Hotel Online  Special Report

Rack is The Rule: The Napa River Inn
Takes Internet Risks to Raise Rates
and Boost Reservations by 33%

Gutsy Move to Pull Inventory Off “Big Travel” Internet
Sites Lifts Rate and Adds Control

April 2005 - Nancy Lochmann, general manager of The Napa River Inn, has seen it all. After managing hotels in Denver during the oil crisis of the 1970s, she moved to Northern California and opened a large property on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco in time to guide her hotel through the dot com technology downturn in the late 1990s. Now that the economy is accelerating and hospitality is in full recovery she is applying lessons learned during the hard times, as well as a few web marketing tricks, to make 2005 a record year for her current property. 

Lochmann and her team held their own through the post-9/11 market, and, in late 2002, began working with Vantis, their channel reservation provider, to take advantage of its voice reservations services and Internet booking capabilities. 

“We get the majority of our reservations through Vantis’ Reservation Sales Center, and we are leveraging the upswing in web bookings to take advantage of the Internet travel shopping trend,” Lochmann said. “Over the past year we achieved a 33 percent revenue increase from Internet sources, including our Vantis website booking engine, Book-A-Rez. And we are using our web booking channels more profitably.” 

The Napa River Inn’s general manager is also comfortable taking a few risks.
 

“We made a potentially dangerous move last year by breaking away from the big travel channels like Expedia and Travelocity and taking our inventory off all major sites throughout 2004,” Lochmann explained. “But it was the right move; now our property website’s traffic is way up and we have control of our rates and room revenue.” 

Lochmann believes much of this can be attributed to the fact that today’s travelers are savvier and have discovered that when they book directly with the property, they do not 


The Napa River Inn Aerial View
have to pay in advance or suffer the stringent cancellation penalties imposed by the major sites. 

In 2005, Napa River Inn made the decision to return a small number of standard rooms to major sites for increased exposure, but the sites carry only rack rates. 

The property also developed an aggressive strategy including pay-per-click Internet advertising on Yahoo and Google, a link-building program, ads in USA Today, and is pursuing incentives on Sitematch and Overture to drive the maximum amount of business to its website. In addition, the hotel’s team works with their Vantis revenue manager to assess emerging Internet marketing opportunities that may give the Napa River Inn greater exposure. 

“We make it easy for people to add themselves to our site’s guest list by raffling a complimentary two-night stay each quarter to new visitors who sign up,“ Lochmann continued. “Then we regularly send e-mail blasts to people on the list and past guests.” 

With an emphasis on strengthening its Internet presence, the Napa River Inn quadrupled its site’s monthly traffic to more than 6,000 visitors in February 2005, with the added benefit that the website is also the hotel’s most cost-effective reservation channel.

The Napa River Inn team worked with Vantis and the hotel’s property management system (PMS) vendor to develop a PMS interface to optimize the profitable revenue from every reservation. The advantage of the new interface is that now inventory on all channels, including Internet sites, can be automatically controlled from the front office system. 

“Our assistant general manager, Sara Brooks, is responsible for inventory and rate control,” Lochmann said.  “Sara used to have to go into the CRS and update our room types manually, which was a lengthy and cumbersome process.  Now our new interface provides automated room inventory updating without intervention. This makes it simple to implement our sales strategies because we can fine-tune them any time. We usually assess demand a month in advance then set optimized rates. It is an easy matter to lower them if demand proves to be softer than expected.”

Surrounded by upscale clubs, art galleries and trendy California-cuisine eateries, The Napa River Inn is on the registry of historic places even though it is only five years old. The hotel’s building began life originally as a mill and warehouse in 1884, but emerged 116 years later as a beautiful luxury boutique hotel that attracts the majority of its guests from the San Francisco Bay area. 

“Most of the people who stay with us are upper- and middle-class wine tasters who come to Napa for the vineyards and to experience the historic locale and night life,” Lochmann said. “The Inn is right on the Napa River and surrounded by excellent restaurants that offer live jazz, latin and blues every night. The property and its location are perfect; but since the hotel is new, marketing is our focus.

“We see ourselves as a young independent hotel that learned about the Internet and jumped into its marketing technology more aggressively than most small properties,” Lochmann concluded.  “We have done it well and inexpensively. Our big job was to reach the most profitable market in a cost-effective manner while maintaining high occupancy. And in 2005, only six weeks into the New Year, our reservation volume was already 30 percent ahead of 2004.” 

About Vantis
Vantis is a marketing and revenue management consulting organization for hotels, car rental companies and airlines. Founded in 1979, the privately held Calgary, Alberta-based firm partners with its clients to optimize their profitable revenue. Vantis offers clients a range of products and services in areas such as revenue management, marketing, channel management, website solutions and voice reservations to ensure they consistently use their most profitable business mix. The company helps clients sell the right hotel room, rental car or airplane seat to the right person at the right price for optimum profitability. With more than 5,000 clients worldwide, Vantis is the industry's largest provider of reservation sales services. The organization is a central distribution point to every viable Internet booking site and to all of the major GDS, including Sabre, Galileo, Pegasus, WorldRes, Amadeus and Worldspan. Vantis has U.S. headquarters in Dallas, Texas and significant development office presence in a number of cities around the world, including Denver, London, Berlin, Sydney and Hong Kong.

About The Napa River Inn
The Napa River Inn, downtown Napa's only upscale boutique hotel, offers luxury accommodations and personalized service at a reasonable price. The historic hotel captures the spirit of yesteryear while embracing the beauty of the natural country setting of Napa Valley. The Inn’s rooms, many with balconies overlooking the Napa River, embrace comfort and quality with upscale services and amenities. Each room captures the sweet breezy Napa air from morning to evening within tastefully decorated rooms. 

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Contact:

Vantis
Rick Shaum 
Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing
Tel: 719-487-0789
e-mail: rshaum@vantiscorp.com
Website: www.vantiscorp.com

Napa River Inn
Historic Napa, California
Tel: 707-251-8500
Website: www.napariverinn.com



 
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