Friday, February 28, 2014

Selling America to the World

Astonishingly, America has never embarked on a coordinated international campaign to sell itself to potential overseas visitors. But in response to a decade of stagnant visitor numbers, and a weakening brand image, America launched its first-ever branding initiative in 2012. Called Brand USA, marketers used key consumer insights gained from in-depth research to develop a campaign that focused on the diversity, pop culture, optimistic spirit and larger than life presence of the country, inviting visitors to see, hear and feel the US in a new way. Dr. Hudson has just published a paper in the Journal of Destination Management & Marketing that takes a closer look at this effort, providing valuable insight for both academics and practitioners into the process of branding a destination. The full paper can be found at:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gaffney not just a ‘House of Cards’

Dr. Hudson was in Gaffney today, home of Francis “Frank” Underwood from the critically acclaimed TV series House of Cards. The show (which is hugely popular in China of all places) stars Kevin Spacey as fictional U.S. congressman who represents South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. Gaffney, and The Peachoid, played a significant role in the third episode of House of Cards and may well help in attracting tourists. Dr. Hudson was in the city to conduct hospitality training in the picturesque Visitor Center & Art Gallery (pictured below), one of numerous substantial Victorian buildings in the city. Preserving its history, the City of Gaffney acquired a grant to purchase the historic “old post office” in 2009.  During its “renovation” project, City officials, staff and contractors quickly changed its plans to be that of a “restoration” project, unveiling numerous architectural and ornate features of the original construction of 1913. The hospitality training was facilitated by the SmartState Center, but organized by the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, which received a rural Enterprise Business Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Deals-a-go-go among first of six Tminus6 start-ups!

Tminus6, a new Columbia startup accelerator program aimed at launching new companies within 6 months, has accepted 6 companies into its 2014 class.  Deals-a-go-go, the web and mobile application for the hospitality and restaurant industry supported through the SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development, is among the six programs. These companies will be on display at the USC Columbia Incubator Open House on February 27th, 2014 @ 6pm. For more information, click on the link below:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bluffton research project leads to creative new brand

For the last eight months, our Center has been involved in an initiative to re-brand the Town of Bluffton. The goal was to develop a brand that would pinpoint Bluffton's qualities and promote tourism and economic development within its borders. Our research involved conducting a series of charettes and in depth interviews with residents and local decision-makers, followed up by surveys targeted at leaders, local business owners, potential business owners, visitors, and area residents. The research explored the core values of Bluffton and attempted to paint a picture of the future.  We sought to understand perceptions of the current brand personality and key attributes of Bluffton, whilst uncovering the prospects for economic development in the region. Based on the research, a new brand was created by our partners in the project, Charleston marketing company Rawle Murdy. The new tagline for the town is “Bluffton: Heart of the Lowcountry’ and the logo has Bluffton in lower case with the two hearts in the negative space formed by the two “f’s” in Bluffton. For the next few months, the town's message will be the center of TV commercials, radio ads and digital banners.
To see a video and a news release about the branding project click on the links below:

Welcome Smart Palmetto!

Di Wang and Lin Zhao of Smart Palmetto

The USC/Columbia Incubator and the SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development  welcomed its newest company in January 2014. Smart Palmetto is a Chinese Tourism Company that hopes to lure tourists from China to the Palmetto State by providing these tourists with tailored packages that meet the leisure interests of the Chinese tourist, provide culturally appropriate activities and assist with the administrative and governmental  protocols related to US travel. Di Wang and Lin Zhao are the company's founders. Both are working hard to recruit hospitality companies to develop tours primarily aimed at the promotion of  Golf, Shopping and Beach tourism to South Carolina. The duo are primarily targeting Chinese tourist and hope to be accepting the first tour groups in early 2015.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New article on wellness tourism published by Karen Thal and Simon Hudson

“We can now go on vacation and come back rejuvenated – instead of the way we normally come back which is exhausted, broke and fat.”

This was a quote from one of our interviewees at a leading wellness destination in South Carolina, where we are conducting research to understand more about this fast-growing sector of the tourism industry. Wellness tourism is what we consider the ‘softer’ side of medical tourism and is the subject of a new article published in the Medical Tourism Magazine February 2014 issue. An increasing number of wellness facilities are responding to growing global demand for wellness tourism, catering to the physical and psychological needs of guests while promising enhanced wellbeing – benefits that visitors can take home when the holiday is over. A far cry from more traditional vacations spent lounging on a beach or pool-side chair. The questions remains, how does a wellness facility support wellbeing beyond traditional forms of relaxation? Our research to date provides tentative insights into the manner in which psychological wellbeing is facilitated. To read more, visit: pages 104-106.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

‘Fix it, plus one’: Solving problems for hotel guests

Dr. Hudson's brother Paul has a wealth of experience solving problems for travelers. Having worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years, Paul has held previous roles as Head of Overseas Operations at Neilson Active Holidays, Product Development Manager and Overseas Director at Cosmos Holidays, and Regional Manager for First Choice Holidays. He is currently Operations Director at Luxury Family Hotels (LFH), where he is responsible for the operation of eight hotels in the UK. In an article just published in Hotel Business Review Simon has written about Paul's service recovery philosophy which is 'Fix it, plus one', encouraging excellence in service recoveries through training and empowerment. See the full article at:


Monday, February 10, 2014

Highly personalized service is critical to retaining customers

I am on the final leg of my journey to uncover the secrets of retaining hotel customers. Today I am in Deer Valley, a plush ski resort just above Park City, home of the Winter Olympics in 2002. Once again, individual, customized attention seems to be the key. “Here, highly personalized service is critical to retaining customers” says Dan Howard, Director of Public Relations at Montage Deer Valley. “We collect information on our guest preferences so that we are able to customize their stays,” he says. Even children receive a personalized experience. The Montage’s culinary teams collect copious notes on dietary restrictions so that associates can address the guests in advance of their orders when they come to the tables, helping reassure guests that they are recognized and that their dietary needs are being taken to heart in preparing their meals.  “We consider every meal custom to order,” says Howard. Similarly, Spa Montage has a signature treatment called SURRENDER in which the first 45 minutes of the treatment is a conversation between a dedicated therapist and the guest to review health, exercise, diet and hereditary factors prior to being prescribed with a very specific spa ‘diagnosis regimen’ that is specific to the guest. 

Just along the road, at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, Deer Valley, the staff uses every bit of personal information they can as an opportunity to create a memorable experience for guests. “Every guest receives a personal escort to their room”, says Hotel Manager Dan Bullert. “And this enables the staff to develop a personal contact with the guest and possibly obtain information for which the hotel can then take the experience a step further. For instance, a guest made reference to their favorite TV show Downton Abbey, the team then felt inclined to put together a nice card in reference to the show along with the times and where to find it on the channel lineup. Along with the card was a chips/salsa amenity to enjoy while watching the show.”
I’m sorry – I am a Brit but I don’t get the appeal of Downton Abbey. Do the actors ever move their lips? My advice for decent drama: watch Brideshead Revisited instead.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

If you're going, you're going to want to Go-Go!

The SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development in alignment with USC / Columbia Technology Incubator, is happy to support local entrepreneurs to turn their tourism and hospitality business ideas into a reality.  Deals-A-Go-Go joined the incubator last fall and has been in full swing since! Louis Smith, founder of LocoMotor Technologies, LLC, is putting the power of mobile technology in the hands of leisure merchants, which translates into savings for the  drive traveler. This mobile app allows the merchants to drive traffic to their establishment and consumers to take advantage of great deals. Look for Deals-A-Go-Go to launch in Columbia and Florence in spring 2014!

True Waldorf Service

Here on another tough undercover assignment at the Waldorf Astoria, Park City, the only Waldorf hotel on the snow. I am here to understand why the Waldorf Astoria Collection is Hilton’s fast growing luxury brand (there are now 27 WAC properties) and why customers keep coming back. The Utah property sits at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in Canyons Resort, and was recently the official hotel for the Sundance Film Festival. Named one of 2012’s top resorts in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine, the employees here really do take service to another level. My wife for example was having trouble putting on her ski boots because they were cold, so a member of staff noticed her troubles and proceeded to spend 10 minutes warming them up with a hair dryer!
The brand has just rolled out True Waldorf Service, the latest Waldorf Astoria service platform that extends the legendary personal service principles that were first born at the flagship Waldorf Astoria property in New York. True Waldorf Service is advertised as “authentic, personalized service that consistently meets your luxury travel needs from the moment you book your trip through the time you depart”. Guests receive a customized email before arriving, connecting them to a personal concierge to pre-arrange services and special requests attuned to personal preferences, and their travel destination. Upon arrival, the concierge welcomes the guest and escorts them directly to accommodations, bypassing the typical check-in process. Guests then have 24-hour access to designated representatives with local expertise. Upon departure, their personal concierge takes the hassle out of departure travel by arranging packing services, boxed lunches, home luggage delivery, transportation and expedited checkout. Rachel Bradley is a Personal Concierge at the Waldorf Park City and says she has arranged everything from baby-sitting for families with young children, to removing light bulbs from room fridges for guests strictly observing the Sabbath (many Orthodox authorities prohibit opening a fridge door if a light inside will automatically turn on). For business travelers, she often helps guests with scanning or faxing and will also provide supplies if needed: “we play secretary all the time” she jokes. Dana Fioravanti, Manager of Marketing and Public Relations, says that the True Waldorf Service program has been a great success. “We have three Personal Concierges now, and we have seen an increasing number of return guests use the service. Of course the brand helps, especially for those guests coming from New York and Florida, as they are familiar with the Waldorf brand and its legendary service.”
Waldorf, Park City, Utah

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Make it Personal for service that is "alta" this world!

Alta Ski Lodge, Utah

I am currently staying in Alta, a destination in Utah I have been trying to get to for many years (and it is certainly living up to expectations). There are plenty of loyal customers or ‘apostles’ staying here in the Alta Lodge – I just met three of them in the hot tub – Canadians who have been coming here for 35 years! CEO Marcus Dippo takes guest loyalty to heart, encouraging employees to make every effort to place an emphasis on personal attention from the time a guest arrives until he or she departs. He believes that making visitors feel like friends is one of niceties that keeps hotel guests returning to Alta Lodge. Joni Dykstra, Sales and Marketing Director for the lodge says that 70% of guests are returning visitors – a very high loyalty rate in this industry. “The lodge has one 88-year-old female guest who has been coming every year with her family, children and grandchildren since 1951.”  As guests leave, staff will ask them if they would like to reserve the same room for next year, and many of them do. “We will always personalize the stay if we can” says Joni. “For example, we knew a certain gentleman preferred a particular type of cognac – so we go it in for him for his next stay. Others may say why go to all the extra trouble – but it is why we are here – hospitality is what we do. Our employees also come back year after year, even though it is a seasonal business." 

I can see why – this is really a very special place.

Joni Dykstra, Sales and Marketing Director for Alta Lodge


Monday, February 3, 2014

How can hotels convert customers into apostles?

I am working on an article for Hotel Business Review all about how hotels create Apostles – customers who have the highest satisfaction and loyalty scores. These guests are so satisfied that they want to convert others to share their experiences, and would not dream of staying anywhere else. I am in Utah right now trying to uncover the secrets to ‘creating’ such advocates, and the key seems to lie with customization. The leading hotels are making great efforts to customize the experience for guests to make them feel unique and to make them believe that the hotel has singled them out for special attention. Here at the Grand America in Salt Lake City, for example, all employees are empowered to make each guest’s stay exceptional and personalized. The Grand America also has a ‘Grand Ambassador’ whose role is to ensure that all repeat guests are recognized appropriately. “Our operating system will track all of our guest preferences, and our Ambassador then reviews all reservations and prepares for these requests,” says Director of Guest Experience, Annie Fitzgerald. “All of these things make the Grand America truly a home away from home and ensure the retention of our guests”. …… I would come back just for the afternoon tea and cakes!!