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Random thoughts

We asked people who stay at Four Seasons Hotels whether they would rather have their room cleaned or $10 off the room rate on their next trip…

And they told us! Nearly 7 out of 10 said they would rather have the $10! What does this mean for the hotel industry? What does this mean for the maids who perform the housekeeping services? Good lord!

 

Check out the study — there’s a lot of detail, and we can provide more specifics on request.


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Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Furniture giant IKEA to enter European design hotel market. ~ Thursday, 16th August 2012 from 4Hoteliers

Furniture giant IKEA to enter European design hotel market. ~ Thursday, 16th August 2012 from 4Hoteliers.

No, really? Seriously? Are the rooms flat-packed and designed for self-assembly with one critical part missing from each box? Will they name the room types with moronic quasi-Scandinavian monikers and serve Swedish meatballs in the cafeteria.

Can’t wait!

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Starwood: social media customer service done right — or, has SM eaten our brains?

Starwood: social media customer service done right | VentureBeat.

This story is bizarre on so many levels I can hardly start. Without reading it, although it’s worth the read, the short form is: boy goes to hotel, hotel internet slow, boy tweets hotel that internet is slow, hotel sends wine and chocolates. Boy then writes comment on Venturebeat.

So, what’s wrong with this?

First of all, why is it that if the internet is slow — or, let’s say doesn’t work, or perhaps the toilet is broken — and the guest calls down to “guest services,” or “anywhere, anytime,” or whatever, the best that happens is that the internet gets fixed (and maybe, just maybe, on a good day, in the summer, when the sun shines, the hotel will waive the daily internet fee for one day), or the toilet gets fixed, and that’s the end of it. But when it’s tweeted, no matter how minor the transgression, the hotel spends real money to give wine and bon-bons to the poor, suffering guest? (sorry, long sentence, tweet me and I’ll send you something to make it all better).

Are we really moving into a world where customer service is only available on the threat of global humiliation by means of twitter? I know of people who have this figured out and rather than fill out comment cards, tweet their comments to the world in general, certain that they will get a quick response and some disproportionate compensation. Hell, I know of people who do this even when there is nothing wrong with the service or accommodation, simply so they can get another 300 or 400 SPG points or whatever. Then, they negotiate the number of points on Twitter.

But, there’s more!

As you can see, the offer from the hotel was beer and snacks (shabby chic!) or wine and strawberries (traditional decadence). Rakesh (if I may call him that) asked for wine and strawberries. The hotel delivered, wine and chocolates! Hello!

I know not what this means, except that something has gone awfully awry: the obsession with social media has reached the point where response to guest issues is completely disproportionate to the problem and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of whack with non-social media hotel responses. Of course, if, as is likely, the guest in question fell into the Starwood super-regular guest category, and the whole thing had nothing to do with guest service but everything to do with high-yield customer retention, then it’s just confusing and distorting)

Whatever it is, it will lead to tears. Mark my words.

Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, Uncategorized, , , ,

Abandon The Real World At Your Peril: Lessons from the Rosseau Marriott Trenches

Hand over your tips or else, posh Muskoka hotel warns staff – thestar.com.

Muskoka resort backs down on plan to take portion of staffers’ tips — the star.com

The latest exercise in near fatal brandicide committed by the Rosseau Muskoka (Ontario) Marriott offers interesting lessons to all of us, on many levels.

The story is quite usual:” posh hotel needs money, sees opportunity, grabs it, thinks”. The somewhat sordid details, that the hotel saw the opportunity in the tips of a certain class of employees (spa staff — not even much money there) and determined to make a grab for them, are perhaps less usual, especially given the reality that this would reduce the income of the staff. Or that it would convert a voluntary gratuity into a mandatory 20% add-on to the price (plus sales tax, which brings what is an effective price increase to 23%, if my math is right — this kind of price increase by stealth is anathema to consumers, but more on that another time).

We don’t need to go into the bizarre executional overtones (sending the employees a letter saying they are welcome to quit of they don’t like it…hello?), or the timing (a private-member’s bill is sitting in the provincial legislature — State Assembly — to forbid hotels and restaurants from pooling tips, sharing tips out with other classes of employees or taking a small admin fee for processing tips on credit cards — Premier Dalton McGuintyseeks a ban on “tipping out” to the boss.).

What is particularly interesting is the medium!

The story was based on a tip (no pun intended) received by a daily newspaper; it was published in a daily newspaper and took on a life of its own in a daily newspaper. The Star has a daily circulation something north of 600,000, so it is no surprise that the front page article was noticed.

And here’s the lesson: do not forget the power of traditional media! While dozens of Marriott denizens were arduously watching the twitter sphere so they could nip threats just like this in the bud, they overlooked the traditional media. Clearly no plan was in place to deal with the negative upshot (while, I bet, much thought had been given to the question of how to deal with the negative backlash in social media). But the damage that the front page of the daily newspaper seen by 600,000 plus people can do is quantitatively greater than the damage even millions of tweets can do.

Why? Because social media can be managed. The hotel, or the brand (should they wish to distance themselves from this, as, in this instance, they should) can direct information, explanations, loyalty points and all kinds of mitigations, directly at the people who are interested. Unfortunately, the people who are interested, the people who tweet about this stuff, are not the people who count — very few of them could or would spend $300/night in a hotel. The people who do buy $300 night hotel rooms see the newspaper headlines, even if they don’t read the stories.

People tweet from their slow thinking brain — that is, they tweet as a result of rational thinking. But people judge hotel brands in their fast thinking brains: judgement, response, brand evaluation, whatever we call it, is not rational. It is an outcome of myriad information sourced consciously and unconsciously from myriad sources. Even if the headline is not consciously registered, it may well be stored away in the depths of our brains to be used as fodder for ultimate evaluation of whether the brand is one we want to be associated with or not. This accidental informing of our opinions is not likely to happen on twitter.

To add to this, these negative headlines are absorbed in the absence of any balancing positive information. If the only unconscious information we are absorbing about the brand is this negative stuff, then it is likely that our positive emotional opinion of the brand will be eroded. Not immediately, but over time.

It’s nice to think we can manage the world online: a world in which we can control from a dash-board everything our specific “target” (as metrically determined by unending data mining and on-line  behavioral correlations) sees and learns about our brand. And then we can “interact” with them, set them straight on misinformation that accidentally seeps through the cracks in our “relationship”.

But this is not the world we live in.  Punters (customers in Englandish), are constantly subjected to messages out of our control in the real world they inhabit. and by abandoning the real world in favour of total focus on the digital world, we open ourselves up to the kind of damage this story has probably done to brand Marriott.

Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, , , , ,

Surely We’ve Figured Social Media Out by Now

I have just returned from a really serious, important Branding Roundtable. The smartest branders (or, as the English roundtablers called them, Marketeers) discussed hospitality marketing in the most serious, sometimes academic terms (it was, after all, hosted at Cornell University, by the Center for Hospitality Research). We learned many things, and we taught many things. All in all, time very well spent.

But, this is the second year in a row I have attended this, and I have attended myriad similar conferences and round tables and symposia in this and other categories, in the US< Canada and  other countries, over the past four years. maybe five. And there is one constant. One conversation that has not changed in content, tone, volume, intensity, or anything. And that is: Social Media and “we know this is changing the world, but we don’t understand it and how to do it.” Every time, every where, we hear the same mantra: we don’t understand Social Media but it is very important and we need to understand it. A subtext: we need to use it more, but not like everybody else is using it. we need to be “strategic” (unlike everybody else). And yet, when asked what being strategic means, we hear , “we don’t understand it yet….”

Okay. I get it. But I don’t.

"According to a research done by AAL, there are a billion social media experts on the internet. Do you know what do they do on a daily basis? After “interviewing” more than 20 (actually none) experts, this is what I found out."
This comes from a brilliant blog by Aaron Lee -- click on the image to link to her post.

We do understand it. Many companies are strategic. Many companies do utilize the various SM options tactically to generate sales. Many companies think of Twitter as a wonderful way of finding our what people are thinking about them; spreading news, etc.

So, let’s all make a deal: we will never say the following words in our out loud voice: “we don’t understand social media.” Let’s also make a pact to stop saying that everybody else is not using Social Media strategically. If we think this, then we’re not paying attention to what other companies are doing!

On another, but similar point, we can now stop patronizing youth. We say — and I am referring to “marketeers” — that we need to get a a handle on “young people” who have grown up completely digitally and live completely differently from anything we have experienced. And we need to listen to them about their “new world,” etc. Yes, people growing up these days used technology forma younger age than people growing up before them. But, and they will be the first to agree (I know, I personally called every young person and asked them) that this digital difference does not define them. They do not spend all their waking moments doing incomprehensible “digitalism’ on Facebook and

Twitter. They do “digitalistic” things, like texting, when they are with friends or in class. But, they also talk to friends in person, go to movies, watch TV, read books (okay, okay, they do it on ipads, except they don’t really if you look at the penetration of digital readers compared to the total number of people who read). They laugh, cry and wonder about the world around them. they have no greater comprehension of the qwerty keyboard than anybody else; and their thumbs are still roughly the same size as anybody else’s in spite of texting on tiny keyboards. They don’t really expect everything to happen instantly, even if some things, like texting somebody, can indeed happen quickly. They shop. They buy stuff that makes them happy and they buy stuff that they hate and that they think is crap and return it to the store. They listen to their friends’ advice on what to buy and then make their own decisions. They are exposed to advertising and remember clever tag lines and jingles (yes, jingles!).  They also smoke, drink and do drugs, which is about as analog as you can get!

Mostly, they are tired of being patronized by a generation of marketeers that has too much time on its collective hands!

One final plea: please don’t turn “today’s patronized youth” into a sociological/marketing insight.

There…now you know. And if you are seriously interested in who does this right, look at stores like Canadian Tire or their sister brand Sport Check.

Filed under: Are they stupid or just mean: design idiocy in action, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Human Dominoes…why not

Okay, so human dominoes is not the most watchable feat of human strength, but it is among the silliest. On the other hand, it’s for a good cause, and, most notably, it’s an initiative of a hotel company that is almost totally altruistic. One comment from the youtube version rally sums it up: (from jeffmacdonald62: “It was more than amazing. I’m so proud of my company!”

I wish I came up with initiatives that make people proud of their company — imagine the savings in “internal branding” and other exercises in convincing associates to live the brand!

HOTELSMag.com – Daily News.

Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Selling Luxury 1: Secret Fears of the Super-Rich

Secret Fears of the Super-Rich – Magazine – The Atlantic.

Two blogs on the super rich in honour of a conversation I had yesterday on the subject of luxury. Luxury is an experience, not a thing; luxury marketing, which is often confused with selling expensive stuff to rich people, is dependent on the ability of the marketer to activate an intrinsic experience in the target’s soul, which is difficult enough, but it needs to be done in such a way as to yield a profit to the marketer. Which is why luxury marketers generally default to doing nothing more than selling expensive stuff to rich people.

The two items below demonstrate the difference — although they both are extreme in the extreme:

0,000 Blancpain 1735

This $800,000 Blancpain stainless steel watch looks, let’s face facts, not much different from your run of the mill $250,000 Patek Philipe or, Heaven Forbid, $6,000 Rolex (or, for that matter, $100 Timex). But, it’s value comes from the intricacy of the manufacturing (it takes a year to make), and I imagine the owner gets a great deal of pleasure in knowing the degree of “complication” he is wearing. This, in my world, is luxury — not for what it is but for how it is experienced. Marketing this requires a subtle understanding of what makes the target tick (sorry, I couldn’t resist!). Compare it with this:

0,000 Crystal Tourbillon

This diamond encrusted watch is by Jacob and Company, and costs roughly the same as the Blancpain (well, it costs $900,000, but what’s a hundred grand between friends when we’re talking about quality?). The value of this is entirely extrinsic (not entirely, I mean it probably has a good enough mechanism that ensures it keeps time, even though it’s probably impossible to actually tell time because of the “design” of the face).  I imagine the person buying this is doing so because it is expensive, more expensive, he might think, than any others (he would be wrong — Vacheron Constantin have a leather strapped watch for $1.5 million in case you were wondering: http://www.powersaversearch.com/content/expensive-watches/2.asp). It is, to him, very publicly expensive and clearly telegraphs this to everybody around him. Selling watches to the person who buys this is simply selling expensive stuff to some guy who can afford it.

Which is the difference between marketing luxury and exploiting the rich!

On the other hand, the rich beg to be exploited, as my next blog shows.

Filed under: Behavioral Economics, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Undercover Boss: Break or Build the Brand? Steve Joyce of Choice Hotels put it all on the line. Did he win or lose?

Perhaps a bit behind the times, but better late than never, I watched a repeat of the Undercover Boss episode featuring Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels (the fact that Joyce rhymes with Choice, incidentally, might explain in part why Joyce has his job – see Kahneman’s book [qv],  but I digress). It raised the question in my mind, again, as to the impact this kind of thing has on the brand.

This particular episode was a great case in point: it bravely exposed the warts of the brand as well as the limitations of the brand’s management. Joyce highlighted a number of problems in the hotels they selected, and in only one or two incidents did he focus on what they do fantastically. This is in sharp contrast to most of the Undercover Boss episodes which seem more like one hour brand-commercials.

For this Choice needs to be congratulated, and also for the incredibly honest way in which Joyce allowed himself to be portrayed as a fallible, emotional and not completely tuned in CEO. My hat is off to all of them.

But it does raise the question of what this kind of exposure does for the shareholders, franchisees, and associates.

I’m not sure I have a position on it, but open the conversation in the hopes of generating thoughts and insights into the real value of magnified transparency.

The show features Joyce working maintenance in what must be one of the worst maintained hotels in the system. What happened to standards? From the audience point of view, how typical is this? As insiders we know that updating old properties is expensive and also not at the discretion of the franchisor. Calling the hotel GM on the carpet seems a bit ingenuous, and frankly lacks credibility. I think more should have been made of the potential to pull the brand from non-performing properties in order to reassure the audience that this is atypical.

In addition to the hotels where he worked, Joyce stayed in Choice brands along the way. This allowed further exposure of the brand’s weaknesses (elevator breakdown, no-coffee fiasco, etc.). In my opinion, this added nothing to the story and came across (from the professional point of view) as a negative mystery-guest report to franchisees and as a bad reflection on the brand (for viewers). This may have been a real mistake.

On the subject of the coffee fiasco (in a Suburban brand property, Joyce discover that while there is a coffee machine in the rooms, coffee is not provided – guests have to go to the front desk and purchase the coffee), it seems strikingly odd that nobody considered the implications of this when developing the standards for the brand (the management team all looked stunned when Joyce suggested this was a potential negative guest touch-point experience). In a category where competitors are providing breakfasts and other perks, surely the “paying for coffee” standard was tested, discussed, tested again, until everybody was sure this was a good idea?

Are potential guests reassured knowing the one front desk person on duty at night in a Comfort Inn does everything (front desk, laundry, pool, maintenance and much, much more)?

And, the evident lack of complicity among franchisees (read “lack of interest”) in the management training system, cannot do much to inspire potential new employees.

And yet…I cannot help but think that overall the brand came out looking good, largely due to the uber-humanity and sincerity shown by Joyce.

It’s hard to know for sure – there were painfully few comments on YouTube. Google revealed one interview with Steve Joyce (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/09/24/choice-hotel-undercover-boss/) in which he said he hoped the exposure had injected a bit of “humor, humiliation and heart), which it certainly did – mostly humiliation and heart, which are good things for brand building.

In the interview Joyce also said he thought the show had helped – summer business was up and that could perhaps have been attributed to the exposure. I think this is unlikely – there was nothing about the show that suggests a tactical or immediate business lift.

The most telling measurement would be to compare the on-line review site mentions for the choice brands before and after the show – my guess would be that there would be fewer negative reviews after the show and possibly more positive reviews. This because the show would, in my opinion, have resulted in guests arriving at Choice properties wanting to like them, because they want to like Steve Joyce. Add to this a slight moderation in expectations and the net result should be more satisfaction, less complaining; more goodwill, less need to punish the properties for not being perfect.

Filed under: Hospitality and Tourism, , , , , , , , , ,

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