And draw more attention to your property than magazine ads or airport dioramas. Because creativity will make any or all of those things work harder.

And help you do more with less.

Creativity can help counter the rising cost of once-affordable digital channels, end the fragmentation of your various marketing components, and help you establish relevancy with a variety of targets – from millennials to boomers to meeting planners.

One part of the Lois quote bears repeating if not memorizing –"The defeat of habit by originality."

The defeat of habit. It can solve any problem.

November 11, 2015