Casey Barks is the Corporate Director of Marketing at Staypineapple Hotels, based out of the company’s corporate HQ office located in Bellevue, WA.
The product of a journalist mother, he is no stranger to storytelling and the power of the written word. Casey’s college years were spent taking communications and marketing courses by day while serving tables in fine dining restaurants by night, all in hopes of one day combining these two passions into a career. 15 years, six cities (San Francisco to Seattle to Austin to Vancouver to Salem to Bellevue) and various in-house and agency roles later, Casey is now the Corporate Director of Marketing at Staypineapple Hotels, where he has the opportunity to share Staypineapple’s fun and playful brand with the world.
Casey’s love of hospitality combined with his deep connection to the communications industry continue to drive his need to find new and exciting ways to share experiences through visual and written storytelling.
Hi, Casey, welcome to the show. So excited to have you here. Tell us about StayPineapple Hotels and where you are located.
We are a boutique hotel brand with 10 properties nationwide. I’m based out of our headquarters office. It’s here in Bellevue, Washington. We have our largest collection of hotels in the Puget Sound region. So four properties in the Seattle market. So good to have headquarters here close by.
I came across your company and fell in love with the vibe, I know that you have a long history in hospitality, but for all those who want to get into hospitality, how did you get started?
It was actually before college. I started busing tables at the age of 14. Only child with a single mother. And she told me if I was gonna go out to the movies and do things with friends, I needed to make some money doing it. So started, started busing tables at a, at a restaurant in my hometown. And then in college, I served in bartended as a means, you know making money and, and getting my education and PR and marketing.
When I was getting close to the end of my college time and I started looking into where I could get into some internships it just kind of became apparent to me that it was actually an industry to do PR and marketing for hotels and restaurants. You know, I had spent, at that time I had been almost seven years serving, bartending. Doing in-room dining for resorts. And it just, it, it made the most, it also was, I wasn’t getting offers from any other internships because my knowledge, you know, I didn’t have a tech side or you know, it was my knowledge really leaned to hospitality and tourism. And so I got a great opportunity with Wagstaff Worldwide, an agency in San Francisco back in oh eight. Yeah. And that was, that was really what started. It was like, holy shit, I can, I can take this education and combine it with my experience and love for food and dining and travel. And that’s kind of the start of it all.
How did you get to StayPineapple?
I was with Fairmont Hotels and Resorts for about seven over seven years. Canadian right. Yes. Well now French, technically under the ACCO umbrella. Okay. But headquarters for Fairmont as a brand, it’s based outta Toronto and Yes, Canadian brand. You know, and fun fact there, like Fairmont and Four Seasons are both out of Canada and it just speaks to the hospitable nature of the culture, you know, to of our and Canadian. So, you know, it’s like, oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. I lived in Vancouver for a few years, Oh, wow. Yeah, which was really fun. I got to work as a regional PR. Director for the five properties in the BC region. So that was great. But you know, I was with Fairmont and the pandemic was going on, and Omicron came around and I was just burnt out crisis messaging and mitigation and I couldn’t, I just couldn’t do another wave. And so I left for the wine industry and my wife and I moved down to Oregon.
I worked for a wine, great wine. A wine. Wine, yes. Great wine. Worked for Willamette Valley Vineyards. Wonderful winery. Produced some amazing product. And once the pandemic was over and travel was coming back, I just, I really missed the industry. My wife really missed Seattle. It was our favorite city we lived in. We lived in six cities over 10 years, just moving around for work. And so I started looking for opportunities in the Seattle area for a hotel job and state Pineapple was looking to hire a corporate director of marketing and it just worked out.
Tell us what the Pineapple symbolizes.
Yeah. The, the, so pineapple is, As the international symbol of hospitality, you’ll see it on a lot of hospitality industry websites or brands. It historically, it started from like, I think the 16th century where the, yeah, it was a very status symbol focused item in the UK or in the European royal royal houses. And so it was status symbol of if. Pineapple in your home, you were of a certain level of wealth. I think they were. I’ve read things before where the value dollar to dollar for the date was like five to $10,000 just for one pineapple back then. And yeah, and it just created this sort of cultural view of what pineapples were and then, It really became more of a symbol of hospitality in America and the 18th and 19th century when it was given as a gift.
Sort of a holidays, you go over to home, bring a very, very High profile gifts. So you bring pineapple and it just became this status symbol within a being a hospitable person and being giving. And that’s what hotels and travel and hospitality is all about. And it got absorbed into that culture as well. I mean, I’ve been in hotels where it is not even part of their branding, but like the lamps are like the pineapple or there’s other, so it always, if you pay attention now, I think people will start to notice.
Tell us a little bit about the brand’s origin
Our founder is Michelle Burnett. She is still involved from a leadership capacity. Her title is Chief Pineapple. But she founded the organization back in 2010. She had spent years in high profile hotel positions through sales operations. And then she returned to the Seattle area to help out her family with their real estate company. And then from there, she just started she kind of decided why not? Combined my family business with my passion for hotels and hospitality and started buying and opening hotel properties. It started with our first location the flagship, which is here in Seattle. It’s called the Maxwell Hotel. And that was, I believe, finished and opened in 2012. So grounds, And it really just kind of went from there. We are a unique hotel brand in that we currently own the 10 hotel properties that we manage. We recently made an announcement that we’re gonna start taking on franchise and third party management, which is really exciting. Yeah. So we’ll be expanding into that. But it’s been really. Interesting coming on to a brand where we have so much control over what we can do and what we’re capable of because we own our buildings and because Michelle really built this foundation of culture within the company to be out of the box. And, and it seems like such a fun, happy culture. So yeah. That’s amazing. And that, that all, just from what she saw in the industry that.
Had all of the elements of travel and hotels that she always wanted, but just wasn’t seeing anywhere else. And I mean, that was sort of the, the foundational birth of who this brand is. And we’ve just continued to kind of grow and build on that. And I was poking around, like some of the videos on your site are just, you know, like you look at some of these videos, you’re like, ugh. They get it. Like, they get my experience. So I encourage everyone to just, the, the website alone speaks for, for the brand itself. So it’s amazing. So I know that you’re very, you know, eco and green.
What are some of the initiatives to foster that?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So we actually are. Pretty forward thinking. Our C o o Dina Bellon, she is incredible and she has a position coming from a background of sustainable builds and sustainable programs within organizations. And so currently one thing to note is that, 70 of the energy or power that’s used to operate our hotels is actually sourced from renewable energy sources.
And we have a goal and a commitment to increase that to 90% by 2026. Exciting. We also just announced so. One thing we always made a very key amenity point is that we have unlimited bottled water complimentary for all of our guests. But as we all know, within recent years, it’s become more and more evident that we’re just contributing way too much plastic by doing that as a, as a culture. And so we are. In the final stages of a partnership and rollout of Path water bottles. So we’re gonna be replacing all of our complimentary disposable water bottles with complimentary path water. Those will be available in the room and then those bottles are reusable and we have a water bar that’s gonna be set up in every hotel so people can refill their bottles that they get complimentary from us. And it’s great because it also, these. Cold, hot still and sparkling so you can make your own options. We’re also looking into fun, like we really wanna get some pineapple syrup and then be able to have a pineapple soda and, you know, so pineapple bar. Yeah, a little pineapple water bar. So there’s really a lot to grow off of with that, of how we can expand it. But the path water thing is something we’re really excited about. We’re also, you know, another thing that’s really common in hotels is in-room coffee. And we love that amenity. We use Keurig products and there are a lot of brands now that are starting to come out with compostable and more sustainable K-Cup options. And so we’re real, we’re currently investigating and doing some r and d. Lots of coffee taste testing of quality ones that are coming in those compostable cups so we can divert the waste that we’ve been producing from K-Cups as well. It’s just looking at operations and little, little things and then adds up these little items. Yeah, exactly. I mean, there’s so much that the organization before I started, we’re already doing, like I said with the the renew and everything, so just one more sort. Step. We released on Earth Day a press release just about over the next five years what some of our goals are, and that’s everything from increased percentage of waste diversion, increased composting percentages you know, so we’re really striving over the next three to five years to make some big steps.
You’ve had a big year with 10 of your hotels winning the TripAdvisor Award
Yea, it’s a Traveler’s Choice Award. All 10 of our hotels. We’re awarded the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice. Yeah, it’s a great last year it was eight out of 10 hotels, which is to have 80% of your hotels received great is incredible as well. So to have all 10 get that, it’s really It speaks to the service of the, of the staff on site. If, if you look at our TripAdvisor ratings for our hotels, we have three hotels that are in the top 10 hotels within their markets. And these are big markets. You know, we’re in New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego. So it’s not small markets. And we also, I think five of our hotels are within the top 20 within their markets.
Beyond just the algorithm that is set up with that piece of pie from TripAdvisor of, you know the secret sauce, right of as long as you respond within a certain time and respond this many times, you’ll go up higher in the ratings. Really, it just comes down to service standards, surprise and delights. Friendly staff, welcoming people upon arrival. Flexibility when people need things. You know, that’s where it really starts. I also, I just like you, I managed reputation management for a long time. When it became a big thing online, you know, a decade ago. It, what, what happens when there’s a new communication thing in the industry and nobody knows who’s gonna do it. PR and marketing take it and so can’t test it out. Yeah. So there was a lot of methods and, you know, discussions about how often to comment, how often to reply. All of these things, but, and crisis communication. ’cause sometimes in your industry you can get something really, and then you’re, yeah. Exactly. If it’s not of the value of what somebody spent they’re gonna, they’re gonna comment negatively of, yeah, it may have been a great hotel, but I spent way more than what it was worth. Yeah. And so there’s a lot of factors that go into it, but I just come back to, we have a great operations leadership team out of our headquarters and they trickle down that culture and that supportive nature to their GMs front desk staff. And that’s again, really where it starts. I. It’s pretty phenomenal to have three hotels out of 10 in the top 10 in their markets. I think we have a, San Diego, I believe is the fourth best hotel in San Diego. The Maxwell Hotel is the sixth best in Seattle. And you know, that’s out of three or 400 hotels that are being rated, and that all just speaks to that service. Yeah. And also I think the culture, right? Like if you have happy people working at a company, then it’s happier. Yes. You know, response. So you brought up the word surprise and delight. So that’s the world where I exist and surprising and delighting influencers. And I know we’ve spoken in the past and you have this amazing organic influencer following, which kudos to you.
So tell us a little bit more of like, is there anything special you do to surprise and delight influencers? I mean, it really starts with communication from the beginning, right? Knowing who they are, what they like. Our organic sort of influencer base really started without effort from, it was years ago, and there were a lot of influencers that were staying on their own accord, posting about the experiences at the hotels. We all influencers follow influencers. They see others going places. That started us getting a lot of inquiries as an organization. And it just increased to, we had structured. Streamline process. Process. So in that we have an online submission form to submit for collaboration requests. We then evaluate those and then we have online contracting set up. So that once, which is amazing. It’s incredible. And the process that we have in place now, I’d say it’s about two thirds automated. You know, I really just go in and check yes, no, and, and what we need and what we don’t need. And then it gets into this communications funnel. So it takes a lot of. Labor off of our team, but also creates the best experience because when they get that contract, it’s not only a contract, it also outlines. When do you anticipate arriving? When do you anticipate departure? Departure? What’s your favorite food? What activities do you like? We get a lot of pet influencers. So, what’s the name of your pet? Anything special we need to know about them. This all just gives us the tools then to really take care of them while they’re on site. All of those notes. Then go into the reservation comments for the on hotel, onsite hotel staff so they can take even better care, knowing when they’re gonna be there, what are they interested in? What kind of amenities do they like, you know, touching on all of these things so that it really, it make you feel personal. Yeah, a curated experience. Without too much bandwidth or effort, keeping it as contained and informational as possible. Yeah, no, it’s brilliant and I like the fact that it’s all kind of, the contracts are there and so you, you’ve built it all in.
Tell us more about the pet friendly nature.
Well we, we live by the motto, we’re not pet friendly, we’re pet obsessed. And that just means, you know, I think a lot of hotels make claims about. Pet friendly in the hospitality or hotel industry has basically just become, can my pet actually enter the doors? You know? And that’s, and, and that’s fine. You know, and, and people do travel with their pets and so they need somewhere that they know that they can actually bring their pet along. But taking it to that next step, and this is one of the things that came from Michelle. She had or has. Dogs. She’s had dogs through the year. She loves animals, loves dogs. And it was sort of to that earlier point about what is the hospitality and hotel travel industry missing? And one of ’em was just true pet friendly approaches. So beyond, yeah, the pet package, if you book to bring your pet along. It’s a lot of hotel groups. It’s like 70, $75 a night. Ours is $25 and if you book direct and book the pet package on our website, it’s half off of that. So it’s only 1250 per night. You get Yeah. Get. Some gifts to take home a, a collapsible dog bowl. A little pet waste dispenser with baggies collar, a little tree pin, but also the thing on the door I think was present too.
Yeah. Well, and that, that goes to this idea of, you know, a lot of, so hotels will say pet friendly, you can bring your pet, but most of them are very, very strict about leaving your pet in your room. You must be with your pet at all times at the property. Oh, okay. And so if you’re traveling with your dog, how are you going to go out for dinner or go and experience the A show when you can’t leave your pet in the room? And so that was one of the big things. And so yeah, we have do not disturb door hangers. And so if you’re leaving your pet in your room at a state pineapple Hotel, You put that on your door, it says my owner is out exploring. Please leave me alone. So cute. And then it’s up to you. We, we like it if if you’re leaving your pet in your room, you can just notify the front desk and leave your phone number and you can get update texts on what’s going on, check in and they will be able to text directly with you about it.
But it’s just a. A big differentiator in my opinion. I have a pup too. She’s a 14 pound Yorkie mix. She is very well bag trained, so she’s my carryon whenever we travel. And having a hotel where I know that I, my wife and I can go out for dinner and she can stay in the room and we’ll be safe and happy. She’s got a dog bed and all the things she needs, it’s, it’s important. And especially after the panda, there were a lot of pandemic pet adoptions. Right? Right. Now we come out of that and everybody wants to travel again and whatcha gonna do with your dog and or cat or, you know, we have lots of stories of. Some unique pets that have come around. Yeah. Like what? They’ve told me about people coming with birds and other things. I mean, a pet is a pet and you know, we are dog centric just because of our passion for dogs, but that it’s a pet package, it’s a pet promotion. So and we, we lean into that.
What do you think some of the biggest challenges the hospitality industry faces when it comes to influencer marketing or influencers in general?
Look, we all wanna travel during the best times to travel, right? Summertime, weekends, these things of, of course, that is the preferred time to take a trip. But if an influencer or content creator is looking for a collaboration, they need to be aware of and understand that a weekend in July in Seattle, I’m not gonna be able to host you most likely. You know? And that’s not. It’s not my company, it’s just the fact that we are probably at, you know, 90 plus percent. We try not to sell out our hotels and over overwork the staff. And so it just comes down to. Availability thing. And so having that understanding and, and being aware of that you know, weekdays off season, I know that your content may not be as beautiful in summary, but at the same time you’re getting that experiencing. We love as hoteliers to share travel in those shoulder seasons and outside of the key travel times, work with. Big issue right now that I’m seeing, and I, I’m, I’m making speculation. I think that it’s likely because there’s a lot of industries or, or companies or tourism organizations that are strapped for bandwidth, maybe don’t have the marketing people in place to really handle or manage. And what’s ending up happening is they’re almost just taking anyone, you know. It’s yep, we have the availability. Yep, we can do it. And they’re not doing their due diligence to check out the person’s following their engagement numbers. What this is doing is it’s empowering in, it’s empowering those that aren’t technically influencers or don’t have the numbers that they should to feel entitled to comps and freebies and hostings. Then there’s another organization that has a very systematic process in place. And guidelines and SOPs on what we can and can’t do. And we look like the bad guys when we have to say no. And I, I, I urge marketing, even if you don’t have someone in place that can do it, use the tools available. Yeah. And you’ve got tools like the influencer marketing hub and social blade. If you don’t, these are free. You know, like I know that. Social listening tools can be expensive, but there are free tools out there that you can evaluate following engagement and check out the content. You know, I get a lot of risque account inquiries and you know, like, yes, the following is huge and the engagement, but it’s not on brand. It’s not on brand, and I’m sorry, like I, it’s not it. I, I want to reach followers, but not with. Selfie focused style of content it needs to focus on. The product you’re collaborating with a brand, help us share that brand. And so I think those are, you know, from either the influencer side or from the marketing side that some of the key issues. And, you know, I I, I just hope that we can get to a point, it’s growing. Influencer marketing and influencer collabs are not going anywhere. It’s only getting bigger and with more social platforms and. And so we need to stay ahead of it as marketing professionals and educate ourselves and have the tools and the bandwidth to do it properly and work together. You know, don’t, don’t undermine the industry in a way that then makes it hard for others. No, for sure. And I know for us, like a lot of times sometimes, like brands can’t even put it. It doesn’t always have to be a hotel stay. There’s other creative things that you could do if that’s not within your, you know, capabilities that you could run a sweepstakes or a promotion, or you could do a virtual tour of a property.
I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but you could offset a lot of the costs and a lot of the. The muscle power that it takes to do some of this other kind of live stuff. Totally. And like how we were connected in your organization. You know, we have great pet friendly gifts and little items that are easy to send that pet friendly experience out, and finding these ways to connect these outside of what is coming to the hook position. Yeah, what’s the traditional style? That also creates great content and sharing and brand recognition. And so yeah, just finding ways following the standards and the, and the processes that we’ve built so hard. Go to conferences, you know, some great panels come out of conferences like PSAs, travel and Tourism and, you know, these, these organizations that are doing professional development where they have. Leaders, leaders that have been doing this for over a decade, speaking on how they do it best, sharing case studies, you know, learn, grow, work together. That’s, that’s the best way we’re gonna move forward as this part of the industry just gets bigger. Well, and I think you bring up also like we’re coming out of like, okay, was the pandemic, so everyone was camping and now everyone is traveling, so it’s, it’s, it’s like heightened, right?
What are some memories of successes or fails when it comes to working with influencers?
I’ll give one of each one of my favorite. I love familiarity trips.
They’re so fun. And oftentimes, you know, you’re, you’re inviting media influencers, content creators that maybe you don’t know. And when I was living in Austin, I was working for Fairmont and we were able to partner with a c l and do a fam, and we brought in a group of six influencers. It was influencer specific and it was just the. I mean, we had so much fun and they were so wonderful. Everyone got along and it was just out of all of the FAMs and hostings and things I’ve done. It was one of my favorite weekends in my career. We had a blast. They created some amazing content. And we just, I, it, it was so far, everyone just, yeah.
And it reminded me like, why we do it, you know, and, and like why we collaborate and so it was just a blast. And not to mention we, you know, expensed VIP tickets to a c l that kind helped the whole thing, but there’s that, yeah, there’s that whole part. But no, it was wonderful and it was so much fun. On the flip side, and part of why we now have our online contract is I’ve been burnt. And what I would recommend for anyone from my learnings of being burned is check with your, check with whether you have council or someone within your organization or third party check to make sure your contract can actually, like, hold up or even that your council if, if an influencer doesn’t meet the requirements, is actually gonna be worth.
Going down that road, you know, we hosted a celebrity level influencer during a very busy weekend of South by Southwest in Austin. So, you know, rooms were going for two, 3000 a night. So three nights of displaced revenue in a suite, you know, that was the entry level pricing. And this was a suite for a celeb, and we were working with their agent.
They signed the contract. No posts ever went live. Nothing happened. I went back to the agent. Never heard back, went to legal, shared the signed contract, and they’re like, we can’t do it. They were like, the the billable hours that it will take to do anything with this is more than what the value of the stay was. So sorry. And so now our contracts are online. Contracts actually require. A credit card to be put on file. That credit card will not be charged unless you do not meet the terms of the agreement within 30 days. And if you don’t meet the terms of the agreement within 30 days, and you’ll get a reminder, it’s in our automation.
If you haven’t loaded and submitted your content you’ll get a reminder. One, we got your credit card’s gonna be charged and it’s gonna be charged the full retail value. And so, you know where we were with a collaboration. Comps or maybe media rates or heavily discounted stays. Well, now it’s gone to a, a full retail getting charged to you and you, you know, again, signing a contract with a credit card connected to it. You agreed you were gonna do this or you would be charged, and that eliminates the need. You know, make sure that that contract, we, we went through legal and counsel to make sure that it was solid and there was never gonna be any issues that came back on us for doing it this way. But you learn from mistakes and.
After some mistakes. I was like, I can’t, I can’t let this happen anymore. These don’t hold up. It’s brilliant. I wish everyone in the industry could do it. I don’t think it translates for all, you know, if you’re just a food company, could you, the, the 7 99 that it cost to buy this food isn’t gonna make or break the campaign, but you, you deal with, you know, influencers going m i a and then there’s no recourse. So yeah, for sure. If it’s a product where like, You’re sending it out and with no strengths attached, just hoping that there’s gonna be content because it’s such a great product and the price point is there to do gifting going out, then you know, it’s a very different story. Right? But if you are agreeing with this collaborator that they will create and post and share content in exchange for barter, for, in exchange for hosted or discounted experiences. Get a contract that does not need legal involved. If it doesn’t follow through, get their support in creating it, making sure that it’s accurate and sound, and then you’ve got a process in place that is sustainable. And I will, I will say I have never, so this was a process that I in place had in place at Fairmont. I brought it to Stay Pineapple and we’ve created this online contract That’s amazing. Connected credit card over. Probably four or five years of doing this, I’ve never had to bill an influencer for the full retail value. And I think that that speaks to the process. Yeah. The communication and the understanding that is created in this of, hey, we are, we are legit. We’re not messing around. We wanna make sure. Right. But we are excited to work with you and please ensure that you follow the. Personal friendly reminders outside of the automated one. But it always has ended up creating great content and we’ve never had to do the billing back. So it’s, it’s so far just a c y a.
Name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do.
Yeah. I, I got had a, I got a kick out of this one. I’m pretty honest. I’m not, I’m not too worried about sharing my I love comedy accounts, you know, like I’m all about the, can I, can I cuss on here? Is. Fuck, fuck. Jerry is hilarious and I’ve always loved all the content beige cardigan from them and, you know, just silly memes and gifs and that kind of stuff.
I, I don’t, I, that’s what I’m gonna keep scrolling. But yeah, it’s less influencers and more of just accounts I, I follow like Yeah. Or Tinder Nightmares, if you’ve followed that one, it’s so good. And it’s just, you know, screen grabs of crazy. Text or messages and Tinder. Tinder came out after I got married, so I get to live vicariously through Tinder Nightmares.
Where can people find more information about StayPineapple Hotels?
Go visit a pineapple hotel. Tell them where they could find you also. Yeah, for sure. So website is state pineapple.com. Make sure to check the offers page. We’ve got some great, like I was saying, if you book through the offers page, you get half off pet fees. We often do half off parking if it’s at locations with parking. If you follow our accounts, we typically do flash sales about. Every other month. And those are anywhere from 20 to 30% off.
They run for anywhere from 48 hours to four days. So keep an eye out for those. There’s some great rates that are getting put out there. I will say San Francisco and, and Portland as destinations are probably two that are still really building back after the pandemic to get tourists back. And so just so you know, it’s a great time to travel to those locations mainly because prices are phenomenal. You know, we’ve got some. During the summertime, right now in San Francisco, some rates that you would’ve never seen pre pandemic, and it’s across the hotel industry. So but yeah, follow our accounts. We put up it’s either at Stay Pineapple or at stay Pineapple Hotels. We’ll always be putting up flash sales promos. We do a lot of sweeps. So make sure to be getting engaged with those. Our favorite, one of the years coming up in a couple months, it’s the pet costume contest for Halloween. That’s a great one. We get some amazing content. People love it. Posting silly pictures of dogs and cats and costumes.
That’s, that’s awesome. I’m gonna submit my little sprout. Do it. Do it. It’s a lot of fun. It makes some great, and then we do different categories and people vote. It’s a public voting, so everybody gets to vote on their favorites, so it’s a lot of fun.