How one vacation rental company’s audience helped them reopen with a bigger, warmer audience, ready to travel

Chances are you heard Florida’s beaches have reopened. Despite the initial 24-hour news bloviation, things seem to be normalizing, and the travel industry in the lightly affected panhandle of the state is ready to jump-start.

For Resort Collection, that means 1,000 rooms spread across the coast of Panama City Beach are ready to be enjoyed.

Thanks to a strong audience paired with a platform and strategy, they’ve hit the sand running. Here’s how.

Putting their own audience first

Most travel businesses experienced a “what’s next?” mentality as the pace of cancellations, refunds, staffing and financial decisions peaked. Even in the confusion and shock of the shutdown, Resort Collection had the clarity to realize this would pass.

Without normal channels of marketing, they knew reaching and nurturing their existing audience would be critical in the plan to reopen.

Striking the right tone

Keeping that audience in conversation during one of travel’s most challenging times ever would require empathetic outreach and careful messaging.

The Flip.to platform played a critical role, helping more than two hundred people share their stories with Resort Collection at the center during the pandemic-induced downtime.

It’s those storytellers who are so important to the company’s strategy. These are real people who shared authentic moments, and in doing so, introduced the VR company to a community that trusts them the most: their own friends and family.

Photo submission from Nykia O. showing 4 african american females enjoying the sun on a hotel balcony

The audience responds

The response was phenomenal, and grew the collection’s audience even wider. Beyond scale, these trusted connections were with a new, high-quality audience of like-minded individuals who mirrored the original storytellers—the right-fit audience for Resort Collection.

Now in active conversation, this new audience is primed as Resort Collection excitedly takes its first steps forward in more than a month.

Photo submission from Sheri S. a family of 4 standing in the middle of crystal clear waters of a beach

Authenticity and trust make better marketing

Resort Collection immediately noticed the stories generated by using the platform resonated with their audience.

How? For starters, they saw a spike in engagement and conversion, a testament to better conversations that are meaningful, timely and appropriate—all at a moment when people are deciding how and when they will be ready to travel again.

The platform put happy times at the front of mind for Resort Collection’s new and old audience alike.

In just 62 days, Resort Collection engaged 265 storytellers who shared their greatest travel memories. 401,876 friends and family were introduced to Resort Collection by a trusted friend or family member. 2,936 warm leads in conversation-an audience who are the perfect demographic.

As they’re phasing back into operation, the platform is now helping the collection immediately start welcoming this warm audience to their newly reopened properties.

And as units book and first guests arrive, they, too, will become storytellers, continuing to grow Resort Collection’s audience, and seeding the funnel in the same way.


Resort Collection recognized the most important lesson in the pandemic: keep your audience at the center. Sparking the right conversations with that audience, and nailing timing and tone are incredibly important.

By prioritizing these efforts, when the time is right for both your properties AND your audience, they’ll be there for you.

OPMA Summit: On knowing your audience and your industry

This May, we attended our second OPMA Executive Summit since becoming members.

 

Aside from industry insights, one of our favorite aspects of both OPMA membership and events is the chance to meet up with like-minded industry partners and friends who are also committed to advancing travel.

We reached out to a few for their thoughts on the spring summit and received some great thoughts on the event and OPMA’s advocacy network.

Take a look at their insights below:


Alex Husner, CMO, Condo-World Resort Properties on OPMA:

“The purposefully small group atmosphere allowed for great conversations and networking, and the ability to meet almost everyone at the event. The attendees represented many of the most well known and respected brands in the industry, traveling from as far east as Vermont to as far west as Hawaii!

One of the key takeaways I noticed with this group was an abundant support of collaboration between members…from sharing marketing successes to tackling legal challenges and homeowner relations—no topic was off limits!

This is a group of like-minded, innovative business owners and C-level executives that are all supportive of helping each other succeed. I’m excited to attend more events and learn from our industry’s best and brightest.”

 

Stuart Butler, COO, Fuel Travel on the vacation rental industry and the organization’s role in shaping travel:

“The condo-hotel space faces several unique challenges. Firstly, the fact that the management company has to juggle the priorities of the two stakeholders (the owner and the guest) means that there are constant decisions that have to be made that may benefit one party, while negatively impacting the other.

Having homeowners maintain the quality of their units also poses unique challenges in terms of the quality of the product and the guest experience. This can lead to negative reviews, which impacts ADR and occupancy. Finally, the lack of awareness that the consumer has regarding the differences between on-site and off-site renters is a major problem — one that is exacerbated by the fact that the OTAs and TripAdvisor don’t distinguish between the two.

OPMA is a very special and unique organization. The members—both managers and vendors—seem to have a genuine desire to want to work together to help drive the industry forward. OPMA has introduced us to a lot of new people with whom we can collaborate and solve the problems that the industry is facing.”

 

Maurice Arbelaez, Corporate Director of Sales & Marketing, Millenium Management on the summit:

“OPMA explored common issues and challenges we share with other management companies and condo resorts operators, working to improve collaboration with other members to benefit both of us.

OPMA creates a vehicle to share and exchange ideas and best practices with other on-site management companies that experience similar challenges. Members also benefit from services that offer solutions to those challenges, enhancing the guest experience to surpass expectations.”

 


What are your thoughts on the challenges for the vacation rental industry? Join the conversation! We look forward to continuing to advance this dynamic industry together.

Micro-influencers: why trust trumps ads

Micro-influencers can make a huge impact for your hotel marketing strategy—they’re trustworthy, authentic, and can even trump the influence of someone who has a large number of followers. Tune in as I share why:

 

Want to make micro-influencers part of your strategy? Check out Adweek, Venture Beat, and Jeff Bullas, or get in touch with me here.

A guide to visual content for hoteliers

The cliché, “an image is worth a thousand words,” actually has a lot of merit to it. Studies have shown that images communicate a lot more than words in a lot less time, while triggering emotions and being easier to remember. As the web has grown to be more visually stocked, your guests are expecting a visual experience when they interact with your brand.

There’s just one disclaimer: your images need to be relevant to travelers at every point along their purchasing journey. Google has helped hoteliers make sense of the incredibly complex traveler’s journey, organizing it into what they call “micro-moments”—when people turn to a device with intent to answer an immediate need. (Thanks, Google.)

Here’s how they break it down:

  • Dreaming Moments
  • Planning Moments
  • Booking Moments
  • Experiencing Moments

Creating content that appeals to travelers in each moment provides your hotel a massive opportunity to win their business.

Here, we’ll explore the types of visual content to serve travelers when they’re in each micro-moment described above—and you’ll be on your way to a building a library of content and a relevancy goldmine.

Dreaming Moments

Dreaming moments are when people start thinking about wanting to get away. Here’s your chance to truly inspire travelers.

According to Google, 83% of travelers say social networking, video, and photo sites are their number one source for travel inspiration. Your homepage is an excellent place to inspire travelers, as well as social media content—the advantage here being a light lift and something your hotel can start doing immediately.

Take this Instagram post from Adrift Hotel & Spa. It’s a perfect example of the type of content travelers are looking for when they’re primed to be won over:

Adrift Hotel uses Instagram to inspire new travelers

An eye-catching photograph and the use of strategic hashtags like #LongBeachWA make this photo discoverable by travelers dreaming of getting away to the Pacific Northwest.

There are some things to keep in mind with content that’s targeted for travelers in this phase of their journey. The first is to avoid using overly branded content or making presumptive asks like “book now.”

Also, stock photos should be kicked to the curb in most phases, but especially at this moment. Authenticity matters and a canned image can easily leave an uninspiring first impression.

Planning Moments

At this point, travelers have an idea of where they want to go, but still need to make up their mind on where to stay and what to do. As a hotel, your aim is to make it on the shortlist of their top places to stay, and now it’s time to convince them you’re the best option.

Use photos to focus in on the unique selling points of your hotel, weaving in real guest stories where possible.

For Adrift, this might include sharing images of The Pickled Fish—a quaint beachfront restaurant located on the top floor—or the complimentary beach cruisers on their hotel’s web gallery.

With a quick visit to Adrift’s gallery or Facebook page, you’ll know it’s a haven for dog (and cat!) lovers. Not only does a post like this one perk the curiosity of a casual onlooker, it’s telling a richer story for the property.

Adrift Hotel tells their story with a guest story on Facebook

Booking Moments

Yes, the moment of booking!

Here’s when traditional room photos come in handy. Feature images that are relevant to the accommodations that are being booked and ensure that these images are consistent with other areas of your website. The last thing you want someone to do at this point in their journey is feel like you’ve given them false information.

Be mindful of the amount of visual content that you use here. The goal is to get guests through the booking process, not distract them.

Experiencing Moments

Experiences are what travel is all about. These are the moments people cherish and are the ones they’ll want to relive and share with friends & family.

If a pre-stay email is part of your communication strategy, here’s the perfect opportunity to sprinkle in some richer imagery to build excitement for what your soon-to-be guests have in store. Highlight authentic guests stories, local events and businesses, and invite them to join the conversation on your social channels so they can continue to be inspired.

Once they’re on property, invite them to take part in the local community with thoughtful touch points and social shares. Here’s one from Adrift, inviting guests to visit one of their favorite suppliers—a local soap company.

Adrift Hotel promotes local business for onsite guests to explore


The right image at the right moment can make all the difference on a traveler’s purchase decision. Relevant content in your communication with future, current and past guests is the key in capturing, nurturing and retaining lasting relationships for years to come. And that is what hospitality is all about.

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Stories matter: what hotels can learn from content marketers at large

Forrester defines content marketing as:

“A marketing strategy where brands create interest, relevance and relationships with customers by producing, curating and sharing content that addresses specific customer needs and delivers visible value.”

Notice that it’s more than just creating content to put in front of your guests. It’s creating effective content with a purpose—to educate and inspire.

And when it comes to this strategy, in particular, hoteliers can take cues from brands across every industry. From the most extreme examples like Red Bull TV to the more subtle like Leadpages, they all have one thing is common: incredible content marketing and storytelling.

The case for better content

There’s no shortage of content out there on the internet. Just about everyone is creating it. But is it effective? It’s critical to measure if your content marketing is working. To do this, you need to define what success is from the start. What metrics are important to your hotel? What are the wins (both large and small) to get you there?

Without a clear plan in place, it’s easy to fall into a trap of creating more content rather than creating content that’s actually effective at meeting your goals. Remember the endgame here—create interest, relevance and relationships with your guests.

According to Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, there’s no one way to do just that. But she does offer a few suggestions to consider for your next piece:

  • Focus on empathy and experiences
  • Focus on relevant and inspiring stories
  • Focus on making it useful

Great content = Useful x Empathic x Inspirational

It’s important to note that all three factors are needed. Without one, the system (and it’s effectiveness) fails.

The case for storytelling

The medium you use to distribute your work and even what you define as useful or relevant is completely dependent on your brand, guests and business goals. For hoteliers, in particular, stories have an important role to play.

Stories help build powerful connections with guests, creating loyalty and trust that can make a hotel stand out from the competition. Let’s dig into why.

Stories are useful

For centuries, humans have told stories to share information and teach important lessons. Over time they shape our perceptions and beliefs, whether that’s about individuals, food, political views, or even your hotel.

As your story is cultivated, it develops into a powerful means for future travelers to learn about your hotel and the experiences your property has to offer in an authentic way. When all of these things come together, that’s when your guest is ready to book.

Stories are empathetic

Your guests are the core characters of your hotel’s story and they have relevance to the people they know—future travelers perfect for your hotel. It’s hard for these prospective guests to identify with a building. But your guests’ perspectives offer an authentic connection that resonates. They’ll breathe life into your hotel with messages that traditional advertising can’t touch.

Don’t just take my word for it. Robert McKee, regarded as one of the best brand storytellers, said in this interview, “When a story stars a consumer, there’s a kind of natural empathy. That character is a human being, just like me.”

Stories are inspirational

Stories engage consumers, pulling them in to participate in the conversation, rather than telling them what to think. Plus, stories evoke emotions, and emotions inspire us to take action.

Just remember that authenticity matters here. Travelers see right through content that’s not authentic and you’re running the risk of losing valuable credibility with your audience.


Brands across every industry recognize that storytelling is an effective avenue for marketing. It captures what today’s consumers want: useful, empathetic and inspirational content. For the hospitality industry, adapting this mindset while enlisting the help of your guests will be a win-win for your hotel.

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Watch now: Introducing Photo River

Right now your site is designed to capture the 1% of travelers who are ready to book immediately. But what about the other 99%? They’re still in decision making mode.

That’s why we’ve introduced Photo River—a new experience designed to bring to light the stories your guests are sharing, right on your site. Infuse more personality, offer up new ways to start a conversation, and bring back some real hospitality into your marketing with Flip.to.

 

Sound interesting? Take a tour, or adventure on to see how easy it is to share guest stories with Flip.to:

The election, the social media echo chamber and what it means for hotels

In the last few days, news (fake or real) has become a focus thanks to a little event we call the presidential election.

The impact that social media had in the outcome is beginning to come to light, especially as it relates to the distribution of fake news stories.

You may be reading this wondering, “Why isn’t more being done about this?” The truth is handling the situation is a pretty tricky line to walk. Much of the focus has been on just how different liberal and conservative people saw content. So, why is this?

We can break what you see in your news feed down into two categories:

  • Organic News Feed posts
  • Paid News Feed posts (advertising)

Let’s start with organic posts.

You may have heard a reference to the echo chamber effect. This is something we at Flip.to are very familiar with. It’s the core reason advocacy is an effective means to influence travelers. Let’s look at why.

Social Media sites like Facebook allow users to self-select friends and sites they find interesting. The result? We’re friends with and follow sites that have strong similarities with our own views and backgrounds. Naturally, we’re presented with content in our news feed from these sources that is very narrow in scope and tends to be in line with what we already believe.

This is not algorithmic witchcraft. It’s actually common sense. We collect friends along the way, and we’re friends with those people because of some like-minded similarities.

Unlike real life, social media allows us to stop following friends who post things we don’t like. People are more likely to do this on social sites than they are during live in-person interactions.

Why? The other person generally has no idea you stopped following them (so we don’t feel so bad doing it). So in our social media lives as least, this creates a laser-focused set of people with similar beliefs and interests continuously feeding related content to each other.

It falls into an ethical gray area to ask companies like Facebook or Google to intervene with content shared organically. This quickly gets into big-brother-type censorship that (left or right)—we all want to avoid.

It falls into an ethical gray area to ask companies like Facebook or Google to intervene with content shared organically. This quickly gets into big-brother-type censorship that (left or right)—we all want to avoid. We’re all responsible for understanding that just because something is on the internet, it’s not necessarily based on fact.

 

Now let’s switch gears to paid News Feed posts, or in other words—advertising.

Here is where companies like Facebook and Google can make an impact. They’ve created an environment where advertisers target audiences through very specific data points. (Say, things we’ve liked or searched for.) This puts content in front of us that we are likely to find relevant or positive.

This actually makes the bubble we live in even smaller since we’re only exposed to paid content that is based on our own self-selection and is likely to appeal to us. Coupled with the content we’re already seeing organically as explained above, and—well you get the picture.

Moderating these posts will not be an easy task. Any action in restricting advertisers due to content will be a challenging balancing act. Lets face it, most news these days has a strong amount of point of view or opinion interlaced with facts. So who is to judge what is real news and fake news?

You can actually see this firsthand by looking at this article by the Wall Street Journal. It illustrates the stark contrast of how information on the same topic is presented by different sources to different audiences. It’s easy to see the side-by-side difference between News Feed articles shared by different “blue” and “red” followers. Depicted posts are sorted based on if they are shared more by those with liberal or conservative behaviors.

Facebook has stepped up to the task, announcing several steps they’re testing to battle misinformation both to provide more accurate information as well as protect the integrity of the platform. Facebook’s CEO outlined a plan of stronger detection, news verification and user warnings in an announcement made on his personal Facebook page:

So what does all of this mean to a hotel? Opportunity!

For one thing, we’ve learned from the echo chamber effect that you should speak to the friends & family of your guests the same way you speak to your existing guests. They share similar social and economic status, making them a targeted audience who are likely to make similar decisions (like booking your hotel). Do this right and ultimately it will lead to higher conversion for your hotel.

The bottom line? Authenticity matters, as does relevancy and truth in advertising.

The bottom line? Authenticity matters, as does relevancy and truth in advertising. The best marketing combines the three and gets the right content in front of the right people. Do that and everyone wins (Facebook and Google will love you for it too).