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    Will 2015 Be Remembered as the Year Online Marketing was Democratized?

    If we look back to the very early 1900s, when Henry Ford set out to democratize the car, what he said was that he wanted to build a car for the multitudes so that every person who wanted one could afford one.

    And so he did – and slowly, other industries followed suit. When the iPod was first released, it was priced at over $1,000 – now you can buy one (albeit a smaller version) for less than $100 (and in nicer colors, too).

    I’ve watched as industries like tech have become democratized and I wonder: why hasn’t this happened yet in hospitality? Why do so many of the digital marketers I speak to still pay upwards of $15,000 for a custom built website plus monthly maintenance fees and little control to add content at a moment’s notice without additional fees? I think 2015 is the year that this scenario changes and we’ll continue to see the democratization of online marketing as the major hospitality trend of 2016.

    What is the democratization of online marketing?

    As the accommodation space (e.g. vacation rentals, hotels, private homes, inns, B&B’s, etc.) levels itself, the marketplace of vacation rentals and other accommodation alternatives will increase dramatically. Already, travel retailers like booking.com and Expedia boast of 500,000+ “hotels” on their site. And the later just took a huge leap forward with the very recent acquisition of HomeAway. These numbers are dramatically higher than the 100,000+ traditional hotels found on GDS (Global Distribution System) channels. It makes sense that the next step in this evolution is the appearance of technology that can lower the cost and improve the results of websites for those wanting to sell travel accommodations through their own direct online channels.

    In my view, the days of using a large chunk of our precious marketing budget on building bespoke websites that seemingly have all the same component parts are behind us. Digital marketing has moved to a place where property owners can create stories about their accommodations, special offers and features and then publish these narratives to their independent website, mobile & social sites and across travel channels where vacation rental properties are likely to be found and really impact purchase intent in a meaningful way. The ability to simply build an online “hospitality” store through cloud based SaaS offerings is now a reality.

    Today’s vacation shopper is looking for the answers to these questions.
    1. What makes your offering different than others on my list?
    2. What is it about your property that will make my trip more fun, comfortable or efficient?
    3. What do the rooms look like (the whole story – bed, sitting area, washroom, amenities, etc.)?
    4. What kind of deal can I get?
    5. And naturally, what’s in and around the community?
    You don’t need a custom website to tell these stories and you don’t have to spend a ton of money creating and publishing these stories online.

    Brick and mortar retailers learned a while back that it’s not about constructing a very expensive store but rather how you merchandise the product within. Pop up retailers with a very low cost of “build” can generate the same type of sales per square foot as a highly custom built retail store.

    Creating an environment that moves people forward in their shopping journey and providing them with a clear path to the cash register (i.e. your booking engine) can be done as easily (and I argue easier) with a templated website as a bespoke one. Fundamentally, you want a website that is easily found by search engine bots and has the content that consumers are looking for, providing the triple benefit of improving conversion, allowing for high ranking relevant SERPs and reducing bounce rates. Take a look at HBK Villas in Antigua - - what a terrific job they’re doing - telling their story, their way to attract guests and effectively competing in search results with the likes of TripAdvisor and Expedia.
    I’m thrilled to be associated with VRMA and to offer educational content that contribute to the success of the vacation rental market.  This hospitality category is getting more crowded and competition isn’t just within the VR market anymore, but rather with the likes of Airbnb, Boutique and Independent hotels, and B&B’s all vying for the same leisure traveler who is looking for a unique experience.

    I look forward to listening to the challenges that face vacation rental owners each day so that we can develop our learning materials accordingly. Modern digital marketing tools and techniques are a reality today and they are uniquely positioned to help VR proprietors accomplish their goals at a price point that would make Henry Ford proud.
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