By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 7/2/2008 12:09:46 PM ET 2008-07-02T16:09:46
opinion

Hotels are feverishly upgrading these days, trying to offer faster Internet service, or better beds, or all non-smoking properties. But while they’re trying to make their properties more modern and appealing for today’s travelers, they seem to have forgotten to upgrade their ad campaigns.

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Do travelers even pay attention to hotel ads any more? I think hotel advertising is becoming obsolete and unnecessary, and here are a few reasons why:

Rates rule. It’s easy for consumers to compare hotel rates these days. No more calling around to dozens of hotels at their destination. With a few clicks, prospective guests can see a list of hotels, their location, their ratings and their rates on one Web site. People want to find that balance of a good hotel at a great price. In a slumping economy, no amount of persuasive advertising is going to make tight travelers spend more money than they want to.

Business travelers are told where to stay. Companies have always made “bulk” contracts with hotels — the more rooms a company books a year, the cheaper the rate. But hotels are coercing businesses to sign more long-term contracts in exchange for deeper discounts, since hotels want guaranteed dollars during these uncertain times. Also, companies are trying to tighten costs as much as possible, so they’re really limiting the choices their travelers can make. Where a business traveler once could choose between three, sometimes four hotels at his destination, he now may be forced to stay at one property.

Loyalty matters. It’s important for travelers to get as much bang for their buck as possible. Hotel loyalty programs offer lower rates, free stays, free upgrades and more. Even if a traveler might want to try a new hotel, if he’s already a member of a loyalty program, it would be hard to justify forgoing some perks to do so. Loyalty rewards can translate into some real savings, and most everyone is trying to save by any means possible these days.

Consumers are savvy, and cynical. I know all my readers are smart consumers. So tell me — do you really expect your free breakfast to look like a lavish buffet spread? Do you think that the huge room with the sofa and recliner is one of the standard, cheap rooms? Do you believe that staying at a certain hotel will make your family bond like never before? I think I know your answers. Today’s travelers don’t believe the illusions shown in hotel advertising. They believe the uncensored reviews posted on independent Web sites by their fellow travelers. They believe the ratings of trusted companies like AAA and Mobil.

And unfortunately, they know hotel advertising is often downright deceptive. Anyone who reads Chris Elliott’s columns can see just how many people get burned by false advertising. So no matter how good a hotel looks in its ads, or how warm and fuzzy a commercial makes you feel, always remember this: Hot food is rarely free, you’ll probably get the small room by the elevator, and sullen teenagers do not morph into human beings upon check in.

Spare us the unoriginality, please! I’ll describe a commercial, and you tell me which chain it’s for. The commercial starts with a scene of a woman sinking into a fluffy white bed. Then it cuts to a businessman working at a big desk in his room. Then we see a dad and his son swimming. Then it shows a breakfast attendant pouring a hot cup of coffee.

So which hotel company is it? Well, pretty much any guess is right. Hotel advertising is so generic and boring, it should be banned. Do all major chains hire the same advertising company, or what? Even the copy on hotel Web sites is generic and boring. Comfortable beds blah blah ... amenities for business travelers blah blah ... feel like you’re at home blah blah. The exception to this is La Quinta — I absolutely love their “Bright Side” ad campaign, and get excited when I see a new commercial. (You can view some La Quinta ads here.)

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties — from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articleson Tripso.com.

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