Are hotels missing a marketing opportunity in TED Talks?

Last year, Airbnb co-founder and chief product officer Joe Gebbia gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk on “How Airbnb Designs for Trust,” a monologue that amounts to a soft sell for the alternative lodging brand. Several months later, Marriott International announced a partnership with the nonprofit known for freely distributed online talks about “ideas worth spreading.” Starting last fall and continuing this year, Marriott is hosting a series of five global TED Talks Fellows salons across four continents, giving hotel guests access to these unique thought-leadership experiences while reminding TED devotees of their shared interests with the Marriott brand.

Other than a 2010 talk on “Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile,” by then-CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels Chip Conley and Gebbia's talk, Marriott’s arrangement with TED really marks the first time a hotel brand has latched onto the media organization with a full-fledged partnership program.

But it would appear that the hotel industry is slowly taking notice of this innovative and eloquent media channel, which has been holding annual conferences since 1990. In June, the Independent Lodging Congress will host the independently organized TEDxWilmingtonSalon, “Lust for Life: Adventure, Travel & Hospitality.” The speaker lineup for the one-day Delaware event is set to include Mark Harmon, founder of Auberge Resorts Collection, and Bashar Wali, principal and president of Provenance Hotels.

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Hospitality Advice

Yet, TED Talks are more than a means of promoting a hotel brand to a captive audience of potential guests. These modern-day soliloquies are versatile tools that the hotel industry can and should be using to driving marketing programs in other creative ways, source conference speakers and even incorporate into staff training. Jan Smith, a human-resources consultant and customer-service trainer for the hospitality industry, has two TED Talks: “What’s Next in Service for the Hospitality Industry: A Culture of Care.” “Guests may tell you that you’re doing a great job, but you always wonder what more you could be doing and Smith discusses what’s next in service for the hospitality industry,” said David Teich, GM of New Orleans’ Windsor Court Hotel and president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association. “I look at TED Talks like free, mini courses from the Cornell School of Hospitality; they provide great insight on issues like body language and speaking to motivate and they can also help you better relate to different generations from millennials to boomers.”

In fact, Cornell University lecturer Barbara Lang, a hospitality industry consultant, has a TED Talk on “A Hospitality Mindset: How We Can Change the World One Day at a Time” while high school math teacher Jeff Dekofsky’s TED Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing on “The Infinite Hotel Paradox” takes an interesting look at a German mathematician’s thought experiment about a hotel with an infinite number of rooms.

Branding Inspiration

Michael Cady, VP marketing at hotel management firm Charlestowne Hotels and a former Saatchi & Saatchi executive, uses Simon Sinek’s TED Talk “Start with Why” to drive the branding process for new hotels or existing hotels that are redefining their essence. “These core principles simplify the direct link from why a hotel was created, to how it should then operate, to what it should necessarily offer its guests,” he said. “Sinek discovered that great brands and cultural movements are much more than the veneers of marketing. Powerful brands result from setting their course based on clear beliefs and then demonstrating those principles with sincerity and simplicity.”

Cady explained that, using principals inspired by Sinek’s talk, a brand book is created for a hotel client: The book is intended to drive every aspect of the hotel’s operations. “Starting with why goes to the heart of operating a hotel with clarity and purpose. In this schizophrenic world we live in today, people need and respond to messaging that is simple, yet powerful and meaningful,” Cady added. “Starting with why drives everything from the personality, tone of voice, brand pillars and B2C marketing of a hotel. More importantly, this exercise can drive the daily operational experience. If executed correctly, hotel operations will deliver on the why, which should drive repeat business, ultimately decreasing advertising dollars to attract all new guests.”

Travel Tech on TED Talks

But where HOTEL MANAGEMENT received the most feedback on valuable TED Talks was from the tech side of the lodging industry. Sarah Gavin, VP communications at Expedia, also listens to Simon Sinek, but for his talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” as well as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s talk on “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” Kevin Scholl, director of digital marketing at Red Roof Inn, recommends JJ Abrams talk “The Mystery Box” because he said: “mystery drives creativity and The Mystery Box represents infinite possibility.”

But the most out-of-the-box TED Talk recommendation came from Egencia COO Mark Hollyhead, who suggested watching Tom Thum, a human beat boxer who impersonates instruments. “I’m lucky enough to work in the travel industry, one of very few that brings people together; it transcends cultures and can unite people across the globe,” Hollyhead said. “For me, music does the same, it always seems progressive, rarely divisive and provides a common language for happiness and a sense of community. The fact that Tom adds comedy in this talk as well means for me he ticks all the boxes—when has laughing ever caused anything but good, huh?”