For my Advanced Project at DePaul University, I was asked to write about a business concept and how I would plan to market it. I love all things food and travel, so I chose to do my project based on a smaller scale concept of all-inclusive resorts that would appeal to the food tourism niche. Taste Resorts would cater to world travelers who typically shy away from all-inclusive resorts because they are seeking out a more authentic regional cuisine experience while they travel.
Based on my research, I decided that digital marketing was the best way to reach the targeted audience for this type of venue and created a website and social media channels.
Foodie and Tourism Niche
According to the Oxford Food and Fitness Dictionary, a “Foodie” is “A person who takes pleasure in the preparation, presentation, and eating of food. The term is sometimes used in a pejorative sense to describe someone who is always searching for new, exotic taste sensations.” The phrase is believed to be first coined in 1980 by the former New York magazine food critic Gael Greene. “Gael Greene of New York magazine used the word ‘foodie’ in a story on June 2, 1980, and then used ‘foodie’ several times in 1982 and 1983” (Kuban, 2009). Since then, the foodie culture has gained significant popularity. As “foodie” culture in America is gaining more traction, consumer’s expectations of fresh, high quality food and beverages have elevated significantly. We can see examples of this in our everyday lives. From food shows to specialty grocery stores, to the endless amount of restaurants and craft cocktail bars we all patronize. Chefs and mixologists are now considered local celebrities. People are checking in on social media sites such as Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook to let their friends know where they are going, Instagramming what they are eating and reviewing it later on the endless consumer review websites to share their “expert” opinion on whether or not their scallops were seared to perfection. The opportunities to be a part of this food revolution are boundless.
As the foodie culture gains much more traction, researchers are paying more attention to this niche group. “Food products generate significant expenditure from tourists, between a quarter and a third overall spent” (Robinson, Getz, 2012). The foodie’s spending power is especially becoming important to the hospitality industry now that food tourism is on the rise.
The food tourism segment consists of younger, more affluent, and better educated travellers. They are motivated by unique travel experiences including a destination’s environmental and cultural elements and participated in a range of food-related experiences including cooking classes, dining out, visiting farmers markets, gourmet food shopping and attending food festivals (Robinson, Getz 2012).
What is the problem with the current all-inclusive resorts?
One of the sectors of the hospitality industry that seems to have not jumped on the food culture train is all-inclusive resorts, which are located in popular vacation destinations. All-inclusive resorts are great for people who prefer to budget out their vacation and relax during their stay. They know what their entire vacation will cost up-front and they don’t have to stress out about where and what to eat, how much their cocktails will cost and the other little extra expenses, which ultimately amass over the trip. All-inclusive resorts have a poor reputation for being too big, having cafeteria-style processed food and overly sweetened, cheap drinks. Most of these resorts lack authentic cuisine from their native country. They Americanize their food and usually serve some tasteless, sodium filled version of the dish that is actually listed on the menu.
Gastronomic experiences play a part in determining perceptions of and satisfaction with the overall travel experience and food is agreed to impinge on tourists attitudes, decisions, and behavior. Food and wine can be a very powerful influence on feelings of involvement and place attachment and poor quality and service failure can impact negatively on health, disrupting trips and tarnishing destination reputations (Henderson, 2009).
Some of the nicer resorts have definitely improved their cuisine, understanding that their clientele is becoming more discerning, but what about a resort that caters specifically to these foodies? “Proponents contend that food tourism is set to the ‘next big thing’, which will rival ecotourism [tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife] as a fashionable trend” (Henderson, 2009).
Taste Resorts, a food-centric, all-inclusive resort, would feature high-end food and cocktail menu options, cooking and mixology classes on top of growing their own produce on site. Imagine salads that were picked fresh out of the garden hours before they were served, margaritas with fresh lime juice or paella made and served fresh in front of you as you are enjoying some poolside drinks and conversation. Local chefs would visit the resort and demonstrate their favorite dish paired with a local wine by an on-site sommelier. There would be no need to leave the property.
I have been to 6 all-inclusive resorts in the past ten years. All of these resorts had some great qualities, some better than others, but I feel like there is a missed market for a “foodie” focused resort. There are resorts for other hobbies and interest groups, such as sports, honeymooners and even hedonism, why not cater to a foodie clientele? Karisma hotels have trademarked their “Gourmet” all-inclusive resorts as a foodie’s paradise, but I have been to two of their properties and would say they aren’t exactly gourmet. El Dorado was a big resort with almost inedible food at times. Their menu descriptions tried really hard to appear gourmet, but anyone who understands food would realize their ingredient descriptions were gimmicky and lacked substance. Also, the food by the beach and pool were nothing but fried bar food and chips. Azul Beach, on the other hand, was pretty great for an all-inclusive resort. Same umbrella company as El Dorado, but in contrast, the food was good, drinks were good and they even had a few authentic Mexican items on their menu that were tasty. I think Azul Beach is the closest thing I have come across that is food-focused, but they should compete to take the menus even further. More authentic cuisine and even higher-level menu items could make the resort a food lover’s paradise.
Other resorts are beginning to realize the need to cater to foodies. Paradisus Playa Del Carmen, La Esmeralda is one of the first all-inclusives with a Michelin-starred chef’s restaurant. This is noteworthy because a Michelin-star is a highly coveted culinary honor awarded to few chefs and restaurants around the world. The downside to this resort is that it has 906 rooms on it’s property, which, because of the size you must be sure to make reservations at the restaurant and plan your day around the reservation. This can be frustrating to guests who just want to relax and dine at their own leisure. Grand Velas, Riviera Maya and Nuevo Vallarta were also ranked by Forbes magazine among the best all-inclusive resorts based on their 4-AAA Diamond rating for their deluxe cuisine, but, because of the size of the resorts, guests must again, make reservations to dine at their restaurants. Looking at Trip Advisor reviews, there were also many comments about both of these resorts having bland food. I assume this is because their property is too large to enforce quality control, or perhaps they are trying to please to masses by not being too experimental with flavors. Either way, it appears these resorts have not mastered the foodie concept yet.
Rewarding employees for going above and beyond creates a positive environment for the employees as well as the guests.
The work of Michael Levin, who was hired from Americana Hotels to become the CEO of Days Inn, indicates the importance of marketing knowledge during the 1970s. With Leven at the helm, Days Inn more than doubled its portfolio of hotels and rooms after he introduced a program showing Days Inn management and employees the importance of a customer orientation. Under Leven, employees were rewarded-never penalized- for taking initiative to help a customer. According to Leven, ‘Service falls short when employees are always trying to please their immediate boss. You end up putting layers between yourself and the customer. (Hospitality Branding, page 5)
One Trip Advisor review for La Esmeralda Resorts, a customer raved about the customer service they received on a recent trip. “We were disappointed that the resort didn’t have the type of beer we wanted, so our personal beach butler left the resort and went to the store and grabbed a case for us. Talk about customer service!” This is the ideal level of customer service Taste Resorts should attain. The special personal touches can make all of the difference in the world, especially in the age of online community sourced review sites. Giving the employees a specific budget per day to go above and beyond for a guest would be a great way to increase these types of experiences and improve customer satisfaction. Rewarding the employees for their creative service contributions would encourage this positive practice.
Website design is a significant marketing tool for the hospitality industry. It can be what sets the brand apart from its competitors. “The research in the hospitality and tourism have demonstrated that the website design and Internet marketing features contribute to effective delivery of messages, quality of products and services, and brand image” (Baloglu, Pekcan, 2006). There needs be a lot of consideration and consistent brand messaging that goes into the development of a website and the complementary Internet marketing channels. “Since the overall quality of a website will influence the traffic and level of business, the design content and management of a website should be taken into consideration for successful e-marketing. Site design characteristics include three major categories: interactivity, navigation and functionality while the categories may not be mutually exclusive” (Baloglu, Pekcan, 2006).
Standing out in the sea of seemingly endless all-inclusive resorts appears to be a daunting challenge. Shuffling through the online travel sites, every brand promises the generic luxury, exciting and relaxing vacations. Making the right choice can be overwhelming. “Studies indicate that having more options to choose from can also be counterproductive, leading to anxiety and depression.” (Pan, Zhang, Law, 2012). This is why having a brand that stands out from the rest is vital to Taste Resort’s conversion rates. Catering to a niche group of the foodie tourists is a way to highlight a brand’s experience. “As menus become increasingly generic, people will forget what a restaurant stands for. Ironic …because big hotel chains are doing everything they can to reinforce their specific ‘brand experience’ rather than being all things to all people.” (“Consultants Predict”, 2009)
The Artifact: Branding
The logo was created in a very specific manner. Most resorts use serifs and scripts for their logos and fonts. These fonts are a more decorative font and typically used to represent a traditional version of luxury. I chose to have a san serif font that is much more clean and modern to appeal to our target demographic. Young, modern, educated foodies. The font is bold and stands out from most of the other luxury resorts. I chose a lowercase font for the logo because it is considered a modern, consumer friendly, font trend that reflects the way we communicate with text messages and URL links. If the brand uses uppercase letters, it looks odd to type in their domain name as such. Many brands are using lowercase font because it is trendy and they are just hopping on the lowercase bandwagon, but "Those who make the choice consciously usually do because a lowercase logo seems more casual, more personal and less formal to them" (Tschorn, 2000). Others believe the branding has a lowercase font because the brand itself does not exist for it’s own pleasure, it is there to serve the consumer. In the case of Taste Resorts, the lower-case branding font is a blending modern style with the emphasis that the ultimate goal is to serve their guests and provide them with a foodie experience of a lifetime.
The lime part of the logo was intended to combine the overall essence of Taste Resorts. I envisioned something that represented the tropical regions where Taste Resorts would be located as well as a food item to reiterate the food concept. A green fruit made sense because it is also a sustainable resort. I also wanted the entire logo to be a recognizable visual that would work well as an avatar on the website, social media channels, and any other branding Taste Resorts would use. A simple, representation of a lime with Helvetica Bold font felt like it encompassed all of these requirements.
Imageries play a vital role in the success of marketing a resort. In fact, by contrast to other consumer products, it can ultimately be the deciding factor on whether or not a consumer becomes a guest of the property. “Images create a richer experience, resulting in a more thorough product examination and better product recall, and the presence of images in a hotel website can be an important predictor of customers’ attitude toward the hotel” (Pan, Lixuan, Law, 2012). While constructing the website, I chose to highlight the food on the very first page in order to emphasize the niche market Taste Resorts aims to capture. The simple images featuring the food and luxury resort were also intentionally presented in a minimalistic manner. Less text and more images make the site feel more modern and sophisticated. This is also reflected in the simple logo.
Another feature I added to the website is displaying the current temperature of the resort location. “Sites could be improved by value-adding features such as weather conditions, updated exchange rates, destination links, and animation and graphics” (Baloglu, Pekcan, 2006). The idea would be to entice the prospect by conjuring up all of the ideal images of where their escape from reality could be.
Taste Resorts should feature a significant amount of photos from the resort on these sites. They can use this opportunity to genuinely showcase a variety of images as well as a true representation of what their guests should expect to experience.
Mental images contributed to visitors’ feelings of being virtually present in a destination- that is, visitors attitude is strongly shaped by feelings of virtual presence. The closer the virtual presence is to reality, the more likely web site visitors are to become real visitors (Lange-Faria, Elliot, 2012).
These photographs should be stunning, but authentic, as to not oversell the resort. The worst thing is for resorts to overpromise and under deliver. By this way of marketing, there is less chance of negative feedback and more chance of a satisfied guest, who is likely to return. Review sites such as Oyster compare how resorts market themselves to consumers versus the realistic experiences.
Travel Review Sites
The endless travel review sites and online travel agents such as Trip Advisor, Orbitz, Oyster, Frommer’s, Expedia, etc. are genuinely the holy grail of community-sourced information. This should be the place where destination marketers should spend a significant amount of attention and effort when developing their marketing strategy. “User generated content is quickly becoming the source for credible travel information” (Lange-Faria, Elliot, 2012). With the worldwide reach these sites have, the community-sourced reviews are heavily relied upon for travelers to choose their ideal destination and share their experiences, positively or negatively. These sites should be triaged so resorts can positively communicate with their guests and attempt to negate any type of bad publicity by resolving their guest’s issues immediately.
By looking at visitor stories and monitoring what guests are saying about destinations, DMOs [Destination Marketing Organizations] can collect valuable information concerning the emotional connections visitors make with their destinations. The information can provide the DMO with valuable ways of positioning the destination to create value and meaning for future visitors (Lange-Faria, Elliot, 2012).
I was curious to see what people found important when they reviewed their resort experiences on sites such as Trip Advisor. I initially was going to look at the most recent 50 reviews of a single resort and analyze the reviews to see what the guests felt compelled to share with their audience. I started working on this and thought there may be a better way to analyze the data and look for trends. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a developer. I asked him to scrape all of the review data from Azul Beach Resorts and organize it on a CSV file so I can perform an annual analysis on word trends. Initially, I entered the data into a word cloud program to see what words appeared most frequently. (see figure 3)
I felt that this analysis was interesting, but I also wanted to see if there were any topic trends over a few years. I took the text from these reviews and ran them through a word counting website called TextFixer.com. This particular website was very useful because it eliminated common stop words, such as: the, a, an, it, from, etc. I decided to analyze words in three categories. Food, drink and activities. Food words included such words as: food, restaurant, grilled, ceviche, sauce, seafood, meat, ate, eaten, etc. Drink words included words related to drinks and alcohol: drinks, liquor, sangria, wine, beer, etc. Activity words included: kayaking, swimming, boat, yoga, excursions, etc.
I added all of these words up in an excel spreadsheet and charted my results. I divided the amount of times these topics were mentioned by the total number of reviews that year. The results showed the average amount of mentions these topics were cited per review. Interestingly enough, I found that food and food related words trended the highest all four years, from 2010 to 2013. Also, I discovered that most of the years were fairly consistent in the ratio of mentions except for 2011 in which all three topics declined overall.
Social Media Channels
Taste Resorts should use their social media channels most effectively by providing the most compelling content to their target audience. Each channel has a unique purpose. “Social media is becoming the primary medium by which travel information is shared” (Lange-Faria, Elliot, 2012). Many business pages use social media as a way to talk about themselves and some pages look like one big advertisement. Taste Resorts needs to connect with their audience and post information that their audience would want to share with their own friends.
Women reign as the major financial decision makers in the family, therefore they are the ideal audience to target when developing a marketing campaign, especially in social media. “New studies show that women decide 92% of vacation plans, 62% of car purchases, and 52 % of home-improvement projects” (Grow, 2004). This is important because females would be the ideal target market for this type of foodie resort concept. “A Canadian context suggested that females were far more interested in food experiences than their male counterparts” (Robinson, Getz 2012).
Facebook is a great opportunity for Taste Resorts to build rapport with their clientele. I developed a Facebook content strategy to appeal to foodies. Posts include food education and information about regional cuisine. The reason for this is many foodies enjoy the history behind food. They want to know all about what ingredients are used, what region they are from and what cooking techniques were used. These types of posts appeal to the audience and help enforce what the Taste Resort brand represents. Posts about cocktails, wine and other beverages would compliment the food posts. Also, I believe the resort should post a few pictures of events when given the opportunity. This strategy would allow the brand to market themselves organically. Guests could tag themselves in photos on the brand’s Facebook page so the Taste Resort brand would appear in their newsfeeds. The guest’s friends would see the photos and know where their friends stayed while vacationing. There would always be room throw in some promotional posts as well, but I believe these types of posts should be simple and not daily.
Twitter would post much of the same content from Facebook. The key to Twitter is to make sure posts are a few letters shy of 140 characters so people are able to retweet and add their own comments to the posts. In the meantime, Taste Resorts would be engaging with users mentioning their brand, they can even start conversations with people mentioning topics such as culinary tours, foodie vacations, Mexican food, etc. by using specific social media tools, such as Sprout Social, to monitor what is being said on Twitter.
Instagram is a great place to showcase the resort itself. Taste resorts can also create the hastag #TasteResorts or #TasteMexico as a way for guests to tag the resort and socially engage with them through this social network.
Pinterest is another very visual medium where it would be useful to share compelling content. Recipes are a big reason many people use Pinterest. Sharing unique recipes from the chefs at the resort is a great way to have the Taste Resorts brand shared via Pinterest. Food tips, such as “how to pick a rip avocado” are also helpful to reinforce the food branding of Taste Resorts. The resort can also use this channel to showcase enticing photographs of the resort and it’s amenities.
Google + is generally used for search engine optimization purposes. Sharing the same content from Facebook is helpful to develop a web presence through using key words that are searchable when looking for a vacation destination.
Overall, I found that there is in fact, a significant tourism market for foodies. I discovered that women overwhelmingly make the vacation decisions in the family and they are also the exact market a foodie resort would appeal to. Positioning Taste Resorts as a foodie mecca in the sea of generically branded all-inclusive resorts would be vital to stand out to this niche crowd in the marketplace. I really enjoyed working on this project and learned a lot about marketing in the hospitality industry as well as the culinary industry.
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