Americans are travelling less. Industry leaders have blamed the decline in travel on falling income figures and a lack of savings, despite the economy’s slow progress towards complete recovery and the nation’s penchant for spending. International travel, once a standard annual activity for middle class families throughout the nation, is now considered a luxury that may have to wait a year.
But one American tourism icon continues to attract visitors in record numbers: Las Vegas. The town that truly defines sin has seen continued growth in its tourism industry, bringing in a record eighteen million visitor throughout the first six months of 2010. Hotels bookings are fairly constant, despite a decline in occupancy rates throughout the United States’ biggest holiday centres.
Why the unexpected increase? Las Vegas has maintained an 82 percent occupancy rate over the past six months – a significant increase from its peak periods just a year ago and much higher than rates seen in other tourism cities. Travel industry experts have pointed to the city’s growing family appeal as reason for the consistency, with hotels reporting a greater amount of non-gambling visitors.
It’s a theory that’s backed up by the city’s gaming revenues. While visitors flocked to Las Vegas in the past six months, the city took in seven percent less tax revenue from its major casinos. Gaming industry journalists have pointed to a lack of disposable income as the cause of low gaming income, as many of the city’s frequent gamblers lack to the funds to attend frequent casino events.
For Nevada, the chance in revenue represents a transformation that’s been taking place in Sin City for several decades. As the city sheds its sleaze appeal and grows into a family destination, income is likely to diversify across different sectors of the tourism industry. While it’s unlikely to mark the end of Vegas as a gaming hotspot, this will be good news for tourism operators in the region.
Hotel occupancy rates are climbing, albeit at a fairly sluggish pace. While this presents a difficult situation for many of the world’s largest accommodation chains, it’s a golden opportunity for low-cost travellers and bargain seekers. In an effort to increase occupancy and boost financial records, many of the world’s most comfortable hotel chains are offering record low prices.
But does that really make a chain hotel a good deal? The majority of international travellers still opt to stay in a major chain hotel, with industry leader Accor noting that despite financial concern, most travellers are still staying in well-known hotels and ‘big brand’ accommodation. With boutique hotel operators gaining ground in many markets, that dominance may soon disappear.
Boutique hotels are often passed over by international travellers due to their limited online visibility and difficulty in catering to major groups. The vast majority of boutique and independent hotels are limited to low-rank placements on major aggregators and travel booking websites, despite offering service that is on par with – if not above – that provided by major five-star chains.
Where are these hotels found, then? On independent tourism websites and private weblogs. Smaller local hotels are typically marketed through word-of-mouth and unsolicited reviews, with blogs and other ‘unconventional’ holiday information sources acting as unofficial third-party marketers. It’s an idea that’s beginning to gain ground – many referral-fuelled independent hotels and expanding.
So before you book into the Sofitel, Intercontinental, or Ritz-Carlton, consider looking at the value offered in an independent hotel. While most travellers associate independently managed hotels with limited quality and low-cost accommodation, there is an increasingly large market for luxury hotels outside of the traditional big-brand architecture.
Online hotel comparison websites were once considered the pinnacle of value, but a new method for sourcing low-cost hotel deals appears to have emerged. Nowadays, before tech-savvy travellers turn to Agoda or Priceline, they search on Twitter for their preferred cities and hotel chains. It’s the latest development in social media marketing, and it could become a revolutionary change for hoteliers.
Twitter has changed a number of business models since its introduction in 2007. The micro-message service has millions of users and a dedicated business community, with chief executives and experts in finance posting their thoughts and findings daily. While the website has been hailed as the public relations industry’s biggest asset, it’s also proven itself to be a worthwhile direct marketing tool.
Hotels, for example, have been using Twitter over the past three years to alert customers whenever a great deal is available. With occupancy rates fairly low over the past twelve months, marketers have turned to Twitter as an outlet for their special deals. Want to find a hotel room at half-off the regular price? Don’t search using a standard ‘negotiation’ agent – take a look at the hotel’s Twitter account.
It’s a marketing method that’s changing perceptions of social media as being something that only the world’s biggest companies should invest in. While brands such as Coca-Cola and Nike benefit from the website’s power as a customer service tool, independent hotels and other small businesses using Twitter have found that it is immensely helpful in moving discounted units.
So next time you’re in need of a budget hotel room, don’t pick up the phone to call, pick it up and go straight to the nearest hotel’s Twitter account. While a greater number of followers are snapping the best deals up, there’s more than enough to go around – hotel occupancy rates remain low, with many independent operators surfing the ‘net daily to find new customers.
Hoteliers have rejoiced about the increase in occupancy rates. With a twenty percent surge in the number of booked hotel rooms throughout the first half of 2010 and an increase in travel industry spending, it seems as if Britain’s travel-friendly population was back to its old habits. But there’s one demographic that’s missed out on the industry-wide praise: internet-savvy solo travellers.
Hotel aggregator firms like Priceline and its Pacific subsidiary Agoda have helped solo travellers find low-cost room deals and fill gaps in hotel inventory, industry journalists claim. The surge in recent bookings is primarily due to families and business travellers, although individual bookings have made up a significant portion of the global accommodation market’s revenues.
Most travellers still book their flights and accommodation using an agency, primarily due to the cheaper fares and hotel rates on offer. But a growing number of solo travellers are eschewing an appointment with the travel agent in favour of an online booking, potentially saving themselves money in the process. Services like Priceline top popularity lists, along with Agoda and Orbitz.
There’s also been an increase in the number of travellers booking combined accommodation and flights through an aggregator-turned-airline. Asian low-cost carrier AirAsia has turned combined bookings into an art, encouraging solo travellers to book hotels using their website by offering a collection of coupon codes and special discounts.
While upsells, cross-sells, and special promotions are far from new in the online travel industry, their renewed presence is certainly a good sign for the travel industry. Splashes of darkness are visible in the windows of even the world’s most popular hotels, indicating that there’s still room available at below-cost rates for those with an innovative approach and sufficient tech savviness.
For years, one of the world’s most well-known hotel chains lacked a presence in Hong Kong. While the Conrad and Intercontinental reserved spots in Hong Kong Island’s immense skyline, there was no sight of the acclaimed Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel on either side of the city’s harbour. Was it a lack of corporate interest, or merely an oversight in one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations?
It appears to have been neither, as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company recently announced it will return to Hong Kong with a spectacular new Kowloon-based property. The luxury hotel chain has bought a sixteen-floor share in the brand new International Commerce Centre – Hong Kong’s tallest building and the world’s tallest mixed-use commercial office and hotel building.
Ritz-Carlton will be joining Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley in the building, which is currently one of Hong Kong’s most expensive office spaces. With the ICC nearing its official opening, hotel employees expect that rooms will be ready within the coming months. The hotel itself will occupy the building’s top sixteen floors, stretching from level 102 all the way to the building’s peak at 118.
Rooms are expected to stretch from fifty to three-hundred square metres, each offering a different experience for guests and a variety of harbour views. The hotel itself has been designed to use both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon as part of its panoramic display, billing itself as one of the world’s best in-room views and offering an unparalleled experience for international visitors.
Expensive? No doubt. While high-end travel has taken a hit throughout the recession, the timely opening of the Ritz-Carlton reflects an upwards turn in global travel spending. Boasting one of the world’s most impressive views and an untouched level of luxury, we’re betting this one’s worth the price tag, however opulent and nonsensical it may be.
In a city famed for its expensive accommodation, a website encouraging users to welcome travellers into their homes is rapidly gaining popularity. The city is New York – one of the most wealthy cities in the world – and the website is CouchSurfing.com – a free project aimed at providing free housing and accommodation for international travellers and low-cost globetrotters.
The median price of a hotel room in Manhattan is approximately $200 – a figure that prompts many of the city’s million monthly tourists to look outside the city’s central districts. But while hotels and serviced apartments demand high prices from tourists, a growing number of young travellers choose to put their comfort, and occasionally their safety, at risk by staying at a couch-surfer’s home.
New York City is one of the most popular destinations on CouchSurfing.com – a website that now boasts over two million users worldwide. The website has cornered a market in compassion-driven accommodation, with users sharing their living rooms, extra bedrooms, and couches with travellers from all corners of the globe.
Over three million positive experiences are reported on the website – a simple way of measuring whether a housing experience was good or bad. While obvious safety risks do exist, the majority of the website’s users seem aware of the risks and all-but completely happy with them, claiming that theft is rare and violent crime almost completely non-existent due to simple online reporting.
While we suspect that CouchSurfing.com may not overtake the Intercontinental when it comes to revenue, the website is a classic example of social networks overriding a previously closed world. New York City’s expensive hotels will continue to attract high-end travellers in droves, but it looks like those on the lower end know where the best deal is – on the couch.
Singapore-based Banyan Tree luxury hotels group has decided to reduce its dependence on Thai investments, selling its Phuket resort to an undisclosed bidder. The company is one of several in Thailand’s high-end travel industry, and its reversal of a previous ‘expansion first’ policy is great news for other operators in the country’s highly competitive luxury travel sector.
Given that the company’s Bangkok hotels are intact, competition remains fierce in the Thai capital of over twelve million. The city boasts numerous high-end hotels, particularly those with presences in Thailand only. The celebrated Lebua Hotel chain operates exclusively in Thailand and southern New Zealand, offering visitors a taste of cultural luxury within the Thai capital.
That luxury, however, comes with a price. Rooms at the hotel start from £170 – an alarming rate in a country where most struggle to earn £600 monthly. The hotel backs out onto Bangkok’s riverfront shopping and restaurant area, offering visitors a combination of convenience, culture, and the city’s celebrated street side cuisine.
Lebua’s top competition comes from one of the Banyan Tree Group’s own hotels – their own Westin Banyan Tree on Sathorn Road. Famed for its rooftop restaurant and view-focused shape, the hotel is one of several in Bangkok offering open air dining to guests and outside patrons. Prices begin from approximately £130, with the hotel’s well-known international suites priced upwards of £1200.
With the country’s tourism in a state of uncertainty, however, many of the listed prices for high-end hotels within Bangkok are negotiable. Aggregate travel websites such as Agoda have several of the city’s top hotels listed with rooms discounted almost seventy percent, while a number of the largest hotels in Bangkok offer even greater walk-in discounts. Our advice: compare, call, and negotiate.