What: Portada talked to Robert Van Ness, Executive Vice President of Americas Preferred Hotels & Resorts about the luxury brand’s marketing strategies.
Why it matters: Preferred Hotels & Resorts has over 650 hotels in 80 different countries, each one of them is marketed as an independent brand.

According to a study published by global travel technology provider Amadeus in 2016, luxury travel saw a 4.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), versus 4.2% for overall travel, between 2011 and 2015. Luxury travel is defined as  outbound flights on business or first class. This trend is expected to keep growing towards 2025 at a CAGR of 6.2%, almost a third faster than overall travel at 4.8%. Preferred Hotels & Resorts  is an organization catering to the Luxury Travel segment. It  was founded by 12 North American hoteliers in 1968, originating as a referral organization for hotels, under the name Preferred Hotels Association. Today the organization has the world’s finest luxury hotels and resorts with an extensive global collection representing more than 85 countries. Preferred Hotels & Resorts does not own, operate, or manage any of the hotels within its portfolio. All of the hotels, resorts, and serviced residences within the Preferred Hotels & Resorts portfolio are independent entities. The organization’s quality standards are measured by yearly anonymous on-site inspections and real-time quality assessment scores pulled from social media sites. We talked to Robert Van Ness, Executive Vice President of Americas Preferred Hotels & Resorts (photo), a key decision maker for Preferred Hotels & Resorts Marketing.

Portada: What marketing challenges do luxury hotel brands, like yours, face today?
Robert Van Ness:
 “With the proliferation of brands globally, it is important to maintain your core identity. For any brand, a critical key to success is maintaining authenticity and originality.”

Digital marketing efforts such as display banner ads, PPC, social media, and email marketing campaigns work best for us.

Portada: Which marketing platforms work best for you to reach your customers? Why?
RVN: “
Digital marketing efforts such as display banner ads, PPC, social media, and email marketing campaigns. Because everything is trackable, therefore every media dollar is spent responsibly; the media can be targeted based on other traveler purchases (e.g. the ability to target a traveler who has booked an airline flight and not yet a hotel); A/B testing can be performed on creative. From a mass marketing perspective, we invest heavily in display and some PPC. From a direct marketing side, we develop and execute a lot of email campaigns throughout the year – these are particularly effective since our audience is very engaged with our brand.”

Because everything is trackable, every media dollar is spent responsibly.

Portada: Can you mention an example of a successful campaign you’ve done recently?
 “An example would be our Florida / Caribbean regional campaign. By targeting high-intent consumers and capitalizing on peak booking times with a relevant message and strong offer, we saw a dramatic increase in revenue. Utilizing highly targeted tactics such as consumer search behavior on TripAdvisor and Sojern’s airline booking behavior allowed us to garner a large ROI.”

By targeting high-intent consumers and capitalizing on peak booking times with a relevant message and strong offer, we saw a dramatic increase in revenue.

Portada: What marketing trends are you seeing in the luxury hotel market?
‘Book direct’ campaigns continue to be a major trend that many luxury hotel companies are pushing and/or adopting.”

Portada: Why do you believe they are (or will be) successful?
“Building a relationship with our guests and iPrefer members is important to their embracing the brand, and our hotels.  Some may think they cannot find independent, distinctive hotels AND a loyalty program.”

Portada: Which marketing agencies do you work with in the Americas?
 “Hyperdisk, as well as notable industry leaders such as AdRoll for retargeting, TripAdvisor for regional targeting, Quantcast for demand generation, Sojern, DerbySoft for meta search management.”

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What: To investigate shifts in global travel behavior for the most recent quarter, travel audience engagement platform Sojern analyzed search and booking data from October to December 2016. The final report revealed interesting insight about how Latin Americans are planning to spend their Semana Santa vacations, and how US marketers can entice them.
Why It Matters: LATAM travelers are researching and planning very early for a holiday that is tailor-made for families, but there are still last-minute bookings taking place. Travel marketers should address last-minute deals while offering incentives for early bookings, and find ways to offer tangible services and variations on discounts for increasingly budget-conscious travelers.

Semana Santa ‘Tailor-Made’ for LATAM Family Travel 

Traveler audience engagement platform Sojern analyzed trends in April travel among LATAM travelers, revealing valuable insight into shifts in consumer preferences and the effect of current political and economic conditions on people’s ability to travel.

Andres Franklin, Commercial Director for Latin America, Sojern
Andres Franklin, Commercial Director for Latin America, Sojern

In LATAM, the week of Easter, Semana Santa, takes the place of Spring Break for children, and schools close the week that follows Easter Sunday. “Families see it as a ‘must-travel’ time of the year because there is so much time off, so many look to take longer getaways,” said Andres Franklin, Sojern’s Commercial Director for Latin America.

And as employees in the region — especially in Mexico — tend to get less time off than they do in the United States, people are likely to take advantage of the vacation days that this entire week affords them. Some are even taking an additional week off so that they can have a rare, full two-week vacation: The study revealed that April 1, 7, and 8 are the top departure dates in April.

Franklin commented that trip durations searched for Semana Santa also reflect this trend: “43% of those looking for long-haul travel are planning trips of 12 or more days, and nearly a third of short-haul travel is also for 12 or more days,” Franklin said. The study also suggested that while people plan in advance for this holiday, last-minute bookings are still taking place. Marketers would be wise to address those who are making reservations late through last-minute deals.

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LATAM Travelers Budget-Conscious but Seeking New Experiences

While each country in the region has its own idiosyncrasies, they are generally sensitive to prices as exchange rates and their purchasing power does not always favor international power. But currency exchange across the region is at a 10-year high, and “Latin Americans still travel, but they are more budget conscious than before, so variations on a discount resonate a lot better with Latin American travelers than, say, offers of free wifi or additional features,” Franklin explained. “Tangible services, like airport pickup and free breakfast resonate well, too, as does quoting room rates in local currency instead of the US dollar.”

There are also ways to acknowledge the fluctuating economic conditions and turn them into an enticing deal: “If you really want to be smart and hit home with Latin American travelers, you may want to offer, instead of a 20% discount, an offer to ‘pay for it in 2010 currency exchange,” Franklin suggested. While a deal like this is essentially a monetary discount, he assured that it “strikes a different chord” with consumers in Latin America.

Creating short videos that welcome Latin American travelers, especially in Spanish, would be a great way to get your brands in front of new travelers and inspire them to visit your destination.

It is also important to recognize that while LATAM travelers are budget-conscious, they are on the lookout for novel experiences when they travel. “They might scale back on ‘retail therapy,’ but events like a concert, a broadway show, or a major sports game all are still appealing to the Latin American traveler to the US,” Franklin said.

Marketers Should Go Out of Way to Welcome LATAM Travelers 

And it’s not just economic conditions that are shaping LATAM travel decisions. LATAM travelers — especially Mexicans — follow the news in the United States closely, and understandably do not feel particularly welcome in the country. To alleviate LATAM travelers’ worries, marketers should focus on “warm and inviting” messages that are heavy on video. “Creating short videos that welcome Latin American travelers, especially in Spanish, would be a great way to get your brands in front of new travelers and inspire them to visit your destination,” Franklin noted.

Another way to assuage travelers’ worries about how welcome they are in the US is to focus on the type of American experience that LATAM travelers want. “When Latin American travelers come here, they seek that ‘Americana’ that is not accessible in their home countries, with respect to both brands and the experiences,” Franklin said. Marketers that can give LATAM travelers the customer experience that they expect from their trip — full of American culture, food and nostalgia — will be well positioned for success.

Semana Santa a Unique Opportunity to Solidify Relationships with LATAM Travelers

Marketers wondering whether Semana Santa is a good opportunity to attract LATAM travelers should rest assured: it is most likely the busiest time of year for traveling, since many people stay in their countries for Christmas so they can be close to family and friends. Plus, since North Americans escaping the cold tend to drive up prices over the holidays, “Christmas is not a great time for Latin Americans to travel, at least not to beach resorts or most of the USA, where it’s winter,” Franklin said.

And since the North American summer months have no family-centric holidays, Franklin added, “kids are usually enrolled in some form of Summer program or camp, so it is family travel time, whether parents in LATAM want it to be or not!”

Real-time marketing and Big Data have opened big opportunities for marketers when it comes to hyper-targeting their prospects. This is particularly true of the heavily-digitized travel marketing sector (example: Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling recently told us 88% of Best Western’s hotel bookings are done online). Sojern, a performance marketing platform for travel brands, has specialized in delivering that particular message that each unique user is looking for before traveling. We asked Andrés Franklin, commercial director for Latin America at Sojern, to spell it all out for us.

Travel is complicated. And people, when they travel, behave differently than they usually do. To any advertiser trying to connect a product or service with targeted audiences, a traveler is different than any other target.

Andrés Franklin, commercial director for Latin America at andre franklinSojern, says it best: “Travel is unique because I am equally as likely to buy a shirt today as next week: all it takes is a bit of tomato sauce, and there you go. While many of us are travelers, we are not in the market to purchase travel at all times.” It’s not enough for a five-star hotel chain or luxury cruise line to simply target people who travel. What’s the point in investing money in a campaign, only to reach backpackers that can’t afford your hotel rooms? “I don’t want to speak to the five-star hotel’s target audience the same way I do to people traveling by discount fares and trains,” Franklin adds. But it’s easier said than done.

Sojern is a platform that helps advertisers connect with travelers in more meaningful and engaging ways through connecting frequent travelers with branding efforts when they are likely to buy. Let’s assume the client is a large hotel in Cancun. The company’s job is to connect its client, let’s say a hotel in Cancun, with the people that have just bought tickets to Cancun, and are traveling in seven days, since 70-90% of bookings occur within two weeks of buying a ticket.
Latin America has very fragmented hotel markets.

To Franklin, it’s all about finding ways to provide very tailored and ROI-effective solutions for advertisers in the tourism industry. “Hotels want to be right there with a compelling message that is relevant to that traveler, for his or her particular destination, with an offer for specific dates or seasons,” Franklin says. “So we have data partnerships with data suppliers like airlines and OTAs, and are using a programmatic, data-driven media buying platform for the traveler these clients want to target.  We can buy media that is highly targeted and deliver very customized messages to individual users.”

CHECK OUT: 6 Things you Need to Know About Best Western’s Approach to Marketing
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Partnership with Travelclick

16844832212_3f37b0babc_z (1)Sojern just partnered with TravelClick to share targeting and data-driven advertising resources and offer an extensive and complete media solution. Of the partnership with Travelclick, a global provider of data, ecommerce and internet solutions to the hospitality industry, Franklin says: “What we are trying to accomplish is marry those two things. What’s in it for both is ability to impact more properties and bringing this sophisticated media solution to hundreds of properties across Latin America, the Americas and the world.”

As the commercial director for Latin America, Franklin tracks the specificities of this unique region. Naming a few of its particular features, he says that comparing Brazil and Mexico illustrates the difficulty associated with reaching fragmented hotel markets. In Mexico, for example, the top 10 hotel chains have an average of 30 properties in the country. Intercontinental has over 100. But in Brazil, the first two or three on the list of biggest hotel chains have between 50 to 100 properties but and the 4th largest may have five. Argentina, Chile and many other countries in Latin America are similar in that respect.

These smaller hotels can see impressive ROI, but only through reduced marketing and distribution costs. Markets like this, that demonstrate so much longtail, are challenging, as it typically takes “a lot more time to get to the same volume of people.” Having aggregated its technology, Sojern is particularly useful in facing this industry challenge.

Flexible Models

But Sojern has been sure to develop tools for all types of campaigns and clients: “The way we’ve built our business is to have highly-flexible commercial models where we can work in a number of different ways with advertising. When it comes to the competition we are all going after the same pool of money, and so where there’s a marketing or distribution budget, thats all the budget there is,” Franklin says.
5819756791_89b1c4f580_z (1)Speaking of clients, do clients in Latin America (or anywhere) undstand the complicated technology that is now implemented in programmatic buying? “Entering certain parts of the world has been a challenge,” Franklin admits, and he joined Sojern two years ago, when there were no programmatic, data-driven models for determing the best potential target out of a thousand people – and what message will work best. Franklin explains: “That first year was a lot of education. But two years down the road it’s a different story: Rarely do I speak to clients that don’t understand the value proposition we offer.”
So what should Sojern expect from this rapidly-changing industry? Franklin believes that:
1) The availability of inventory will increase – “So many companies like Clarin and Televisa are still selling good chunk of their inventory the old- fashioned way, with a salesperson that makes the rounds and knocks on doors. Theyre protecting an asset because they feel that once they make their inventory available to ad exchanges, they lose control over what people will be willing to pay for it. So theyre spending money  to create premium content, but theyre only charging what the market would pay for any ad. But publishers will realize that through the lower cost associated with selling through programmatic buying, they will sell media for less but make a better margin.”
 2) The adoption and understanding of programmatic buying will expand. “There’s still a lot of first-level understanding of programmatic and data-driven advertising, but not enough to differentiate in terms of why one platform could do it better than another. So I still have conversations. There will be advertisers that dig deeper and do own research, but the trend is that initially they will hear out what the agency has to say, it will sound awesome, and that’s their first foray into programmatic.”
Ambitious and creative minds in advertising have a fascinating year ahead of them in 2016, and no shortage of tools to develop new solutions for publishers.

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