Twenty years ago, Larry Mogelonsky formed LMA Communications Inc., a full-service marketing communications agency with a roster of clients in the hospitality and tourism industry (www.lma.ca). Mogelonsky writes daily columns in six publications worldwide and has recently published “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama? Essays in Hospitality Marketing and Management.” He spends roughly half of his time “on property” at hotels across the globe. We caught up with him by telephone at his home in Toronto.
Q. What can consumers do to ensure the hotel they are going to is the right one for them?
A. When using Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz — all the big sites, including bookings.com — always check the reviews on the site before booking. They are the most reliable because they require proof you’ve stayed there. And don’t just look at one review. Look at the overall ratings.
Q. What about sites like Trip Advisor?
A. That’s one level down. Trip Advisor doesn’t require proof of stay. Anyone can write a review and post it as an alias. To really have fun, Google: “Hotel reviews, can you do something for me?” You’ll see sites hire people to write reviews.
Q. What about calling a hotel to make a reservation?
A. I’ve generally found a preference will be given to those who phone and book a room directly rather than [making reservations] through other means. The room will be the same price — due to rate parity — and the odds of getting an upgrade are higher. This is a frequent traveler’s secret.
Q. Are there other ways to get an upgrade?
A. For those who like to play roulette, my favorite tip is to arrive late. If all the rooms are filled you might get an upgrade to the Presidential Suite. It’s risky. You might get an upgrade or you might get “walked,” meaning they provide transportation to another hotel where you stay for free. It’s not always convenient. I’ve been “walked” out of Manhattan to New Jersey.
Q. How can people get the most out of their travel dollars when looking at hotels online? Should you book ahead or not?
A. Always check for deals. Ask for specials and sometimes you’ll get them. As the number of available rooms goes down, the prices go up. Booking early is the best way to get the best price, with few exceptions.
Q. What about people who want flexibility? What if my kid gets sick, or I need to change my dates of stay?
A. Read online contracts carefully. Many are either non-cancelable or are changeable with a stiff penalty. Depending on the hotel, if you book directly you’ll have a lot of choices in terms of cancellations. Some allow [as late as] 6 p.m. the day of check- in. Resorts are often one week prior. Read the terms and conditions of each hotel. There’s more flexibility when you book directly with a hotel than a third party.
Q. What about using social media like Facebook to find out about hotels?
A. Social media forums are not useful for people staying a couple of days. They’re more for people going somewhere for a longer time for a specific reason. Is this the right resort for a family vacation? Is it on the beach? Use Google maps to see a location relative to attractions in the city.
Q. Any other tips?
A. Check out a new project, RoomKey.com. It’s a consolidator that allows you to check prices at all major hotel chains in a city without going in and out of each website. Then you book directly with the hotel.