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Luxury Interactive Interview: Debbie Johnsen, Director, Interactive Marketing, The Leading Hotels of the World

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We had the honor and opportunity to chat with Debbie Johnsen, Director, Interactive Marketing, The Leading Hotels of the World to get her insights into the role of digital and social media in the luxury hotel sector.

The Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd. is a prestigious luxury hospitality organization representing more than 430 of the world’s finest hotels, resorts and spas. With headquarters in New York City, the company maintains a network of 25 offices in key cities around the world.

A Brief History of The Leading Hotels of the World,

Initially known as “The Luxury Hotels of Europe and Egypt” the company was established in 1928 by a group of influential and forward-thinking European hoteliers starting with 38 initial members, including Hotel Negresco in Nice, the Mena House in Cairo and King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The group recognized the importance of establishing direct contact with the traveling public and travel agencies in the North American market, the founders opened an office in New York, calling this satellite operation “Hotel Representative, Inc.” – or HRI.


How has the Internet and all things digital reshaped a luxury hotel branding strategy overall?

It has caused us to step back and consider where resources and budgets are being allocated. As the digital ecosystem evolves, more and more opportunities are being presented in rich media, social, mobile, etc. Not all new networks and channels are right for a luxury brand, and it’s up to marketers to do the research and decide whether or not it should be part of their strategy.

How has the digital world benefited how luxury hotels are marketed?

Luxury hotels are an ideal source for beautiful, compelling imagery that provide consumers with inspiration for their next trip. Many marketers have learned to leverage their own rich assets as well as user-generated content to fuel the dreams of potential guests.

What are some of the platforms that are best suited to market a luxury hotel?

Many of the same main channels that any luxury retail brand would use, in addition to travel-specific Meta Search (Trip Advisor, Kayak, Google HPA, Trivago) Networks that can target high-net worth individuals with the intent to travel are also worth investing in.


How has the persuasiveness of digital and social media changed the marketing strategy for luxury hotels?

Many luxury hotels have the benefit of a truly unique characteristics – an interesting history , distinct architectural details, incredible locations or award-winning chefs – there are many stories to tell. Social media is a great platform for presenting this information to an audience in a dynamic, engaging way.

In general, having more real-time, flexible ways of communicating with our target group has changed the overall strategy. Print advertising may still be the right answer in some instances, but there are so many other types of media that can prove more effective in the digital space.

What do you wish more consumers knew about communication with a luxury hotel brand over social media channels?

Luxury hotel brands would welcome more communication with consumers over social media channels. If they need advice on a destination, local tips, have a question about the property, it’s a great way to reach out and start building a relationship with the hotel.

What do you foresee as the future of digital communications for your sector?

Recent surveys of travel consumers show that they still prefer to be contacted via email, with mobile apps or text messages being the next most popular methods. With the majority of consumers having at least one email address, if not multiple addresses, it’s still a primary form of communication. It will be interesting to see how mobile continues to evolve in the travel space, it should help simplify the journey and push more relevant content out to the traveler.

How have your marketing and advertising dollars spends shifted to encompass the needs of a strong digital presence.

Over the past few years, more and more of our marketing and advertising dollars have moved to digital display and search. A large percentage of that is budget that would have been used for print or other offline initiatives. One of benefits of digital media is measurable results at a level that traditional media can’t provide.

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How do you organize for digital? Have you adopted best practices for social media? How do you approach the subject of your brands ‘voice’ on social media?

In the years of building followings on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest – we have worked at developing a consistent voice that is true to our brand. Brand Marketing, Interactive Marketing, PR have all been involved to bring an 86-year-old luxury brand to life on social media. It’s also important to monitor the conversation going on around your brand and be proactive in joining when appropriate.

Which digital platforms do you favor?

They all vary in terms format and delivery, and should be approached in different ways. A post that might resonate with Facebook users might not be as interesting to your Twitter audience, or can’t be delivered effectively in that format. The same goes for Instagram, which is about speaking to followers through imagery. They can all be effective, but different tactics need to be utilized to increase engagement.

Debbie Johnsen
Debbie Johnsen

Debbie Johnsen is the Director, Interactive Marketing for The Leading Hotels of the World. She began her career in marketing and e-commerce over twenty years ago, and has worked on both the client and agency side. Her background includes both traditional marketing and digital roles with Bertelsmann, Omnicom and Rail Europe Group. Industry experience spans Travel & Hospitality, Retail E-Commerce, Entertainment and Global Brands. Debbie is currently Adjunct Faculty at N.Y.U., where she teaches Web Analytics and Digital Marketing as part of the school’s MS in Integrated Marketing program.

eat love savor magazine media partner with luxury interactive 2014 This interview is In partnership with Luxury Interactive


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