Industry Insider

Being the Hotel Tell-All has its perks. Not only do we get to visit, review and photograph destinations around the world, but we get to meet with the folks promoting these places — specifically, the (awesome!) destination marketing organizations, commonly referred to as DMOs. To make a location stand out, it’s vital for DMOs to get unique with their marketing tactics. We checked in with Oyster’s VP of Destination Marketing, Jim Brody, to find out the five of the best stunts he’s seen his in 18-year career in the industry.

1. Banff-Lake Louise Tourism’s Twitter Squirrel

@Banff_Squirrel has over 10,000 followers.

Every DMO is on Twitter, tweeting award announcements, press release nuggets, cool facts, and re-tweeting everybody who mentions them, naturally. The Banff, Canada DMO took it to a whole new level with the Banff Squirrel (@banff_squirrel). The squirrel, who has over 10,000 followers, is a real celebrity character – it engages with followers and even other “animals” on Twitter, and offers helpful info along with a terrific sense of humor.

2. Austria’s Pop-Up “Country” in NYC

Austria's Parliament. Credit: iStock Photo

The pop-up (or temporary) exhibition has become a staple of destination marketing — it’s a great way for prospective visitors to experience a place without having to step on a plane. For years now, there have been pop-up restaurants, exhibits at festivals, temporary shops, and more. But Austria took the notion of the “pop-up” even further in 2011 by literally creating a pop-up country in lower Manhattan. For two weeks, the “store” (complete with Austria-branded signage) allowed folks to experience some of Austria’s highlights. It included interactive museum exhibits; coffee and tortes served from the famed Café Sacher; and — most notably — a replica of Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece, “The Kiss.” Visitors could get photographed with the painting, and blast their pics out to a variety of social networks.

3. Tourism Ireland’s Facebook Game App

Tourism Ireland's Ireland Town is both fun and educational.

Everyone is on Facebook these days: In fact, 9 out of 10 users log on to the site weekly — making it an ideal tool for a destination to highlight its unique features. Tourism Ireland does a great job with its Facebook page, doing much more than sharing photos, surveying visitors, and supporting business partners. The DMO created an in-page game, Ireland Town. Currently, The game has over 19,000 likes, and is a fun and competitive way for visitors to immerse themselves in all things Ireland, including its culture, history, geography, and attractions.

4. Experience Bathurst’s Personalized YouTube Video Channel

Bathurst's ladies are bilingual -- and successful.

When you’re small, you need to think outside the box to attract attention. This tiny, bilingual destination in New Brunswick, Canada has developed its own version of a YouTube travel series. Every Tuesday, hosts Meredith and Monique share something to do in Bathurst – and they banter in both English and French (each official languages) for a twist on tradition. One host speaks English, the other French, and the series is not subtitled or dubbed; the hosts don’t even translate one other. Despite the plausible language barrier, Meredith and Monique make you want to visit Bathurst ASAP. The ladies have even created promo videos for their series complete with a running laugh track.

5. Miami’s Pop-Up Pool in NYC

A rendering of the pool. Credit: Courtesy of Gothamist

OK, so this may not have happened yet, but we’re sure it’s going to be epic (and expensive to execute, if nothing else): Miami is setting up a pop-up pool in New York’s Union Square. No one will actually be allowed to swim in the pool (as the Huffington Post wrote, it’s kind of like “letting someone look at ice cream, without actually having them eat it,”) but Gothamist has found out that the pop-up will include “sexy, chic pool deck with bikini clad models, palm trees, cabanas, DJs spinning, and six hours of fun in the sun.” We’re definitely interested to see how this one plays out — and if it pays off.

 

 

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As we’ve investigated hotels across the globe, we’ve found that oftentimes, it’s the little things that can make the biggest impact on a stay, from the toiletries to the gym passes to the free snacks. So we compiled a list of 10 basic practices that significantly improve customer experience — and that hoteliers can implement quickly and relatively cheaply. Oyster visits properties in-person, and evaluates how every feature stacks up against the competition, from the rooms to the pools to the restaurants — and the following details are an important part of our holistic assessment.

If you don’t have the budget for any big projects this year — say, replacing the mattresses or carpets — maybe there’s room for some of these smaller improvements instead. Of course, not every tip will work for every hotel, and hoteliers will know which of the below might work best for their property.

Already on top of these tips? You can bet Oyster will give you kudos for it in your review.

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Owner Stephanie Rooijakkers with her pooch Lola.

The Boardwalk Hotel, a 14-room property situated on a former coconut plantation, has long been one of the island’s hidden gems. Original owners Geert and Julia bought the property in 1987 to use for their windsurfing business (Aruba’s constant trade winds make the sport exceptionally popular here), and it quickly became an insider destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing devotees.

The hotel’s location is a large part of its appeal for water sports fans: It’s located just north of most of the High-Rise hotels along Palm Beach, and across the main road from Fisherman’s Huts — where the turquoise sea is ideal for both sports, with waist deep water for hundreds of feet and a sandy bottom free of rocks.

But the times, they are a changin’. A 320-room Ritz-Carlton property, slated to open in 2013, is being constructed right across the street from The Boardwalk, obstructing its views — and soon, it will bring more crowds to Fisherman’s Huts.

The Boardwalk Hotel’s new owners — Stephanie and Kimberly Rooijakkers, a pair of blonde, fit Belgian twins who bought the hotel last year — have mixed feelings about the Ritz-Carlton. Yes, the obscured view is unsightly, and the resort will extend Palm Beach, pushing the wind and kitesurfers farther north. But the Ritz-Carlton will also bring attention to the area and allow The Boardwalk to broaden its appeal: specifically, the owners hope to attract families, couples, and groups.

The decor will be a part of this evolution. While Geert and Julia designed the hotel with a Southeast Asia vibe, the twins have implemented a Coastal Living style. Dark woods throughout the grounds have been painted white, and new bright orange, green and turquoise accents give the casitas a cheerful “Hamptons-esque” appeal. Future plans include the addition 12 new casitas, and modern updates to the beach-y rooms.

The entrance to the Boardwalk literally transports you to paradise.

Not everyone is happy with the changes. While walking to my rental car after shooting the property for Oyster, a sporty gentleman (who had clearly spent the morning wind surfing) called my name and ran after me, asking if I was a journalist.

“Yes, I am,” I answered.

“Are you writing a piece about the hotel?”

The man wanted to express his doubt about the new ownership. It has been his home way from Boston for years, and he had genuine concerns that the twins would take the hotel in an undesirable direction.

“It’s not like the old days, and I don’t think it ever will be,” he said, pointing to the fresh white paint. “There are more families and kids running around now. Before it used to be all wind and kitesurfers — it was our little secret.”

It’s true that the clientele is changing, but the hotel’s sense of community remains. “People know it’s a small hotel here, and they tend to talk to each other more, ” Stephanie said. The property will remain a low-key haven, where guests can kick off their flip-flops and unwind. Each casita has a private porch, with a hammock and charcoal barbeque. And it’s still very much a hidden gem. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it; the hotel, with a garden-like atmosphere tucked behind an iron fence, is hard to spot, especially when the eye is naturally pulled towards the large Marriott properties and massive Ritz-Carlton construction site along the beach.

Grounds at the Boardwalk. Rather, comfy seating.

As for the wind and kitesurfing? Even if it moves a bit farther north, the hotel will still be a convenient home base — and fans of the sports can still talk shop with the owners, who are kitesurfers themselves. In fact, they first discovered the hotel when they stopped by to buy a kitesurfing harness.

The pint-sized pool is positively dreamy.

Of course, running and growing the hotel has certainly had its ups and downs. “At first it was frustrating. I like to do things with my hands and see the results. So the first few months were really hard because it felt like nothing was happening quickly,” Stephanie said. Luckily, the twins’ father is a regular visitor. “He likes to come by the property a few times a week and see how things are going and help with handiwork.”

And even more changes could be in store down the road. Stephanie, a foodie who is eager to provide guests with dining recommendations around the island, may start feeding visitors as well as lodging them. “I really want to have my own restaurant, and it will happen someday.”

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