Category Archives: Strategic Vision

The Luxury Travel Industry’s Outlook on 2017: Optimistic But a Bit Nervous

Strategic Vision’s 2017 Pulse of the Industry Survey reveals that top travel management firms expect to see growth. But security, political stability, and Zika remain pockets of concern.

The U.S. luxury travel industry is predicting a strong year for 2017, citing the resilience of the post-election economy and increased consumer confidence as main factors. But it does expect some areas of softness and concern, particularly around international travel. These are the conclusions of the Pulse of the Industry Survey conducted this February by Strategic Vision, a global marketing communications firm servicing the luxury travel and lifestyle industries.

Survey respondents, which include senior executives of the nation’s leading luxury travel management firms, bridging the leisure, corporate and meetings & incentives sectors, are largely optimistic about their clients’ 2017 travel sentiments.

“The high end of the industry is feeling very upbeat about travel in 2017,” says Strategic Vision President & Founder Peter J. Bates. “They foresee higher revenue and, in a sign of confidence, plan to hire more advisors. As expected, there is some hesitation in clients’ minds, but on the whole, the top of the market is still enthusiastic about traveling – a lot – this year.”

Nearly three in five of the surveyed firms (58%) say their clients are optimistic about domestic travel, while 44% report that their booking habits haven’t changed. Only 2% report “cautious” feelings among their clientele.

When it comes to international travel, however, the outlook is less rosy. Nearly half of the firms characterize their clients’ sentiments as “cautious,” compared to 31% who call it “optimistic,” and the same percentage, 31%, who say that booking habits haven’t changed.

Why the mixed feelings? The consensus among these travel executives is that a strong economy is spurring trips, yet clients still have some reservations about safety and security while abroad, largely around terrorism. “The stock market is up and seniors are enjoying their lives,” says Anne Scully, President of McCabe World Travel.

But pockets of concern surround specific destinations, due in particular to terrorism, the Zika virus, and the overall geopolitical climate. Some firms point to Paris, Mexico, Turkey and the Middle East as destinations where security and safety issues are causing reticence. There is less discomfort around North America, Italy, Scandinavia, and Portugal. Several respondents cited the effect of the Trump presidency on the American image abroad as a concern, with Rudi Steele, President of Rudi Steele Travel, Inc., saying, “clients are worried that they are no longer liked overseas.” But for many clients, the impulse to travel outweighs any concerns. As Tim Krenzien, President and Owner of Paul Klein Travel, puts it, “Experienced travelers understand the risks and do not want to forgo travel and life experiences.”

Asked specifically about the impact of the Zika virus, most agencies see it as a minor consequence. Two-fifths quantify the impact as less than 10%, while one-fifth say it is between 10% and 30%. A third say the virus has had no impact at all. When asked which destinations are most affected by Zika, respondents cite the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and, less frequently, Florida.

Regarding specific sectors of their business, firms report several areas of strength. Majorities foresee an increase in interest in North America (89%), the Far East (57%), Australia (73%), Southeast Asia (60%), and cruises (56%).

“The increasing interest in farther-flung destinations such as Asia and Australia suggests that luxury travelers are ready to splurge on longer and more ambitious journeys,” says Bates. “At the same time, consumers are giving cruises a second look, a testament to the perceived value and convenience of that type of vacation.”

As for destinations where they expect less interest, the surveyed agencies most frequently cite the Caribbean/Mexico (33%), Central America (20%), Latin America (18%), and Europe (18%). The “fear factor” is given as the principal reason that clients are less interested in the Caribbean/Mexico, Latin America, and Europe.

Despite these areas of caution, the respondents express general optimism about their firms’ performance in 2017. Four out of five (80%) predict an increase in their own company’s revenues in 2017, compared to 13% who predict no change, and 7% who foresee a decrease.

In terms of hiring plans, 70% expect to bring on more travel advisors in 2017, with 23% expecting headcounts to stay the same, and only 7% expecting them to decrease. A substantial number of respondents say that finding qualified travel consultants to hire is a challenge. “We can’t get enough great agents,” says Michael Holtz, Founder and CEO of SmartFlyer. Scott Milne, President of Milne Travel, lists “finding new talent, attracting young people, and fear of artificial intelligence’s impact” as key issues.

Delving deeper, four out of five of the surveyed firms report that they expect leisure travel business to increase in 2017, with about 18% forecasting no change in that sector. About half predict growth in corporate travel (51%) and meetings & incentives (49%).

Another recurrent theme is the increasingly complexity of running a travel business in the Information Age. Steve Orens, President of Plaza Travel, mentions the difficulty of “staying ahead of all the information available on travel,” while Bobby Zur, Founder and Owner of Travel Artistry LLC, describes the challenge as “how to navigate the world of OTA’s and Airbnb, and harness and distill information, instead of feeling threatened by it.”

In sum, it seems that in the luxury travel industry, business is good—but always presents new challenges.

About the Pulse of the Industry Survey:
The Pulse of the Industry Survey was sent in late February to CEOs, presidents, and other senior leaders of the leading luxury travel management firms and meetings & incentive buyers in the U.S. These firms, members of Strategic Vision’s research panel, arrange travel for luxury leisure clients, corporate executives, and high-end meetings and incentive groups. The survey garnered a response rate of 52%.

If you wish to learn more, click here to access the full deck containing the findings:  Pulse of the Industry Survey Results

Highly Affluent Travelers – An Update

What do highly affluent travelers really want in terms of vacation travel? Research firm YouGov asked that question in a recent poll of such travelers (defined as those with household incomes over $350,000), and the results are key to understanding the new mindset for luxury travel.

Here are a few key findings on this valuable survey that I thought were highly relevant to the travel market, focusing on what these highest-end travelers value in a hotel or resort experience and how they use travel advisors.

Who are Highly Affluent Travelers?

YouGov’s survey can create a number of consumer breakouts, but for today we are talking about highly affluent travelers split into two groups: The first group called Extraordinary Travelers, who have taken a private jet vacation (hence the term “extraordinary”) have an average household income of $968,000 and average liquid assets of $16.5 million (stocks, bonds and cash).

In comparison, we also look at those highly affluent travelers who are either not aware of or have not taken a private jet vacation before, have an average household income of $750,000 and average liquid assets of $4.7 million.

Extraordinary Travelers are going beyond experiential travel to focus on transformational travel, a significant move that could have implications for how travel suppliers develop products in the future.

How Can the Hotel Help with the Search for Transformational Experiences?

When staying at a hotel, highly affluent travelers have definitive views (scores in excess of 80%) on service, space and more. They say service at hotels should be natural and not forced. They prefer hotels with a feeling of casual elegance, and they expect to be treated like a VIP during their stay.

As for specific room features and desired hotel amenities, the expectations of both Extraordinary and Upper Affluent travelers are no different from other travelers. The top five for both categories of travelers are:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • USB chargers and outlets near bed tables
  • Complimentary coffee/tea in room
  • Complimentary water
  • Restaurant onsite

However, Extraordinary Travelers add in a demand for technology in the room and activities on property.

  • Programmed activities at the hotel
  • Celebrity chef at the restaurant
  • Beauty salon on premises
  • Ability to push content from my personal tablet/phone to the TV in the room
  • A hotel-provided tablet in the room that connects with service, the front desk, etc.
  • Mini-bar with premium drinks and snacks

Hotel designers and management companies need to ensure each of these factors are taken into consideration when designing new hotels, and establishing the service offering of brands targeting this high net worth traveler.

What Hotel Services Do They Desire?

Hotel services desired by highly affluent travelers are very similar for both categories, but with higher percentile scores recorded for Extraordinary Travelers. The top five desired hotel services are:

  • Concierge who can provide recommendations about the local area
  • Shuttle services
  • A concierge who can provide access to hard to get into restaurants or events
  • 24-hour room service
  • Private transportation from the airport

​Extraordinary Travelers also demand personal services, such as:

  • Personal butler, concierge, or packing/unpacking services
  • Personal fitness trainer and medical services

​This clearly emphasizes the importance of personalized services, and to never under estimate the value provided by staff interacting directly with guests to fulfill their individual needs.

What Attributes Do They Seek in a Hotel or Hotel Brand?

YouGov also asked highly affluent travelers about what attributes they look for in a hotel or hotel chain. The top five responses were:

  • Offers impeccable service
  • Have beautiful hotels
  • Offers an unforgettable experience
  • Exceptionally comfortable rooms
  • Captures the local culture of a destination

Extraordinary Travelers are nearly 5-times as likely to say “staff that recognizes me and my preferences” as being extremely important in selecting a hotel.

It has never been more important for hoteliers to integrate the destination into both the sales process; for example promoting local events and festivals, as well as the guest experience itself including incorporating local artisans and culinary experiences into client itineraries.

How Do Highly Affluent Travelers Work with Travel Advisors?

Where the two categories of highly affluent travelers seem to diverge most is in their inclination to book travel through a travel advisor. For instance, 55% of Extraordinary Travelers say they worked with a traditional travel advisor over the past year, compared with only 17% of other highly affluent travelers.

Those who did work with a travel advisor did so for the following reasons in order of importance, namely booking flights, lodging, cruises and car rentals.

Even more to the point, high-end travelers who booked through a travel advisor were asked how much influence that advisor had on their decisions. The most influenced categories of travel, and their respective scores for segment being:

  • Flights (79% Extraordinary, 53% highly affluent)
  • Lodging (95% Extraordinary, 60% highly affluent)
  • Cruises (94% Extraordinary, 49% highly affluent)
  • Car rentals (62% Extraordinary, 74% highly affluent)

Clearly, there is a great marketing opportunity for travel advisors to reach additional highly affluent travelers who are not using travel advisors. In addition, travel advisors need to ensure that at all times they are communicating their value proposition, especially to the Upper Affluent Regular Travelers segment.

What Does It All Add Up To?

Extraordinary travelers are interested in being rewarded for their loyalty – less about the points they can earn and more about the respect they receive. Travel professionals who can build relationships are also ones who reduce friction in the traveling process, and cultivate loyalty. These travelers place greater emphasis around maximizing the time they have on vacation. They want special experiences programmed into the trip, they want to bring the comforts of home (like their Netflix subscription), and they want a smooth transition. High touch? Yes. High reward? Absolutely.

These are only some of the survey results from this just released survey of highly affluent travelers. I hope to have more from the survey in a future newsletter, but in the meantime, as always, I welcome your reaction to this survey as well as your thoughts on what’s changing in travel today.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Our New Client Can Help Grow Your Brand

Peter J. Bates, CTC

January 13th, 2017

Dear Colleague

Happy New Year!

We have been passionate about travel, hospitality and publishing since we created Strategic Vision eighteen years ago. We share this passion with our amazing clients who day in and day out create experiences and make lasting memories – whether our clients are welcoming guests to their island, creating dreams through their content or making these dreams a reality in their amazing hotels throughout the world. We are proud of our work in growing luxury brands in a constantly evolving marketplace.

Recently, we have been retained by SK+G, a firm that shares our passion for hospitality and tourism. We have a common mission, “To make our clients’ brands the most coveted among their customers, guests and clients.” SK+G has established a formidable reputation for creative advertising and automated marketing intelligence. They have launched more integrated resorts than any other agency in the world and have a particular expertise in luxury and lifestyle marketing. We are really impressed with their work and believe you will be as well.

Here is one of the most recent campaigns SK+G has launched:

Caroline Bay is being developed in Bermuda. SK+G helped define a new era of luxury residential and resort development in Bermuda with its work for this resort. From positioning, naming, and brand identity to advertising, media strategy and web design, SK+G crafted a distinctive and compelling brand story for Caroline Bay, signaling a revitalization and renaissance of hospitality in Bermuda.

Take a look at this:

One area of differentiation that really excites us is the power of the Automated Marketing system SK+G has developed. It is all about targeting the right person, at the right time, with the right message – in real time. Allow me to introduce Neuton:

Take a look at this: Neuton Data-Driven Marketing

If you have not met SK+G, we are excited to introduce you – we know you will be impressed. They are always just a click away. Take a look at their website, which features their work for international brands including Baha Mar, Galaxy Macau, The Grand Del Mar, Wolfgang Puck and much more:

If you would like to set up a time to discuss SK+G, please let me know.

Best wishes for a great year ahead from all of us at Strategic Vision!

Peter J. Bates
Strategic Vision

Click Here to Reply

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What’s Trending in the Luxury Travel Market

As 2016 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on changes we have seen in the luxury travel sector this year, and more importantly what new developments we might anticipate in 2017.  With that in mind I wanted to look at a few developing trends that I believe we all need to take into consideration as we consider the short-term future of the luxury travel market.

I’ve selected six trends from two market research firms on the future of travel, including “2016 Future of Luxury Travel Report” by Resonance, and “The Future of Travel” by Qubit. Here’s a summary of those trends, as well as my thoughts on each of them.

Travel as Transformational

elephantsResonance’s survey finds luxury travelers are seeking transformational experiences that allow them to learn new things and shift the way they view the world. This is an augmentation of the experiential travel trend that has been the focus of luxury travel for the past few years. High-end travel suppliers are actively developing programs that include special events, speakers and educational courses that deliver unique knowledge and insight for travelers. I believe this trend will only grow, although a word of caution, it will be ever more challenging for travel suppliers to find new experiences that truly resonate with their customers.

Art Becomes the New Cuisine

art-galleryCulinary and dining experiences have long been a major focus for luxury travelers, but Resonance predicts that art will become the “new cuisine”. The group’s research finds that a significant percentage of luxury travelers are developing a taste for art in their travel plans, and not just in museums or galleries, but also at festivals and in the places they stay. Indeed, I’ve seen a surge of new hotels featuring curated art programs where the property itself becomes the art gallery.

Wellness Evolves to Wellbeing

yogaOne of the next luxury travel trends being observed is the elevation of the current focus on wellness at spas, resorts, cruise ships and destinations; to a more all-encompassing focus on “wellbeing.” Spa vacations are evolving into immersive programs involving health, relaxation, mindfulness and spiritual healing. An increasing number of resorts are delivering experiences designed to transform guests’ total “wellbeing”, providing a sense of comfort and happiness.  I see this trend growing even more as people look for havens from the pressures of the modern world and seek more opportunities for personal growth.

From Multigenerational Travel to “Togethering”

familyThe growth in multigenerational travel has been the biggest trend in tourism for several years. It is changing the accommodation configuration of resorts and second homes as the wealthy demand increasingly larger facilities in order to share quality time with their extended families and friends, what Resonance calls “togethering”.

Destination clubs, traditional luxury hotels and resorts will all have to respond to remain attractive options for this clientele.

More Demanding Digital Travelers

girl-on-phoneHigh-end customers are using a wide variety of devices in all stages of the travel planning process, including smartphones and tablets across different channels to plan, book and share their vacation experiences. According to Qubit, travel suppliers and advisors must recognize how to connect with these travelers on a personal level and enhance their experiences with the brand on these devices. That means travel brands must adapt to deliver a first-class customer experience in a digital environment, where there are fewer human interactions. This is going to be a challenge for high-end luxury brands and luxury travel advisors.

For the Travel Advisor this means staying in touch and monitoring the client throughout the trip and using the technology now available to do this.

Disruption From Sharing Economy

hotel-front-deskDisruptive new products such as Airbnb, onefinestay, and Uber have created a new sharing economy that has profound long-term implications for the luxury travel market. In the case of Airbnb and onefinestay, they are leveraging the “togethering” trend noted above with multi-generational travel at the high-end with access, competitive pricing and tailored accommodation for this market. According to Qubit, these companies are applying technology and enhanced customer data to develop deeper interactions with the guests, and established luxury travel vendors will need to focus on the customer experience and mirror these same technologies and initiatives in order to compete more effectively.  I believe if they do, they can beat the threat posed by the shared economy.

I hope this snapshot of travel trends sparks some thoughts and ideas for future discussion. As always I welcome your feedback on what’s changing in travel today. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Using Social Media to Find New Prospects

One of the biggest challenges we all face is finding good prospects for premium customers. Indeed, travel companies—including airlines, cruise lines, hotels, travel agencies and tour operators—are constantly seeking new ways to obtain prospects and win more business from existing customers.

Many travel companies are turning to social media to find these prospects as well as communicate with their existing clients and business network on a daily basis. Such social media outlets as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, among others, represent huge opportunities for travel companies seeking new customers, as well as ways to better address the needs of their existing travelers.

What LinkedIn’s New Survey Says

man-with-suitcaseEarlier this year, LinkedIn completed a survey of business and leisure travel that provides travel companies with ways to better understand modern travelers and how to get more of their dollars.

LinkedIn’s survey of more than 14,000 travelers covered 24 major international markets. Both their business and leisure traveler audiences represent a huge market for travel and hospitality companies.  One in four LinkedIn business travelers have taken eight or more trips for business in the past six months. In addition, 38 percent of LinkedIn members have taken three or more trips for leisure in the past six months.

LinkedIn’s research confirmed not just that LinkedIn members travel far more than the average traveler, but that they are far more likely to pay for a premium travel experience, whether for business or leisure. The survey found that one out of every five of all business trips has been taken in first or business class. A quarter of LinkedIn leisure travelers also fly in premium economy, business or first as well.

Customize Your Social Media Message

woman-flight-searchHow can travel and hospitality companies get a greater share of the budgets of these travelers? According to LinkedIn, the key lies in identifying the drivers for different types of travel bookings and then supplying the content that travelers seek throughout their different journeys.

For example, travelers planning leisure trips are highly receptive to getting deals, offers and inspiration from city guide-like sources. When making a business booking, however, they seek practical advice on how to upgrade, as well as expert or insider reviews on how to travel better.

Such subtly different information reflects how travelers’ priorities change on different occasions. For example, LinkedIn’s survey found that price dominates decision-making for leisure travelers both when it comes to the airline they fly (74 percent chose price as one of their top three priorities when choosing an airline) and where they stay (70 percent choose price as one of their top three priorities when selecting a hotel). Leisure travelers are 1.5 times more likely to be influenced by price in their choice of airline and 1.4 times more likely to have price influence their choice of hotel, than their business travel counterparts.

For business travelers, however, the LinkedIn survey found the availability of direct flights (50 percent) and hotel location (68 percent) were the most important factors in travel booking decisions.

Know Your Client’s Decision Triggers

man-on-beach-with-laptopKnowing your client’s mindset and delivering useful and meaningful content is key to generating a response and potential new booking. Sharing your own travel and destination experiences (e.g. native advertising) and people you have met (e.g. guides, concierge) are powerful tools to bring the trip to life for your followers and like-minded prospects.  Conversely, some clients and prospects don’t need the ‘bells and whistles’ and look to travel advisors to share basic price and availability information that will help confirm a sale.

The recent growth of combining business and leisure travel to form ‘bleisure trips’, provides a significant opportunity for proactive travel advisors to apply lessons learnt in social media messaging to each discreet segment.  As the complexity of the booking itself increases with ‘bleisure trips’ (e.g. additional travelers, decision making, payment, activities), so the need to fully understand the decision making factors grows, and what social media messaging will trigger a response.

Building Loyal Travel Communities

first-class-airplaneThe LinkedIn survey found there are also benefits to travel companies when they seek to build loyal travel communities. Roughly 66 percent of LinkedIn leisure travelers and 72 percent of business travelers are already members of travel loyalty programs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be convinced to build new relationships with different airline and hotel brands. LinkedIn’s research shows that better perks, including upgrades, improved lounge access, extra points, transferrable points and preferential booking, could all persuade travelers to sign up for a new loyalty program.

As of the second quarter of 2016, LinkedIn has been reported to have 450 million registered members, which indicates a major growth of 36 million members from the end of last year. Clearly, LinkedIn represents a significant marketplace and opportunity for travel and hospitality companies to prospect for new business.

The Outlook For Affluent Travel

In the current climate of political and economic uncertainty, and terrorism reports dominating our news media, it is important to keep focused on how these issues impact the affluent travel market. Luxury travel advisors, deluxe hotels, luxury cruise lines and other upscale suppliers are keenly interested in the answer to that question, so I asked Cara David, managing partner for YouGov, for her firm’s latest survey of the U.S. affluent market. YouGov is a global market research firm that captures the views and perspectives of over 4 million consumers worldwide.

One of YouGov’s most recent surveys captured the views of 2,515 U.S. based “affluent” consumers on a range of expenditure categories, including travel. The study analyzed differences between customer age profile and annual household income from Base Affluent ($150,000-$199,000 annual household income) up to and including the Wealthy ($10 million plus in assets with a median of $20.1 million).

Travel Spending Grows

suitcaseYouGov is forecasting $277 billion in affluent spending this year across the nine discretionary categories it surveys, including Leisure Travel, Fine Dining, Home Décor/Furnishings/Electronics, Fashion Accessories, Fashion Apparel/Fashion, Women’s Handbags, Fine Jewelry and Watches. While YouGov is forecasting an 11 percent decrease across six of those categories, Leisure Travel along with Fine Dining are predicted to increase 9 percent. That’s good news for luxury leisure travel sellers!

YouGov also found that leisure travel represents 43 percent of discretionary spending for affluent travelers and is forecast to grow 10 percent over 2015 for total market value of $119 billion in 2016, with the increase in spending evident across all generational groups.

What Role Travel Plays

familyYouGov also asked what role travel plays in the lives of the affluent across generational groups. “While each trip may have a different purpose, in general we see differences in the role travel plays by generation,” Cara says. “Millennials through Boomers look to travel to provide an escape where they can relax and unwind. Matures, on the other hand, are more interested in meeting new people and experience new cultures.”


Travel is a Priority

front-deskThe YouGov survey highlights that travel takes priority over other luxury discretionary purchases. “The experiences affluent travelers have, defines who they are and this sentiment is particularly strong among Millennials,” Cara says.

For example, 85 percent of Millennials said they will take a luxury vacation before buying any other luxury product (versus 67 percent of Gen Xers, 64 percent of Boomers and 63 percent of Matures). Eighty percent of Millennials say travel experiences define them as a person (versus 66 percent of Gen Xers, 58 percent of Boomers, and 67 percent of Matures).

No Recessionary Fears

laptopMore spending on travel may be in part driven by the fact that only 38 percent of affluent consumers believe the U.S. is heading to a recession, with no significant differences seen between different generational groups.  When asked if they are extremely confident in the strength of the U.S. economy, Millennials at 41 percent were the most confident generational category.

On the other hand, when it comes to planned spending on Leisure Travel, Millennials and Gen Xers are the most vulnerable generational categories, with 31 percent of Millennials and 29 percent of Gen Xers stating they would give up Leisure Travel during difficult financial times.

Concerns Over Safety?

keyboardAccording to the YouGov survey, nearly half (48 percent) of affluent consumers say they are extremely or very concerned about the threat of ISIS in the U.S.  In addition, 64 percent of affluent travelers overall say their concern with safety and security is greater the further they travel from home. This is particularly evident among Millennials where this response rates rises to 74 percent.


No Travel Limits

man-suitcaseWhile 42 percent of affluent consumers overall believe travel security infringes on personal privacy, that figure rises to 53 percent of Millennials, compared with 41 percent of Gen Xers, 40 percent of Boomers, and 30 percent of Matures.

YouGov’s survey also found that while there is a small number of affluent consumers who have limited their travel due to the hassle of security measures, 67 percent of affluent travelers refuse to alter their personal travel plans in the future because of terrorism, with only minimal differences seen between the different generational groups.
As always I welcome your feedback on what’s changing in the luxury market today. I look forward to getting your comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!

The TripAdvisor Effect

Since it began as a user-generated hotel review website 16 years ago, TripAdvisor has grown to become the most visited travel site in the world. That’s a remarkable achievement and one that hoteliers around the world have become keenly aware of when designing their marketing strategies.

Over the past three years, however, TripAdvisor itself has morphed to include both metasearch and booking capabilities. It now stands poised to possibly become the third largest online travel agency (OTA), competing with Expedia and Priceline, along with their slate of other travel booking brands.

This represents an opportunity, but also a threat to major hotel chains and independent hotels. On the other hand, TripAdvisor is walking a thin line in trying to balance its business in user-generated reviews, metasearch and bookings without offending its major constituents—major hotel chains and online travel agencies.

We sat down with Susan Helstab, former executive vice president of global sales and marketing for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, who retired in late 2015 and now runs her own consulting firm, Helstab Advisory Inc. Susan is a keen observer of what’s been going on in the online travel space, having been in top marketing posts with Four Seasons for 28 years.

Morphing From Content to Booking

man-laptopSusan says that when TripAdvisor began it was all about user-generated reviews. “It was a content platform that was created by the people who were staying in hotels,” she says. “Because of its perceived relevance, it very quickly became the most visited travel site on the Internet.”

Over time, according to Helstab, Four Seasons discovered that almost every booking that came to it from any channel had a TripAdvisor visit attached to it, either in the planning phase before booking or ultimately after the booking because guests were looking for other kinds of information that would enhance their stay. “I was a really big fan of TripAdvisor,” she says. “I felt that once they got up to a critical mass of hotel reviews, you could put some store and credibility behind those user-generated reviews.”

Four Seasons began highlighting TripAdvisor hotel reviews on its relaunched website in 2012 in order to become completely transparent with its customers.  It made it possible to read reviews without leaving the Four Seasons website and demonstrated the company’s desire for transparency with consumers and its confidence in the experiences of its guests.   In addition, “what we found at Four Seasons is that of all of the websites on which we were doing pay for click advertising, the best conversion actually came from TripAdvisor,” Helstab says. “TripAdvisor generated the highest return of any third party site.”

But TripAdvisor needed to monetize, Helstab says, so it decided to morph first into a metasearch site and more recently into a hotel booking engine that competes directly against hotels’ own websites and the online travel agencies. “That’s when for a hotel company the real conflict of interest started to be set up,” she says. “A hotel company is trying to maximize online revenues on its own website as well as its presence on TripAdvisor and other sites to be as efficient as possible in the money that’s spent.”

How Hotels Work With TripAdvisor

people-hotel-lobbyAccording to Helstab, hotel companies have begun to develop strategies on how to work with TripAdvisor as it further develops into a metasearch and booking site. “TripAdvisor walks this really fine line, because traditionally it is the revenue per click that they use to monetize their business, and that revenue comes from hotel companies and all of the suppliers that are now part of the larger TripAdvisor website,” she says.

Helstab says ultimately the greatest margin for TripAdvisor is not going to come from the metasearch business where they refer bookings to the OTAs. Instead, it’s going to come from the business that they are able to book directly with the hotels.

For hotel companies, according to Helstab, the challenge is that cost of sale has been increasing faster than average rate since 2009 during the recession. “Hotel companies are looking to reduce cost of sale to the extent that they can, while making sure that they are represented in all of the key places where people are shopping for hotel rooms,” she says.

Don’t Jump on TripAdvisor’s Bandwagon

familyIn the end, Helstab urges caution for hotels before jumping on the TripAdvisor bandwagon. “My advice to hotels would be to stand back and watch how it plays out, because there’s nothing to say that TripAdvisor will be able to make this transition successfully,” she says. “They are playing this incredible dance trying not to cannibalize the revenues they are getting from OTAs through the metasearch business and the direct business that they are getting from hotel companies.”

In fact, there’s already some evidence, based on TripAdvisor’s recent quarterly results, that there has been some cannibalization of the company’s metasearch business to its direct business. “That’s very dangerous for them,” says Helstab. “They don’t yet have the consumer following as an e-commerce engine. And it will take heavy investment for TripAdvisor to be able to do that. They also are playing with fire when you go up against all the other OTAs and metasearch companies, even Google. TripAdvisor has to be prepared to go toe to toe in that battle, and I’m not sure they are going to be a winner in that.”

As always I welcome your feedback on what’s changing in the luxury market today. I look forward to getting your comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!

What To Do When Travel Crisis Strikes

It’s happened again. This time it’s the Zika virus that is impacting travel throughout South America, Central America, Mexico and even the Caribbean. It began in Brazil, which is top of mind these days for travelers because of the upcoming Olympic Games, set for August in Rio de Janeiro, but quickly spread to other countries.

Every few years the global travel industry is hit with a virus scare, from H1N1 flu in Mexico to bird flu in Asia and the Ebola crisis in Africa. Zika fever is particularly alarming – an almost symptomless disease that is undetectably mild in most adults but in pregnant women can cause terrible birth defects in their babies. It is also particularly fast moving with a number of cases now reported in Florida, including three pregnant woman and just this week Philadelphia announced the city’s first case identified in a 60-year-old women who recently returned from the Caribbean.

So what do you do as a travel advisor when faced with a cancellation due to a virus scare (or any other major world event, such as a terrorist attack or weather-related incident). For that matter, what do you do as a hotelier or resort operator when such cancellations start to really hit your business? Clearly there is significant economic impact which needs to be addressed between the travel advisor community, their clients and their hotel partners in such times of crisis. How to control the impact all comes down to how you as a travel advisor and you as a hotelier manage the communications process.


When confronted with a client who wants to cancel because of a crisis situation, advisors should discuss the most up-to-date official information. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Controls ( ) and/or U.S. State Department ( ) are the official sources of information for such incidents. Referring customers to these sites, or even forwarding them articles in the consumer and trade press, can make sure they are fully informed. This may help alleviate cancelations for example in destinations not affected with the crisis.


As a travel advisor, one of the most valuable services you can provide to your client is to sell them travel insurance. Many policies however, don’t cover cancellation fees and other expenses related to crisis situations and calamities, so research those insurance companies that provide coverage “cancel for any reason”. If your client doesn’t want to buy insurance, make sure they sign a waiver showing they declined coverage.


If a client decides to cancel regardless of the official information available, that’s when the travel advisor and the hotel or resort has a real challenge. Do you penalize the client if cancellation deadlines have passed, or do you seek to negotiate something with that client in order to keep their current and future business.

My advice to travel advisors in these situations is to let the client cancel and then you must decide if the cancellation fee can be negotiated with the resort. In many cases the client is willing to pay the cancellation fee to avoid any potential danger.


For hotel and resort owners or managers, the question becomes whether to charge a fee for cancellations close to arrival dates. Such fees are usually a part of a contract for both groups and individuals, so it is a generally accepted practice. At the same time, you also can offer a credit on future bookings, so as to mitigate the potential loss for your customers and create good will for the future.

Hoteliers can also consider waiving a portion of the fee or all of it, in favor of rebooking the client at a later date, especially if that client is highly valued or is being booked by a valued travel advisor partner. I have heard recent cases where the hotel or resort not only got the cancellation fee, but also was able to rebook the vacated rooms at a higher rate (though that’s the rosiest of all scenarios).


As a travel advisor, you should offer to rebook your client in the same hotel or resort at a later date, and if that’s not possible, you should try to book your client into a hotel or resort that is located in an area not hit by the crisis. That way you don’t lose the relationship you have with your client and you’ve provided extra service in the rebooking.

Yes, this can cost time and money, but there really is no alternative, and should be considered one of the service benefits you offer as a travel advisor. In the best-case scenario, you end up rebooking at a hotel or resort with a higher rate, thus generating a higher commission.


As a hotel or resort owner or manager, one common response to cancellations is to lower rates either directly or through online travel agencies. This can have long term impact for the perception and value associated with the brand, and it might be difficult to recover and raise rates when the crisis is over. It may be unavoidable, but make sure you’ve exhausted all options to fill rooms before discounting your room product.


Before the next crisis strikes my advice is to be prepared. Take the time now to firm up travel advisor relationships with clients and preferred suppliers alike, to understand how best to respond in both worst, and best case scenarios. Understand lines of communications with suppliers when a crisis hits, and create an atmosphere where friendly negotiation can lead to a win-win-win for all parties and elevate trust levels between all parties.

The Importance of Agility

Agility is the one word that will define effective sales and marketing in 2015. Specifically, the ability of an organization to rapidly interpret, adapt, and respond to customer demands and changes in the travel industry.

With today’s ever-evolving channels of distribution, changing demographics, and the continued emergence of new destinations, sales and marketing executives must be prepared to interpret these changes and move quickly to adapt. Agility is essential to improve revenues and to increase ADRs and bottom line growth.

Travelers continue to learn about destinations in new ways, and hotels are opening everywhere across the globe in response to their demands.

Major companies like Hilton, IHG, and Starwood are introducing new brands based on in-depth market research and opening properties in unlikely locations. Take for example the number of new hotels recently opened or planned in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Marriott is opening and investing heavily in Africa. Hyatt is extending benefits like complimentary Wi-Fi across all its brands. Niche companies, like Kimpton, are being acquired by larger and financially stronger companies. In Asia, Shangri La is rebranding Traders Hotels and introducing new concepts like Jen Hotels.

In the airline industry, the trend continues with the introduction of new aircraft, new destinations, and new in-flight services. Jet Blue routinely puts a destination on the map every time it launches a new route. Companies, like Delta, have completely reinvented themselves and are once again strong players in the industry.

Luxury travel advisors working with the affluent tell me that business is buoyant, and they are busy. Events like ILTM are full of new products and travel advisors eager to learn of new experiences to entice their clients.

A deeper understanding of the role technology plays and how social media influences decision-making is essential. Today’s savvy consumer increasingly buys everything via a mobile device. Increased online engagement means more messaging and more marketing noise to navigate. There is an opportunity to create a path for travelers tailored to their particular lifestyle and touchpoints.

Who could have imagined ten years ago that Trip Advisor would become one of the first places a consumer visits when selecting a hotel or destination? How will Airbnb and HomeAway effect hoteliers, and what impact will they have on rates in the mid-scale and budget sectors? Are we ready for whatever comes next?

Yet there needs to be a balance—not everything has moved online. For example, lifestyle publications are still relevant resources, in fact they seem to have increased the readership of their print editions. People still like to sit and enjoy great writing and superb photography in a thick glossy publication. What has changed is the process. First, the reader is introduced to a new destination, while reading their favorite title. Next their daydream becomes more of a reality as they visit a website to gather more information and engage on social media outlets—seeking advice and reviews from friends—before ever contacting a hotel, airline, or travel advisor.

All this activity means that the consumer faces more choices, options, and products than ever before. The agile sales and marketing executive will need to understand this process better and interpret all this activity to ensure their products and services continue to meet the new mindset of today’s traveler.

How you differentiate your product in today’s marketplace is essential. Are you up to the challenge?

Keep It Simple!

In line with my recent blog post about the use of technology in meeting rooms, I have come to the conclusion that hotels in the luxury sector still have much work to do when it comes to the design and implementation of in-room technology.

As a business road warrior who spends countless nights in hotel rooms all over the world— predominately in the US, Europe, and Asia—keep it simple!

Admittedly it has become much easier. Connecting to Wi-Fi in many hotel rooms no longer requires a technology degree, but there is still room for improvement. More hoteliers are including basic Wi-Fi access in the room charge. This is essential, and every hotel should understand that their guests expect it.

Adequate lighting continues to be an issue with too many switches, all located in the wrong places. And please, can we have proper lighting over the desk? Access to electrical outlets proves frustrating as too many guests clamber under the table or desk in search of an inconveniently placed power outlet to charge their electronic devices. Many recently renovated properties have addressed this growing problem by ensuring sockets are placed near the desk and can accommodate international plugs—thank you!

Which brings me to the subject of desk chairs, they continue to be an issue in many hotels. It is possible to have a comfortable and practical chair that is still pleasing to the eye? For those of us who increasingly work while traveling, proper desk seating is essential.

By far the worst technology offender is the ubiquitous TV remote. I recently stayed in one hotel room with two identical remote controls—one worked the TV and the other the DVD. They were not easily differentiated and neither was easy to operate.

I sometimes wonder if the budget / economy sector of the hospitality industry hasn’t done a better job of adapting to the technology needs of its guests. There are many examples of first-class designs in this sector that give the guest exactly what is needed in an efficient well-thought out manner.

The Hon. Sir Michael Kadoorie, Chairman of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, is one leader in the field of integrating technology into the guest experience. I came to this conclusion during my recent stay at The Peninsula in Hong Kong. He invests heavily in making technology user-friendly.  The joy of an in-house remote control designed with simple on, off, forward, and backward buttons made all the difference.

In recent years the tablet has crept onto our bedside table, as well as an app for just about everything in life. It does not matter if you are a business traveler or enjoying a leisurely few days in your favorite city, everyone wants to stay connected, and learn about the destination from a trusted resource. It was particularly nice to be shown around the Rosewood Beijing by Stewart Robertson, of BARSTUDIO—the Melbourne design practice involved in the hotel’s renovation project for the past six years—where thoughtful room design ticks all the boxes that the connected business traveler seeks.

With the advent of all this technology let’s not forget the end-user, and keep it simple!