When you think of a blog, what comes to mind?

Maybe it’s a fashion or food blog, written by a non-professional enthusiast who’s just pouring his/her passion into words in a small corner of the internet. Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to forget everything you previously thought about blogging. Some blogs have gone on to become wildly successful capturing millions in revenues. Just look at The Points Guy (travel and rewards), the Blonde Salad (fashion blog by Chiara Ferragni), or Mashable (topical content creator).

At a time when powerful OTAs are dominating the internet and taking hefty market shares from your direct booking revenues, driving direct traffic to your website has never been more important. One powerful, sometimes undervalued way to do this is with your hotel’s blog.

In this article, I’ll go over 7 reasons your hotel needs a blog, reference 8 great hotel blogs that I suggest taking inspiration from, and offer 5 tips for starting your own hotel blog.

5 Reasons your hotel needs a blog

In short, your blog represents fresh, new content on your website that is continuously changing – not just for the enjoyment of search engine robots but for humans, too. This fresh new content means a bunch of benefits, like improving your SEO, supporting a social media strategy, building brand awareness, establishing links between keywords and destinations, and targeting a specific audience with property-specific offers and promotions.

1. Improves your organic SEO

It’s no surprise to anyone that a blog improves your organic SEO, search engine optimization. But how? Search engine algorithms are incredibly sophisticated and there are so many factors that contribute to SEO, so I in no way suggest that starting a blog will thrust your hotel to the top of Google results simply because you’re producing quality content. But the bots that scan your website and your blog like to see freshly published content coming from your website and will privilege this content because it’s new. What constitutes quality content?

  • the content must be original (no plagiarized or copied content)
  • the content must be long enough that it can be sufficiently indexed (generally at least 300 words though a good rule of thumb is between 600 – 800 words)
  • Your post should include at least 1 image (with alt field) and 1 link with relevant anchor text

2. Goldmine for social media strategy

The foundation of any comprehensive social media strategy is quality content. So naturally your blog should serve as a goldmine for this kind of content. After writing a post, share it on all social media channels as a way to promote it and drive traffic to your website.

Additionally, your blog posts should have optimized rich snippets for sharing. That means the meta data for your post includes a high quality, enticing photo, adequate title and description of appropriate length. Not sure how to do this? Let us know and we’ll help!

3. Builds brand awareness and engages your community

Your blog, while still curated, is a bit like peaking behind the curtain. Like your social media, your blog is a way to engage with your community and show your brand’s personality, which is the key to survival for all brands in this day and age. So letting down your hair a bit, or so to speak, and letting your guests get to know you better is a brilliant approach for the blog. I love following the antics of the Ace Hotel and gagged over their BTS (behind the scenes) from their Christmas Gifts shoot. So perfectly on-brand and irreverent.

4. Establishes keyword and destination

A part of the definition of quality content from the organic SEO benefits is optimized content. As in, well written text designed to be indexed appropriately for search engines and eye-catching photography or graphics. This is what makes talented online copywriters such an invaluable asset. A quality copywriter is trained at writing quality content based on optimizing (not over-using) keywords and “wordsmithing” articles to provide relevant information for search engines to index. Linking keywords with a destination effectively is a profession and should be invested in accordingly.

5. Targeted audience for offers and promotions

Your devoted blog readers are a special kind of audience. They are likely made up of past guests and future guests, so they’re the perfect audience to announce special offers and promotions. For the Rome Accommodation blog we dedicate posts for the Costaguti Experience, creating a space within Rome Accommodation for news, offers, and promotions related to the Costaguti Experience (a luxury accommodation managed by Rome Accommodation). The built trust and loyalty of Rome Accommodation guests can carry weight in promoting and launching a new product.

6. Responses to FAQs to your guests

Chances are your reservationists are responding to the same handful of questions everyday. Questions about what there is to do or see in the area, recommended restaurants, or getting around outside your property are perfect topics for dedicated blog posts. Not only is this information useful to someone considering staying at your property, it’s also an easy link to share with confirmed guests asking your reservationists.

7. Entice readers to explore less visited areas of your website

If your website has a lot of content, don’t expect your guests to scour the website to its very depths. The average guest isn’t particularly scrupulous in searching for information, inspiration, or ideas, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having on your website. Posts about some useful or unique areas of your website (e.g. destination guides, spa treatment menu, excursions, bespoke experiences), that aren’t the most commonly visited pages is a great way to highlight them, link back to them, and drive specific interested traffic to them.

Would you like help starting your hotel or restaurant blog?

Who’s got a great hotel blog

Here are a few of our favorite hotel blogs. These blogs offer past and potential hotel guests more information about the hotel and the destination, spot-on brand personality, offers and promotions, and engage with their respective communities in a way that’s less manicured and more compelling.

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

 

Hotel Blogs

Tips for your hotel blog:

The most important thing to understand when launching a hotel blog is that the return will come with time. Lots of time. Even if it takes just a day or two for your posts to be indexed by a search engine, the trust, reliability and relevance of your blog by the search engines will take time.

Below are 5 more tips for writing a hotel blog:

Don’t like the word “Blog”? Change it!

I’m not a huge fan of the word blog myself, but it has become a universally understood term which shouldn’t be ignored. Some brands have changed the name to fit their concept or define better what sort of content they’ll be creating for their blog. What’s On by the Hotel Hassler aligns with the timeless elegance of their brand and relates to specific news and updates regarding the hotel that will be shared there. Meanwhile The Angle by W Hotels is a clever, on-brand zine-like blog that relates more to a gossip magazine than traditional blog. Both The Notebook by Rocco Forte Hotels and Ideas by Belmond Hotels provide an air of the vintage, classy traveler who’s taken by whims and find him/herself in some of the world’s most beautiful places. Whether it’s inspiration or exposition, you can imagine the posts they share will be top-notch and dreamy.

Link your blog with your website

There are different ways to link your blog with your website, but the most important factor to keep in mind is that your blog shouldn’t act as the final destination of your visitor – your website is. Whether you build your blog into your website (like the Hotel Hassler and Citizen M) or you design a standalone blog (like W Hotels), your guests should be able to find themselves on your website in just 1 click.

If you’re new to the “blogosphere”, consider using a user-friendly, open-source platform like WordPress. Even if your website is not WordPress, you can still associate your blog with it using a subdomain (ex. blog.yourdomain.com or yourdomain.com/blog) for effective URL structure.

Post Consistently

Blogging effectively means blogging consistently. Your audience and search engines expect to find new articles in a more or less punctual fashion. Keep in mind, posting consistently doesn’t necessarily mean posting frequently. Even posting once a month is effective, as long as this schedule is maintained and the quality of the content is good. Posting once a week or every 2 weeks is more ideal, but there is no single solution for everyone.

User Generated Content is king!

As hotels, you have dozens or hundreds of possible guest authors walking through your doors every day. Some of the best and original content can come from your guests, who can share their experiences on your blog. Reach out to some of your most loyal guests if they would like to be featured, why they choose to stay with you or what they love most about your destination. Your guests are not the only potential authors your staff too can contribute. Veteran staff members who have stayed with the hotel for years are a wealth of knowledge and can share stories of how the property has changed.

Changing the viewpoint of the articles keeps the content dynamic and unique.

Optimize your blog for bookings and conversions

Don’t forget to include CTAs (call to actions) in every blog post. Remember that your blog isn’t really the the ideal final destination for online users. Enticing CTAs increase the possibility for conversions by directing the user to the next step. Examples of effective CTAs include buttons for visiting a relevant link, contact forms for availability requests or more information, or newsletter signups (even if it can be found in the footer, including the signup directly in the content is better).

Would you like help starting your hotel or restaurant blog?

 

For my 10th birthday, I wanted only 1 thing: to spend the night in a hotel. Even then nothing made me happier than the feeling of hospitality.

Celebrating my 10th birthday in 1998 at the Spyglass Inn in Pismo Beach, California – stealing sips of coffee and enjoying the view.

The hospitality industry has seen so much change in the last decade, the result of innovative ideas disrupting not only distribution and marketing but supply itself. While these disruptors may be controversial and misunderstood by some hoteliers, I appreciate the need for these changes to accommodate a world of more diversified guests, markets, and distribution channels. That said, I think before conjecturing on changes in the industry it’s important to first define for myself I believe is  the Art of Hospitality.

Below I go elaborate on what I believe are the 4 tenets of hospitality,  and then I give a brief overview of some cornerstone experiences in hospitality throughout my career. Finally I offer my list of services, built from my philosophy of hospitality and how I manifest it.

What is the Art of Hospitality?

For me, the Art of Hospitality brings into focus the creation of memories, those of our guests, and our contribution as hoteliers. How we practice hospitality is through empathy, anticipating wants and needs, designing personalized experiences, and delivering authentic service. The business of hospitality is a bit more straightforward but simply put: it’s the economic outcome from practicing the art of hospitality.

Empathy

Above all I believe hospitality is a structured practice of empathy where staff are trained to understand and share in the feelings of their guests. This is the pivotal piece to any hospitality business. This is what makes hospitality simultaneously easy and difficult to exercise, because the foundation for the industry is built on ethos. Those best poised to be successful in hospitality are those who understand and share in the emotions of others.

Anticipating Wants and Needs

Anticipating wants and needs is a way to tangibly demonstrate the practice of empathy because it warrants taking action based on knowledge and observation of guests. From simple gestures, like suggesting airport transfers and late-night dining options for late arrivals to the more complex, like tending to a mourning guest or coming to your guest’s rescue during a visibly bad blind date. Anticipating wants and needs requires more than simply observing cause and effect but taking a visceral interest in your guests’ experience.

Designing Personalized Experiences

The last few years in hospitality have seen great strides taken to improve the personalization of the guest experience, often at the expense of actual personal interaction. While I do believe working toward automation is the future, I also believe that the most effective way to personalize an experience is to involve humans. We’ve come to a point where every “experience” is scrutinized and must be designed, from the moment a guest opens the website or dinner menu to the check-in or paying the bill. These experiences should be designed but not without the careful consideration of the human component.

Delivering Authentic Service

Authentic service means carrying out an activity purposefully and wholeheartedly. There is nothing worse than hearing my pleasure, when it isn’t true. I’ll admit that for me it’s become a habitual response, but that doesn’t make it inauthentic. I take pride in the authentic service I deliver, so when a guest or client thanks me it truly is a pleasure. Automatons have no place in hospitality, because when authenticity is shrouded by ambivalence, empathy is missing and the core of the business goes away.

I believe the Art of Hospitality is made up of these 4 tenets. Do you think I missed one? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How I learned the Art of Hospitality

Growing up in a big family, I attributed my early affinity for hospitality to my discontent for our frequent camping trips: carrying all my provisions on my back; waking up to a cold, dewy tent; washing our dishes in a bucket; need I go on? But those times where instead we checked-into a hotel I couldn’t be happier. I loved staying in hotels and just knew it was the better way to travel. So as I got older, my passion for hospitality and understanding of the industry grew. From the humble beginnings as a dishwasher in a cowboy-themed family restaurant, I climbed the ranks through frontline positions to traditional management roles in hotel reception and housekeeping – mastering the inter-dependencies, intricacies, and particularities of hospitality leadership.

Throughout my journey, hospitality has taken so many forms, from supervising waste management for a 6,000-seat restaurant at the Olympics to engaging local villagers to discover suitable tour routes in rural Bangladesh and design management for developing resorts in India.

Waste Coordinator at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

The challenge presented wasn’t a small one: manage a group of 6-12 Chinese students for a 10-hour shift, 6 days a week in the removal of kitchen waste. Also, they don’t speak English, and the team tends to be made up of “problem” employees who didn’t make the cut in the FOH or in the dish room. Successfully managing this team didn’t come easy, but I learned more about the human-component to management during those months then through any other experience. Despite the hindering language barrier, we communicated through mutual respect and a tacit understanding that every member of the team of was important. And that our job was important. From cleaning up spills in the refrigerated prep rooms before they’d freeze and turn to ice to breaking down mountains (literally mountains) of boxes from fresh produce shipments to keep paths clear. It wasn’t all fun and games, but sensible management meant we could get the job done and enjoy it at the same time.

Hands-on leadership led to a successful Trash Team for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, taken in the impressive BOH for the main dining facility for the athletes

Recreation Manager at Panigram Resort in southern Bangladesh

Arriving in Bangladesh was an immense culture shock – the chaotic city of Dhaka isn’t one I’m clamoring to return to. But beyond the city in the lush, fertile delta in the rural south, there is an incredible world to discover. We were a team of four, brought from the United States and Singapore to help the resort developer, an incredibly ambitious American woman, raise the initial capital for the development of the country’s first socially-responsible luxury eco resort. We designed and built a pavilion on a small parcel of land already purchased by the developer and served as ambassadors to the surrounding villages as their endorsement in the project was crucial. In charge of the future resort’s guide program, my quest was to scour the area for suitable and interesting routes for guests, by foot, bike, boat, and rickshaw. I enlisted the help of the villagers, often “renting” a scooter and driver for longer distances, and for a temporary period of time I entered into their way of life and saw the land as they did. The experience was nothing short of magical.

Through our combined efforts we were successful in raising the first rounds of investment to purchase the rest of the land and begin construction. Sadly, five years later the project was abandoned after further setbacks made it no longer viable.

Making the first impression memorable and fresh with cool, scented towels for our guests as they arrive at the lunch pavilion by boat at Panigram Resort, in southern Bangladesh

Interior Architect and Hospitality Design Consultant for La Paz Group in Kerala, India

Teamwork is a common theme throughout my career in hospitality, though I prefer the term camaraderie. As a hotelier with a penchant for design, I had the opportunity to bring both worlds closer as part of a project team in India for the development of a portfolio of properties all located in the southern state of Kerala. Our 4-person team was made up of an architect, landscape architect, interior architect and hospitality consultant (me!) and an environmental engineer. We spent several months visiting properties and construction sites, gathering information, visiting competitors, and drafting proposals. It was a kind of time management that transcended any other experience I’d had. And while it almost seemed corporate in nature, our lush and leafy office spaces (like the one pictured here) let go of any dull semblance to that idea.

Visiting a construction site for the new Xandari Pearl resort in Marari Beach where we mapped the landscape for the development of sustainable bungalows (ph. by Karen “Chi Chi” Lin)

Bringing it all together: Hospitality Consulting and What I Offer

Since moving abroad in 2013, I’ve spent the years rubbing shoulders with the industry in different ways, such as web and graphic design, and consulting. My varied background between the hospitality and design fields provides a unique awareness with informs how I approach hospitality. Pragmatism and logistics are always considered, as are financial burden and economic gain. But the crux of any project is the emotional experience, both from my client and the guests of my client. My hands-on approach means I’m heavily invested in each project seeking personalized, effective solutions for every challenge.

Hospitality Consulting and Creative Services by SAYHELLO Creative

Experience Curation

Out of the box approach to building unique, personalized experiences for your guests. We work closely with your concierge and team to develop comprehensive experiences, taking into account selling attributes and content, profitability, seller incentives, and logistics

Operations Analysis and Consulting

Formal report of your operation with detailed action points detailing areas of improvement and key competitive advantages

PR Services

Liaise with international press (print and media) to arrange events and press visits

Creative Services (Photography, Video, and Social Media Content)

Content creation for social media and traditional press, including professional photography and videography as well as social media consulting for building and engaging your online community.

Web Design

Turn-key web design solutions that translate the experience the guest can expect from your property or services to their first interaction with you on the web.

Graphic Design

Develop a graphic language for your brand including logos, packaging, and print paraphernalia


So there you have it, a pretty thorough run-down on the Art of Hospitality and how it has shaped my career. Now I’d love to share my passion with you!

Do you have a hospitality business and would like to talk about how I can help? Go ahead and drop me a line! I’d love to chat and learn more about what you do. If you’re not ready yet, but would like to stay in touch – Sign up for my monthly newsletter to keep updated with everything that’s going on around here!

This week we welcomed a new brand of hotels for the millenial market: Moxy Hotels.

Believe it or not Swedish furniture maker Ikea teamed up with hotel management titan Marriott to develop a new chain of budget-luxury hotels for the tech-savvy, socially driven Millenial market. That’s right. Ikea is now developing hotels. But don’t expect your bed to be made of fiberboard and interiors for college dorm rooms. Moxy Hotels plans to show a whole new side of Ikea and with the high level of reliable service.

“‘We’ve got to be cool!’ Mr. Marriott exclaims, sitting in one of the last bastions of the old Marriott aesthetic – his office.”

As a follow-up to my post last week on CitizenM hotels, I want to feature the highly anticipated Ikea-Marriott love child brand, which opened their first hotel at the Milan Malpensa airport on Monday! So far there area several projects in the pipeline, all in Europe with plans to open 150 properties in the next 10 years. With a concept that almost exactly resembles a CitizenM hotel, the hotels “will feature small, low-cost rooms with grab-and-go food and the feel of a Silicon Valley startup.”

American Apparel vibes for the hospitality industry.

American Apparel vibes for the hospitality industry.

This match seems almost too perfect to be true. With the operational efficiency and affordable luxury that Millenials love about Ikea combined with the long-standing track record and fundamental hospitality mastery of Marriott, how could Moxy Hotels not be a success. And it’s also a step in the right direction for both veteran brands; while Ikea diversifies it’s portfolio with property development, Marriott is able to cool-up it’s brand image that until now is associated more with our parent’s family vacations growing up than the ones we’d like to take. Flawless leader and personal hero, Bill Marriott, discussed Moxy hotels in a Wall Street Journal article on Where Hotels are Going, citing startling figures for the future of the hospitality industry and how Marriott is evolving to deliver the experiences these new markets will be looking for. “In four years, 60% of our business will be Millennials,” says Mr. Marriott, who adds with a laugh, “All of us old folks are moving on. The collaboration brings to light a fundamental difference between classical and contemporary storytelling: a historical record. I imagine this will be a popular topic as I explore the concept storytelling for modern hotels and restaurants. The process of storytelling is often associated with historical buildings (either an old property or an adaptive reuse), recapitulates notable milestones as demonstrating long standing tradition. But by this definition, new properties face disadvantages for having a “shorter” story. While milestones will always be milestones, technology enables everyday operations to be featured on digital profiles constantly contributing to its archive through social interaction and individual personality. furthermore, technology offers precision and universal access to this information within the cocoon of online permanence.

For a designer living in Rome, you either love or hate a Mortadella rug. There is no grey area. (For the record, I love it!!!)

For a designer living in Rome, you either love or hate a Mortadella rug. There is no grey area. (For the record, I love it!!!)

Employing a contemporary storytelling strategy means crafting stories from genetic history, in this case integrating the history of Ikea and Marriott into Moxy creating a brand that not only strengthens the birth of a new brand but also extends, diversifies, and updates the image of the Ikea and Marriott brands. It highlights the concept of family when Moxy marries two industries via rather polemic brands. Only time will tell what the reality is for this collaboration, but one this is for sure: these brands have a lot of experience and are very good at what they do individually. Now it’s just a matter of seeing what comes from the collaboration.

SAYHELLO Creative is a creative agency that I founded with the hope to build relationships with hotels and restaurants in Rome, learn about their story and, in turn, help them tell it.

The story is the single most precious asset for any business but offers totally unique opportunities especially for the hospitality industry. Technology and social media have changed the marketers’ game for how the story can be capitalized not only to fill rooms in hotels and seats in restaurants but also enrich the business itself as a constant process in evolution and archive. To me, these are the ingredients that constitute a successful contemporary storytelling strategy – one where sequence in narrative is less important, structure is tagged and organized and categories, and digital permanence rules over guided decision making. In this article I take a look at CitizenM Hotels as a model for contemporary storytelling, marking the first in a series of case studies to further define and master the concept.

Dutch hotel chain, CitizenM, caters to a new type of guest – what it calls the Mobile Citizen. This person appreciates value in travel, choosing unbeaten paths and exotic locations in search of adventure and authenticity. After a long day exploring, the hotel acts as a comfortable, unpretentious but nonetheless luxurious place to rewind, reflect, and relax. This traveler appreciates replacing antiquated “frills” with convenience and efficiency, design that offers good backdrops for selfies, and a reliable internet connection to share the experience with friends, families, and fellow mobile citizens. In short, this is a brand for millennials.

Coming from a real millennial, here are 5 ways CitizenM Hotels is winning at my freshly coined concept: contemporary storytelling.

citizenM-billboard

1. They keep in mind where it all began

 

CitizenM started as an observation: the world has seen the evolution of a new type of traveler.

 

Check out any of their profiles and you’ll find evidence of this inspiration in mind. The company hasn’t grown too quickly with just 6 properties (Amsterdam, Glasgow, Rotterdam, New York, London, Paris) since it opened its first hotel in Amsterdam in 2008. CitizenM’s founder, Rattan Chadha, had a keen eye when he noted a new type of traveler emerge as a result of mobile technologies, millennial lifestyle tendencies, and the social potential for the internet.

 

backpacker

 

2. They defined a niche market [before it even existed!]

 

Market segmentation is a happy place for marketers because it establishes order amidst chaos, but CitizenM took it to a whole new level when they called out a hodge-podge of outlying traveler types and grouped them under a single term – the Mobile Traveler. They created an enticing video that logically demonstrated a need for a new kind of lodging; one that marries the conveniences of an expensive hotel with the laid-back casual atmosphere of a local hang out spot. The strategy was genius and led to industry-wide changes: hotels that offer automatic check-in and casual pantry-like, alla carte dining offerings. In the end, the brand has become easy to identify with because, well, it’s just damn cool.

 

tagyourself

3. Their killer video marketing skills

 

By now, all hotels know video marketing is successful. But instead of shamelessly panning guestrooms or featuring a smiling waitress drop some steaming eggs to a table, the videos evoke a sense of local vibe and individualistic personality, promoting the local culture as much as the hotel.

In providing examples, I could easily have posted 50, each cleverly using a dynamic backdrop extend the brand, tell you who they are, and draw you in. But it’s important to mention that all of the short clips that CitizenM publishes are professionally crafted, evocative and pleasing, direct and clear.

Like the video that explains who CitizenM is, where it came from, and what it does:

citizenM says: hello! from citizenM hotels on Vimeo.
So, can we talk for a minute about just how genius this storytelling strategy is? The company talks to you like your their best friend, they know you even better than you know yourself. And even more so they know just what you like when you travel, even though you could ever put it into words. Keep watching if you’re not convinced.

These are no amateur vines or low-res home videos, and there is no templates. Just take a look at two grand opening videos, one celebrating a new hotel at the Paris airport and the other in Times Square. One masters the Euro disco vibe while the other takes on the fast-paced, culture-high found only on NYC streets.

Or how about one that asks for a little help from a real New Yorker to help them make friends in their new neighborhood:

And then the one about how far we’ve come from bed spreads, anonymous hotel watercolors and nightly towel sculptures:

The videos are purposeful and add value – they demonstrate an un-corporate kind of personality that avoids self promotion but employs a pathos that’s quite inviting.

 

ipad

 

4. They take the time to give you a personalized response

 

Have a question about your reservation? Need to cancel or change your booking? You don’t need to call the hotel like a neanderthal. Facebook ’em. Tweet. Google+ it or tag them in an instagram.

Ask on any platform and they’ll answer you with a helpful answer. It’s like their front desk is just sitting on Facebook all day waiting to help you. It sure beats treating these channels as a switchboard by simply feeding you you which phone number to call.

 

chillaxing

 

5. They maintain a consistent “voice”

 

The gentleman who narrates all of their videos does a pretty good job giving one kind of voice to the brand, but having a consistent voice is a little more than that. With the birth of “lifestyle brands” came this concept of voice, this innate quality about a company that recites all of their public material to you. Its how a company walks and talks; how a company launches a new program or announces a new property; how they promote an award-winning dish in the restaurant and manage special occasions in the dining room. CitizenM stands behind the same megaphone for all of it’s publicity, resonating the same cool, young, world-conquering vibes while acknowledging subtleties for individual markets and genres of mobile citizen.

 


 

 

So where is the beginning, middle, and end, the climax, the protagonist, and the coming of age? Well, I’m not sure those classic story elements apply in the definition of contemporary storytelling. Think about it. When sequence and order in a situation are given over to the more immediate who, where, and when, and perishability gives way to a virtual infinity, I’m not sure what marks the point where tradition meets the future of storytelling. But to consider the strategies and tactics that CitizenM has introduced and that so many hotels and restaurants around the world are now utilizing to grow their brand, I think a new definition for storytelling is in order.

“…and what I found out was the makeup industry, uh, makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bullshit.”

Woah. I’m not sure I would go that far.

Harvard Business School graduate Grace Choi sounded her war cry during a presentation where she launched her startup, Mink, a retail-ready concept for printable makeup. The presentation on TechCrunch went viral online initiating discussion over the innovative and groundbreaking concept that aims to disrupt the distribution and pricing structure of the modern cosmetic industry.

New technologies like 3D printing and its derivatives promise to be the game-changers, replacing veteran products with panacean alternatives that are highly efficient, energy-saving, waste-managing, socially responsible or economically sustainable. This is great. I love it. But I think the approach taken by Ms. Choi and others to confront an established industry with direct and unabashed competition and an overly-confident subversive attitude is capricious, immature and misguided.

I believe her brilliant invention could start a war against her, slowing its development and market penetration and denying the cosmetic industry a technological innovation for a niche demographic. Large, established brands like Sephora, a competitor, could seek legislative action citing potential health risks or foul play to condemn the distribution of the technology; or they could develop a concept that directly competes with Mink, easily running it out of business before it gets off the ground. Sephora is a Titan in the cosmetic industry with the influence and resources to maintain its position on top.

What does this have to do with hotels and restaurants?

AirBnBFounders-Details

AirBnB’s Founders – Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk – featured in Details Magazine

Under similar circumstances in the hospitality industry, large hotel companies have waged war on AirBnB, the online apartment-sharing service that disrupted traditional pricing and distribution systems, claiming the company has evaded millions in taxes. Neighbors who don’t want strangers in houses near them and housing authorities that claim AirBnB limits affordable housing possibilities have also joined the fight. Especially in New York City most of the highest performing users are allegedly operating unlawfully, which demonstrates the battle and losses between a brilliant new concept weakened because premature roll-out didn’t consider the possibility to collaborate with industry leaders first.

Imagine for a moment if Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, or Hyatt developed a concept like AirBnB? This would open the gate to lucrative and intriguing brand-extension possibilities. Distribution through their hotel websites and even the opportunity to earn loyalty points for travelers would really change the game for hospitality leaders like Starwood, whose portfolio from Aloft to Westin could tap into a new standard for service and experience authenticity. Data shows that AirBnB hasn’t had the negative effects on occupancy rates that hoteliers claim; the real issue the hotels have is that AirBnB thought of the concept first.

BMW-carsharing

BMW Electric Car-Sharing Service called DriveNow (source: http://ecomento.com/2014/05/09/san-francisco-car-sharers-get-80-new-electric-bmw-to-rent/)

Not conviced? Consider BMWs new short-term rental concept rolled-out in San Francisco. Car rental and car-sharing has made headlines as much as AirBnB. But before Uber and other car-sharing services Zipcar made a name for itself as the members-only short-term car rental company. Realizing an opportunity to join the car sharing business, BMW created a concept that doesn’t directly compete with Zipcar but expands and diversifies the market to introduce a different product for short-term car renters. The strategy increases the number of drivers behind BMW steering wheels as well as embraces dynamism in the automobile industry’s traditional systems.

Branding is critically important for any company whether it’s a market leader or a new, genius concept seeking to shake things up. Branding is the single-most direct and effective way to communicate who a company is and what it offers. So to attack branding as a useless gimmick used to sell a product for a premium is misinformed gibberish. Ms. Choi has a fabulous opportunity in front of her; she has a game-changing idea, a solid product, confidence in herself, and a lot of people who will be willing to invest. I have no doubt Mink could be the next best thing, just like AirBnB and BMW car-sharing. But she should learn to play nice and listen to her elders. Because when she calls war they will call bullshit.

Last Thursday I met Sorin Deaconu in his office for our weekly English conversation.

He hasn’t got any paintings on the walls or any photos on his desk. There is a locked security cabinet in the corner near the window where an ambient light from overcast skies diffused a dull blue tint onto the walls. He had a sheet of paper in front of him where he’d jotted a few notes and the latest TIME magazine where we often draw inspiration for our conversations. We were the only two people in the room except for small collection of electronic devices – a laptop, an iPhone, a Samsung tablet, and a Chromecast – quietly charging in a heap of wires that came from under his desk.

As the Director of Information Technology, our discussions cover topics on everything from credit card security to data encryption, parallel Internet infrastructures and competing fiber optic networks in Italy.

Recently we’ve been discussing the Internet in Italy, or more specifically, Italy’s Digital Competence, a term that addresses not only physical underground channels harboring telephone and fiber optic cables but also the reliance on the Internet and technology in everyday activities. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda directly addresses the issue and provides clearly stated objectives for all member states phasing development for a powerful and expansive digital network.

Not surprisingly Italy’s progress-stalling bureaucracy and chronic financial mismanagement are culprit to the country’s less-than-stellar scorecard, the commission’s country-specific progress report. But hold on a sec, I don’t mean to cast long shadows over the waxing light that’s traveling increasingly further through Italy’s expanding fiber optic network.

Internet and Italy: Decrepit Infrastructures Will Diminish Italy’s Chances to Compete on a Global Level

The problems that arise from falling short in developing the high-speed internet access, especially to rural areas and in the south of Italy, will have long-term ramifications as the global economy turns more reliant on e-commerce. Small businesses in rural areas where high-speed access isn’t available aren’t able to compete with similar firms located in areas where high-speed access is available.

The fact is that the “digital divide” is not only a cultural and social phenomenon in Italy but a geographical one, too. An enlightening article in the New York Times by Beppe Sergnini (“Why No One Goes to Naples”, April 11, 2014) describes a frail transportation infrastructure, power struggles among regions, and mismanagement of public funds that drastically diminishes the opportunities for a thriving tourism sector in southern Italy.

These same arguments hold true for the virtual highways as well. Antiquated copper telephone lines installed under Mussolini provide broadband access to many parts of the country but the connection is less efficient and supports a lower capacity. Many of the key players of the Internet today – Google, Yahoo, Bing – require high speed access to function normally, which isn’t an option for a significant portion of Italy’s population.

Within the last few years, fortunately, the rise of several new private competitors (e.g. FastWeb, Vodafone, Wind) to Italy’s government owned Telecom Italia has boosted competition and increased development. With digital infrastructure seemingly on track, will the delay in its development have any lasting negative effects on Italy as a competitor? The simple answer is yes.

Charts taken from European Commission, Digital Agenda Scoreboard 2013

Internet and Italians: 45% of the Population doesn’t use the Internet regularly

Approximately 45% of the Italian population doesn’t use the Internet on a regular basis. Collusion between traditional cable companies and political leaders delayed the development of high-speed fiber optic networks sooner. And now the question asked by the opposition is, if nearly half the population doesn’t need Internet to work, why should it be considered a priority? Especially for a country whose enormous debt has forced a series of reforms on public spending.

Italians must see the Internet as an absolutely necessary investment that will free them from their financial squalor. The benefits of globalization, open communication, wider markets, higher efficiency, and streamlined processes are crucial for all businesses to survive in a future economy where cloud-based applications will eventually infiltrate every corner of the global marketplace. Italians shouldn’t waste any more time in bureaucratic battles, but concentrate their efforts on connecting thousands of small and medium sized enterprises with each other and the rest of the world.

If All Roads Lead to Rome, then We Need to Build More Roads

Building the network is only half the battle. Educating users on its benefits and how to use it is equally challenging. To successfully establish technology prominently in people’s lives, it must be integrated into a familiar context. Considering history to be a chief competitive advantage in Italy, this intersection should be where technology meets tourism. It is my personal commitment to this intersection that I founded SAYHELLO Creative and that addresses my aspirations for it: as a portal for small, independent, under optimized businesses in Italy’s hospitality industry to encounter technology, engage with it, master it, and optimize their performance through it.

Integrating technology with tourism doesn’t just mean creating websites. It means creating a digital interface that marries technology with the core business. Some examples for small hotels and restaurants include: analyzing competitive sets and market share; creating specials and packages based on online interest; opening communication channels through multiple platforms; combining the efforts of multiple businesses to achieve economies of scale; and using algorithms to maximize profits and minimize loss. Technology can drastically improve performance by adapting strategies used by large properties in cities to small, independent properties outside urban centers.

For many rural, struggling economies that thrived for hundreds of years on agriculture, tourism signals a recovery. In theory, developing a competitive tourism sector generates tax revenue to fund municipal improvements. Smart investment in these public projects could entice developers to consider housing projects, offices, workshops, and technology-laden spaces for progressive businesses that engage in telecommuting. For such micro-economies technology is the key toward economic autonomy and growth.

My discussions with Sorin are evidence that Italians aren’t complacent about Italy’s technological progress so far, but he’s not enthusiastically optimistic that Italy can overcome the bureaucratic hurdles that torment his country’s governance. It is my own hope that Italy’s Millenial generation stand up, take charge, and lead by example, to demonstrate to their parents and grandparents the value of the Internet and its advantages; to foster collaboration between people and businesses; and to convince business owners that the slew of electronic devices on their desk don’t harm personal interaction. They only make it better.

5 lessons that vodka can teach us about hotel and restaurant marketing.

According to the 10 Most Successful Marketing Campaigns of All Time,

in the 70s/80s “Americans were consuming upwards of 40 million cases of vodka. One percent (about 400,000 cases) of that market was imported vodka, and a mere 2.5 percent of that was Absolut. The rest of the imported brands were Russian, and selling on the credibility of Russia as the authority on vodka…Today, Absolut enjoys a dramatically increased share of the vodka market in the U.S., 4.5 million cases, or half of all imported vodka.”

So how did TBWA/Chiat/Day, a marketing firm, do it?

Well, almost ironically, they chose to focus on the single, least-unique aspect of the brand – the boring, no-frills glass bottle – and really roll with it. Evidently it was a genius move.

For 20 years they created nearly  1,500 ads for the same bottle. The advertisements were jarringly simple. In the beginning they featured the bottle against a black background with the words “Absolut (insert key word here)” realized in a bold, white, sans-serif font. The campaign evolved to feature the silhouette of the bottle as a subliminal image hidden in objects, landscapes, islands, even New York City taxis. The ads successfully connected with consumers on a relatable level, triggering memories in order to sell vodka. Some examples from Absolut Ad are featured here

So what do vodka, hotels, and restaurants share in marketing aims? At their core they sell an experience, a lifestyle, or some prescribed moment of happiness that results in a lasting memory. These kinds of products require a kind of marketing that’s not only appealing and provocative but also intimately relatable. To lots of people. Different kinds of people. And at the same time.

While social media has championed direct marketing as a way to do this through crafty code and “ad inundation” techniques that are both effective and annoying, you’ll need more than just a Facebook or Twitter profile to fully optimize your marketing efforts. In short, you need content.

How do you create content? The success of Absolut vodka ads illustrates the effectiveness of a stripped-down, visual storytelling approach to advertisements that sell an experience; this approach produces highly visual, diverse content for a story that takes different perspectives, all while presenting this experience as an everything-to-all-people kind of product.

Interested but don’t know where to start? Here are 5 ways to apply Absolut’s visual storytelling marketing strategy to your small, independent hotel or restaurant, provided by SAYHELLO Creative:

Ad_liquor

1. Be yourself and show your personality!

Do you collect art? Are you a huge sports fan? Do you brew craft beers? Then tell the world! You aren’t a separate entity from your business so don’t market yourself separately. Your interests are significant and should be integrated into your brand. Even if your business has outgrown your own home, it is important to realize that a little bit of personality goes a long way. The advertisements for a certain internationally recognized brand of vodka are chock full of personality, which itself becomes a part of the brand.

2. A picture is worth a thousand words

TBWA/Chiat/Day managed to make Absolut Vodka one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time using a simple bottle image and 2 words, one of which always remained the same. So follow their lead. Take a striking, high res image of your sun glazed hilltop town, an elegant bottle of your homemade amber liquor, or even the rustic beauty of a nearby ancient stone wall (staples of any small town in Italy) slap on a simple title and you’ve got all you need to tell a  story. Save time and add skim value with suggestive images on your website and all your social media profiles.

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3. Connect with people on a personal level

This is similar to showing your personality is understanding realness; again, I’m talking about you. Don’t pretend you’re a big property when you’re not. You have the ability to offer more personal, more authentic service than the bigger guys with high-end, 1:1 service delivery. Demonstrate your commitment to service by marketing your secret family recipes, personally designed tours and excursions, or homemade liquors. Need help? SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in creating innovative ways to connect you with your guests from marketing to delivery.

4. Dare to be different

For any business the mantra holds that the bigger the risk, the greater the reward. So go for it. Don’t fit any mold to be like your competition; instead lead your competition through innovation and then market your initiatives. For example,

    • Offer complimentary wine tastings in the afternoon for your guests, giving them also the opportunity to purchase.
    • Partner with other local restaurants and design dining coupons for a complimentary antipasto or dessert.
    • Implement simple sustainability initiatives to show your concern for the environment: use all natural, organic cleaning products, energy saving light bulbs, low VOC paints, paperless receipts, recycle, food sourced at 0km, etc.

 

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5. Know your story and then tell it 200 different ways

In Italy, using history is one great way to get started adapting your story. What was your property 1,000 years ago? 500 years ago? 150 years ago? 50 years ago? Then get creative with your story. Twist it. Flip it. Turn it inside out. And always remember that your business today is the contemporary result of all this history.Absolut Vodka didn’t market itself as the best vodka for everyone by just saying so. TBWA/Chiat/Day created a slew of ads to reach every potential vodka drinker, telling the same story in a way that would respond to every kind of consumer.

But don’t get stuck on just history. Look at your business from all angles. Take a food lover’s perspective and market your home-cured meats; an adventure-seeker’s and advertise a walking tour of your favorite churches; an architect’s and tell the story of your property’s unique form. Reach out but stay true to yourself, and keep your story Absolut.

 

 

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Lunch at L’Angelo Barbone – delicious food and wine with a stunning view.

On Matera, English Fodor’s claims it’s the only place in the world

where people can boast to live in the same houses as their ancestors of 9,000 years ago, which is a pretty cool thing to think about. And for hotels and restaurants, it’s also a pretty rad selling point.

The cave-laden city is a feast for architecture lovers, adventure seekers, and food connoisseurs alike – which all offer fantastic opportunities to the nearly 100 lodging properties that host the increasing number of visitors to the small, rural town each year. There are a few large luxury properties but the market is mostly made up of small, family-run B&Bs, affittacamere, and villa rentals. (I stayed at Residence San Pietro Barisano – a great value, optimal location, helpful owners, and 1 really sweet dog) In a market full of similar products there is bound to be a lot of competition among these properties. And thus a lot of opportunity to set oneself apart. Unfortunately in planning my recent visit, I didn’t find a lot of differentiation. Instead I came across promotion after promotion, all offering discounted rates. Is the only way to add value to your property to ask less for it?

During my visit, I went on an exceptional full-day tour with Liborio Nicoletti, a local Materno who’s seen the town during some of its darkest days until it was reborn again and inscribed into UNESCO in 1993. I left Matera feeling optimistic and enlightened by the extensive and riveting history of the place. This is no ordinary hill town; each and every stone has played some role in its evolution. And for lodging properties to take advantage of this story not only does justice to the heritage of this incredible town but also enhances the value of their brand, the experiences they offer, and them as the city’s storytellers.

So in the spirit of reflection and giving back, I’ve detailed three key takeaways from my visit to this rocky city to hopefully inspire some innovation in Matera’s crucial key bearers.

door

Sense-of-Place – Matera style

Branding & Marketing

Be careful not to confuse the two because they’re really not the same thing. I found that most branding was limited to a sketchy website, a few poorly composed photos of guest rooms, and a lot of Google Translate. Marketing was Facebook – and it was hardly ever a well published, fully complete page. No other social media platform was optimized for any property.

Imagine a knock at the door. Branding is about opening the door. How do you present yourself? Are you telling a compelling story? Is it complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to understand quickly? Or simply, How did you say hello?

Marketing, on the other hand, is if you were the person knocking. How did you knock? Are you tailoring your message to whom your selling? Are you being persuasive? Again it’s relevant, How did you say hello?

Now think about your website as your front door. How does the other side perceive you? Are you clear and professional? Are you different and unique? Is your story enticing enough to keep the listener interested? Are you prepared to take action immediately (i.e. take a reservation)?

Answering these questions honestly is the start to a strong branding and marketing strategy for your business.

ChiesaRupestre

Crafting Experiences

This is more important that you might think. And it can be summed up in a single word: packages.

Matera is the perfect place for packages. It’s isolated. And most of its attractions draw people to come and simply look at them, which explains why excursions and tours are the most popular. But they are often operated by another company which disconnects the excursion or tour from the lodging experience and thus doesn’t optimize it for the guests or the hotel.

But Matera is full of leisure travelers. Leisure guests are the most value-seeking, and nothing says value like a package.

A package experience could be a half-day tour with lunch included and a bottle of wine as a takeaway gift for 30€ a person. Or perhaps a sunset hike followed by an aperitivo picnic for 20€ a person. It’s the big the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts gig, where profit margins can be high, operation costs can be kept low, and you offer a unique experience that other properties don’t. Brand the experience and you only increase it’s value. It’s a win-win-win situation.

Peggy-Matera

Peggy – the owner’s sweet dog at Residence San Pietro Barisano with the gorgeous view of Matera from the hotel’s entrance

Your Greatest Asset is your Story

Finally, Matera is full of incredible stories, but most of them are shared by everyone, including your competition – the caves being a prime example. Sharing in the history of Matera doesn’t make you unique from your competitors, so make sure the tale you tell is a bit different.

Many buildings used to be churches, homes, bakeries, animal stalls, or made up a part of an old neighborhood. Find out what happened in your location and build your brand around it. Or tell the story about you and your family’s involvement in the hotel. Then invite your guests to play a part and continue the history, transforming them from passive to active participants. Tell them they’ll help write history and, more often than not, it’ll be your place they choose.

 

To fully adopt a competitive approach to gain more reservations, improve your TripAdvisor reviews, or fans on Facebook isn’t a simple – or quick – task. Nor does it come free, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in optimizing the branding, marketing, package development, and storytelling of small, independent hotels and restaurants in Italy (and with their budget in mind!). Together let’s make some of the Italy’s oldest human settlements the model for the future guesthouses of tomorrow.