May 4, 2022

Creating a Sustainable Competitive Edge, with Ed St. Onge, President of Flip.to


Tune in for Part 2 of our episode with Ed St. Onge, President of Flip.to and Founder of the first ever channel management software for hotels, EZ Yield. On last week's episode, Ed took us through the early days of channel and yield management and how the technology his team build became the foundation of an industry.

On today's episode, Ed shares his story of Flip.to and how they are transforming the guest journey to drive more direct bookings, grow profits, and enhance the quality of the conversations and relationships we have with our guests - at scale. Alex is a self-proclaimed super user of Flip.to, and she shares her experience using the platform at Condo-World as well as at the DMO level with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB.

There's never been a more important time to focus on building and leveraging your UGA - user generated audiences - to grow your brand and create more direct bookings. Flip.to has helped Condo-World maintain their 95% direct booking ratio, through the tactics explained in this episode...you don't want to miss this one!

CONTACT ED ST. ONGE
https://flip.to

estonge@flip.to
LinkedIn

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook

Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex.

Annie Holcombe:

I'm Annie.

Alex Husner:

And we are back today for part two of our episode with Ed St. Onge. Number two, we had to do two because one just wasn't enough, we had so much fun talking to Ed. We're actually recording this on the same day. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert, but we just we really enjoyed talking to him. And we did a deep dive into channel management and the history of it, and was the original grandfather of channel management, and his days at easy yield. But before we get started, welcome to the show.

Ed St. Onge:

Thanks. Really enjoyed the first part. I love digging into the history of things. So it was quite a fun conversation and excited to to continue going with you guys.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, those of you watching on YouTube, we did have a special guest on Episode One to hopefully still hear back for Episode Two. There. Yes.

Alex Husner:

There's Todd. Oh my gosh, if you have to go watch on YouTube. Oh, he's shy. Now.

Ed St. Onge:

He's like, Oh, look at me. Sleepy. We already go.

Alex Husner:

There he is. He's so cute. So Ed has a kitten Sphinx.

Ed St. Onge:

Mr. I have a Mr. Bigglesworth fans of Austin power. Also million dollar cat. My own. I have my own Dobby. Yeah, that's really what is

Annie Holcombe:

yours look like Dobby. That's what it is.

Alex Husner:

He's so cute. He's got beautiful blue eyes, you can just tell he's super soft. And I'm definitely more of a dog person. But I really have a crush on Todd. After seeing him for the past hour. He's adorable.

Annie Holcombe:

And the first hour, well, almost hour, we talked about, again, your channel management experience and you build easy yield. And ultimately, you ended up selling it off to travelclick. And so the second part of our interview with you, we wanted to talk about boredom, boredom set in and you wanted to do something else. So why don't you tell us about what your next chapter was after selling easy yield?

Ed St. Onge:

Yeah. So you know, when I realized that I wanted to do something else. I knew I still wanted to stay in the industry. I loved this industry. And I loved the people in this industry. And as I started thinking about, okay, I want to do something new again. I really felt like at the time, so it's about 10 years ago, I felt like at the time marketing in our industry was going through about the same type of evolution as revenue management was when I started easy yield. And so I knew I wanted to be on the marketing side of things. And part of that, too, was through easy yield, I had a lot of experience in the different marketing stacks and what they did. And I spent a lot of time looking at that. And actually, we owned a booking engine that we got through a purchase. That that was quite interesting. So I, I learned a little bit about the marketing stack. And but as a consumer, I always thought the way we sell travel was off. And so I knew I wanted to get into it. So I started looking at startups in the space. And I happened across the founders of flip to when they were only about a year into the business. And they were building marketing technology for hotels. And, you know, as I started talking to them, you know, they kind of gave me their big vision there. They're, you know, this is what we're aiming for. And really what they were aiming for was to disrupt Google's, you know, upcoming Stranglehold, because they didn't even have a stranglehold back then. But they saw it coming that Google was going to have a stranglehold on consumers. And, you know, so I love the vision. But I also liked what the product did at that time. So when I met them, flip to was a very small kind of one touch application that as soon as someone completed a booking on the booking engine, a message would pop up, share your excitement about your upcoming trip. And there's something nice in it for you. And right from there, you could share to your Facebook friends and Twitter and LinkedIn and all of that. And then they built an entire journey on how you engage friends and family from there to get the friends and family actually interested in the hotel. And I thought it was a brilliant, light touch. And so I invested in the company, I funded them and became an equal partner and help teach them you know, what I just learned after 10 years of scaling a software business in the industry. And so we set out to, you know, our vision for what we wanted to do for lodging was smooth out a lot of the friction points in a court that occurs across the different parts of the marketing stack, and actually start creating that threaded experiences that you know, kind of carry from one touchpoint to another to create new opportunities. And what's funny is is it's a massive application, and it literally only has two goals. Everything we do When it comes down to the same two goals, we want to get our partners into as many meaningful conversations as possible. To us a meaningful conversation is more than just capturing someone's information. We also want to understand enough about that person, so that it's obvious what you can do with the conversation from there. So that's goal number one of anything we do. And goal number two is doing all that for the purpose of driving as many direct bookings as possible. But we look at direct bookings differently than the rest of our industry does. We're not just trying to avoid you getting bookings from OTAs, we're actually trying to build journeys that avoid you having to get your bookings from Google, or Facebook, or any of these other paid forms of customer acquisition, we want to make you more efficient. So I'll pause there. That is the high

Alex Husner:

level Yeah, yeah. You're

Annie Holcombe:

saying you're using so you, his software, we're using flip to correct. I'm a

Alex Husner:

super user of the software. I mean, I might have a tattoo of flipped, you know, it's funny, when we go to conferences, I feel like your name comes up so often and flipped through does because we get a condo world, we've, we've got a very heavy direct booking percentage, I think we're at 95% this year. So you know, still really just utilize the OTAs on a minimum basis. But there's a bigger picture here, besides just having the direct bookings in the first place is getting them to come back to you. And I think that's really what flipped to speaks to as well that, you know, if somebody could stay with us, they could book through VRBO, and then they stay with us. But if we can't get them back, if we haven't built that relationship with them, then they're definitely going to go back to VRBO, or to one of our competitors or to a different OTA. And that's really what flipped to does. So it builds that relationship with our guests. And when I'm asked to speak about guest experience on these panels, a lot of times I mentioned, the technology of what you've built and our our role in that has been just so exciting over the years. And just to back up a little bit. When I first met flip to and Edie and their team, it was through a partnership that the Myrtle Beach chamber CVB built with them, which that's I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors this year, and you know, really built a relationship that was going to be something that would be long term and set our destination up for massive success that has really pushed us, you know, in a different spot than most destinations could imagine to be in. And I presume sounds like I'm bragging, but I kind of am a little bit because it should be it's really incredible what it has done. And when flipped, you first came out, I remember you what you've explained on it so far about you book a vacation, and then you share it with your family and friends. That all seemed like Yeah, I mean, it makes sense. That's, that's, that's cool. But and there wasn't any other software out there that was doing it like that. So that made sense. But how you've taken that and what you've done from your, you know, intrinsic knowledge of integrations to PMS is and the guest experience and how you've built this into this program. That's what's taking it to a new level. And at this point, now we are using flip to in the fullest extent, I believe that there's some things we've done that most people would think sounds kind of crazy. One of which is let me tell

Ed St. Onge:

that story. I don't think you'll I don't brag on yourself enough about that. So our first platform, which we spent about seven years focusing all of our development effort on was this idea of advocacy, what are all the different ways you can engage people to get them to be storytellers for you to get them to introduce you to their friends and family? And then what are all the ways you can maximize that opportunity. So when we look at social media platforms, we look at them the same way I at easy yield looked at OTAs social media platforms or distribution channels, it's where you can make things happen. But it's not where you want transactions to be. If we could, we would like our OTAs to send the transaction straight to us. So the really interesting concept of advocacy is how we engage the friends and family audience. So I'll just give a perfect example. You guys were out to Chicago. What if I flipped that on you? And I say, Hey, I just stayed in Chicago. I stayed at this hotel right now. Let me ask Are either of you thinking to yourselves? Thank goodness, I just said that because I need to book a hotel in Chicago?

Annie Holcombe:

No. Yes, because I want to go back.

Ed St. Onge:

But that's not how social works. Right? Right. So just because someone shares something on social, the initial interaction, the initial response isn't, Oh, good. I want to go to right away. But if you look at what our industry was doing with travelers, so travelers are totally on board they want to share about what they're doing and travel and they'll engage with you as a as a travel business to do that. Right. But at best you were getting them to drive people to your website. And, you know, we always just got to kind of think through first of all, travel websites are not built correctly. And we'll get into that in a little bit. But they're not built correctly. They're only built for one audience. And ironically, it is the smallest part of your overall audience. So travel websites and booking engines are only designed for people who are ready to book right now,

Alex Husner:

I was gonna say they're designed to appease the people in the front office, that the GM likes the way the site works, or the golf department likes the way the site works, we have to have a golf banner or this or that or whatever. And but

Ed St. Onge:

it's, it's all focused on only thinking through the phase of you've booked your flights, you've made all your decision.

Alex Husner:

Right, right. Yeah, the dreaming phase is more.

Ed St. Onge:

So if you think about that, there were years of waste of travelers sharing on behalf of brands and businesses, but then they're sending their friends and family to this experience that is only meant for people who are ready to buy right then in there, right? It's a wasted opportunity. And we saw that. And so we looked at that and said, Okay, well, first of all, why would a friend click on something you shared about a trip? Well, it has nothing to do with the business. It has everything to do with curiosity about right,

Alex Husner:

yeah, and the memory that they just shared of how they had this great time and a picture of them and their family and everything else. And so

Ed St. Onge:

in marketing, when you can understand, when you get that rare opportunity that everyone you're interacting with is in the same state of mind, you can actually build really high performing experiences behind that because you start from that state of mind of I know you're here, because you're curious about what that person was doing. So I'm going to start from there. And I'm going to make that curiosity feel good. But then I'm going to shift that conversation. And I'm going to shift that conversation to the only reasonable outcome in this first interaction that you can hope for, which is really posing a question of, would you ever be interested in considering us for a future trip? The easiest thing for people to say yes to at that point. And so that's what advocacies does, is it goes to that level of okay, here's what your friend did. Here's the amazing time they had, you should show love for this support your friend, oh, hey, for doing that. If you think you'd ever want to be a guest of ours, here's something special for when you're ready to plan your trip, just give us your name and email address. And then it goes into an email nurture, that continues that psychological path of we know where we're at, at each step, how do we incrementally nudge you until you're going to fall into the shopping pattern and let's drop into the booking engine that yeah, and

Alex Husner:

then when you actually are ready to book, it's like the perfect timing, and then you've got that offer that you've saved, that was a specific offer just for you. That's not available on the properties website directly.

Ed St. Onge:

Yep. And what's interesting about it, too, is because we built the journey, knowing all of these steps along the way it carries tracking. So even if you interact with my story, today, but you don't end up booking for a year, we'll still be able to track it. Because you'll come through a path that we designed, knowing that you'll go through and it reestablishes tracking so that that was our platform that we spent an amazing amount of time on. And it's a very robust platform, it's probably one of the deepest single purpose marketing platforms you'll ever see. But it was over engineered for a reason, we weren't just building that we had visions of, of grandeur journeys. And so a few years ago,

Alex Husner:

before you go into that, like ping pong back and forth, but I want to make sure to touch on one thing, because this is another major advantage of the program is that because of the how you basically when the guest checks out, they're asked to submit a photo from their stay of a favorite memory, right, and a quote. So now through that process, you're getting full rights to this user generated content. And written quote, testimonial about their stay, which is for marketers is incredible. And for us as vacation rental marketers, we've got millions of pictures of properties, but very few companies in the vacation rental space, do a good job of doing photo shoots with models and stuff like that. So we're pretty much all using the same stock photography, which really just, it's just slapping somebody else's logo on a different ad and it really gets old. So having this user generated content from our guests have them staying at our properties. Obviously, some pictures are better than others, for sure. But we have gotten the most beautiful pictures that we use in our printed materials on billboards and our email marketing everywhere. So that's that's also a big part of it. And I will say right before we started working with flip two, we tried to do our own photo contest and just kind of like built our own back way of trying to market acted and, you know, tally the votes and everything. And it was a nightmare. I mean, we literally had hate mail from guests that they thought that they won and they didn't win. And then it was like, it was the most stressful thing ever. So when you guys came to us and said they had that, that contest component, but that it perfectly laid out all the legalities of it and everything else, I was like, Oh, my gosh, that makes my life so much easier. But okay, so then now the next advantage.

Ed St. Onge:

Yeah, so. So we built out all these different ways that you get people to share. And what's interesting is, is you know, we often skim over the user generated content, because quite honestly, it's a byproduct, like we, it was a we need something good for the guests to share. So let's get them to build it. And let's make sure they build it relatively well. And oh, well, we're doing that let's get ownership rights to that for our partners. But UGC wasn't what we were chasing there. We were chasing your concept we call UGA user generated audiences, right? How do we get distribution? How do we get more people, new travelers and the right traveler and all of that? So we do often I like that you stopped me on that, because we do often completely skim over the oh, by the way, you'll have an amazing library of content. So

Alex Husner:

so um, small detail.

Ed St. Onge:

Yeah. And, and, and it is funny, you know, we do have a lot of partners come back to us and say, like, yeah, we, um, our hero image on our site is a guest story. Our number one performing social posts that we've ever posted was a guest story that came full. Yeah.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And that's from from a just even a social media standpoint, we use all that content. On a weekly basis, at least three or four posts a week for Instagram, and Facebook is are those user generated stories, and they get incredible engagement.

Ed St. Onge:

Yeah. Yeah. And then, so So we had that. And we kind of hit a point where we were like, a lot more to do in this realm. So we started looking at where else could we fix things, and I always, I've hated hotel and vacation rental websites, like, I've always hated, I'm nothing against any of you. It's not your fault. You're just looking at how travel is sold. And whoever created the first travel website is what put this curse on all of us. Exactly. So I just, you know, I wanted to do something about that. So we came up with a concept we, we did a pretty big data study before coming up with this concept. But we, we spent a lot of time analyzing the behavior of travelers on all of our partners, websites, and their booking engines and all of that, and found some really interesting things that then led to like, really funny duh moments. So you know, one of the really funny dumb moments was, go look at anything that is focused on the the website and booking engine, go look at any vendor go look at any product. And they're all focused on the same exact audience. They're all focused on how do we get someone who is on your website to book right now to book right now? And well, that makes a ton of sense when you look at it through that lens, when I turn around and tell you, but yeah, that's only one to 2% of the people on your website right now are there to book right now. 98 to 90% of the people on your website right now, are in some other phase of consideration. And when I look at your site, I only have two options of engaging with you. I can book right now, which I'm not there yet. Or I can sign up for this thing that you call a newsletter, but you don't tell me what it is right? You give me no understanding of why would I want to sign up for your newsletter? What is your newsletter contain? So I have either the all in commitment, or the Hey, catch all commitment. And so that's problematic. And what that's led to with those being the only two engagement points, is the majority of your web traffic disappears without you ever knowing why were you on my website? And who are you? And so we came up with a concept of how could we get into a really good conversation with a much larger amount of the people who come to your website, and I'm a fan of sacred cows make the best hamburgers? So of course me I'm like, so let's completely reimagine the booking journey, because you know, that's gonna be super easy industry to change the thing that has been unchanged since day one, right? So we came up with a journey that we used all the psychology of all the journeys that we had ever built on advocacy, and we tested tons of psychology with the advocacy platform, and we looked at it with fresh eyes, and we looked at the data and we came up with a fundamental very uncomfortable at A Time Alex, right? Like when I first came to you with this very uncomfortable rethink of that journey. But more importantly, we built a massive analytics infrastructure underneath it. So we could measure everything and understand what's good, what's bad, and all of this. And so we came to Alex. And we actually picked Alex on purpose. Because Alex's website at the time was the most complex website, we could find multiple, multiple booking platforms, multiple code bases, we basically looked at it and said, if we can get Alex's deployed, we probably won't have to do much to deploy anyone else. So I went to Alex and I said, Hey, that thing that makes you a ton of money doesn't work, right.

Alex Husner:

And you're totally astray. That's one thing I know about you ad is strange. At first, I was a little offended that I was like, Wait, okay, I guess I'll listen.

Ed St. Onge:

And then I showed her what it could be, which included. And I love this story. Alex, I tell this story all the time. One of the concepts of this journey, was we wanted to humanize your website. So we wanted to present a real human being from your business as kind of the shepherd of helping you plan your trip, and I wanted it to be Alex. And at the time, Alex didn't give me a hard time about that or anything. But let's table that for ya. That's another conversation. I know where this goes. And so we said to Alex, we're like, listen, we built it. So you can deploy it to only a partial percentage of your audience. You know, we built it using all of standards of analytics, there are no funny, you know, methodologies of tracking here or anything like that. Just give it a chance. And let's see what the data says. And I'm going to be honest with you, when we when we built it. What we thought it was going to do was really pessimistic compared to what it actually did. And I don't know if I ever told you this part of the story, Alex, but after deploying it to you, we figured we must have just fixed something that we were unaware of on your site. Yeah, because it was doing way more than we thought it would do. Right? So we were aiming for this thing, too. It's really early in the funnel, we're introducing a new concept of how you present time. But then we're introducing this conversation where Alex is actually greeting everyone saying, Hey, this is a great choice that you're making. Why don't you tell us who you are. And we'll build a better experience for you. We'll save your plans. And we'll follow up with you along the way. Give us your name and email address this is before they get to the booking engine. And then, you know, there's journeys about kind of how do you make the multisession process of planning travel, just so much less friction and everything. And our goal was to get 10% of the people who went through it to give us their name and email address. That's really and we thought we were going to probably have to do some design iterations to get there. And our goal was not to have this increase the conversion funnels conversion, it was just to get the benefit of the capture with as little penalty to booking loss as possible. So Alex, being a very smart person, and trusting person, allowed us to hijack a percentage of her audience and take them through this process. And the data instantly, we thought there was something wrong, because we were seeing over 30% of everyone going through it giving their name and email address. And we were like, that's not that's not possible. Like we

Alex Husner:

don't want to give their name and email address, like it's easy way for them to close out of it. Like it's not like if they don't want to do it. They don't have to, but

Annie Holcombe:

it makes it makes the whole process more sticky. So they're involved in it.

Ed St. Onge:

Oh, well, there's psychologies, you'll find with everything that we do. We try to layer psychology on top of psychology because that's how you get masses of people to do things. And you have to think through all the different psychologies that different people would be feeling at that point in time.

Alex Husner:

It was such it was such a unique timing that flipped who came to us with this idea because this was this part of it was I think 2018 And this is just when we had expanded into destin and Panama City through partnerships and the Smoky Mountains and Hilton Head and Orlando, and we had all this new inventory on our site. And even within the Myrtle Beach area. Actually, we have way more here we have we have access to probably 770 500 bookable rooms in the Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach area, so a lot of inventory. And you know, a lot of it ends up kind of looking the same after a while. And so for our guests, whether they were here or trying to go to into another area, we wanted to be able to help them down a pathway that was going to get them what they really were in the mood for and what type of accommodations versus just throwing everything at them. And I think that's still what the OTAs have not been able to really do that. Well. The personalization side is just not err. And this was our first kind of soiree into it. And when I mentioned it to you, I said, you know, I want them to be able to come on and answer some basic questions. But those basic questions will get them down the pathway that will significantly increase the conversion rate, whether they're coming because or they're, they're booking if price is the most important thing, if the type of accommodation The size is if the theme if they're coming for romance, or family or adventure, whatever it is, just those basic things can really get somebody on the right path. So that's what we kind of started on that pathway with you guys. And that, putting the abandonment, modal that pops up on the homepage, when you put in your dates, I really had to go to bat for y'all with the company because everybody said there's absolutely no way I mean people are, they're gonna hate the site, they're gonna leave the site, it's just not going to be good. But the way that you rolled it out was so well intentioned and effective that to test that small amount of traffic. And I imagine if anybody wanted to try you, which we recommend you they do, you can do that same thing, right, you can still test just a Porsche, you

Ed St. Onge:

actually still take every partner, even if like so, by the way, this booking journey as Margaritaville is brand standard. Now, we still bring their new hotels through a B testing, because we want a baseline for every single hotel. Yeah, of just how did this perform? And so kind of interesting aspect of this. And I didn't tell you at the time, but your conversion rate increased so much. Yeah, we thought, okay, we caught lightning in a model here. So we kept the product in beta for eight months because of it. And just started going to other types of lodging in other types of markets where like, maybe there's a Myrtle Beach thing, you know, and we just kept throwing hotels on it, hotels, not at hotels on it, vacation rentals on a timeshare on it and we just saw consistent, like, same data as Alex's data. And we were like, Wow, holy smokes. Like we've we've found something here.

Annie Holcombe:

Just because I've clicked seeing this is so much like, one thing that I know that everybody struggles with is like, so you get this information, and you capture this guest and you and, and Alex does brag about you guys. I mean, all the way whenever there's talk that she's talking about website marketing flipped, who's always the one that she she goes to and one of the things she's talked about how she was able to grow her database, and people are always blown away by the stats that she gives. So my curiosity, and I never asked you this. Alex is at the end of it. Do you have any any of you have any stats on of those people that joined like, what is the opt out rate down the down the funnel? Like after they book? Do they opt out or they stay engaged?

Alex Husner:

Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know that the I don't know the opt out of that. Actually, probably Ed would know because I do once Okay, hold on. Don't Don't reveal it yet. So once they get into that funnel, if they don't look, then they get an email that comes to them and it says it's not salesy, but it's a it's like it's not cart abandonment, early cart abandonment, but not salesy. That says we'd like you to continue your path booking for spring and Myrtle Beach, it's a beautiful time to visit. And we're going to have different things going on during the time of the year to try and get them back back into it. But that part of the journey is controlled by flip two and your technology, but it is integrated with ours. So we use revinate for our email marketing, so that the guests are not getting two emails at the exact same time from you and from The from from us. But that being said, so those names now we flow them into because they're opted into our lists, we flow them into our regular email marketing track which email marketing is still the number one source of business within our company. And once they're in there, we have five five main segments that we send you and we're doing a big campaign and we have one that is dedicated just to that list of new names from flip to and that segment it just completely smokes the rest of them I mean, that is the main producing one because it's it's the timing of it these people have recently found a site they are much more likely to come back and book but they've gotten the for the perfect cadence of that first email from Ed and flip to that is branded as condo world it has my picture on it. I don't know if we've revealed that yet but that's part of the

Ed St. Onge:

thing is why it works. Just put her pictures on everyone's email switching it over to Todd

Annie Holcombe:

and another.

Alex Husner:

Well, you know, I tried to get Roy to give his picture and he said no, but I think he would have done really well as well as a pretty girl. Yeah, but but it really what it does is it no matter who you have, whether it's your GM or your reservations manager, marketing manager, whoever's on that, that picture it helps build that connection with the guests so that they feel Like, okay, this is actually a local company, which Gosh, you did. And you hear me say this all the time the guests we have on the show, and just advice that I would give people is that the main thing we can all do as marketers of vacation rental businesses now is show that you are the local expert in your market. I mean, that's so important because verbo is not the local local expert, Airbnb is not the local experts. So by taking that tactic, you're gonna get way more people that will book direct, and, you know, get the guests that you want to get. But just making that personal connection with the guests makes a huge difference. And just the way that the relationship goes with them is unbelievable. And when we first roll it out, and I called you one day, I said, I was like, this is really strange. I'm getting all these calls from people that they call and they'll leave a message on my office line. And they'll say things to the effect of, Hey, Alex, like, I'm so glad that you sent me those recommendations for June, I can't wait to talk to you more. I know you really like this property. And we go on and on. And I'm thinking they must have thought that they dialed Allison or somebody else in our office that their name sounds like Alex. But then as I'm realizing it's no, it was because that email that they got made it seem that personal letter came from me. So they called and asked to talk to me. So our team downstairs knows now how to answer those calls. But for a while my voicemail was just going off. But it's incredible.

Ed St. Onge:

It's it's really funny. Yeah, we've learned that anytime you humanize a digital process that converts substantially better like the lifts of humanizing a digital process. And so, this all sounds like super brilliant, and like cutting edge and stuff. Let me tell you what we wanted to do. We wanted to make going from the hotel's website through the booking process and the shopping process to more closely match the experience you get when you call. Yeah. And so what we did was we went through the cadence of what is a good call, person picks up their phone greets you says hello introduces themselves asks you who you are, asks you for a way to get back in touch with you Should you get disconnected, then they move into when are you looking to travel? That is literally what this journey does is it's it does exactly that. In the digital world, it's creating that connection, putting hospitality into the world, the follow up emails that it fires off, are actually delivering on a promise that the journey builds up to. So the promise that the journey builds up to is you can tell us who you are, and it will be helpful to you, we will not abuse you. And so the first two touches are super rich and hospitality, helpfulness, no pressure, no closing terminology, none of that stuff just straight up, you just gave us your information, we don't want you to, like immediately regret that here's a really nice touch that is helpful and useful to you. But then the it doesn't stop at the email. When someone clicks on one of these emails, we bring them back to the site. And we actually adjust some of the experience of the site to help guide the person to where it makes the most sense for them to go. Which actually gives a huge behavioral marker to because we actually they're answering for you are like how close are they to booking if they choose to go straight to the booking engine back to rates and availability and things like that, you know that they're getting really close to the transaction? Or if they choose to go to your website and get a guy to journey through your website, you know that they're still in consideration phase. And so but it's really nothing new from a concept. It's just we weren't afraid to question. Yeah. And accepted practice. And then we used fundamentals of sales. Yeah, customer service, and marketing and common sense.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah. And it was it was an aha moment.

Alex Husner:

It was Yeah, I mean, I had them for me for everybody for our business.

Ed St. Onge:

And then you you talked about what happens. So we send the first two emails, our unsubscribe rate for those emails are less than a fraction of a percent really, really up now. That's fascinating.

Annie Holcombe:

Okay,

Alex Husner:

well make sure I remember that.

Ed St. Onge:

So like one of our one of our biggest partners who we do one of our biggest partners, we grow their database by over 100,000 people a month. Their annual unsubscribe from our first two touches is about a 900 people a year. Wow.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. When we were at the Women's Conference, I was on a panel and talking about guest experience. And when I was talking about flip to I said this program, we've grown our email list at that time, it was 150,000 names we're at like 190,000. Now I think just from that one path, and I said that to the audience and there was an audible people gasp I mean, it was like I just said,

Ed St. Onge:

Let's talk about something even more interesting than that. Not only did you get their email they'll address, you know what dates they're interested in? Yeah, exactly what I was looking at. I was looking at your dashboard this morning, you have so we create a new concept for our partners, which is this idea of an active conversation. And so an active conversation is anyone who's been to your website has told you when they're interested in traveling and who they are, but they have not completed a reservation yet. And their dates haven't passed. Alex currently has 25,000 active conversations interested in the summer? Wow, you will have an audience of 25,000 people who have been to your site, have told you who they are and have told you they're interested in the summer and haven't booked yet. Gosh, that's

Annie Holcombe:

good. Alex. Yeah, no.

Ed St. Onge:

People 3000 People already interested in next fall. And you have 1500 people already interested in dates beyond December of this year.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, it's incredible. And I think that's, it goes back to what the original thing that was that we were trying to solve is that we have so much inventory and gas book at our company, as well as other vacational companies for such a wide range of reasons of why they're coming. And whether it's a winter rental, or an updo, last minute stay or the traditional family vacation. It's not just the regular one night in one night out hotel type of booking, that this speaks to that no matter what journey that they're in, that we're not having to go out and create different content to match. But that could be this is doing it anyways. I mean, it pulls in dynamically pictures that match the time of year that they have looked at. I mean, it's just it's like you said it, it's it's not what if you buy it at the same time? It stops

Ed St. Onge:

following up with you? Because Oh, yeah, for

Alex Husner:

sure. Yeah, your

Annie Holcombe:

level, they have that level of granularity in the guest that comes to your website. Because I think up to that point, you were dependent upon asking the call center, where were people calling from did you write, I remember running call centers, and they would keep the little tick box, like, who was how many calls they had for certain timeframes, like the day is like all those kinds of things. And yeah, I mean, it's just that oh, my gosh, this is such great stuff. And I don't need to have you at all the vrma events.

Alex Husner:

I know. I'll give you a couple of other interesting or Ben again, he's coming to bother now, because business will be lining up.

Annie Holcombe:

Danny roadshow,

Ed St. Onge:

yeah, but a couple of interesting things we've learned. And it doesn't matter if your vacation rental hotel doesn't matter if you're a long planned market or a short plan market. What percentage of the industry's web traffic at any given time, do you think is interested in dates more than 90 days in the future? So if I went and pulled Alex's website right now, you would get a pretty good percentage because it's vacation rental in there. Yeah, big homes and stuff like that. But what if I said 100 room hotel in Daytona Beach, whose primary market of business is Orlando? If I pulled up their analytics right now, what percentage of their audience like is looking at dates today? That are more than 90 days away from today? Just if you had to guess and 1%? Alex

Alex Husner:

10%.

Ed St. Onge:

Okay. 45%. Wow, we're way off. Oh, we were guessing we were guessing 15 When we were? Yep. So so this is the interesting thing we've learned. So first of all, email newsletters sign up on your site without getting any understanding of what the person is interested in is problematic. And we only know this now. Because what we've realized is the shopping window, even for markets that have two day booking windows, the shopping window is substantially longer than we've answered. And I can already tell you that the majority of marketers have their cadence of delivery of content and targeting and all of that. It's way too late. Right? The actual arc of interest for dates is way earlier than we all thought. And this is even in a market in markets that have you know, two day booking windows, you know, three day booking windows. You're it's people are shopping, but they've learned they don't have to book early because you're not going to sell out for those dates like they've been on them for months, but they've been on your site for months, and you haven't gotten a chance to have a conversation with them. So this journey beyond being you know, super exciting for marketers because of what it does to your, your, I mean, think about how easy your CRM is to set up now. I'm going to feed you so Alex is huge, but let's talk about the average 150 unit operator. Yeah, capturing between four and 6000 people a month for that size of operation. And with each of them, we are telling you, here's the day and time they were on your website, here's the start date they're interested in, here's the end date they're interested in, here's their name, here's their email address, whether or not they've booked, and we're handing this all over to your CRM. So you could just from a very rough standpoint, build monthly audiences, and just drop this person into December, because they're interested in December, let's talk to them about December. And instantly, you are having a better conversation with that person than you would have ever had, if they mistakenly and I don't mean to make this sound mean. But if they had mistakenly just given you their email address for your newsletter, they would go through seven months of hearing you talk about what you need next weekend, next week, right after that.

Alex Husner:

And they and they're like, I'm not coming now you might have to

Ed St. Onge:

seven gallons of having the wrong conversation with you before talking to them. Yeah, about the thing they're interested in. And so when we looked at this journey, we looked at it as like, so let's pull all this aside, let's just talk about this. Our approach to targeting people has evolved massively. In the last 20 years, our approach to communication platforms has evolved massively over the last 20 years. Yet, we have been using this same exact marketing funnel that existed in the 1990s. Yeah, to this very sophisticated effort. So we looked at that and said, Well, how do we make all this like work better? You have to go back and circle back on old things and go, does this still make sense? Or our email marketing is our biggest moneymaker? Well, how do we feed that machine? With better better? Yeah, better information, so it can have better conversations? Sometimes that goes, Oh, then we need to rethink how we start with this person. Right? Like, let's start it at the beginning. And let's, let's rethink it from there. And so that's what we did with this. Alex was an amazingly brave person, because every one sensor is that we've gotten to look at Yes,

Alex Husner:

the destination guinea pig.

Annie Holcombe:

But Alex likes to be Alex likes to work outside her comfort zone. So she Yeah,

Ed St. Onge:

she wasn't afraid to ask the hard questions. I mean, we had multiple multi hour conversation. Yeah, went into deep like, analysis of data, large swaths of data. And, you know, not everyone is willing to put in that time to understand something completely new. But I will say every one we have deployed since you, we still take them through a B test all these years later, because I want to know, and by the way, I mean, it's also really fun to go to a hotel or vacation rental operator and say, Okay, so for the last two months, we've put 50% of your traffic through your old booking journey. It was a, you know, 90,000 people turned into this many transactions, this many dollars, you're making this much a month off of that. We put the same amount through discovery, but it got you more transactions. And by the way, you're making $100,000 or more per month, I have I've many that the discovery journey at 50% was outperforming the control journey by over $100,000 a month

Alex Husner:

in revenue. And I don't doubt it, I don't doubt it.

Ed St. Onge:

And, and it's funny because they're like,

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, didn't I do this sooner,

Alex Husner:

right. And the other side of the other side of what you're doing, like for you to touch on this briefly too, is with the destinations. And that's really how we first started working with you. But you've taken the destination DMO model CVB model and taken it to other areas that has just it's like I said, it's been so exciting to watch flip to over the years because you guys have just blown up on this. And I think that's why I'm so passionate about it. Because I've been there since the beginning to see someone has come to fruition but tell us a little bit about what you do on the destination side with so

Ed St. Onge:

so it's funny destination started seeing us because one of the parts of the advocacy platform one of the byproducts is is most of the stories your guests tell, actually do a really good job at selling the destination and at selling your neighborhood, which is usually pretty not present, especially on the hotel side hotels, like for some reason don't want to tell anyone about the city they're in. And so destinations started kind of having conversations with us and the CMO of the Myrtle Beach chamber at the time. had asked me like hey, could I use this? Yeah, like it makes sense. You have travelers travelers tell stories their friends and family want to travel and you want to drive Travelers, JIRA hotels. Yeah, it lines up. But then we were like, What? What are your problems? And I still remember when he told it to me, because I come from, you know, I've always served lodging lodging has been my focus. I know logic inside now. And when he was taking me through kind of the arc of the challenges of a DMO, again, it's a super obvious thing that this is a challenge. But it never occurred to me that it was a thing. And so their biggest challenges is they have a large budget, a small team, and they have no ability to track how their efforts actually turned to dollars. So their KPIs stop at the traffic I pushed into the bar, right? Could you imagine? I mean, we've all been in

Alex Husner:

to know that you're just sending all this traffic, but we hope it's booking. You have no cleavable

Ed St. Onge:

When When we heard that we were like,

Alex Husner:

holy smokes. Yeah, another opportunity.

Ed St. Onge:

No, actually, it was how do you do it? Like, I

Alex Husner:

mean, yeah, how do you just spending

Ed St. Onge:

a ton of money with Google, I couldn't imagine deploying paid advertising without actually measuring it to like what drove dollars, right, like having to stop at a traffic KPI. If you stop at traffic KPI, all of a sudden, 50% of your ads look exactly the same, because they all drive the same amount of traffic per dollar spent. But they all differ greatly, and what actually drives revenue. So we came up with this concept of a collaborative where a destination like Myrtle Beach could partner with their lodging providers. And through that their lodging providers use flipped to for their own purposes, right, like so everything Alex benefits, you know, with on her use of flipped to is hers, like she owns her, her database, she owns all of her data, all her secret sauce is protected. But the one thing we do share with the Chamber is when they send someone to Alex, and that turns to dollars, we record that and we go back to them analytic style saying, hey, this person just booked it, Alex's business. And they came off of this ad. So now their chamber can actually look just like any normal marketer who owns the whole thing, right? Am I frozen? Me? Who's frozen? Nobody's heard, I think Alex's froze, okay. So we give them turnstile analytics without sharing any problematic data, right? No PII, no secret sauce, but we give them the data that actually helps them understand what dollars are the most effective dollars driving revenue. And, and we can do that, because we're integrated across Alex's website, her booking engine, so we can track and we actually had to build some really sophisticated technology to, you know, handle cross domain tracking. But actually, the hardest thing to build was all the data compliance architecture, of making sure that the wrong data never get shared was like the biggest challenge in this because this is now a trust based collaboration. And the effects of it had been massive. You know, if you look at how they've been able to tune their marketing and how they've been able to be like regular market or like experimental, like, let's try something because we'll know pretty quickly if it worked or not. And it's made them way more nimble, way more focused on how they deploy any of their spend that is intended to drive revenue, how they deploy that. But the other important thing we did was, we didn't just say, Oh, it's data for the destination, we wanted to make sure every partner of theirs knew the value that they got from the destination, because there's an inherent flaw in the relationship between destination and lodging, that is actually the lodging sides. Problem, like they're the ones who cause it. So most lodging companies set their analytics to last click attribution. Which makes sense, right, like because you're, you're running a shopping cart, your shopping cart is only focused on engaging. Who's here To book now, right? But the problem with that is, is destinations job is to get people dreaming, and they get those dreamers down, right. So what ends up happening more often than not, is the destination sending you someone who's still pretty far away from transaction. So they're going to come down, they're going to check you out. They're going to leave they're not going to book right then and there. So the next time they come back, they're not going to come back through the destinations website, right? Because chances are they got to the destinations website through a paid ad or something like that. Instead, they're gonna come directly to you and book and then they get credited to organic or paid search of your own paid search and things like that. So we wanted to build into the tracking a concept of helping out Let's understand What did the business What business did you actually get from the destination? Using various types of attribution models? Right? So there's no one size fits. All right? So you have direct click five day window, direct click 15 day window, direct click 30 day window. And then you have they were on the chamber site didn't direct click to you, but booked with you five days later that that would be an influence, right influenced revenue. And so now she has like a really granular understanding of the exact dollars in her business that were driven by the destination. And that helps guide her on how to she invest with the destination? She actually has a quality understanding. Like, I already know, there are a couple of programs in there that you made a ton of money off of that I guarantee you, you're probably the first one in line, like when it's time for like, Oh, yeah. Yeah, because yeah, it's like,

Alex Husner:

when you know, something works, why wouldn't you? I had had no brainer.

Annie Holcombe:

I wish I had that when I was at property management level. But also I said on the Marketing Committee for the Panama City Beach, CVB. And that was always like a conversation. It was like, How much am I going to get off of this, but there was just never any analytics to be able to back anything. I was like, well, you're gonna get a lot of traffic. But you know, we don't Yeah.

Ed St. Onge:

So. And you end up with three types of community member, then you have the believer who's just they're in it for the community, right. And so they're investing at the top level, just because they believe that that is the right thing to do. But actually, that's not a big audience of people, like in any destination, that's like three or four businesses or maybe five, then you have like a big middle, which is I take part, and I invest at an interesting level. But quite honestly, I don't know if I'm investing the right amount. And in their head, it's I'm either I know, I'm either investing too much or too little. And I know I get something from it, but I don't know what that is. And then you have the whole though the noisemaker. The they do nothing for me. They say they send all this traffic, right. And and that exists because there is no clear answer. Yeah, right. So we wanted, we actually called the project clarity, we wanted to bring clarity, to the value. And again, I like to give credit where credit's due. The DMO had to be comfortable with what that meant to them that

Alex Husner:

you want that clarity, because we're, yeah, we're not

Ed St. Onge:

going to manipulate the news, we're never going to paint a picture. That's anything except for a completely neutral telling of you know what happened, which means if you're not doing things, you're going to have to change because the market is going to be aware of that. And so but what that creates is real collaboration. In order for real collaboration to happen, each individual has to have their needs met first. What's in it for me has to be answered in order for long term, meaningful collaboration to happen. And so we built this concept of a collaborative and Myrtle Beach was the prime example of what that can do. And it's super exciting. And we're not done there. There's even more concepts coming of, okay, now you have a community working together. How do you now use that to get the community shoveling less money to Silicon Valley? How do you get them to work together to get more travelers throughout the whole community? That's really the next phase of that. Yeah. And

Alex Husner:

that allows the demos to do what demos are supposed to do, which is to drive interest in the destination, not just drive incremental traffic, once people have already decided they're looking for Myrtle Beach or Panama City Beach. And that's, you know, that's been a big game changer for us. And it's been a big shift in the mentality. But those of us who are committed to it, we've seen the effects of it. So if you are a chamber or CVB, or DMO or any sort of a marketing type of an organization, I would also recommend reaching out to flip to except to see that side of it but and obviously if you're a vacation rental resort or a hotel, they have my highest recommendation. And if we probably need to wrap up because this is part two of our episode. easily keep going and part three,

Annie Holcombe:

but we should need to suggest this as a session.

Alex Husner:

Just being all day Alex, Mani and Edie. And yeah, yeah, but if anybody didn't hear episode or Part One, please go back and listen to part one with Edie. We did a deep dive into the history of channel management and invented the very first ever channel manager in the world. So his understanding of how things were and where they've gotten now is just second to none. But in the meantime, Ed, if anybody wants to reach out to you, and if they want to find out more about flip to how should they contact you?

Ed St. Onge:

So you can find me on any social media platform Edward St. Onge you can learn more about flutter by going to flip dot t o and you'll find my information on that site as well. We will be attending there are some upcoming events we will be up in Myrtle Beach. So if you happen to be in South Carolina we will be up to in Myrtle Beach for National Tourism week. So that's Cinco Demayo. I will be in Myrtle. But then in June, we will be both at the tourism summit international powwow here in Orlando. And then we will also be at High Tech HSM AI rock and Marketing Conference, which is at the end of June, also in Orlando.

Alex Husner:

Awesome. Well, you might have to go check that out then. And if anybody has questions or wants to reach out to me directly for more information from how we've used the platform, happy to answer any questions. In the meantime, if you're enjoying the show, please let us know we'd love to hear from you on Apple podcasts or on our website or anywhere that you listen to podcasts. And beyond that you can contact us on our website, Alex and Danny podcast.com Is there anything else? We missed anything else? Todd? Is he still there? I see him one more time put him to sleep. Because she's so good Todd,

Ed St. Onge:

thank you so much, guys. I know this was a huge time commitment for you. I've read it was

Alex Husner:

it was awesome. Yeah, we loved it. Absolutely.

Annie Holcombe:

I think we just have to convince you now to come to one of our VR shows because I really love it. Yeah. Oh, he's gonna tell you that you have right now I can think of 50 customers that I work with the console user information. They're wanting to drive direct fuzzing.

Alex Husner:

So yeah, yeah. Well, thank you for being here and everybody. We will talk to you next time.

Ed St. Onge Profile Photo

Ed St. Onge

President-Flip.to

Edward St.Onge is most known for being the Co founder and public face of EZ Yield.com Inc. the Hotel Industry’s first fully scaled global Channel Management Solution. Starting in 2002 at the age of 22 years old, with only $1,000 in funding, Edward and his business partner grew EZ Yield to a global leader in Connectivity solutions for over 5,000 hotels in 96 countries. Edward successfully positioned EZ Yield to sell to Travelclick in November 2011.
In 2012 Edward completed an investment to become a partner in Flip.to. As President of Flip.to, Edward overseas all Enterprise relationships across DMO, Lodging, and technology partnerships.
Edward has held many advisory roles inside and outside the industry including board positions for Socialtables (Event and Convention planning) and Recromax (Construction)