Archive for September, 2010

Hail! Calling All Taxis!

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

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Las Vegas Is The No. 1 U.S. City For Taxi's

I find that taking a taxi can be a great way to learn a little bit more about a city. In most cases, hailing a cab in a major metropolitan area is a much safer bet and often less expensive than renting a car, finding parking spaces and paying parking fees.

I have to admit that I really enjoy riding in taxis. Sure, I have had a few harrowing experiences like the time that a Miami taxi’s air conditioner was broken in the heat of summer – I think I melted to the pleather seats! And I can’t forget the time that our taxi driver in Chicago had just learned to drive the day before (his own admission)?!  

But for every story like these there are dozens of great experiences with clean cabs, friendly and capable drivers, and efficient service. In fact, according to a recent survey from Hotels.com, I am not alone. A whopping 85 percent of respondents have used taxis while on vacation. 

Here Is Hotels.com’s List Of Top U.S. Cities To Hail For Taxi Cabs:

1. Las Vegas

2. Chicago

3. San Francisco

4. Orlando, FL

5. Boston

6. Washington, D.C.

7. New York City

8. Los Angeles

Here’s A Few Of My Tips for Taxi Service Success:

1. Use hand sanitizer – really needs no additional explanation!

2. Have an idea about the route that you want to take to your destination BEFORE you get in the cab. It’s the best way to avoid paying too much.

3. When traveling internationally, know which taxis are licensed, how to recognize them, hail them, and typical fees and tip practices BEFORE you depart.

4. Never assume a taxi takes credit cards, ask the driver BEFORE you get into the taxi.  Be prepared to pay cash and ask for a receipt so that you can expense it (if traveling for business).

5. In the US, it is standard to tip your driver AFTER arriving at your destination for a safe and efficient service.

6. When relying on a taxi to get you somewhere on time, call ahead for a reservation and allow plenty of time for delays.  I once tried to hail a cab in NYC during a summer rain storm…what was I thinking?!

7. When traveling to the Caribbean and Mexico, taxi rates can be negotiated with many drivers BEFORE you get in the vehicle, especially over fees for multiple passengers.

8. A safety tip: Keep your cell phone handy. I like to call someone (my husband, a friend, a colleague) en route to my destination so that someone else is aware of my route/plans.

Rate Your Taxi Experiences (1-10 Scale)

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An Inside Look At How Social Media Impacts The Travel Industry And Its Customers

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

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Fanscape CEO Larry Weintraub has 25 years of entertainment marketing experience.

As we continue to celebrate Social Media Week, I had the chance to interview Larry Weintraub, CEO and co-founder of Fanscape, a social media marketing agency. He was able to provide some great information about how the travel industry and its customers are being impacting by social media, which I’m happy to share with you here!

1. What is the best way for travel companies to measure ROI (Return On Investment) on their social media (SM) channels?

What works for one company does not always work for another. The real question is, what is important to you? If it is sales, then your ROI will be measured by how much revenue you generate from your social media channels. For example, if you are a hotel chain, you want to drive people to purchase rooms. But what you have to know is that if you simply push people to book rooms and you don’t engage them, you will be disappointed. You need to offer value. Value in the form of discounts, exclusives, inside information, special amenities, etc. Make it worth their while to come visit your social media channels. Do that, and you will see sales and your ROI will be properly measured as a result of your engagement and not by simply building a channel.

2. Are daily giveaways and incentives the only way for travel brands to attract new fans/followers?

No, not at all. The key is value. Daily giveaways and incentives are fun and do offer value. But let’s not forget about good communication. Your social media channels are an extension of you. If you are a travel professional, what makes you special? Usually it is because you have insight and knowledge that the average consumer doesn’t have themselves. You’ve been to all the places people want to go, you’ve stayed in all the hotels, taken cruises, rented cars. You know where to go, how to get there, and what to ask for.  People love to travel, but they are often confused by offers or worried about making a bad decision that isn’t realized until they reach their destination. If you communicate well with your customers and potential customers, answer their questions and provide them with your insight, that can be more valuable than a daily giveaway. This connection to your audience will result in people telling others. Word of mouth is the number one reason people buy something or try something, provide value and people will tell their friends.     

3. How can a hotel control the damage of an unhappy customer when his or her feedback is immediately published on a social media  site?

What you hope is that if a person has a problem, they come to you first. Even if it is in a public forum such as a travel blog or your Facebook page. If they voice their concern in that public forum, then you need to address it quickly and show that you care. For example, if someone complains about their hotel room or the service they received, you need to respond to that person, again, in public, on the social media site they utilized, and say that you are truly upset that they had that experience and you are looking into it immediately. Ask them then to respond to you directly via email or phone and offer to discuss the issue. Once you have resolved the issue, post again to let all those who read the chain know that you spoke with this person, you fixed any issues that related specifically to your hotel, and that this is an isolated experience. This is not a guaranteed fix. There are those who participate in social media that cannot be appeased. All you can do is do your best. If you participate regularly and actively in your social networks and you respond to discussions about your property in other social forums such as TripAdvisor, then the audience there will know that you do really care about your customers. Others will tend to discount the lone noisemaker if you are consistent with your participation and compassionate with your customers.

4. Will we ever get to a point where travel companies no longer need full blown websites because their customers would prefer to book directly through Facebook and Twitter applications?

The short answer is no. You will always need a website. That website will most likely continue to evolve and become more and more social in nature. Meaning, most if not all websites will continue to evolve and many of the features of popular social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will become integrated into your website. Features such as sharing, commenting, uploading photos and videos, and many more.  Facebook and Twitter are the current favorite places to socialize, but tomorrow there will be something else. This doesn’t mean that they are going away any time soon, it just means you will always have to update your profiles on many places, but the one consistent will be your website.

5. With so many exciting new networks popping up every day, what is the best way for companies to keep up and ultimately use all of these tools as new revenue drivers?

You only have so many hours in a day and your resources are not endless. You can’t chase every new thing that comes up. Sometimes you just have to wait a minute and see if something catches on. Not every company has to be a leader. In fact, most companies will choose not to lead and will watch to see if revenues are being generated by competitors or others in related fields. Identify a handful of companies that do similar things as you and a handful that you aspire to be, even if they are not directly in your industry. If you see them doing great things or you read about them making money as a result of new tools, then reach out to the makers of those new technologies and ask them how they can help you. If you then do decide to participate, try to make your offering better for your customers. This could be in the form of discounts, deals, or the sharing of really useful information. No one is going to criticize you for copying someone else. It’s just up to you to make it the best for your business and the people who utilize your service.

 
 

 

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How The Travel Industry Is Leveraging Social Media

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

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Social Media Expert Deirdre Breakenridge Provides Insight Into How The Travel Industry Uses Social Media

With this being Social Media Week, I thought it would be fun to interview a few experts on how the travel industry is leveraging tools such as Twitter, online user reviews, and of course, blogs!

One of those experts is Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge), who is President of a new marketing agency in New Jersey called Mango!. She is also the author of four books including, Putting the Public Back in Public RelationsPR 2.0: New Media, New Tools, New AudiencesThe New PR Toolkit, and Cyber Branding. With this kind of background, I thought she’d be perfect for an interview. Hope you enjoy!

1. What are your favorite travel blogs and why?

As I began traveling more for business, I started to check out a few of the travel blogs, including Gadling, Peter Greenberg Worldwide and RatesToGo blog. The one that really kept my attention was Gadling. In my opinion, Gadling is one of the best travel blogs because it offers informational posts that are targeted to your destination. For example, before my recent trip to Boston, I was able to review posts that ranged from Boston on a Budget to the Boston’s Books and Brunch. I also find myself enjoying the 100-words or less tips on travel, hotels and packing, which are peer generated and offer useful information.  

Additionally, I never really searched for travel blogs in years past, having relied exclusively on Expedia and Hotels.com for my travel needs and information. I find the ratings and reviews tremendously helpful on Hotels.com. I remember reading in Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff that the Forrester’s Technographics Profile tool shows that business travelers are very active in reviews and are considered more active as Critics than the average US citizen. According to the authors, business travelers are also above average in terms of being social media Creators (those who publish web pages and create blogs, audio/video). 

2. How have user reviews changed the way people use travel sites?

I think user reviews can be very powerful. I’ll give you a personal example. I recently read about Kayak.com and asked a friend if it was better than Expedia.  As soon as he said that he used the site (Kayak) and just had an okay experience stating it was, “not too bad but nothing to write home about,” I didn’t have the desire to research any further. The trusted peer is today’s relied upon source. This comes with the rise of the citizen journalist, the lack of trust of the brands that just throw messages at the market, and the shift from mainstream media to democratized content. 

I also want to point out that it’s very important that a brand has ratings and reviews on its site and not everything has to be the highest positive rating. As long as the information is on topic and appropriate to the rating, then the brand should allow the comment, even if it’s less than stellar.If there are too many positive reviews, then it may look like the site is not sharing objective opinions from customers, and only sharing those opinions that may appear biased toward the brand.

3. If you were CEO of a company in the travel industry (hotel, airline, car rental), is there one specific social network you’d look to start a community in right away, or would you look to join several all at once?

This is an excellent question and actually applies to any CEO in any industry. You have to listen very closely to the conversation in the social landscape to understand where you need to be. I always point executives and their communications teams in the direction of the Conversation Prism. It’s important to understand that there is an entire universe of social networks with hundreds of platforms to choose from. For example, many brands rush to be on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, before ever knowing why they should be there, or if there is a reason for their participation.

4. How imperative is it to create incentives for consumers to visit corporate sites and Twitter handles? If not, how do you go entice people to keep coming back to hear your thoughts?

I think, even before incentives, we have to abide by the general rule of social communities and building social capital. You have to provide information that is valuable and void of spammy messages. The information can be aimed at helping people to make a decision, and/or providing them with great deals and promotions. I do believe we are an incentive or award driven society in the sense that we look for those great deals from our brands as a reward for being a loyal patron. We want to feel that we are a part of a community that offers something exclusive.  I know friends, family and peers who have expressed that being a part of a Facebook fan page is worth their while, when they receive incentives that they might not have obtained if they weren’t participating in the social community. 

This is also true for Twitter and active participation with the use of a Twitter handle. As people become comfortable with the brand on Twitter, or in any network, and they find interesting information that’s a lot easier and quicker to access, it makes them that more active with the company.  After all, if you are finding out about the promotion long before the coupon arrives in the mail or prior to seeing the ad in the magazine, then you can take advantage of it sooner than your peers. I also believe that travel brands benefit from the one-on-one conversations and the help that they are giving their customers through Twitter.  Great examples include Jet Blue and SouthWest Airlines

5. Is it easier for travel companies to maintain a social media presence given their audience is both consumers and business professionals, or does that present greater challenges? 

That’s an interesting question because in traditional marketing we look at B2B and B2C very differently. However, we have to remember that the social sphere is about transparency, humanness and being open with all stakeholders.Companies are figuring out how to talk to consumers and at the same time determine what type of participation exhibits thought leadership for their business partners. I’ve noticed that brands use different Twitter handles to address consumers vs. the information that they tweet for their business audiences. You can employ more than one handle to segment those you need to reach and offer appropriate information. This is similar to the way you can have different Facebook fan pages or a variety of groups on LinkedIn. If you listen first and then provide the communication that is needed by a particular group, then you will have the right people following your brand. 

 
 

 

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Great Travel Resource For Finding The Ultimate Getaway

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

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Vic Walia is Senior Director of North America Brand Marketing at Hotels.com

As summer comes to a close and the kids are back in school, it can be difficult to find time to get away for a relaxing vacation. However, there are still plenty of options to consider for a fun-filled getaway without even leaving your computer!

Just this week, Hotels.com launched its Fall Sale where you can save up to 30 percent a number of hotels in cities such as Las Vegas, New York, and Denver. But if you are unsure of where to go, be sure to check out VirtualVacation where you can explore some of the country’s most popular destinations.

This interactive website allows you to virtually explore different vacation spots where you can view a real world environment of a specific city. By using a webcam and microphone, which is activated by a physical printed ‘glyph’ or smartphone marker, a 3D image of the city appears. You can then navigate around the city, interact with local landmarks, customize street signs, land a plane at the airport, or even insert yourself into a postcard and send it to friends and family through Twitter and Facebook. You can also get useful trip planning information, including local weather, event information, and special deals in each city.

Experience your favorite city using VirtualVacation, an augmented reality site from Hotels.com

Just in case you are still debating on which city to visit, here’s a sampling of some of the great hotels that are offering unbelievable discounts this fall:

1) 25% off the Stratosphere Tower – Casino & Resort Hotel – Las Vegas

 - 3 star property

- 3.9 hotels.com guest rating

- 83 percent recommended

This Las Vegas property offers three top-of-the-tower thrill rides that include Insanity, X-Scream and lastly, Big Shot, that launches passengers 160 feet in 2.5 seconds along a 238-foot mast that extends like a needle from the tower.

2) 30% off The Burnsley All Suite Hotel – Denver

- 3.5 star property

- 4.4 hotels.com guest rating

- 91 percent recommended      

In 1963, The Burnsley All Suite Hotel was constructed as an apartment house. Shortly after its construction, investors including Ella Fitzgerald and Kirk Douglas converted the building into a hotel and jazz club. In 1983, the hotel developed its current design, a European-style boutique hotel.

3) 20% off Wellington Hotel – New York

- 3 star property

- 3.8 hotels.com guest rating

- 81 percent recommended

The Wellington Hotel is within one half-mile from Carnegie Hall, Central Park, and Radio City Music Hall. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are within six miles of the hotel.

 
 

 

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I’m Not Paying For Ice And Apparently Neither Are You!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

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More than 61 percent of travelers feel ripped-off by hotel mini-bars, according to Hotels.com. (photo courtesy of cartoonstock.com)

A recent hotels.com survey asked travelers to talk about their willingness to pay for extras in hotels.  Below are some of those results I found particularly interesting and wanted to share with you all.  

But first a few thoughts on this situation.. It shouldn’t seem too shocking that in the current economic climate some hotels are jumping on the nickel and dime bandwagon. It’s not surprising but it is disappointing. Some of the amenities and services that have previously come “standard” with a hotel stay are now available but only for an additional fee. Once complimentary, hotels are now charging for toiletries and newspapers, use of bathrobes, ironing boards and fitness centers. But aren’t those the very amenities that help to create loyal customers? What would you do if you found yourself having to pay for a bucket of ice?

EXPERT TIP: I have had some success requesting that a hotel waive superfluous fees (ex. for newspapers and cribs) at check-in and/or at check out. Don’t be afraid to voice your displeasure, as the hotel may be willing to forego a two-dollar charge for your continued loyalty.

Here are the results of the hotels.com Hotel Extras survey:

1. The most common “extras” that travelers pay for when staying in a hotel:

- Parking

- Bottled Water

- Wi-Fi

- Breakfast

- Mini-bar 

2. Hotel extras that people feel should always be free with their hotel stay, are: 

Ice

- Parking 

- Wake-up Calls

- Extra pillows and blankets

- Wi-Fi 

3. 49 percent of respondents say that they have questioned charges on their hotel bill at checkout. 

4. 44.5 percent of respondents say that the cost of Wi-Fi is too high and another 59 percent resent having to pay for Wi-Fi in their hotel room when it is free in the hotel lobby. 

5. More than 61 percent of respondents feel ripped-off by hotel mini-bars; with nearly 90% of respondents admitting to buying snacks elsewhere in order to avoid the mini-bar.

6. The top items consumed from inside a hotel mini-bar, are:

- Bottled water

- Sodas

- Nut

- Liquor

- Beer

 
 

 

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What Did Everyone Do For Labor Day? Interesting Poll Results..

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

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photo courtesy of yahoo.com

Hope everyone enjoyed the long holiday weekend! Wanted to point out the results from our Labor Day poll a few weeks ago, which told us a lot about how everyone spent their holiday.

(Imaginary drumroll, please..)

43% – Took A Vacation

29% - Went to a Friend’s House

14% – Stayed at Home

14% – Headed to the Beach

Thanks to everyone who voted!

 
 

 

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