Saturday, March 31, 2012

Human Achievement Hour

This evening we celebrate Human Achievement Hour from 8.30pm for one-hour. Once again this has coincidentally clashed with this year's masterbatery Earth Hour.

Human Achievement Hour celebrates man's ability to think, reason and change his environment to suit his needs.

Now is the best time to be alive and 2011 was another year of human endeavour that gave us mind reading computers! The invisibility cloak! The Humingbird drone! And much more...Check out the 2011 biggest (and coolest) breakthroughs in science, technology and the arts according to Time Magazine.

Celebrating Human Achievement Hour will mean turning all available lights *ON* and ridiculing those blow-hard, hypercritical eco-show-offs that allow silly bint "celebrities" to think for them.

We will be taking particular note at the irony of business owners that will be sitting in delusional darkness while grandstanding hypercritical social responsibility....for one hour.

A quote from the Ayn Rand Institute capitulates the silliness and irony of Earth Hour for us:
"Participants spend an enjoyable sixty minutes in the dark, safe in the knowledge that the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away... Forget one measly hour with just the lights off. How about Earth Month... Try spending a month shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Martin Snedden To Head TIA

Interesting times ahead for the Tourism Industry Association of NZ (TIA). 

After the announcement that the NZ Hotel Council will be folded into the TIA from 1 April, we are pleased to learn that Martin Snedden will be taking over as the Chief Executive of the TIA.

Snedden with his sporting, legal and past positions heading NZ Cricket and the Rugby World Cup has proven to be media savvy and very capable to give good sound-bites when required. Snedden has the potential to give a whole lot more profile and change the voice of an expanded TIA.

It will be interesting to see how future advocacy issues (particularly for the accommodation sector) will be progressed and if other trade associations in the tourism sector will be able to offer comparable services to their members.
"RWC chief to head Tourism Industry Assn
30 March 2012

Rugby World Cup 2011 chief Martin Snedden has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA), Chairman Norm Thompson has announced.

“We are delighted to attract someone of Martin’s calibre and experience to lead the organisation representing one of New Zealand’s biggest export industries. He demonstrated superb leadership skills to stage an extremely successful RWC 2011 and we look forward to him bringing those skills to TIA,” Mr Thompson says.

According to Mr Thompson, Mr Snedden realised the extent and importance of the tourism industry to New Zealand’s economy through his involvement in RWC 2011. Throughout the build-up to the tournament, he worked closely with airlines, hotels and other tourism sectors to ensure New Zealand was ready to host the largest event ever held here.

“He’s very keen to become more deeply involved in the industry, which delivers $9.7 billion in foreign exchange to our economy every year,” he says.

“Coming on top of our announcement earlier this week of the decision to integrate TIA and the New Zealand Hotel Council, we believe Martin’s appointment will further strengthen tourism industry representation at the national level, and help TIA achieve even better outcomes for its members.”

Mr Snedden says his goal in accepting his new role is to increase the visibility of tourism as a key economic driver to New Zealand’s economy.

“This is an industry that adds $63 million to the economy every day of the year. It supports one in every 10 jobs and delivers close to 9% of our GDP. The industry is a critical part of New Zealand’s economy and we can do much more to grow it,” he says.

“I’m committed to New Zealand and I’m proud of what it has to offer, both to our international visitors and to New Zealanders travelling in their own country.”

As the leading advocate for the private sector, TIA will be active in helping grow the industry, which creates jobs and supports businesses in every region of New Zealand, he says.

Mr Snedden will take up his new role in early June. TIA Board member Grant Lilly will act as interim Chief Executive until then."
Source: Click HERE

Who's participating in Earth Hour?

So who's participating in Earth Hour this Saturday?

A quick troll around the internet would indicate that this year's event is going to be fairly low-key. Businesses willing to grandstand their social commitment to saving the planet appear to be thin on the ground with only the odd restaurant and hotel advertising the default promotional option of candle-lit dining.

The Tauranga City Council seem to be the only local authority generously willing to invest ratepayers funds into supporting Earth Hour and are ironically using the Rena Disaster as qualification - I wonder how this will go down as a tourism promotion?

With Fairfax as a founding partner of Earth Hour and their enthusiasm to chase triple-bottom line objectives, you can be sure that media outlets will be cutting and pasting supportive gushing reports on environmental evangelism over the weekend.

Earth Hour is also a fantastic platform for blow-hard, hypercritical eco-show-off "celebrities" to spout eco-slogans in an attempt to raise their fading profiles. 

I just feel sorry for the hapless guests in New Zealand that will be checking-in to an accommodation chain that are promoting the following added-guest-benefits during Earth Hour.
It makes you wonder if these quirky and cool conditions are more permanent for hotels in North Korea?

Stephen Fry's leap of faith

Between stints of tweeting and whinging about NZ's capped internet plans, I see that Stephen Fry has hurled his bulky frame off a bridge in Queenstown.

Before his trip out to New Zealand, Britain's national treasure, Stephen Fry took a leading role in a domestic tourism campaign urging fellow countryman to stay at home.

Great to see that Stephen Fry's leap of faith from Kawarau Bridge is promoting a New Zealand iconic tourism attraction as the following video positively trends to UK audiences on YouTube:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Resignation via Text Message

Being a 40-something wanna-be geek, I love technology. However, sometimes when we use digital tools that gives instant gratification, we sometimes forget basic etiquette and common courtesy.

Case-in-point, I received the following text from one of my employees this afternoon:

After going through a training period and getting this particular staff member up to speed, it looks like I'll be short staffed until I find a suitable replacement - a time consuming, expensive and excruciating process!

I backspaced my initial text response and decided to play the default "good-guy."

What should I have responded with?

How do guests choose hotels and motels?

An interesting video below is worth a look as it graphically illustrates the journey an average guest takes before deciding where to stay.

Today's consumers that are bombarded with digital noise and living a fast-paced, time-poor lifestyle seem to have a lot of time up their sleeves when it comes to pondering about which hotel or motel they should book.

Hat tip:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reality TV Motel

Here's a recipe for disaster and a titillating tale worthy of a reality TV show.

A millionaire father purchases a motel in Warrnambool, Victoria Australia for his son and daughter aged 25 and 27 to cut their teeth on.

The generous dad paid $AUD 755,000 for the Best Western All Seasons Motor Inn and things soon started to unravel with incompetent management that lead to corruption. 

An online review gives some inkling of the chaos that ensued after the siblings took over: 
"Absolutely DISGUSTING!!!

If you have stayed here before and liked it, be WARNED that the ownership has changed hands since MAY '11.
With mould ridden bathrooms and rooms I wasn't at all surprised they were offering cheap rooms only to find that when we were checking out, the management tried to charge us exactly TWICE what we were supposed to pay. When i refused, stating that the price quoted was half what he was trying to charge me, he adamantly said i couldn't leave without paying the amount. Inspite of paying a much higher amount than quoted, his "Thanks for staying with us" was replaced by "DONT COME BACK AGAIN" (What makes him think i will anyway??)
The motel business was eventually sold in a fire-sale for $AUD 180,000.

The father is no longer on speaking terms with his siblings, his son and daughter have received suspended jail sentences for a range of fraud-related offences and the daughter is at risk of being deported back to Pakistan.

Not surprisingly, the Best Western chain have severed ties with the motel.

Source: Click HERE

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Booking a motel in your underpants

Accommodation providers know how important it is to present bookable online inventory. Online commerce is not an exact science, however there are many commonly accepted rules. 

The booking process should appear to be integrated into the accommodation provider's website. While browsing the accommodation provider's main website, customers do not like being whisked away to an unexpected 3rd party booking provider and this necessary transition should be as seamless as possible.  As the customer moves through a buying decision, clicks should be kept to a minimum and the process should be simple and intuitive. 

The room options presented should be room types (not an exhaustive list of all rooms by unit number), descriptions should be succinct and photos must be of the highest quality.

Before they share personal information including credit card details, the customer need to be reassured that they are dealing with a business that they can trust, has credibility and will protect their privacy. The accommodation provider's main website should have several points that build this trust and the booking process should allow the customer to easily access clearly defined terms and conditions. 

The booking widget (along with the accommodation provider's main website) must now be mobile enabled. Mobile channel bookings have increased four-fold between 2008 and 2010 and  Google have predicted that mobile will overtake PCs as the most common web-access device by 2013. While apps have their place, the must-have accessory for online commerce is a mobile website that uses a mobile enabled booking widget. 

So how do we make it easier for the consumer to connect? Maybe we can learn something from Red Tomato Pizza in Dubi that have stripped down the online buying process by enabling their customers to order pizza with a single tap of their digit.
"Called the VIP Fridge Magnet, the pizza box-shaped magnet is connected to Red Tomato Pizza in Dubai. The magnet is preset to order a pizza online and is connected to the Internet via the Bluetooth connection on a smartphone. Red Tomato Pizza then sends a confirmation text and delivers the pizza soon after. You can also update your pizza selection online at any time."
Very cool:

So how does this work?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Adding Value

I still get a thrill by selling rooms. I even get a shot of adrenalin by cross-selling added-value items to guests staying at our motel. The good-old motel breakfast can be a lucrative sell that is often appreciated by guests. There are other items that we sell more passively, such as wine, charge-back meals and purchases from our vending machine that give our motel tariff a power-boost. 

I've been thinking lately about other complementary items I could flog-off add value to my guests' stay. Naturally I instantly turned to the great oracle that is Google for some inspiration. A quick search revealed all sorts of different products for consideration and as usual I soon found myself lurking around the dark corners of the internet...

The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas seems to understand about adding-value to their guests' stay by giving them what they want. They have added a "Get Love" menu in all their guest rooms and sell a range of erotic adult themed items.

Hard Rock guests that wish to spend a night confined to their room can order handy items from room service such as a peek-a-boo bra for $48, a skimpy French-maid-style outfit - $98, a  blindfold - $30 and rabbit-fur handcuffs - $36. 

So the obvious questions is: What's the best selling item? Not surprisingly, it's the "Turn Me On Vibrating Panties" for a mere $146.

Adult accessories is not a conversation I wish to enter into while eyeballing my guests, so this is definitely a no-go area for me. However with New Zealand's hotel and motel tariff languishing near the bottom in a recent comparison of 22-countries, maybe this could be a goer for other accommodation providers needing to increase sales income?

Is this a scene that we'll be regularly seeing in Kiwi hotels and motels anytime soon?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Now, Cancel Later

I've noticed that Online Travel Agencies (especially based in the Northern Hemisphere) seem to be following the trend of promoting the generous cancellation terms of accommodation providers on their booking sites. Bringing this feature to the forefront of promotion encourages a segment of the public who are naturally cautious, to book now, safe in the knowledge that they are able to cancel without penalty at a later stage.

While this may extract more overall bookings, promoting to the public the ability to book accommodation on a whim can create headaches for accommodation providers. By making an accommodation booking with many OTAs, the public can lock-in rooms on a mere chance that they may travel and then cancel last minute. This type of scenario seems to becoming more common and the accommodation provider needs to balance the opportunity of attracting more business with the hassle and opportunity-cost of holding flip-flop reservations.

One reason a customer may wish to book now and cancel closer to the time, can be tariff related. I see that this week a subsidiary of TripAdvisor has launched a new booking site that may appease those consumers that fear missing out on a better deal if they commit too early.

So what's the spin? It's a simple premise that allows a person book accommodation and then receive an automatic refund if the same accommodation provider drops tariff before the cancellation date (ie commonly 24-48 hours before the arrival date). In a dynamic tariff environment, the consumer could be onto a winner.

I see that source inventory from Expedia, so Kiwi accommodation has been available to be booked via from their launch last Wednesday. 

I see that media sources (more than likely cut-and-pasted from's press releases) are calling this site a major game change for consumers that could “potentially corner the travel/hotel booking market.

I guess with the TripAdvisor relationship, will give it a good crack.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

At Last - Human Powered Flight?

While I eagerly await for a personal jet-pack to become commercially available, he's something out of left-field that I thought impossible - man powered flight.

The development of the project has been methodically reported on the website Is this a game-changer that will change travel?

The video has gone viral and has had over 5 millions views. It's inspirational and we all want to believe...

So, is it true or fake?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who's Going To Reign-in Councils Now?

Before he unceremoniously fell on his sword, we saw Nick Smith release details about planned changes for local government, including legislation to redefine the role of local bodies. The devil will be in the final detail, however most right-thinking folk would agree with the rhetoric of reigning-in councils that have strayed into areas well beyond their core services.

There seems to be a long list of silly council meddling that includes buying farms, setting targets for NCEA pass rates, greenhouse gas emission reductions and reduced child-abuse targets.

If we dare to believe it to be true, it would appear that fanciful spending by councils on social, economic, cultural and environmental pet-projects could be severally restricted. Surely most would agree - that's got to be good?

Local government debt had risen four-fold from $2b to $8b since 2002 and rates have risen 7 per cent a year. The brunt of rates increases have been targeted at the business sector including motels that by their nature are highly developed sites on valuable land close to amenities.

While most business sectors are cheerleaders for council reform, the tourism industry have been strangely silent. Until now...

I see that the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand (TIA) has called for urgent clarity around council reforms. They have good reason for to be concerned as it would appear that the redistribution of ratepayers money into "nice-to-have" tourism projects and promotion by local government could soon have the blowtorch applied.

Collectively, councils dole out millions of dollars in corporate welfare in the name of tourism. Councillors like to be seen promoting tourism ventures. Compared to their own dreary lives, tourism is cool, wind-swept and exciting. The photo-ops are tantalizing and all councilors secretly dream of running their own dynamic tourism business. While councils have a habit of subsidising the tourism sector, the tourism industry have become addicted to welfare and due to a vested interest, have lost sight of real net benefits.

The TIA have given examples of council tourism subsidies such as events like "WOMAD, building stadiums that attract major events such as the Rugby Sevens, funding art festivals, and providing financial backing for destination promotion through Regional Tourism Organisations and i-SITE Visitor Information Centres."

Further examples of tourism expenditure by councils given by the TIA are: "Christchurch Ellerslie International Flower Show, which is sponsored and supported by the Christchurch City Council, and community facilities like the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery which receive funding from the New Plymouth District Council."

If we believe the rhetoric from Smith, these nonessential "public good" areas of public expenditure will need to more rigorously demonstrate a clear public good or be privately financed by those with a vested interest.

Is it such a crazy idea that if you have a burning passion, an obsessive hobby or if you see a business proposition in art, sport, events or tourism promotion, that you would first attempt to form a collective of like-minded folk and fund-it yourself?

While there is a risk that some non performing tourism events or infrastructure may be abolished, tourism businesses can at least hope that councils will cease to rape and pillage them with future onerous rate demands. 

Hopefully Nick Smith's replacement will continue to talk tough and carry out the restrictions previously threatened on councils - just don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Zealand Social Media

Social media is playing a greater role in sharing ideas and influencing change, but how many more room nights will be sold by an accommodation provider's active participation in Blogs, Facebook, Twitter et al...?

Many more tourism businesses will be adding to the noise on social networks this year while trying to figure out how this medium can give measurable returns... will their efforts be rewarded or will the proven benefits of mainstream media shine through?

You've probably been overloaded with those mind-blowing social media presentations on YouTube. They all have a catchy, cool throbbing base soundtrack and amaze you with all those incredibly scary facts about the importance and rapidly changing influence of social media.

The Social Media Revolution series is probably the most popular, but it gives an American/ world view.

At last there's a New Zealand version that gives social media some Kiwi context and as the clever producers state: "naturally this will be out of date by the time you watch it... ;)"

Monday, March 19, 2012

UK's Domestic Tourism Campaign

The wail from tourism operators in New Zealand for Tourism NZ to invest in a domestic tourism campaign is a regular topic for debate. I see that the Poms have launched their own nationalistic campaign, led by VisitEngland and supported by the home nation tourist boards of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Holidays at Home are GREAT campaign is part of VisitEngland’s three year marketing strategy worth £24million aimed at inspiring UK residents to take a holiday at home. The current campaign includes a call to action to visit the new special offers website

The overall marketing programme seeks to generate an additional 5.3m short break nights in England with an incremental spend of £480m by 2015.

As I watch quirky UK celebrities interacting with cold, bleak, unexciting landscapes, I wonder if this campaign may backfire by motivating hapless Poms to look offshore for a bit of excitement.

My Family Stickers - The Revolt

We have earnestly reported on the scourge of those My Family Stickers applied to car windows. (We have also exposed the silliness of car flags and ridiculed the insanity of "Antler and red nose" car accessories).

The worrying trend of insidious My Family car stickers is particularly harrowing. You've seen them before - they're those girly stick-figure personas representing each family member that are affixed to car rear windows.

While we do our bit to expose the swelling mass of pride-deficient car-owners that insist on all this masterbatery-sticker-madness, we are pleased that there is a growing revolt of car owners fighting back by applying their own car stickers.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Host Accommodation - Refresh

Our Friends at Host Accommodation have been busy updating their brand and have released the obliquity press release to media outlets (see below). 

As a point of difference, this quirky and innovative accommodation marketing group have also attached this supporting video...

Friday 16 March 2012


After an extensive review, Host Accommodation has just completed a brand overhaul across its network of nearly 90 properties throughout New Zealand.

Brand positioning is recognised by Host as being increasingly critical in a marketplace that is more than ever cluttered with product offers.

“Over the past 12 months we have conducted an in depth strategic review across all aspects of the Host Accommodation business” said Chris Lee, General Manager of Host Accommodation. “As a result of this work, we identified that consumers need clear and consistent messaging in order to understand our unique brand positioning and benefits” said Mr Lee.

Host’s customers will now find its member properties more easy to find with a move to bold new yellow street signage. In addition, the Host brand has been modified to reflect the yellow colour-way across all online and offline communications including the Host Blog, You Tube Channel and Map Directory.

“Our in depth research has provided a better understanding of the needs of our customers” said Mr Lee. “It’s a challenging marketplace and our “Free Bonus” programme and superior customer service mantra is driving a large portion of repeat customers”, he said.

Host Accommodation has also embarked on new digital marketing activity including QR codes linked to seasonal promotions powered by online video. Focus has been placed on added value benefits such as FREE internet which is available across the network.

“Host’s current Family Break video prize draw promotion features on the Host website, facebook competition page and You Tube Channel. In addition to accommodation vouchers, the prize draw includes a Philips Dual Screen Portable DVD Player and I know from experience these are great when travelling with kids!” says Mr Lee.

Host Accommodation Group has a network of nearly 90 hotels, motor lodges & motels conveniently located throughout New Zealand.

More information: Chris Lee - General Manager 027-253-7185

What does the No 1 video in NZ tell us about ourselves?

NZ's Top-10 destination and accommodation websites

We last took a snapshot of the top-10 rankings for destination and accommodation websites in New Zealand for the week ending 10 December 2011 at a time when Kiwis were eagerly contemplating their Xmas/New Year break.

After the "Summer of Discontent," workplaces are filled with vitamin D deprived drones that are feeling somewhat ripped-off after spending their valuable end-of-year break under cloud cover and rain.

Will Kiwis have a second crack at taking some leisure time off and travel to a domestic location? If so, what travel websites are they spending their time at work browsing while the boss is looking the other way?

No surprises that first placed TripAdvisor, owned by Expedia remains the most popular travel website. This site still attracts the largest percentage of Kiwis researching travel.

Big spending NASDAQ listed comes in at number 2.

Of the bookable accommodation sites, Australian owned remain consistently popular.

AA Travel and TradeMe's Holidayhouses also attract good traffic levels.

TravelBuoy appears to have made a "rogue" showing in the top-10. This website has a contact address in India and uses accommodation inventory from Travelocity. Time will tell if this is a one-off top-10 appearance?

Rounding off the top-10 is AA's Bookabach and TravelBug (that have recently launched a mobile site).

For this week's snapshot, we see that Jasons is MIA, however we expect to see them back soon...

The top-10 rankings for destination and accommodation websites for the week ending 10 March 2012 according to Experian Hitwise are:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Looking forward To St Patrick's Day?

Attitude counts for a lot. When compared to Waitangi Day, the festivities surrounding St Patrick's Day seem to be....a lot more fun!

Earth Hour Count Down

*Heads Up* This year's masterbatery Earth Hour is almost upon us.

Get ready to ridicule those blow-hard, hypercritical eco-show-off "celebrities" like Lucy Lawless, Robyn Malcolm and Keisha Castle-Hughes. They all seem to have a bit of time on their hands between acting gigs, so expect them to jump on the bandwagon and spout eco-slogans in an attempt to raise their fading profiles. 

Due to the continuing demands in Christchurch, we are unable to hire our usual diesel powered lighting towers that we have used before to bathe our motel in light during Earth Hour. Being public spirited, we still intend to do our bit. Lurking in the back of our motel shed, behind old toasters, kettles, beds and piles of other motel chattels past their used-by date, we have several of these items purchased last year:
"WARRIOR HALOGEN WORK LIGHT. These handy portable units come complete with carry handle and the 500 watt halogen bulbs are included."
Our motel will once again be a beacon of light ensuring that we confront anti-human globalised gullibility while celebrating the advancement of human prosperity.

Is New Zealand's Accommodation Over-priced?

OTA's have a wealth of data that can be padded into interesting press releases that lazy journalists can easily cut and paste into newsworthy items after adding some pithy localised observations and comments.

The Hotel Price Index is a regular survey of hotel prices in major destinations across the world. The index is based on bookings made on and prices shown are those actually paid by customers per room night (rather than advertised rates). Approximately 142,000 properties in more than 19,800 global locations are used in the survey results.

This is a great publicity branding exercise by that are able to freely place their website address across worldwide MSM, websites and blogs (including this one!).

We have been following the media reports about this year's survey and in particular the reaction to the reported 32% average tariff increases recorded in Christchurch. 

Pleasingly, the average room rate in New Zealand for the 2011 year climbed 13% to $NZD132 in contrast to the global increase of 4%.

The optimism of the Rugby World Cup held between September and October 2011, a strong currency and the ripple effects of the Christchurch earthquake all helped drive up prices across New Zealand, especially in venue cities where events were held.

The biggest rise in average tariff came in Christchurch with tariff rising by 32% to $130. Misinterpretation of this increase has prompted howling in the media with accommodation operators accused of profiteering. Without the benefit of context, Christchurch has been singled out in headlines unfairly.

It must be remembered that Christchuch's high percentage increase has come from a very low base. In 2010, Christchuch's average tariff was recorded by at a miserly $98.00 at a time when most local accommodation providers were struggling and heavy discounting prevailed.

The Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 was a significant event that heavily reduced the supply of beds and dramatically altered the mix of accommodation types available. After the earthquake, up to a third of the usual beds available were taken out of the supply chain. The beds sold in 2010, were very different to the beds sold in 2011.

Partly buoyed on by the optimism of the Rugby World Cup, there were also big increases in Wellington, up 15% to $126, Rotorua up 10% to $109, Auckland up 9% to $132 and Dunedin up 5% to $114. 

Hamilton was the best-priced place analysed in the survey despite a 13% rise to $107 and the most expensive location was Taupo at $158.

In spite of New Zealand experiencing higher than average tariff increases, it must be remembered that this country's accommodation still resides at the lower end of the world scale of comparable tariff and presents extremely good value.

Average hotel prices by city destinations in NZD, ranked in order of price point

Average room prices and changes by country in NZD, ranked in order of price point
The challenge for accommodation providers is to ignore the cloth-cap wowsers that incorrectly claim that New Zealand is pricing itself beyond the reach of overseas tourists and to continue the trend of increasing tariff. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Augmented Reality Hotel

We first heard about "Augmented Reality" when the AA introduced this as a killer feature on their ill-fated XplrNZ app in December 2010.

When used with a smartphone, augmented reality allows a user to view real-time pictures through their camera on their phone and it comes alive with overlaid imagery that provides personalised information.

In a lead up to the London 2012 Olympics, I see that Holiday Inn London Kensington Forum is claiming to be the world’s first "augmented reality Hotel" by using the technology to bring digital versions of Britain’s athletes into rooms of the hotel.

I personally would be more impressed if iPhone wielding guests had the opportunity to beam-in a version of Liz Hurley into their hotel rooms...something for another hotel chain to promote perhaps?    

It looks like the Holiday Inn will get reasonable media exposure from using the gimmickry of augmented reality in its promotion. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What is an Instant Hold Reservation?

Motels in New Zealand make it real easy for customers to make a reservation with them. To book a room, customers can choose to use snail mail (some still do!), engage in email ping-pong, book online direct from the property's own website or a utilise a vast array of online travel agencies. Motel inventory is now available on several smart phone apps and a few moteliers are investing in separate mobile websites that have access to online reservation services.

Let's not forget the old-school telephone, where customers ringing a motel can still get to talk to a real person and make a reservation in minutes. And with 0800 numbers, the call is "free".

So how can accommodation providers possibly make it even easier for their customers to connect and make a reservation?

I was interested to read about Dallas-based, limited-service hotel chain, La Quinta that have developed a very slick mobile site that shares the distinctive and easily remembered domain of their main site, Mobile device users that enter this web address are seamlessly transported to La Quinta's mobile site that is customised to look and navigate app-like on a small screen.

A radical innovation included on La Quinta's mobile website, allows customers to reserve a room for the same night by only entering their telephone number. In online commerce, simplicity, intuitiveness and speed are of the essence as customers can get easily distracted.

When La Quinta did some research they figured out that a customer making a reservation is able to recall and tap-in their own telephone number a lot easier than reaching for a credit card and laboriously entering-in a string of unfamiliar digits. surprises there. They also discovered that 77% of customers using their mobile site were making same-day reservations or checking for availability before just showing up.

So customers on-the-go that use La Quinta's (extremely cool) mobile website on their Android or iPhone can make a same-day "Instant Hold" reservation that will hold a room for up to four hours by only providing their telephone number. The thinking behind the idea was that more customers will be likely to book by making the booking process easier and customers may also have some comfort in not having to share their credit card details.

Customers that are unable to front up to the hotel before the 4-hour expiration have the option of later adding their credit card details to guarantee the reservation. Customers that don't supply their credit card details, find a better offer elsewhere and "No Show" don't seem to be under any obligation.

Is La Quinta crazy? How can a major accommodation chain allow their customers to randomly book rooms without the guarantee of a credit card?

A quick browse of the inventory available on La Quinta's mobile site, reveals that hotels that are part of the 800 location network seem to have the option of only allocating certain rooms for "Instant Hold"- when it suits. So hotels that offer "Instant Hold" rooms will do so as part of their day-to-day yield management process that involves manipulating different sales channels to their advantage according to demand. During high demand a hotel would be unlikely to offer many "Instant Hold" room options, but will be able to generate sales during low demand periods by exposing rooms to a four-hour booking window.

I reckon that La Quinta is an innovative hotel chain worth following. They are the first to offer "Instant Hold" and this is part of their mobile strategy that also includes being the first to add independent TripAdvisor reviews.

I wonder how soon it will take for others to follow?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Having An Affair? Stay Here!

Unfortunately, the American old-school motel culture of the marque motel sign has never caught on in New Zealand.

As a fan of roadside architecture, a perverse side of me would like to see Kiwi moteliers regularly arranging tacky plastic lettering on roadside signboards to share with the world their latest quirky thoughts and offerings (excluding tariff offers, of course).

There are some classic examples of these signs attracting attention (sometimes for the wrong reasons). 

Dave, the owner of the, Aladdin Motor Inn recently decided to come up with something a little different when he set about his weekly chore of arranging letters on his roadside marque sign outside his motel. He came up with the message: “Having an affair?” and listed his motel's phone number.

Hilariously, it looks like many of the good-old straight-laced folk in the sleepy city of Sonora in California don't possess a sense of humour and take things a little too literally. It's kind'a quaint that they got a tad upset with Dave's motel sign by apparently believing he was aiding and abetting unchristian-like activity.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012

I'm not going to pretend to understand the disputed issues surrounding the "Kony 2012" campaign run by an activist organization, Invisible Children. They have successfully released a powerfull 30-minute-long viral video exposing Ugandan guerrilla leader, Joseph Kony as a war criminal.

The apparent motivation is use social networks to raise awareness and drive change that will take-out Kony. The cause appears to be a noble one - there doesn't seem to be any dispute that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), headed by Kony have committed atrocious crimes.

Along with online viral success will come detractors and the internet is now full of armchair commentators disputing the finances, motivation and the effectiveness of the "Kony 2012" campaign including a Tumblr blog called " Visible Children" that is receiving heavy Internet traffic.
"These problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren't of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow"
Whatever your views, this is a significant and powerful news story. We all want to believe that the power of the internet can expose and take-on tyranny.

Motel Blackmail

A motel room can be a sanctuary.  The rooms are small, orderly and spotlessly clean. As a guest enters a motel room the door can be closed behind and act as a barrier from the madness of an increasingly chaotic world. 

For an accommodation provider, the contract with a guest is to provide accommodation and related services in return for consideration. Part of the gig is that the accommodation provider should never compromise a guest's right to privacy.

Essentially there is an unwritten rule that an accommodation provider will act with the utmost discretion and respect the concept of "what goes on tour, stays on tour." In return the guest has certain obligations - what goes on between the walls of a motel room is up to the occupant, but this is subject to them acting in a manner that does not cause disturbance to others and not leaving behind an unreasonable mess or wrecking anything!

Guests' privacy is paramount, however sometimes motels can get it wrong.

I see that a motel in Taiwan has broken the rule of discretion after one of its staff members was charged with attempting to blackmail a hapless guest. Those quirky Taiwainese folk from Next Media have kindly provided an animated account of the titivating tale:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Worship at the altar of consumerism

The New iPad (iPad 3) has finally dropped from the heavens. 
"Thou shalt provide for thine self that thou might purchase from Thy Lord Apple. 
Thou shalt purchase from Thy Lord Apple and rejoice"
Source: The Cult of Apple
Still don't know what I'll use it for, but I still want one!

Are Moteliers Out Of Step?

Moteliers have yet again proven that they are out of step by publicly grizzling about Tourism New Zealand's decision to include TripAdvisor guest reviews on their website listings.

We were interested to see that a New Zealand Herald article quoting a well known Taradale motelier that alleged that "a disgruntled guest who accused him of lying over a payment dispute arranged for two friends to write bad reviews." On the face of it, this supports sensational claims that TripAdvisor is used as a tool for guests to blackmail and post malicious reviews....Another view could be that the review(s) in this case could have been the harsh consequence of the motelier not disclosing tariff clearly and ineptly dealing with customer complaints?

Unlike many of our fellow moteliers, we side with industry writer and consultant James Hacon that "saw Tourism New Zealand's decision as positive, and said that national tourism agencies across the world were aligning themselves with TripAdvisor. "You just have to look at it on a global scale - it's a hugely growing trend that people are looking at reviews before they travel."

The motel industry needs to distance itself from the imagery of operators that are naive, grumpy old men that are flustered and disconnected with the changes in technology and the demands of today's consumer.

The internet is probably the only free market still in operation, that remains largely untainted by government intervention. On the internet, the beautiful aspects of human nature manifest themselves, and we see individuals and businesses maximising talents and resources for reasons of profit, pleasure, altruism, and mere progress in itself.

Like the internet itself, TripAdvisor's open platform that allows "unverified" reviews to be posted by anonymous users isn't perfect and this a scary proposition for some. Business's online reputations will always be reflected online in one way or another. Businesses are unable to fight against online opinion, as they can never opt-out.

The only option is to actively participate, understand and when necessary, make changes to business practices in response to real-time online feedback. Instead of enabling grizzly old-men, the national trade association should lead education in this area and more importantly strive to change the attitudes of its followers.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Measuring Quality?

Qualmark, "New Zealand's official quality assurance organisation" has had many challenges and numerous barbs thrown at them along the way from the accommodation industry.

While Qualmark offers services to numerous tourism sectors, star grading the accommodation industry is what they are best known for and this is the backbone of their business.

Qualmark's resilience is to be commended. They have endured a major culture change that has included staff losses, a drastic cut in public funding, coping with reluctant shareholders (Government owned, Tourism NZ and privately owned, NZAA) while trying to clip the ticket of high maintenance tourism businesses including the dyslexic personality of the motel sector. 

It would seem that the passionate debate and hang-wringing over Qualmark's direction and service delivery has largely subsided - for now. From my observations, the two main camps of accommodation providers either view Qualmark as being irrelevant or see benefits in using their services as a nice-to-have quality control benchmarking system within accommodation marketing groups. 

Without a lifeline of corporate welfare imminent, Qualmark's challenge is to sell accommodation providers the benefits of a benchmarking system by offering a robust and compelling product with genuine value. In return, accommodation providers will need to pay a market price. For this to occur would mean a dramatic change of attitude within the various accommodation sectors and there appears to be no one willing to step-up to drive this.

Accommodation operator apathy, New Zealand's geographical spread, small economies of scale and high servicing costs, means that it is unlikely that Qualmark will ever be self-sustaining without a major change of direction.

Meanwhile it Australia, 10,000 properties offset a lot of administration costs and property assessment takes 30% less time. This makes running a star rating system across the ditch more of a viable proposition.

Peter Blackwell, is known in New Zealand in his role as GM of AA Tourism and is heading changes to the accommodation star rating system in Australia by AAA Tourism that came into effect from July 2011. 

In difficult economic times, AAA Tourism's new star rating system in Australia was overhauled to focus on three core categories of cleanliness, facilities and quality/ condition. Minimum requirements were dumped and replaced with a percentage score for each of the three core areas that are weighted towards the final star rating. 

While Kiwi accommodation providers seem to be reasonably nonchalant about recent modest tweaks in Qualmark's star rating systems, our Aussie cousins seem to be bristling for a fight after a major shift in their quality rating criteria.

We received an email from an Australian accommodation resort manager in Noosa that exposes some of the accommodation industry's reaction to AAA Tourism's new star rating system:
The AAA assessors are currently in Noosa and the new criteria are proving to be very tough or very subjective depending on the assessor's view. Most 4.5 star resorts are being told they are not up to standard despite the fact they have historically always passed the previous inspections.  This is not a matter of sour grapes, the new assessment system just doesn't have it right.

In our case we are currently #1 on Trip Advisor for Speciality Lodging in Noosa... if we were not delivering 4.5 Star standards our reviews would reflect it. Yet it seems customer satisfaction is not a consideration AAA factors into the assessment.

Noosa managers as meeting with Peter Blackwell to express their concerns on March 5th.
I wonder how that meeting went? A link to an article in the Noosa News HERE makes interesting reading. 

Guest review based systems such as TripAdvisor are becoming increasingly more relevant as a means for the travelling public to compare options and for accommodation providers to benchmark their performance in real-time. 

It may be ironic to some that AA New Zealand with a 40 percent shareholding in Qualmark have embarked upon their own guest review program. However official industry-speak is that online customer reviews are not a threat to the concept of recognised national assessment schemes that rely upon annual physical assessment from trained assessors. It is considered that online reviews and official star rating schemes can co-habitat well together and as if to prove this point, in a significant gesture, Tourism New Zealand have now included TripAdvisor reviews on their website.

It's debatable if online reviews and schemes that require a physical annual inspection are comparable. Both methods rank properties largely by the quality on offer, however the main difference would appear to be that online reviews measure a consumer's experience in context with the tariff they paid.

If one methodology of measuring quality will fail, it will be the customer that will decide. 

If I was to put money on it, I'd suspect that more and more consumer decisions will be based on a real-time ranking on websites such as TripAdvisor rather than a property's annual star rating by a government adjunct. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Travelbug Launch New Mobile Website

It's a gimmie that any significant online travel website needs to be easily accessible to mobile devices.

It seems that all research is pointing towards more and more travellers turning to their mobile devices to not only research accommodation and travel options, but to make bookings. While mobile devices are being used by upwardly mobile, on-the-go-travellers there is also a trend for these devices to be used by consumers using WiFi at home while lounging on the couch. The screens of smartphones and tablets are increasingly driving last-minute travel inspiration.

Overall mobile channel bookings have increased four-fold between 2008 and 2010 and it's likely that this phenomenal rate will continue. To support this theory, Google have predicted that mobile will overtake PCs as the most common web-access device by 2013. 

With a rapid increase of mobile browsing, are accommodation providers keeping pace at the same rate by ensuring that their online content is accessible to mobile users?  We say probably not.

While it is probably cost prohibitive for most accommodation providers to create, market and maintain their own mobile app, it's probably more cost effective for operators to consider optimizing their websites for mobile along with using booking engines that are mobile-enabled.

In order to expose inventory to the masses, accommodation providers are becoming more reliant upon third party providers with better economies of scale that are able to list bookable accommodation options on either mobile apps or mobile websites.

It is interesting to contemplate if travel information is better delivered via mobile apps or mobile websites (another option is to use both!). Apps only work on the phones they are designed for, while mobile websites can be designed to work on any device with a web browser. The iPhone, the Palm, the new BlackBerry, and Google's Android phones all support an open source framework used on mobile websites.

Mobile websites have a mass market appeal for content and can now be designed to look and feel like a native app. A mobile app can provide a more intuitive experience by utilizing many of the embedded features of the mobile device. An app's appeal is that it can become front-of-mind by living on the screen of a device and the functionality is familiar to the user. The main disadvantage is that an app is restricted by usage of a particular device and operating system.

It is interesting that Jasons and AA Travel websites/booking engines are currently not mobile enabled and they have gone down the track of appealing to mobile browsers by producing mobile apps for Apple device users (Android will follow soon).

Wotif have gone down a different pathway - they launched a mobile site some time ago and so far have neglected to launch a mobile app.

We see that TradeMe owned TravelBug have also bypassed producing a mobile app for now and have recently launched a mobile website. Our first impressions are that the site functions very well with a user experience similar to an app. Our friends at Travelbug have sent us some interesting facts to support their launch:
Traffic to is growing at over 50% in 2012 (vs a year ago) which is good, but visits from people using smartphones are up a whopping 466%

While it’s old news that mobile is “an opportunity” for travel websites, growth rates that large show this opportunity turning into reality, so that’s why we’ve moved quickly to take advantage

We can also see that bookings made on Travelbug by mobile users have a much shorter lead time: 50% of mobile bookings are for tonight/tomorrow night: travellers on the go needed (and deserved!) a better booking experience for last minute bookings

The mobile site allows travellers to search for accommodation near them utilising a nifty geo-location feature (or via standard region-based searches)

Of all mobile traffic to Travelbug, Apple iPads have the lion’s share with 53% of all mobile traffic coming via the iPad; iPhones are #2 with 22%

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