While many hotels complain about the "Airbnb effect," others are using lessons learned from Airbnb to reinvent themselves via marketing and offer guests new products and experiences. One company in particular, The Aqua-Aston Hotels has leveraged a variety of marketing tools and tactics along with agency partner Wpromote to engage would-be Airbnb customers. For instance, it offers guests an unfiltered, more authentic look into the hotel experience by adding "Vacations in Progress" using images pulled from guests' Instagram accounts. They're also offering guests access to more of the local flavor at their destination by featuring local Hawaiian spotlights where locals share their tips, tricks and favorite spots on the island.
To learn more about how The Aqua-Aston is using Hawaiian locals as well as an easy-to-use loyalty program to fight back against Airbnb, Hospitality Technology interviewed Ed Skapinok, senior vice president of sales, marketing, revenue management and reservations, Aqua-Aston Hospitality.
HT: How does The Aqua-Aston feel about Airbnb?
SKAPINOK: We consider Airbnb to be just another distribution channel. We know that some guests prefer the ability to book a specific unit, so they know exactly what they are going to get. Of the nearly 50 hotels and resorts that Aqua-Aston manages, 23 of them can already be booked by unit on websites like HomeAway, VRBO, and Maui Condo & Home (MCH).
The announcement that Airbnb now offers experiences in addition to accommodations starts to put them more in the category of being a ‘one stop shop’ for people looking to book both accommodations and experiences. However, this is not groundbreaking for the industry as a whole. This is like what traditional walk-in Travel Agents as well as Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Travelocity have been doing for years by selling packages that include multiple components.
HT: Tell me more about the "Vacations in Progress" marketing campaign.
SKAPINOK: Vacations in Progress is a fun opportunity to showcase our guests’ trips on our website, and to give potential customers access to user-generated content about the destinations where we operate.
HT: Tell me more about "Spotlights."
SKAPINOK: Spotlights is our way of highlighting fun things to do in the destinations where we operate. We have rolled out interviews with locals and we plan to build on this editorial style with future interviews with our teammates and others in the community who have great recommendations on what to do, where to eat and how to have your best trip.
HT: How does Aqua-Aston Hospitality reward guest loyalty?
SKAPINOK: We are always looking for ways to offer creative, value-added incentives to guests to gain their loyalty. This includes the company’s new loyalty program called the A-List Insiders, which rewards guests when they book directly (through the website, by contacting a hotel or resort, or by contacting the Aqua-Aston reservations team). Benefits include discounts off the best available rates, free room upgrades upon availability, recognition by our front desk staff as an A-Lister, and a special welcome amenity at check in.
Plus, we are the only hotel and resort management company with a 24-hour call center in Hawaii, which is staffed by locals who have first-hand knowledge and can provide superior insights to our guests who are looking for recommendations when planning their travel. And if guests don't want to chat on the phone, they can use our online chat feature which is run by our 24-hour call center team.
This is just one example of how Aqua-Aston Hospitality is trying to make guests feel special and reward loyalty. And unlike most loyalty programs, A-List members start reaping the program benefits immediately without having to first rack up points. More than a loyalty program, A-List Insiders is one way Aqua-Aston is working toward developing a more personal relationship with its customers.