Members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association have had the benefit of knowledge of tourism experts from around the world during the first days of the Cayman Islands Tourism Exchange 2011.
Topics such as boosting occupancy, social media, publicity and branding were discussed on Tuesday.
Christine Karpinski, a successful vacation rentals owner whose book on the subject hit top spot on amazon.com, is considered one of the foremost experts on the subject of condominium vacation rentals.
She noted that condo vacation rentals is a rapidly growing industry and that 100,000 new properties come online per year. Travellers now want a choice, so condos are competing against hotels, she said.
She noted that groups of three to seven people and groups of eight or more comprise 75 per cent of travellers, which makes condos an easy sell alternative compared to hotels.
Competition is from other islands rather than each other’s properties, said Ms Karpinski. Setting rates accordingly is important, and some common pricing mistakes are not just setting too high a target, but also going in too low, as people often think if something is too inexpensive there’s something wrong.
Bargain hunters are the new renters, and people constantly ask for best rates, special offers and deals.
One way to build special rates into the equation is to set a relatively high rack rate and discount from there if needed.
The managers can anticipate what people are looking for as there are four elements to consider; location, price, size and dates. People may compromise on one or more of those factors, she said.
In order for travellers to find properties, optimising the online experience is key.
Elements such as uploading photos, updating content often and accurately describing the property can help. Blogging and social media presence are also increasingly important, she said.
Facebook and Twitter
Stephen Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers led a presentation on the business application of Facebook, talking delegates through the process of setting up a page.
Fundamentally, he said, it is all about engaging in conversations with your fans and customers rather than necessarily a measurable hit-to-booking conversion statistic. A good idea may be to check out other businesses’ pages to see which applications they used and what ideas they had.
Facebook can add value to certain businesses, and Ocean Frontiers has seen a lot of traffic and conversations through it, but it may not always be the case, so owners may want to weigh whether it works for them.
Nancy Harrison and Melissa Ladley of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman took up the baton of explaining Twitter and said they first noticed that site’s potential during the Engage!10 conference. There were tweets flying around and the property noticed more enquiries resulting for weddings.
Twitter for business has various elements to consider that are common sense, such as not overloading people with too many updates and not over-promoting.
It’s more about sharing information and having conversations.
Real human beings could project a friendly face – successful tweeters do not sell, but share, and a re-tweet by someone else can be very powerful.
Agatha Capacchione of MFA Ltd spoke to the Department of Tourism’s public relations successes of the year and discussed the importance of public relations. Among the Department’s goals and objectives were to generate positive press, heighten awareness to increase visitation and update their practices to reflect the changing landscape, including social media.
Ms Capacchione said there are several things that media are looking for and one of those is timeliness of information. A big ‘no-no’ is submitting information past deadlines or after an event has taken place.
Teritia Peart of Cayman Free Press talked of the fact that local press is important as locally-based residents also host visitors.
Indeed, a lot of the visitors to the Caymanian Compass website are from off the island. Senior journalist Alan Markoff explained how tourism entities should think about what constitutes a news opportunity. Companies should pick up the phone and talk to the press if they are unsure that what they have is newsworthy, since journalists will always listen and advise. Thinking ahead and giving the press enough time is also important.
Ms Capacchione suggested that trade media read the Cayman Islands press online to get leads for stories, and Mr. Markoff confirmed that stories regularly get picked up by the international press.
Spencer Antle of Island Company rounded off the day with an in-depth discussion of branding. His main thrust was that even huge companies do not necessarily have complex approaches and that the layout, for example, of a J Crew website is uncomplicated.
Direction has to come from the owner of the brand, who knows more than anyone else, and you can do great things relatively cheaply that look excellent.
“Make it interesting; don’t settle for anything less than A-plus work [and] don’t let money get in the way; and people appreciate authenticity.”