Digital Marketing Strategy for Hotels

Grow your Hotel business!

Digital marketing for hotels has experienced some lack of attention in a few past years as more attention was given to online travel agents, such as, booking.com or airbnb.com.

However, situation is changing (also more opportunities arise) as more and more hotels are looking for new ways to attract customers and reduce the dependency of online travel agents which cost a lot (to pay 20% as commissions is pretty common and that is huge!).

So.. do you want to get more hotel bookings? Or looking for new ways to increase your hotel’s visibility online? Look no further!

I guarantee that after reading this guide you will know the main tactics to increase your client base.

In this article you will learn about:

So you want your hotel bookings to skyrocket?  Now as you read this article you are probably far away from that. And I understand you. However, by reading this guide you will learn about the most crucial parts of the digital marketing strategy for your hotel and get practical advice how to improve it.

So first things first.

#1 Define Your Target Audience

Very common mistake by many hoteliers (especially beginners in this business) is to forget about target audience in general. Target audience is a group of people most likely to be interested in your product or service.

Forgeting about it is very common and crucial mistake. Without it all your marketing effors are then usually very broad which is not effective at all. 

Commonly accepted rule of thumb is:

If you try to sell to everyone then you will end up selling to no-one.

This is a golden rule in the digital marketing environment in order to be successful. You must very clearly define your target audience and prepare your message for the group of people which is the most willing to buy from you. Otherwise, you are just wasting your money.

How to define your target audience?

#1 – Identify a person who makes a buying decision

In other words, a person who pays the bill is your target audience.

For example:

  • If you are selling children toys than people who make a decision to buy usually are parents or grandparents.
  • If you are selling educational courses than a person who makes a decision might be your boss.
  • If you are selling medical equipment than a person who makes a decision might be doctors who belong to a specific medical association.
  • If you are selling family vacation trips than a person who makes a decision might be one of the parents.
  • Etc.

#2 – Create a complete description

It is very useful to define your target audience as a person with a complete description, such as:

  • Name,
  • Age,
  • Imaginative photo,
  • Gender,
  • Job description,
  • Hobbies,
  • Go into extremes: daily tasks done at home, habits.
  • Etc.

The more accurate you can be the better. This description helps to get into the “shoes” of your target buyer and allows to think from his/her perspective.

#3 – Define target persona’s motivations

Try to find out what is the ultimate goal of your target persona, their personal and professional motivations. By knowing that try to think, how your product/service can help them achieve what they want.

Example 1:

If your target persona already has a decent job, salary and all he/she wants now is to spend less time in work in order to dedicate more time for family than you have to provide a service/product that solves this problem. In this case, a tool that could optimize and save time at work would be a perfect match.

Example 2:

If your target persona wants to be a good parent and provide the best summer vacation for kids than your hotel that specializes in it is a a way to go.

Specific audience require specific messaging

Imagine that you are selling children toys or medical equipment. Do you think the messaging should be different? Of course, on the one side, there are parents, grandparents who are searching for a gift while on another side there are doctors who are searching for medical equipment that might save many people lives.

Messaging tone, trustworthiness, expertise level differs a lot for different personas. By defining your target customers you will know better how to talk with them.

#2 Set Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

When you know your target audience you know what kind of person chooses to book a room at your property and what impacts buying decisions. The next step is to define your USP.

What is USP?

USP is one of the things that so many hotels present with not enough attention and clarity. It is a message to your potential clients which explains why they have to choose your hotel instead of a competitor.

Customer perception

Quite often hotel owners understand USP as a modern interior design etc. However, a crucial thing which although often missed is customer perception – what do you want your guests to see and feel when they experience a hotel. Talking to guests, monitoring what is said in social media, collecting feedback and finding out how they felt about their experience at the hotel could help a lot.

A USP needs to be something that will personally affect the life of the end user. Not esoterically, not in some far-fetched manner, but at the moment they touch the brand for the first time.

Main USP factors for hotels

There are main three factors that usually determine hotel’s USP:

  • Location
  • Comfort
  • Value

It would be perfect if USP integrates all three elements. But that’s rare, a property will often find one of these points totally unique (all focus should be put on it) and the other two as mediocre.

Here are some examples:

  • Location – if there is a public transport spot near the property or another point of interest than mention it in your USP.
  • Comfort – tell a guest how they will personally benefit from the design and aesthetics associated with the property. A hotel needs to tell the guest how a stay will make their life better.
  • Value – Do not say that it is cheap if it is not. Explain why the price is worth it. Focus on value rather than costs.

Test and refine your USP

When you define your USP do not leave it as immutable. Test it. See how clients react. Check whether it increases or decreases the conversion rate. Gather feedback from clients. If you notice that USP does not increase sales then edit it, think again.

Communicate your USP

USP should be conveyed across your marketing strategy and drive the development of your business. Every decision you make from your logo to your social media presence needs clear definition, and should actively promote the benefits you offer through your USP.

#3 Marketing Planning

When Target audience and Unique Selling Proposition are defined than it is time to choose your marketing methods and plan them.

Some methods will generate instant results while others will grow traffic slowly.

Digital marketing methods can be distinguished by:

All of these methods are very important and have to compose one overall digital marketing strategy.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is self explanatory, advertiser pays each time a user clicks on their online ads. The price per click can vary, for example, from 0.01$ till 100.00$ per click. Its price depends on the keyword intent, competitiveness in a particular business sector and many other factors.

Competitive environment in the hotel business is fierce, the majority of organic and paid results are dominated by giants, such as, booking.com, airbnb.com, tripadvisor.com etc. It would be quite irrational to bid on such keyword “hotels in London” in a sense that bid price would be very high.

Compete with Online Travel Agents (OTAs) wisely

It is very important to understand that competing directly with such giants as booking.com, airbnb.com etc is most of the time too expensive and as a result unprofitable. Especially when no-one knows your brand, has no feelings with it. Meanwhile such giants as booking.com have highly optimized websites, in which once someone gets, in it is difficult to leave, you see many promotions, discounts, special offers, the conversion rate is likely very high so they are able to bid high price per click. Also they can pay huge amount of money for popular keywords just to be seen on search which further increases their brand recognition and trust.

In this environment to bid on keywords such as “hotels in london” is expensive and the conversion rate might not be as big to get profit.

In such a case it is highly suggested to conduct extensive keyword analysis and pick long tail keywords that are associated with your hotel’s USPs. For example, “pet friendly hotel in michigan”. (It could be even more niche.)

Also, long-tail keywords usually have higher conversion rates.

Select target audience segments and target with unique messaging

Target audience can be chosen by location, age, gender, device type.  More on it can be found here.

All of these audiences are unique and can be grouped by specific features which can be targeted with dedicated messaging.

For example, it is likely that men might care about different product features or USPs than women, or a person who has 3 children has different needs than a person who lives alone etc. All these people have different needs. If unique marketing messages can target those needs than the likelihood of conversion is much higher. Ability to select audiences and show them personalized messages is a huge benefit of advertising with Google Ads.

Retargeting

Retargeting for hotel business is an area that works very well for many hotel owners.

A time period under which decision whether to go on holidays and which place to choose is usually quite long, it can take months. There is a huge probability for potential client to come to your site but leave just because someone interrupted them or they noticed another deal etc. In these cases retargeting can be a game changer.

Retargeting in general means showing ads to people that have already interacted with your site. If a client comes to your site than cookie is placed and user is followed on other sites across the web.

Also retargeting can be used for brand awareness. You can target people who visited similar sites.

In advance set up for sudden vacancies

One of the features how paid advertising can be very helpful even if you do not use it constantly is to set up campaigns for special offers but use them only in the case of emergency, for example when a vacancy appears or a big group of people cancels a booking the last second or few days in advance.

Promote special offers

Also you can set up special offers on events. For example, a specific big concert is coming or some national holidays etc. Especially for those that otherwise would be difficult to rank with SEO.

Protect your brand

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) quite often bid on keywords with your brand name. For example:

As you can see all first four places after query “radisson hotels in london” are not radisson official website but OTAs. In order for Radisson to get clients to its website it has to bid on its branded searches as well. Especially that for Radisson it would be much cheaper to do it comparing to competitors as it is their brand.

Branded searches have much higher probability to convert and click through as client already knows the brand. This is a huge sign for conversion.

Google Hotel Ads

Google Hotel Ads have existed for long time but recently especially on 2018 their appearance has expanded and many hotels using it report much higher growth in reservations. Google Hotel Ads basically from now on allows hotels to compete with OTAs at the same level. 

Example below shows a map with avalable hotel offers for selected reservation dates:

When you pick a specific hotel for selected dates than there is an option to buy from many resellers, such as booking.com, hotels.com etc. In the past only that was available but now Google allows hotel owners to sell their rooms on Google platform as well. Below you can see an example:

This feature is a bit technically complicated in a sense that booking information has to be integrated with hotel’s reservation system which requires to set up a feed for prices and availability. However, Google Hotels Ads is considered to be a game changer. It should always be cheaper for clients to order rooms directly from hotel’s website than from third party such as booking.com.

More information regarding Google Hotel Ads can be found here.

Analyze campaigns and check ROI

Lastly, always analyze your campaign results, optimize or remove the ones which perform badly, test and edit settings if needed. And at the very end always think about ROI. It is the most important number at any case. Very good article regarding it can be found here.

#5 Grow With Help of Search Engine Optimization

entVisibility in organic search for hotels is not very grateful place as the competition is very fierce. Most of organic positions regarding popular queries are taken by Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and to overcome them is not very smart thing to do as they have huge budgets allocated.

However, it is smart to conduct an extensive keyword research to find long tail keywords, the ones which are not so popular (low search volume) but are still targeted. OTAs usually do not devote so much attention to it so continuously and systematically working on them can generate traffic which converts.

Content creation plan (Blog, Youtube.. etc)

Based on conducted keyword research create content plan. 

Article topics must be based on keyword research, however, quite popular ideas to start with can be these:

  • Places to eat in a [city]
  • Places to visit in a [city]
  • Things to do in a [city]

Content marketing and SEO usually go hand in hand with one another. More information regarding content marketing can be found here.

Consistency in content creation is a key

When you decide to work on content marketing than it is a must to stick with a plan. The audience which follows you must know how often new articles are published so they can have expectations. If you see that you will not be able to produce content every week, than plan it for once per month stick with it with no exceptions. That is not only a sign for potential clients but also a sign for Google that your site constantly produce new content, is active and engaging which increases your site’s trust by Google and can increase its visibility on organic search as well.

Share content on paid channels

When new content is produced let people know about it by sharing it on Facebook, Twitter other social channels that is associated with your target audience. Push the awareness with paid ads. Also you can push awareness by paid ads on search, use retargeting etc.

Also, do not forget to post new articles on Google Posts as it is free. More on it here.

Optimize internal structure / inter-linking

Even though it might be difficult to rank in organic search but it is always wise to have proper internal linking among internal website pages. At one side it helps to pass SEO value among pages. (I will not go deep into this, more can be found here). On the other side internal links can help to keep client on your site longer which is a great signal for google to value your site more. But the most important thing is increasing the likelihood of conversion. Usually the more time you spend on a page the more you are likely to convert.

Google My Business account

If you want to be found on Google maps or want to use Google Hotels Ads than you must create Google My Business account. If you don’t have it yet than create right now! It is free and increases your visibility on the web.

Knowledge Graph

Managing Google My Business account allows you to take control of the info in the knowledge graph. For example:

And on mobile it looks like this:

It is important to stress that Knowledge graph appears in Search Engine Result Page (SERP) by brand queries. For example: 

Knowledge graph usually attracts big portion of attention for branded searches. So if your brand searches generate relatively big amount of traffic it is a must to optimize and constantly administer your hotel’s Google My Business account.

Google reviews

Google reviews is another feature that can be managed with Google My Business account. You can respond to client reviews, try to solve issues that appear most often, identify weak point of your business etc. Below you can see an example where Google reviews can be found on knowledge graph:

Google Q&A

Google Question&Answer (Q&A) is a section on Google Knowledge Graph where clients can leave their questions and other clients or business owner can answer them. Example is shown below:

Google My Business (GMB) account’s active administration (filling all GMB sections, active usage of Google posts, reviews, Q&A section) is also a sign for Google that business is active so Google can give more visibility on organic search as well.

Website speed

I will not get into details as this should be a common sense. The higher the website’s pages load time the higher the likelihood for clients to be distracted and as a result that can cause potential customers to leave your site with bad impression. It is commonly accepted that webpage has to load at least within 3.5 seconds or faster if it is possible.

Also website has to load fast on both: mobile and desktop devices.

Responsive design

User experience has to be great by browsing with mobile or desktop device. Google has shifted to Mobile first index in March of 2018 which is a huge signal that  website’s usability and speed by browsing with mobile device has to great. Bad user experience on mobile device can cause bad performance on Desktop.

Get qualitative backlinks

Backlinks mean trust. You must work on that.

#6 Set Content Marketing Strategy

Content strategy and planning

Quite often hotels invest in one time viral video or celebrity posting and that is usually as far as it goes. This is an ideal case of “social infatuation”. Rather than having precise long term strategy hotels are using random short term tactics with a goal of instant virality. In the hotel industry only very few see value in strategically planned content creation. And that is a big mistake because properly and strategically created content can be very powerful and beneficial. If other industries are still lagging in this, it is very likely that marketers in the hotel industry are struggling even more. That creates many opportunities.

Content has to be targeted to a specific audience

It is important to understand that strategical content creation starts with target audience analysis. More on this was written here. Only content created for particular defined target audience can deliver high ROI. For example, if you go on social media and publish content for the sake of being active then getting a strong ROI is going to seem like a fairytale. Your content needs to have precisely defined purpose. You must intentionally craft it to serve a particular audience.

Data based content creation

Quite often customers see content creation as a very simple task, such as, writing blog posts on random topics. Professionally written content is much more than that. First of all content has to be written based on data, such as:

  • Search volumes for specific keywords/topic;
  • Keywords popularity trend;
  • Content intent behind keywords/topics;
  • Internal existing data, such as, time spent on page, bounce rate;
  • Analyzing heatmap info;
  • Clearly seeing how particular piece of content will incorporate and support brand development and brand story;
  • Clearly seeing how particular piece of content will support customer towards conversion in a marketing funnel;
  • And many other things.

I bet many readers did not expect that?

Also it is important to point out that content creation includes not only text but also video, podcasts, visual material and other.

Typical hotel website guest experience

When potential guests visit a hotel website most often possible options for clients are:

  • Book now or check availability;
  • Watch a video or view an image gallery of the hotel;
  • Browse other pages of the website (for example, check rooms, provided services);
  • Subscribe to a newsletter.

Despite making a booking what value do these options bring to guests? Yes, you are right, none. And here hotels miss opportunity to create relationships. It is very unlikely that a customer will book an apartment during first time of visiting a website.

Which basically leaves only two options for clients, which are: buy right now or leave:

‘Take it or leave it’ approach has to change

This can be achieved by offering greater value to website visitors with the use of new, engaging and value added content. For example, a free city guide would help the guest plan their trip better. Many tourists would be happy to either receive or download a guide especially during the early stage of planning. Many would be happy to exchange just an email address for this.

Once a hotel has an email address, many opportunities arise. For example, personalised communication can now be sent to the guest with information relating to the booking, city attractions, discounts, special offers, city events, restaurant reviews and many other.

Content marketing helps nurture clients

Nurturing is the process that allows a hotel to maintain communication with a potential customer during the stages from initial enquiry/search to final room booking or in other words it influences customer decision in a marketing funnel stages. Marketing funnel is presented below:

Most hotels don’t tend to do too much to influence customer’s decision at each stage.

One way to have a client appearing in a nurturing system is making sign ups to a loyalty system. Than by using user tracking tools you will be able to nurture them “down the road”. You can track user’s availability searches (including room type, dates and number of rooms required) and link these directly to the individual making the search. Such data creates many opportunities to nurture clients, for example:

Social Media/Google Retargeting Adverts can be used to get customer back to buyer’s journey when left. You can show to them:

  • Images of the specific room types;
  • Prices specific to the dates searched for;
  • Happenings / Events at the hotel during the dates searched;
  • And many other things.

Email Marketing Campaigns can be used that feature:

  • Price updates for the specific dates mentioned;
  • Other incentives on offers – linked to a booking code included within the email;
  • Member-only deals;
  • Etc.

#7 Work With Online Travel Agents

;Online travel Agents (OTAs) have well known brands, huge reach. Their websites are easy to use and optimized in a way that once a client comes in the probability of a transaction is very high.

We will not go into simple steps that in order to optimize for OTAs you must:

  • Fill all the possible information;
  • Add high quality photos of rooms, building;
  • Prepare unique descriptions for each room;
  • Prepare unique description about your hotel;
  • All prices have to be up to date etc. 

All of that is already pretty common sense, I hope.

Hotels seek to reduce dependency on OTAs

However, it might seem strange to some but many hotels try to look for ways to reduce the dependency on OTAs as commissions are very high and can be from 15% to 30% of the booking price. OTAs usually have highest CAC (Cost to Acquire Customer) and the lowest CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) and so is the least profitable—the room rate is often set at the floor price, which only covers the fixed and variable costs of selling it. Despite that, one thing remains clear – OTAs will continue to play an important role as one of the widely used booking channels so we must learn how to live with them.

Most popular Online Travel Agents are:

  • Booking.com;
  • Airbnb.com;
  • Tripadvisor.com;
  • Expedia.com;
  • Agoda.com;
  • And many other.

Choose only those OTAs that target your market (geographically and demographically). Some concentrate on business travellers, some on leisure travellers.

By managing more than one OTA you will also diversify your risks. You never know what might change one day for specific OTAs, for example, some changes to their internal algorithms can cause you huge losses. Also, competition in OTA platforms is fierce and always increasing, so you never know when/if you might lose/gain visibility. The more OTAs you work with the less dependency is on one specific agent.

OTAs should be used wisely

OTAs charge huge commissions but still can be very beneficial and profitable if used wisely at specific occasions. For example, to fill vacancies, sell rooms that were cancelled the last minute, reduce dependency on other channels etc.

How to reduce dependency on OTAs?

  • Have great user experience
    • For example, on booking.com website user experience is very smooth, easy to understand. If your website fails at this point (is slow to upload pages, has difficult conversion funnel and booking process, low quality photos) than you simply have no ways to compete.
  • Work more on other channels which will drive clients to your website. For example:
    • Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest;
    • Email marketing;
    • Search Engine Optimization (SEO);
    • Content Marketing;
    • Pay-Per-Click Advertising;
    • And other.
  • Create loyalty programs that incentives clients to book directly. For example:
    • Offer additional discounts only available for direct bookings;
    • Offer additional services for free;
    • Etc.

#8 Connect to Global Distribution Systems

Global Distribution System is a worldwide computerized reservation network used as a single point-of-access for reserving airline seats, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel-related items by travel agents, and large corporations. They are owned and operated as joint ventures by major airlines, car rental companies and hotel groups. GDS client distribution is split to around 50% as leisure and 50% as business clients.

GDS are not as big as they used to be but still generate traffic

In the past like in 2008-2009 GDS were very popular and even had bigger market share than Online Travel Agents, now the situation is opposite but GDS can still be relevant. One third of the worldwide travel traffic still goes via GDS and it still represents around 20% of hotel distribution revenue.

GDS special requirements

GDS usually have specific requirements, for example, work with corporate clients, need conference room capabilities, hotels must have at least 3 starts, clean websites etc. This makes GDS less applicable for small hotels but still some GDS work with small players as well.

Some examples of well known global distribution channels:

  • Amadeus;
  • Sabre;
  • Galileo;
  • WorldSpan;
  • Travelport;
  • Abacus.

Like any other channel GDS must be used wisely

If managed professionally, using GDS hotels could yield the lowest CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) and the highest CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) as it permits the hotel to have a direct interaction with the customer which could lead to a long-term relationship.

Nonetheless, intermediaries such as OTAs and GDS can make a valuable contribution to hotels revenue even sometimes at a higher CAC and a lower CLV, because it offers marketing exposure to a wider range of market segments, bringing demand during periods of low occupancy.

#9 Use Social Marketing

The thing to remember as a hotelier is that taking a customer from daydreaming to booking is all about well-positioned content and timing. That’s why it’s important to have a well-crafted hotel social media strategy. Plus, the only way to beat the big boys who dominate Google Ads and the search results is to make yourself known. Create blog content that outranks your competitors. Create a social media marketing strategy that shows your content to guests when they need it most.

Social marketing is usually not the direct bookings generation channel

Most travelers don’t start making travel preparations by booking a hotel. First, they imagine themselves in various destinations and dream about it. This is exactly one of the places where we marketers have to show up.

From my personal experience social marketing is a bad channel for generating client bookings directly but great in two other ways:

  • Increase brand awareness;
  • Prompts hesitating clients’ decision to buy.

(Social account is quite often a place clients visit before final decision.)

Social marketing and content marketing has to go hand in hand

One very simple and effective way of using social marketing channel is amplify content that is already created, such as, blog posts, articles regarding company news and other. That is understandable because it is easy to set up and with paid ads can be shown to selected target audiences. Besides that it is important not to forget video content which is usually four times more engaging.

Three very important tips for social marketing are :

80/20 rule

80% of posts should be about the local area (like posting reviews, giving travel advice and tips, keeping a running list of local events) and only 20% should be about the hotel itself. Try to engage more not just sell all the time.

Consistency

Check Facebook Insights to see the type of content your fans enjoy, and post between three and 10 times per week. One post per week is considered absolute minimum. Good quality content has to be posted consistently and that is very important. You must get your readers used to the frequency of your content. Make sure you are able to maintain the frequency if you see that once per day can be challenging that stay with once three times a week or once a week but be consistent.

Importance of user generated content

Customers’ generated content on their social profiles is very powerful way of marketing. The travel and hospitality industries are perfect for user-generated content. Think about it. When do people take pictures the most? When they’re on vacation.

But why would you want to retweet or share so-and-so’s vacation pictures? Research shows that Millennials (aka most consumers) trust user-generated content above all other forms of marketing. So put user-generated content to good use by retweeting, sharing, and liking your guests’ content.

Also, consider creating a branded hashtag to make it easier to track the success of your hotel social media marketing campaigns.

Main well known social media networks are:

  • Facebook;
  • Instagram;
  • Twitter;
  • Pinterest;
  • TripAdvisor.

Now, while TripAdvisor is a review site and not a social media network, you will need to manage it on a regular basis. Responding to reviews is one of the best ways to show that your hotel listens to customers and pays attention to their needs.

Facebook

Facebook is very popular and must have social profile for any hotel. Main reasons are:

  • Clients can leave reviews about their experience at your hotel;
  • You can show your content to target audience and amplify it by using paid ads.

Besides just boosting your posts on Facebook it is important to:

  • Correctly define your hotel’s audience and show them right content,
  • Target ‘lookalike’ audiences (those who have a similar profile to your existing audience)
  • Use retargeting tools. You will need a Facebook pixel implemented on your website, and use dynamic ads for travel events to report which properties from your catalog are being searched, viewed and purchased.

Instagram

Instagram is great platform for posting images of your hotel and desirable destinations around your area.

Instagrammable space

One thing you want to do for your hotel Instagram marketing strategy is create space within your hotel that is designed for Instagram selfies. You can use space that already exists by promoting it as Instagrammable. Also consider creating corresponding hashtags for your Instagrammable space. Do not forget that you are creating opportunities for your guests to feature you on Instagram for free. And hashtag will let you track the success of the campaign.

Pinterest

Many Pinterest users spend time pinning images of places and hotels they would like to visit sometime in the future. While Instagram is for showing off that you made it there. Plus, Pinterest is different when it comes to demographics.

Instagram is not going to give you the same type of targeted demographic.

According to Omnicore Agency, the median age of Pinterest user is 40, while half of Pinterest users earn $50K or greater per year while 10 percent of Pinteresting households are making greater than $125K.

“Instagram is more about engaging the influencer. Pinterest is about engaging the mom with the checkbook.”

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor is mostly used for gathering reviews. It is very important to manage reviews, respond to negative ones and thank for good ones. Reviews must make your business to grow and increase quality of services. And of course the greater is your TripAdvisor account score the more visible is your business.

Twitter

Twitter is best to update what is happening right now but twitter following must be first created. Big hotels have dedicated teams that work with twitter queries, comments etc.

#10 Empower Email Marketing

Email marketing was not so long time ago seen to be dead as a marketing channel. That was because of the huge quantity of spam promotional emails which were very common in the past and people started to ignore them in general. If you are one of those marketers who abandoned and forgot email marketing than it is a huge mistake. Professionally managed email marketing can be extremely profitable and has one of the highest ROI ratios compared to other digital channels.

Also, as a general rule in marketing, it is much cheaper to bring back old customers than it is to get new. At this point email marketing is very beneficial because it allows you to connect with past guests, nurture/strengthen relationships and sell more.

Segmentation is a key

When was the last time you received a promotional email that you suddenly skipped and did not even bother to open because it was at no interest for you? I guess that happens quite often. This is a perfect example of bad segmentation.

It is very important to avoid such situations. Worst scenario is when bad segmentation causes customers to unsubscribe and leave with negative feelings towards your brand.

Segmentation examples

Usually hotels can generate a huge amount of data if CRM system allows to collect it and segment customers. Some segmentation examples are:

  • Emails to those who have just booked a room. Upsell emails. Once customer books a room you can suggest to upgrade it or buy in advance additional most needed services with a discount. Upsell emails usually have 4-8x higher open rates.
  • Engaging customers vs. not. Send re-engagement emails to those that are inactive, otherwise delete them from the list because inactive emails can decrease your email account credibility rate.
  • Booking date habits. How far in advance your customers usually plan holidays? If you know this data than you can start nurture process with personalized in advance scheduling.
  • Customer locality. You can segment your email list depending whether your customers are local, national or international travellers. Probably you will not want to promote coming weekend discount offers to customers that live in different continent and usually plan their holidays at least half a year in advance.
  • Autumn, winter, spring and summer birthdays. Just sending birthday wishes to your clients can be a nice nurturing tactic reminding about yourself. A kind suggestion to book a room with a birthday discount could also increase your revenue. 
  • Autumn, winter, spring and summer holidays. Maybe your main target customers are from different countries which have specific national holidays unique only to them? Create a nurture plan that target those customers in advance.
  • Family statuses. Depending whether you are targeting couples, families with children or business travellers your messaging, USPs have to be different too. For example, it might raise strange feelings if you are divorced for couple of years and receive an email regarding family trip that your children will love.
  • Booking frequency and duration of visits. If you have clients that come to your hotel every month because they have business interests than you can think how to target them even better with upselling opportunities. If your clients usually book rooms for a longer period, such as, few week or a month than you can think about sending valuable info regarding area tourist guides, info regarding upcoming concerts, restaurant openings etc. That would definitely strengthen your relationships with clients.
  • Marketing calendar. Segment customers based on the time of the year and urgency of filling empty rooms. Are you preparing to fill bookings for peak summer season or opposite for inactive winter season? Prepare your email calendar and messaging accordingly.
  • Post stay enquiries. Ask customers to provide feedback and leave a review after they leave. This is a wonderful way to boost number of reviews.

These are only some examples of email list segmentation for hotel businesses. Depending on the data you have the limits are only your imagination.

Email marketing integration with CRM

It makes your life easier if you have Property Management System (PMS) which allows to collect data and use it for email marketing integration, create segments, manage email lists, schedule emails, customize email templates, track performance results etc.

Focus on quality, not quantity

Email marketing should be used to nurture clients, provide them with valuable and needed information which will ultimately convert into more sales. In order to nurture clients concentrate on content that provides value to them before, during and after the stay. For example:

  • Invest more in providing valuable information towards the region, city, area around instead of the hotel itself. For instance, send guides to:
    • Parks,
    • Attractions,
    • Restaurants,
    • Informations about the transport,
    • Weather forecast,
    • Upcoming events,
    • Tourist attractions,
    • Special deals, discounts.
  • Introduce to the most popular services. Provide information to most frequently asked questions (such as, what clothes to take etc.)

Furthermore, you can strengthen the relationship with clients by congratulating customers during national celebrations, for example, independence day, fathers day, mothers day etc.

When people leave send a survey and ask for review in exchange for reward. Also choose quality over quantity when it comes to the number of subscribers and frequency of your emails.

Email subscription growth

Growing email list can be challenging at first. It requires time and effort. Also, it is important to gather email list in compliance with GDPR. One of the reasons why building email list is difficult is because of Online Travel Agents, such as, Booking.com policy to hide email addresses. That is understandable because otherwise you could ask to cancel booking and order directly. The actions you could do to grow your email list could be:

  • Asking guests to subscribe in-person when checking in or out of your hotel. You can suggest a change to win a free weekend as a motivational trigger to take action.
  • Also put a subscription form on your website and offer a gift or a discount to incentivize for action as well.
  • Ask people to sign up and leave an email in exchange to get access to your prepared city guide or other valuable content.
  • You can publish a lottery/contest where one of the requirements to be included is leaving your email address.
  • Leave information in the hotel (on reception and/or on room walls) that it is needed to sign up with your email in order to get newsletters, special deals, discounts or be included in loyalty program.
  • Many other ways.

Email marketing across the guest journey

Email marketing is great that it can be used in whole marketing journey of your customer starting at the stage when inspirational content is shared, than research, booking, pre-arrival, during stay and post-stay stages. Great visual representation can be found below:

Source of the visual above.

#11 - Work with Brand Development

Definition of branding

In 2001, Hislop defined branding as “the process of creating an association between a symbol/object/emotion/perception and a product/company with the goal of driving loyalty and creating differentiation”. (Hislop, 2001, Source)

Strong brand is without a doubt a very important factor for any successful enterprise, hotel business is not an exception. 

Brand strategy is in the forefront of marketing strategy

Your brand strategy identifies three core components of your business, which can then be used as a blueprint for developing your marketing strategy and tactics. The three core components include:

  • Purpose: Your business must have a functional and intentional purpose.
  • Consistency: Without consistency, a business will struggle to survive.
  • Emotional Impact: Emotion is what helps customers connect with you. A brand strategy helps you develop that emotion.

Base for brand development

To define brand development strategy first these four components below have to be clearly understood and defined:

Brand structure

1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

What are you selling? Why clients should buy your product/service instead of a competitor’s? What is your differentiation? Is it making people feel in the position that they dream of? For many hotels the main USPs are:

    • Location
    • Price
    • Comfort

More information regarding this topic can be found here.

2. Business story. It should touch your:

  • History,
  • Mission,
  • Values,
  • Dedication to guests.

3. Brand promise.

Loyalty and commitment are strongest when a brand offers a differentiated brand promise and consistently delivers on that promise by providing an outstanding experience.

4. Communication style.

A brand promise is guided by a vision for the lasting impact it hopes to have on guests. 

For example, it is executed through developing property leaders and staff who live and embody brand values, standards and a brand culture that permeates how employees engage with each other and guests on a daily basis.

5. Brandbook.

All visual brand presentation, such as, logo, design etc. It has to be consistent through all marketing channels.

Why brand development is important?

  • Story for your hotel should touch your history, mission, values, and your dedication to guests. That leads to a better understanding, trust, comprehension, receptivity.
  • Strong brand promise makes guests more forgiving of problems when it occur. That helps with reputation management.
  • Brand is associated with your USPs and allows not to compete for the lowest price.
  • Great brand identity increases Click-Through-Rate on search which means more traffic to your site and more bookings.
  • Strong brand increases customer loyalty and as a result increase the number of rebookings.

#12 - Dedicate Time for Reputation Management

The decision making process for booking a hotel is usually long. It would not surprise that decision making process would be around 3 months. During this period customers compare resorts, hotels, prices and many other things.

Hence, having properly managed reviews can be a pivotal point to book a room from your hotel or choose your competitor.

Review sites

Most well known and popular review sites are:

  • Google My Business reviews;
  • Facebook Business reviews;
  • Trip Advisor reviews;
  • Booking.com, Airbnb.com and other OTAs;
  • Other popular sites are Mr & Mrs Smith, Hotel Room Reviews, BedandBreakfast.com, Hotels.com, LateRooms.com and Trivago.com

Many countries also have their local popular sites where people go and leave reviews. Manage reviews on these listings as well, optimize them, for instance, include hotel description, photos, link to your site and other necessary information.

Reviews are biased towards negativity

Generating reviews especially highest rating is difficult. Reviews at its nature are biased towards bad customer experience as people often leave bad reviews if something goes bad but rarely leave positive reviews if experience was good.

Importance of review management

Even though reviews are biased towards negativity but one thing that is often missed it that not only number of positive reviews are important but not less important thing is your reaction to negative reviews.

Negative reviews quite often receive a lot of attention, so properly managed can benefit you as well. When analyzing reviews, identify problems, reply to them (be kind, thank for a negative feedback and promise that you will take a look at the situation and will take necessary actions to improve and do not repeat those mistakes again. (Of course, make sure you really do that.)

Encourage guests to leave reviews

Generating reviews is crucial for hotel business success. Also it is challenging. That’s why you need to encourage guests to leave reviews or make it as easy go process as possible.

Send post stay emails, leave information on room walls, waiting halls, teach your staff to kindly remind for customers to leave reviews on your:

  • Website (if such functionality exists, if not enable it),
  • Facebook page,
  • Google My Business page,
  • Trip Advisor page,
  • Etc.

Keep all reviews visible in one place

Showing your hotel reviews from different review sources in one place on your website could be very beneficial as customers do not have to leave your page and check separate sources. Booking.com and Tripadvisor.com have special widgets to enable it. To generate such info for Facebook and Google My Business reviews would be great as well.

Automate review management

Review monitoring tools can help automate review management process. They usually trigger alerts to newly added write-ups. So you can react immediately and prevent escalating of negative discussions. Some examples of great reputation management softwares are:

Final thoughts

Digital Marketing Strategy for Hotels is very broad topic. In this article I only touched very basics and a portion of what is available. However, if you will work with all mentioned parts than success is guaranteed. I hope that reading this article was valuable.

If you liked the article and have any questions or suggestions please leave a comment below! All comments are very welcome.

Don’t forget su subscribe for email list here and get notifed when new posts will come. 

Cheers!

🙂

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