Springwise notes: Opportunities abound for brands to help consumers bring their offline lives online — and vice versa — and we’ve seen numerous examples over the years. Recently, however, we came across one that’s slightly different. Namely, at the Great Wolf Lodge chain of waterpark resorts, visitors can use RFID-enabled wristbands to transmit photos to Facebook over the course of their stay.

Guests at Great Wolf Lodge resorts already use RFID wristbands as room keys and in-house charge accounts. Now, beginning at the chain’s property in Grand Mound, Washington, its new Great Wolf Connect service allows guests to register their wristbands at a dedicated kiosk and link them directly to their Facebook account as well. Then, when they stop to pose for a photo at any of the park’s five camera-equipped “Paw Posts,” guests simply scan their wristband and their photo can be automatically posted to their Facebook wall. Launched in late June, the Great Wolf Connect service was built by Fish Technologies.

All the world may be online — or much of it, anyway — but the gap between offline and on is still significant. What OFF=ON innovations could your brand deliver to help close it?

Website: www.greatwolf.com
Contact: corp.greatwolfresorts.com/contact

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Mashable notes: The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain is now offering destination advice via Foursquare. It’s the newest member of a small but growing coterie of luxury brands generating content — and thereby finding value — in location-based social networks.

The Ritz-Carlton’s Foursquare profile now includes dozens of tips about local destinations and landmarks from concierges at its 75 hotels — extending advice previously available only to patrons to anyone with a Foursquare account.

For instance, guests checking in at the Massachusetts State House might come across a suggestion to stroll around Beacon Hill, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Boston. “Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once lived here,” the tip reads. (Those who follow the Ritz-Carlton’s Foursquare account will see tips as notifications; those who do not will see it in the general “Tips” section on their app.)

Although the tips are intended in part to give the public a taste of the concierges’ range of knowledge, the service is intended primarily for Ritz-Carlton customers, Chris Gabaldon, chief marketing officer of the Ritz-Carlton, says.

“It’s part of our greater work to make sure we’re connecting with all of our customers in all of the ways they want to interact with the brand,” he says. “The affluent customer today is moving beyond online and into mobile and because they have that capability, they expect brands they know and trust to be available wherever they might look for them.”

 

 

 

 

Gabaldon dismissed the suggestion that making the tips publicly available lessened the value of the Ritz-Carlton’s concierge service. “There’s no way that you can ever fully tap into the wealth of knowledge of a concierge, their experience. [Foursquare] heightens awareness of the richness of the information they have, making it more attractive and making customers want to communicate and spend time with them,” he says.

The brand is also embracing the opportunity of connecting with a younger, more digitally savvy consumer, he says, noting that the typical Ritz-Carlton customer is “very diverse.”

Further tips will be added over time. At present, the Ritz-Carlton has no intention of rolling out the program on similar networks such as Gowalla.

 

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NEW YORK – Not any luxury hotel would go to the trouble of replacing at its own expense a $100 shattered bottle of wine that a guest had clutched while arriving at the hotel but sadly dropped on the driveway.

New luxury brand wants to take on Starwood, Marriott

But that’s exactly what happened recently at Bardessono, a quiet, eco-friendly retreat in California’s Napa Valley where you can pay $800 and even $900 to stay on a busy night, says Jim Treadway, who manages the hotel and spoke with me last week during the New York University’s hotel investment conference.

The courtyard of the eco-friendly, luxurious Bardessono hotel in Napa Valley.CAPTIONBy BardessonoWithin 15 minutes, the valet parkers who witnessed the minor tragedy made sure to drive to the vineyard where the guest had purchased her bottle, replace it (same vintage) on the hotel’s dime, and deliver it to her pricey room – in an ice-filled bucket.

MORGANS HOTELS CEO: Meet the new CEO, Michael Gross

This story above, Treadway says, is exactly why he thinks the newly formed “Personal Luxury Collection” – now with 13 hotels – will grow to become a dominant player in the luxury hotel business. Among the other hotels: Hotel 1000 in Seattle, the Italy-inspired Hotel Granduca in Houston and the new, mod Hotel 718 in downtown Brooklyn.

He thinks it can even rival luxury hotel networks under giant hotel companies, such as Starwood’s Luxury Collection and Marriott’s fairly new Autograph Collection.

Who’s behind the new brand?

Treadway’s company, MTM Luxury Lodging, recently sold out to Houston-based hotel operator Benchmark Hospitality, and together they’ve formed a new company that will seek to specialize in running ultra-luxury hotels.

Their goal is to lure owners of other ultra-luxury hotels who are eager to improve customer service, management – and their bottom line. That strategy will likely mean convincing a hotel owner to hire them to manage the property, or convincing an owner with Starwood or Marriott to switch sides.

With luxury travelers increasingly seeking better service and customized experiences, Treadway says that “Personal Luxury Collection” is better poised than its big-chain rivals to please these demanding guests.

“Every guest will have an experience that’s tailored for them. With properties with under 150 rooms, we can do that,” Treadway, a former president of Westin Hotels’ North American division. “The Luxury and Autograph collections deal with both large and small hotels, and just because of the scale, at some hotels they can’t deliver the personalized experience that we can.”

Loyalty points not the point for this crowd

Alex Cabañas, Bechmark’s chief development and strategy officer, told HotelNewsNow.com that they don’t plan to spend time or money creating loyalty programs like Starwood or Marriott because they’ll be too focused on creating personalized experiences for guests.

“The effect of that kind of service is that she will tell that story for the rest of her life,” Treadway says, referring to the Bardessono story. “It wasn’t orchestrated by a manager, but by two hourly employees who were immersed in a culture of ‘What can we do when we have an opportunity to blow our guests away?'” That’s a personal luxury experience. I can’t imagine another hotel doing that.”

Was the wine expensive? Yes, Treadway told me. It was a $100 bottle of chardonnay from the nearby winery that she’d visited before driving up to the hotel.

“But her bill was going to be $5,000. What’s another $100 for a customer for life? I’ve got a ton of those stories.”

“The Personal Luxury Collection” hits the ground running with 13 hotels, with the priciest being the eco-friendly boutique Bardessono hotel.

 
By JANE L. LEVERE
Published: June 7, 2011

TWO of the world’s largest hotel companies are reaching out to other industries to establish partnerships that they hope will help their luxury brands continue their recovery.

John T. A. Vanderslice, right, of Hilton Worldwide and Tommy Hilfiger, an adviser.

At a reception at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday, Marriott International announced “strategic partnerships” with Christie’s; Tumi; Keri Glassman, a nutritionist; Aromatherapy Associates; and Treasury Wine Estates, as part of a brand initiative to deliver “a deeper luxury guest experience” at JW Marriott hotels worldwide.

In April, Hilton Worldwide announced a “luxury manifesto” involving video interviews with executives it calls “industry influencers” in the retail, fashion, publishing and culinary fields. It is posting these on the Facebook pages of its Waldorf Astoria and Conrad brands, and basing policies and services on executives’ comments.

As the luxury hotel segment “emerges somewhat from the recession, it is looking for ways to enhance the luxury experience that do not involve spending money on the plant, or on increasing staff,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. “These could be nontraditional ways, including tie-ins with luxury products that have an image value or the potential for guest service enhancement.”

According to Smith Travel Research, revenue per available room for United States luxury hotels reached a peak of $204.68 in 2007, then fell 5.4 percent in 2008 and a far steeper 23.2 percent in 2009. Mr. Hanson said that represents the greatest decline the segment has experienced.

Although revenue per available room for luxury hotels jumped 8.9 percent last year and is expected to rise an additional 10 percent this year, Mr. Hanson says he does not expect it will fully recover to 2007 levels until possibly 2014.

Although Smith Travel Research said demand for luxury hotels in the United States rose 12 percent last year, Mr. Hanson said much of that was because of discount rates. He also said demand had been significantly outstripped by growth in supply, up 20 percent from 2008 through 2010.

Such growth is one reason Marriott has created the JW Marriott partnership program: Marriott is opening three such hotels this year and six next year, mostly in Asia and the Middle East. When 13 more planned for completion by 2015 open, the 27-year-old brand will have 77 hotels in 29 countries, 65 percent abroad.

Also driving the partnership, said Mitzi Gaskins, vice president of JW Marriott, is “some confusion” by guests between the more downscale Marriott and JW Marriott brands. (The company’s most upscale brand is Ritz-Carlton.)

“We’re making an effort to drive awareness among luxury consumers. One way is through our partnerships,” she said. “We want to align ourselves with people in a space relevant to our consumers. Our goal is offer unique experiences and knowledge to our guests.”

Executives of the partner companies will provide information about their areas of expertise to JW Marriott customers, through content on the brand’s revamped Web site and in a new in-room quarterly magazine.

Christie’s is displaying works it will auction at JW Marriott hotels and this week it will show Beatles photographs at the JW Marriott Grosvenor House London. Christie’s also is creating city guides for hotel guests in six cities. And Aromatherapy is developing a signature scent, spa treatments and bath amenities for the brand.

Marriott, which manages or franchises JW Marriott hotels but does not own them, is spending $500,000 on the partnership program, which is to last two years, Ms. Gaskins said.

John T. A. Vanderslice, global head of luxury brands for Hilton Worldwide, said he had come up with the “luxury manifesto” to learn about “the changing face” of the luxury market “from its respected leaders.” It is “experiencing a reincarnation postrecession, but no one single vision of luxury has emerged,” he said.

Executives he has interviewed for the Facebook videos include the designer Tommy Hilfiger , the restaurateur Danny Meyer, and Stephen I. Sadove, chief executive and chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue. Conversations with them and others have inspired Hilton to revise its staff training and to offer “transformational experiences” to guests, like gladiator training at the Rome Cavalieri, and dog sledding at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah. Mr. Vanderslice declined to disclose the cost of Hilton’s program.

There are 24 Waldorf Astoria hotels, with nine in development, while there are 16 Conrads, with 17 in development. Hilton, which describes Conrad as its “global contemporary luxury brand,” manages all but one of both brands’ hotels, and owns the original Waldorf-Astoria .

The two marketing efforts are getting mixed reviews from industry observers.

Steven Kent, lodging analyst for Goldman Sachs, said the JW Marriott brand is particularly important to its parent, “because its larger boxes and lots of rooms” have a greater impact than Marriott’s average hotel on company operations.

Marriott, he said, is aiming to shift “JW Marriott into the higher end of upscale travel. Any affiliation” with other luxury companies that “it puts into consumers’ psyche is helpful,” he said.

Andrew Sacks, president of Agency Sacks, a New York branding and marketing agency for the affluent market, said if the partnerships are “superficial, don’t add a lot of value, don’t have substance, the customer will see through them.” He called the JW Marriott initiative “a nice way to bring consistency to a disparate product,” while he said Hilton’s videos “make sense, because they implicitly show an understanding of what business people desire,” a wish to learn.

Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, said that if consumers do not feel the partners “are a credible luxury provider, or they had a negative experience with them, there’s the risk of a negative association for the hotel.”

“The last thing” Marriott or Hilton “want to do is to be perceived as the hospitality industry’s Marie Antoinette, advertising a somewhat lavish product line while a lot of other people are suffering in this economy,” he said.

 

Older men, according to audience tracking surveys, can’t wait to see “Super 8,” the Spielbergian science-fiction thriller that opens on Friday. But those guys aren’t known for racing into theaters. Box office glory for “Super 8” this weekend will turn on turning out a young crowd.

To that end, Paramount Pictures on Thursday will stage an unusual stunt intended to create a surge of chatter on Twitter. Imax theaters and top-performing multiplexes –- some 325 locations across the country in all –- will host afternoon sneak-peek screenings of “Super 8” and customers will be urged to Tweet about it afterwards using #super8secret. (These shows will be available to anyone who buys a ticket, however; you do not need to use Twitter to attend.)

Paramount will also hold a handful of private screenings on Wednesday night for Twitter users with large numbers of followers.

If the reaction is as positive as Paramount hopes, the studio will have created an online brush fire on behalf of the film. “Word of mouth now travels in minutes so we thought, ‘Let’s activate these people’,” said Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman.

Back in March, Paramount introduced the final trailer for the film via Twitter and was pleased with the results. “Super 8,” which was directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, features a mostly unknown cast in a 1970s-era story about a group of friends who witness a train crash caused by a supernatural force.

By BROOKS BARNES

 
By STUART ELLIOTT
A campaign by Ian Schrager, the new owner of the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago and its Pump Room restaurant, is asking Chicagoans whether or not to change the name of the restaurant.A campaign by Ian Schrager, the new owner of the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago and its Pump Room restaurant, is asking Chicagoans whether or not to change the name of the restaurant.

The new owner of a venerable hotel, and the famed restaurant within, is asking former and potential customers to vote on keeping the eatery’s familiar name or changing it.

The referendum is being conducted by Ian Schrager, who bought the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago as part of plans for a new lodging chain to be called Public.

The decision has already been made to rebrand the hotel as Public Chicago. A campaign in traditional and new media, which is to begin on Wednesday, asks Chicagoans whether Mr. Schrager ought to continue calling the restaurant the Pump Room or rename it the Gold Coast Kitchen.

The possible new name refers to the hotel’s location in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. The Pump Room opened under that name in the hotel in 1938 and has, down through the decades, attracted a Who’s Who of diners.

The Pump Room has also received shout-outs in the lyrics of songs like “Chicago” and “My Kind of Town.”

The campaign is the creation of Mr. Schrager and his public relations agency, Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations. The traditional elements include newspaper ads.

The new media aspects include a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Voters, likewise, can cast their ballots in old-school and new-school ways. They can call toll-free phone numbers, 888-682-PUMP to keep the name or 888-943-GOLD to change it.

And they can also vote online, on the Web site of Mr. Schrager’s new chain, Public Hotels, at publichotels.com.

Other new-fashioned voting methods include texting (sending “PUMP” or “GOLD” to 24474) and casting ballots on iPads being carried around Chicago by so-called street teams clad in T-shirts that proclaim: “Pump Room or Gold Coast Kitchen? Chicago, You Decide.”

The budget for the campaign is being estimated at $200,000.

Mr. Schrager, who is credited with originating the concept of the boutique hotel, said he has “asked a lot of people” whether the name should be changed.

On one hand, “this is like the Oak Room in New York,” he said in a phone interview, referring to the Plaza Hotel, but on the other hand the restaurant had not recently been successful. (It is now closed for renovations.)

“People have a very, very fond memory” of the Pump Room, Mr. Schrager said, “and you like to hold on to the past.”

But also, “you have to move forward and look ahead,” he added.

Mr. Schrager said he would “lean toward giving it a new name,”  but would abide by the results of the vote. The results are to be announced on June 22.

The Public chain is to differ from Mr. Schrager’s boutique hotels like the Royalton in New York and the Delano in Miami Beach. Those hotels are now part of a company called the Morgans Hotel Group and he is no longer involved with them.

“I’m trying to create a new class of hotel,” he said, that would be to lodging what Trader Joe’s and Apple are to retailing. The concepts would include simplicity and inclusiveness.

“I’m more excited about this brand,” Mr. Schrager said, referring to Public, “than when I did the original boutique hotel.”

In addition to Public Chicago, there are to be two Public hotels in New York, one in London and one in Los Angeles.

After that, the next location would be Florida, Mr. Schrager said.

Mr. Schrager is also continuing to work with Marriott International on a new lodging chain for that company, called Edition. There are two Edition boutique hotels, in Hawaii and Istanbul.

 

Airbus engineers let their imaginations run wild when they created “The Future, by Airbus” last year, which predicted the future of commercial air travel.

Transparent fuselages that give passengers unobstructed views of the city that lies 40,000 feet below their feet. Holographic projections that transform a private cabin into a Japanese Zen garden. Self-cleaning headrests that can never be soiled.

We told you about it here.

Now Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine has posted an animated video made by Airbus on YouTube that shows how it would all come together.

Click the link here to view the video.

 

Jeff Katz, the founding CEO of Orbitz, is obsessed with travel. He taught flying lessons while in graduate school, worked at American Airlines and Sabre, and was the head of Swissair — all before running Orbitz and selling it for $1.25 billion in 2004.

Jeff Katz
Jeff Katz

So after all that what does Mr. Katz do to satisfy his travel urge? Create a social travel game, where instead of racking up virtual goods players win real-world travel. Mr. Katz is the CEO of NexTag, a consumer price-comparison search engine. But in his spare time, he figured out a way to use the massive data he saw available on Google Earth to help people with their travel needs.

The result is Travel Game, launched in public beta at last month’s Google I/O developer conference after he’d been working on it for about a year. The game was built by some of the same people who created Grand Theft Auto and Battlefield 3. Players see Google ads — of course — and marketers appear eager to sign on. United Airlines, Hyatt and Royal Caribbean are on board with the beta.

Ad Age: How did you come up with this idea?
Jeff Katz: Running big brands like Swissair and being involved in travel, I thought for a long time what would be the next innovation. Maybe the next innovation isn’t really about travel itself, but something that helps people solve the big problem — that people don’t have enough time or money to travel. So you play and you win “moola” — or points — and you redeem them for travel. And what if the game took place on a game board called Google Earth.

Ad Age: How much support are you getting from Google?
Mr. Katz: We’re getting a lot more than we thought we would. We’ve had great support from the Google engineering team — they’ve been very engaged and they really like the project. They asked us to launch it at Google I/O.

In 'Travel Game' a player skydiving can be offered actual skydiving travel packages.
In ‘Travel Game’ a player skydiving can be offered actual skydiving travel packages.

Ad Age: Why should marketers and advertisers care about this game?
Mr. Katz: Travel is a multi-trillion-dollar industry. So if casual games like “Angry Birds” and Zynga are billion-dollar businesses — travel is bigger. It’s bigger because everybody is interested in travel — every demographic, every gender and it’s constant and it’s global. “FarmVille” may not translate in Sweden, but “Travel Game” does.

Ad Age: How do you see marketing working in the game?
Mr. Katz: There are lots of marketing hooks from performance-based ads to social marketing to traditional display marketing — an infinite number of ways to communicate with this global audience. You know a lot about the player’s interest from the game, so if a player is skydiving in Las Vegas, then you can offer that player a travel package for skydiving in Las Vegas. That offer can be served into the game as a pop-up, or we can even re-target the player on the web.

Ad Age: You mentioned “Angry Birds” — they are working out a franchise. Are you thinking of going that way?

Mr. Katz: Not only can you play this game anywhere on Google Earth, but you can build games for every kind of creative idea. We can build a game to emulate the TV show “Amazing Race,” a game based on “The Da Vinci Code,” or a game about a historical tour of London. You can do anything with Google Earth as your game board and travel as your theme.

Ad Age: It’s only been out for a few weeks, but how’s it going so far?
Mr. Katz: We’re seeing tremendous engagement — people are playing 20 to 30 minutes of game play and a typical social game is a few minutes. We’re getting a lot feedback from gamers like “Add more destinations” and “Make it even simpler and faster.” We’re hardly marketing the game and there’s a lot of interest from e-commerce companies, airlines and hotels.

Ad Age: So what kinds of rewards to gamers get?
Mr. Katz: Right now prizes are a round trip ticket or a $50 United voucher or a night at a hotel. If you spend some of the “moola” that you win in the game, you can get a cruise, or a round trip ticket to Mexico. As we get more players, we get more rewards. As we get more advertisers, we get more rewards.

Ad Age: How do you make money?
Mr. Katz: The game revenue is from from players spending money in the game and advertising revenue.

Ad Age: How do you see this fitting into the social gaming world?
Mr. Katz: Everyone is doing social gaming and giving away virtual goods. We’re saying virtual is good, and travel is better.

 
By Kris Fronzak
June 8 marks the start of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ month-long endeavor to send its CEO and senior leadership team to Shanghai.

China is the company’s second-largest market after the U.S., something that Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen wants to embrace.

“Starwood is no longer an American company that happens to run some hotels overseas,” van Paasschen explained. “Today, we’re a global company that happens to be based in [White Plains], New York. Eighty percent of our future pipeline is outside of North America, and nowhere is more emblematic of our global growth than China.”

Starwood said it has more than 70 hotels in China, flying flags for eight of the company’s nine brands. Another 90 hotels are under development in China, Starwood said.

The executive team will conduct daily business in Shanghai, touring properties throughout the country and meeting with local customers, partners and developers.

Executives also plan to grow enrollment for Starwood’s loyalty program while in China, as the country continues to be the richest source of new travelers for Starwood. Chinese enrollment in Starwood Preferred Guest jumped 71% last year, said Starwood.

Depending on the success of this venture, Starwood intends to implement a month-long global relocation annually. Other high-growth markets are Brazil, the United Arab Emirates and India.

Starwood’s brands are Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Westin, W, Luxury Collection, Aloft, St. Regis, Element and Le Meridien.

 
By ELAINE GLUSAC

Hotels have used scent, art and of course food to set themselves apart. Now is using indie musicians as a way to define itself.

The musicians can be found on playlists created for several Morgans hotels that stream on the Morgans Web site and are available as free downloads. Selected by Morgans’ management and the online music distributor RCRD LBL, the playlists are meant to match emerging independent bands with each of its 12 hotels. On the playlist for the Delano in Miami, for example, Morgans aimed for sexy and sophisticated, choosing tracks by Matthew Dear and Freelance Whales. For the more energetic Mondrian hotels, including the new one in SoHo in New York, the Ting Tings and Chilly Gonzales made the list.

W Hotels also recently introduced an iPhone app that contains playlists curated by its music director, the D.J. Michaelangelo L’Acqua. Listeners can stream the music from the free app, but anyone looking to buy one of the mixes will be directed to iTunes.com.