9 Hotel Marketing Strategies to Use in 2018.

Guest Blogger HANNIZ EFNI
She can be reached at [email protected] and LinkedIn @Hanniz Lam

As the hospitality industry continues to grow and smaller properties gain more traction, it’s important to look into the marketing trends that will define the year. I travel 4-5 times a year, sometimes for work and sometimes for play. I stay in a various types of accommodations from AirBnb to the occasional 5 star hotel. What I remember most about my stays are the customer service and overall experience. Most of the time, hotel booking sites appear on the first page of search engines and I automatically compare prices instead of the unique features of the hotel.

Hotel booking sites take a big chunk of a hotel’s profits (I’ve an uncle by marriage who runs a boutique hotel in Johor) so what can you do to make customers who are not price sensitive choose you?

  1. Localized SEO

Almost all online directories, including Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, are free. All you have to do is claim your listing and provide a complete profile. Usually, this includes your address, phone number, operating hours, and a description which you should use to include relevant keywords. Relevant keywords could include things like “best hotel for families in Langkawi” or “cozy villa in Cameron Highlands” – anything that will help potential travelers find you.

2. Mobile is a Necessity

Google reports that people are researching more on mobile, but turning to a desktop to actually book their stay. Even though 90% of bookings occur on desktop, showing up during the research process will keep you as an option when they switch devices. I myself do my travel planning research on my phone just before I sleep.

When guests arrive at their destination, we turn on our mobile devices to find activities to do around town. In fact, 85% of leisure travelers decide on activities only after arriving at their destination. I do this as well because I’m usually busy finishing up work to make up for the time that I would be away, leaving a few hours to pack up my bags, send my cats to my in-laws etc.

I always wish that hotels would arrange complimentary airport transfers so that we don’t have to worry about getting fleeced by taxi drivers or getting lost. Another problem I wish hotels would solve is the lack of WiFi once we leave the airport. With airport transfers, WiFi can be provided in hotel vans/ buses and once guests check in, they should be given the option of purchasing local SIM cards at the hotel. You can also help guests get around town or get to tourist attractions via a mobile app.

3. Personalisation

Nothing makes a guest happier than being expected and greeted by name. Going beyond that, understanding why your guest is in town and knowing their plans can help you make their stay smooth.

If you know that your guest is booking a stay during a week where there’s a sporting event, ask them if they’re attending. This way, you can tailor their stay around the game and make it better for them. Send them local hacks to get to event venues on time or share deals at restaurants nearby.

Anything that relates directly to what they’re doing during their stay will make your hotel marketing extremely effective in 2018.

Here are some recent stats demonstrating the opportunity:

Over 80% of online customers say they would be open to switching loyalties if they found a service that better catered for their needs
87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into customer service
94% of senior-level executives believe delivering personalisation is important to reaching customers
You can use the data you collect from online travel agents (OTAs), your hotel’s own website and direct booking engine, and if you have one, your app to develop a deep knowledge of guest booking behaviour, purchase habits, and amenity preferences. Additionally you should know the complete profile of travellers including age, ethnicity, gender, and reason for travel.

Doubletree by Hilton asked customers what “little things” would make their hotel stays better, and received thousands of responses ranging from free Wi-Fi requests to guests just looking for some chocolate chip cookies. Often, hotel managers review and file suggestions away, ultimately using them to create a better hotel experience. That’s not what Doubletree did. The brand spent a year traveling around the U.S. to give individual customers the “little things” listed in their survey responses, and followed up with an email marketing campaign—including images and video—and sweepstakes that led to thousands of new loyalty members.

How to use this strategy
Get your guests involved: On a set schedule—weekly or biweekly—choose one or more guests to interview and highlight (with their permission). Before they check in, as guests—selected through surveys completed during booking or randomly pulled from your pool of guests—to identify small acts your staff can take to make their stay more comfortable, and pull out all the stops to make it happen. Capture their reactions on video or in photos, and feature them on your blog or website.

This content will resonate with potential guests who are searching the internet to determine the level of guest care and focus you bring to the table.

4. Time for Video

Photos used to be everything but there’s a limit to what photos can show. It’s time for 360 degree videos.

A video walk-through will give prospective guests an idea of how everything is laid out and how much space they’ll actually have. Plus, you’ll be able to give them the full view from the balcony.

Another way to use these video tours are in different areas of your hotel. If you’re operating a resort, go through the different amenities that people come to your hotel for. If it’s a casino, make a video about what games you offer. IF you have more of a theme park, show guests having a great time.

You can also personalize the video experience by sending videos in email. In fact, videos in email are shown to increase click-through rates by up to 65%. When a guest books a stay, have one of your team members send a personalized video to this guest. Include relevant details they’ve given you about their stay, and tell them you can’t wait for them to get there. While scaling might be a bit difficult with this, if you have a smaller, boutique hotel, it can be extremely effective.

The ultimate goal with video is to get your audience to visualize themselves in the situation you’re shooting. Get them excited. Show them the type of experience they’ll have at your hotel and you’ll increase the chance of them booking a stay.

5. Create Good Content

Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel Montréal, “La Valise”

La Valise Marketing Film (2012)

Strategy: A short film

This four-star, four-diamond independent boutique hotel in Montreal really went the extra mile when they developed a video to celebrate the hotel’s 10th anniversary in 2012: they created a 15-minute artistic film titled “La Valise” (The Suitcase).

It’s a pretty incredible idea, when you think about it. It entertains the audience while creating an aura of romanticism that is useful for boutique hotels trying to sell their more intimate, personalized brand of luxury as superior to the experience of staying at a glitzy big brand hotel.

Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel Montréal’s management took a gamble: they allocated 30% of their annual marketing budget to producing a film about “obsession, ambition, and beauty,” meaning they’d have to give up portions of their traditional marketing programs in the meantime.

The film was a tremendous success for the hotel, earning it a lot of publicity after it was named the “Best Marketing Campaign” by the Worldwide Hospitality Awards. The video has been viewed more than 15,000 times.

Le Saint-Sulpice Hôtel Montréal’s success shows that sometimes in order to win big in content marketing, you’ve got to be willing to take a bold risk. Content marketing is about knowing who your audience is and creating content that speaks to them. In this case, a story of romance and intrigue centered around the hotel spoke to guests seeking adventure.

How to use this strategy

Use an unexpected medium: Gather your employees for a brainstorming session about what type of story you can tell about your hotel, and what unexpected medium you could use to convey it.

If you’ve got a marketing budget with unallocated funds, great! But, even if you don’t have much to spend on marketing, you can adapt this idea to other formats. Think shorter videos, such as 360-degree panoramas of your best rooms paired with a written story.

6. Experience Marketing

Nothing stays longer in a customer’s memory except experience. This starts the moment your customer visits your website, to booking their stay to arriving at your hotel and checking in, to arriving at their rooms, to dining and enjoying your hotel’s facilities and finally checking out.

This applies to corporate customers as well. I recommend hotels to clients based on how versatile the staff are, their service level before, during and after the event and the ease of my suppliers setting up for the event. I stay away from hotels that have too many restrictions in place making the lives of my suppliers difficult.

Terranea Resort in Southern California has acquired a fleet of Lexus cars that guests can take out on a test drive. But to enhance the trip, each car’s GPS comes pre-loaded with themed itineraries recommended by the hotel concierge team.

Guests can choose between 3 itineraries, including “The Adventure Escape”, which highlights various points of interest en route, from whale watching at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center to hiking and wildlife spotting around Portuguese Bend.

Meanwhile, Renaissance Hotels is working with AEG to secure emerging artists to perform intimate gigs at their properties. Events are promoted via a dedicated website alongside social media channels.

Events like these obviously lend themselves to social sharing. If a customer has a truly unique experience, they’re more likely to share it with others—a close-up photograph of a well-known artist becomes instantly Instagram-worthy.

The Renaissance brand has come to appreciate the value of these experiences to their high percentage of business travelers, something the brand’s vice president of global marketing, Dan Vinh, explained in an interview with Skift.

7. Customer Content

You could have really strong branding and the best facilities but harping your own horn can seem obnoxious. Sharing what your customers share about your hotel will make things more believable.

Make it easy for your prospective guests to find not only the reviews, but the great experiences other people have had at your hotel through their photos and videos.

Utilize social media marketing and set up social monitoring to listen to what people are saying about their stay. Reach out and ask for permission to use some of the pictures they posted. You can even incentivize this with a free room upgrade or free meal the next time they decide to stay with you.

People like to know that other people had a valuable and positive experience. It helps their decision making easier if they’re undecided.

If you check out Loews Hotels’ #TravelForReal campaign by searching the hashtag on Instagram, you’ll notice something unique that you won’t find on a hotel website: guest perspective. Loews Hotels reached out directly to their guests, asking them to share their hotel experiences on social media. The campaign was a success: the hashtag was used in 6,500 posts across all channels.

By selecting and featuring guest-captured experiences, you benefit from a customer focus on something that may entirely differ from what you thought was important. You’ll also foster a general feeling of authenticity and make your guests feel as though they’re getting a real picture of what you can bring to their travel experience.

8. Automation

Automation saves you time making your marketing more effective and efficient. Besides setting up your CRM to respond to the different actions your audience takes on your website and sending automatic follow-up email, there are a handful of other things you can automate as well.

For instance, you can make the check-out process much easier by sending guests an email that allows them to check-out directly from their phone either via a button within the email or through your mobile app. This is also a great way to ask for a review while everything is still fresh in their mind.

Remember your business customers as well. All too often when sending RFP emails through hotel websites, I need to follow up with a call and usually get a reply that suggests that they don’t check their emails often enough.

9. Using Blockchain for your Loyalty Program

Trippki has started to make use of the blockchain through the launch of its loyalty reward system. Again, the service benefits from cutting out third-party involvement and provides a direct connection between hotels and customers. Customers are rewarded with native ‘TRIP’ tokens for staying at a hotel, or using hotel amenities. The TRIP tokens are recorded in the ledger, do not expire and can be used to book future visits, or can be exchanged for cash.

When it comes to marketing, there’s a lot to be learned from the surrounding industries who experience their share of unique problems. Much like hotels, marketing any brand requires you to stay innovative and deploy solutions which change regularly. Take inspiration from everything.

If you have questions about engagement marketing, or experiential marketing [email protected] I’d love to partner with you!

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