CELEBRATED EXPERIENCES, a hotel representation and destination management company specializing in travel to the U.K. and Ireland, recently launched a web site. That development in and of itself isn't all that earth-shattering; there may be more web sites created than babies born in a given day. What's intriguing about this story is that this is the very first web site for the 20-year-old company. That's right—up until last month, Atlanta-based Celebrated Experiences' primary, and most successful, advertising medium was word of mouth. The site highlights the company's three newly formed divisions: hotels, vacation packages, drivers/guides
"My parents [father Preston, who founded the company, and mother Leni] are truly two of the most special people in the industry," boasts Jonathan Epstein, president of Celebrated Experiences, which just changed its name from Celebrated Hotels Collection. "My dad has created a model where each interaction isn't just a transaction. They talk to general mangers of hotels and travel agents like they are family. There's nothing strategic about it; it's just how my parents are."
Until recently, Epstein, who is leading the online charge, didn't care about web jargon like "search engine optimization," "mapping features" or "podcasting." He had no time to, since he was on the road so much, promoting the company the old-fashioned way. But after many phone calls from agents asking why Celebrated Experiences didn't have a web site, Epstein decided to step up.
The new site is comparable to many other travel industry sites that likely took years to get there, with its photo slides and hotel mapping features using Google Maps.
With the launch of the web site came the formal creation of three divisions, which in reality the company had been running for a while: Celebrated Hotels, a collection of 150-plus properties in Britain and Ireland; Celebrated Journeys, specializing in unique experiences for families, golfers, honeymooners and groups; and Celebrated Chauffeurs & Guides, a selection of preferred drivers and guides for hire. The site also offers the aforementioned interactive maps, including satellite imagery, hotel room photos and itinerary ideas.
Celebrated features a "Special Offers & News" section, which Epstein says will really take off this month, with the launch of dollar rates at a number of member hotels. "About half of our London hotels will have an exclusive dollar rate that includes breakfast or VAT, and we'll be up to seven participating hotels in Ireland by January," he shares.
In the online game plan for 2008 are blogging and podcasts. "The blog will be an amazing thing," Epstein says. "When we're on our site visits, we'll do daily updates there."
As for the podcasts, he says, "not a ton of agents are using [the technology], but there are some. We'll have talks with Cotswold guides, maybe a hotel owner in Ireland or a whiskey proprietor in Scotland—it's going to be really fun."
In about a year, Epstein hopes agents will be able to view booked itineraries online. But he assures, "The one thing we are not going to become is an online booking site. That's not what we are—we truly try to personalize the experience.
"That's really why we launched the web site," Epstein continues. "Even though an agent may call us monthly, they may not know all the services we offer, and that's really what we wanted to get across."