One Northern Pacific Railroad ad that ran in Harper's Weekly explained that the expense of the trip was a guarantee that travelers would not be subjected to "undesirable company." Following that theme, the railroads marketed the national parks as elite destinations with amenities designed exclusively for the enjoyment of the upper classes and advertised luxurious accommodations both on and off the train.
Once advertising had established Yosemite and Yellowstone as the "civilized wilderness," the railroads began to sponsor hotels in the area and advertise them in the same manner. The great hotel names of the late 19th century included Willard, St. Charles, Palmer House, Brown Palace, Chalfonte and Haddon House. Ads for the Haddon House in Boston proclaimed that the hotel possessed a "perfect system of sewerage and ventilation" and a location that offered guests "every possible facility and convenience of rapid and commercial transfer from all points."
The evolution of print media also affected hotel ads. In 1890, for example, The New York Times carried ads for hotels and resorts similar to today's classified advertising. All ads for hotel accommodations appeared on a single page, but as hotels proliferated and newspapers grew, hotel ads became larger and were distributed throughout the paper.
In 1907, Ellsworth Statler opened the Buffalo Statler in Buffalo, N.Y., offering "a room and a bath at a dollar and a half." The hotel, which became the first in a chain of middle-class Statler hotels, was the first to have telephones, radios and built-in closets in every guestroom. Mr. Statler also standardized restaurant offerings as well as amenities for all his hotels. But in the 1930s, most hotels were independent, which meant that mass advertising had limited value; in fact, only about one hotel in 100 ran national ads.
Through the 1930s, the automobile industry put increasing pressure on the railroads. With the accompanying growth of the national highway system, resorts and hotels were no longer dependent on a nearby city or railroad depot for their clientele. With post-World War II prosperity, this trend continued, despite the railroads' efforts to lure passengers back for a postwar vacation.
In 1952, the first Holiday Inn opened in Memphis, targeting middle-income families. The founder, Kemmons Wilson, built several more of the motels, then began franchising the name. Holiday Inns' ad agencies have included D.P. Brother & Co. (named in 1960), the John Cleghorn Agency (which became Beard, Lawson & Potter in 1966), Cosmopolitan Agency (Holiday Inns' in-house agency), Boyce Advertising, Bozell & Jacobs, J. Walter Thompson Co., Young & Rubicam (which succeeded JWT in 1976) and more recently Fallon McElligott.
At about the same time, with the introduction of jet travel in 1958, domestic and overseas locations once considered inaccessible drew the interest of developers. By 1965, the resort business had become the largest-spending of all hotel advertising categories and warranted a special section in most newspapers.
Distinguishing the destination
By the late 1970s, travel marketers were discovering that they had to communicate clearly how one destination was different from all others. A case in point was the Caribbean islands. An ad for Eden II, a couples-only resort in Jamaica, pictured the bare feet of a twosome sitting on the beach, thus positioning the resort for romance. Club Med ads from Ammirati & Puris were aimed at vacationers who wanted to shed the trappings of the city and promised "the antidote for civilization."
The market for luxury properties held up during the recession of the 1970s, while the fringe markets did not. The travel and tourism bureaus of many states and countries also began adopting innovative approaches to marketing their destinations. Virginia's wildly successful slogan, "Virginia is for lovers," created by agency Martin & Woltz in 1969, attracted visitors to the state's plantations, Civil War battlefields, mountains, beaches and theme parks.
In the 1980s, Texas tourism officials turned to local agency GSD&M, Austin, which created a campaign with the slogan, "Texas. It's like a whole other country," featuring red rock canyons, San Antonio's canals and Gulf Coast beaches. By 1997, Texas had become the No. 4 state in terms of tourist spending.
One sector that got an unexpected marketing boost in the early 1980s was the cruise industry. Until that point, only 5% of Americans had ever taken a cruise. Then in 1977, ABC premiered "The Love Boat," a weekly series about romantic entanglements aboard a cruise ship.
The series ran until 1986, and the cruise market faced a shortage of available berths. The ship featured on the show belonged to Princess Cruises, which played on the tie-in with "Love Boat"-themed ads from Tracy-Locke, Los Angeles, and later Lintas: Campbell-Ewald, Los Angeles.
Advantages of chains
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, the hotel industry continued to expand, finding huge benefits in forming chains and franchising. Marketing expenses, for example, could be shared and, with a name known nationally or even internationally, hotel chains had a marked advantage over their independent brethren.
In the early 1980s, leading hotel chains targeted business travelers with ads that promoted both overall image and individual properties. Hotels also advertised upgraded services, while holding the line on rates. The Ramada Inn chain produced a TV spot showing the transformation of a room in process via a time-lapse photo process. Foote, Cone & Belding handled the ad.
Hyatt called attention to itself with a new campaign headlined, "Other hotels try to give you a touch of Hyatt. Only Hyatt gives you them all." The ad, from JWT, combined hard-sell copy with an ambience of tasteful luxury.
Marriott Hotels opted for a print ad targeted to business travelers that used its president, Bill Marriott, standing next to the front door of a Marriott, dressed as the quintessential business traveler. The hotel chain handled advertising in-house and at Ogilvy & Mather, during the period.
Motel 6: A success story
The budget chain Motel 6 is often used as a case history for lodging advertising. Its agency created memorable advertising such as the Tom Bodett radio campaign. Richards Group, hired by Motel 6 in 1986, decided that radio, a medium rival lodging chains rarely touched, made the most sense for Motel 6.
As always, the choice of a spokesman was critical. Mr. Bodett, a resident of Homer, Alaska, and a homebuilder turned writer, was largely unknown by the public. That left Motel 6 fearful that his lack of celebrity might result in little notice among the target audience.
The first radio spots featuring Mr. Bodett aired in late 1986. He did about 100 more over the next five years, and Motel 6 saw a turnaround in its six-year occupancy slide in the first full year of the campaign.
Discounting and other enticements
In the late 1980s, hotels began to borrow a page from airlines' marketing textbooks. Fighting an industrywide oversupply of rooms, Holiday Inns was the first to resort to discounting programs rivaling those offered by major airlines while hoping to avoid airline-style price wars. Its Great Rates supersaver program was the first step in a pricing strategy aimed at winning customers not ordinarily drawn to Holiday Inn's mid-price properties. A $2 million campaign from Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt (later Bozell Worldwide) supported the program. Many other national chains followed suit.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, however, brought the travel industry to a virtual standstill for months. Hotel occupancies dropped, airlines cut employees and flights, and tight security reigned at airports.
At the time of the Iraq War in 2003, consumers again turned to home and hearth and canceled or delayed trips far from home. The SARS epidemic, which coincided with the war, also slowed travel to affected areas, as did terrorist activity in various parts of the world.
Hotel occupancy rates began to slowly pick up, particularly in the U.S. Revenue per available room, a key measure of hotel financial performance known as revpar, was expected to increase by more than 7% in 2005, according to analysts. The increase was largely being driven by higher room rates as business travelers returned to the market and hotels moved to limit discounting, said R. Mark Woolworth, executive managing director at PKF Consulting, which projected 7.5% revpar growth this year.
PKF said lodging in the U.S. was entering "a classic recovery" in which occupancy and room rates rise, but profits won’t appear until later. The report said that "the typical hotel will achieve revenue levels comparable to those achieved during the last industry high-water mark, which occurred in the late 1990s. However, because of escalating operating costs, a return to past peak levels of bottom line profitability will not occur until 2006 or 2007."
Overseas, there was still a problem. In late 2004, an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a massive tsunami that affected almost a dozen countries and killed more than 150,000 people. Whole towns and villages were swallowed whole, with seaside resorts obliterated. A month later, even in unaffected towns, government officials in Thailand were reporting occupancy rates of just 10% in resorts and hotels.