Sunday, January 28, 2007

Horeca 2007 to boost Lebanon's hospitality sector

The 14th edition of Horeca, one of the leading annual hospitality forums in the Middle East, scheduled to take place at BIEL from 27 to 30 March 2007, is expected to attract more than 12,000 visitors.

With 65 days to go, foreign participation has been confirmed in addition to the participation of major players from the Lebanese hospitality industry.

'This is a good indication that Horeca's mission this year is to help stimulate the sector by offering more foreign exposure and more networking opportunities,' comments Joumana Salamé, managing director of Hospitality Services, the event organizers.

Cyprus has confirmed its official participation in the event. A number of other countries are to join Horeca 2007, which will also be a meeting point for numerous first timers.

Cyprus' presence is to be the largest ever. The Cypriot Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism recognizes the increasing significance of the proximity of Lebanon to Cyprus. It has secured an area of 300 m2 to further encourage the booming of trade relations with Lebanon.

Horeca 2007 will feature:
The Hospitality Annual Award Ceremony
The Hospitality Salon Culinaire
The Hospitality Annual Forum
The Lebanese Bartenders' Competition
The Atelier Gourmand workshops and live cooking demonstrations on the latest culinary global trends, The Meeting Point
The Deco'tel
The Gala Diner Table Setting and Decoration
New this year Bed Making Competition

The Syndicate of Lebanese Food Industries Pavilion will be presenting the best food products that Lebanon has to offer.

Search Engine Marketing in Hospitality

Search engine marketing is an essential component of the hotel direct online distribution strategy. According to Forrester research about 80% of overall website visits begin in a search engine or a directory service.
Many other surveys also show that up to 85% of Internet users rely on search engines to locate relevant information on the Web (e.g. Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc). Search marketing is an extremely dynamic field. Search algorithms change, new search techniques and formats introduced, new search services launched, new challenges emerge on a daily basis that keep search marketers busy. The implications of all this in hospitality are enormous and some highlighted in this article.

In 2005, online travel sales will account for an estimated 30 percent of total travel sales- up from 25 percent last year and 21 percent in 2003, according to a recent report by Merrill Lynch. By 2007 online travel sales will represent 39 percent of all travel revenue, with growth from direct suppliers outpacing that of online travel intermediaries.

In hospitality, this year over 25% of all revenues will be generated from the Internet (20% in 2004, 15% in 2003) (HeBS, PhoCusWright). Another 25% of hotel bookings will be influenced by the Internet but transacted offline through call center, walk-ins, group bookings, and even via email inquires. Indeed the explosive growth in online hotel reservations was best illustrated when for the first time in mid 2004 Internet bookings surpassed GDS bookings.

The same Merrill Lynch analysis concluded that search engines are driving much of the increase in online bookings. This report estimates that travel search technology accounted for $600 million in direct bookings last year. What's more, it predicts that search-related bookings will double each year through 2007.

Search Engines & Search Behavior

Search engines and search marketing has received much global attention. Search engines are as pervasive as the Internet. Google is now a public company with a market cap of $80 billion; MSN launched a new search engine; AOL announces the creation of its own search engine; and traditional marketing budgets are being rewritten for search marketing and the web.

Top Search Engines Ranked by Search Share, July 2005:
Google 46.2%
Yahoo! Search 22.5%
MSN Search 12.6%
AOL Search 5.4%
My Way Search 2.2%
Ask Jeeves 1.6%
(2005 Nielson/NetRatings)

In recent years research firms have begun studying the influence of search on consumer behavior, and its impact on the travel industry. They have identified online users as only somewhat satisfied with search results and are willing to switch from one search engine to another showing very little loyalty. Here are some more of their findings:

Search Behavior:
• 1 in 2 Internet users will use one or more search engines in a search
• 1 in 3 use a search engine tool bar installed on the web browser
• 17% use search engines for specific reason: Yahoo to search music; Google to search for a song
• Relevance is still the driver; sponsored results have to be relevant
• 3 out of 4 will start at the search engine when going to a website
• 22% are looking for a website they already have in mind
(Keynote Research)

Search engine loyalty is low:
• Searches on one search engine occurs on other search engines
• 58% of searches conducted on Google are then applied to Yahoo or MSN
• Loyalty cannot be taken for granted
• Loyalty is low b/c switching cost is low
(Nielson NetRating)

Search in Travel is Destination Focused
Unlike other e-commerce categories, Internet users search for travel and hospitality services and offerings within the context of the destination. Therefore the search engine strategy for travel and hotel websites is subject to a different methodology than what the generalist SEO (Search Engine Optimization) companies offer. Marketing a bank, eyeglass store, or dental office does not factor the characteristics or intensity of the destination. Nor do generalists differentiate travel search behaviors from general online consumers.
A destination-focused search engine strategy requires in-depth knowledge of the travel and hospitality industry, extensive destination research, destination target keyword analysis, and destination search behavior. Only a destination-focused search engine strategy can help the travel and hotel website leverage the popularity of the destination to its benefit.
Search in Travel (includes hospitality):
• 73% use search to find travel; 27% went directly to travel site
• Travel is top 4 category in use of search requests and some studies report in the top four types of searches
• Travel searches originating from a search engine tends to lead to travel being purchased two weeks out

With such vast numbers of searches originating from search engines, clearly search engines are an essential component to the hotel's direct online distribution strategy. Ranking high on the engines and consistently staying there along with matching the right budget to compete effectively are all major competitive issues with advertisers online.

Why Search Engine Ranking is Important - 'The Golden Triangle'

The order in which the hotel appears on a search engine is of absolute importance. As far back as 2002, the Bear Stearns industry report Web Storm Rising stated, 'Our research uncovered that being listed in the top five assures the highest level of bookings, and that after the fifth slot, bookings drop dramatically. Approximately 50% of people on the first page will go to the second page and so on.'

Over the last year or so, a new term, 'Golden Triangle' has entered the search marketing vernacular. Novel research using beams of light that bounce off the eyeballs of online test users and onto a conditioned computer screen, captured certain patterns of online viewing behavior when on search engines. The highest concentration of visualizations appeared on the top three to four listings in the natural listings and top one to two in the sponsored listings. Basically a triangle began to form as more people tended to look in this top corner of the page now referred to in search marketing as the 'Golden Triangle.'

Here are some other findings:
• Drop off begins after the 3rd natural listing
• First position in sponsored links drew 28% of visualizations
• Beyond the rank of 8 in the natural listings, there was a 50% drop off
• Bear Stearns 50-50 rule no longer stands; more like 80-20
• People who search below the fold are 'more deliberate' seekers (may suggest have something already in mind to find)

So the conclusion drawn from above is that competing on the search engines by appearing as early and as often as possible is of increasing importance. How a website achieves top position is not a simply adjustment of the web page and the money starts to flow in but a concerted effort that requires time, expertise, and resources in website optimization and search marketing.

In hospitality, search marketing is part of your online distribution strategy. We have all become travel agents with our desktop, laptop, PDA, or other electronic devises and the strategy is to reach your specific customer segments when they are searching for you.

Lodging companies that do not have the marketing budget of the major intermediaries must rely even more on search engine referrals. Therefore good positioning of your hotel website on the major search engines is of critical importance and can directly affect your bottom line.

Search Marketing vs. eMarketing Strategy

Search marketing is only one of the many aspects of a robust eMarketing strategy. An effective eMarketing strategy in hospitality utilizes all the market resources and channels available on the Internet. This includes implementing robust search engine marketing, email capture and email marketing, link creation and link popularity strategy, online sponsorships, display advertising, and much more.

eMarketing and its various formats can be used successfully as a direct response vehicle (short-term, results-oriented) or as a branding tool (long-term and meets strategic goals). Due to budget limitations, seasonal demand and the perishable character of hotel inventories, HeBS usually recommends that hoteliers focus their resources on eMarketing formats that are best used as a direct response tool:
• Search Engine Marketing
• Email Marketing
• Link Popularity
• Online Sponsorships

Case Study: A Boutique Hotel in California
Background: In highly competitive northern California market this boutique hotel needed to outsmart its competition and boost ADRs, revenues and occupancy rates. Internet distribution and marketing strategy developed from scratch.
Actions: HeBS launched an aggressive Direct Online Distribution and Marketing Strategy for the hotel, including an award-winning designed website, email marketing, search marketing and link popularity strategies.
Results: Within 12 months the hotel opt-in e-mail list grew from practically zero to over 10,000 recipients. The website ranks in top positions on all major search engines for most popular keyword terms. The hotel website, supported by powerful email, search marketing, link creation and online sponsorship campaigns has indeed become the 'first point of contact' with customers and over 50% of hotel bookings come via the hotel website.

Aspects of Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing begins by making the site represent best practices in website optimization. This includes turning the hotel website into a search engine-friendly website, enhancing the relevancy and richness of the content, developing customer segmentation, incorporating a destination web strategy, performing relevant keyword search analysis, boosting the keyword density of the visible copy, developing page titles, description and meta tags, performing search engine registrations, launching search marketing campaigns in all search formats, and making sure site is constructed in such as that is friendly to the search engines.

Search engine marketing has five unique aspects:
• Natural (Organic) Listings
• Paid Inclusion marketing
• Keyword Search Marketing (Pay-per-click Marketing - PPC)
• Local Search marketing
• Vertical Search marketing

Each has its own business application, pricing model and cost, and method of practice to fully exploit the opportunities in direct marketing and distribution.

Natural Listings

Natural search is the most popular type. Contrary to popular belief natural (organic) listings are not free. Good search engine rankings of your website require extensive, ongoing website optimization efforts that you have to be budgeted. But this is definitely the most inexpensive form of search marketing in the long run as optimizing the site is a long term investment in the site.

The search engines serve up natural listings using ever changing algorithmic formulas, whose composition is a closely guarded secret. These algorithms are based on different number of variables for each search engine, over 100 in the case of Google. Some of the variables are: website navigation and architecture, relevancy of contents, keyword density, link popularity, meta tags, description tags, page titles, Traffic rank, Page Rank, fresh content, activity and traffic on the website, and many more.

Website Optimization vs. Search Engine Optimization
Direct Online Distribution begins and ends with the hotel website. A well functioning, fully optimized website is a real asset that serves as the chief instrument to capture new markets and facilitate transactions, and communicate with a) your customers and b) with the search engines.

Many hotel websites are performing poorly as far as online distribution and search engine strategy are concerned. Why? Many hotel websites have been developed by web designers who know nothing about the hospitality industry, based on input and concepts by hoteliers who are not experts on Internet strategy, online distribution, and eMarketing. And many of them were designed as online brochures without taking into account principles in fundamental search engine marketing and online distribution.

Using a 'quick fix' approach to undo what's fundamentally wrong
Such hotel websites inevitably produce poor results and few bookings. Hoteliers then turn to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vendors for a quick fix of the hotel website to boost search engine rankings and increase online revenues. In reality, 'slapping' meta tags to a stale, user and search engine unfriendly website and submitting it to the search engines can achieve few sustainable results.

Good search engine rankings require systematic, ongoing website optimization. Only a fully optimized website developed according to the best practices in online distribution and marketing can produce robust revenues, top search engine rankings, and position your hotel company ahead of the competition. Website optimization takes a comprehensive look at the website and prepares it for optimal performance (maximum user experience, bookability and conversion rates) and yes, the search engines.
Website Optimization to the rescue
Website Optimization often starts by undoing damaged work of web designers and SEO firms. One must recognize that Website Optimization rather than Search Engine Optimization takes a total review of the website from the way it was built to expansion of navigation, to revamping and building keyword rich body copy.

Website Optimization includes among other things: optimizing the architecture of the site, introducing tiered navigation on the site, optimizing the body copy and drastically increasing the 'Keyword Density' of the site, introducing rich content addressing all of the key customer segments, turning your hotel into the 'hero' of the destination, creating landing pages for various email marketing and PPC marketing campaigns, enriching the website with relevant and fresh content and act as additional entry points to the site, boosting the Traffic Rank of the site, launching a comprehensive Link Popularity strategy for the website, and yes, optimizing the page titles, description and meta tags to support the body copy.

Most SEO firms address only a few of those items just mentioned. Even with some travel experience most underestimate the value of those items.

What are the Search Engines looking at?
Here are the most important criteria used by the search engines to rank a hotel website:

• The overall search-engine friendliness of the site:
• The search engine bots do not like sites built entirely in FLASH, sites built in frames, Intro/Splash pages with no navigation and copy, lack of site maps, the copy in GIF or JPEG and not in HTML text format, poor body copy, and lack of relevant contents, etc)
• Rich and relevant content on the site
• Body copy with high Keyword Density
• Invisible copy (page titles, description tags, meta tags) that supports the visible (body copy)
• Link Popularity of the site (number of incoming links from highly authoritative websites like hotel directories, portals, etc)
• PageRank (Google)
• Traffic Rank

As a result of their assessment the search engines determine the relevancy of the website to each keyword used to decide the ranking of the site.

Overview of Some of the Important Criteria
Two crucial criteria used by the search engines (Body Copy and Link Popularity) are typically not addressed by a SEO company.

Body Copy:
The copy on the hotel website serves two audiences: the Internet users and the search engines. The body copy plays an essential role in promoting the hotel and its product/services to the web customers. The 2004 RUSH Report by HeBS/iPerceptions found that leisure travelers-website users cited the site content/descriptions as one of the top 3 features they disliked most about hotel brand websites.

Equally important is that today's search engines value the descriptive body copy found on the web page. The body copy must contain relevant target keywords and phrases (destination and product related) that permeate throughout the website. Search engines rate body copy as the only truthful source to pull descriptive data on the website for indexing. Search engine executives constantly reiterate that the body copy is the most important factor for getting high rankings.

Search engines value the descriptive body copy (visible copy) found on the website more than the invisible copy (tags). The body copy must contain relevant target keywords and phrases (destination and product related) that permeate throughout the website. The so called 'Keyword Density' i.e. number of keywords per 100 words of copy should be enhanced significantly. Search engines rate body copy as the only truthful source to pull descriptive data on the website for indexing. Search engine executives constantly reiterate, the body copy is the most important factor for getting high rankings.

Case Study: Body Copy and Link Popularity of a Hotel Brand Website
Using HeBS' proprietary CyberScore Rating System, we evaluated the website of a prestigious hotel brand (body copy and descriptions) and the site Link Popularity and compared it to the industry average derived from similar evaluations of over 20 brand websites.
• The body copy on the property pages consistently failed to disclose the location of the hotel and to 'associate' the property with its respective destination
• Extremely low Keyword Density
• No customer segmentation strategy resulting in the absence of rich content related to the key customer segments (e.g. meeting planners, wedding planners, business travelers, etc)
• No destination web strategy to make the hotel the 'hero' of its destination.
• Low link popularity and even lower number of links recognized by Google, which inevitably will hurt the search engine ranking.
• Audit Results: The hotel brand utilizes only 27% of the 'best practices' opportunities, way behind the industry average of 48%.

Link Popularity:

Link popularity is another important criteria used by the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc) when ranking a website. The higher the link popularity, the more authoritative and relevant the incoming links, the better the chances for a top position in the search engine results.
Link popularity refers to the number and quality of incoming links that are pointing to the website. Outside websites that consider your own website important will create a link to your site. In the search engines' view, links to your website are considered important. Each link is considered a 'vote of confidence' by a third party website for your site.
Today search engines want links from authoritative sites, or links from websites that share the same focus as your website, i.e. travel-related websites, destination portals, travel guides, CVBs, travel and hotel directories, etc.

Positioning the hotels on such authoritative sites achieves two goals:
• Boosts its Link Popularity which is vital for the search engine rankings
• Leverages the marketing dollars and accumulated traffic of these sites, which ultimately will increase direct sales as more traffic is led toward the brand website.

The goal is for the hotel to position itself at all "points of contact" with potential Internet travel bookers. Utilized expertly, these important online channels can produce immediate results, while keeping the hotel company and properties in full control of the brand, pricing strategy and revenue management techniques. An essential by-product of such a strategy is the incoming link generation by outside websites.

Paid Inclusion Search Listing Services:

Paid Inclusion is an alternative method to appearing on the search engines in the natural listings. By registering specified URLs through Paid Inclusion, these pages become cataloged and indexed every more frequently (e.g. every 48 hours with the Yahoo! Search Submit program). Paid Inclusion is ideal for pages rich with keyword density copy or copy that changes frequently. When keywords are searched, the listing appears in the organic listing and the click is a fixed price of 15 to 30 cents, depending upon which service used. Listings in the Paid Inclusion services are the result of less passive and slightly more aggressive methods of introducing new pages and auditing and enhancing existing in order to further boost appearance in the natural listings.

Why HeBS believes Paid Inclusion is important:
• Indexes and catalogs pages. every 48 hours
• Captures new content if frequently updated
• Offers a more refined list comparing apples to apples (hotel wedding page competes with other hotel wedding pages)
• Less expensive alternative to PPC

Pay Per Click Marketing:

PPC listings are not served by the search engines as natural listings as the two search types mentioned above but in a separate category typically under 'Sponsored Links.' Pay-per-click (PPC) or Pay-for- performance services as they are sometimes known have become extremely popular and are a smart way to position your hotel as "Sponsored Links" or enhanced listings in the search engine results. Over 50% of every online advertising dollar in 2005 will be spent on PPC and paid-inclusion vs. less than 20% on display advertising (e.g. banner ads).

PPC is the most aggressive way to influence your appearance on the search engines. HeBS foresees increasing importance of this search marketing format and considers it as a major short to mid-term distressed inventory disposal tool:
• Direct-to-consumer channel
• Customers visit and book on hotel website
• Preserves Brand Integrity
• Ideal distressed hotel inventory disposal tool
• Captures new customer segments
• Takes advantage of local events and happenings
• Free impressions-great branding effect at no cost

Based on the goals of the marketing campaign, the hotel needs to develop a differentiated marketing approach and PPC strategy. For example PPC can be used successfully for:
• Global PPC and Local PPC Campaigns
• Direct Response PPC Campaigns
• Brand Building PPC Campaigns
• Thematic PPC Campaigns
• Event-based PPC campaigns
• Email capture PPC campaigns

Case Study: Event-related PPC campaign in Miami

Background: A hotel client needed help with occupancy in a highly competitive market and off-season environment.

Actions: HeBS launched a series of local event-focus PPC campaigns to capture market share that would not usually belong to the hotel.

Results from one of the PPC campaigns:
• 501 PPC-triggered visits to the special event landing page on the hotel website at an average cost of $0.12 per click.
• Reported revenues from the PPC campaign: $7,835 (accommodations + F&B)
• Cost of the PPC campaign: $60.27.
• ROI: 103 times return on investment.

Local Search

Local search has gained strong momentum as more consumers become accustomed to conducting destination oriented searches, especially when the destination is significant as with the travel industry. A survey by The Kelsey Group and found that 74% of respondents conducted local searches online and that an average 27% of US consumers' total online searching is for local listings and content.

All of the major search engines have introduced Local Search functionality (e.g. Yahoo, Google, etc). Local Search marketing can pursue several simultaneous avenues: local search directory listings, online yellow pages enhanced listings, local search PPC campaigns, etc.

Local searches enable businesses to increase sales by precisely targeting customers interested in your neighborhood who are searching on the Internet for local products and services, whether your hotel has a website or not. With an emphasis on local searches the impact on the hospitality industry is obvious. All travel is destination oriented and requires a local address. Savvy hoteliers can definitely take advantage of this marketing format and stay ahead of the competition.

HeBS strongly believes that the local search marketing format will increase in importance and that it is ideally suited for the hospitality industry. Local Search provides the following benefits:
• Captures local market share
• Captures the drive-in market
• Addresses more traditional audience accustomed to using the Yellow Pages
• Generates website visits but also local phone calls

A word About the Travel Search Engines (Vertical Search)

The so called Travel Search Engines facilitate comparison shopping by compiling results from various sources and provide a price comparison of the product searched. This allows the shopper to check rates and availability of different providers on one website.

Once a search is requested, the data displays a number of supplier + intermediary sites with rates for same dates of availability. The business model is advertising model combined with a standard commission per sale (Side Step) or advertising model combined with a pay per click model much like the traditional PPC services (e.g.

In online retail, comparison shopping has been around for at least 8 years, so the experiences in this sector are indicative of what would happen in the travel sector., and are examples of comparison shopping search engines that have been around for at least 6-7 years.

In online travel comparison shopping is not a new thing-back in 1999 (now part of Cendant) launched its own comparison shopping service, which used scraping technology to aggregate price comparison results. This service vanished less than a year later due to a) inability to generate sufficient consumer traffic and b) many travel sites denied access to their sites as the service did not have permission to scrape these sites and the scraping technology burdened their servers.

To a great extent the online intermediaries like Expedia and Travelocity feel threatened by this business model and are reluctant to participate in this new type of Travel Search Engines. On the other hand seasoned online travelers treat the online intermediaries as travel search engines and use them to comparison shop. A recent survey by PhoCusWright finds that four out of ten online travel shoppers have shopped on online intermediary sites, but ultimately purchased direct from a supplier.

Based on the history of comparison shopping in online retail, current realities in the marketplace (suppliers maintain strict rate parity and best internet rate guarantees), well established online purchasing habits, and other factors, HeBS does not believe that travel search engines can gain widespread recognition and acceptance in the marketplace. We expect only a few of the existing players to remain in the long haul. Comparison shopping has always been a very narrow niche market.

The New Fashion Show — Innovative Business Models

Staring at the massive central chilling plant before him one evening five years ago, David Turner says he couldn’t escape the symbolism. His employer, York International, sold billions of dollars worth of commercial cooling equipment annually. But almost all of its products were hidden, woven deeply into customers’ facilities.

This looming plant couldn’t have been more different. It stood alone, towering, on what had been a parking lot. It was distinctly apart from the dozens of other structures on the Savannah River Site, a sprawling U.S. Department of Energy research and nuclear material production complex that covers 310 square miles in South Carolina.

That stark image struck Turner as he walked nearby. A project manager for York with a background in construction, it dawned on him that the refrigeration equipment wasn’t really part of Savannah River, it was just the means to an end.

Plenty of companies didn’t really want to own and operate chilling equipment. They just wanted cool air. To Turner, that insight led to an astonishingly simple idea, a new business model that better served the real needs of York’s customers. Why not separate that need for cool air from the acquisition of costly equipment? Why not sell cool air as a service?

“All the ideas started trickling down from there,” says Turner, 43, now the director of advanced utility solutions for Johnson Controls Inc., the new owner of York International. Soon after, a team of six York employees began mapping out YorkSource, an outsourcing service providing chilled air. York retains ownership and maintenance of the air cooling equipment.

The team spent two years grinding through the financial contracts that form the heart of service businesses. Today, YorkSource has three customers and expects to sign another half dozen this year. The average contract value is $8-$10 million. Turner projects the service will bring in $100 million over the next few years.

The new business model created more than a new revenue stream. Faced with tough competition from larger U.S. competitors, York needed a strategy that went beyond incremental product features or cost-cutting. It had to embed itself into its customers’ long-term planning and operating environments. And it had to do so in a way that precluded penetration by competitors.

YorkSource delivers on these goals. The new service enables the company to leapfrog into clients’ decision-making pipelines much earlier than equipment procurement. As a supplier of a vital service, YorkSource becomes a key player in the enterprise’s physical plant operating strategy. “You become part of their business, their infrastructure,” explains Turner. “At that point, any further [building] development is going to be yours.”

Change the game
Turner’s story reflects the stark reality facing U.S. businesses: Making money by peddling more of the same is no longer an option. Once upon a business case, companies could stick with what worked and rake in tidy profits. Every now and then, they incorporated a wow feature or two into their products. Buyers kept buying.

But modest product improvement via feature iteration is passé. The big bang of business-model change is in. Bold companies facing competitive challenges have decided to change the game. They are pumping up the volume on commercializing promising ideas — not just line extensions and incremental improvements, but inventive new revenue streams.

Starwood Hotels peddles its Westin chain Heavenly Bed furnishings through Nordstrom department stores and recently appointed its first head of retail sales. Coffeehouse giant Starbucks Corp. has emerged as a potent force in entertainment through partnerships in music CDs, satellite radio and movies. Eyeing the low overhead of direct selling, Binney & Smith, purveyor of the iconic Crayola brand crayons and markers, has launched an in-home sales program for its famous product line (For more details and other examples, see table, New Model Runway, below).

Plenty of others want to make the leap into business model innovation. That’s because Wall Street puts a price premium on a company’s ability to sprout new businesses as a sign of corporate vigor — think of General Electric’s long string of earnings growth, high P/E ratio and history of creative business model development.

The security analysts’ view is that acquisitions are okay, but homegrown ideas are better. The buzzword du jour — “organic growth” — says it all in this age when natural foods attract a premium price over processed goods.

But dreaming up and then commercializing promising business models requires more than funding a “new model development” department, transferring some hot shots from marketing and R&D and giving them a three-month deadline.

Business model innovation isn’t just about creativity or a sudden insight like Dave Turner’s inspiration one night in a South Carolina parking lot. It rests on a set of processes that companies can learn, if they’re properly motivated.

Crazy innovation drivers
For all the coverage of globalization, the more palpable forces bearing down on companies to become more innovative are local rather than global, says Eric von Hippel, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Rather than being affected by a larger trend, they see XYZ company doing something, and they have to counter it,” says von Hippel, head of MIT’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group and author of several landmark texts on innovation.

Worse, at a time when competitive pressures are more intense than ever, technology is eroding some of the best-known tools companies use to compete. The Internet has undermined traditional, multimillion-dollar branding strategies faster than you can say HTML.

Once-captive customers are now liberated. Thanks to the Internet, they are an increasingly potent force via search engines and shopping bots. The rise of user-generated content — blogs, chat forums, fan sites, hate sites, video casts, you name it — is further stripping away the power of branding from corporate marketing gurus.

How bad is it? Just ask Land Rover. Type the name of the British carmaker and its Discovery 3 model into MSN, and, a blog detailing the unhappy experiences of an anonymous owner, pops up as listing number two out of 117,362 — immediately following the car company’s corporate web site.

So much for the primacy of branding. “You can no longer hide behind your brand,” says Sam Kogan, president of GEN3 Partners Inc., a Boston consulting firm company — founded by Michael Treacy, the author of Double-Digit Growth and one of the leading sages of the innovation movement.

Nor can companies take refuge in conventional approaches to innovation. Those approaches are now considered too short-lived to provide an advantage in today’s hypercompetitive business environment. “Product innovation no longer works,” contends consultant Larry Keeley of Doblin Group in Chicago, considered the leading organization for innovation metrics. “The mean time to clone a new product in financial services is six weeks. That’s assuming it’s regulated. If it’s not regulated, it’s six days.”

Bon voyage

The travel and hospitality industry, perhaps more than any other, depends on strong and positive customer relationships. For the Carlson Leisure Group, an operating group within Carlson Companies, maintaining those relationships is job number one. In fact, our mission is to “build better relationships” with customers, suppliers, and franchisees.

Carlson Leisure Group comprises several divisions. One of the largest is the Carlson Travel Franchise Group, which encompasses Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, our network of 900 full-service, franchised travel agencies; Cruise Holidays, our cruise-specialty, franchised travel agencies; Results Travel, a franchise brand of more than 700 independent travel agencies; and SeaMaster Cruises, a new franchise brand for home-based cruise-specialty travel agents. Carlson Leisure Group also includes a division of travel agencies that are wholly owned by Carlson rather than franchised out.

Our travel agencies know that building and maintaining a strong relationship with a customer can reap huge rewards in repeat business. And to do that, we must provide great service. After all, it’s a well-known maxim that a person will talk to friends and family far more about a bad service experience than they will a good one. Bottom line: Anything we can do to improve customer service is important to helping franchisees grow their businesses. These days, more than ever before, enterprises need to delight the customer—and that’s what we aim to do, with the help of technology.

How it works
About three years ago, we built a custom, proprietary customer-relationship management (CRM) system called Q3 for the Carlson Travel Franchise Group. It’s specifically used for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, while a more limited version has been provided to our Results Travel members.

For us, the ability to collect permission-based customer data in a central database that’s accessed via the Internet had some powerful possibilities. First of all, each individual agency would not have to start with a fresh passenger name request (PNR) every time a repeat customer needed to travel. PNRs are the records used to purchase travel via reservation systems such as Sabre, Worldspan, and Galileo. Q3 is integrated with three of these systems, meaning that PNRs can be populated from Q3 to the reservation systems (and vice versa) seamlessly. Agents thus cut precious minutes off the reservation process, making it a simpler matter for the customer to plan travel.

Q3 has another important characteristic: It allows us to examine the aggregated data collected across the entire network, enabling us to better negotiate discounted travel or promote key suppliers to select customers with targeted offerings. For example, if a cruise line wants 40,000 names of people interested in cruises, we can go into the database and get a list of people who’ve agreed to be contacted and who have expressed interest in cruises. The supplier sends out the promotional mail or e-mail, giving customers access to discounted travel or unique offerings they otherwise couldn’t access. The return address for the message is database-generated as well, to include the local travel agency with which each customer generally works. It’s a winning solution for us, our customers, and suppliers.

For Q3 to work, it needs to be reliable and fast. Early on, we encountered some problems with performance and availability that led to a rewrite of the software.

One of the biggest changes was to move Q3 to a Microsoft SQL Server platform from a Sun/Oracle platform. This was not a decision made lightly, as it involved moving more than one million lines of code, but we felt that if we could achieve increased performance, this was the way to go. Ultimately, if our travel agents find Q3 burdensome or slow to use, they’re going to stop using it, and we won’t be able to provide service to our customers the way we want to.

The move to the new platform was hardly plug-and-play; it took six months of planning and hard work. We’re still switching some travel agents over, which involves converting their old data and training them on the new system.

But already it’s safe to call the new Q3 on its new platform a smashing success. Performance has increased by more than 100%, and we now have a waiting list of travel agents eager to get onto Q3. We’ve gone from people giving us, shall we say, “constructive feedback” to people giving us high praise. With the increased responsiveness, uptime, and reliability, we’re able to be there and serve customers better. In fact, more than two million customers have given us permission to include them in our Q3 database.

In the end, Q3 is undoubtedly the industry’s most sophisticated and effective CRM solution for selling travel—which greatly enhances our customer service abilities. As a business tool, it’s also making an impact on our overall health as a franchise organization. We’re the only growing travel franchise in the country, and Q3 is one factor that has contributed to that growth.

Leading agencies that have recently joined our Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates network have cited Q3 as an important factor in their decision; our competitors simply offer nothing like it. In July 2003, for example, Indiana’s largest travel agency, Ross & Babcock Travel, joined Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, adding its annual sales volume of $65.3 million to our network. In August 2003, we welcomed Utah travel powerhouse Morris Murdock Travel, which contributes an annual sales volume of $110 million. Both agencies mentioned Q3 as a specific reason for their attraction to Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates.

This kind of increase in overall network sales volume translates to better relationships with travel suppliers, reduced overhead costs, and, in the end, better business—benefits that are passed on to customers in the form of savings and special negotiated rates.

Adapt Your Web Site To Lock-In More Corporate Transient Business

Just a few short years ago, the Internet turned the corporate transient market topsy-turvy. It seems like just yesterday that we simply negotiated rates with corporate clients. We based those rates on their potential room night volume and travel pattern; and, hopefully we were able to count on their business unless or until another hotel came in to bid against us.

In those days, all rates were opaque, except for our published rack rates. Companies loved negotiated rates because they were able to get a good deal as compared to our rack rates; hotels loved it because we were able to negotiate good base business.

We sold rooms which started at rack rates and worked down to special promotional rates as needed; super-special rates for companies with volume. For the most part, companies with the highest volume and best travel pattern got the lowest rates; companies earned those special rates with volume business. In turn, companies encouraged their travelers to use the hotels they designated as a partner hotel. All was well in hotel-land.

The Internet changed all that

One of the strongest advantages we had in those days was that rates, other than our rack rates, were hidden and not easily discerned by the public. The process of shopping hotel rates, in those days, was pretty difficult. It required searching through hotel company directories and/or making many phone calls. Rack rates, the only visible rates, established the value of our negotiated rates by the comparison between the two.

As the popularity of the Internet exploded, hotels gained the ability to market to the entire world, but, at the same time, lost the flexibility to control their own rate structure. Suddenly, corporate consumers had the ability to check rates on the Internet to find the best rates available; no more hidden rates. This really complicated the corporate rate negotiation process.

Franchises Impacted the Industry’s Rate Quoting Process

To make matters worse, realizing that third-party aggregators were quickly taking-over control of travel on the Internet, several major franchises began to fight–back by declaring “lowest rate guarantees” on their web sites. It made sense; how else would they draw consumers away from third-party sites?

This one act made the Internet a bargain basement for consumers and forced hotels to sell rooms by lowest rate. Yes, it worked well; it continues to boost traffic to franchise web sites, but it also changed the way we sell rooms. All of a sudden, discounted rates were not only visible to the public, but also promoted internationally. Thank goodness promotion of lowest rate guarantees have subsided a bit in the past year or so.

Their decision to guarantee lowest rates on their web sites helped franchises to re-capture their share of the Internet channel, but it provides little benefit for their individual hotels except to force them to sell by lowest rate instead of the merits of their hotels. It also helped teach consumers to shop by rate on the Internet.

The early success of third-party portals threatened the very existence of the franchises. After-all, why would one pay a 5 or 6% franchise fee on all room business, whether it is generated by the franchise or not, if hotels can get the same volume from third-party portals and pay only for the room nights they generate. Now that the franchises have been able to cut their own deals with the third-parties, the war turned cold, but the competition between them is still tense; and hotels lay somewhere in the middle.

The biggest benefactors of the war for web dominance have been consumers; especially corporate travelers. In order to maintain their contracts with companies, many hotels were forced to offer even deeper discounts, but without the promises from corporate accounts to produce any volume of room business in return. Suddenly, corporate clients were comparing their negotiated rates with our lowest published rates instead of our higher rack rates.

Until the franchises learn how to compete with third-party portals with anything other than simply promoting their lowest rates first, this controversy will still exist. The “bedding wars” were a good step to promote the merits of their hotels and not just lowest rates; unfortunately, I can’t imagine many franchisees being pleased with the large investment required.

We need to provide more services

Corporate transient business has never based on rates alone. Hotels that profit by negotiated rate corporate business learned to think “outside the box”. They created formal corporate rate agreements, which included special value-added benefits and amenities. These benefits became “special” to that company and could not be found on anyone’s web site. In many cases, this was enough to lock-in that company’s business. Value-added features have never been more important than they are today.

Think outside the box; the old amenities of free local calls and continental breakfast just won’t cut-it anymore. To be effective, negotiated amenities cannot be available to the public; otherwise they are no longer special. Free high-speed Internet is now a necessity; so, how about free long distance calls for those who want to save minutes on their mobile phones; it’s possible today with Internet phones. Find those things that are important to that company and use them to lock-in their business; what better way to find them than to ask them.

How about creating a link to your site to be placed on your client’s office computers? How about a volume reward program designed specifically for the corporate traveler; these can be easily tracked on your web site. Be creative.

Make your web site a better corporate sales tool by offering potential clients their own special page on your web site. This page can be made public or, better yet, private to that company with pass code access. Provide a link on your site to their company web site directly from their page on your site. It can be a valuable link for you and encourage the company to provide a link from their site…to their page on your site. This is a simple task for your web master.

Create a business resource page on your web site listing all local major companies; this will increase traffic to your site and give your site more accessibility to the local business environment. An often forgotten tool is to include the names of major companies in your area with your Meta Tag key words and phrases on your web site. Wouldn’t you like your site to show, as a search result, if someone is searching for those companies?

Gulf Business puts hospitality sector under spotlight

In a major revelation, the 2006 survey shows that a total of 41,936 hotel rooms and suites (apartments, chalets and villas are excluded) are either under construction or definitely confirmed, most to open by 2009 at the latest.

Launched on the eve of Arabian Travel Market 2006, this is the eighth annual survey of luxury hotel chains conducted by the magazine that reaches the most influential decision-makers in the region. The latest survey reveals that there is a 62 per cent increase in the number of hotel rooms over last year's total of 25,888, and more than three times the 2004 total of 13,746, which was also the highest number on record at the time.

The top spot in this year's Gulf Business ranking goes for the second consecutive year to the French hospitality giant, Accor, with 15 upcoming hotels and 5,734 new rooms and suites announced to come online during 2006 till 2008. The second spot in the coveted Gulf Business ranking goes to a new chain, Bavaria Hotels International (4,700 new rooms), which, despite boasting German funding and a head office address in Munich, is developing all its initial properties in the GCC, out of a busy regional office in Dubai.

Among the projects announced by Bavaria are the two largest hotels in the history of the Gulf: the Bavaria Executive Suites in Dubai and Doha, boasting 2,100 and 2,200 suites, respectively, together with five-star hotel amenities. Close on the heels of Bavaria are Rotana (4,212 new rooms), Mövenpick (3,128 new rooms), Rezidor SAS (2,288) and Starwood (2,045 new rooms).

The extensive Gulf Business survey ranks 43 regional and international hotel chains, with details on the number of hotels announced, new rooms committed to be added latest by 2009, the brands under which the announced rooms will be launched and the year in which they are expected to come online.

A key trend that has emerged in this year's Gulf Business ranking is the increasing diversification of the chains with new product types. While upscale brands like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood and Fairmont are consolidating their regional base, several major chains are expanding into the mid-market, with new properties under Accor's three-star Ibis brand, as well as Express by Holiday Inn, Centro by Rotana and Tulip Inn from Golden Tulip representing the vanguard of a new movement, likely to have a major impact in next year's Gulf Business survey.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Business, hospitality management merge

FIU administrators have announced that the School of Hospitality Management is now a self-governing unit within the College of Business Administration at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

Merging the two schools in order to better serve BBC business and hospitality management students was proposed by Mark Rosenberg, provost and executive vice president of Academic Affairs.

"The College of Business Administration doesn't have enough money to adequately staff the school the way that it is staffed at the [University Park] campus," said Joseph West, associate dean of SHM. "So we're going to help them."

Both schools will remain individual entities offering their own separate degree programs, maintaining individual budgets and hiring their own professors. The major difference now, according to West, is that as of this fall, the schools will be sharing faculty members and facilities.

This faculty sharing is possible due to overlaps in the course requirements of students seeking degrees from each respective school. To expand class offerings and because of CBA's inability to hire new teachers due to its limited financial resources, faculty members who teach introductory courses in SHM will now teach some of those same courses to business students at BBC. Some professors who usually teach three or four classes will end up with an extra class in the fall.

"Hospitality is a business and a number of the courses that hospitality students take are similar to courses that business students take," West said. "Hospitality faculty have similar credentials to business [faculty]. Our law professors can teach not only hotel law and travel law; they can also teach basic business law."

In the fall, some of the courses required by degree-seeking students in both schools, including some introductory marketing and management classes, will be co-listed as both business and hospitality management courses, said Lee Dickson, associate dean of SHM.

Infosys BPO, HVS to tap hospitality sector

BANGALORE: Infosys BPO, the business process outsourcing subsidiary of Infosys Technologies and HVS International, a New York-based consultancy, have announced a strategic alliance to offer outsourcing solutions in the hospitality industry.

HVS International offers valuation and other services to the hotel, restaurant, shared ownership, gaming, and leisure industries.

According to a release, the alliance will leverage HVS International’s consulting expertise and market reach in the hospitality industry and the process outsourcing capabilities of Infosys BPO to develop and execute domain-specific, predictable, and process centric solutions to improve productivity and optimise costs for companies in the global hospitality industry.

“The alliance with HVS augments Infosys BPO’s capabilities in the hospitality industry by enhancing our insights into the industry and enabling us to reach a wider audience,” Infosys CEO Amitabh Chaudhry said.

Infosys BPO provides mainly non-voice services like finance and accounting, procurement, human resources, research & analytics among others. It employs about 10,000 people and closed FY06 with revenues $85.5 million (Rs 379 crore).

Women in the Hospitality Business

It was interesting to note, when I worked in a hotel in Goa, that Goan women, I`m talking only of the Hindus here, looked down on hotel jobs. They didn’t say so, but conversations implied that they were ‘brainless’ jobs which women with lesser morals took up. (Something like looking down on male models). Including me, there were just two other Goan-hindu females employed in front office and of the three, just one was a Goa-born of Goan origin. I’m not talking about the cleaning staff, but the upper end blue collars and executives and above. (Goan-hindus who live outside Goa think differently.)

I remember, one evening, a woman whom I’d met once or twice, came to tell me that her daughter, who’d completed her diploma in Hotel Management, actually wanted to take up a job in the same field. I thought she was asking me where she could find a vacancy, so I guided her accordingly, told her to post her biodata to the HR departments, watch out for adverts in the newspapers, go to placement agents, pass the word around through friends and more. Her expression stopped me. No, she virtually screamed, no job. Then what, I asked. She wanted me to convince her daughter that a job in a hotel was no good, that she should take up a ‘decent’ placement in a Chartered Accountant’s office. I jest not, she said so. What would a hotel management student do in a CA’s office? Serve tea? Re-arrange the furniture? Dust it? I never met the girl, but felt bad for her. After ‘allowing’ her to take up a course (presumably) of her choice, the parents were clipping her wings. Later, I learned that the girl had become an air-hostess….not quite the approved thing, but it paid twenty times more, so it was ‘okay’.

There were times when persons I knew were either too ‘embarrassed’ to acknowledge my presence or too awkward to say niceties to me because conditioning prevented them from interacting with staff working in hotels. I must say, though, over a period of five years, many of them got over their ‘shyness’ and have become good acquaintances. A part of this could have been because I wrote regularly for a local paper, hence joined the ranks of ‘thinkers’. What a paradox!!

A recent discussion about this has prompted me to write this. Although Goan women have rapidly moved out of the mould of teacher, doctor, musician, clerk, many have become artists, actors, adventurers, a certain mindset remains. I’d like those who don’t know much about working in a hotel to know that guests may come and go, but colleagues stay on forever, and they are fellow Goans, perfectly decent persons who earn an honest living and help you in times of distress (when I needed help, my colleagues were more than family). Some believe guest relations is a brainless job. Ah well, everyone can’t be a neuro-surgeon. Dealing with customers requires a different kind of skill: it, too, requires a high level of professionalism.

Business intelligence apps serve up actionable data and sweet bottom lines

Ross Mason, owner and sole employee of the Avenue B Grocery in Austin, Texas, leads about the least complicated life a restaurateur can imagine. He has all the actionable data he needs, in real time, although he’d be more likely to describe it as “a pretty good idea of how the day’s going.”

If there’s a run on egg salad, Mason knows about it immediately. If there’s a bread shortage looming, he can handle it. He has a complete grip on his labor costs and never gets caught off guard by a spike in overtime.

Mason, obviously, has little in common with anyone reading this. For those of you whose lives are somewhat less pastoral, getting “a pretty good idea of how the day’s going” requires collecting and analyzing copious amounts of data in real time, and that requires powerful enterprise financial apps that combine data warehousing, data mining and more.

“Keeping easy access to data is the hardest thing when you’re growing,” says Jason Dukes, MIS/POS administrator for Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery, which has grown to 74 restaurants (none franchised) in 16 states since the first one opened in Clearwater, Florida, in 1989. Dukes remembers that it wasn’t long ago that each restaurant would e-mail him sales figures after closing, then he would spend much of the next day hand-keying the figures into an Excel spreadsheet, leaving little time for even rough analysis.

Now, Dukes says, the Mirus ( business intelligence application receives data from all of the Hops restaurants overnight and has it processed and ready to report when Dukes arrives at the office each morning, giving him the ability to not just fully analyze the data, but to put his findings to work. “You can’t even quantify the importance of the data and the reports we get now,” he says. “We can drill all the way down to per-check data, but the real immediate benefit for us has been the ability to get a handle on labor costs.”

Keeping its promise

For Applebee’s, understanding customers’ preferences is more than a customer benefit—it’s a key business strategy. To keep its brand promise of being a neighborhood grill appealing to regional tastes, while efficiently managing the nationwide chain of restaurants from its corporate headquarters, Applebee’s needed clear, focused data on its guests.

Using business intelligence tools from Teradata ( and MicroStrategy (, Applebee’s is mining the labor, financial, and inventory management, as well as food cost variance data stored in its Teradata data warehouse. Data mining has given Applebee’s keen insight into its customers nationally and locally.

“One of our business challenges is to understand our core guest,” explains Seth Jensen, senior manager of business analysis at Applebee’s. “We want our guests to have a voice in saying what they prefer on our menu. Customer input serves as a valuable complement to the creativity of our culinary team, enhancing the team’s ability to develop menus that satisfy our guests’ preferences.”

Appetite for data

As intelligence apps grow ever more powerful and integrate with the entire foodservice technological array from POS to back office, there’s virtually nothing in or around a restaurant that can’t be tracked. And that’s where trouble lies for many new users—their taste for data overwhelms their ability to digest and use it.

It’s an easy enough trap to fall into. A new business intelligence application is installed, that allows the restaurant operator to track performance metrics (frequency, retention, new trial as compared to sales, party size, guest check, distance from unit, etc.), as well as demographics, geographics and lifestyle.

Some restaurants have grown accustomed to the data. Ruby’s Diner, for example, has developed a system that integrates data analysis from Gazelle ( with data mined from its POSitouch ( point-of-sale to “to give people all the information they need to make decisions,” explains CEO Fred LeFranc. “If you give them the right value set in terms of the company’s philosophy and its goals, then the intuition of what to do next is made easier.”

Other restaurants, not prepared for the data need to be careful, however. You can go crazy and start tracking things like how many customers paying with debit cards order ranch dressing with their lunch salads on Tuesdays following full moons, allowing yourself to be crushed by a tidal wave of trivia. That’s why Dukes advises anyone looking to better the bottom line by implementing a data intelligence app to start small and focus on a single improvable aspect of the operation. Otherwise, he warns, “You can easily get overwhelmed.”

Of course, it’s easier to avoid the overwhelming aspect by working wisely and using the enterprise-wide availability that virtually all these apps cover, whether by intranet or the Web. The three owners of Woody’s Bar-B-Q, a single-unit franchise in Atlanta, live far from one another—two in New York and one in Georgia—but they say that by using Aloha’s Enterprise (, a Web-based solution, they are able to conduct business as easily as if they shared a cubicle.

Faster ROI

“Any of us can look at any level of detail of our operation from our home or office computers,” says co-owner William Candee. “All of us have the ability to see our labor expenditures and allocations during the course of the day right down to the level of who’s on the clock and what time they punched in and out.”

Almost everyone agrees, though, that while labor savings are usually the quickest and most obvious benefits of using powerful enterprise financials, there is potential for much greater use and, therefore, faster positive ROI as the users’ expertise and understanding of the power grows. The ability to track product mix, menu additions, takeout and more, give owners, operators and managers the power to tweak even a well-running restaurant for more performance and a greater leg up on the competition.

Ross Mason doesn’t see any use for such apps in his future, but that’s okay—he also has no real competition and no plans for growth except for “maybe adding another picnic table outside.” For the rest of the world, these powerful apps are quickly making the transition from “might want” to “must have” technology

Business Notes HOSPITALITY

Does the cocktail hour need any more womanizing bartenders like Sam Malone or grouchy waitresses like Carla Tortelli? Well, here's mud in your eye. The TV series Cheers, based on a cozy Boston bar, has inspired a chain of taverns that will be installed in airports and Marriott Hotels across the U.S. The hotel company's catering division and Paramount Pictures Television have struck a deal to open 46 bars modeled after the show's. The Cheers bars will be outfitted to remind patrons of the TV tavern, with dark paneling and Tiffany lamps. Customers will be able to buy Cheers souvenirs.,9171,970504,00.html

Benchmark's Top 10 Hospitality Trends for 2006

Benchmark Hospitality International announces its annual 'Top Ten Hospitality Trends for the Year' as observed by its properties.

1. Hit the Spa!

The hottest trend going in hotels. It doesn't matter if you're a guest at a meeting, staying the night, or just getting away for the weekend, customers want to hit the spa, even if only for an hour or two at the end of the day.
Hotels and resorts are adding spas rapidly to meet the demand. It's not just about healthy lifestyles ... it's well deserved pampering too!

2. Spending is Taking Off!

Spending on company meetings is taking off. Going into 2006, advance bookings for corporate conferences were up at Benchmark's properties from 20% to 50% over the start of 2005.
Companies are investing more to bring their people together to launch, reinforce and accelerate initiatives in this strengthening economy. And the investment per participant is also up significantly over last year.
Corporations are gravitating to higher-end properties, where they can bring their people together in comfortable, full service hospitality environments and company leaders can make the right statement about the importance of their people and the meeting content.

3. A Rising Tide Floats All Boats - Some Higher than Others.

A rising tide floats all boats, but the meeting venues really taking off are those that offer much more than efficient and productive conference environments. Properties that emphasize individual service, great restaurants and bars, high quality amenities, luxurious settings and accommodations - and a true specialization in accommodating high-end conferences - are the ones poised to capitalize on the flow of corporate dollars into meetings.
Benchmark's response is the Benchmark Conference Plan. It's a product conference groups cannot buy at a traditional resort or hotel. The company has fine-tuned the concept, will continue to evolve it, and expects corporate America will embrace it in record numbers in 2006.

4. Luxury (is that a plasma screen in my guest room?) Is Back!

Travel budgets are healthier and guests are demanding luxury, first-class amenities and added value in return for their dollar.
Flat screen televisions, luxurious bath soaps, superior bed and bath linens are benchmarks of quality. And service expectations are at their peek. Oh, and throw in a spa treatment or two for good measure.

5. WiFi - Better Have It...

It's about convenience. Laptops open everywhere these days and it's expected that a guest can log on and access email or the office at a moment's notice - wherever he or she is.
This is no longer a luxury, it is now perceived as a necessity, is expected, and more and more properties are providing it free of charge.

6. Security Detail: Don't Let Me See The Whites Of Their Eyes!

The competition's eyes, that is! While guests and planners are feeling relatively safe and secure in luxury properties across the country, a "competition clause" is now requested more often in contracts, precluding the presence of competitors anywhere on property while a company's executives are present. Competition within industries is fierce and industrial espionage is a big concern.
To be sure of privacy, some companies are buying up the entire hotel during their stay to control those they come into contact with. Oh, and what we said about WiFi earlier -- it better be secure hotel-wide!

7. Optimize ... or Goodbye!

Benchmark property websites are delivering a substantial amount of guestroom business to the company's hotels. Yes, reservations and bookings through the Global Distribution System are on the rise, but much of Benchmark Hospitality's business originates directly through either the corporate or property's websites. A growing amount of meeting inquiries do as well.
So optimization is critical. Web searches better present the hotel in the Top Five listings to ensure consideration by the customer ... and the site must be appealing, easy to navigate, and effortless to book through.

8. Training & Strategic Planning: Back Again, Big Time.

Business is back and corporate training and planning for future growth is surging.
While mid-level and lower level managers are in meeting rooms brushing up on selling and management skills, senior executives are down the hall in the Boardroom strategically mapping out the company's future.
Training meetings and strategic planning sessions are back, big time.

9. Goodbye Print? Hello E-commerce? ...Not So Fast.

Yes, how hotels and conference centers communicate with consumers and planners is rapidly changing as e-commerce seeks dominance. Print advertising, however, is by no means dead and direct mail is alive, well and kicking.
Budgets are shifting and online marketing is growing every year, but print's power remains a force to be reckoned with ... its obituary has not yet been written.

10. Blogs, Blogging? What?

For all the talk of blogs in the meetings and hotel industry, who's really logging on and participating? Customers don't mention them, providers aren't contributing much to them, and business doesn't seem to be originating through them.

Hospitality Humour

The hospitality industry is the major provider of gaming facilities in Australia. While this obviously provides significant income there is a very real cost. Two areas where involvement with gaming creates real problems is image and customer relations. You would expect that the primary focus of staff in the hospitality industry would be HOSPITALITY - friendly, welcoming - the epitome of customer service. While that's the way they'd like it to be, the reality for most hospitality staff (particularly those involved in gaming areas) is that their first role is that of a regulator. It is their responsibility to oversee the responsible serving of alcohol as well as responsible gaming - two areas where customers can be notoriously sensitive. Combine this with the fact that (in certain States in particular) the local hotel with gaming facilities is portrayed regularly in the media as the main cause of gambling problems; and it is easy to understand why such an image makes it difficult for staff to enjoy and be proud of their job.

Carlton United have addressed this issue proactively - with fun! Across Victoria, South Australia and Queensland many of their gaming rooms have been branded 'Joker's Wild'. The theme of humour and fun is integrated throughout the venue: fun signs, fun activities, fun staff (all staff are issued with their own joker's cap).

Staff receive training in creating and delivering fun promotions. They are encouraged to draw on their own creativity to introduce fun into the customer area. They are also made aware that the fun starts behind the scenes. They need to find ways to increase the level of humour throughout the working day. If they can't have fun with each other, they can't expect to create fun in customer interactions.

What 15 Years in the Network Marketing Industry Taught Me

Just whisper the words “network marketing” and you’re bound to get an emotional response from your listeners.

Many people are still saddled with antiquated ideas of how the old multilevel companies were run in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember? Those days when cars had to give way to products stockpiled in your garage and family and friends were suddenly afraid to visit you.

But the industry has grown past that caterpillar stage.

Added to this misconception is a common fear of failure. There are many people who in their quest for a home-based business opportunity try network marketing and fail at it. Without questioning why, they have just avoided the industry ever since. Having ‘survived’ the industry for over 15 years I’ll like to share with you my 1 secret for making it big ... really BIG in network marketing.

The secret is choosing a team with an experienced coach who will teach, guide and motivate you towards success.

Of course there are other factors such as the financial backing of the company, timing, the compensation plan and marketing a consumable product. But if you are not properly trained and motivated during those early months you are almost doomed to failure.

Just think about it, every professional business person or athlete has a coach. Why should it be different in network marketing? I wouldn’t have survived as a network marketer if it wasn’t for the gifted leaders that I was privileged to work under and to learn from.

There are many business owners who will invest over $50,000 in a franchise and still pay a business consultant a 5-figure retainer for advice so that their business succeeds. In network marketing, you can start your business for less than $500 and literally choose the coach or leader who will train you for FREE! Of course this will involve doing a little background check on the team leader you choose to work with but it’s time well spent.

Here are a few pointers that will help you when seeking out the ‘correct’ coach:

1. Make sure that he or she has a proven track record.

Just as the cream always floats to the top of the milk so a gifted leader will also prove his or her worth in the results produced. Generally speaking, you will not rise higher than your leader, so know how high you want to reach and find a coach who can get you there.

2. Go with someone who has been in the industry for many years.

Gaze up into the night sky and you’ll see an occasional shooting star. It burns bright and then disappears. This may be exciting to watch but only for a short moment. You want a leader who will be like the northern star—bright and steady. Those who are successful network marketers are people who stay for the long haul. Many people give up too quickly and never reap the harvest.

You want to choose a leader who have experienced some bumps in the road and can now be selective in choosing a company that is most likely to remain out of the MLM graveyard.

3. Find someone who knows how to market.

Network marketing is just that: marketing through networking. An essential part of the equation therefore is the effective marketing of your business. Marketing can eat up a small budget very quickly. Therefore, you must know what works from what doesn’t work so that you can use your advertising dollars most effectively. The name of the game is maximum returns for your money. I mean, that is the whole idea behind network marketing—leverage. This translates into small effort and great gain.

Find someone who knows how to use the tools of the trade such as teleconferencing, voicemail, direct mail, the internet and broadcast media. This is a business so you have to treat it like one.

4. Find a leader who studies the industry.

Anyone who claims to be a professional will subscribe to magazines in his area of expertise, attend seminars to keep abreast of what’s happening and keep his pulse on the industry. This is the only way that trends can be determined and what is working for the competition be uncovered. To simply concentrate on your own company and be blinded to what others are doing is narrow and myopic.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from other network marketers that can be incorporated into one’s own business.

5. Look for a leader who has people skills.

There is no escaping it. Even with all the new technology at our fingertips, network marketing is a people business. If a leader doesn’t love people then it will show and recruits will know. Network marketing could qualify as part of the hospitality sector because so much of its success depends on empowering and affirming people.

So find a leader who will be respectful of your value as a person and not just as another number to add to his downline.

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Payroll Services Giving Your Company the Edge

Regardless of the size of your business, outsourcing your payroll system can enhance your competitive edge, by freeing up valuable time and resources that can be spent on improving the quality of the product or service you offer. Adages earn the wisdom with which they are associated by proving true time and again, and there is no sage advice truer than this – you have to spend money to make money. Investing in a payroll service puts many of your HR and financial requirements in the hands of the experts, allowing you devote your full attention to expanding your own expertise in your chosen field.

Payroll services take a huge portion of the daily administration of your business and place it in professional hands. Outsourcing this important task ensures the timely and accurate payment of your retinue of staff, which ultimately leads to the growth of the goodwill of what is possibly any company’s most important resource. A contented work force makes for an efficient business, and with your payroll system in the hands of a company devoted to the task, you can be sure that your work force will receive the financial attention they deserve to help them stay motivated.

Administering a payroll system can be a time consuming affair; the process involves not only the payment of staff but also dealing with questions and queries, issues with tax and any other problems that might arise. Dealing with such issues, while an essential part in good staff management, can be time-consuming, detracting attention from the more creative areas of a firm’s daily tasks. Payroll services offer a company the freedom to focus on what it is they do best, while ensuring that the staff who make it happen are compensated in a timely manner for the work they add to the table.

Many payroll companies offer a range of other services also, from other HR services to reporting, helping you spend even more time on cultivating the product or service your company offers. There are also a range of speciality payroll service companies, so be sure to select the one most closely affiliated with your company’s industry. Certain types of business will have particular payroll needs; the hospitality industry, for instance, requires the proper administration of tips. For the greatest benefit to your company, be sure to choose a payroll service advisor that can adapt themselves to the needs of your business.

Enhance your business by outsourcing your payroll administration to a professional service provider, and devote your valuable time to what it is your company does best.

Significance of a Betel leaf in Indian weddings

From time immemorial, Hindus have worshipped trees and have considered all flora and fauna as sacred. Trees, plants, leaves, flowers and fruit have an esteemed position in the religion and culture of India. So much so that no religious function especially Indian matrimonial is considered complete without the presence of at least one of the above. Leaves like the betel, banana, mango, Neem, tulsi, durva are intrinsically woven into the tapestry of Indian weddings.

The betel leaf enjoys the pride of place among all the accessories of a Hindu wedding. The betel leaf denotes freshness and prosperity. Betel leaves or the tambool, which comprises betel leaf, areca nut and lime, marks the beginnings of all auspicious events. In Indian matrimonial, alliances are sealed by exchanging the tambool. Invitations for an Indian marriage are distributed with tambool forming an important part of the invite. The betel is associated with the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma: arecanut, Vishnu: betel leaf, and Shiva: lime.

The grooms' party is welcomed with betel leaves and every event in the wedding is solemnized with betel leaves. The tambool is the minimum and essential part of hospitality in every Indian wedding.

In some weddings, a betel leaf is tucked into the headgear of the bride and groom.

In certain regions the groom's mother or sister gives a ceremonial welcome to the bride. Seven cups are placed on a platter along with fruits, betel leaves, rice, sacred ash, turmeric, salt, tamarind and cotton. A measuring cup is filled with paddy and a betel leaf is placed on it. This is called the 'nirai nazhi'. Water is placed in a vessel and the bride stands facing the east. The person performing the ceremony touches the seven cups three times and puts sacred ash on herself and on the bride. After this is done twenty one times, the bride is given a betel leaf and water is poured on it. The person conducting the ceremony touches the leaf to her forehead giving her a ceremonial welcome.
In yet another ritual comprising the betel, the girl's brother gives the ceremonial first betel to the couple to chew . This ritual is the thaamboola charvanam.
Betel leaves along with coconut or fruit are given as a token of thanks to every guest attending the wedding.

Corporate Team Building Events Throw Distancing to a Distance

If someone just studies a few recent corporate recruitment advertisements, there will be at least one thing he or she will find common in almost all of them. The recruiters are putting much emphasis on hiring a one-team man rather than a one-man team, in the management category at least.

In accordance to this shift, the office atmosphere is changing too. CEOs of the companies at present are accessible to general employees more than ever before. The visual distance is cut short. Office decorations are changing with more and more interlinked and free sitting arrangements. At this age, one can never ignore the psychological affect on human beings created by the respective surroundings.

The corporate houses these days are spending huge amounts to unite the workforce into an active team. Active and spontaneous participation of employees in both internal and external affairs of the company and even in the decision making process are regarded as the path of progress.

The main problem in the corporate team building process namely ‘distancing’ is predominantly inherent in employees’ as well as in the employer’s psyche. It is one of the basic instincts of human beings.

The primary team building process is constantly fighting to throw away ‘distancing’ to a great distance. The ideal corporate team building events concentrate on bringing together employees who do not always get the chance to come in close, if not in personal contact with each other.

The prime ideological stand is that, if an employee does not know his or her co-workers then he or she cannot actively participate to boost up the company profile and morale as a whole. It is all about fixing the SELF, not into the category called OTHER, but under the umbrella named WE.

The corporate event management companies divide the employees into various groups. Apparently, it seems that the process is breaking the basic notion of team building activities, but in fact, it just adds to the notion.

The participants here never feel rivalry among themselves. They are conscious that it is merely a game though they need to win. Thus, they fail to concentrate on the issue that it is a part of the team building exercise tailored by the company. This lack of concentration on the subtle issue ultimately does the trick. The idea of the team is built in the consciousness of the participant that excludes the visual divisions

Things to remember when you travel

Traveling can be a lot of fun, but sometimes people are limited in their traveling options because of a budget. Here are some ways that you can save money when you traveling… which will let you bring home more gifts for your loved ones!

1. Shop around. Different travel agencies may offer different promotions, so making a few phone calls may help uncover those hidden deals.

2. Be willing to travel in the off-season. Hotels are expensive and overbooked during the busy season, but during the off-season you'll find great deals on rooms and car rentals when you need them, and hospitality staff who are more relaxed and attentive to you.

3. Travel in a group. Many hotels and airlines offer group discounts so if you and nine of your closest friends can arrange your schedules to travel at once, you will enjoy significant discounts.

4. Be willing to travel at the last minute. If you have a job that allows you to drop everything for a vacation, you may be able to travel at a great rate if you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants. For example, if you contact a travel agent and an airline and asked them about last-minute deals a day or two before the weekend, you may be able to find an affordable travel package that is much less than you would pay if you had booked far in advance. This is because of cancellations. For some reason, other people have not been able to go on the vacation the book, so the hotel or airline or resort wants to fill those seats with another paying customer.

5. Look for package deals. Often, companies in the travel and hospitality industry will partner together to offer great holiday packages. Look for these packages which make traveling much more affordable than simply putting together the pieces on your own. And much easier too!

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you have to stay home. Traveling is possible with a limited budget. With a little legwork and the willingness to be spontaneous, you'll be able to find and enjoy affordable vacations.

Georgia Real Estate - Southern Hospitality

Known as the Peach State, Georgia is the state of southern hospitality. If you prefer the traditional southern culture, Georgia real estate is certainly worth a look.


The largest state east of the Mississippi, Georgia has a long and glorious history. Civil war monuments are rife throughout the state as are small towns with turn of the century homes. Notwithstanding this culture, Georgia is also a very modern state with growing cities such as Atlanta.


The most populous city in Georgia, Atlanta is a growing metropolis. From a sports perspective, the city has Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons, the Braves, basketball, hockey and has even hosted the Olympics. Raised in 1865 by General Sherman, the city has a newish feel and has grown to a population of over 3.5 million people. The city can be classified more as a modern city than a traditional southern one.


If you’re looking for a true southern city in Georgia, Savannah is the place. Located on the border with South Carolina, Savannah is a step back into the past. With tree-lined streets, the city hosts a variety of architecture from the 18th and 19th century including Victorian homes and old manor. Streets are dwarfed by huge, ancient Oak Trees. To see Savannah, rent of buy “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which was filmed in the city.


Roughly an hour north of Atlanta, Athens is a mix of southern culture and college town. Home to the University of Georgia, the town has a population of 30,000 plus students. This influx of students gives the city a liberal feel, which is unique for the south.

Georgia Real Estate

Georgia real estate prices vary by location with the metropolis of Atlanta dwarfing smaller town real estate. A single family home in Atlanta will set you back $300,000 on average, while $250,000 will do the trick in Savannah and $230,000 in Athens. The appreciation rate for Oregon real estate depends entirely on the location, but averages a moderate six percent for 2005.

If southern hospitality is your ideal, Georgia may be your destination. With reasonable real estate prices, you can pick up a good deal.

Hospitality Marketing A Remedy to Problems of Hospitality Industry

This article will provide a brief overview about the concept of hospitality industry, the problems faced by this industry and importance of hospitality marketing to ensure customer satisfaction and business growth.

Hospitality industry has a long evolutionary history. In older times, analysts suggest that the concept of this industry was initially known with a synonym, hotel industry. However in modern era the terminology of ‘Hospitality Industry’ is more common that comprises those businesses that provide services such as accommodation, food, and beverages to travelers seeking pleasure as well as those who travel due to business reasons (Gray & Liguori, 1996). Moreover it is argued that to some extend components of leisure industry such as cruise ships restaurants and to some lesser degree airlines are also considered part of hospitality industry as well (, 2006).

Though the industry is assumed to be in nevr lasting demand but there are certain problems that this industry regularly faces. These problems may include uncertainty to the costs of even most economic source of energy, increased trend of problems in maintaining profitable food and beverage facilities, comparatively more increase in labor costs as compared to productivity, customer dissatisfaction due to increase in size and number of rooms as it is claimed to increase registration and other services process time and more importantly very high competition that induces heavy rate cuts to survive (Gray & Liguori, 1996).

Keeping these factors in view, in particular customer’s dissatisfaction and profit reduction, Lewis & Chambers (1989) asserts that hospitality industry historically did not realize importance of marketing and a remedy to industry’s problem is encapsulated in ‘hospitality marketing’, both in its foundation and practices. It was further asserted that in 1950s and 1960s, industry focused on technology and updating their telephone reservation systems. Similarly in 1970s and later, businesses were focused to increase assets and forgot the essence of industry, that is, ‘customer oriented service’.

It was suggested that players in hospitality industry should realize that hospitality product is different, that is in fact, something intangible that they are selling and as both product and reasons for buying it are different also different so it demands a different marketing strategy, something like hospitality marketing that requires customer centered hospitality need identification, specific segmentation & positioning and ‘the hospitality marketing mix’.

Such trend can be observed around the world (, 2006). Food chains like McDonalds, Pizza Hut etc are now focusing on customer’s service and taste rather than focusing on their own brand name only. McDonalds in India, for instance, operates differently while focusing on the ‘vegetarian aspect’ of their tradition than McDonalds in USA where focus is more towards an easy accessible food facility.

Hence the discussion may conclude that hospitality industry provided ever needed services. Nonetheless it may face certain specific issues that can be counterattacked through industry specific ‘hospitality marketing’