Travel Brands Undergo Retail Therapy

It's starting to feel like when the going gets tough, the travel industry goes shopping. And who can blame it. Retail therapy just might be the next wave of smart marketing for those brands interested in better connecting to new and existing customers in meaningful ways.

When Westin Hotels & Resorts recently announced that it would be launching its own storefront on Amazon, many looked at it as a way for the brand to drive incremental revenues. And while that may indeed be a central part of its motivation, it seems to me that the real brilliance is that it's staking its claim to the 80+ million unique visitors who have been known to frequent Amazon's site in a given month.

And to further highlight the affinity, Westin is even offering business travelers a $100 Amazon gift card for staying two weekday nights. What better way to position yourself as a lifestyle brand and a curator of style, quality and taste -- something that Westin's parent company, Starwood, has consciously focused on for some time.



Take its W brand, which boasts its own custom-created fashion collections, from a range of designers, all of which is aimed at furthering the hip and often edgy attitude of the hotels and their clientele. And while the W online store misses the opportunity to deliver a particularly fulfilling or stimulating shopping experience (since the site is neither edgy or hip), you have to admire the idea of taking a retail approach that further positions the brand as an arbiter of fashion and design.

And this rampage to the retail world isn't reserved for hotels or only online. Lonely Planet has opened a retail shop in the Sydney airport with a specific focus of attracting new customers and connecting its brand with the excitement and adventure of travel. Beyond the full range of its guidebooks, the stores also have a carefully selected array of clothing, gadgets and electronic accessories that reflect Lonely Planet's brand values.

Not to be outdone, Travel + Leisure has opened three stores, including one in New York's JFK Airport, that feature editor-approved luggage, maps, and other items that allow it to touch and engage readers while they are actually in the process of traveling.

Could there be another Apple phenomenon waiting somewhere in the travel industry? After all, who could have predicted in 2001, when Apple opened its first store, that it would today have 200 locations in 10 countries, generate $6.6 billion or nearly 25% of the company's total revenue, entertain over 170 million visitors a year or create the fifth-most photographed landmark in New York City?

Even if these retail enterprises never challenge the success of Apple, they can still prove to be an effective part of your marketing mix and brand-building strategy, increasingly allowing you to get noticed in places where your customers (and potential customers) are already hanging out, both in the real and online worlds. Think of it as a retail billboard, providing an opportunity to interact with your customers in ways that no roadside sign ever could.

And, don't be surprised to see more travel brands create pop-up stores that take advantage of the abundance of vacant retail space that litters well-trafficked neighborhoods and malls, allowing a monthly showcase of destinations, experiences and products.

Whether it's a holiday haven for gift certificates or a way to highlight products that reinforce all the exotic places that are home to your hotels or destinations to which your airline flies, there's no question that this kind of customer interaction gives you the chance to take customer engagement to new levels.

Best of all, it can even come gift wrapped.

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