How to combine the off and online worlds in the hotel industry

Perhaps now is the time to rethink how to marry the online world with the on-the-ground existence that previously served the travel industry so well.

Despite the fact that retailers and hotels could be perfect partners for lifestyle branding, it rarely works out that way. From stodgy luxury stores at downtown hotels to overpriced, kitschy gift shops at resorts, shopping at hotels has been very boring for a very long time.

Here is a great example of how an individual at one particular brand in the hotel sector, John Knowles at the Roger Smith Hotel, wants to change that.

The Roger Smith Hotel is often referred to in marketing circles as not just one of the most innovative hotels in the world, but also one of the most creative brands in social media – in any industry.

The Roger Smith management did this largely by building an environment where “everyone is a content generator“. Marketing and creating their online presence was not just the job of a few people.

“We view our hotel as a media company, and our space as a stage.”

They also pioneered the concept of social hospitality that extends beyond just the people staying at the hotel, and into the extended community – which has turned the property into a hub of creativity.

Now, Knowles and his team want to reinvent the way the hotel engages with retail and e-commerce – something they have been involved in for a while with the RS POP shop.

“The original pop-up shop concept was based on Japanese consumer culture and its devotion to rare and limited edition products,” explains S D Rockswell in his FreshlySerious article.

“Initially, at a moments notice, customers would arrive at a clandestine location that housed a particular brand or product. Once the products were sold out, usually within a matter of hours, the store would be closed until the owner received more product and was able reopen the store again. After the first few runs the concept took shape, then evolved and took flight and landed in the mouth of corporate America.”

The RS POP space, a midtown Manhattan, New York, fixture on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central Terminal, has hosted a number of innovative brands over the last couple years. And, as the owner and director of Panman Productions, Knowles has spent years working with innovative brands, helping them visually communicate their story through media.

In the months ahead, the environment will combine these benefits to become a showcase for what Knowles envisions as the next incarnation of retail in hospitality.

He plans to partner with a select number of brands to provide them with not only a physical display space – but a portfolio of promotional services that provide a holistic, 360-degree exposure to a core group of very connected, influential consumers in New York City. This will present the partners in a completely new light, and extend both brands beyond their typical audiences.

The concept: Pop+

The new concept is going to be called Pop+, based on the fact that this experience is all about the partner brand plus strategy, plus marketing, plus audience, plus community, and so on.

Providing the space with all of these additional media and PR services adds a whole new level of engagement.

“We see this in the pop-up shop already, but now are offering a new kind of opportunity that’s a higher level of marketing.”

The opportunity is designed for brands that understand the environment – the social space and the marketing space – and want to test out ideas they wouldn’t be able to test out elsewhere.

“As part of your pop-up, we’re going to build you an integrated SEO program, set up a Google Plus profile, set you up with Google Wallet – or provide whatever mix of services you need. Whether it’s a content strategy or mobile initiative – we can assemble the right team of people to help you reach your goals.”

Built on partnerships

To deliver these services, and extend the whole Pop+ concept, Knowles will be engaging with local media professionals and other service providers to barter services that will be useful for the partner companies he’s engaging with.

“It’s creating an environment where everyone benefits from greater exposure and everyone builds into our greater community.”

When thinking about these partnerships, Knowles wants the collaboration to fuel the marketing of his hotel as well. “We want to partner with forward-thinking companies. Collaboration is essential. Their success is my success.”

Inspiration for the project

“My motivation is the space we have,” says Knowles. “I see our space and recognize the opportunity. Hotels have space. Space is value. So what we’re doing is not just one piece but a combination of efforts.”

“You take the existing pop-up model that happens in the pop-up shop, and the value of corner real estate on Lexington Avenue, and the value of our services – the opportunity is extraordinary.”

The hotel used to have a shoe store in the space, but Knowles feels they were not contributing to the larger Roger Smith Hotel brand. “So I asked myself how can we regain control of this?”

Providing urgency and a real-world presence

By design, popup offers are time-sensitive, providing a level of urgency. “We might run a two-day program for authors. Showcase a book signing. The benefits of having our interactive community bring their work forward is huge,” Knowles says. And this is critical in our era of always-on digital communication.

Imagine a thriving online company that is launching a major new initiative. Google. Amazon. Gilt Groupe.

Technology companies may have an online presence, but they’re missing the real world presence and interaction, so this opportunity will be helping these companies establish a physical presence and connect with new audiences. It’s additional value they’re unable to get elsewhere.

“They don’t have the opportunity of physical space, brick and mortar everywhere. It’s incredible for them.”

Time sensitivity – plus a real-world presence – is a new opportunity for many of these organizations.

Why this matters

Knowles’s story shows us how staying at the edge of innovation is not just about creating cool hotel marketing, but innovating areas like retail and mobile communications and e-commerce. The more you can pursue projects that push the envelope, the more you’ll build buzz around what you’re creating.

“The last two years our hotel got a lot of press in the hospitality industry when it comes to customer service and new media.

“What I’m working on now is the story that hasn’t yet been surfaced, and is what we’ll also be focusing in the future. All of these stories are what makes Roger Smith special. We’re a community and brand that thrives on staying in the spotlight.”

NB: Scrabble image via Shutterstock.

NB2: Disclosure – The Roger Smith Hotel is a ReviewPro customer.

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Josiah Mackenzie

About the Writer :: Josiah Mackenzie

Josiah Mackenzie is a contributor to tnooz and works as director of business development at ReviewPro to provide hotel executives with customer insights and business intelligence through online reviews and social media analytics.

ReviewPro reporting provides valuable insight for action in the areas of marketing and PR, quality & operations, sales, revenue & distribution.

By moving social media engagement from a marketing tactic to an operational tool, they are changing the way the hospitality industry can use and profit from the social web.



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  1. hhotelconsult

    Brian… phenomenal. Well done.

  2. Brian Hayashi

    As Michael rightfully points out, we’re about to enter an amazing world of immediate gratification. There was an article in AdAge about Glamour Magazine’s virtual storefront – scan a product, have it delivered to your home.

    We’re testing something a bit different. When you’re in Ski Country Colorado, a display for snowboarding takes you to a link where you’re asked for a few more details…whereupon we create a “hunter alert” for pre-screened snowboard instructors who are available to give you the lessons you want.

    Deals aren’t just about who can deliver the lowest price. They can also be about who’s ready to give you what you want, right now.

  3. hhotelconsult

    At our new (new website isn’t up yet, that’s a temp) we have an art program where, in each of the 22 rooms, there is a magnificent photograph of somewhere very special within the national park. These places are easily accessible from the hotel, and let you explore this beautiful place in San Francisco. The idea is to anchor the hotel as part of a much grander thing, and an addition to the National Park – rather than just some random hotel. To further encourage that discovery and connection with the land and the park history, we added a large map to the lobby with all the photos from each of the 22 rooms, with a QR code right next to the photo.

    That QR code is scanned by a smartphone, which registers geo-coordinates in google maps, and immediately gives you the ability to walk, hike, or drive to any of those spots.

    It’s a geocaching QR Code treasure hunt of sorts. I am very proud of this idea… and am really excited to see people explore and participate. At some point, we hope to make it a game with buy out wedding parties, hiding wine or treats at one of the spots with riddles helping them along.

    It’s going to be an adventure, it’s going to create delight, experience, and the main point: highlight how exceptional a place the Presidio in San Francisco is…

    In fact I better invite you to try it out…. where’s that article? =)


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