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MARKETING

Holiday Travel: Do Hotels Really Offer What They Promise?

Do their brand promises match up to their home page experiences? Check the taglines, then re-check what you get.

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Thanksgiving is more than just the kick-off of the holiday buying season. It’s also the start of holiday travel.

A new survey from Orbitz.com says nearly 75 percent of Americans not only plan to travel this holiday season, but that they actually prefer traveling to gifts. And, nearly 9 in 10 would prefer staying in a hotel room than hunker down in front of the hearth.

With holiday traveling heating up faster than roasted chestnuts, I visited some hotel websites to see if their brand promises matched their home page experience.

Meet the new brand for Courtyard Marriott (same as the old brand).

My business travels have taken me to many a Courtyard Marriott. So I was surprised to learn there’s also a Courtyard Marriott Resorts. Its tagline is, "It’s a new stay." There’s a forced tagline if I’ve ever read one. A new stay? Is that a play on a new day, or the next generation of the stays I place inside shirt collars?

The brand’s website is even more confusing than the tagline--because the new stay Marriott Resort looks exactly like every other Courtyard Marriott I’ve seen. That’s a serious branding mistake.

Do not promise a new experience and then provide the old look and feel. While there have been some design and color upgrades to resort rooms, Courtyard Marriott Resort’s home page is chock full of discount coupons, deals, deals, and more deals. My suggested alternative tagline: "Still the same."

Sandals is Prada in disguise.

I visited a Sandals resort in the early 1990s. I remember it as a pleasant but bland experience. I guess I wasn’t alone because the new Sandals tagline is: "Luxury included." Do tell. A luxury experience at an all-inclusive Sandals? That sure sounds like an oxymoron to me.

Sure enough, the website reinforced my same blah feelings of yesteryear. The home page proudly pointed to "airport transfers in air-conditioned buses, rooms with four-poster beds AND a full bathroom." So when and where is the luxury included?

The all-inclusive resort for the middle income family is play-acting at luxury. Sandals is Prada in disguise.

America's Best Value Inns has me covered--and there's no cover-up.

I Googled a few select words to find top economy hotels and stumbled across America’s Best Value Inns.  A quick visit to its home page revealed that ABVI had been named Economy Hotel of the Year in 2012 and 2013 by Harris Poll Equitrend. That’s third party endorsement and it's exactly what a website should provide. Do not force me to conduct multiple searches to determine your stayworthiness.

ABVI’s tagline is "We’ve got you covered." It sure does. Its home page is easy to navigate, and full of such useful tips for finding properties near the beach, national parks, the mountains and even football stadiums (not my idea of holiday fun). ABVI also covers me by providing links for rental cars, group reservations, and business meetings.

ABVI is unpretentious. There are no faux boasts about providing a superior experience. America’s Best Value Inns simply lives up to its tagline, provides a pleasurable online experience, and shares objective reviews. It seems so simple. Yet so many brands cover up what ABVI shares.

Tolstoy slept here, at the Waldorf, and so should you.

I associate Christmas in New York with The Waldorf-Astoria. There’s something timeless and festive about the historic hotel.

But, alas, the Grinch must have stolen the Waldorf’s marketing smarts because the legendary hotel’s tagline and website experience are like a hangover on New Year’s Day.

The Waldorf’s slogan is, "The stories begin here." That’s a nice double entendre because the Waldorf Towers are synonymous with classy, high-end living. I’m sure there are lots of great stories to tell about the legendary people who’ve slept at the Waldorf.

Instead, I found a rash of dull, superficial, and pedantic stories about fictitious guests at The Waldorf. There’s one about a woman named Alexandra entitled, "The escape artist." It’s endless, meandering, and meaningless. Another story is entitled, "The magic behind the chandelier." Trust me, there’s none.

I don’t want to read other guest’s stories unless they’re non-fiction, and they rate the experience they’ve had at The Waldorf-Astoria. If The Waldorf wants to tell me a story, let me know how I can book a room, what it will cost, and ask what I’d also like to experience while visiting New York during the holidays.

Holiday marketing aside, lock in your travel plans now.

Jeanenne Tornatore, a senior editor for Orbitz.com, said, "The wait-and-see game does not apply to holiday travel. With costs steadily increasing earlier in the year, consumers need to lock in their plans as quickly as possible."

Savvy hoteliers know they have one chance to snare a traveler this holiday season. To do so, they need to manage expectations with authentic taglines and provide simple, helpful website experiences. Otherwise they may find coal in their stockings and red ink on the bottom line.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Nov 14, 2013

As co-founder and managing partner of Peppercomm, STEVE CODY is responsible for overall agency direction, management, and new business development. He is the author of What's Keeping Your Customers Up at Night?
@RepManCody




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