Hotels target families with summer promos

Sept. 11 and the economic downturn that followed it were like a rude wake-up call to North American hotel chains, which suddenly became aware that investment in both long- and short-term marketing strategies was as essential as sleep.
This collective consciousness, impelled by a lack of bookings, has led to various hotel promotions this summer, which are geared at leisure travellers and, in particular, families as they prepare to make short getaways.

Sept. 11 and the economic downturn that followed it were like a rude wake-up call to North American hotel chains, which suddenly became aware that investment in both long- and short-term marketing strategies was as essential as sleep.

This collective consciousness, impelled by a lack of bookings, has led to various hotel promotions this summer, which are geared at leisure travellers and, in particular, families as they prepare to make short getaways.

‘The hotel industry as a whole is investing more in marketing than they ever have before,’ says Patrick Gedge, SVP, marketing and sales, at the Ottawa-based Canadian Tourism Commission.

‘I’ve seen a lot of hotel chains putting dollars together in order to build up their voices in the marketplace and make the leisure consumer more aware that they’re open for business and that they have facilities that are family-oriented.’

According to recent numbers from the Canadian Tourism Association, 54% of summer trips involve children, and 73% of consumers are likely to drive to their holiday destination this year. According to Gedge, the ‘rubber-tire traffic’ is accelerating because North Americans are willing to drive longer distances with their families than they would have before 9/11, when they may have opted for air travel.

They are also expected to take shorter vacations, spread out over different times. He adds: ‘Hotels are looking to capture that increased amount of business, and some are working with local attractions in order to [offer] packages. That’s smart marketing.’

A good example of this trend comes from Minneapolis-based Radisson Hotels & Resorts, which has secured a cross-promotion deal with Hollywood studio Miramax. The Radisson Go Spy Kids 2 Family Package will attempt to glean some cachet from the blockbuster family flick Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, which hits theatres Aug. 7.

Bundled into the package is a free breakfast for four, an upgrade to the best available room at check-in and a gift pack for kids, shaped like a briefcase and stuffed with goodies like activity books, colouring pencils and treats from Keebler and Nabisco, as well as other partners. (Not to be left out, couples without children will be indulged with their own, more adult-oriented grab bags.)

Guests are also invited to visit the hotel chain’s Web site, where they can enter a draw to win a seven-day, six-night stay for a family of four at the Radisson Aruba Resort, plus a host of other prizes.

‘We heard through talking with customers in research that they don’t just want a room, they want an experience, and that’s what the Go package is based on,’ explains Deanne Paschke, director of brand management at the firm’s U.S. office.

Besides enhancing customer satisfaction, there’s another big bonus to Radisson’s partnership with Miramax: it has enabled the hotel chain to multiply its media spend for the season by four times.

‘We’re somewhere around $20 million-plus in partner value, whereas our spend is usually much less, at about $5 million. It’s really about leveraging off each other at this time, when everybody needs a bit of help making it better for the consumer.’

Paschke is hoping the media spend will pique kids’ interests, who will in turn persuade their parents to stay at Radisson. ‘If you want to reach kids, what better time than in the summer, when they’re off school and going to movies?’ The strategy is a sound one; according to YTV, 88% of tweens influence vacation choices.

Along with the summer promo comes new creative from Radisson’s AOR Peterson Milla Hooks in Minneapolis, revolving around the hotel’s key cards. The cards, which themselves have actually been adorned with vibrant graphics, such as artwork from Spy Kids 2, are the subject of this summer’s print initiative.

‘Whenever you see a hotel ad, you see a hotel room, lobby or exterior shot, and it doesn’t differentiate,’ explains Diane Reichert, senior marketing manager for Radisson Canada, who says the ads will run in magazines, like CAA’s travel and leisure magazines, and national newspapers through to September. ‘We’ve created these images to portray more of the experience you get when you stay at Radisson.’

Like Radisson, Days Inns – Canada has pulled together a ‘summer fun package’ for the kiddies. According to VP marketing Melissa Evans, the company is not backing the gift bag (which) includes activity cards, puzzles and punch-out characters) with any advertising, but rather sees it as added value.

‘It’s in conjunction with what we’re doing from an image perspective – when people walk into our hotels these days, they’re really surprised because we’ve upped our quality over the last couple of years. We’re trying to continue that surprise. Guests aren’t expecting to get something free for their little ones when they check in, so therefore they’re even more thrilled.’

Other hoteliers are also loading up on giveaways. Thanks to a first-time pact with Coca-Cola, guests at more than 430 Howard Johnson locations throughout North America receive a Vacation Values booklet stocked with coupons and the chance to win a summer sweepstakes, which they enter by mailing in entry forms or visiting Ho Jo’s Web site. At grabs are three party packages of $500 cash, two colour TVs, a DVD player and barbecue grill.

Also in May, New York-based parent company Cendant Corporation unveiled a similar promo at its 475 North American Travelodge destinations, which is supported by collateral material in suites. Visitors are offered a free interactive computer game, along with a chance to win $100 for a bowling party, as well as specialized bowling balls featuring the Travelodge mascot, Sleepy Bear.

Also anticipating a boost in clan vacations this summer is Holiday Inn, which reports that 52% of leisure travel in Canada occurs during the balmy season. As a result, the company launched its ‘Get That Holiday Feeling’ campaign in May, which gives guests a $5 gift certificate for Shell fuel, plus a chance to win 25,000 Air Miles reward miles through an online contest.

‘Because of 9/11, we believe a lot of travel that will happen in Canada will be inter-provincial or in neighbouring provinces,’ says Brenda Marino, director of marketing for parent company Six Continents in Toronto. ‘Since we anticipated more families would be traveling by car, we tried to get sponsors and partners that would fit, like Shell.’

The various facets of ‘Get That Holiday Feeling’ are communicated to consumers via radio advertising and print creative running in magazines like Today’s Parent. (Radio was produced by Toronto-based Keen Music; the print work was created in-house.) According to Marino, the trend of giveaways at the check-in desk is destined to escalate, at least at Holiday Inn. ‘In fall, we’re going to have very, very high-value-added programs,’ she says, stressing the word ‘very,’ but refusing to elaborate further. Guess it will be a surprise.