Accor North America is upgrading its Sofitel and Novotel still images with more engaging visuals to help capture the attention of more online travelers.

VFM Interactive has been selected by Accor North America to produce and distribute new rich media elements that will enhance and better display the unique features and services of each of Accor's Sofitel and Novotel properties in North America.

For Accor's 11 Sofitel properties in North America, VFM will be producing PhotoMontage Videos, providing a more interactive experience for consumers through the power of rich media. These short-segment videos are created by using still images that are digitally enhanced with motion graphics and blended with music and voice-over to offer a more engaging visual for online consumers.

Six of Novotel's North American properties in the United States and Canada will take advantage of another VFM rich media solution called PhotoFlicks. Similar to PhotoMontage Videos, PhotoFlicks add entertaining movement to still photography using advanced imaging, music and voiceovers. PhotoFlicks are brief and fast-paced rich media that help inform and motivate consumers with a captivating overview of a hotel and its amenities. Both PhotoMontage Videos and PhotoFlicks offer cost-effective rich media solutions for hoteliers as they provide many of the benefits of a full-motion video without the production expense of an on-site video shoot.

Accor's decision to integrate rich media into its hotel distribution is an important marketing move as the interactive features of rich media are proven means of increasing brand awareness and influencing purchases among online travelers. In the online travel category, rich media advertising is 60 percent more effective in aiding consumer recall than static ads, according to a report recently issued by DoubleClick, The Evolution of Rich Media September 2005 Report. In addition, nearly 50 percent of online travelers cite travel Web sites (the company sites and third-party sites) as the single greatest influence in making a purchase decision - placing travel Web sites ahead of offline media TV, radio and print and other online marketing vehicles, according to another recent DoubleClick study.

The value of third-party Web site distribution is an important component of the VFM and Accor relationship as after production, VFM will distribute the new Sofitel and Novotel rich media content through its industry-leading network of 5,000 distribution points that includes some of the notable names in search and travel: Yahoo!, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline and Worldspan.

"The Web and its interactive features are the most effective ways to attract - and convert -- online travel shoppers," said Scott Wiseman, Vice President of Marketing for Accor North America. "As more consumers turn to the Web to research and book hotels, we want our brands' online presence to fully convey the distinct and attractive features of each of our properties. VFM's rich media quality and experience along with their impressive distribution network make them our ideal partner to help our brands' online image to ultimately reach more consumers."

While the significance of travel Web sites overall continues to increase, the complementary marketing relationship between online travel agency Web sites and hotel direct sites continues to evolve. According to PhoCusWright's latest Travel Trends Survey, 55 percent of shoppers who start their search on an online travel agency site actually make their purchase from another source. This underscores the symbiotic relationship between online travel agencies and hotel direct Web sites, which now account for 45 percent of online hotel bookings, up from just 9 percent in 2001, according to PhoCusWright.

"The power of the Internet in online purchase decisions is mounting and we're seeing a clear groundswell in the online marketing of hotels - from both hotel companies and third-party distributors who want more interactive hotel content," said Paolo Boni, president and CEO of VFM. "Given the shopping patterns of online travelers and the reach of third-party sites, more hotel companies are seeing the value of integrating rich media brand marketing content into channels previously viewed as pure distribution like online travel agencies and GDSs."