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Innovation: Starwood Hotels- Lobby vs. Lobby, Does the Customers’ WIN?

The other day I was researching hotels for an upcoming trip to Europe and came across a review on a Starwood property in Venice; it was beautifully written, very balanced, and complete with photographs. A customer wrote it. It turns out that two avid Starwood fans created a whole site where customers can find unbiased reviews of the chain’s properties uploaded by other customers — the users themselves. The site was created at the end of 2005 by John H. and John P.

The other day I was researching hotels for an upcoming trip to Europe and came across a review on a Starwood property in Venice; it was beautifully written, very balanced, and complete with photographs. A customer wrote it.

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It turns out that two avid Starwood fans created a whole site where customers can find unbiased reviews of the chain’s properties uploaded by other customers — the users themselves. The site was created at the end of 2005 by John H. and John P.

“Researching your hotel should be an easy and uncluttered experience that focuses on the issues you care about most,” they write. A built in community forum allows people to jump in and join the conversation. The photography is pretty compelling as well.

So let’s review:

– Compelling stories about people’s stay at Starwood properties
– Very good photography (they use Flickr)
– Community forum (they use Flyertalk)
– Featured main review and lobby art

All written by customers with the exception of the news section, which is pulled from Yahoo. It would have been nice to have this site organized like a blog, but I can see why it wasn’t done this way — the write ups are reviews made by customers and not designed to be the launching pad for conversations. Instead, they are already posts complete with opinions and detailed descriptions from diverse points of view. Those of guests who have stayed at a Starwood hotel.

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In April 2006, Starwood launched its own blog to “help the properties preferred guests with information written by a core group of travel experts.” The official blog also offers behind-the-scenes looks at exciting opportunities arranged by Starwood Hotels and staff. The blog includes:

– Places, tips, activities
– Foods, drinks, nightlife
– News, secrets, insights
– Oddities, detours, surprises
– Holidays, events, getaway

The articles are short, complemented by videos or images and newsy in style. They read like a travel magazine. The one comment I saw was by someone who was just browsing. It reminded me of when I walk into a store and the staff asks me how they can help me. I haven’t figured it out yet, but when I do you can rest assured that they are all busy doing something else.

This blog is written as if it were a site. The comments function is enabled, yet the posts are so professionally done and complete that they invite no comments — a long series of commercials for Starwood features. Blogs are not web sites with a comment function enabled. They are something entirely different.

There was an opportunity here to engage with a community of travelers passionate about the hotels, why not join it? What do you think? Lobby vs. Lobby, which one wins your vote?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • www.conversationagent.com

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