Oct. 13, 2010

Hospitality experts offer tips on social media, going green

Susskind

Although all the data's not in yet, a Cornell professor conducting an energy-saving study in the hospitality industry finds that hotels consume a lot of energy, and guests in the Statler Hotel, for example, tend not to notice if their rooms have special energy-saving features.

Alex Susskind, associate professor in Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, presented his preliminary findings at the three-day Cornell Hospitality Research Summit (Oct. 6-8), which attracted hundreds of participants and largely focused on social media and sustainability. Keynote speakers included Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Maritz Travel Co.; Professor Frances Frei, Harvard Business School; Adam Goldstein, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International; Gerald Lawless, executive chairman, Jumeirah Group; and Randell Smith, CEO and co-founder of STR. In addition, more than 50 other industry leaders made presentations in breakout sessions, with particular focus on social media and sustainability.

In Susskind's session on Sustainable Design and Operations, he said that guests tend to be unaware of such special features as energy-saving TVs or lighting. They report generally positive impressions of rooms both with and without the energy-saving features. In a separate survey, he found a general trend of energy wastefulness.

"Just like guests wanting healthy cuisine in restaurants, what they say is good for you and what they actually order are two different things," Susskind said, referring to guests' preferences to have energy-saving features in their hotel rooms. He noted that with time, industry will have access to more cost-effective energy-saving techniques because guests "generally choose the hotel they want to stay in rather than choosing a hotel that is green."

The social media sessions looked at strategies for interacting with consumers on social media, trends and tools for social media, data mining from social media, and legal issues surrounding social media

Anil Aggarwal, chairman and CEO of Milestone Internet Marketing, for example, discussed how social media channels influence consumer decisions on selecting hotels, and how hotel managers can set up their social media strategies to maximize the gain from these channels. He discussed specific social media sites for hotels and how hotels can incorporate social media on their websites.

Other speakers presented information on research assessing measurement tools; benchmarks for measuring activity volume, advocacy and positioning; McDonald's social media strategy as an example for the food-service industry; the new Forbes Travel Guide, which combines social media with search engine optimized travel content; how hotels can mine timely data from travel discussions and reviews on the Internet; how hotels and hospitality providers can present a more effective message to travelers; core social media competencies, the benefits and challenges of integrating social media technologies with customer relationship management and how to transform guests into brand advocates while increasing online sales conversions; and how to wade through the social media maze of blogs, social networks, "folksonomies" and wikis to determine best practices.

Also speaking in the session with Susskind was alumnus Raj Chandnani of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, who showed a video of an award-winning energy sustainable hotel room that appeals to clients' preferences while subtly educating them in energy saving. The room includes a solar heated showerhead, linens made with eucalyptus fibers and communal pantries stocked with local foods

Caitlin Parker '13 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.