Independent Alaska Chain Aims to Book 4,300 Additional
Room Nights in 2005; Partners with Vantis to Create
Centralized Web Booking Strategy
|May 5, 2005 - Carol Fraser is a rare breed: a female hotel chain operator
in Alaska, one of the last truly rugged operating environments in the United
States. In a largely male-dominated region of the country, Fraser stands
out not only because she is a woman, but because she does things differently.
She hires mostly female general managers for her six properties, considers
moose and bears in the parking lot “business as usual,” and is boosting
her room sales 60 percent by focusing on leading edge Internet strategies
instead of cruise ships.
Fraser came to Alaska in 1983, joined Aspen Hotels in 1997 as general manager, and made partner soon after. Now, as vice president of the only Alaska-owned chain operating in the state, she oversees operations and marketing for six properties in five cities across the “North to the Future” state.
“Alaska is a great place to have hotels,” Fraser says. “People think the hospitality business up here is based totally on cruise ships and tour contracts, but we have a strong corporate segment and are ramping up our Internet marketing to broaden its appeal even more. Working with Vantis, our channel partner, our newly redesigned website and online sales strategy are responsible for a 60 percent jump in reservations in the first quarter of 2005. If we maintain the current pace, we will book 4,300 additional chain room nights this year. This is a huge increase, and the only thing we have changed is our Internet strategy.”
A Focus on Productive Websites
“We use a spectrum of web tools to attract business to the six Aspen Hotels,” Fraser explains. “Our Vantis revenue manager regularly evaluates the travel site opportunities available and is constantly pushing us into new programs, such as pay-per-click advertising on Google and other sites that yield many more reservations.
“We used to only put rooms out on the big sites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. Now we grade every site on how productive it is and vary our channel positioning,” Fraser continues. “We are represented so consistently on the global distribution systems (GDS) and various travel agent programs that guests often ask us if we are a division of Marriott or Hilton.”
Aspen Optimizes Profitable Revenue
The economics of channel costs are also important to Fraser. Since each channel carries its own set of fees, Aspen Hotels has developed a program to modify online buying behavior that drives shoppers to the chain’s corporate booking hub where reservations have the lowest cost.
“Establishing rate standardization across all channels sounds good, but because different channels have different fees this may not be the most profitable strategy,” Fraser explains. “Reservations made on our website provide the most profitable revenue at about one-third the cost of those made through travel agents or the GDSs. We worked with Vantis to design and launch a new chain Internet hub for all our hotels (www.aspenhotelsak.com) that looks great and acts like a booking magnet, pulling shoppers to our reservation page.”
In a further move to maximize bookings over its website, Aspen also worked with local companies to establish discount rate agreements that must be booked over their website. This motivates even greater use of the chain’s site and frees up hotel staff to serve guests.
Online Newsletter Attracts Reservations
Together, Aspen Hotels and Vantis optimized the new site for specific key words to increase traffic, and the chain is growing its e-mail newsletter with online specials available only through the website.
“We have had more than 350 new subscribers to our website’s newsletter in the past four weeks,” Fraser comments. “The increase in subscribers coincides with the 20-reservations-a-day jump in our online bookings. The results speak for themselves, and I give our channel partner lots of credit for our success. Working with Vantis is like having our own revenue management employee on staff who takes responsibility for our Internet programs. She sets up monthly sales analysis calls with my managers to review channel performance, and flies to Anchorage every year to meet with our team.”
To ensure all possible non-Internet reservations are being captured, Aspen Hotels will begin using Vantis’ call center to respond to after-hours and overflow reservation calls. With the new service, any call that goes past four rings will roll over to the call center for immediate response.
By applying its aggressive online strategy, travel agent programs, pay-per-click advertising and a hands-on approach that is quick to close down channels that do not perform, Aspen Hotels, with its six properties and 584 rooms, has carved out a successful niche in a growing market. It provides attractive rooms with a balance of scenic vistas and first-class corporate comfort to guests who increasingly use the Internet to find and book themselves into an Alaskan adventure.
Fraser’s parting travel tip, “In the summer season we are often sold out with Alaska residents and tourists who set scenic driving travel itineraries from Juneau up to Fairbanks and beyond that take them to each of our properties. So make your reservation on our website as early as possible. You will love it here.”
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