Designing Profitability


Designing Profitability

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Benjawan Intrasuwan, Head of Digital at QUO, reveals why smart website design means much more than just making it look nice.

Online travel agents (OTAs). You love that they help significant numbers of guests book at your hotel, but those commission fees just don’t feel right. What’s more: what happens to the fantastic brand you created that is perfectly tailored to appeal to your target guests? On OTA websites, hotels are reduced to pretty much just a basic comparison of price, location and amenities. There is very little space left for an original brand to shine through. You have almost become a commodity.

For these reasons, the ultimate aim is to obtain commission-free direct bookings through your hotel’s own website. This is where smart website design really shows its value.

Express Your Brand

Your site as a whole should embody the mission and culture of your hotel and show visitors how you are different. Each page should feature content that clearly portrays its purpose. There should be a distinct sense of style, whether you are going for a sophisticated look or a laid-back vacation vibe.

Here are 8 principles we keep in mind as we build websites designed to  significantly boost the number of visitors who actually convert and make a direct booking.

1. Be Quick

Worse than someone who comes to your website and doesn’t make a booking is someone who doesn’t even reach your website to start with. Forty per cent of users abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Part of any delay is server speed, but website design also has a major impact on loading time. High-resolution images, video and advanced design elements slow down a website. You need an experienced designer to ensure that image and video weights are compressed and advanced design used sparingly to keep things fast.

2. Grab Attention

Research shows that the vast majority of users will abandon a website within the first 10 seconds if they don’t get a good feeling from it. This makes the design of the home page incredibly important. As soon as the site loads, it should enchant the guest and convince them that the rest of the website will provide them with what they are looking for. A good idea is to feature a ‘wow’ hero image or video that encapsulates what you want the guest to know about the hotel.

3. Make it Intuitive

Visitors come to your website with a clear purpose. It is important to make the experience as easy as possible for them. The navigation of the website needs to be simple. Approximately 25 per cent of users report leaving a website because it is too hard to navigate. Users especially shouldn’t have to search for the ‘Book’ button. It needs to be on virtually every page, prominently positioned and visible at all times. Using a bright colour that contrasts with the surrounding space ensures it catches the eye.

4. Personalise

A website should be designed to appeal to target guests. Are you looking to attract business travellers, young families, couples or groups of friends? The design needs to reflect that through the choice of images, styles and colours. Users will book if they feel a connection with the hotel’s brand. With modern websites, the content and layout that is presented can change depending on the user’s IP, so you can target geographic areas and returning visitors. Personalisation is the key to making a deeper connection with a user and encourages bookings.

5. Be Responsive

Your website must adapt to different devices. With the massive proliferation of smartphones, a major proportion of the visitors to your website will be viewing it on a device that is not a desktop computer. If your website is not responsive and has not been designed to look good when displayed on a smartphone screen, you will frustrate and lose many of your visitors.

6. Share Experiences

One of the most important parts of your website is engaging content, and one of the most important forms of content is photography. Photos and videos should be professional, tell a story and deliver a strong message. Hotels can also use blogs to build the brand’s narrative, give exciting updates and inform guests about events and attractions in the area. Your content should be professional, informative and entertaining. Your website is the digital front door to your hotel. If you can’t wow a guest online then they will assume your hotel has nothing exciting to offer.

7. Provide Social Proof

Around 78 per cent of people trust peer recommendations, but only 14 per cent trust commercial advertising. Many people will not book a hotel until they have first checked out reviews from fellow travellers. If a user has to leave your website to find these reviews, there is a big chance they won’t be coming back. Integrating guest reviews into a website helps to give potential guests the reassurance they need to make a booking. Sites like TripAdvisor provide the ability to insert review widgets into hotel websites so visitors can check reviews without leaving the site.

8. Measure and Test

Optimising a website is an ongoing process. It’s important that usage is measured and analysed to spot areas where people are dropping out, getting frustrated and not doing what you want. Running constant tests to see what works and what doesn’t and making relevant changes will increase the percentage of visitors making bookings. Google famously ran a test using 41 different shades of blue for their advertising links. The result for Google was USD200 million per year in increased revenue.

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Well, Well, Well


Well, Well, Well

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Daniel Grossberg, Brand Strategist at QUO, predicts a long life for this year’s biggest hospitality trend.

What’s the biggest hospitality trend of 2018? Stop by the nearest hospitality and tourism event this weekend and survey ten attendees. You’re likely to hear the same answer ten times: ‘wellness’.

Wellness is already everywhere in 2018, and it’s only February.  Vogue kicked off the year with Lupita Nyong’o in tree pose on their January cover. The concept has reached the hedonistic realm of cruising. It’s also influencing in a big way tours and airport facilities. Even whole hotels dedicated to wellness are on the rise. You could liken wellness’s spread to a disease.

Promising Vitals

When you look at the numbers, it all makes sense. Globally, the industry is worth approximately 3.7 trillion USD, accounting for a little more than 5% of the world’s total economic output.

This swift growth has impacted the hospitality industry in remarkable ways. From 2014 to 2016, the wellness tourism industry grew 14% – more than twice as fast as overall tourism during the same period. No longer a niche market for hippies or new-age, patchouli-scented spiritualists, wellness tourism now accounts for 16% of all tourism expenditures. That’s one in every six tourist dollars spent.

Over the past decade, wellness has become something of an omnipresent mantra, a catch-all panacea for any brand at all that wants to stay on-trend and capture consumer interest. While the details shift from year to year – 2018 just can’t get enough moringa, 2017 was all about turmeric, and before that kale and quinoa – the overall concept of wellness is generally presented as an inherent and indisputable component of human life.

The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility. Few had even heard of the word wellness, things like nut-milk yogurt were weird and gene-based dieting was something from dystopian sci-fi. So how did wellness become so deeply ingrained into our everyday lives, and why does it now play such a prominent role in the hospitality industry

“ The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility.

From Mumbo-Jumbo to Mainstream

Though its origins stretch back thousands of years to the teachings of Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and ancient Greek medicine, our modern idea of what ‘wellness’ constitutes only began during the 1950s, developing over the 60s and 70s. Our present day use of the word – first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1650s – can be traced back to physician Halbert L. Dunn, chief of the U.S. National Office of Vital Statistics from 1935 to 1960.

In 1961, Dunn published a book titled ‘High-Level Wellness’, which he defined as ‘an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable’. The book was not exactly a best-seller, in fact it struggled to make an impact at all.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, before a small group of doctors and thinkers – including Dr. John Travis, Don Ardell, Dr. Bill Hettler and others – began to embrace and expand on Dunn’s ideas.

Interestingly enough, the term ‘wellness’ itself also took a while to gain traction. Dr. Travis, an early advocate of Dunn’s concepts, initially “thought the word ‘wellness’ was stupid… it would never catch on”. Nevertheless, he still used it to name his pioneering Wellness Resource Center in Mill Valley, California, in November 1975, thus sealing its fate as today’s biggest buzzword.   

The Wellness Resource Center was instrumental in gaining a wider audience for the fledgling movement. There, Dr. Travis and his small team of doctors focused on addressing an individual’s overall state of wellbeing and championed self-directed approaches to treatment, rather than traditional illness-oriented medical procedures. In 1979, Dan Rather brought international attention to the Center with a short segment that aired on ’60 Minutes’.

“Wellness,” Rather says, introducing the segment, “now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.”

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

One of the first business to jump on the wellness bandwagon was Canyon Ranch, which opened in 1979 in Tucson, Arizona. Founded by an overweight property developer named Mel Zuckerman (he’s since slimmed down) and his exercise enthusiast wife Enid, Canyon Ranch was billed as ‘America’s first total vacation/fitness resort’.

It’s telling that one of the first modern wellness-related business ventures was in hospitality. At the time, the idea that you might need to travel hundreds of kilometres to have such an experience made sense – there simply weren’t many other options. However, there was also a historical precedence for such retreats, which could be traced back to European spa towns like Baden Baden, where baths were first built during the Roman Empire.

Canyon Ranch got off to a slow start, but by the late 80s they were financially successful and ready for expansion. They’ve since built a brand that’s well-known for its upmarket interpretation of wellness (rates start at USD 1,000/night), as well as its variety of products, including spa clubs, Las Vegas hotel spas and cruise ship spas. In many ways, their story epitomises the rise of wellness itself, from a small, fringe concept into a global symbol of luxury and status.

Wellness for the rich and famous, however, is only part of the story.

In the mid-80s, nearly half of the U.S. population worked out on a semi-regular basis (up from 24% in 1960) and they were starting to demand more from hotels than just a room to sleep in. Travellers increasingly wanted new amenities like a pool, a spa and a gym included as part of their stay. Hotels were slow to get with the programme, however. By 1991, 40% of hotels in the U.S. contained some sort of gym, but the quality was inconsistent and often gym-goers were squashed elbow-to-sweaty-elbow into an unused guest room or a dim, shag-carpeted basement.

Finally, in 2003, Westin launched WestinWORKOUT, effectively reimagining the hotel gym for a new generation of travellers. Featuring state-of-the-art equipment, workouts designed in partnership with Reebok, upscale amenities and a focus on natural lighting, Westin made wellness an integral part of the travel experience, rather than an add-on feature. In doing so, they sparked a hotel gym arms race that, 15 years later, shows no signs of slowing down. One only has to look at upscale gym Equinox’s move to launch a hospitality brand in order to understand how important the gym, as well as the broader concept of wellness, has become to hotels.  

Wellness on Steroids

So why has wellness exploded to the extent that is has? Much of it has to do with the same global and technological forces that have transformed overseas travel from a relatively expensive and uncommon undertaking into a far more accessible, familiar and varied experience. And just as travel and wellness have become mass-market industries, they’ve also become the perfect status symbols for those living today’s most luxurious lifestyles. Both are powered by the same type of desire for rare and remarkable experiences, as opposed to traditional material objects.

The ever-growing wellness industry also taps into our age-old thirst for better health, better bodies and just generally better selves. And the future of wellness in hospitality will be focused on enabling this transformational potential, not simply providing a physical escape from daily life or throwing a yoga mat into the wardrobe your guest room. As Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, argues, ‘the path to wellness is much more about embracing enriching experiences than avoiding stressful ones’.

Hotels occupy a singular position within the wellness spectrum. They have the power to create immersive and highly impactful experiences, which can play a big role in our overall happiness. Like any diet or exercise programme, only the brands that can enable sustainable lifestyle changes will go on to define the future of wellness hospitality.

Wellness services/products we’d like to see in hotels:

  • Generous and delicious vegetarian and vegan menus
  • Classes that are actually fun (parkour, ballroom dance, rock climbing)
  • Guest room tech integration with smart watches
  • Fitness incentives (such as paying for a soda in squats)  
  • Tech-free zones for more personal interactions
  • Guided meditation meeting breaks

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Cool story, bro


Cool story, bro

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Customers crave stories. For travel and hospitality brands, it’s no longer enough to market your products with only high-res images and a stable of glowing reviews. Let’s look at how three major hospitality players are giving the people what they want.

Storytelling may be an ancient artform, but it only recently emerged as an essential branding tool. Propelled by an online explosion in video content and a desire to harness social-sharing trends, a successful branded storytelling campaign has become the holy grail of content marketing. Well-crafted stories shine a spotlight on your organisation’s narratives. These can range from in-depth origin stories on the ‘About Us’ page to sharable vignettes broadcast on social media. Some brand stories document real events; others are engaging works of pure fiction that embody the company’s values. But virtually all branded stories have at least one thing in common – emotional content.

“Promoting a brand through emotionally charged narratives is an effective way to raise awareness and boost engagement. But telling stories for stories’ sake isn’t enough. You have to know your audience, tap into their psyche and spin tales that resonate with their needs and values. Pull this off, and the rewards are substantial.”

Tales Worth Telling

Industry leaders are coming around to the need to take charge of their narrative – to shape it and distribute it themselves. Here’s how a few heavy hitters in hospitality and travel are accomplishing that:

#1 Airbnb Took Charge of its Narrative with Storytelling

Airbnb has always had a knack for storytelling. Even the company’s unusual name is a story prompt that connects back to the founders’ early days of renting out an inflatable mattress in the living room of their San Francisco loft. It’s an origin story – one that survived full-on rebrands and continues to inform the company’s reason for being.

But they also understand that their core product is difficult to articulate. It’s not as tangible as a mainstream hospitality provider’s. Local hosts are on the frontlines with customers providing all the experiences – from lodging to city tours. They’re the ones doing the meeting and engaging.

In reality, Airbnb exercises little control over its users’ experiences. To counter this, the company has made a concerted effort to shape the way consumers think about its core product – and they’ve used storytelling to accomplish this.

A few years ago, they relaunched the brand with a video that spoke of a world ‘full of cities and towns’ that are ‘constantly growing larger’, one with disconnected people ‘yearning for a sense of place’. Then they move in for the kill:

“What would it be like to feel at home, even when you are away? Imagine having that anywhere.”

In one succinct brand video, Airbnb has taken hold of the narrative and framed itself as an agent of connection. This has freed it up to tell stories about the people it brings together, to tell stories about exceptional experiences offered by Airbnb hosts and to showcase the globe-trotting escapades of its users. This has become a main focus on their website. Have a look at Airbnb’s ‘Stories’ page, where they curate a mix of host bios, user-generated content and other stories related to their network.

#2 Jetblue Connected their Brand to Feel-good Stories

JetBlue was an early adopter in the new wave of branded storytelling. The airline’s social campaign – ‘Fly It Forward’ – focused on Twitter, where it encouraged users to nominate admirable candidates that deserved recognition. These nominees had nothing to do JetBlue.

But a new narrative was about to change that.

Judges selected a few outstanding nominees and offered them a free round-trip ticket. These winners then became goodwill ambassadors and were asked to ‘fly it forward’ by nominating other worthy candidates. The process continued.

By showcasing this goodwill and rewarding it with free flights, JetBlue aligned itself with these stories of selflessness and sacrifice. Of course, all of this was documented on social platforms like Twitter and YouTube. The result was a series of sharable stories about community organisers, survivors and other previously unsung heroes.

What emerged was a kindness chain with JetBlue at the centre. The fact that none of these stories had anything to do with the airline was beside the point. Or maybe it was the point. Twitter swooned.

This is just one example of JetBlue’s successful forays into storytelling. The airline’s ‘Recurring Dream’ video tells a feel-good fictional story about a pigeon who dreams of a better flying experience. It’s cute, memorable and highly sharable – and it links directly to the brand’s key messages.

Then there was the ‘FlyBabies’ campaign, which documented a so-called social experiment where crying babies on airplanes went from a fussy annoyance to a source of free tickets and a cause for applause. Talk about changing the narrative.  

#3 Marriott Entertained Audiences with Pure Fiction

Marriott was one of the first major hospitality players to go all-in on using stories to market their products. In 2014, they launched a full-on creative studio to create, produce and distribute content on behalf of their vast portfolio of brands.

This studio set about producing a steady stream of polished video content designed primarily to entertain. A trilogy of Two Bellmen films are the crown jewels in this new endeavour. These highly choreographed action films run from 17 to 35 minutes and are shot on location at specific Marriott hotels. Each has racked up several million views on YouTube.

David Beebe, who founded Marriott’s Content Studio and ran it for nearly three years, once explained that the why behind the content was more important than the what. In other words, they weren’t making content for content’s sake. Most of the content they produced connected back to specific sales packages, thereby driving bookings.

What’s Your Story

One of the reasons a well-crafted branded story is so compelling is that it’s uniquely yours. It sets your brand apart in the market and provides customers with a human connection – something they can engage with.

You might even say that the way to your target customer’s heart is through a story, which begs the question: What’s yours?

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How to Lure Overlooked, Lucrative Mid-Lifers


How to Lure Overlooked, Lucrative Mid-Lifers

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Millennials are getting all the attention from hoteliers, but another ‘m’ category – mid-lifers – is being ignored as a potentially lucrative target.

According to a study by Euromonitor International, mid-lifers (those in their mid-40s to mid-50s) have the highest spending power of all age groups. HOTELS magazine interviewed David Keen, founder and CEO of QUO, about how hotels can capture the loyalty of this overlooked category of traveller.

HOTELS: Where should hotels focus to attract – or at least acknowledge – mid-lifers?

DK: Public and co-working spaces: Most hotels miss the mark by creating ‘cool and funky’ communal spaces that solely aim at young people. Everyone enjoys hanging out in a cool space that gives them a sense of community, ‘mid-lifers’ included, and mid-lifers generally have more money to spend on a hotel that provides these spaces.

When designing co-working spaces, hotels seem to ignore the mid-lifers need to feel comfortable, so while they are cool, the spaces are not cosy, or they’re noisy or lack privacy. The ideal mid-lifer co-working space is aesthetically pleasing, but also comfortable and quiet enough to spend a few hours working. Mid-lifers are going to local cafes to fulfil this need, as hotels seem to be missing that balance between hipness, comfort and functionality.

Design: Most mid-lifers have travelled extensively and are looking for stunning design – dramatic spaces, hotels with character and ‘sexy’, desirable spaces. They want places that capture the imagination and ideally the locale in their design. Bland is banned for this demographic. Brands such as M Gallery, or any brand with a ‘curated’ collection, tap into this need.

Rooms: Mid-lifers want the basics done right. Surprisingly few luxury hotels focus on doing so. The basics are a shower with good pressure, consistent hot water and enough space to turn around. Quality, high thread-count bedding with a mix of pillows. Good coffee. Fast, free WiFi. Fast check-in and automated check-in. Quality TV channels, adequate desk space, enough space to fit an extra bed or crib in the room. Quality amenities.

Menus: Health-conscious mid-lifers want nutritious options on the menu. Not just options but menu concepts built on health and nutrition. Club sandwiches are banned. Quinoa salads, wraps, more vegetarian and vegan options – that kind of thing.

Gyms: Gyms should have approachable staff (not intimidating personal trainer-type staff), to supply personalized advice on machines. Exercise machines differ from place to place, so easily obtained information on gym equipment is needed – information that pertains to this age group.

H: Is there anything unique about mid-lifers that hotels could be targeting?

DK: This demographic travels frequently for work and they’re more health-conscious while doing so than baby boomers. They need healthier and more diverse menus. They also enjoy socializing and checking out local bars and clubs after dinner. Late-check out, all-day breakfast, in-the-know locality guides and hotels with ‘cool’ bars are perks for them.

Mid-lifers with children don’t want to stay at a bland ‘family hotel’ where kids are relegated to a kids’ club or otherwise separated from parents. They’re looking for hotels with family experiences that are engaging for all ages, with rooms, restaurants and facilities that help them bond as a family. And they value personal space, so spacious rooms and communal areas that facilitate ‘isolated togetherness’ are highly prized. Basics are more important than fawning service.

Mid-lifers have the highest spending power of any age group

H: How does this age group define luxury – or do they even care about luxury?

DK: Mid-lifers define luxury as the perfect hotel for the purpose of their trip, so their exact needs change whether it’s a couple’s escape, family trip or business trip. A must is ample physical space and stunning design. Selecting a hotel for them is 70% to 80% based on design. Design should be beautiful but also functional and not detrimental to enjoyment – all the basics should be effortlessly provided. This demographic is quite independent, so services are less important, as long as service itself is friendly and efficient.

H: Hotels that target “millennial-minded” travellers fit a broad description – usually around technology and a more casual, local approach to design and F&B. How would you define a mid-lifer hotel?

DK: Desirable design; menus with healthy and diverse options; friendly, efficient service; spacious rooms with all the basics done right; a cool, communal workspace that is also comfortable and functional (like a living room); useful, high-quality amenities; and children’s and family facilities that aren’t just an after-thought.

Hotels that want to become more accessible to this cohort should focus on stunning design, better, healthier menus and an affordable, accessible, quality wine list.

This interview was first published on the website of HOTELS magazine.

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QUO REPORT: Vietnam Rising


QUO REPORT: Vietnam Rising

Last Updated
27 December 2019


All pundits are in agreement: the Vietnamese tourism industry is on the up in a big way. Vietnam has remarkable potential for growth – both in terms of tourist interest and projected revenue.

Last year, the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) listed Vietnam among the top 10 fastest-growing tourist destinations. Jones Lang LaSalle also cast a vote of confidence, listing Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi among the 26 most attractive cities for hotel investment worldwide.

But what is the word on the street? It’s easy to say ‘invest in Vietnam’, but the potential for growth is more nuanced than that. To take a closer look at what’s happening in the Vietnam market, and what might transpire within the next few years, QUO spoke with some of the country’s most prominent hospitality insiders.

Here are some of the key thoughts from the discussion.

  • Vietnam should be ranked higher in terms of potential growth. Vietnam offers fantastic opportunities for hotelier and investors, as hotel numbers are still low compared to other Asian tourism hotspots.

“I believe Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi should be in the top 20 or 15 most attractive cities in the world for hotel investment,” said Michael Piro, COO of Indochina Land, real estate division of Indochina Capital. “If you look at other Southeast Asia countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, the number of hotels in Vietnam is still very small.”

 Jung Hyun Oh, GM of Novotel Ha Long Bay agreed. “The ‘next big thing’ here should be much more investment right across the country: Phu Quoc, Dalat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne need more luxury resorts, and Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City need mid-scale brands.”

  • The luxury market may not be that attractive to investors. There are certain areas where luxury hotels are in short supply, but overall, it’s not the most profitable market in the country.

  “In Hanoi, there is still room for luxury products, but in general, this sector is not very attractive to investors in term of profitability,” said Olivier Do Ngoc Dung, Managing Director of Dynasty Investments. He remarked that the most interesting sector was that of international-standard budget hotels, currently only seen in HCMC and Hanoi. He also believes in the potential of coastal town Ho Tram, where Dynasty Investments last year signed a partnership agreement with Club Med.

  • The mid-scale market is promising, and could put pressure on luxury brands.

“You see local products with lower quality, but you rarely see internationally-managed, affordable luxury products,” said Michael. “I think the ‘affordable luxury’ concept is going to put pressure on 5-star hotels – it will change the market.” The big players will try to create similar brands, he said, or try to buy local brands to fulfil the affordable niche. “Local operators will also change, as you can start to see at Silverland and Liberty.”

  • Tech will play a role, but not a crucial one. Vietnam has some catching up to do in the tech sphere – will this be a problem in an industry increasingly turning to technology to individualise services?

“I don’t believe that much in the interruption of the artificial intelligence that people are talking about,” said Olivier. “In a country like Vietnam, small or boutique hotels are defined by culture and service. Travellers want human contact, so artificial intelligence will not be a threat. Regarding advances like mobile apps – now that OTAs dominate the market, I’m not sure if mobile applications for checking or planning the whole stay are right for small hotels.”

Michael, whose new project Wink Hotels will embrace technology, explains the millennial attachment to tech. “Today’s travellers want almost everything on their phone. Everyone now has their own Netflix, Apple music, Apple TV, Apple whatever and are now travelling with their own personal content. Everything is being streamlined to automatic devices.” For this reason, Wink will make it possible for guests to easily stream content from their phone to the in-room TV.

On the operations front: “Most hotel experiences that used to be handled by people can now be taken care of by technology,” he said. “There will be greater initial investment in hotels, but lower operating costs over time, because what you used to need 100 people to do, now you can do with 20.”

  • Design should play a more prominent role. While local brands strive to reach international standards, Western travellers are still looking for something authentically local.

“One thing we’re seeing now is that people are looking for hotels with personality. ‘Can I stay somewhere where I can experience something unique? Can I experience something that would create good memories about this place?’” said Luis Riestra, Cluster Director of Sales & Marketing, AccorHotels.

Olivier also believes there’s room for innovation in design – both from an aesthetic and a practical standpoint. “New builds and renovations can incorporate open floorplans, co-working spaces, workout facilities, bars and cafés – all of which are especially appealing to the much-sought-after millennial traveller.” There are some brands in Vietnam already doing this, he noted, such as Kafnu by Next Story Group.

  • Vietnam has changing traveller demographics that will influence the local hospitality scene. New markets such as China and India have for the moment replaced Western visitors as the main source of inbound tourism.

“There should be a re-thinking of the products and service offerings for those customers,” said Olivier. He noted that international guests’ behaviours have changed dramatically in the last few years. South Vietnam used to be seen as a cheap destination – mainly backpackers and recent graduates, but is now attracting higher spenders with more time for leisure and lifestyle experiences.

It should also be noted that Vietnam is hoping to increase the average tourist spend up to US$1,080 by 2020. Vietnam Airlines’ direct flights to Paris, Frankfurt and London and the US (from late 2018) may see traveller numbers from the West increase.

  • International hoteliers should not underestimate local players. Even though Vietnam is still catching up to the West, this is not necessarily a disadvantage.

“Don’t think ‘Oh, Vietnam will take years for that.’ Every day, people become better and faster and smarter,” said Michael. “There is so much money-chasing in Vietnam real estate right now, especially in the hospitality sector, it’s going to force innovation, because to be competitive to survive in the market, you have to be innovative.”

“So how should hotel owners and operators react? I would say ‘watch what’s going on and keep up, stay curve’.”

  • Overall, the success of the Vietnamese hotel and travel industry will be a ‘team effort’. Everyone sees the country’s potential, so interest is coming from a range of sectors.

  “Local owners and operators are really waking up to the opportunities on offer in their own backyard,” said Catherine Monthienvichienchai, Strategy Director at QUO. “There is huge optimism about the future of hospitality in Vietnam, and everyone wants a piece of it. Business owners who’ve made their money in other industries see it as a point of pride to diversify into hospitality; almost to showcase their success.

“Meanwhile, we’re seeing a wave of second-generation owners taking over with a much bigger and bolder vision – many have lived or travelled extensively overseas and have a clear understanding of the international landscape. Whether they create their own brands or work with international operators, they aim high and move fast.”

For periodic market updates, add the QUO blog to your bookmarks list – or subscribe and get all our news. 

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The Art of Microcopy


The Art of Microcopy

Last Updated
27 December 2019

The smallest strings of copy on a website can achieve the greatest impact. 

Collectively referred to as microcopy, I’m talking about the little bits of text that instruct site visitors how to interact with the content while prompting further action and assuaging any ingrained reluctance to convert. They usher users through the sales funnel.

Writing microcopy is a true crossover craft – an exercise in both front-end development and content creation. It’s one of exceptionally few areas in website design that allows lowly copywriters like myself to get their hands dirty turning the nuts and bolts of user experience. It also gives us the chance to inject a few extra doses of tone of voice into a website.

Bus as we’ll see in a moment, playing fast and loose with microcopy tone can macro-backfire. Internet users are a fickle bunch, and they’re sensitive about the way you address them – even in the briefest of messages.

A Brief History of Microcopy

The term ‘microcopy’ (if not the medium itself) was coined by Joshua Porter – a self-described ‘product designer and writer’ with a blog ( on Alexa’s top-100,000 leaderboard. Here’s how he defines it:

“That tiny copy (often shorter than a sentence) that helps clarify, explain, reduce commitment, or otherwise assuage someone performing (or considering) a task.”

In early incarnations, microcopy was mainly used to lead users through the process of navigating a website. It instructed them to ‘click’, ‘enter name’ or – at the most important junctures – to ‘submit’ or ‘purchase’. There were no bells and whistles.

But over time, a glimmer of tone crept in. The garden-variety ‘Click’ became ‘Click Here!’. The humble ‘submit’ button evolved into ‘Sign me up’. These online signposts started sounding more human, even if they weren’t exactly speaking in a branded tone of voice.

Some of the first all-out attempts at putting microcopy in tone happened on 404 pages. A few years ago, clicking on a bad link would strand uses on a page with lifeless notice – ‘404 Not Found’, or something to that effect. But today, just about every well-branded website ha a custom 404 page. In each case, the message remains the same – this page doesn’t exist on our website – but the tone varies.

Here are three examples from prominent 404 pages, running the gamut from matter-of-fact to lightly playful:

  • Google: ‘404: That’s an error.’
  • Airbnb: ‘Oops! We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.’
  • Emirates: ‘Sorry. We’ve travelled the globe, but we can’t seem to find this page.’

The 404 page is the low-hanging fruit of microcopy – the easiest place to begin applying an in-brand voice. In fact, when QUO creates tone of voice guidelines for a brand, we often provide sample 404 copy to give an example of the tone in action. It’s a natural place to start.

A Case Study: Microsoft Microcopy Prompts Macro-derision

Tinkering with tone of voice is a dangerous game, and it’s difficult to get right. One of my favourite examples of out-of-tone microcopy comes courtesy of Microsoft Office. It deals with app microcopy, which is functionally the same as the website variety.

Back in 2013, the latest release of Microsoft Office shipped with a new-and-improved dialogue boxes that included messages such as ‘Spelling and grammar check complete. You’re good to go!’.

They weren’t well received. In fact, the Microsoft Community has an entire thread devoted to the issue. In the mix are several cranky Britons lamenting the introduction of ‘crass Americanisms’ to their spellcheck experience. A few quotes for colour:

  • “Microsoft, you have lowered the tone of your product.”
  • “Bottom line: I don’t want my computer to talk bollocks and sound like it was designed by an illiterate teen.”
  • “This has done more to make me detest Microsoft and everything they stand for than anything else.”
  • “The combination of arrogance, ignorance, and self-satisfied pomposity is a daily irritation. And then they wonder why most of the world hates Americans.”
  • “It pales in comparison to my disdain for the informal Monster energy drink fuelled, sleep deprived, LINUX programmer addition of ‘You’re good to go!’ Really?”

Really, indeed. A string of text that completely succeeded in communication a message that utterly failed to speak to (at least some) users in a tone they could appreciate.

For what it’s worth, Microsoft must have realised they missed the mark. In the version of Word currently running on my desktop, a successful spellcheck results in a blasé notification without any of that Monster-energy-drink-fuelled, sleep-deprived gusto that apparently characterises Linux programmers, illiterate teens and Americans in general.

It simply says, ‘Spelling and grammar check is complete.’ Tone matters. Get it right and you’re good to go.

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The Shape of Experience


The Shape of Experience

Last Updated
25 March 2022

Creative concepts can transform the dullest spaces into remarkable guest journeys, writes QUO Chief Branding Officer Catherine Monthienvichienchai.

Google Maps told me I’d arrived, but I wasn’t so sure. In front of me was a store, long since closed for the day. Beyond that, a dimly lit street with barely a person in sight. A flicker of light catches my eye. A hint of life behind the shuttered windows of the second floor. Maybe I was in the right place after all. Up a small spiral staircase lay an incredible hidden space. An unassuming shophouse transformed into a Japanese bar, a speakeasy of sorts, that would be more at home in the winding alleys of Kyoto than the humid streets of downtown Bangkok.

The hidden nature of the space was just the start. Inside, a series of carefully curated rituals unfolded. Spirits served in your choice of beautiful crystal tumblers; beer decanted into stainless-steel cups; individual wooden bowls of savoury snacks. Every item meticulously placed in front of you, its relative position on the table considered with almost mathematical precision. It was simple, yet executed with unbelievable attention to detail. An experience that will surely lead me to return.

In cities where space is becoming increasingly scarce, operators are learning the value of even the tiniest, most secluded spots. Putting use to unusual, under-utilised spaces, they lure customers by promising an experience, even if that experience is as simple as searching out the place itself.

How we think about space, interact with it, deconstruct it, plan and distribute it, is at the heart of many of today’s most successful hospitality brands. Smaller guest rooms, bigger public spaces, social spaces, co-working spaces, dynamic, multi-functional spaces. All buzzwords amongst the plethora of lifestyle brands flooding the hotel world in recent years.

Yet it is more than just cleverly used space that surprises and inspires. Whether it is 20sqm or 200sqm, integrated or closed, it is impossible to win any loyalty or create much of a buzz if it doesn’t come with an experience customers will remember.

Brands such as Aman leave nothing to chance with the arrival experience, creating incredible spaces that bring to life the brand’s core DNA as a ‘place of peace’ – the meaning of the word ‘Aman’. Even in the midst of downtown Tokyo, home of the brand’s first urban retreat, it stays true to this commitment.

After being whisked up to the 33rd floor of the Otemachi Tower, guests emerge into a spectacular space, where the upper walls and 26-metre-high ceiling are lined with translucent washi paper to give the effect of being inside a vast paper lantern. At the centre lies a zen garden, with a pool that rises out of a seasonally changing ikebana flower arrangement, and beyond that, two meditative rock gardens. An intense and remarkable space that is as dramatic as it is calming.

Few brands can match the extraordinary efforts of Aman to create this type of space and experience, but nor should they. Guest experience doesn’t have to be spectacular to make an impression. It does, however, need to be relevant and meaningful; connected to your brand’s core values and identified guest needs. For years Sofitel Hotels & Resorts has simply greeted guests with a distinctive ‘Bonjour’ on arrival at their hotels, wherever you are in the world. Love it or hate it, with that one word your understanding of the brand’s roots is confirmed – Sofitel is unashamedly French.

Hyatt’s Andaz, meanwhile, promises to immerse guests in the ever-changing, native cultures of their spaces through a combination of design, food and service. Merging themes of London’s financial area with the “gritty quirkiness” of nearby Shoreditch, guestrooms at the Andaz London Liverpool Street combine pinstripe patterns with tattoo art and local photography.

A similar attention to local culture is brought to the fore at the Andaz Singapore, one of the newest additions to the brand. As the first non-Hyatt brand from the Hyatt portfolio, it set the bar for many of the lifestyle/local neighbourhood brands that have since followed.

Andaz was not the first to create unique experiences within the spaces it occupies. Over a decade before, the late Alex Calderwood and friends turned an old halfway house in Seattle into a desirable destination with reclaimed furniture and contemporary art. The resulting hotel marked the birth of Ace Hotel, now a 10-property strong brand with hotels across the US, as well as in London and Panama City, with Kyoto in the pipeline.

Ace Hotel has always set itself apart from other brands with its unorthodox approach to hotel spaces. Described as “place whisperers” or “the neighbourhood foragers”, Ace sees the potential of both under-utilised buildings and the under-rated neighbourhoods in which they’re located. In each destination, the brand spends time connecting with local creatives, entrepreneurs, real-estate developers and small retail brands. The idea is not to simply “drop into a place and throw open the doors”, but to become an integral part of the community; a gathering point in neighbourhoods that don’t have one.

Done right, brand experience is neither fast nor easy, but, as Ace has proven, it’s more than worth the effort. Building a strategic, insights-based approach helps to channel creative thought. The world’s most innovative minds still need a starting point, even if the ideas they eventually come up with take an altogether different direction.

Each concept must be considered against a range of key criteria: does it fit the brand and differentiate us from our competitors? Does it meet the needs of our target guest? Is it operationally viable? Will it generate ROI?

Not every experience needs to tick every box, but a balance must be struck. A radical lobby concept may require huge capex, but if it is a defining feature of the brand and will guarantee immediate differentiation, then it could be worth the investment. Similarly, a small welcome gift costs money and has negligible ROI, but if done well, the feeling the gesture generates for the guest is priceless.

Even the best ideas on paper don’t always work out, which is why testing and piloting is key. Operational restrictions rear their ugly heads, unexpected costs get in the way, or maybe the concept just doesn’t resonate with guests as anticipated. Then it’s time to modify, adjust, or possibly throw out the concept entirely.

It can take a year or more from idea to full implementation; longer for a more complex concept across a larger network of hotels. But it’s worth the wait. Hotels are no longer simply places for sleep. Each space is a stage upon which a series of experiences is waiting to be played out.

The story you tell, the actors you employ, the props you use all serve a purpose in bringing your brand to life, making that abstract construct of who you are into a living, breathing reality.

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Outperforming the OTAs: Harness the Power of Digital


Outperforming the OTAs: Harness the Power of Digital

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Imagine a world where your ideal customers leave your property thrilled, return home and recommend you to all their friends and who thinks of you immediately when it’s time to book their next vacation. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. 

Give your customers what they want online, make them feel important, leave a great impression of your brand, and they’ll spread the word to friends and family.

Your website is more than a pretty place to drop your logo and testimonials – at least, it should be. It has the potential to be your primary business development channel. Stay with me and I’ll share how you can take your site from place-filler to place-to-be.

First, a hard, cold dose of reality: more than half of website visits are made by bots, and a third of the money you pump into online ads goes to fraudulent companies lying about their statistics. Furthermore, half of online ad impressions in 2016 were never seen by human eyes, and – despite all this proven data – Expedia and Priceline still spend over US$8 billion a year in advertising.

Are you scandalised yet?

How are you supposed to develop your online business in these circumstances? The answer is that you need a trusted guide to navigate the myriad challenges and complex landscape of digital.

Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to reduce the complexity and realise the full potential of your website. The first, and most basic, is to make sure you and your visitors are secure from hackers by installing an SSL if you haven’t already. An SSL certificate ensures the safety of your most important asset – your guests. Without one, don’t even think about asking for the personal details or credit card information you need to maximise the potential of your site as a sales portal.

Second, your most important asset, after your guests, are your website visitors. They are already interested in your brand, but are you doing everything in your power to capture their direct engagement and convert them? My second suggestion is a strong conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, plan to get the most from your site visitors – ultimately turning them into guests and long-term advocates.

The third, and perhaps most important, thing is reading, understanding and harnessing the power of your own statistics and numbers. Accurate reporting of the right data is critical to pinpointing performance flaws and identifying opportunities.

Lastly is something that many business owners don’t like to hear: you must consider high-quality SEO services as a long-term strategic investment. If it helps, think of SEO and PPC as two equal line items in your traffic budget, one ushers in traffic organically while the other delivers traffic you’ve paid for with each click. In the end, SEO may prove the better investment, you pay for it once and the impact is long term. In the long-run, this expenditure will pay off for your business.

Playing with the big boys

Online travel agencies, or OTAs, are here to stay and have become the singular selling strategy for many brands. The services they offer to consumers are indisputable: a wide array of options, convenience, brand recognition, and competitive prices are among them. But they don’t have to own the guest experience.

By building a direct relationship with your guests – one that gives them a monetary and emotional reason to go to your site directly – you can bypass the big boys.

Begin by offering a best-price guarantee or other benefit for direct booking. Depending on the personality of your property, that could be an upgraded breakfast, a bottle of wine in the room on arrival, or a free 30-minute cooking course. Offer them rewards for coming directly to you rather than one of the big-name booking sites.

Next, develop a customer-relationship management, or CRM, strategy that starts the  moment one of the internet’s 4.2 billion users lands on your site. Do you have a game plan for mobilising engagement through your site; a way of ensuring the visitor experience is positive; and a plan for developing a long-term relationship with your new visitor? Without these, you can’t maximise the monetary potential of your site.

Finally, once you’ve pulled your site visitor in via your website and they’ve tried your property, incentivise future bookings from guests’ friends and family through your site via post-visit contact. Offer a future free night for a referral or discounted packages for birthdays and anniversaries – anything that works for your property.

In the long-term, your marketing and revenue teams will need to learn and develop new skills to manage and maximise the ever-changing and growing online travel market.

But you probably also need expert help in the fields of SEO, CRM, CRO, and data analysis. What are the most challenging parts of your online business? Drop me a line at and I’ll see how we can help you. You can also give me a call on +66 2260 9494 ext. 128.

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