Engaging community at 8th Online Revealed

WINDSOR—Online Revealed and social media have come a long way since A Couple of Chicks hosted their first conference in 2006.

Alicia Whalen.

Alicia Whalen.

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WINDSOR—Both Online Revealed and social media itself have come a long way since Patricia Brusha and Alicia Whalen of A Couple of Chicks hosted their first conference in 2006. At that time, the words ‘Twitter’ and ‘Pinterest’ were not in anyone’s vocabulary.

“But Online Revealed has consistently provided some of the most engaging content [in the field],” said Edward Perry, global senior director of e-commerce, social media and innovation programs for WORLDHotels, who co-chaired this year’s conference along with Brusha. “They foresee emerging trends and capitalize on them.”

For the past two years, Online Revealed has been held in Toronto in conjunction with the Hotel Association of Canada conference and the Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit. This year, the conference was a stand-alone event held April 2-4 at Caesar’s Casino in Windsor.

Many of this year’s speakers talked about use of specific aspects of social media—Hari Nair of Expedia kicked off with a look at Canadian Travel Trends through an ‘Expedia lens.’  

Other speakers dealt with blogs, Pinterest, search engine optimization (SEO), mobile and multi-screen, Travelzoo, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, facebook and analytics.

But a common theme throughout the conference was the need to genuinely engage with online audiences, be they sports fans, potential visitors to your property or DMO, the LGBT community or brand advocates.

Hari Nair.

Hari Nair.

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Every world super-region has seen tremendous increases in access to the Internet since 2012, and there’s more trade and commerce being done online, Expedia’s Nair told the conference delegates in his leadoff session. Seventy-seven per cent of Canadians should have Internet access by 2016; 74 per cent is the comparable U.S. figure.

Expedia.ca has been operating for 17 years and has 3,319 Canadian hotel partners. There is a high proportion of leisure travel on Expedia—90 per cent.

Nair said there are four top ways hoteliers can use Expedia to help grow their business.

  • Expedia has a high proportion of international customers, 40 per cent versus 20 per cent in the overall market. “International travellers stay longer and spend more,” said Nair. “They’re hard to reach and expensive to target. We have the ability to help hotels slice and dice their offerings—for example, to cater to a hotel in Canada that only wants customers from the UK.”
  • Hotels can benefit from Expedia by extending their availability in the three days leading up to the booking date. “Booking on Expedia in the zero to three-day window is exploding—those people are booking online using their smartphone or tablet. If you have no availability, you will miss out on this  group, which accounts for 10 per cent of the Canadian market and is growing.”
  • Increase the number of product [or room] types available. If you have more than one offering, you have the ability to drive higher than the market rates, especially among leisure consumers, who generally pay higher rates than corporate or  group customers.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of content, both on the OTAs and your own sites.  “Retail is detail,” said Nair—it all comes down to descriptions, photos and reviews.

Later that day, conference co-host Edward Perry from WORLDHotels, and John Knowles, director of innovation and new media marketing at the 130-room Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan, talked about ways in the hotel used Pinterest to build community among the hotel’s largely European and Swedish clientele. The hotel’s approach included social-media fuelled pop-ups—essentially they created a live version of Pinterest. Companies were encouraged to transform three 600-1000 square foot underutilized spaces on the first floor to whatever they wanted—a market, a restaurant or a themed experience—on a short-term basis. The hotel got a lot of media attention, which in turn is driving business to the property.

Day one of the conference concluded with case studies from the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, Facebook Canada and Charlottesville Albemarle County, Virginia on social media successes.

John Freeman

John Freeman

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John Freeman of Charlottesville Albemarle County started with a $12,000 budget, and a young staff consisting of himself and some interns. Together, they created a Facebook page, which started with zero fans, and has transformed into the world’s most engaged DMO Facebook page. (In one ranking, the only Facebook page that was more engaging was Disney’s.)

Freeman and his staff used an edgy voice, plus pictures of animals and sunsets, as well as Flickr, to get audience reactions. Although they only have 40,000 fans, the Charlottesville page often finds itself in the ranks of the top 1,500 most engaged Facebook pages in the world.

On day two, Alicia Whalen, co-founder and e-strategist at A Couple of Chicks, chaired a panel presenting the findings of the Canadian Destination Benchmarking Study, which the Chicks are undertaking in conjunction with the Canadian Tourism Commission. The session reviewed the online performance of 22 Canadian DMOs.

Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada chaired a panel consisting of Gerry Chase, president and COO of New Castle Hotels and Resorts, David Elkins, director of advertising for TripAdvisor, David Doucette, executive director, of Internet marketing Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, and Victoria Isley, CEOof Destination Marketing International.  They spoke on the ways brands can help drive traffic to destinations.