One of the best things about the travel industry is that it’s full of smart and creative people from diverse backgrounds. These are folks that followed their passion into the industry, but also cultivate interesting hobbies or side projects outside of their jobs.
“Insider Perspectives” is a new series that shares the stories and expertise of travel industry insiders and veterans, drawing upon their unique and impressive backgrounds. In addition to sharing their insights and thought leadership on industry trends, these experts will offer a sneak peak into the things and people in their lives that keep them inspired, rejuvenated, and fulfilled.
For our first piece, we talked to Nate Lane, our Senior Director of Digital Platforms at Travel Tripper. When he is not contemplating about the 4 biggest threats facing U.S. hotels and other important issues in hotel marketing and e-commerce, you can find him on his mountain bike or imbibing special craft beers. Here’s a look inside:
Tell us about your role at Travel Tripper. What’s the most interesting and enjoyable part of your job?
As the Senior Director of Digital Platforms here at Travel Tripper, I oversee and manage our web agency team and our digital platforms product group.
The best part of my job is finding talented, passionate people to work with our clients. I care deeply about my team and do my best to support and mentor them so they can be fulfilled and content in their work and whatever they seek to do personally. I only hire people who know more about their area of expertise than I do, so I pride myself on directing specialists and enabling them to do fantastic work.
You’re a champion of this concept called “Hotel E-commerce,” can you tell us what it’s about?
Hotel E-commerce is applying modern sales and marketing methods to hotel inventory—in effect, the productization of hotels.
Think of it like this: You run a business that manufactures widgets. To sell those widgets, you have a balanced distribution strategy across wholesalers, distributors, and direct channels. It’s your job is to make sure that the widget is described accurately and in detail across those distribution channels. In addition, you must make sure that your pricing is competitive and in parity. You also must deliver an excellent brand experience that includes the customer service and reputation management technology or platforms to ensure that consumers are excited and confident when they purchase your product.
Hotels are no different.
The hotel itself is a widget, room types are widgets, special offers and packages are also widgets. As a hotelier, when you productize your hotel and apply retail-specific sales and marketing methodologies, this forces you to focus on the key strategies and tactics that maximize ADR, occupancy rate and price parity, while delivering a phenomenal customer experience.
It’s only when hoteliers operate in a silo and try to reinvent the wheel that they get into trouble. Often times, hoteliers think that hotel sales and marketing strategy differs from product and retail strategy. It doesn’t. Nevertheless, like any successful model, the hotel e-commerce formula still requires excellent merchandising, diversified distribution, customer evangelism, loyalty, and most importantly, a strong contribution from the direct channel to ensure growth, flexibility, and control.
What are the top things that hotel marketers should look out for when choosing a vendor/agency?
There are a multitude of agencies that produce great work and have great people. Start there, but make sure that the agency’s work and its people align with the hotel’s culture and brand. You also need to make sure that you speak the same language—and that the agency’s successes align with your goals for the hotel.
Once you’ve selected your shortlist of potential agencies, shift your focus to transparency, access, and expertise. As the hotel, you must have access to, and ownership of, all source data. This includes web analytics, paid search programs, email marketing, RFP form submissions, and any other mechanisms for data collection. Even if you don’t fully understand how to use that data on a day-to-day basis, it’s your proprietary data and should transcend any and all vendor relationships. If a vendor refuses to give you access and ownership to this data, be skeptical.
Next, interview multiple members of the agency team including those that will be your main points of contact if you were to work with that agency as a client. During these interviews you should feel very confident that each team member offers expertise and strategic value. Agencies should be able to articulate their own services and value in detail and advise you with best practices related to all of your marketing channels and your revenue management strategy. They should also be able to give insights into your country/region/city/neighborhood for what works and what doesn’t work for properties like yours, with a focus on increasing direct contribution and overall growth across the designated metrics. If you don’t feel that a potential agency team is going to deliver more value and/or different value than your in-house team, why hire them?
When it comes to rebranding and/or launching a new website, what are the common pitfalls that hotels should avoid?
The first pitfall that hotels should avoid is thinking that they can avoid a performance dip while launching a new website or rebranding itself. No matter how much the hotel website or brand has improved, the performance dip is going to happen. This is because a different user experience is being delivered (even if it’s a better one). In these cases, it’s the actions of the hotel team and their vendors that will directly impact the severity of the dip, as well as the time required to rebound and exceed past performance.
Secondly, launching a new website is risky if the hotel’s web vendor doesn’t know what they’re doing. The risk increases when a hotel is going through a rebrand or using a different URL for their website. Running a successful launch or rebrand requires a proactive approach from both the technical and promotional standpoints.
From a technical standpoint, a capable web and SEO/SEM team will complete redirects, update business listings and search consoles, as well as update inbound links from third parties, and audit and update ongoing campaigns. From a promotional standpoint, it’s crucial that hotels tell a clear story about the launch or rebrand, addressing the past, present, and future of the property. In cases where hotel acquisitions happen and communication is not allowed, the technical aspects of the transition become even more important—and so does the agency.
What are the latest innovations and future trends in hotel marketing for independent and boutique hotels?
Hotel marketing innovations are both proactive and reactive. Because hotels operate in such conventional ways with fixed inventory, market-driven ADR thresholds, and renovation-based investment cycles, justifying investments in innovation is slower than many other industries that have much higher growth ceilings. Currently, reactive innovation is coming in the form of enhanced ADA compliance, data collection and data privacy in relation to GDPR compliance, as well as dynamic and personalized website experiences based on user behaviors and devices. While many of these reactive innovations are standard fare for other industries, they’re making big impacts on the profitability and risk mitigation for hotels.
When we think about proactive innovations in the industry, hotel marketing is evolving in both the areas of automation and efficiency, and also increasing returns across the digital marketing channels (organic, paid, and social). Currently, the tools hoteliers have at their disposal allow for real-time monitoring and campaign optimization, granular customer segmentation (based on buying and staying habits), and the ability to identify the emotional triggers that move guests to action—and bookings.
While technology pushes hotels into the future and further merges the digital and physical guest experiences, much of hotel marketing innovation still lies in conventional methods. Influencer marketing is a perfect example of a focused program that works for lifestyle and experience-driven hotels and seeks to convert niche user segments and create shareable content for the property. That said, I also think it’s important to point out that as much as hotels can and should be excited about hotel marketing innovation, if your property isn’t running a holistic, successful marketing program that has a foundation of a high-converting website, along with SEO/SEM efforts that produce high returns, don’t get distracted by innovation before you’re succeeding with the basics.
What inspires your work?
I’m most inspired by people; I’m very externally motivated and like to see others succeed. This is true for my team members at Travel Tripper and also true for all of the hotel stakeholders that I’ve come to know and form friendships with over the years.
The hotel industry is a small industry where we might be blunt and direct with each other during the day but we’re going to have a drink and talk about our kids and dogs later that evening. The relationships are very genuine and it’s a big part of what keeps me moving.
Many of us here at Travel Tripper are avid travelers. What’s your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve traveled quite a bit over the years, mainly for work purposes. I haven’t traveled much internationally, but I’ve been to just about every corner of the United States. In those travels, I’ve always been more interested in the local spots over the tourist traps. My most memorable travel experience was taking a few days off in between work trips and going to Ellicottville, NY, to go mountain biking and check out their craft beer bars. While I was there, I had no structure or responsibility, and the people I met were happy and welcoming—it was a great place to be.
How do you plan and prepare for your leisure trips?
I bring the minimum—carry-on luggage only. I also take advantage of the hotel toiletries. It’s about traveling light and staying nimble. Besides clothing, I make sure that I have some noise-cancelling headphones, a book that I’ve been meaning to read or finish reading, and a few Spotify playlists ready to go.
Do you have a passion project or side hustle?
I do! I’m an Ordained Minister through the Universal Life Church and I’ve been conducting wedding ceremonies since 2015 as The Alt Officiant. My first ceremony was for my brother-in-law and his then fiancée and from there it just took off.
Typically, I’m working with couples that want a non-traditional, custom, and memorable ceremony that tells their stories. To achieve that, I have multiple interview-style Skype sessions with the couple and usually some 1:1 follow-up with each person to really get into the details.
I’ve always enjoyed public speaking and have a background in music performance, so I think officiating gets me back into that space where I can work a room. Most importantly, I find it rewarding and fulfilling to contribute to the happiness of others on one of the best days of their lives.
*Image courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez-Dufresne Photography