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All things web and tourism!

Virtual Reality: Help or Hinder Tourism?

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Gina's November presentation to the Tourism Industry Association New Zealand delves into the Big Question - will virtual reality help or hinder tourism business?

Virtual reality is the biggest game-changer in our lives since the launch of the iPhone.

The seemingly simple ability to see an image or video in 360 degrees is about to revolutionise the way we live.

Imagine being able to virtually travel anywhere in the world from the comfort of your own home. Fly over the Grand Canyon looking up, down and all around you as if you were really there, or “dive” underwater at the Great Barrier Reef and watch as a turtle swims past you.

Jaunt, a VR technology and content company, claims “You will feel transported directly into the middle of the action. Look anywhere. See everything.”

So how will this new technology effect the tourism industry? Could it be the most powerful and immersive marketing tool or could it replace travel altogether? Will people want to spend the money, wrangle the security drama at the airport and figure out the currency conversions when they could just enjoy a VR visit instead?

"Writing about the mind shock of live action VR is quite like trying to share a photograph of your favourite song. Words simply cannot do it justice." Aaron Frank of the Singularity University.


TripAdvisor - Trick or Treat?

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TripAdvisor Trick or Treat

Part III in our Halloween 2015 blog series.

As the world’s number-one tourism website, TripAdvisor is an audacious and powerful beast. For travellers sharing a review or researching a trip, it works a treat. For tourism operators it can prove a powerful marketing and distribution tool. But for all of these treats, this powerful beast can serve up a trick or two.

Handling Reviews

Since anyone can post a review on TripAdvisor, it can create some scary situations for a tourism operator. Travellers threatening a negative review as an attempt to get a discount, competitors purchasing fake reviews to boost their rankings, or a sinister traveller who is simply miserable about life and uses the platform to constantly complain.

Some operators believe fake or venomous reviews are too frightening to get involved, but travellers are now savvy enough to identify that reviews are about the bigger picture. They look at the overall results of all of the reviews; e.g. are the majority of comments positive? Are there mentions of a good view or attentive customer service?

TripAdvisor has also picked up their game, culling fake or bought reviews to maintain the high quality of the site. Although there may be some fake reviews amongst the 60 million, the majority are legitimate. A traveller can always add TripAdvisor to their Facebook account and see reviews specifically from their friends and family, so the authenticity and transparency is undeniable.

Travellers posting venomous critiques are in fact a golden opportunity to turn the sentiment around. Operators can create brand ambassadors and provide a response that shines on the operator/property’s integrity. Seventy-seven percent of TripAdvisor users said that seeing a business’ response to a review makes them believe that the business cares. It’s the prompt, courteous and professional response that matters.

Read further advice on how to handle these responses from TripAdvisor.

Business Listings for Accommodation

TripAdvisor gave property managers a recent scare when they changed the revenue model for Business Listings, charging an annual flat fee based on estimated page views and potential return on investment. This rising cost of a business listing has frightened many accommodation businesses into abandoning TripAdvisor.

The recently released Instant Booking functionality at first looks like to help properties combat the Online Travel Agent (OTA) domination, but a second look can show a darker side to this new feature.

Instant Booking allows the property to “own” the relationship with the customer, adding the booking directly to their reservation management system. TripAdvisor does earn a 13% commission along the way, but that commission isn’t the scariest part – it’s the fact that an OTA can also have their ‘book now’ functionality competing there.

Just like Google, TripAdvisor can make or a break a business. Since the addition of metasearch in 2013, integration with Facebook, the purchase of Viator and the recent addition of Instant Booking, there is no question that TripAdvisor is growing more powerful. But as big and scary as TripAdvisor may feel to some, once mastered they can be used to build reach, engage with customers and increase bookings. 

Beating the Hacking Reaper - Ways to Protect Your Website

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Hacking Reaper

Part II in our Halloween 2015 blog series.

Website hacking has become an increasingly common occurrence, with tens of thousands of sites and applications affected every day. It seems that no one is safe, including Ashley Madison, Apple’s iCloud, J.P. Morgan and Home Depot to name just a few. Last week Google announced they are cracking down on spam and hacked websites, not only removing more of them from search results but removing them faster.

Unfortunately, you will never be able to 100% safeguard yourself from being hacked by a determined and skilled individual or group. However, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you are less likely to be affected - and if you are affected, how you can minimise the effects on your business.

1. Choose your passwords wisely

A “brute force” attack is when hackers use a malicious script to repeatedly guess your password. The stronger your password is, the less likely they are to succeed.

When we say “stronger”, we don’t just mean add a few numbers or punctuation marks into a word. It is best practise to use a password generator that provides you with unique passwords across all of your logins. Using the same password for everything might be time efficient but if one is hacked, all of your accounts are compromised.

Change your passwords frequently and don’t send them to others via email, which is unsecure. We’d also suggest choosing a username that isn’t simply “admin” and avoid using obvious answers to security questions. It’s surprisingly easy to find out someone’s mother’s maiden name online.

2. Limit login attempts

As part of a security update in June, we now limit the number of CMS login attempts. This is for your website’s protection. After a certain number of failed logins, users are locked out of the CMS for a period of time. This prevents hackers using password-guessing software to gain access.

In addition to limiting logins we also ensured that admin page URLs weren’t simply “/admin”, making the CMS access harder to discover.

3. Update, update, update

It is important not only to install anti-virus software to your computer, but to keep your operating system, all applications and devices updated. Over time new vulnerabilities are exposed and such updates are put out to fix them.

4. Back up often!

In the unfortunate situation where your website is hacked, you want to be able to restore it to its former glory as soon as possible. Check with your website hosting company whether they back up your website each day (like we do for our clients).

5. Use SSL certificates

If your website collects personal information from visitors, you (or your development company) should install a security certificate to help prevent this data from being stolen. Google also will reward you for this in search rankings.

6. Use common sense online

In addition to the above, here’s a few really quick pointers:

  • Never share sensitive information via email
  • Never click on suspicious links, even from friends (they may have been hacked themselves)
  • Hide key personal information online like your birthdate, address etc
  • Password protect all your devices
  • Don’t use auto-fill functionality on your browser (imagine if your computer was hacked and someone had access to this information)
  • When staff members leave, remove any login access they may have had to websites, computers and such
  • Don’t ever use a non-password protected public wifi connection to login to any accounts – this type of connection is unsecure

Although all of these actions cannot guarantee that you won’t ever be hacked, it will provide you a solid defense and make it more difficult for your computer and website to be an easy target for the hacking reaper.

Dealing with Social Gremlins and Social Media Customer Care

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Part I in our Halloween 2015 blog series.

Handling social media customer care may seem frightening - public posts with angry comments about your business are hard to control and can feel like a personal attack. Consider this - those customers will be online complaining about you, no matter what you do or whether you have a social media page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What matters is how you respond to change their experience and perception of your business.


5 Steps of Customer Care

1. Check In

Do this once daily during office hours. Set a time when you drink your morning coffee to check for any new messages or notifications. Make your goal to respond within 24 hours of a business day. If you make a habit of morning responses, this will be easy!  Facebook will show you how fast you are at responding – and reward you for quick responses with a badge!

2. Assess

Don’t react emotionally. Most people posting complaints want to be heard and felt that their feelings are considered carefully. Read their post thoroughly and assess what they’re really after. Is the customer in a current situation you can improve, or are they looking for compassion about their previous negative experience?

3. Respond

This is important to do quickly, even if addressing their complaint is complicated. Easily fixable complaints are a great opportunity to show your brand personality and customer service skills online. Respond directly to their post by name and work through the problem on your page. Use humour if appropriate and keep your tone bright and friendly.

Take serious complaints or allegations “offline” quickly by responding with a message along the lines of “Hi, I’m sorry to hear about your experience and we would like to work with you on this.” Ask the customer to email their complaint or provide a phone number so you can work with them personally outside of your social media page.

4. Take actions

Solve the customer problem. This may be an apology phone call for their incorrect room or “cold” meal, or locating an item lost on your premises, or something as simple as letting them know you will take their feedback into consideration.

5. Follow up

Post to your page with a resolution of the conflict/complaint. Thank them for bringing the situation to your attention, because customer experience is important to you!

What about Social Gremlins?

Also known as “trolls,” some people go onto channels just to complain, or to try and get free products/services without justification. There’s nothing you can do to make them happy. These customers will eventually get bored and stop posting to your page, but the important thing for you to do is that single response, where you’ve calmly addressed their post once or asked them to contact you offline. If they continue to post, LET IT BE. They will abandon posting eventually and you’ve demonstrated your attention to them publicly. Any additional responses from you will feed the argument.

Social media posts are a public record, so maintaining your customer service presence online shows the public that you handle challenges with grace and goodwill!

Need further help with handling your social customers? Get in touch with us today.

Five Ways to Increase Direct Accommodation Bookings

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5 steps to more direct bookings

Online marketing is forever evolving. Four years ago we would frequently give advice to accommodation providers on how to increase their bookings by optimising listings on online travel agents (OTAs) like These days our conversations revolve around how to increase direct bookings to their own websites, partly to avoid paying the OTAs commission.

Ultimately, the best way to do this is not by changing anything on your OTA listings, but by taking a look at everything else you are doing online. Here are five ways to help achieve this.

Take a good look at your website

Open up your website and imagine you are a first-time visitor who has never seen your business before. Ask yourself, can you immediately understand from your homepage what you are selling and why you are better than your competitors? Is your imagery and wording captive, making you want to click on another page to learn more? Do you promote a “best price guarantee” on your site?

If you answered no to any of these questions, this is what needs to be resolved first.

It is particularly important that your website looks and performs equally as well whether viewing on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. If your website isn’t responsive, you need to address this and quickly. More and more people are researching their travel plans whilst on the go and if your website is too difficult to use on phone, they will book elsewhere.

Employ direct marketing

Studies have shown that email marketing remains a highly effective way of acquiring customers and increasing bookings online, and it is relatively inexpensive ( It is easy to understand why – you are communicating with people who have said they want to hear from you and learn more about your product or service. However, around half of small travel businesses don’t send regular newsletters.

To encourage repeat bookings, ensure you have permission to use guests’ email addresses to communicate future promotions or loyalty discounts for their next visit. If you are a “once in a lifetime” destination, encourage them to “share the experience” to unlock discounts for friends and family. Your success is much determined by how creative, fun and engaging you can be with your database. 

Professional-looking newsletter systems like MailChimp are free (up to 2,000 contacts) and provide easy measurement to show how effectively your email campaigns perform.

Review and respond to customer comments

Review websites like TripAdvisor shouldn’t be ignored and provide the opportunity to draw potential customers to your own website. By responding to reviews it demonstrates you care about your customers’ experience, which in turn can encourage people to learn more by visiting your website.

In your TripAdvisor management console you can set up alerts to be notified when a review is posted. Be sure to appropriately respond to every negative review by acknowledging their comments and stating any actions you might take to address any issues. It is also good to thank as many positive reviews as you can, although not as important to reply to every single one.

Promote a “value add” package on your website

Offer your website visitors an exclusive “value add” package that encourages them to book directly, but still allows you to stay within your OTA rate parity agreement.

Such a package could be a two night stay including free WiFi, breakfast or a bottle of wine on arrival, or a ticket for a local attraction or event.

Target your Facebook followers

Social media channels like Facebook should be treated as an important advertising channel to drive traffic back to your website and encourage direct bookings. The rate parity you have with OTAs specifically applies to the rate you offer to an open or public audience. Therefore you are able to promote a loyalty promotion or discount to your Facebook page followers, which aren’t seen as an open audience.

E.g. “We want to say thank you to our loyal Facebook Fans with 10% off our studio room for October. Use the promo code FACEBOOK when booking on our website!”


OTAs may have a huge monopoly of the online accommodation market, but you don’t need to give up on direct bookings. Interested in knowing more? Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help your business online.

Virtual Reality Tourism and the Rise of Google Cardboard

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We’re just a few short months away from professional virtual reality (VR) headsets to hit the consumer market in a storm of holiday promotions, and the future is here.



Google Cardboard  - Free Consumer VR


Google Cardboard, an approximately $20 box frame with plastic lenses, went on sale this year as a proving ground for this new technology and it’s been a wild success. Google brings the concept to anyone who wants to explore the new tech, with free designs for the cardboard headset also available on their website. Reminiscent of the red plastic View-Masters of the late 1980’s, these cardboard boxes have a simple slot for a cell phone. All you have to do is download a VR app to a smartphone and the world of virtual reality is in your hands. 



Images are split into two offset versions, one for each eye, which creates the 3D effect, and the proximity to your eye produces a full immersion “frameless” view. The current graphics for motion are still fairly simple – the world is still waiting on a full camera designed to film the dual images required for photo-real immersion – but the experience will take your breath away with a 360 degree world crafted around you.

Thanks to the free Google Cardboard app, you can walk the streets of Paris and Tokyo. You lean back and tilt your head to the sky, stretching to see the top of the Eiffel Tower looming above you on a blue-sky day. Tour an aviation museum or explore a rocky cave. With some of the more playful apps, you can hang out with dinosaurs or ride a roller coaster, but the possibilities are seemingly limitless.


What it means for tourism marketing



Instead of just sending someone to your website, future customers will check Google Earth. They’ll locate your business or location, slip on their goggles and immerse themselves in a walkable 3D layout of your destination, restaurant, hotel, property or airline. They will want an option to experience the product before they arrive.

Your future promotional videos will take them on a wild ride down a river on one of your tours, watch the sun rise over the ocean at your destination, and show them the peaceful setting of a room at your hotel in the softly glowing morning light.

This is no longer a space-age dream – as these products hit the shelves this December in the global market, it’s time to start thinking ahead of how your business can make the most of this new media. 

Discover more:

Social Media is not a toy, it's a business tool!

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Today it’s easy to have your attention captured by noise and sparkly things – distractions surround us. It’s also easy to mistake that noise as representing frivolity. Yes, your neighbour posts funny cat photos and your nephew won’t stop checking the game stats during family dinners, but social media is a powerful tool reaching a global audience of billions and you CHOOSE how to wield it.

Sort through the noise and understand how to leverage this tool to support your business and build brand awareness. Otherwise your competitors will be out there making a better, more professional and exciting impression on the public.

“My kids are on Twitter, I should just have them run everything!”

Social media IS media, and marketing is a complex structure. Algorithms (programs) determine how many people see your posts, targeted advertisements help you reach defined audiences and metrics are used to track results and provide valuable data about the communications of your business.

It’s not as simple as posting a photo, reaching 100% of your followers, and getting instant results. A clearly defined strategy and professional guidance will help you deliver your messages to your customers most effectively.

“I don’t need social media – it doesn’t bring me bookings”

It’s an age-old saying, but “people talk.” Even if you choose to not engage on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest, your customers are still out there posting and tagging your business name, photos, compliments, questions and complaints. Without your presence, those comments float in space, unanswered and unresolved. Don’t you want to be where your customers are daily?

92% of consumers say they trust earned media, such as social media, word of mouth, recommendation from friends and family, above all forms of advertising (Webbed Feet).

By taking charge of your brand on social media, you provide a community for those customers to reach out to you. This is an opportunity for you to provide competitive customer service. This is a long-term bid for that elusive “word of mouth” brand awareness. You may not see an immediate leap in bookings, but you are building the foundations for your business to be discovered in a global capacity.

When you start taking social media marketing seriously, you will see results!

Thinking Differently About Tourism

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Yes, yes, we know: we are living at a time when 'things' are changing faster than ever. We are reminded of this every time we buy the latest phone, tablet or computer only to be told six months later (when we have finally learned how to use it!) that it is now “the old” model.

And the point is truly highlighted when considering the fact that 60% of the jobs available in ten years don’t even exist yet.

As individual tourism businesses, organisations and an industry as a whole, it is imperative that we are keeping up with changes, and not just surviving but actually thriving. Thinking differently is required by all of us, as what has worked in the past may not work in the future.

“Trendlines not Headlines”

Stealing a quote from Bill Clinton, “consider trendlines not headlines.” This is what I would consider a “grand way to think differently”.

There are a number of examples of this in our industry. Let’s take the motel industry headlines as an example. If we were to follow some of the headlines, they often read that the motel industry is being undermined by the unregulated holiday homes market and talk about the government’s unwillingness to force them into compliance.

If we instead look at the trendlines, we see that the largest growing accommodation sector internationally is the holiday home/vacation rentals. This sector is becoming more commercialised, more organised and fanatically more innovative than any other sector. There is a reason why HomeAway has over one million listings and the peer to peer site AirBNB has the fastest growing inventory online.

So if vacation rentals are the trend, motel owners should be looking at what they can do differently to keep up with this trend (without ignoring their current market). What do vacation rentals offer that motels could? How are vacation rentals booked and marketed that motels can adopt or perfect?

Agents are another example of how the rapidly changing world of both travel distribution and purchase are affecting a sector. In this case, headlines may sometimes sing the blues but trends indicate an increase in revenue for those agents who are productising and promoting differently and/or being innovative.

Examples include those agents who are becoming more a “lifestyle concierge” providing more ‘local’ and authentic experiences. While others agents are thinking differently by investing in technology to allow quicker responses and price transparency for those who want to book quickly at the best price.

So what can we all be doing in our tourism businesses that ensures we ‘keep the gold’ that works while also thinking differently to create something to ensure our prosperity?

With this ever-changing world requiring us to provide our products and services more seamlessly and in an accessible format, all the while being authentic and transparent, it is important to be thinking differently by looking at other silos, industries and perspectives.

If we don’t, we run the risk of not evolving and going the way of the dinosaur or worse, becoming a fad like the waterbed!

Tomahawk to develop new website and strategy for Bella Vista Motel Network

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Bella Vista Management Ltd and Tomahawk are pleased to announce that Tomahawk is to develop the new website and digital marketing strategy for the Bella Vista Motel Network.

The Tomahawk group was appointed following a rigorous selection process from a group of innovative digital leaders invited to respond to a detailed RFP.

“We were very pleased with the proposal from the Tomahawk Group and whilst it was a close decision, Tomahawk stood out for their overall digital strategising and for their understanding of the complex visitor economy,” according to Sales and Business Development General Manager, Hamish Saxton.

The development of the new website and digital strategy activation is underpinned by Bella Vista’s online booking and channel management provider Seekom, which is working on the development of new single property and responsive multi-destination screens for its clients.

The Bella Vista Motel Network comprises of 27 business and leisure motels throughout New Zealand. Renowned for their consistency in design and great locations, business and leisure travel continues to increase for the network. The new website is a must to meet contemporary consumer booking and information-seeking activities.

“The Tomahawk team is excited to be a part of the new website for Bella Vista Motel. With the SEO, SEM and Social Media strategy supporting the promotion of the site, we are looking forward to celebrating increased bookings and brand awareness for them,” said Gina Paladini, Marketing Director at Tomahawk.

Tomahawk is a bespoke tourism marketing agency, creating success for tourism operators throughout New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific. Tomahawk provides a full range of digital marketing services and property management software solutions. Their proprietary systems include ResBook and JobSafe.