At the InterContinental New York Barclay, deep in the hotel lobby, is a secret door that opens up to an abandoned tunnel that leads directly to Grand Central Terminal. The passageway was once used often by guests in the 1920s and ‘30s, including notable guests like Ernest Hemingway, who was writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
This story is one of the many chronicled by InterContinental Hotels in its new podcast series, which aims to pique the curiosity of travel-minded listeners — and ultimately get them to stay at the InterContinental. “Stories of the InterContinental Life” has three episodes, all of which begin at an InterContinental property and explore the travel emotions of fascination, worldliness and empathy. The brand has commissioned various experts to explore the themes in each episode.
The first episode, which launched last week, features historian Donald Miller, who takes listeners through a tour of the underground tunnel beneath the InterContinental Barclay in New York and tries to explain why such secret passageways are so fascinating. In the second episode, art expert Philip Tinari explains how the evolution of a quiet diplomatic quarter in Beijing connects to China’s evolution. The third episode is based in London and is set to release next week.
“We know podcasts are on the rise and are the most effective medium for driving purchase intent with our target consumer,” said Jason Moskal, vp of lifestyle brands at InterContinental Hotels Group Americas. “We want to speak to their interests, offer experiences that enhance their understanding of the world and ultimately drive them to seek these experiences through their own travels.”
InterContinental joins brands including Prudential, Umpqua Bank, GE and Netflix, all of which have recently invested resources into developing their own audio content. InterContinental’s internal research also showed that its guests are twice as likely to listen to podcasts than the general population.
“We wanted to give our audience a reason to remember and recognize the InterContinental brand,” said Georgina Forster, managing director at Mirum, InterContinental’s digital agency. “This will help us insert the brand into conversations in a culturally relevant way and drive overall brand awareness and consideration.”
Driving consideration is particularly pertinent for InterContinental in today’s competitive environment. The sharing economy is upending traditional business models across the world, and the hospitality industry is no different. Hotel chains are not only struggling to cope with the meteoric rise of Airbnb and other couch-surfing apps but also to differentiate their brands from one another. InterContinental has also recently lost its ranking as the world’s biggest hotel company, with Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels last month.
The podcast is supplemented on its microsite by other content, including short minute-long videos and cartoons. Mirum developed the content, working closely with production company m ss ng p eces and producer Bianca Giaever, a regular contributor to NPR. Ads for the podcasts will also appear on WNYC and Slate, as well as Facebook and Instagram, and the podcast will be available for downloading on iTunes later this month.
The brand hopes that the podcast will eventually inspire travel — and drive bookings — but is also tracking metrics like awareness, consideration and engagement. Depending on how well the first three episodes resonate with consumers, the hotel chain will develop more digital content through 2017, including podcasts, videos and animations. In doing so, it seems to be taking a page out of competitor Marriott’s playbook, which regularly churns out everything from films to digital magazines based on travel.
“All marketing is moving to a content-driven model,” said Moskal. “Storytelling is a natural and compelling way for the InterContinental brand to connect with our consumer in a meaningful way.”