Interview with Joel Rosen at Buuteq

Technology has changed the way we interact with our customers. It used to be that reviews were written by professionals and those reviews came out infrequently. Today, they come out in seconds and are written by the people who actually have the experiences. You have to be proactive in order to avoid negative situations. Technology gives people the opportunity to vent and they will if they have a bad experience. You can be reviewed by the time someone gets up to their room; they could already put something on TripAdvisor about their experience.

One of the things that a lot of people in the hospitality industry and service industries in particular miss is that you need to think about the interactions you have with a guest because everything can change in a matter of minutes if someone puts a negative review online.

– Joel Rosen, Horwath HTL, hotel consultant

An interview done by Joel Rosen with Buuteq, which is a hotel website/marketing design company. The interview is partly about why he chose Buuteq for his latest client, Pacific Gateway Hotel at Vancouver Airport, but I think there are plenty of informative tidbits found within that will be helpful for every hotelier.

You can read the full review at Buuteq

New Year, New Hotel: MailChimp Campaign from roomMaster data

[First post of a series: New Year, New Hotel] Towards the end of the year, I sent out a thank you letter to all the guests who have stayed at the hotel and wishing them happy holidays. It sounds like a daunting challenge:

  1. How do I collect all those email addresses from the property management system?
  2. Where do I import the addresses to?
  3. Do I send a plain email or something fancier?

Thankfully, this is not a difficult task and takes maybe an hour of your time to complete from start to finish. Below are instructions with roomMaster 2000. The process will likely be similar with other PMS software. Once you have the data file with email addresses, the steps will be the same.

Exporting Email Addresses from roomMaster

The first step is to collect the email addresses. roomMaster makes this very simple using a query service.

BACK OFFICE Menu –> Guest Profile Email Export

You have five options now. 1. File name (I keep it the default) 2. Export Type (CSV) 3. Only Certain Records (to collect email addresses from people who stayed in 2013, or other time period) 4. EasyMail (collects first and last names, company name, etc) 5. Open File (a quick view to make sure there is data in there)

Hit Extract and we go into the query window. If we had left “Only Certain Records” unchecked, we would receive all the email addresses from the very first night audit.

In the next window, we want to Insert a new query.

Scroll down until you see the Last Checkin Date and Last Checkout Date. We are going to tell it to pull all the email addresses from 01/01/2013 to 12/31/2013. We could leave it open so it collects only the stays from 01/01/2013 forward, but you are likely to have a few guests who stayed this past week mixed in. Might seem weird to receive an email stating, “Thank you for staying in 2013,” when you checked in during 2014.

Next, we use the query wizard to get the email addresses we would like to pull out. There are a lot of options here, but I am keeping it simple. Some other queries that could be useful: anyone with a company name or used a direct bill account, anyone who had used a certain rate code, everyone who lives within your state/province, and so forth. The information pulled out is only useful if the Front Desk agents have been entering it often. Something to keep in mind for this year’s and future years of operation.

Once you have your query entered, you hit Finish, save the query for future reference (Stays in 2013), and then hit Extract. Depending on how large of a database you have, this process could take only a few seconds. You should receive a pop-up window with a string of email addresses, commas and other items entered between “ ” marks. If you did, great, if not, you will have to double check the query to see what went wrong.

In the pop-up window, go under FILE and Save As to save the file to your desktop (or other location). If you choose not to have the file open up right away, the file is downloaded to the roomMaster folder (in this case, it’s E:/DATA/roomMaster). From here, you will want to email/transfer the data file to a computer for you to work on so you don’t tie up a workstation at the front desk.

MailChimp

MailChimp is a mass email service that operates online. It’s quite powerful to use and many companies with huge client bases use it on a regular basis (i.e. all those promotional emails about sales at Amazon The service is also free, up to 2,000 subscribers or 12,000 emails send per month. If you are a large hotel, you will have to choose from either a paid option or segment your guests and only send emails to a select bunch. One option, send the emails monthly, but delete the mailing list before you send out the next batch. Keeps you in the free program, while reaching out to your guests.

The email templates can also be incredibly fancy or simple. For this example, I am going to stick to simple. The next steps are going to assume you have signed up for the service and are on the main page.

Create the List

Left-hand side of the screen is the menu bar. Below Campaign is Lists. Select it, and then in the top-right of the screen, select Create List. Choose a New List for now.

Go through and fill in the fields: List Name (i.e. hotel name), From Name, From Email (where any responses will go), and so forth. At the bottom, I would suggest a Daily Summary to show how many opened the email, unsubscribed, or subscribed.

Once you have created the list, now it’s time to import the email addresses.

In the list view, at the far right of your list name is a dropdown menu (Stats then the arrow). Click the arrow, and then go to Import.

Click Upload from CSV Find your file and start the process to import the records.

In the next screen, we get to tell MailChimp what the data is. Email address is going to be the first column, first name likely the next, and last name. The last columns will be the stay information. Click skip on the columns that aren’t going to be mentioned again (blank ones, stay information mainly.) For the others, click Edit and select the appropriate field.

Click Import and now you have a list of subscribers to communicate with.

Campaigns

Select Campaigns in the menu on the left, and then Create Campaign at the top right.

In the next screen, I select A/B split campaign. This allows you to setup two different subject lines to see which is more effective. MailChimp will send out emails with each subject line to 15–20% of the list. Whichever subject line is more effective will be the subject line for the remaining members of the list. Gives you are higher chance of success with the campaign.

Next screen, you will select the list you are going to use, name the campaign, create your subject lines,

With the Templates, you can either design your own or use one they have already designed for you. I selected the Basic design in the Predesigned section to keep it simple.

The editor is quite nifty. Whenever you hover over a section, you get a little pop-up to change it. Change will bring up an editor (or different window if you are changing an image). The editor is pretty self-explanatory, but there is one thing I would like to point out.

With merge tags, you can bring in some information about your subscribers and make it more personal. For example, I could enter: Hello, *|FNAME|**|LNAME|*

and get

Hello, James McCullough

There are other options in there, like links to share on Facebook, the date, and even ask a quick poll.

The image editor is also quite powerful. You can crop images, resize them, add effects, and so forth. Too much for me to cover in one post. Do keep images to a minimum though.

Once you have the design done, and text entered, the next part is to send it. If you click through the Plain-Text section (for people who aren’t viewing it as HTML with the graphics and formatting), you get the last screen to confirm all the details again.

At the very bottom, there is a Send button and also a Schedule button.

Select Schedule, and you get to enter the time and date for when that email is going to be sent. Pay special attention to the time zone for sending the email. The email won’t be as effective if it’s sent in the middle of the night for your time zone.

Once the email has been sent, you can log into MailChimp and see the activity, and even a full report. The report will tell you whether people are clicking on the links found in your email (to your hotel booking page, for example), what the links were, and even the time people opened the emails. Don’t be alarmed when you only see a small percentage of people opening up the emails, either. Open percentages are generally quite small, not even 50%.

In the campaign I sent the week before Christmas, it was sent to 1,100 people. 400 of them opened the email (39%). 16 of them clicked on a link (1.5%). The best time the email was read was 1 PM. The crazy thing is that nearly 100 people were still opening the email two weeks after I sent it. An indicator of how infrequent people look at their email during the holiday season.


I hope this mini-tutorial on how to export the email addresses and create a mailing list has been of interest to you. I would love to help you out in creating your mail campaigns (MailChimp has multi-user support), brainstorming ideas on how to use your list and segment it to send emails to specific groups, or assisting in exporting the data from your PMS.

The price in setting up your list and helping design your first campaign is $25.

Email or Pay $25 to get started right away.

Videos for Hotels

I recommend all owners at least explore the possibility of having a vacation rental video in their marketing portfolio. Please, whatever you do, don’t invest in one of those slideshows that has photos whizzing in from outer space or messages disintegrating into mist. A slideshow displaying different photos of your property does not constitute a video: even if it has music or voiceovers. A video is an actual video. One that communicates space and personality and ambiance. Ask to see your videographers portfolio before signing up. And don’t think of videos as your first two-piece suit. Rather, a compliment to that. Matt Landau, Videos are for Winners

Matt is a smart guy. I have mentioned him previously in a post about The Value of Professional Photographs for Hotel Websites in which he tested how the quality of photographs effected overall bookings. In his latest post, he talks about the value of videos for promoting the vacation rental, but it also works for properties of all sizes.

Videos are becoming more common on hotel websites, but it is extremely important that they are done as a professioanl. It will help you control the viewing experience that potential guests have when watching the video. What I mean by this is that if a promotional video is a minute long, but starts off a bit choppy or uninteresting, people are more likely to click forward on the video, perhaps missing parts you wanted them to see.

The other reason why hotels should consider including a video on their website and cross-posting on YouTube, is because people are seeking out these videos more and more. For example, yvr2002rtw is a user on YouTube who posts only videos of hotel rooms and luxury airline services. He has over 60 videos posted, and over 600,000 views. That’s an absolutely staggering amount for videos that aren’t popular music videos or comedic events gone viral.

The problem with his videos, which becomes quickly evident after watching several in a row, is that they are a bit disjointed. There is no real story with them, more “show and tell.” This style of video is difficult to watch all the way through and leads to people skipping forward or not bothering to watch it at all.

Something else that Matt touches on his post is the value of capturing both the neighbourhood and the owners’ personality. The rooms at your property are only part of the story there. As I said in my post on Aligning with Your Guest’s Needs:

If people can recognize the indentity of the property immediately, they will buy into the services that are offered, and the ones that are not.

What better way to help people identify what your property is about than by watching a video? A quick two minute video will give a person much more information than two or three pages of text. Plus, it will be more enjoyable to watch than to read something on their computer screens.

Matt paid for two videos, one of the property, and one of the neighbourhood around his property. They are both very well done, and I encourage you to click through to watch them. The one of the neighbourhood is posted below to show you the effect a promotional video can have.1

If I were to do a video of a property, here are the elements I would be sure to include:

  • Share the experience of the property (the lobby, the restaurant, staff, pool area, lounge)
  • Share some of the experiences from local activities (a neighbourhood pub, a winery, a market, coffee shop or other destination activities like a golf course, ski hill, beaches)
  • Share the experiences of your more popular rooms (the sitting area, the bathtub/shower, and finally the sleeping area)

I would probably design multiple videos depending on the amenities your property offers. Perhaps a video to showcase your amenities that would draw in the corporate people (meeting rooms, a focus on the work space in the hotel rooms, business services) or a meeting planner (catering, meeting rooms, accessibility to/from hotel rooms).

To find a media company to work with, do a quick Google search, and be sure to look at several of their portfolio videos before making a final decision. It would also be useful to have a sit down meeting with them to discuss your needs and what they can provide to you. If you need assistance in tracking down a company, get in touch and I will gladly assist you.


  1. Of course, the video may also compel you to want to stay at the property. Los Cuatro Tulipanes is located in Panama City.  ↩

Nothing They Could Do

I told the front desk person that she was overcharging me, and she disagreed and said there was nothing she could do.

That is a snippet of an email received by a client’s Front Desk team this morning. It contains the four words a guest/customer cringes at hearing.

Nothing they could do

When a guest approaches or calls the Front Desk with a problem, there is only one thing they are after: a solution.

They are not there to listen to the agent complain about how there is nothing they can do, how they are restricted by management, or how they will get in trouble if they push forward with that decision. They want to voice their concerns and have them resolved. That’s it.

When I was a Front Office Manager, I encouraged my staff to charge of the situation and resolve issues to the best of their abilities without concern. If someone is reporting that they were quoted a lower rate, it is better to offer them the lower rate than to dispute it with the guest. Take note of the issue so the manager could look at it the next day. It is much better to investigate an issue at the Front Desk and come up with a solution to prevent future issues the next day, than to investigate the issue but then report back to the guest the next day to resolve their issue.

My rule of thumb is that if a decision effects a small percentage of the rooms for one night’s worth of revenues, make the change. That decision isn’t going to effect the bottom-line dramatically, and may in effect help by preventing the guest from spreading a negative review about the property.

This rule can be applied from the top down, as well. One of my former General Managers wanted to be informed of the decisions we were making, but if a problem was going to cost less than $5,000 to repair, he gave us the authority to resolve the issue (it was a multi-million dollar property, so the cut-off amount will likely scale up/down depending on the size of your property).

Putting this policy in place will relieve a lot of stress in the work place, and keep the guest calm. It will put out the fires before they grow into an unstoppable force. I wrote about this in my article for Rethink Hotels, How to Minimize Damage and Fight Fires with Reputation Management

In the case of the email above, not only did the guest send multiple emails to the hotel about the issue, but she then went on to leave a sour review on TripAdvisor right away before the management could respond. The damage has been done, and we are having a meeting with the Front Desk to make sure they never utter these words again, “nothing they could do.”

Hotel Websites: Domains and Hosting

I have been doing a lot of reading and researching into web design for hotels lately, preparing for a new site design for a client. There is certainly a lot of information out there, with many companies specializing in hotel web design. These companies include customized content management systems (CMS) to allow the designer/hotel owner to easily modify the site easily to keep the information up-to-date. The only problem is they generally cost well over $4,000. That price is reasonable if you have a large operation with steady occupancy, but what are the options for a smaller property who are looking to setup from scratch a website?

I thought I would write a short series of posts about the process, including some things that people should consider along the way. There are four different steps in order to produce a website:

  1. Domain name and hosting
  2. Website design (static or CMS-based)
  3. Content
  4. Promotion of site

The last three steps are the most involved, so I will start with the first step.

Domain Name

The domain name is the item most people are going to know without knowing the proper term for it. It is what you see in the address bar of your browser: Google.com, Apple.com, USA.gov, etc. If you have a website currently and only need to redesign it, you don’t need to be concerned about the domain name. If you are starting a new property, purchasing/registering a domain name is going to be something you want to do as soon as you decide on a name for your property.

If your property is going to operate under a flag (Best Western, Quality Inn, Ramada, etc), the brand management team will help you get a site up through the brand’s website. It is still important to setup your own website in addition to this branded page for a couple reasons. For one, you will be able to fully control the content on the site and modify it without having to wait on someone. Another reason, it will be much easier to tell people CoastCapriHotel.com instead of http://www.coasthotels.com/hotels/canada/bc/kelowna/coast_capri/overview.

A domain name is priced depending on the TLD, top level domain. That is the .com, .org, .biz part of the domain name. The cheapest ones (.com, .biz, .net, .us) will cost around $15.00 per year. Specialized ones (.ca, .nu, .bz, usually the country codes) are going to cost more, from $20.00 per year to $50.00 per year. You can register multiple domain names to protect your brand, and then have the extra ones redirect to your main website. I would suggest doing this if your hotel name is very general.

For example, Hotel Colorado can be reached at hotelcolorado.com or thehotelcolorado.com. But if you type in hotelcolorado.net, you get a property in Italy. Even worse, when you type in hotelcolorado.it (.it being the top level domain for Italy), you get a different property in Italy. Very confusing. Some of these issues are unavoidable if your property has been around a long time, or you are located in an area that shares a name with different areas in other parts of the world (Rome, NY vs Rome, Italy).

For the actual name, I would encourage you to register the main property name domain, and one that include your type of property, even if it isn’t part of your official name. The reason for this is to help search engines drive traffic to your site. People will search for “hotel colorado,” and sites with either of those terms in the domain are generally going to show up higher in the search rankings.

To register a domain, there are many services out there to use. The one service that I would not suggest is Go Daddy, as they tend to send non-stop emails about product enhancements. If you plan on registering a country-specific domain, you may have to investigate locally to find a solution as the registry companies I will suggest may not be able to handle them.

The two companies I suggest over the rest are HostGator and Hover. Both are reasonably priced, no hassling emails, and straight-forward to register a domain. Support is also available whenever you need it, in case you need to change where your domain is going to be directed to (more on that in a bit) or need to add another top level domain. Both services handle a large number of domains, so you can easily grab a .com, .biz, .net or .ca, .uk, .co, etc. HostGator is also a hosting site, so you can have your domain and website there. Hover is only a registry, so you will have to find a different hosting site.

Web-site Hosting

Having a domain name is a crucial step, but you won’t be able to see a website if you enter it into your web browser. You are most likely to receive a page from the registry company saying the website has not been constructed yet. In order to build a site, you are going to need to host it somewhere.

Like registry companies, there are countless hosting services available. Their prices and products are all going to vary, as are the support and the realiability of the services. For every hosting site that exists, there are probably 5 denouncing their reliability, so do be careful in which company you choose.

There are three different options to choose from: 1. Local company (an internet service provider, web design firm, your own computer) 2. International company (a large company with multiple servers in remote locations) 3. Free hosting (Wordpress.com being the main one)

With the free hosting, it may suit your needs, but they are generally restrictive. Some of the free services place ads on your website (a banner at the top and/or bottom) that may annoy your visitors. A professional designer will most likely be unable to work in that environment, as well, because it will be restrictive in what actions may be done.

The local companies and the international companies will generally offer the same services. There are some differences between the two. The local companies are likely to be a little pricier than the big companies, and the customer support may be a bit delayed depending on the size of the company. If you send a request in for help on a Friday, you may have to wait until Monday for a response. At the larger companies, this is not the case. They have dedicated support teams, plus huge knowledge bases on their sites or available elsewhere on the web to help you solve your issues.

Another potential drawback is where the local servers are located. When I worked in Whitehorse, Yukon, there was only one internet and phone connection serving the territory. If something happened to that line between Whitehorse and Edmonton (2,000 kilometers), all internet services would go down in Whitehorse - cable and cellular connections. This meant that any website that hosted on a local server would be unavailable to someone outside the territory. The downtimes also ranged from 3 hours to 2 days, which could mean lost business since the competitors’ websites were hosted outside of the city and could still be reached.

If the local company is helping you with some other services (designing the website, brochures, marketing campaigns), then I would suggest using them. But do be careful, and do some research if you are in a remote area about where the websites are being stored.

For the international companies, there are many to choose from. Here are the ones that I have read the most positive reviews about:

My preferred hosting company (and the one I use currently) is HostGator. Apart from the low prices offered on the site ($3.95 a month), I have received nothing but great support from them. They have a large knowledge base available for me to browse through, forums for support from users, or I can contact the support and get an answer quickly. Unlike Go Daddy (which I used previously), I never receive an email from HostGator apart from a renewal notice one month prior to the end date of the term.

The main draw for me is how much control I have with the site. I have full access to the file server, have one-click install for the popular CMS options (including Wordpress), can setup as many email accounts as I like, and includes some free Google Adword coupons. There is a free site builder available, as well, but if you choose to have a web designer assist you, giving them access to the site is simple without giving them the master account information.

There are plenty more positives about HostGator that I won’t list here, as this is getting fairly long as is. You can get in touch with me with me if you have any questions about HostGator.

In addition, if you go to their site and enter in this coupon: FSCONSULT2012

You will receive 25% off their services, plus I will assist you setting up a basic site for free (your logo, main page text, linking to your social media accounts).

After purchasing, contact me to make the arrangements.

The next post will be about choosing a style for the site and why I suggest people choose Wordpress over a static site.