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Episode art #67
Episode art #67
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 67

Market, capture, and convert — driving full-funnel conversions

In this week’s episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate CRO, and Jason Pirock, Corporate Director of Marketing at Springboard Hospitality, take a look at website optimization and how to create a website that engages prospective guests, captures abandoned guests, and most importantly, drives conversions. The two also discuss how branding sets the tone for the guest experience and why content marketing is important.

Tune in to find out if your hotel website is effectively driving direct bookings and helping guests find exactly what they’re looking for.

Red, yellow, and blue lines to indicate soundwaves.
Headshot of Karen Stephens

Meet your host

As Chief Marketing Officer at Revinate, Karen Stephens is focused on driving long-term growth by building Revinate’s brand equity, product marketing, and customer acquisition strategies. Her deep connections with hospitality industry leaders play a key role in crafting strategic partnerships.

Karen is also the host of The Hotel Moment Podcast, where she interviews top players in the hospitality industry. Karen has been with Revinate for over 11 years, leading Revinate’s global GTM teams. Her most recent transition was from Chief Revenue Officer, where she led the team in their highest booking quarter to date in Q4 2023.

Karen has more than 25 years of expertise in global hospitality technology and online distribution — including managing global accounts in travel and hospitality organizations such as Travelocity and lastminute.com

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Hotel Moment episode #67 Quote graphic: conversions

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Transcript

Intro – 00:00:02: Welcome to The Hotel Moment podcast, presented by Revinate, the podcast where we talk to leaders in the hospitality industry. If you’re looking for trends, perspectives, and stories from leaders in travel and hospitality, you’re in the right place.

Karen – 00:00:18: Hello and welcome everyone to The Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Revenue Officer of Revinate. And today I am joined by Jason Pirock, who is the Head of Marketing for Springboard Hospitality. Welcome, Jason.

Jason – 00:00:32: Hi, thank you for having me.

Karen – 00:00:34: Well, we are very excited to have you today. So you’ve been a long-time customer and friend of Revinate. So before we jump into today’s topic, which we’re gonna get all in about direct bookings and websites and all that fun stuff. First one to start with just a little introduction about who you are. So you work today for Springboard Hospitality, but we’ve known you for a while from another company, Atrium. So do you wanna give us a little idea of your background and how long you’ve been in the business?

Jason – 00:01:03: Yeah, absolutely. So my hospitality career is a little untraditional from most. I got started out in the retail space. I was recruited by Target corporate out of college. Spent some time with them and moved on to Sears corporate. I worked for Brookfield Retail, which was general growth properties at the time before starting my career in hospitality at Hyatt. So a little bit of retail and more recently into the hospitality space.

Karen – 00:01:34: Right. That is so cool. You know, most of our guests on this podcast, and I think it talks a lot about hospitality, they really start in the hospitality industry. So I love it that you’ve got a background with consumer brands and really kind of the tried and true marketer background across all industries. I think that that’ll really enhance our discussion because it’s a different perspective. So that is very cool. Now, before we get into the topics at hand, I did want to talk about some of the five questions I asked all of my guests. So the very first one going back to your introduction, when did you start working in the industry? So you mentioned your first job was with Hyatt, I believe, when you came into hospitality.

Jason – 00:02:13: I’ve been in hospitality for about six years now. First was with Hyatt. I was fortunate enough that they were looking for folks outside of the industry. So that’s where I got my first big break if you will.

Karen – 00:02:27: Yeah. And do you remember your first day on the job?

Jason – 00:02:30: Oh, I sure do. The Hyatt corporate office is in The Loop in Chicago, right off of a Wacker. And the building is absolutely stunning, but a little intimidating, this big skyscraper, but it’s actually here. They call it the Champagne Flute because that’s essentially what it was designed after, and it’s just a really unique building in general. But I remember walking in and not having any idea how to access the building or the elevators and then just walking up to the floor and sort of being blown away by how beautiful the building was and how, you know, they really thought about the employees there and sort of like the layout of the space and whatnot. But the first day was really all orientation, learning about Hyatt, learning about the culture. So I got to meet a lot of other associates that were starting on the same day.

Karen – 00:03:24: Yeah, very cool. I know they have a beautiful lobby. I’ve been in that building a few times and I know how beautiful all that would when you first come in at that lobby. It’s very impressive. All right, so the second question, what has been the most uplifting moment so far in your career?

Jason – 00:03:42: That’s a really good question that I thought about. When I think about my career, one of the things that I always really focus in on is leaving a legacy. And so when I go into a role, I wanna be very clear with myself on what it is that I wanna accomplish so that when I look back, I can feel proud of the work I’ve done and know that I left an organization in a better place and I found it. So, you know, I was fortunate enough in my work with the Aparium prior to Springboard to really instill that. I built the department from the ground up and had this incredible team that I was able to hire and develop that are still great friends of mine today. So that to me is something that really stands out that I was able to leave that legacy and kind of have that moment to help build the company.

Karen – 00:04:35: Now build now that’s a great way to think about it. You know, it gives some purpose to your career and what you do every day. It’s very cool. All right, so the next question, what has been your most striking experience so far in terms of a holiday, a stay, food experience? Yeah, I know you’re a big foodie, so what comes to mind?

Jason – 00:04:54: Yeah, you know, the one that comes to mind, to be honest, is Aparium opened a property in Denver called Clayton, and it was a members club, or is a members club today. And when we first opened the space, there was this kind of loungy bar cocktail sort of space called Five Nines. And I remember the first time that I visited, walking in and thinking like, man, this is exactly what Aparium is and who they wanna be, right? It was just like this sense of cool. Everything from the cocktails were so thoughtfully curated to the extent of there were food pairings with it. So I remember having a citrusy tequila drink, and with it was a spicier nut to have the flavors really come out in both. And just the lighting, the furniture, everything was on point, entertainment. And I remember after I left that evening, I sent a note to our CEO and was like, this is it. If we could lift this or we could take whatever inspiration that we got in building this place out, this needs to be replicated because this is exactly what the brand is all about. And it just still stands out in the night today.

Karen – 00:06:15: So can I just say you have found a home in hospitality because that’s exactly why we do what we do is that experience, right? That’s what we sell. It’s the experience, the feeling. That’s so cool. That’s great. Okay. So the next one, have you met any celebrities while you’ve been in the trenches in hospitality?

Jason – 00:06:33: Most of my career in hospitality is really, it’s been, you know, at a corporate office or a home office or something along those lines. I haven’t had as much exposure, but I will say I was staying at the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis last year, last summer, and Gary Vaynerchuk, if you’re familiar with him, big into the social media space, very big entrepreneur. He maybe not an A-list celebrity per se, but him and his whole crew were at the hotel and I was kind of like blown away because I follow him and, you know, just think really highly of him and the business that he does. So for me, that was my celebrity sighting, but I’m always jealous when I hear the stories from like the hotel folks. I remember Shawn Mendes stayed at Detroit Foundation and just recently Jimmy Kimmel dined in one of our restaurants at Springboard. So I feel like I always get the stories secondhand, but haven’t had as much of the like interactions in person.

Karen – 00:07:31: Person. Yeah, that’s a good one though. That’s all right. One of your heroes. It’s good to get that. That’s good. Okay, final question. Who are the women at work you’ve been most inspired by?

Jason – 00:07:40: I had a former boss that sort of inherited me through Reorg. And one of the things that really stood out about her is just really infusing humor and laughter into anything that we were doing. And it just made me, it kind of hammered home the sense of like, it’s not always just about work, right? We’re here to have fun too. And that’s really important because ultimately, we’re here to create this great experience for our guests. And so the more that we’re having fun, I think that kind of pulls through it in the work that we do, but not necessarily anyone in particular that has inspired me. Not that there haven’t been tons of women that have, but I think it’s more about like the aura and the essence of those that do. And for me, it’s someone who’s extremely respectful, who’s confident, who knows what they want and what they’re looking to achieve, who treats people with kindness, is never intimidating and is just always welcoming. I think the more that everyone instilled those qualities, I think we’d all be in a better place at work too. But those are the qualities that I’ve noticed and the women that I admire the most and I’m gonna be in this part of it. Excellent. All right. Thanks for that.

Karen – 00:09:04: OK, so let’s transition a little bit here and talk about Springboard because I think, you know, obviously a management company. What a beautiful portfolio of hotels. Yes, I mean, gorgeous. So can you talk a little bit about the collection of hotels and what you do there for Springboard?

Jason – 00:09:20: Yeah, absolutely. So Springboard is a owner, manager, and developer of boutique, mostly independent branded hotels, as well as restaurants and bars, too. Well, that food and beverage isn’t as much of a focus for us. Currently, it is something that we do have within the portfolio. So that side of the business, and we also have another side that’s more of the sort of pre-opening, if you will. Think of like concepting, branding, thinking about layouts and where things should go as you’re going through, like a remodel or even a total new build perspective. A lot of folks don’t know that we have that side of the business as well. But the predominant side is is the management company. Most of our properties are in destination markets. It’s just so happened that way. We’ve got a big concentration in Hawaii, quite a few in California. But we’ve branched out further east into places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Greencourt, New York. We just recently opened up a property in the Ozarks. We’ve got a handful in Florida. So we’re shifting further east. And, you know, while boutique independent has really been our niche, I think that’s really where we shine the most. And while we’ve been in destinations, it’s not necessarily something that is a requirement by any means. It’s just so happened that that we’ve fallen into that. But my role is head of marketing and brand. So I really oversee all aspects of both marketing and branding for management company are, you know, springboard investment advisors, which is that more of that reopening piece of it. And then I also oversee marketing for all of our portfolio and collection. So that’s everything from traditional digital public relations, creative social media, everything really under the sun that you could possibly imagine is is in my realm.

Karen – 00:11:24: Wow, I really appreciate what a tall order that is, considering you do have such unique properties and each of them has their own brand, so to speak, right? They have their own websites. They’re not relying on a brand initiative coming over the top. There’s certainly, I mean, obviously, you want a thorough line, but can you talk a little bit about the importance of websites, funnel conversion, how you see that working as you start to think about launching a new hotel, and how you build out that whole experience to not only build the brand experience but also drive direct bookings. How do you think about that hotel by hotel?

Jason – 00:12:01: Yeah, I mean, I think ultimately you sort of said it in a few words there just now, but I think that you know, branding is so important in my opinion, because I think that that’s really what sort of sets the tone for the experience. To me, it’s really helping to define who you are, what you’re going to deliver on. And in a lot of cases helps you to justify that ADR. So it’s important for, you know, me as a marketer to define and know what that brand is upfront before we even get started, right? We all need to align. We all need to level set, because that’s going to trickle down into every single thing that we do to help position us properly and set us apart. So that’s number one. And then, of course, website, in my opinion, is the most important one. Like, you got to get that right, because ultimately that’s where you’re driving everybody to. And so, you know, the makeup of a strong website to me is number one, its performance, which I think a lot of folks are just now in our space are just now like really starting to take that serious. But, you know, page speed and load time are extremely, extremely important for visibility, search, conversion, etc. So making sure that we’ve got a really strong back end that’s best in class, very great technology that can be a high performer that also can be very modular and flexible for us as marketers. And then as I look on the front end, you know, how do I make it as easy and seamless as possible for the user? How do we get them to convert, you know, making sure that there is always a call to action every single spot that that user is going to be, whether it’s following them, whether it’s in, you know, a module within the website? But those are all things that that we’re really focused on and that I really look at as a marketer. And ultimately, the easier we make it to book, the more likely we’re going to be able to get those direct bookings, because we all know once they leave the site, the chance of them coming back are so slim. So we’ve got to do everything in our power to tell a compelling story and get them to convert as quickly as possible.

Karen – 00:14:22: Absolutely, you know, I’ve also read a couple of articles where you’ve talked about the importance of content. So it’s not just a, oh, hey, I set up the website. Everything looks good. Here’s my brand. Here’s my booking engine. Like I can like walk away from this and, you know, let the bookings come. Can you talk a little bit about, well, first of all, white content is important. And then also the importance of refreshing it.

Jason – 00:14:44: So I’ll start with why content is important and why I talked about it a lot. And we’re actually gonna be speaking about this again next week at a conference. But to me, it’s about consistency is key, right? And making sure that you’re managing expectations of the guests. The last thing we wanna do is say one thing in the digital space and then deliver something totally different at the hotel, right? We know what that’s gonna do. We know that that’s going to equal negative reviews. We know that that’s going to impact future bookings. That’s gonna impact retention, loyalty, et cetera. And so it’s really important that we’re not just treating it as a set and forget and really thinking about it as how often do we have, and I know bandwidth can often be an opportunity here, but making sure that we’re as frequently as possible sort of auditing all of our channels to make sure that we’re putting in front of the guests exactly what it is that we’re delivering on, right? And so that can be things like, did any of our amenities change? Did we have updated photography or videography? Did hours change? Did any of those types of things, are offers, is that offer still live in the booking engine or did it expire? It’s all of those things. And so me and my team really look at this as like quarterly audits at a minimum to be able to sort of look across all of those channels and make sure that everything is consistent. And again, that operations is ultimately delivering on it once we get the guests into the hotel. To me, that’s what’s super important. There’s two things. Obviously, Google has last fall rolled out an algorithm or rolled out some additional expectations with web that they’re ranking. It used to be like frequency and content. Now it’s quality and content, making sure that you’re delivering meaningful content and storytelling for the consumer. And that’s becoming even more important in how you rank and where you show up. So just in that alone, it’s very important, but I also think it’s important to be able to keep guests engaged, right? Again, going back to that set and forget, if you put something out there today and leave it for the next two years, is it still relevant? Have you thought about seasonality? Have you thought about like trends and things that are exciting to the guests? Why would they wanna come back if you’re not even taking the time to ultimately swap out your content? So I think it’s really about getting into the mindset of the consumer and understanding why would they wanna stay here. That’s what I often ask myself. Like, I think we all should be asking ourselves that. The question is, why? Why us over anybody else? And I think that content really plays into that.

Karen – 00:17:40: It will go on there. Absolutely. So the other thing that you mentioned was there’s a leaky bucket syndrome. In other words, once people hit your website, if they leave, most of them leave, right? So even the best conversion is, you know, single digits, right? So, you know, once they leave your site, what are the methods that you employ to try and get them back, back to that website to make that direct booking?

Jason – 00:18:04: Yeah, I mean, ultimately, you know, I think of things like. Retargeting, obviously, to bring them back. Abandoned cart retargeting, or whether that’s through email, through display, through social, just getting back in front of them. I also think there’s things like OTA win-back campaigns, right? That’s something that Revinate has within their platform. And whether you see high conversion on that or not, I don’t know that you’re necessarily going to, in all cases, see these incredible numbers. But I think all of those touchpoints, regardless of what it is, are getting in front of the consumer in some way, shape, or form. And some are going to convert higher than others. So I think it’s ultimately about, number one, just making sure that you are getting back in front of them. And then when you are doing that, what type of value are you ultimately putting in front of them, right? Because if they’re leaving your site, it’s to look for a better price, more than likely. So what can you be doing to communicate that more loudly up front? And then once they leave and at the chance that you can get in front of them before they make a booking elsewhere, that you’ve presented some sort of value.

Karen – 00:19:16: Absolutely. I think that’s so critical. You hit on a couple of things there that I think are really important. The first thing is, is that, you know, it’s it’s an OTA win back, whatever campaigns you’re running, we’re training consumers over time, that booking direct is going to be your best bet. Even if you didn’t do it this time, that’s okay. Once you hit the front desk, let’s make sure that we get your direct email. Let’s make sure we communicate to you that you know, there’s benefits for you to book direct with us. And even if it’s a campaign after the fact, try and pull people in. I think another thing, you know, that’s important, as you mentioned, if they’re going to look for another price, and you know, is to make sure obviously, you’ve got parity and or maybe a little better with packaging and some other ways of messaging it on your own website. I have to tell you, I see it all the time. I still can’t believe in 2023, that you have hotels that have better pricing, if you go to third-party website, and they do on their own, it’s, it’s frankly shocking. So, and I think what’s really resonating for me as you’re talking through all of this is that you know, hotels, just like any other consumer brand, we are competing with all of the eyeballs out there and the behaviors for the best in class consumer sites, right? You shouldn’t be thinking, oh, my hotel site needs to be good for a hotel site, your hotel site needs to be good for Apple, it needs to be good for any other brand, right?

Jason – 00:20:40: Absolutely. I think it does get easy for us in this industry to sort of get stuck in the ways of, you know, to that extent, right, of doing things because that’s how it’s been done. Right. And so I think that it’s important to take a step back and think about how is retail doing. Right. How do you shop? Like, that’s probably the number one thing that we’re the most accustomed to. Right. What are those folks doing that is making it so easy to buy that flip-flop, to buy that, you know, makeup, to whatever it may be? It’s one click, essentially. And so obviously we’re talking a much bigger purchase. And in a lot of cases, this is something that folks are saving up for a long period of time. But how do we ultimately get the right information in front of them as quickly as possible and make it as seamless of an experience as we can?

Karen – 00:21:35: As you know, it’s funny. I, I’m ‌ sure a lot of people have this experience with the pandemic, I’ve become a serial shopper. It’s a nightmare. You know, I sit, I think about when I’m scrolling at night through Instagram, I mean, stuff shows up on my doorstep constantly, because you know, I’ve got Shopify. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. But I think if we can crack that code as a hospitality industry, as you mentioned, of course, it’s a much bigger purchase. But honestly, if we can get people in that point where they’re so inspired, and it looks so wonderful, and there’s one click, and I already have all of your details. I’ve seen you before, it’s all confirmed. We’ll see you in you know, next month kind of thing. I think that’s kind of the holy holy grail, right?

Jason – 00:22:13: Right. Exactly. Yeah. And I think that it goes all the way into, you know, that booking engine piece and knowing that there’s so I would say, I would argue that probably all hoteliers have higher traffic on mobile than they do desktop like I’d be shocked if it was any different. But yet all the conversions are on, or a majority of the conversions are on desktop. So how do we start to shift that paradigm, shift that behavior, and really think about making this easier? They’re coming, they’re there. That’s the hardest part, right is getting them there. And so now how do we make it so easy for them to be able to find what they’re looking for and convert?

Karen – 00:22:58: Absolutely. Again, that has to like, oh, remember that later when I can sit down at my desktop and type it all in. Cause I can’t do it right now. Yeah. All right. I have one more question for you again, going back to your background in the consumer space. So the digital landscape, it’s changing really fast and it’s impacting how marketers create and operate. What are you kind of seeing out there? You mentioned kind of looking out best in class, outside of hospitality. What do you see coming down the pipe for this year and going into 2024? What trends?

Jason – 00:23:28: Well, two that stand out to me, I should say. I think, you know, embracing artificial intelligence is a big one. It can be in a lot of different forms. I think ultimately it’s about, you know, working smarter, not harder. I think getting rid of the stigma that, you know, it’s going to take all of our jobs away. That’s not the case. There’s still a lot of. Finessing that needs to be done and human connection that needs to be tied to it. I always look at like ChatGPT has been a big one and I always look at it as like draft one like just make it easier on yourself, right? But then you’re gonna have to finesse it. So I think again embracing that whether that’s through you know web chats or using in your copy or finding ideas or inspiration are always that you could use it and I think that’ll just continue. It’s been here for a long time It’s just really surfaced more recently and I think it’s gonna continue to become a bigger and bigger Trend that folks will almost need to adopt. So that’s one and then I do think that CDPs are going to continue to be a big topic of conversation I continue to hear from industry folks about trying to connect, you know Data from all these different places and creating these more robust profiles I know Revinate’s working, you know in that direction to do even more in that space than they’ve ever done before But I think that’s gonna become more and more important I think folks are really starting to see that there’s so much power and understanding more layers about the guests than before. I think it was very Singular in terms of it’s just about the hotel rooms and it’s not, it’s the you know, the outlets. It’s, you know how they came in. It’s those interactions. It’s a number of things that just will ultimately help us create more Polarizing experiences, right because ultimately we’re trying to build that loyalty So the more we know about our guests the better

Karen – 00:25:33: Yeah, thank you. So CDP, customer data platform, very exciting. Yes. And thank you. Revinate is working very hard. We’re going to have a lot of cool stuff coming out this fall on Q1 of next year. So we’re excited to partner with Springboard and other customers to make that happen. So, Jason, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Jason – 00:25:53: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I’ve had a blast. It’s been fun.

Karen – 00:25:57: Oh great, and for guests that want to learn more about Springboard, where do they go? What’s the URL?

Jason – 00:26:02: springboardhospitality.com.

Karen – 00:26:04: All right. Thanks so much, Jason.

Jason – 00:26:06: Thank you.

Outro – 00:26:08: Thank you for listening to The Hotel Moment Podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you’re watching on YouTube, please like the video and subscribe for more content. For more information, head to hotelmomentpodcast.com. The Hotel Moment Podcast is presented by Revinate and produced by Make More Media.

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