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Augmented Reality in Hospitality – A Whole New World

Posted by on Sep 19, 2017 in Digital Industry News

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As advertising in the hospitality industry becomes more competitive, catching your target audience’s eye and maintaining customer engagement can pose a challenge. In this tech-driven, millennial-centric era, it is imperative to set yourself apart and convince your on-site visitors that you are the travel company central to all their travel needs. In 2015, Marriott’s pledge to innovation brought forward virtual reality (VR) as the next development in the field of experiential marketing. Known for consistently pushing technological boundaries, Marriott introduced and tested VR set-ups in New York and London to change the way people make travel plans.

Marriott Virtual Reality(Image Source: Framestore VR)

In collaboration with Oculus and Samsung Electronics, the concept of teleporting was made possible by being whisked away to a whole new world (yes, cue Disney’s Aladdin soundtrack), incorporating real sensory experiences. What’s the big deal? Well, Marriott successfully led the industry by combining two key elements: storytelling and technology, allowing guests to follow real travelers on different journeys, to “travel brilliantly.” Super cool, isn’t it? Now, the question is, what did we learn from that experience, and why should we consider incorporating VR again?

Marriott VR(Image Source: World Economic Forum)

3 Reasons VR Is Needed in the Hospitality and Travel Industry

  1. It’s Real. Instead of showcasing a destination via pre-filmed videos, you can transport your customers to our far-off resorts without having them leave the room. With VR technology, this 4-D experience is as good as the real deal and holds the potential of enhancing the client experience. It has the power to completely transform the “look before you book” idea to a real-life simulation. Driving an emotional capability like no other media platform, guests are given the opportunity to temporarily sample precious moments and unforgettable adventures. Real life over reel life any day, right?
  1. It’s competitive. Think about it – VR can be a very powerful marketing and communications tool. A unique tool to aid travel decision-making processes, we can truly leverage our brands and the experiences we offer on a global scale. Furthermore, by placing our guests in the center of our destinations virtually, we have the ability to change the way they interact with us in the hospitality and travel industry. Whilst other industries step forward and welcome VR with open arms, perhaps it’s time we bring it back as well to differentiate our merchandising practices from those employed by our competitors.
  1. It’s cost effective. Now you’re thinking: Wow, this is whack – there is no way we’re investing in this super-expensive technology. But what if we think of it from a long-term investment point of view? Yes, an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive ranges from $599-$799, excluding the cost of developing 4-D content (and you’re probably scoffing at the thought of wasting money), but the return on investment is projected to be higher. For some, this may not be convincing enough, but, sometimes, the lasting impression can be of a greater value – one we hold close to our hearts.

Virtual Reality Marriott(Image Source: Framestore VR)

Here’s to the Future

VR just provides another outlet for creative marketing and implementing groundbreaking trends into this industry – the results that can be achieved through this are limitless. To start off, one could utilize this tool specifically for event planning, such as destination weddings, honeymoon travels and other special occasions, providing a true taste of what the location has to offer. You wonder, would someone really want to check out their venue virtually over being there in person? Perhaps not, but VR could be the first in line to entice our guests with all that we can offer. VR provides an affordable means to decision-making for some couples and families, rather than an in-person trip to sign a contract for the desired event destination. Although this may not be a guaranteed reservation, it is definitely a means of consideration in travel decision-making. By adding informative material in the content that decision makers will appreciate, we can stay ahead of guest expectations and obtain a marketing advantage.

I don’t know about y’all, but I am all in for teleporting!

A Better Backlink

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in All Matters SEO

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If you are looking to enhance off-the-page SEO for your hotel’s website, one of the most important factors to consider is your link-building efforts. Although link building isn’t always easy, acquiring natural links is well worth the time and investment. Below are some of the basics when it comes to backlinks and how you can take your ongoing linking efforts to the next level.

Backlink Basics

A backlink (or an inbound link) is an incoming hyperlink from one website to another. Search engines, like Google, look at these links as a source of credibility. When a site has a plethora of high-quality natural (non-paid) backlinks, the site has a greater chance of ranking on the search engine results pages. Backlinks also show readers, not just search engines, that other sites trust your website’s content, which improves a reader’s confidence in your site. Link building is also an effective way to build brand awareness and introduce your site to new audiences.

Link Ranking Factors

Although we know links are important, we also know from industry studies that not all links are created equal. The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors shows that link quality, text and number of links are the most important link ranking factors, while paid and spammy links can have a negative ranking impact.

Periodic Table of SEO Factors_Links(Image Source: Search Engine Land)

To add, Moz’s 2017 Local Ranking Factors Results found that Google still leans heavily on links as a primary measure of a business’ authority and prominence. According to the survey results, quality/authority of inbound links, diversity of inbound links to domain and product/service keywords in anchor text of inbound links are just a few local ranking factors that have drastically increased from 2015 to 2017.

Backlink Best Practices

With this information in mind, consider the following best practices while building your backlink portfolio:

  1. Higher Domain Authority (DA) – Moz Domain Authority (DA) is a query-independent measure of how likely a domain is to rank for any given query. The higher the DA of the inbound link, the stronger the link signal to search engines that your site is credible.
  1. Diversity of Link Domains Your link-building strategy will be a better investment if you focus on inbound links that come from a variety of domains. For instance, backlinks should be from different domains, not just one domain’s different pages.
  1. Keywords (service/location) in Anchor Text – Having keywords in the anchor text (text of the hyperlink to your website) will also improve the link signal. For hotels, ensuring that the hotel name is the anchor text will be pivotal, especially if the hotel has the hotel’s city in the name.
  1. Quantity of Locally Relevant Domains – The quantity of inbound links is critical. And now, Moz’s search results show quantity from locally relevant domains is increasing in significance. Therefore, make sure you reach out to local businesses for linking opportunities.

Next-Level Backlinks

If you want to up your backlink efforts, try the following ideas that are currently being used for hotels enrolled in Digital Services by Marriott:

  • Find your competitors’ backlinks using Moz’s Open Site Explorer tool, and see if they are relevant for your hotel to target as inbound links.
  • Disavowing links can remove your hotel website’s association with links that are considered spammy and unnatural in the eyes of search engines. By using tools such as Majestic and Moz’s Open Site Explorer, you can see all backlinks and compile of list of spammy sites to disavow in Google.

Moz Open Site Explorer(Image Source: Moz)

Hotel Marketing Conference 2017 – Social Media Success Factors

Posted by on Sep 5, 2017 in Social Media

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Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the annual Hotel Marketing Conference in Burton Upon Trent. Not only this, but I gave a talk to the delegates on Social Media Success Factors and wanted to share some of my tips.

Beth Murrell Hotel Marketing Conference 2017(Image Source: Pavan Gill)

We all know that social media is well and truly changing the marketing game. We can’t ignore the domination of this channel for our brands, as more and more travellers are using it in the decision-making process when they book their holidays.

When it comes to social currency, travel is definitely up there. You can’t miss your friends and family sharing their travel posts online, from a check-in on Facebook to a smug Boomerang of a cocktail on Instagram. Social media is extremely important, and some key questions that people ask are:

  • How do I create success on social?
  • How do I measure success?
  • What’s my ROI on social?

I’m hoping to answer some of these questions in this post. First up, however, what is Marriott as a brand doing on social media?

Marriott uses a platform called MLive, which acts on the principles of geo-fencing, allowing our hotels to quickly:

Analyse – Gain consumer insights and extended intelligence based on activity at our hotels.

Surprise and Delight Receive notifications when something exciting has happened at a property, like an engagement, and the ability to respond.

Amplify – Use sponsored posts to reach guests with hyper-personalised ads.

Marriott International Mlive(Image Source: Marriott International)

MLive also allows us to have a truly two-way conversation with our guests, as well as real-time social listening to keep up with trends and crisis management. All of these combined allow us to create content on the fly.

The Aim of the Game Is to Engage Guests to Inspire Others

I know that not everyone can do this, or not everyone has access to a platform like this. However, as a brand or hotel, you don’t need MLive to:

Interact – Ensure you’re getting that personal interaction with your guests.

React – Respond to trending topics and have a robust social-crisis process.

Listen – Learn what guests are saying about you and use it as an opportunity.

These are all important factors that will lead to your success on social media. And, although you may not see a direct return, you’re ensuring that any guest or potential guest will come away having had a good experience.

Social Media Quick Wins

When thinking about your social media, there are a few things that you can look at right now to make a big impact:

  • Go live on Facebook or Instagram. Share events, like wedding fayres or event setups, to give followers an authentic look at your brand.
  • Utilise free tools like Hootsuite or Canva to make scheduling easy, or to improve the look of your posts.
  • Find your social media style and brand. Use apps like Snapseed or VSCO to improve your photos.
  • Find those team members with a natural affinity for social media and use it!
  • Optimise your social profiles, have consistent branding and use keyword research to boost your visibility.
  • Have a content calendar ready and plan at least three months in advance.

So, how can you actually measure success in social media?

If you’re not looking at any form of paid social advertising, you’ll likely encounter questions about how you can measure success. Here are a few measurements you can use:

Interactions

One great way to measure your content’s success is looking at your interactions. Below is a great example from one of our hotels, the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London. After posting this short video, the hotel got some great comments, which they interacted with. Within most social media platforms, you will have access to analytics tools which will show you posts that perform the best, as well as times, demographics and much more. Use this to benchmark improvements in your social strategy and utilise the results to modify your upcoming posts.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London Instagram(Image Source: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London Instagram)

Campaign Performance

One solid way to measure performance is by using paid marketing, such as Facebook ads. Here, you can clearly see a return on your investment, and we’re seeing that FB especially is favouring paid advertising more and more.

Real-Life Interaction

Through our Marriott Digital Services programme, we work with hotels on their digital strategy. One of those is Snapchat filters. These are a great way to see real-time interaction with your social channels, and anyone can do these!

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London Snapchat Filter(Image Source: London Marriott Hotel Park Lane Snapchat)

The Key Is, Anyone Can Do This

Eventually, all of these elements will lead to bookings, stronger brand awareness and brand likability, ultimately securing loyal repeat guests.

The World of Metasearch – Quick News Hits from the Metasearch Giants

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Digital Industry News, Travel Industry News

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Since 2014, metasearch traffic has tripled. More recently, it has been suggested that metasearch advertising is one of the most important channels for hotels, allowing properties to amplify their book-direct strategies. If you aren’t familiar with metasearch channels, in a nutshell, they aggregate rates from a variety of sources and allow a user to compare a supplier’s room rates against those of many other channels. Koddi, a metasearch bid-automation platform, recently shared an excellent infographic to help answer the question “What is metasearch?

If you are already well-versed in the metasearch landscape, you know that the space is becoming increasingly competitive. Today, many of the major players are prioritizing innovation and ramping up marketing spend to ensure they can solidify their spot in the future of the hotel-rate-comparison business. Take a look at what some of the biggest competitors are up to these days:

Google Hotel Ads Tests, Including Vacation Rentals

This summer, Google began testing, including vacation rentals in their Hotel Ads interface – a first and major milestone for the company. Traditionally, users could search for dates and see a variety of hotels, but never alternative lodging options. According to Skift, the test appears to include 7,000 property listings and is focused on European cities, including Barcelona, Paris and Rome.

Booking.com and Hotels.com (owned by Expedia) both have listings appearing in the test; notably, Airbnb and HomeAway are not present. Koddi President/Co-founder Nicholas Ward noted a few clear shortcomings of the current user experience, including the lack of filtering options, content and reviews for the vacation rentals. Even still, the test marks the monumental entrance of Google into the vacation-rental business, and the company certainly has the resources for further testing and development if there is demand.

Google Hotel Ads(Image Source: Jacqueline Sharp, screen capture of Google Hotel Ads)

“Alexa, ask Kayak to book me a hotel room”

Conversational search queries are on the rise and, in May 2016, Google stated that 20% of mobile queries were voice searches. For the hotel industry, though, voice bookings were an untapped playing field until Kayak introduced the opportunity to book hotel rooms through Amazon’s Alexa, the persona of the Echo device, in June 2017. The new functionality can be used in two ways:

  1. You can share your destination and travel dates with Alexa, and she will recite the available hotels and their rates. When you hear one you like, you can request to book it.
  2. You already know where you’d like to stay and when, then you can ask Alexa for the rates and to complete the reservation.

Of course, for users who are interested in scouring many different sites to find the best rate, reading reviews and looking at photos, the Alexa experience will not be well-suited. Even still, the capability is the first for the industry, and will only get better and more advanced with time.

TripAdvisor Reacts to a Decrease in Advertising Spend

In July 2017, TripAdvisor experienced softer cost-per-click pricing on their hotel metasearch rate ads – a result of suppliers and OTAs spending less than in the past. Expedia and Priceline had traditionally been the company’s largest advertisers, contributing up to 46% of the annual revenue. But with the recent decrease in advertising spend, which is not particular to one region but rather experienced globally, TripAdvisor has taken action.

While it may be too early to tell if major OTAs pulling their money from TripAdvisor and directing it elsewhere will become a trend, the company has launched a series of television commercials to combat the lost revenue. Between July and September, TripAdvisor will spend over $35 million on the television spots, and will run the campaigns in the United States, Canada, France, Spain, the UK and Australia.

Trivago Urges Independent Hotels to Advertise Online

Trivago’s CEO Rolf Schrömgens recently shared that “Trivago now has access to 1.8 million properties sourced from more than 180 booking sites, more than 230 hotel chains and some 11,000 individual hotels.” While these numbers are impressive at first, it’s estimated that there are between 140,000 and 600,000 independent hotels globally, leaving a tremendous amount of properties outside of the Trivago landscape. Today, the majority of hotels on the platform are the major chains, while many independent hotels rely on OTAs to drive their businesses instead.

Trivago hopes that by continuing extensive television advertising, they will further achieve brand recognition, and as Schrömgens shares, “It’s hard to reach them [the independent hotels]. But this effort will help.” In addition to increased advertising, Trivago introduced Rate Insights in June 2017, a solution designed to help independent hoteliers access rate data and understand traveler search volume and fluctuations.

Sources:

https://www.tnooz.com/article/the-direct-booking-movement-is-moving-to-meta-what-hoteliers-need-to-know/

https://www.koddi.com/metasearch-infographic/

https://skift.com/2017/07/20/google-is-testing-vacation-rental-search-in-its-hotel-price-comparison-tool/

http://searchengineland.com/google-reveals-20-percent-queries-voice-queries-249917

http://www.cntraveler.com/story/you-can-now-use-amazons-alexa-to-book-a-hotel-on-kayak

https://skift.com/2017/08/10/can-tripadvisor-blame-its-hotel-bidding-slump-on-expedia-or-priceline/

https://skift.com/2017/08/08/tripadvisor-aims-to-keep-up-its-tv-ad-blitz-to-lift-its-sagging-hotel-business/

https://www.tnooz.com/article/trivago-focuses-on-serving-suppliers-lifts-hotel-inventory-to-1-8-million/

https://skift.com/2017/08/07/trivago-urges-independent-hotels-to-get-more-involved-in-digital-marketing/

http://hotelmanager-blog.trivago.com/en-us/rate-insights/

iSearch – How AI will Change the Future of SEO

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in All Matters SEO, SEO Oddities

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If you are like me this is probably the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “AI – Artificial Intelligence.”  But as you will see at the end of this post, it is less spine-chilling than that. It is changing the face of SEO, but not how you might think.

We’re talking about algorithms that enable machines to make connections, “learn” to process the data and apply its learning in upcoming tasks.

When you search for something, the results displayed take into account a number of considerations like your search history, location, favorites and what other users click on for a similar search results. AI improvements mean ranking factors can change from query to query, as the algorithm learns how people are clicking on the search results and decides on the most related factors to take into account for each search.

So how can this influence the world of SEO, you may ask? Most of us consider SEO to be really important only for web browsing on computers. That is where the change happens.

Google Search On Mac(Image Source: Pexels)

According to ComScore, by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice search. Voice is the future of web search. Both Google and Bing have stated that the majority of search queries they receive take place via voice on mobile. This is just a matter of time taking under consideration the development of hands-free devices. With the vast improvement in the quality of digital voice assistants like Google Now, Siri and Alexa, it was only a matter of time people discovered the vast convenience of voice search and rely on it for their queries.

Imagine one of such searches…

  • Alexa, find me the best hotel in Berlin?
  • Google, book a table for tonight at the best Italian restaurant near me?

What can we do to be ready for voice searches?

  1. Focus on phrases and longtail keywords

The search focus will shift from just random keyword combinations to more natural language, full sentences and phrases. The way we speak is very much different from the way we write and the words said will be different from those we would type in the search box.

  1. Optimize your website for local SEO

Mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local-based than text search. This is closely related to the fact that most smartphone searches are also local. With this in mind, businesses should keep their profiles and contact information up-to-date, since this is what Google will pull for queries such as, “Where can I get the best coffee in London?”

This means you need to step up your game, because voice search is rapidly becoming the way your customers will find your services. Keywords need to be relevant to your local customer, include places, sites, district names that would be associated with your location, etc.

Your Google Knowledge Graph should be up-to-date reflecting your contact details, opening hours, services, etc. “Where is the best Chinese food near me?” and “Where can I go swimming today?” These are clearly local searches and they trigger ads in the search engine results that allow the user to act without going to a web page. In the results, you can see reviews, a phone call button, directions button and a “book now” button. Users don’t have to come to your website to complete their intent.

This is only the tip of the iceberg and there is more to come…we will be communication more using voice commands and voice search will only continue to grow.

A Quick Guide to WeChat

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017 in Social Media

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The more I explore WeChat, the more I see that you really can do everything within this one app. There is no more need to have apps on your phone for Facebook, Skype, Uber, Tinder, Amazon, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc., as these are all included in this one app! But here’s what you need to know about WeChat and how it works.

Where did WeChat come from?
WeChat was an instant messenger app originally launched in China in January 2011 under the name of Weixin. Quickly, the app evolved: adding videos in August 2011, voice and video calls in July 2012, syncing with Facebook and Twitter in September 2012 and, in the same month, reaching 200 million registered users. Gaming and mobile payments were added in August 2013 and taxi bookings in January 2014. In May 2014, WeChat stores launched, allowing any business to have a virtual store within the WeChat app. In June 2014, money transfers launched followed by WeChat phone payments in September 2014 (like Apple Pay). (Source: TechInAsia) Now, in Q1 of 2017, WeChat reported having 938 million active monthly users!

What is WeChat?
Basically, WeChat merged together apps you currently know to form one app that includes WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Uber, Amazon, Instagram, Tinder, Twitter, YouTube and more. You can also do things like make your appointment at the doctors or see how busy it is at the shopping center you were going to head to after work! You really can do everything in one app, but what does this mean?

Consumer Data
WeChat currently holds a phenomenal amount of consumer data for everyone that uses the app. Just think about it – they know everything: where you are, where you’re going, what you had for lunch, what holidays you are planning, what new clothes you are looking to buy and who you are currently socializing with. Now, although the thought of this can be quite scary for an individual, from an advertising perspective, it’s a marketer’s dream. By having all this data, WeChat is able to allow companies to really target their specific clientele and anyone else who matches these profiles.

Why should you know about WeChat?
I recently came across an ad of sorts for WeChat which was put together by Jonah M. Kessel and Paul Mozur at The New York Times – I would recommend skipping in 2 minutes 15 seconds if you don’t have time to watch the full clip. It really does provide everything you need to know.


(Video Source: New York Times)