Taking Advantage of Travel Disruptions

A reality of air travel is that cancellations and delays are unavoidable, especially during the winter months. But can hotels turn a frustrating experience for travelers into a positive one? And maybe bring in significant new business in the process?

The answer on both fronts has been a definite yes at Red Roof Inn, which has recently found success with its Flight Cancellation Coup campaign, an innovative flight-tracking technology enabled by mobile search.

Following last year’s harsh winter, Red Roof collaborated with digital marketing agency 360i to address the ongoing trend of frequent flight cancellations. They noted that every day, about 500 U.S. flights were being canceled, stranding some 90,000 travelers in the process. Since many of Red Roof’s nearly 400 properties are located near airports, including some of the nation’s busiest, company execs felt the chain was in an ideal position to convert flight cancellations into customers. Their response: the development of new flight cancellation technology that processes thousands of bits of live cancellation data. These data are filtered through a conditional algorithm that automatically boosts bids and makes copy adjustments across the brand’s mobile search campaigns, speaking directly to stranded travelers.

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The innovation not only increased traffic for Red Roof, but it has garnered widespread recognition, including awards from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Mobile Marketing Association, MediaPost, and Digiday Sammy/Mobi Awards.

Such an approach makes great business sense, according to Naomi L. Stark, president of Stark Service Solutions in Orlando, Fla., who advises rethinking travel disruption and what it means to revenue management. “Think about it,” she says. “Travelers are stuck. They may or may not have their luggage or have the budget or wherewithal to adjust to unexpected circumstances.”

This situation can be stressful anytime, she notes, but can be especially problematic during peak travel seasons. “Hotels have an opportunity to tap into this market of travelers who have unexpected changes in their travel plans,” Stark says. “They can deliver a solution that benefits market share and revenue.”

Along with Red Roof’s strategy, Stark points to applications such as Migo, a travel disruption manager from OAG. Overlaid with state-of-the-art flight status technology, it offers details ranging from real-time flight schedule updates to info on the cause and extent of disruptions. “Travelers now have information at their fingertips to rearrange travel plans,” she says. “This same information is available to hotels, which can allow them to rearrange their real-time rates, availability, and spontaneous bookings directly versus through OTAs.”

As an illustration of other potential offered by travel disruption data, Stark describes a hypothetical situation for a hotel in Billings, Mont., where the last flight coming in from Denver is now canceled or delayed. “Meanwhile, you are turning away walk-in business because you are sold out,” she says. “Except you’re not really [sold out], but you don’t know this in time because you don’t have real-time flight information. If you did, you would open up your availability and book even more business.”

Real-time data gives just that option. “This kind of information offers the potential for greater market share and revenue opportunities, if tapped into,” Stark says.