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Gas Cards: Smart Marketing Tactic or Promo Overload?

Seemingly every hotel is giving away free gas cards this summer. But do travelers really care?

Monday, July 28, 2008
Caryn Eve Murray
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Some hotel owners and innkeepers who’ve been trying to fill their rooms by offering to fill the tanks of qualifying guests’ cars are discovering that this fuel-friendly promotion is a lot like guests’ own automobiles: The kind of mileage any one person gets is going to vary.

Marriott reports an enthusiastic response at the more than 50 Marriott properties in the greater Washington, D.C. area who are participating in the “Cars Eat Free” package, launched in June. Mark Indre, director of Marriott public relations, said the package is particularly popular among weekenders within driving distance – typically, from Philadelphia through Richmond, VA.

But a similar promotion by Best Western was left stalled in Bozeman, MT. Kim Cellini, guest services manager at the Grantree Inn, said that by late July, there had been no takers since the June 15 kickoff of the Best Western promotion, despite an 82 percent occupancy at the motel, which serves nearby Gallatin Field Airport.

Gas-card offerings, of course, are not unique these days. With unleaded regular topping $4 a gallon throughout much of the country – and approaching $5 a gallon in some areas this summer - gas is being used to pump up business by a variety of retailers, from specialty clothing retailers to automobile dealers.

In the hospitality industry, however, it seems an especially natural fit because a full tank is what turns motorists into overnight guests.

“We figure, with guests, if you are going to take that much gas to get here don’t just stay here one night, make this your destination,” said Richard Svendsen, owner/innkeeper of the Starlight Pines Bed & Breakfast in Flagstaff, AZ, a replica 1912 Victorian house with four guest bedrooms.

Svendsen launched a $50 gas promotion in June, hoping it would prove particularly attractive to the strong vacation crowd that makes the two-hour trip from Phoenix to the mountains of Flagstaff, only an hour and 15 minutes from the Grand Canyon.

But he reported in late July that no one had yet taken advantage of the required four-night mid-week booking, which he has since reduced to a three-night minimum, hoping for better results. It’s possible, he said, many people are simply not taking as extended a vacation this year. “People may not want to be gone that long,” he said.

Best Western’s program has voluntary participation among its more than 2,000 independently owned and operated sites, and guests can redeem gas cards for $25 and $50 at Shell, Exxon/Mobil and Petro-Canada, depending upon location. The gas cards are simply one of many redemption options through Best Western’s loyalty program, which also offers credits toward rental cars, airline miles and retail gift cards.

Contrary to what Grantree Inn reports, the cards are growing in popularity this year, said Marie Yarroll, senior manager of Best Western public relations.

“We have seen a huge spike in gas card redemption this summer,” she said. “We have seen a real uptick in redemption for gas cards as opposed to last summer. They are more popular.”

Grantree Inn, however, was still hoping for some of that momentum in late July, particularly since there is a ConocoPhillips convenience store and filling station also operated by the 120-room motel.

“People can charge their gas to their room,” making it simple to apply the discount, said Cellini. “And it’s a great deal,” she said. Guests who stay three nights get $30 worth of free gas; a six-night stay merits a $50 fillup.

Cellini wondered whether people simply perceive, incorrectly, the whole gas-card redemption process as “too much of a hassle.”

As such, many smaller inns necessarily look to keep that process simple. At the Wallingford Victorian in Wallingford, Conn., innkeepers Becky and Dave Barrett ask only to see the guests’ gasoline receipt bearing the arrival date for their two-night stay.

“We will credit your room charges for the amount of your gas purchase up to $25,” she said. “Then, once you are here, you can park your car and walk everywhere.”

The bed and breakfast, 90 miles from Manhattan and 10 miles north of New Haven, has done this promotion before, and got a handful of takers – but this summer, participation has practically doubled, said Becky Barrett.

“The most important thing to us,” she said, “is that people feel they can go away, enjoy themselves and don’t have to be so upset about the price of gas. It helps to alleviate some of the tension and aggravation about the price of gas.”

With the catchy name, “Cars Eat Free,” and a two-night minimum on Thursdays through Sundays, Marriott believes the $25 Chevron gas card promotion has captured its target motorist market for Washington, D.C., at area Spring Hill Suites, Residence Inns, Courtyards and other properties. A similar Marriott package in Boston, “Relax, Reconnect and Refuel,” offers a $20 gas card.
In Washington, Indre said the promotion ends September 1, but “we are thinking of extending it through the year.”

Even by mid-summer, participation had done anything but hit a plateau. “And the more gas increases in price,” he said, “I think people will be even more interested in a gas card.”

In Connecticut, however, the Barretts have taken things one step further, launching an “eco-green special” that gives a 10 percent discount on rooms of guests who bypass their auto altogether and arrive by train. The Amtrak station, Becky Barrett notes, is five blocks away, an easy walking distance. Thus, guests only need to fill their suitcases – not their gas tanks.
Credit
Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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RE: Gas Cards: Smart Marketing Tactic or Promo Overload? article link
There are many tactics besides Gas Cards to get people’s attention to a particular hotel this summer. One example could be setting up a restaurant or show discounted when booking a 2 or 3 night stay. It’s best to work with a PR firm, specializing in Travel & Hospitality, that will give you the media attention you need to get people to vacation in your city and stay at your hotel. A friend of mine mentioned 5W Public Relations who have worked with New York’s Buckingham Hotel, giving them instant buzz with great results.
7/30/2008

RE: Gas Cards: Smart Marketing Tactic or Promo Overload? article link
We have been using the Gas card promo for about 6 months and have only issued 1 so far, however we have issued 9 "Extra Bag" costs to Brits that stay for more than 2 weeks for the extra costs in travel bags. The longer term stays receive a larger allotment for extra bags
Posted by: Mr. Dennis DiTinno - CAM
Email: Liberteceo@tampabay.rr.com
7/29/2008

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