Marketing Q&A with Jennifer Rodrigues

Oct 7, 2009

By Jennifer Rodrigues

Q:  I own a small boutique hotel with 50 rooms and I keep reading about social media.  I don’t use any of these social media sites myself so I have absolutely no idea of how to get started.  What works, what doesn’t and how do I implement these tactics without investing a great deal of time or money?

A:  First, let’s look at the most-used sites and what they are best used for.

Facebook – This is where people spend a huge majority of their [online] time.  They create and maintain friendships, document their lives and connect with brands that they care about.  Hotels should be using Facebook to create a community and develop a two-way conversation with their customers.  The community should provide consumers with content and conversations that are relevant to their lives, to their mindsets.

Twitter – An effective way to communicate short messages to your followers.  Twitter is very effective for promoting sales, providing travel tips and other info that your guests might want to know when planning a trip to your destination.  Keep your ‘tweets’ short and sweet because you only have 140 characters for the entire message.   Be personal, be interesting.  This isn’t a marketing brochure; it’s a conversation starter.

Blogging – Online blogs are a great way to communicate useful information to your customers.  Try giving info/reviews of local attractions, things to do, updates on tourism to the area, etc.  The information that you provide MUST be of interest to consumers otherwise they won’t take the time to read it.

Getting started:

  1. Figure out what the goals are that you are trying to accomplish with social media: are you trying to increase bookings, raise awareness of your property, start a conversation with your customers?
  2. Depending on the specific goals you chose for your campaign, determine which social media sites will work the best to accomplish those goals.
  3. Create a plan – what content are you going to include on your sites, when is the best time to post, how are you going to find more followers, how are you going to get your current customers to become followers, etc.?
  4. Put aside between 30 minutes to an hour each day to devote to updating your social media sites and actually do it.  Consistency is key!
  5. Experiment.  If you’re not getting any response from your postings, then switch it up and try something new.  Be personal, be friendly and provide your followers with content that they’ll be excited to receive and share with their friends.
  6. And most important – don’t ignore your followers.  If they ask a question or mention a complaint, address their concern immediately.  If you ignore them, you risk getting angry and very vocal social media users spreading bad things about your property.


Q:  Do you see a market for custom-branded prepaid cards in the travel and hotel industry?

A:  Most definitely.  Branded credit cards have been used for years in many industries, including the airline industry where the model has been used successfully for many years.  For LAN Airlines, consumers with the airline’s cobranded credit cards spend 30% more than those with non-branded credit cards. Nine percent of LAN’s total revenues come from loyalty programs, primarily from cobranded credit cards.  This is HUGE and a great alternate revenue source for the hotel and travel industry as well!

I think that prepaid cards provide even more opportunities than cobranded credit cards for hotels and travel companies.  Here’s why.  Not everyone can qualify for a credit card.  By offering a branded prepaid card, which earns the consumer loyalty points at a particular brand, you open the loyalty market up further and make it more accessible for the average consumer.

As a consumer, why would you spend using your credit card or your debit card, when you get something back from your prepaid card and don’t have to worry about ruining your credit or getting your card cancelled because the banks are strapped for cash?  It’s a win-win situation for today’s consumer and one that has huge benefits for the travel companies that provide the cards as well!


Q:  What’s the most effective way to get customers signed up to my hotel’s new mobile platform?

A:  First congrats on jumping on the mobile platform bandwagon!  As you’ll see (once you get those customers signed up), it’s an unbelievably powerful medium that is growing and becoming more and more popular in the hotel industry.  In May 2009, Apple’s App Store listed more than 2,000 travel applications, making travel the fifth-largest category. When travel-related apps such as subway maps or weather forecasters are added, it rises to the No. 4 spot.

PhoCusWright, a leading travel research company, found that smartphone owners are often frequent travelers. Its most recent consumer technology survey, released in May, showed that people who take more than four leisure trips annually are more likely to have a smartphone.  So as you can see, it’s just smart business to give these tech-savvy, frequent travelers options to research and book their next hotel stay from the convenience of their smartphone.

But you’ve already done the hard stuff – figuring out what your app will offer and getting it made.  Now you just need to let your customers know about it.

First, ensure that every one of your current marketing techniques tells your customer about the mobile application and encourages them to purchase it from the Apple App Store.  One way to get people starting using the app is by offering a temporary discount for any trips booked through the mobile platform.  It will motivate the shopper to try the application and will definitely counteract the small cost to purchase it.

Put messages in your email marketing with a link to the App Store.  For example: Reading this on your iPhone?  Check out our new mobile booking app.  Download it now at and get 10% off your next hotel stay. 

Also, make sure you include the link on the social media sites that you use to promote your hotel and on your hotel’s website.  Use messages that highlight the benefits that the app offers to guests.  For example: Planning a trip to Miami?  Discover the must-see travel hot spots, restaurants, shopping, the best beaches based on our guests’ reviews on our new mobile app.  Download it at and get 20% off your first night’s stay. 

Think about mobile marketing. Mobile marketing is a highly effective marketing medium that won’t break the bank.  And it’s a great way to alert your customers to the new mobile app directly though their smartphones using an SMS (or text) message.  For example: Need a vacation? Download our mobile app to find last-min deals on hotel rooms in Miami (and save 20% off first night’s stay).


Q: What is public relations (PR) and how does it differ from advertising?  Should I be using PR in the marketing plan for my property?

A: PR is the practice of managing the communication between an organization and its publics.[1] Public relations focuses on securing articles and placements in media outlets – including print, broadcast and online.

The major difference between public relations and advertising is that companies pay for advertising placements, or as we refer to it – paid media.  As such, companies can say almost anything in their ads.  They could say that their hotel is the best hotel in the area, the best hotel in the world, that 99% of their guests were thrilled with their stay at their hotel.  That’s why consumers approach advertising with a certain amount of skepticism and wariness.  Because a company doesn’t pay for public relations placements – earned media – and because the comments are being given in a trusted publication by a trusted source, there is a great deal of credibility and legitimacy in these types of placements than advertising.

PR is a very important part of a property’s marketing plan, especially for smaller, boutique properties that don’t have the benefit of association with a trusted corporate brand – or a large brand’s budget.  Another huge advantage of public relations over advertising is the cost.  To buy an ad in the New York Times costs $4,765 at today’s (really low) advertising rates.  Although the paper has huge circulation numbers – meaning that 1,451,233 people read the paper each issue – buying a full-page ad only gets you exposure for that one day that the ad runs in the paper.

Instead, try PR.  With a very minimal cost (even when you’re working with an external agency), you can garner placements in many different publications for little to no cost.

Think about it: $4,765 for an ad in the New York Times or an article in the New York Times (free), an article in Hotels Magazine (free) and a live interview on your local TV station (free, free, free!!).  You decide, what’s a better investment for your company?

I’ve received quite a few questions about PR so in future columns, I’ll talk more about how to get started with your own PR campaign.

Check back twice a month to read the marketing Q&As and in the meantime, if you have a question, no matter how big or small, I’d love to hear from you –

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