Vizergy’s President, Robert Arnold brings more than ten years experience in the hotel industry and fifteen years experience in e-commerce and Internet marketing. He leads Vizergy’s sales teams and oversees the strategic growth of Vizergy’s client base. Prior to joining Vizergy, Robert held senior leadership positions with TravelCLICK where he was in charge of several regional sales teams and for managing corporate client portfolios, for major North American hotel brands. Most recently, Robert worked as Vice President, Worldwide Sales for TIG Global, where he was able to focus on business development with property management companies and significant asset management groups, all while restructuring the sales organization.
In our latest Sojern Sit Down, I had the opportunity to speak with Robert about his prior experience in digital travel marketing, the importance of a quality website, and digital marketing strategies. As President of Vizergy, which specializes in online hospitality internet marketing, custom design, and consulting services, Robert offered great insights for both chain and independent hoteliers.
How did you get into the digital travel marketing industry, and what has kept you in it?
I was a hotel operator for about a dozen years. I worked in a variety of operations, sales and marketing, and development roles. I also happened to be the person in the company who was most interested in the internet. That was way back in 1996. The internet was emerging, and hotels were trying to figure out what to do about it. I became interested and took a lead role with a couple of organizations and eventually made the switch to being a supplier.
What keeps me in this industry is the constant change. Every day, there is something new to learn, something to keep up with, and so many exciting opportunities as hotels become more and more mature in the use of digital. It’s fascinating.
How do you apply your past experience and knowledge of the hotel industry to the work you do for hoteliers now?
I focus on the true goals of our customers. They are interested in finding new customers and keeping the ones they have. We approach our business from an asset evaluation standpoint. If we succeed in helping hotels find new customers, we will maximize asset value, and those owners and operators will be Vizergy customers for a long time.
In the past five years, what are the digital hotel marketing trends you’ve seen? What do you see as trends in the next five years?
In the past five years, targeted and data-driven display strategies have certainly become more than a trend—they’ve become a staple. I’ve seen the rise of personalization and the ability to speak intimately with an individual rather than cast a wide net to a lot of people. Another trend is website pathing through personalization to ensure people engage with content that is developed specifically for them. Search is much more competitive than it was five years ago. Over the past three years, with the use of third party data validation, it’s critical to invest time, energy, and resources specifically into natural search. And that’s just to name a few trends.
As far as the next five years, there’s a lot of talk about making big data manageable and applying that science to virtually all digital strategies. An example is being able to segment customer profiles and using personalization to create campaign strategies via automation.
One of the goals of Vizergy is to drive website traffic and direct revenue. What is the importance of direct revenue?
It’s critical to profitability. The rising cost of distribution and customer acquisition are challenging hotels today. They are battling third parties at very high costs and face the potential loss of customer loyalty. It makes it critical for hoteliers to own their customer, own their guest, and encourage their guest to book direct.
Do you see a link between a quality website and quality traffic? If so, what are your tips for a quality hotel website?
Absolutely. Architecturally, it needs to be search friendly, have rich content that is changeable, and allow for a multitude of views based on the kind of traffic being attracted to the site. And, it needs to be easy to use. One of the reasons hotel websites have lost share and continue to lose share to third parties is because the third parties make it very easy to transact business. It’s 1-2 clicks on the path to purchase, while many individual websites are hard to navigate, transact on, and convert with. There is often not a very natural browsing path.
Vizergy works with both big chains and smaller independents. How do digital strategies differ between the two?
Primarily with brands, we find ways to augment the investment they make with their brand partner. So, as opposed to competing for traffic, we are creating strategies to cast a wider net beyond the Brand.com website. On the other hand, the independent’s website has to be the centerpiece of their digital strategy. It needs to be the destination point for any and all campaigns we create and really exist as the online presence for an independent hotel.
What are 1-2 recommendations you have for hoteliers when it comes to their digital strategy?
In 2017, investing is important and cannot be done half-heartedly. Also, don’t be afraid to test. As quickly as things change, it’s important that either the hotel or the hotel’s provider pushes the envelope to see what works and how they can maximize their efforts.
Be comfortable with switching dollars from offline initiatives to online initiatives. We still use the term “digital marketing”. But, I would suggest we’ve gotten to the point that digital marketing is in fact marketing. It’s where the lion’s share of travel marketing spend is today, and we really need to let go of some of the age-old traditional hotel offline marketing.
Where have you traveled to that you really enjoyed, and where is one place you still want to go?
There are a number of places I’ve been to that I enjoyed, but most recently I was in Moscow. I was absolutely smitten by the warmth of the people and their interest in me as an American. I still have not traveled to the Asia-Pacific region, and I would really like to visit China. That’s on my bucket list.