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Recap of the Independent Lodging Congress in Philadelphia

Last week, I took the train from Montreal to Philadelphia. I wanted to try something different than an airplane for once.

Turns out the train includes enough legroom for Roy Hibbert, free wi-fi and the freedom to roam and meet people. And all for $28 from MTL to NYC. Seemed like it was too good to be true. If you’ve never done it, the train through the Adirondacks will give you a new appreciation for our continent. In fact, you’ll have 10 hours to let it soak in, passing through towns burned into America’s history: Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, Ticonderoga, Yonkers, and my favourite, Poughkeepsie. All in all, there’s a peaceful and practical romance in riding the train.

I was heading to Philadelphia to be part of a panel at the inaugural Independent Lodging Congress, discussing digital marketing strategy for independent hotels. It was nice to be at a conference that was explicitly niche yet decidedly interdisciplinary. Owners, lenders, brokers, advisors, operators, associations, FF&E suppliers, technology companies, architects, designers and lawyers all came together to discuss the future of the industry. If I were to sum up the purpose of the conference, we were there to discuss how independently branded/managed hotels can compete with the big flags like Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, Wyndam etc.)

Needless to say, I learned a lot. It deepened my appreciation for what our clients go through in creating the spaces we help promote. Many are forced to navigate uncertain market conditions, uncomfortable amounts of leverage, all the while blocking out a myriad of different voices telling them what a hotel should be. True entrepreneurs, really.

Maybe this is a occupational bias, but I found it interesting how frequently the discussions on other panels reverted back to the role of the web across all facets of hotel operations. It seemed universally accepted that when it comes to getting people into your hotel, it’s the web that does the heavy lifting. More importantly, the rise of digital has levelled the playing field, allowing the independent hotel to make a name for itself without sacrificing their creative license to the mandate of a large chain. In no uncertain terms, the web has revolutionized the industry. It will be exciting to see what’s changes between now and 2014.

Our panel was hosted by Mark Swetman, VP of Pegasus Solutions, and I was joined by Brian Saab, CMO of buuteeq. We hit a wide range of topics: responsive design and the future of mobile, SEO vs. SEM for hotels, social media strategies for hotels, and the use of open-source technologies. In talking with people I met from the conference, everyone was exceedingly happy and planned to return next year. A big thank you to Andrew Benioff and the team at Llenrock Group for putting it together.