Top 5 Richest Hotel Moguls and How They Got There

In the bustling global economy, there are many different paths to the top. If your goal is to make more money annually than some entire countries, an MBA is certainly not the only way to do it. In fact, a hospitality management degree may be just the thing. The hotel and lodging industry is lucrative enough to have created some of the heaviest financial hitters the world has ever seen.

Here are five of the richest hotel owners:

1. Sheldon Adelson

With a net worth of $21.8 billion, Sheldon Adelson is the 12th wealthiest American and the 24th richest man on Earth. Adelson’s wealth originally came from his development of COMDEX, a computer exposition held from 1979 to 2003. COMDEX was the premier computer trade show in the ’80s and ’90s and one of the largest trade shows in the world. Adelson used his earnings to buy Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel and Casino in 1988. He and his partners purchased the former Rat Pack haunt to stimulate the exhibition industry in the city, and they built the Sands Expo and Convention Center in 1989. An expansion project for the center was announced in 2008, and it includes a second expo building with two million square feet of space.

Adelson’s honeymoon to Venice in 1991 inspired him to raze the Sands Hotel and replace it with the Venetian, a mega-resort with more than 4,000 suites, 18 restaurants, and canals complete with gondolas. The Sands Corporation now operates Vegas-style resorts and casinos in Asian countries like China and Singapore and is currently planning a EuroVegas project in Spain.

2. Donald Trump

Donald Trump got his start in the real estate industry by working for his father at Elizabeth Trump and Son, a middle-class rental company in New York City. While still in his 20s, Trump used a $500,000 investment to add over a million dollars in value to a foreclosed apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio. He quickly moved on to larger building projects and was applauded for his use of attractively designed architecture. The Trumpster later set his sights on the hotel industry, and he reopened New York’s Commodore Hotel as the Grand Hyatt New York in 1980. He continued to build hotels in America and internationally, and some of his most successful projects bear his name. Trump World Tower, a 72-story residential skyscraper located across from the United Nations Headquarters, was completed in 2001. Trump is currently worth more than $3 billion and is developing multiple hotel projects worldwide.

3. William Barron Hilton

He may be cursed with an embarrassing granddaughter, but William Barron Hilton also has $2.5 billion to his name. Hilton was born in Dallas, Texas, to Conrad Nicholson Hilton, the owner of the international hotel chain Hilton Hotels. He began his career as a humble elevator operator at the El Paso Hilton and became the president of the company less than 15 years later. Not content to rest on the work of his forebears, Hilton made his family’s company the third largest lodging business in the world by the late 1990s. Much of this success was due to Barron Hilton’s addition of gambling to the chain with the Las Vegas Hilton. He also helped organize a $26 billion merger with a financial services company called the Blackstone Group in 2007. Hilton Hotels & Resorts is currently worth a staggering $8.7 billion.

4. Phillip Ruffin

A Kansas native and college dropout, Phillip Ruffin started his career in the convenience store industry. His pioneering implementation of self-serve gasoline in the state allowed him to open a chain of 60 stores. In 1987, Ruffin used the earnings from these convenience stores to purchase a Marriott hotel in Wichita. In the mid-1990s, he leased his convenience stores and bought more hotels as well as the Crystal Palace casino resort in the Bahamas. Ruffin’s hotel division now operates 13 hotels, and his net worth has grown to $2.5 billion. Being one of the wealthiest hotel moguls in the world certainly has its perks, and Ruffin married a 26-year-old Miss Ukraine winner in 2008.

5. Ty Warner

Ty Warner may be best known for generating the countless Beanie Babies currently piled up in basements and attics across the world, but much of his current wealth comes from the real estate industry. When the Beanie Baby craze reached full force in the 1990s, Ty Inc. was making $700 million a year in profits. Warner used his substantial earnings to invest in hotels, purchasing the Four Seasons Hotel in New York for $275 million. The hotel’s Ty Warner Penthouse Suite costs an incredible $41,836 each night, making it one of the most expensive hotel rooms in the world. He now owns hotels and resorts in California, Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida. His wealth is estimated at a cool $2.4 million.

This post was contributed by Scott Kaufman. Scott works in education where we writes frequently about hospitality. His work has been featured on Concordia University Online and several other major universities.

Ways Travel & Tourism Can Use Social Media

Just what can a travel brand do with social media?

Here are a few thoughts to spark inspiration and evoke conversation. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

Manage your brand and image

  1. Listen for mentions of your brand.
  2. Crisis communication.
  3. Uncover and get to know the influencers of your brand.
  4. Listen when no one is talking.

Gather industry intel

  1. Listen to how ‘the other guys’ are doing it.
  2. Pay close attention to the language of your target audience.
  3. Use social media as a means to research the market.

Build a community

  1. Foster interactive safe spaces where fans and friends can comment and engage.
  2. Tell your story through a corporate blog.
  3. Find personal connections and engage.
  4. Identify with your customers.
  5. Take advantage of user-generated content such as pictures, videos, and guest posts.

Create a Peer to Peer environment

  1. Initiate social recommendations versus simply giving them.
  2. Provide space for a forum or facilitate a tweet chat.
  3. Don’t ignore the customer review.
  4. Encourage and lead in crowd sourcing.

Be fun and rewarding

  1. Create Facebook apps such as location-based maps, quizzes, and games.
  2. Loyalty reward programs just for ‘liking’ your page will be seen and shared by friends of your fans.
  3. A Social Media VIP program is a great way to reward your biggest fans.
  4. Competitions with prizes like airfare or a sunny getaway will get lots of traction and shares when done well.
  5. Check-ins on apps such as Foursquare and Yelp are fun and useful.

Stand out and be noticed

  1. Instagram pictures shared by your guests and staff alike give you a personal and visual touch.
  2. Create compelling YouTube videos.
  3. Organize pin boards on Pinterest of experiences you offer.
  4. Use SEO to ensure you get the most and best traffic to your site.

Provide exceptional customer service via social media

  1. Respond to customer service issues as they come up.
  2. Recognize and respond to inquiries using the platform your customers prefer.
  3. Uncover your brand evangelists.

Make money

  1. Utilize a listening platform for sales & lead generation.
  2. Use Twitter to post last-minute deals and sell off otherwise vacant spots on trips or rooms in your hotel.
  3. Use Twitter and Facebook to push special promotions that you can easily track and manage.
  4. Implement a paid campaign or take out an ad on Facebook.
  5. Use keyword searching/targeted listening to find would be travelers who are looking for the very service you offer and strike up a conversation.

Often we tend to complicate strategy and overthink the must-dos.

It’s helpful to take a step back, and simplify our plan of attack.

This post was contributed by Jenn Seeley. Jenn is a Community Engagement Specialist at Radian6 specializing in the world of travel. What that really means, is she monitors the happenings in travel and tourism where social media is concerned, watching for industry trends, and creating helpful content to share with an awesome community of professionals. You can read more of her content here and connect with her on Twitter.


Social Media Tourism Symposium Turns to Fans to Choose Venue

The Third Annual Social Media Tourism Symposium is coming up this November and they’ve taken a unique approach to choosing its location.

After selecting their “sweet 16″ top destinations, they held a March Madness-style voting initiative on their Facebook page.

Each destination was numbered 1-16 and pegged against each other to be voted on in pairs beginning March 26.

Social Media Tourism Symposium

After two weeks, the SoMeT team shared some #SoMeT12/#SoMeT contest stats on their Facebook page:

- 2,934 tweets generated with the hash tags since the competition started
- 52,452 votes cast in the 12 total contests
- highest number of votes was 15,884, where El Paso, TX defeated Buffalo-Niagara, NY – 8,175 to 7,709.
- Facebook fanpage added 7,254 ‘likes’ in the two weeks

Pretty impressive! This was definitely a great move in spreading the word about the event, creating a lot of excitement around it and drawing in fans, uniting users in various cities and making peoples’ opinion matter.

Why Any Business Can Succeed on Pinterest

Pinterest is emerging as a platform to watch as more and more coverage pertaining Pinterest for Business circulates the web.

My first thought upon learning about businesses trying Pinterest was that it’s a perfect platform for travel marketing since there are so many components people consider when planning a vacation.

A few brands have begun testing the waters and seem to be doing well, setting excellent examples for other organizations that may be curious.

One stand-out is Visit Savannah, Savannah’s destination marketing organization (DMO) that is responsible for marketing the Savannah area for leisure tourism, meetings and conventions. They began using Pinterest in November as an experiment, and, in just two months, have attracted more than 11,500 followers.

The DMO has a variety of boards, including staples like hotels, dining, beautiful architecture and shopping, along with other themes like “haunted Savannah,” “let your hair down” (featuring  nightlife spots and libations), “Southernisms” plus one dedicated to St. Patrick’s Day, a major happening that includes an annual parade and various other major local festivities.

Visit Savannah Pinterest

By including this variety of visual content, Visit Savannah is allowing people to literally visualize various elements of the city and what may be of their vacation. The appearance of pinboards is bright and cheery, and resonates positive vibes simply by glancing at them, which is something from which any business can benefit.

While you may be thinking that an organization like this, one wide in scope with many angles to address, has an easier job creating and populating boards than a smaller organization or business might, please reconsider. This is an opportunity to get creative. A “bigger” entity may have lot of “smaller” topics to cover (like Savannah does), but, it can easily go the other way, too — i.e. “smaller” players can just as easily create boards for “bigger” aspects…

For example, Pacific Fins Resort & Marina (a single resort) in Guatemala is a much smaller entity than an entire destination such as Savannah. Nevertheless, they’ve begun creating pinboards for the larger topics (Guatemala, fishing, etc.) related to what they provide; things that would also be relevant to someone considering visiting their resort.

The same can be applied to other hotels, restaurants, spas, entertainment venues and more. There are many associations to any business, big or small, that can be leveraged to appeal to your (new and/or expanding) Pinterest audience. Think about who you are trying to attract and what kinds of topics are related to you that they may enjoy, then brainstorm and compose your boards from those ideas.

What topics will you have on your pinboards?

Foursquare Lists Perfect for Destinations

Foursquare, the location-based social networking site with over 10 million users, recently unveiled a list of features allowing users to create lists of certain genres. For example, you could create a list of venues you hope to visit on your upcoming vacation, or restaurants with the best views.

Lists are easy to create via just logging into Foursquare and organizing places you already frequent. Plus, it’s easy to share lists with friends, encouraging interactions and conversations surrounding the featured locations.

Colleges have been jumping on-board, creating lists for welcome week activities, school traditions or tour locations.

This is extremely useful for destination marketing in that it allows tourism organizations to create customized lists for visitors. This could simplify the planning process for those coordinating vacation plans, plus it’s virtually free advertising for the featured venues.

Categories could include lists for family-friendly vacations, girlfriend getaways, romantic retreats and other such niche vacations.

There could also be lists of specific entities, such as hotels, restaurants, shopping, attractions, etc., which could appeal to the local audience as well.

The gamification aspects of Foursquare could also come into play — guests could earn certain destination badges for checking a certain number of places on a city’s list.

This is a great opportunity for CVBs to connect with travelers on a new, innovative level.

Would you use a Foursquare list when visiting a new location?


Simply relaying, “Debsville is at McDonald’s” probably doesn’t matter to Joe Schmo following your account.

Providing Local LOVE Through Facebook

Virginia is for LoversThe Virginia Tourism Corporation is out to prove that love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation.

In July, they unveiled oversized LOVE artwork at several Welcome Centers across the state. Then, the local tourism offices jumped into the fun with the Virginia Tourism “Bring LOVE to Your Town” event.

Earlier this month, 21 localities vied for the chance to have LOVE on display in September. Each one nominated a local park or destination to display the LOVE, in hopes of turning the area into a viral tourism sensation through social media.

The contendors included:

  • Abingdon – Barter Theatre Green
  • Alleghany Highlands – Humpback Bridge
  • Bedford – Bedford Area Welcome Center
  • Chesapeake – Great Bridge Lock Park
  • Fauquier County – Barrel Oak Winery
  • Franklin – EVB Bank
  • Fredericksburg – Riverfront Park
  • Gloucester – Gloucester County Visitor Center
  • Kilmarnock – Kilmarnock Town Centre
  • Lexington – First Catch Market
  • Lynchburg – Blackwater Creek Trail
  • Mathews County – Mathews Court Green
  • Newport News – Visitor Center
  • Norfolk – Visitor Information Center
  • Rappahannock County -Visitors Center
  • Roanoke – Gateway to Downtown Roanoke
  • Smithfield – Windsor Castle Park
  • South Hill – in front of the train depot
  • Virginia Beach – Visitor Information Center
  • Warm Springs – in front of the Jefferson Pools and Visitor Gazebo
  • Waynesboro – Constitution Park

The winning location, Abingdon, was chosen by hundreds of excited Facebook fans last week.

The state tourism office will install the artwork in the city on August 31 and it will be on display through September. The LOVE artwork is approximately 16 feet wide and eight feet tall.  The artwork is part of the Virginia is for Lovers brand and the state’s tourism marketing campaign which promotes Virginia as an ideal destination for families.  

Visitors will be encouraged to take a family picture in front of the artwork and share it on the Virginia is for Lovers Facebook page or on Twitter, using the special hashtag #LOVEVA.

“Our iconic Virginia is for Lovers brand is about love – pure and simple, and has been for more than 40 years,” said Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation. “The LOVE artwork has great social media buzz and will reach out to more travelers and promote the message that love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation.”

Kudos to Virginia Tourism for taking such a unique branding opportunity and tying in their Facebook fans to participate. This was a great destination marketing campaign in that it was free to implement, re-enforced the state’s specific identity, educated locals and travelers alike of VA’s various cities and corresponding parks, etc., and stimulated a lot of buzz online.

LOVE what you’re doing, Virginia! ;)

“Explore Tourism” Social Media Boot Camp

Explore Tourism™ Social Media Boot Camp 2011 is a new marketing seminar that focuses on social media marketing for the tourism industry in Mexico. This two-day seminar, held in the Riviera Maya October 8-9, is open to travel and tourism businesses that want to learn more about and effectively use social media to increase profits and the number of tourists to the Riviera Maya.

“We are really excited to bring the first Social Media Boot Camp to the Riviera Maya, a seminar that will prove to be an invaluable resource for tourism businesses. It will also gather industry professionals together where they can share ideas to boost the economy and increase individual profits,” said Kay Walten, the keynote speaker and event coordinator. In addition to Kay’s international social media consulting firm, she is also the owner of Locogringo and a well-respected social media marketing voice in the industry.

The seminar is designed to empower and educate more tourism industry professionals on the use of social media marketing techniques for their businesses and inspire marketing professionals to work with others to promote the Riviera Maya as a first-class vacation destination.

Explore Tourism™ Social Media Boot Camp 2011 will build an understanding about social media, define the best social networks for tourism-based businesses, provide free resources for the ongoing successful use of social media strategies and bring tourism-based businesses together to discuss and learn the most effective ways to coordinate promotional strategies for the destination, a much needed strategy after recent challenges faced by the Mexican tourism industry.

Explore Tourism Social Media Summit

Explore Tourism™ Social Media Boot Camp 2011 will be held October 8 and 9, 2011 at the Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa from 9am to 2pm each day with a networking lunch included. Discounted enrollment is $1750mn and available online when attendees sign up prior to September 15, 2011. Group discounts are offered until September 1, 2011.

For more information, please contact Nicola Inwood: (984) 125-5608

Case Study: Tourism Vancouver

When you’re getting ready to travel to a new destination, it’s always a great idea to check out their visitor bureau website for thorough information on the city and its offerings.

A city that’s doing a fantastic job of providing straightforward information is Tourism Vancouver. They have a comprehensive website with specific sub-sites for meeting planners, travel trade members, media, members and visitors.

Additionally, they’re taking full advantage of social media:
Their Twitter account has over 14,000 followers
Their Facebook page has over 16,000 fans
Their Flickr account has almost 5,000 images

They’re also amidst a Twitter promotion to celebrate their 125th anniversary this year.  The “Why Visit Vancouver” contest encourages participants to:
1. Find a happy place to sit and think about Vancouver for a few minutes
2. Grab a pen and paper or log in to Twitter
3. Carefully compose a tweet about why Vancouver is a must-visit city
4. Include the hash-tag #VisitVancouver

They put a lot of thought into this, so much so to identify that after posting the #VisitVancouver hashtag, entrants will only have 125 remaining characters to express their thoughts.

The person selected as the winner will win a hotel stay at Four Seasons Vancouver plus dinner for two at Yew Restaurant and Bar.

To celebrate their birthday further, Tourism Vancouver has also summarized 125 Things to Do in Vancover which includes a diverse array of relaxing options.

Photo by Sebastien Panouille

They also regularly run other contests that keep readers engaged such as their Vancouver Signage Challenge, and their new video blogger will be producing monthly videos for their blog. Additionally, they are working with local photographers to create stunning photo essays.

While many tourism bureaus take a more passive, behind-the-scenes approach to their marketing, Tourism Vancouver is doing an amazing job of being pro-active, engaging their potential visitors and, as Gary Vaynerchek put it, humanizing business.

The Flavor Tourism Experience

In one of the most buzzed about blogger contests to-date, Pei Wei Asian Diner recently sought someone to “Blog Asia” – an individual to travel for 18 days across Pei Wei’s five Asian countries eating everything from street food to five-star cuisine while recording the whole experience. 

Pei Wei Asian Diner, owned by P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, offers cuisine influenced by the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. When you google “Pei Wei,” the first description that comes up under the website’s link is “Pei Wei is a place just outside of your usual routine where you can experience the vibrant flavors of dishes inspired from five Asian cultures.”

Indeed, outside of the usual routine they are.

Pei Wei’s Vice President of Marketing, Terry Haley, has more than ten years of marketing, brand management and business experience and is responsible for the marketing and communications across 168 Pei Wei Asian Diner restaurants in 22 states.

I sat down with Terry to learn about the thought processes that went into the blogger promotion as well as their overall social marketing strategies. I was caught off-guard by how young and mellow he is, but, most noteworthy about him was how honestly and effortlessly he conveyed information, providing hugely valuable insight and sound advice for restaurants (or any businesses) looking to proceed in the social media world.

B L O G   A S I A

A key objective to Pei Wei’s engagement with consumers is what Terry refers to as “flavor tourism” – an affinity for trying and learning about the five cultures of their menu.

The blogger search came about spur-of-the-moment when Chef Eric Justice mentioned he was going to Asia, and they thought it might be fun to find someone with a shared passion for flavor tourism to record the trip. The idea was not initially briefed as part of their social media agenda, but rather as a way to produce content that’s not directly from them. They simply wanted to find those who could relate to an idea that they participate in (flavor tourism), and the whole process organically took off from there.

Narrowing down the entrants was extremely difficult due to the quality of the participants and the passion they all exuded. While only one was chosen to travel to Asia (congrats to Alice!), Pei Wei opted to keep its four other finalists as a part of their first-ever blogger network: a network all about exploring new cultures through food. They won’t just talk about Pei Wei’s dishes, but instead focus on this shared idea of experiencing different flavors. Through these people, the hope is to vastly broaden the passion for flavor tourism.

S O C I A L     M E D I A

In terms of their start in social media, Terry emphasized that structure was hugely important before they took off; he’s not a believer in doing something just to do it. The marketing team spent a lot of time assessing which channels would be most productive for their objectives, and they proceeded very methodically. Once an overall social media plan was in place, they went through and assessed how each outlet – Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. – would be immersed in the process. They started by just looking around and analyzing how competitors were using each channel.

As they got going, they contemplated how to up their game by building specific content for each portal. One of the first promotions they did on Facebook was a “Redeeming Ramen” initiative wherein those that participated got a coupon for ramen (Pei Wei ramen; not imitation top ramen!)

“People in each portal have different wants, needs and uses for information,” Terry noted, “we just felt our way through it.”

He also pointed out that “you can’t monetize learning incites you can derive from people. Social media is a way to share into consumers in a way they want to receive information.” Businesses don’t need depend as much on big, expensive things anymore. The human cost involved in certain programs is high, but it’s worth it. Blog Asia got huge buzz and PR, and the actual monetary cost to run it was relatively low. Pei Wei learned straight from consumers what they wanted the blogger to talk about, and so Pei Wei will be able to better appease their audience as a result.

Education amongst internal staff should also be of high priority. For example, Pei Wei hasn’t tried any Foursquare specials yet, but if/when they do, they’ll make sure that all Pei Wei employees are fully aware of the special and all the technicalities surrounding it.

It’s also important for staff to know how to craft response statements. Unlike traditional PR where you have a schedule and know when something’s going to happen, there’s little time to prepare when someone posts something online. The second they do, it’s live, and you need to address it promptly. Sometimes, if it’s a smaller matter, your community will take care of it for you.

Other times, you need to address it. If you do screw up, Terry says “be honest, straightforward, and say ‘we screwed up’!” Pei Wei did a 10th anniversary offer that got forwarded amongst infinitely many people between email, Twitter and Facebook. The demand ended up exceeding the supply, and the system broke for a day. Many of the marketing staff, including Terry, went on personal accounts talking to customers during all hours of the night explaining the situation and apologizing, then eventually sent a mass letter on behalf of the marketing team addressing the mishap.

Learning from others’ mistakes is hugely important. After witnessing a Facebook controversy surrounding another brand, Terry got on the phone and told his team he wanted a decision matrix in place. They discussed how they’d handle certain customer service issues so that if something happened, they’d be ready. They even had a plan in place for Blog Asia in case people responded adversely.

Terry’s basic advice for restaurants new to social media or not yet involved includes:

  1. Listen! Start small, and learn about what you’re doing before jumping in.
  2. Set expectations throughout your organization about what consumer response will be. You WILL get negative comments, so it’s important to build guest relations and know how to handle situations when they happen.
  3. If you’re going to enter into this arena, participate and engage in it – you’re not “tapping the power” of social media if you’re involved yet being passive.
  4. Don’t just do it to do it! Identify your objective for being there. Rather than an attitude of “we have to”, have one of “this is what we want to accomplish…”