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Wrap Up: HSMAI’s 7th Travel Internet
Marketing Strategy Conference
MCLEAN, VA (Dec. 12, 2006) – Engaging audiences, benchmarking metrics and what it takes to create successful online experiences were recurring themes at HSMAI’s 7th Travel Internet Marketing Strategy Conference held in Sunny Isles, FL, last week.  Over 130 representatives from a cross-section of the travel industry attended the intensive full-day session.
Following is a recap highlighting the day’s events of addresses, interactive sessions and panel discussions.
In a keynote address that offered insight and ideas on how to “ride the media marketing wave,” Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer, stimulated the crowd with a spirited discussion on the ways and means to “engage” your audience.  
“Armed with every gadget imaginable, consumers have taken control,” says Ramsey. “Prime time is becoming my time and it’s all about consumers getting what they want, when they want it and with whatever device they choose to get it with.”
“We live in a ‘let go world,’” and he says you need to relinquish control for greater risk and reward.  From blogs and podcasts to social networks, online video, word of mouth and other digital strategies, you can connect with prospective travelers in ways to enhance your brand image and potentially lead to sales.
Online video is big and growing.  The youth of today are moving from the boob tube to dishing up 100 million videos every single day and 60% of U.S. Internet users view online video on a monthly basis.  “Broadband video ads allow for greater measurability, target-ability and share-ability,” states Ramsey.  He told attendees to place video footage of their services/destination on their website for a more visual experience, place short video ads on other content video sites, and to create Webisodes that are so entertaining that people will come to watch it (and share it with others).  Ramsey says, “when the relevancy of behavioral targeting is combined with the impact of video, watch out!”
Putting blogs into perspective, according to eMarketer, of the top five technologies that U.S. travel executives believe will have the least impact on the travel industry in the next five years, blogs ranks the highest at 40%.  However, while trust is an issue and you need to be prepared for the risk, Ramsey suggests you should monitor the ‘Blogosphere,’ work with existing relevant bloggers in ways that will encourage them to link to your site, place advertising on popular blogs, and create your own blogs to create a community of interest around your product.  
“People talking about your brand is the ultimate engagement,” he notes.  Supporting that, 20% to 45% of advertisers are trying word-of-mouth campaigns, and 50% of consumers today are influenced by recommendations from family and friends.  The secret to make something go viral is to make it amazing and compelling, and provide tools for easy sharing. 
He also advises creating a social network to build a community of interest around your brand or product.  For travel sites, customer reviews and ratings not only create trust, they spur repeat visits, generate word of mouth and boost search rankings.
According to Ramsey, the effective strategy is to “balance being accountable with continuous risk-taking.” 
An Interview with Jacki Kelley of Yahoo! 

Just six months into her tenure at Yahoo! Travel as category development officer, Jacki Kelley, a former top executive at USA Today, sat down for an informal Q&A with Dr. Lalia Rach, associate dean, Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at NYU.  Following are excerpts from their discussion: 

What’s top of mind?: The three big things to pay attention to are: mobile, video and social networking. 
What defines success: The four pillars to success in advertising online are content, search, personalization and community. Advertisers want to aggregate the right audience and deliver the right message. 
On behavioral targeting: It is at the absolute core to our DNA.  Users value relevancy and it allows us to better serve them at a time when they are engaged.  It is critical to what we do so long as it is done in a way that maintains privacy. 
On social media: It is an absolute priority, and to be successful you must have great content, be personalized and engaging.  
What the hotel industry needs to do better: While the hotel industry does well in the online world, and hoteliers have been ahead of the curve on Internet distribution and driving direct business, they need to do a better job to de-commoditize the industry and drive preference.  It needs to be less about price and more about experience. 
On partnerships: We have a strong partnerships philosophy, with those within travel or new to the travel landscape, such as an alliance with 176 newspapers to get local content and penetration in a community, as well as a partnership with Ebay, which also brings Paypal into the mix.
What is the objective?: The goal is to offer a holistic experience in trip planning.  With entities such as Trip Plans, Fare Chase and other partnerships, we are focused on providing trusted content that is relevant to what someone is looking for based on their actions and wants.
Who out there does it well?: Within the travel industry Sheraton’s web site gets high marks with respect to engaging the user community through photos and social media.  Out of the travel sector, agencies such as RGA and Crispin Porter, movie studios (who create many brands each year with movie releases and have only one weekend to be successful), the automotive category, and innovative campaigns such as Travelocity’s gnome initiative, and Purina.
Findings from the first quarterly report “Voice of the Hotel Customer”

In a debut presentation on the findings from the first HSMAI/iPerceptions Quarterly Report: “Voice of the Hotel Customer,” Cindy Estis-Green, managing partner of The Estis Group and author of the study, revealed attitudinal metrics and satisfaction benchmarks for the mid-scale business traveler in the online space.
A groundbreaking study that illustrates trends and insights into the attitudes of hotel web site visitors regarding their online experiences, and whose results can be used to develop viable benchmarking within the hotel industry, this HSMAI/iPerceptions Quarterly Report Offers the following as they relate to mid-scale business travelers include:

  • An impressive 44% of business travelers visiting hotel brand web sites are “bookers” and actually make or change a reservation;
  • 22.1% abandon their plan to make an online transaction versus 31% for leisure travelers; 
  • The biggest difference by those who complete their booking, and those who do not, revolves around whether they feel the web site enables them to find what they are looking for and secondarily, whether they can find a full enough range of the information they seek;
  • The most frequent website users who come to book/change a reservation scored web sites consistently higher than others and suggests that higher satisfaction produces greater usage; 
  • 56% of mid-scale business travelers have membership in rewards programs versus 52% industry-wide among business travelers; 
  • Four in ten (41%) mid-scale business travelers are first-timers to a hotel web  site versus 44% industry-wide; 
  • The more committed and engaged in using the site, the more likely a business traveler said the site was their primary trip planner and that it saved money in hotel rates.
Lessons Learned from the New HSMAI/TIA Metrics Feasibility Study

Cindy Estis-Green and Suzanne D. Cook, TIA’s Senior Vice President of Research, presented the results from the travel industry’s first in-depth study of interactive marketing initiatives.  Green then engaged a spirited panel to talk about how companies should be using metrics and analytics. The expert panel’s response to attendees’ questions follow:
David Atkins, senior vice president of advertising and business development, Freedom Communications: Identify marketing objectives at the very start and get top management to buy in early on.  Be sure you can measure against objectives and build on that. We don’t share information as competitors, but there are other businesses and marketplaces to go to easily benchmark.  Once you find someone to benchmark with make sure you understand how you define conversion.  Being able to identify where the purchase is taking place and track it will allow you to build a better web site design and experience.  You need to have an effective way to track transactions so that you can get a true ROI.  
Maureen O’Hanlon, senior partner, The Prism Partnership: Through the eCommerce component, we are looking to convert people driven to a site to some type of booking or revenue, but there are other goals such as branding, promotional efforts, CRM and to build a list of customers.  The Internet allows you to test things and then make changes along the way; they should be gradual changes based on measurement so you can learn what is and isn’t working. 
Tim Peter, director, Internet product development, Wyndham Hotel Group: Don’t change your goals midway.  If you set out to create awareness and the revenue isn’t there, don’t change.  Success is measured by converting to guests.  Look at other good retailers and find best practices.  Social networking is really about word of mouth – someone recommending something to a trusted group.  It also allows you to know what your best customers have to say and teaches you how to do a better job.  The conversion rate is a piece of the goal not the goal.  When you look at a metric it’s only telling part of the story.  Knowing how to read the data is a skill and you need to invest in the people who know how to analyze it.
Kevin Bagger, director of Internet marketing & research, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority: With social networking, you have to figure out how to harness the enormous traffic from these products and put heads in beds.  In that vein, we’re unveiling a web feature of posting content that is transparently created by us but offers fun commentary about the destination.  Advertising is so “touchy feely” that you need to go from branding to the emotional experience.  It was a challenge in the early years when our web site was a silo and not connected.  It’s important to have the continuity of branding in all the messages. 
Profits, Pitfalls and Protection of your Intangible Assets Online

Highlighting excerpts from the just released “Legal Desk Reference for Travel Executives,” Sue Heilbronner, executive vice president sales & marketing, TIG Global, LLC, offered the following tips to pay attention to when engaging in Internet marketing:

  • Police the marketplace and search your trademark to see it’s not being abused. 
  • Get permission and ensure ownership of work on your site from photographers, contract workers, content providers, etc.  Be sure the rights to that material are assigned to you in a clear, written assignment agreement before work commences.
  • Before creating and publicizing a new name for a product or program, hire counsel to “clear” the name and evaluate the potential risk on infringing an existing mark; register copyrights in important new web site content when material design changes occur.
  • Be sure you know who might be bidding on or using your trademarks in PPC advertising.  If possible, seek recourse for improper behavior.
  • Watch online travel blogs and review sites.
Up Close with Google

A panel from Google took questions in an open forum moderated by Dr. Bill Carroll, senior lecturer, School of Administration, Cornell University, and offered insight and advice such as using web site links to help organic searches, discussed trademark infringement, credibility issues related to search, the future of video (evidenced by their purchase of My Space) and that the greatest challenges for Google today is not to stay complacent but to be competitive and innovative. 
The event also included a roundtable brainstorming session which divided attendees into six teams to discuss key issues facing Internet marketers, followed by a presentation of the discussions on: Internet Marketing Best Practices/Challenges, Group Booking Online, Blogs and RSS Feeds, Search Marketing/Pay Per Click, Legal Issues and .travel.         
The day’s program was moderated by Dr. Bill Carroll, senior lecturer, School of Administration, Cornell University.
In 2007, the HSMAI Travel Internet Marketing Strategy Conferences will be held on April 4 in Las Vegas at TravelCom and on December 6 in Phoenix just following HEDNA.
Sponsors of the strategy conference were American Express, Cyveillance, eMarketer, Expedia, HSMAI University, iPerceptions, Quotient Marketing Inc., Real Magnet, Rebel Travel, The Map Network, TIG Global, TravelCLICK and VRX Studios.
For more information on future sponsorship opportunities, contact Melanie Penoyar, HSMAI’s director of development, at (703) 245-8037 or
HSMAI is an organization of sales and marketing professionals representing all segments of the hospitality industry.  With a strong focus on education, HSMAI has become the industry champion in identifying and communicating trends in the hospitality industry, and bringing together customers and members at annual events, including HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings®.  Founded in 1927, HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising more than 7,000 members worldwide, with 36 chapters in the Americas Region.


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Also See: Recap HSMAI's 6th Travel Internet Strategy Conference: Effectively Using Metrics, Legal Issues, Blogs / April 2006
Executives at HSMAI Hotel Internet Marketing Strategy Conference Urge Partnerships Between Hoteliers and Third Party Intermediaries, Search Engines; Support Best Price Guarantees on Brand Web Sites / April 2004
HSMAI Hotel Internet Marketing Strategy Conference Report; Keyword Bidding, Pop Ups, Pop Unders, Domain Name Piracy / January 2004

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