Karen Weiner Escalera, President and Chief Strategist, KWE group

1) Please tell something about your organization, key achievements and benefits you provide to global hoteliers?
For nearly 30 years, first in New York City and now in Miami, my firm KWE group has been among the nation’s leading strategic marketing and public relations experts in luxury travel, hospitality and real estate. Creators of the KWEst PROcess, we have worked for brand leaders in all segments of the industry as well as individual hotels and resorts worldwide. Special areas of the firm’s expertise include rebranding, launching and relaunching hotel products, generating awareness offline and online to drive traffic to sales centers and the website, and serving as a resource for all marketing services. A highlight of numerous awards for our campaigns, I was named one of the "Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds" in 2008 by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI). I am a frequent speaker on travel trends and editor of an internationally syndicated "Luxury Travel and Lifestyle Trends" newsletter and blog, and bring these unique insights to bear on our clients’ programs.

2) How has the economy downturn affected your business? What steps have your taken to help hoteliers in this economy? Any special deal, discount, or offer?
It has been widely reported that the hospitality industry has suffered in this economic downtown, and the luxury segment of the industry has suffered most. Affluents are traveling less and trading down, and the aspirational luxury traveler has pretty much dropped out of the market. I mention in my speaking engagements, articles and to clients, “value rules the day at all price points and will continue to do so through 2010.” Early in 2009, many marketers thought that offering “value adds” would be enough – i.e. a four night stay for the price of three, a resort credit, a free dessert when ordering an entrée, etc. As the year progressed, it was obvious that these initiatives weren’t enough. The overall rate had to be priced right as well. The winning combination is value add and the right rate. For instance, for one of our resort clients, we developed a double upgrade promotion (the upgrade is the amenity luxury travelers most value) at the minimum rate. Within 90 days, calls to the contact center were up as much as 40% depending on the resort, and it’s so successful we’re continuing the promotion through the fall. For the affluent, it’s not only a question of being able to afford certain hotel rates, but getting a good deal is a perceived badge of honor - a way of demonstrating to friends and colleagues that they are smart travelers. Even more challenging is the large amount of hotel product out there. The competition is more aggressive than ever, so it is extremely important that hotels clearly differentiate themselves from the competition, with a clear message of what is special about the product. We help hoteliers identify what USPs already exist that could be better capitalized upon, and develop low cost/no cost ideas for services, facilities, packages and promotions that will add value, reinforce the brand message, and generate press coverage and sales. We have come across so many hotels that are in need of reinvigorating or reinventing the product and their messaging, that we launched a consulting division where we do short term projects to provide this particular kind of counsel.

3) What do you see as the future of hotel industry? What major trends will impact hotel business in coming 20 years?
The hotel and travel business will undoubtedly bounce back as people view travel as a necessity, not a luxury. That being said, business travel will continue to be challenged by budget restrictions and advances in meeting technology’s ability to replace face-to-face meetings.

Another major industry change will be a growing diversity of new product. As I wrote in my recent newsletter “Reinvention Revolution”, since Ian Schraeger and the birth of the boutique hotel, there has really been very little innovation and development in new kinds of hotel products. However, this is starting to change with new and original brands ranging from Aloft and Yotel, to CitizenM and RoomMate hotels. Also, expect more in the development of niche and micro niche products geared to special interest markets. We’ll also see more emphasis on hotels that create a sense of place, rather than the homogenized model where guests wake up and doesn’t know they are in New York, Mumbai or Sao Paulo. Also look to see more options offering “affordable luxury”, three and four star hotels that offer luxury where guests say it counts the most.

4) What benefits and key advantages you offer over competition? Why should over readers consider doing business with you?
Strategic thinking and creativity are today’s new currency and those are among the key attributes of our firm. Especially today, hotels need to relook and sometimes retool their hotel product and marketing. Our position as thought leaders and use of our KWEst PROcess (a strategic market positioning and product development tool that uncovers untapped potential to create competitive advantage) is a key competitive advantage. This is especially valuable for independent hotels and resorts, which generally have a lean team so need to outsource resources. Moreover they benefit from objectivity and fresh ideas that come from outside the organization. We do the execution as well, so it’s all a seamless operation. We offer my personal involvement for each client, which is possible because we limit the number of clients we take. And most importantly, we get results, which is the reason we’ve had many clients for over a decade and one, Hyatt, for 24 years.

5) Do you provide E-commerce or online payment facility? Can our readers book your products or services online?
No, the programs and services we provide are bespoke are tailored for each individual client and, therefore, are not appropriate for online purchase.

For more information: Call: 305 476 5424 Fax: 305 476 5434

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