Resort Hotel Social Media Marketing: Two Facts (and Myths)

resort hotel social media platformsMost resort hotel social media activity seems to be based on two assumptions. Or, misconceptions. The first is that customers value social media interactions with resort hotels. The second is that social media delivers all the customer feedback hotels need.

Are these legitimate facts…or myths?

There’s a lot of confusion about social media. [APRIL 4 UPDATE: Ryan Solutions cites 12-20% decline in resort hotel social media postings in 2015. The post below contributes some insight as to why.]

I’ve been looking at a lot of resort hotel social media and gathering a consensus of opinion from content marketing experts, including CMI. Here’s where I’ve wound up.

Fact-myth #1: Customers value interaction via resort hotel social media

Resort hotel social media can include Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. That’s where consumers hang out. So, it’s essential to show up and introduce your brand. But, taking your relationship to the next level will probably require “bringing them to your place.”

Here’s what I mean. Someone might stumble over one of your Facebook posts. They might see your ad. They might even ‘like’ something you said. But, the vast majority are not on social media to interact with your company. According to Kissmetrics, 99% will likely never visit you again. Customers use social media to interact with each other.

Tourists reviews imageIn the context of vacationing, customers want to share information about compelling destinations, lodging alternatives, restaurants and places to see.  And, the most reliable, trusted source of  information about those places is other travelers who’ve been there.

Tripadvisor, Foursquare and Gogobot are among often used sources of traveler-generated reviews and information. Facebook, not so much. (There are FB marketing fails all over the interwebs, including this post that never calculates the ROI promised in its title, or this Kissmetrics post.)

Still, if you use social media in your marketing mix, do it with the intent of earning your prospect’s attention—and their email addresses. That way, you can quickly take them to your place, your company’s blog or email list. When customers accompany you to a channel you own, you can engage them far more reliably. Your posts won’t be screened by Facebook or other social media platforms. You can provide content they’ve expressed interest in. You can listen to their comments and complaints.

These are two of most common pieces of advice offered by social media experts: Deliver high quality sharable content and give customers a reason to share their email address with you. Online contests and giveaways are common.

Fact-myth #2: You can get the customer insight your business needs from social media.

The best way to nudge you toward clarity about fact-myth #2 is by asking you this simple question:

Is any media, social included, so comprehensive that you’d willingly give up all others?

Most people would say no. But, some tourism marketers quickly pivot to “the relatively high speed and low cost” of social media research.

Yes, there are ways to quickly send surveys out on some resort hotel social media platforms. There are text mining packages that can scrape comments. resort hotel social media surveysYou can identify who social media influencers are, what they share and with whom.

Is social media research faster, cheaper or more effective? Any one of these, maybe. Any combination of two, probably not. All three? You’re on really thin ice.

It’s just like any other method for collecting customer feedback. There are trade offs that many marketers don’t have time to think about. This second question might help simplify things.

How big of a business investment are you willing to risk based on the data you acquired from a survey of your company’s Facebook fans?

Probably not a big investment, unless you had corroborating data from multiple other sources. There are more questions to consider, like these for example.

What if the purpose of your research is to create new products and services to attract new customers? Are your Facebook fans the right people to ask? Should you even be asking closed ended survey questions? Should you be having conversations with prospective buyers to learn what their preferences are and the language they use to express them?

So, what’s been your experience with engaging and getting feedback from customers on social? Please share your comments below!

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Mountain Resort DMOs Conference: The Big Idea for Growing Summer Tourism

Last week, I attended “The Assembly”, the annual meeting of mountain resort DMOs in Denver, Colorado, USA. The theme this year was about managing peaks and valleys.

Mountain resorts in the U.S. are at peak capacity on most winter weekends. The valleys referred to huge swaths of opportunity during summers to grow occupancy and rates. After soaking in what I heard, I boiled my thoughts down to eight notes to self:

Mountain resort DMOs look to fill summer capacity.

Mountain resort DMOs look to fill summer capacity.

 

1. Two paths for mountain resort DMOs to fill vacant beds in summer?

Much of the discussion focused on capital-intensive investments in mountain coasters, water parks and other attractions that could draw summer visitors. That’s one potential growth path. How many waterparks can a region support? That’s addressed with a pretty straight forward market assessment.

Carl Robaudo of SMG Consulting offered a second path. He said, “Consumers, especially Millennials, want authenticity. DMOs need to communicate their local cultures. Culture is authentic.”

I thought that path was as good as the first. Maybe better. In our work with clients, it’s always been the less familiar path for them.  But, it’s also been the path to effective marketing, far more influential guest experiences and streamlined operating costs.

So, I followed the authentic culture path with these remaining notes…

2. Are DMOs challenged to describe what their areas’ cultures are?

Those who do it successfully stand a better-than-even chance of taking market share. Here’s why.

Multiple studies show that many tourists, and especially Millennials, are motivated to accumulate experiences –more than homes, cars or other possessions. This is partly because cash-strapped, student-debt-laden Millennials can’t afford to buy much. Many use AirBnB and VRBO to save money. But, they also choose to shack up temporarily with hospitable locals to experience the local vibe in ways they can’t in hotel rooms.

While community layouts and architecture affect the vibe, it’s still mostly about interactions between people. Destination vacationers of all ages are starting to use mobile apps that help them connect with locals and fellow travelers while on the road.

These changes in vacationer preferences and enabling technologies are contributing to the growing importance of destination culture.

3. How do current visitors describe your destination’s unique vibe?

Is it limited to cute boutiques, good restaurants and decorative lights on main street? These are found at many mountain resorts. If that’s all that’s going on, then these could portend death by un-differentiation.

In contrast, for example, Lake Placid is a remote, tiny village steeped in rich Olympic history. Visitors encounter residents who gladly share that history as well as world class athletes who train and compete there. Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, is a massive region encompassing multiple mountain resorts that have spectacular lake views. It’s where the super-outdoorsy rub elbows with casino patrons. Both locations have very different vibes.

What makes your destination unique?

4. Are you promoting a geographical footprint that visitors think is unique?

It’s natural for all of us to promote what’s in our backyard, within the boundaries of our towns and counties.

But, tourists lump vacation locations together according to their own notions. They may be thinking of a neighborhood, a scenic route that crosses county lines or an entire continent. Think, “Lake Placid vs. Lake Tahoe.” East coasters book trips to “Lake Tahoe”, never limiting themselves to Heavenly, Squaw or any specific community there. Regional and resort destinations frequently overlap. But, typically visitors share a common perception of what the “place” is to them.

5. Do you know what the next generation of visitors is actually trying to achieve?

In our research with affluent Gen-X and Millennial vacationers, we’ve identified more than fifty factors that influence their vacation purchases and loyalty. The starting point is understanding today’s consumers’ goals. Their goals are shifting dramatically and in unexpected ways.

Take for instance amateur millennial female athletes. They skew educated, health conscious, independent, assertive, career oriented and mutually supportive. They reject common conventions of acceptable “female behavior” that existed before Title IX.

Understanding shifts among nextgen travelers like millennial women opens up new ways to attract them.

Understanding the goals and temperaments of nextgen travelers like these millennial women opens up new ways to engage with them.

Back then, no one could have predicted that  these women would happily run 5Ks through fields of mud for charity and pay $65 for the privilege. Today, a Dirty Girl Mud Run happens somewhere in the U.S. most weekends between March and September. Average attendance is 7,000 per event.

6. What are nextgen visitors’ paths to purchase?

Decades ago, consumers’ vacation planning typically began and ended with specific destinations in mind. That’s changing.

Word-of-mouth and the Internet have short circuited destination-driven planning. Consumers are learning about more unique vacation experiences through affinity groups, social media and friends. The destinations are more frequently afterthoughts.

Dirty Girl Mud Run participants learn about those event on the paths they tread, which include fitness and involvement with pink ribbon charities.

Another example is the Burning Man festival. Few people Google search, “cultural desert vacation.” Yet, Burning Man sells 70,000 tickets to participants seeking these experiences—“a utopia in the desert, a culture of possibility and a network of dreamers and doers.”

Finding new tourists on their paths to purchase is gaining importance.

Finding new tourists on their paths to purchase is gaining importance. What paths do 70,000 Burning Man participants follow to the middle of a dust storm?

7. How can mountain resort DMOs re-position onto nextgen vacationers’ paths to purchase?

It’s important to keep in mind that nextgen vacationers have aspirational destinations, not just physical destinations, in mind. They want to accomplish or become something during their blocks of free time. Opportunities open up for DMOs that dial in to vacationers’ aspirations and set up shop along their paths to purchase.

One of the challenges to re-positioning was discussed at The Assembly. DMOs need to respond to local constituencies that often have different interests. Developers want to maximize income per square foot. Residents want affordable housing and to preserve the lifestyle that makes mountain living desirable.

Nurturing experiences that resonate authentically with visitors requires a balancing act. Affluent vacationers want access to pristine mountain experiences as well as the diversions of boutiques and eateries. These are not necessarily differentiators, though.

DMOs need to give visitors a compelling reason to come the first time and then return. One good reason for visitors to return is their aspirations are fulfilled more deeply and in ways that few other places can duplicate.

8. Where to start?

DMOs need to engage local constituencies to develop and support initiatives that distinguish their locations, magnetize visitors and drive loyalty. And, the shorter the timelines to do those things, the better.

This is hard where competing agendas and opinions dominate discussion. Any decision taken by DMOs can be regarded as taking one side or the other. This is human nature. Similar politics exist in all organizations.

The answer is a tie-breaking vote—cast by the next generation of visitors, who have cash in their hands and who want to experience the things that make that destination unique. The most effective deliverer of their vote is an impartial third party, backed up by hard data.

But, as I said, these are just notes to self. What do you think?

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Influencing leisure and tourism customers requires different insight than guest surveys provide.It seems intuitive that if you’re measuring guest satisfaction your guest visits would go up. But, in hundreds of global brands we analyzed, we found the two are not related. Find out why, and how leading companies are dramatically increasing guest visits. Read, 5 Reasons Why Guest Satisfaction Surveys Won’t Increase Your Guest Visits…and What Will.

Design Guest Experiences that Create Loyalty

We all want to design guest experiences that make patrons come back and refer others. But, how do you effectively design guest experiences? Well, it starts with understanding how humans experience.

Influential guest experience

Create a guest experience that positively influences guest behavior

You have an experience just about every minute you’re awake. You’re even having an experience wearing the shoes you have on right now. And, like experiences of your shoes, the color of the ceiling and background noises, most of the experiences you have are filtered out.

How you experience is intimately connected with the way your mental machinery perceives, interprets, and evaluates the situations you’re in… and how this process influences what you do.

For years, I’ve been helping clients understand the “mental model of the customer”. This is typically different than the “mental model of the company.” In order to design influential guest experiences, you have to understand the capabilities and limitations of the human mind.

Our Brains Filter Out Most Experiences

Our nervous systems filter out more than 99% of the sensory information we’re exposed to. This allows you to pay attention to a small number of the most important things.

Your mind is continuously and automatically comparing the flood of sensory information to what it predicts it will experience.  If that information roughly matches previous patterns, the information is handled subconsciously. It doesn’t “register” as something you consciously think about.

This subconscious process allows you to act on “auto pilot”. For example, when you walk up to the front door of your house, key in hand, and the lock and door appear to behave as expected. You unlock the door and walk in. You don’t have to consciously “figure it out.”

An Influential Guest Experience Requires Surprises

If, on the other hand, that sensory information isn’t what was expected, it bubbles up to the level of conscious processing. If an element of the current situation catches you by surprise, you turn your attention to it.

But, our conscious processing has limited short term memory.  Generally, we can only consciously think about seven pieces of information.

The most influential guest experiences are designed around: 1) our short-term memory limitations and 2) people’s ability to act while on auto pilot.  Whether you like it or not, customers filter out… or at least deal with subconsciously… virtually all the details of every experience they have. They only pay attention to a small number of things.

The trick is to deliberately design guest experiences that map comfortably to guests’ auto pilot for action while creating a small number of positive, meaningful surprises. This is the essence of successfully differentiated, highly influential guest experiences.

These differentiating elements are the small set of things that get the guests’ attention. They are consistent with the brand promise–a promise fulfilled by a meaningful guest experience.

For example, Holiday Valley Ski Resort is consistently rated among the top five resorts in the Eastern U.S.  Holiday Valley draws skiers who drive from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto. What makes Holiday Valley distinctive, beyond its diverse terrain and relentless commitment to snow quality, is the accessibility that permeates every aspect of the guest experience.

Holiday Valley

Holiday Valley has three base lodges providing easily accessible food, beverage and retail services.

There is ample, high-speed lift capacity. Three updated, full-service base lodges disperse weekend crowds. There are almost never lines for lunch. There are accommodations, restaurants and attractions at the resort and in nearby Ellicottville, a five minute drive from Holiday Valley. Services are distributed in a way that seems to defy congestion. Traffic, even during high season, is always manageable.

Holiday Valley surprises guests with its ease of movement. A surprising level of accessibility is just one dimension by which you can influence customers. There are many other opportunities. Most are not as capital-intensive as building base lodges!

If You Understand How Guests Experience, You’ll Be Better Prepared to Design Guest Experiences that Glue Patrons to Your Business

Here are a few examples.

Many “central reservations” websites provide experiences that actually feel de-centralized and fragmented to guests. The only centralizing feature is a long list of outbound links to myriad hotels, motels, B&B’s, etc. Sometimes, lodging alternatives can be sorted by number of beds and price. But, that’s pretty much it.

It’s left to the user to figure out where each accommodation is relative to the resort, what it looks like, bed sizes and configurations, whether there’s public transportation, child care, cooking facilities, restaurants, attractions nearby, a fireplace, a view, how past guests have rated their stays…and the list goes on. (I’ve talked before about new vacation planning sites that are capitalizing on this opportunity. They’re making all of this information searchable in online vacation planning tools.)

Other opportunities to positively surprise vacationers abound. For example, we’ve worked with a client to extend the vacation experience. We helped them design guest experiences that positively influenced guests before they arrived at the resort.

Another example: creating new, more meaningful social-bonding opportunities among customers. These bonds help glue guests to providers as well as each other. Vacation clubs are beginning to seize these opportunities.

You can surprise customers when they are researching, planning, booking, paying for, traveling to and traveling from a tourist area. That’s in addition to when they are physically present in your location. We’re working with forward-thinking lodging operators, restaurants, sporting goods providers and retailers to develop and exploit these opportunities. Some of these opportunities involve diverse providers collaborating across the guest experience.

To thrive, leisure and tourism businesses must design guest experiences that positively influence customers. Influential experiences meet two requirements: First, they conform to vacationers’ “auto pilot” patterns of behavior so they can simply unwind and relax. Second, they break from familiar patterns in ways specifically designed to deliver delightful surprises. These are two hallmarks of memorable, influential guest experiences.



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Jay Sherman portraitJay Sherman blogs for vacationbehavior.com and runs a behavioral research firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Clients include over forty Fortune 500 firms, leisure and tourism businesses.

Jay has experience in nearly all aspects of the tourism and leisure industries, including resort sales and marketing, hotel management, retail sporting goods and food and beverage.  Frank Capek contributed to this post.

The Power of Metaphors to Influence Customers

Some leisure and tourism businesses have capitalized on metaphors customers use to assign value. Under Armour ® conveys a protective container. Keystone Resort’s famous restaurant, the Alpenglow Stube, provides a transformative dining experience. It begins with awesome mountain top views and rockets skyward when guests are warmly welcomed by hosts offering plush sheepskin booties to wear during dinner.

The Alpenglow Stube reinforces the transformation metaphor by inviting guests to enjoy cozy sheepskin boots as they dine.

The Alpenglow Stube reinforces the transformation metaphor by inviting guests to enjoy cozy sheepskin boots as they dine.

What metaphors will drive customers to your door, anxious to buy from you? Read on.

Knowing the metaphors customers used to assign meaning to your customer experience can dramatically accelerate your business’s growth.

Researchers at Harvard Business School have identified several metaphors that customers commonly use to assign significance to their experiences. Journey, transformation, resource, and relationship are among them.

So, how do metaphors influence leisure and tourism buyer behavior?

Metaphors are how our brains assign meaning to our experiences. For example, we boil down a fuzzy abstraction, like ‘time’, down to a metaphor that holds more significance for us: a journey. We say, “The past is behind us, and the future is ahead.” We eventually come to the “end of the road,” a reminder of the precious nature of our lives.

My first exposure to the power of metaphors to influence behavior was with Stu Campbell, former ski school director at Heavenly. Stu’s mastery of metaphors was reflected in his ski technique articles in Ski Magazine and his on-snow clinics.

Stu reduced the technical complexities of making carved turns—tilting the ski, angulating at the hip, pressuring the downhill ski, extending one leg and shortening the other–to one simple metaphor: pedaling.

Pedaling was easy to teach my ski school students. It was a metaphor that brought disparate ideas into one meaningful whole. Students intuitively grasped the idea. Most mastered the concept within a few minutes. It immediately influenced how they skied.

In the contexts of innovating and marketing your business, you can dramatically accelerate purchases by understanding and building upon the metaphors customers use to intuit the value of your offering. Building on the customer’s metaphor enables you to configure products, services and

Metaphors influence customer behavior. Here a young skier applies the pedaling metaphor to achieve a new level of mastery.

Metaphors influence customer behavior. Here a young skier applies the pedaling metaphor to achieve a new level of mastery.

experiences that resonate with customers. It pulls customers toward your brand. It demonstrates, “I clearly understand what you want and I’m going to help you get it.”

Here’s one example of how we helped a company adopt the customer’s metaphor. This resulted in innovations that created millions of dollars in incremental revenue.

Like vacations, jewelry is a luxury product category. The executives of a national jewelry store chain thought of their stores as a resource for jewelry. They offered competitive product selections, attractively displayed.

But, as we quickly discovered, resource was not the metaphor customers used to assess value.

We learned that the biggest jewelry purchasers are gift givers. Many are men buying expensive engagement rings. They’ll visit competing brands of jewelry stores. But, when we talked to customers about why they bought jewelry gifts, we made this radical discovery:

Gift givers don’t buy because of a jewelry store’s resources. They buy in accord with the metaphor that compelled them to shop for jewelry in the first place—to invest in their relationships.

Gifts of jewelry are expressions of commitment and love. They are to gift givers deposits in their relationship bank accounts. So, gift givers experience a variety of concerns in their shopping experiences. Will she (or he) like it? If not, can I exchange it or get a refund? If so, will it be a frustrating and potentially embarrassing experience?

Power of metaphors to create customer experiences

Helping gift-givers invest in relationships boosted our client’s jewelry sales 25% nationally.
Photo courtesy Howheasked.com.

Our client’s new appreciation of the power of customers’ relationship metaphor inspired several significant innovations. (As you read about these changes, think about what you might change in your business if you were to guess at what a more compelling, highly differentiated customer experience could look like.)

Store employees were trained to avoid welcoming shoppers by asking, “May I help you?” Instead, they began asking more engaging questions like, “Are you shopping for someone special?”

With that entrée, salespeople began conspiring with the gift giver to orchestrate a fun gift-giving experience. They probed about the fashion preferences of the recipient. They asked when and where the gift would be bestowed. They offered to wrap the gift in fun and creative boxes, wraps and ribbons.

The chain’s return policy was revamped. Before, buyers could only make exchanges. They had to go back to the same store where they bought the jewelry, which sometimes required driving to another city. They replaced their exchange policy with a no-questions-asked returns policy that provided full refunds or exchanges at any store in their system.

These innovations were promoted by a “Perfect Gift, Guaranteed” brand promise.

The results: Same store sales increased 25% in the next three years, generating millions in incremental revenue.

The implication for leisure and tourism businesses is this: If you design your customer experience around the metaphor the customer uses to assess value, you can dramatically accelerate customer purchases.

So, what’s the metaphor your customers use? This isn’t a question you can answer with a survey, nor with a direct Q&A with customers. But, we can get at this using project interview techniques that surface the hidden, subconscious motivators of vacationers’ behaviors.

 
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Jay Sherman portraitJay Sherman is the Insights Chief at VacationBehavior.com and CEO of a research and innovation firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Clients include over forty Global 2000 organizations.

Jay has experience in nearly all assets of the tourism leisure industries, Including resort sales and marketing, hotel management, retail sporting goods and food and beverage. More about Jay and VacationBehavior here.

An Introduction to Influencing Customer Behavior

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We’ve helped over 40 organizations innovate highly influential customer experiences. Top marketing agencies like Publicis partner with us. The U.S. Department of Commerce recognized us as thought leaders in innovation. For more about VacationBehavior.com, click on the “About” page.