To many people, it sounds like a distant and almost forgotten past when holidays had to be arranged entirely through a travel agency or, among the more independent, over the phone having seen advertisements in magazines and guide books. Booking a longer trip abroad in particular often presented itself as a major chore requiring weeks or even months of preparation, particularly among those with more discerning standards. Today, the Internet has revolutionized the entire travel and hospitality industry to such an extent that the majority of accommodation bookings are now made online among consumers who have spent time exhaustively looking for the venues featuring the best reviews.
Hotel online marketing strategy
- What is hotel marketing
- How to market products to hotels
- How to market hotel rooms
Hotel Digital Marketing Strategy
Important Trends Facing the Hospitality Industry
Plan online marketing digital strategy for Your hotel. While digital marketing is important for almost any type of business, few industries have seen quite so much change in recent years as the hospitality and tourism industry. Perhaps most significantly, the last few years have seen many traditional high-street travel agents go the way of the dodo, so accommodation venues can no longer expect to rely on deals with such third parties. Rather than going to a high-street travel agent, most people now rely on online travel agencies and booking engines, such as booking.com or lastminute.com. Of course, these websites do take a commission, prompting many accommodation venues to take steps to increase direct bookings as much as possible.
Another enormously important trend is the growth of mobile and the effects this has on marketing in the hospitality industry. According to a recent study by eMarketer, 51.8% of people who book their accommodation online will do so using a tablet or smartphone, and this figure only continues to increase. This increase means that mobile-friendly websites, one-clicking booking systems, click-to-call functions and geo-targeting technology have become critical business enablers for any accommodation venue. Mobile marketing, a largely separate area of digital marketing, is also, consequently, becoming more important, with many businesses in the travel industry turning to SMS, in-app advertising and other mobile platforms.
Hotel Marketing Strategy
What Can Digital Marketing Do for Hotels?
It’s been said many times in recent years that, if your business doesn’t have an online presence, it doesn’t exist at all. This statement is particularly true of hotels whose visibility in the public domain is largely dependent on their visibility online. After all, someone visiting an area that they probably haven’t been to before has no other quick and practical way to find places to stay there other than by conducting a search online. In other words, if you want to get found in this day and age, a strong online presence is critical for success. Though still relevant, things like high-street travel agencies and listings in guidebooks no longer have nearly the impact on the market that they once had. Ultimately, digital marketing affords the following benefits:
- Build up a public persona and brand image
- Increase sales and raise brand awareness
- Reach a global market
- Track customer feedback and manage your online reputation
- Provide useful information to potential and existing customers
- Respond to and manage complaints and queries easily
- Recruit employees and build business partnerships
- Save costs over traditional marketing methods
- Seek out new opportunities for further expansion
Without the Internet to aid you, any of the above will range from difficult to absolutely impossible. No longer can accommodation venues rely on walk-ins or the occasional customer finding their information at their local travel agent or in a newspaper ad. Fortunately, however, digital marketing tools provide everything you need to reach out to your potential customers to tell them you exist and give them incentives to make a booking at your particular venue. It doesn’t matter what sort of accommodation you offer, whether it’s a campsite, backpacker’s hostel, family-run pension or luxury resort; much the same marketing rules apply across the board as do the opportunities presented above.
Hotel Digital Marketing
Branding and Your Target Market
Before you can define your target market, you’ll need to be able to define your brand. Since one of the major goals of digital marketing is to raise brand awareness, you’ll need to establish a consistent brand image that you’ll deploy across the board. Branding refers to far more than just your company name and logo; it also determines your voice and written style and even the colour palette you use for your website and other online platforms. Whether you’re setting up an entirely new venue from scratch or you’re rebranding your company, now is the time to ask yourself who you are, what you want to be known for and where your place in the market is. Once you’ve defined yourself, you’ll start to know your target audience.
From global chains to small, family-run guesthouses, branding is essential for setting your venue apart from the rest and giving it the unique identity it needs to get recognized amongst the right people in an often overcrowded marketplace. Creative branding will help to boost awareness and customer loyalty, and it comes in both traditional and digital forms. Traditional branding options for accommodation venues might include branded linen and travel toiletries among other items. However, your brand also needs to be recognized online by the imagery and written style it uses. Whether quaint, exotic, businesslike, family-friendly or something else entirely, what defines your business dictates your branding.
Branding is not just about making people remember you. It is every bit as much about appealing to the right target audience in the first place by using the right tone and style in everything you do. For example, if your venue is a party hostel catering primarily towards young people, your entire approach to marketing will be very different to that of a formal hotel that caters largely towards businesspeople. One of the most effective ways to define your online branding is to start with a backstory. The story of your business’s origins and the reasons behind you starting the business in the first place will help to define your brand’s personality as well as give you some great content for the about page on your website.
The Key Elements of Online Branding
If your business is already well-established, then you probably already have some traditional branding in place, which you can draw upon to adapt into digital use. After all, all of your branding should be consistent, whether traditional or digital. All brand elements are essential for delivering your company’s message and appealing to the right kind of customer. Before you begin creating your branding strategy, you might want to define your customer personas by writing some profiles of hypothetical customers of the type you intend to target. Your venue might appeal to quite a wide variety of people, in which case you’ll want to create multiple personas so that you can more easily segment your target audience later on.
For the most part, the hospitality industry is highly reliant on visual appeal, so the imagery and colours you use to represent your business both online and offline is critical for appealing to the right people. Although there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to branding, it is important to remember that different colours and styles evoke different emotional reactions in people. For example, an agritourism venue will almost certainly make extensive use of shades of green in its branding, while an exotic beach-side resort might use a combination of bright and cheerful colours like yellow and blue. More formal venues, that want to convey a classy and exclusive atmosphere, might prefer shades of purple, blue and black.
Similar to the colours and images you use, the typography you choose will also help to define and complement your brand. In fact, the fonts on your website often have a greater impact on first impressions than the actual words you say. Whether you’re trying to portray the modern and minimalistic or the warm and homey, the fonts that suit your brand best will need to be carefully chosen. For example, serif fonts such as Times New Roman, typically conjure up an impression of refined and traditional, while sans serif fonts, such as Arial, are generally seen as more modern and minimalistic. Cursive and decorative fonts are, by contrast, much more specific, but may be the most appropriate options for venues with very specific target markets.
Most branding starts with a logo, which is usually the most difficult but important branding element to get right. After all, your logo says a lot about your brand and, in many cases, it’s more recognizable than the name itself. A great logo should not only stand out among the competition with its uniqueness; it should also reflect the personality of your business and the target market it intends to attract. Hotel logos often draw their inspiration from the location or a popular activity in that area. For example, a logo featuring a palm might suit a beachside resort, while a logo with a crown might give an impression of an exclusive five-star venue. Similarly, a logo featuring a sail may indicate a region that’s popular for boating and similar activities.
Hotel Online Marketing Strategy
Establishing Your Website
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that your website will serve as the hub of your digital marketing efforts, thus making it the most important platform of all. Although many people go straight to the hotel booking engines and often don’t visit the hotel’s actual website before they book, this doesn’t make your website any less important. For many people, your website will still be the first experience they have with your business. A website is crucial for increasing your visibility in the search engines, providing important information to your clientele and increasing your chances of getting direct bookings, thus cutting out the middleman. Establishing your online presence starts with registering your domain name and building your website.
Hosting and Domain Name Registration
Typically, the very first practical step you’ll make when getting your venue online is to reserve your domain name and choose a hosting package. Usually, you’ll be getting both through the same company, and it is essential for both performance and reliability that you choose a business hosting package from a reputable company. You’ll want a host that offers excellent customer service and the highest uptime possible, since every minute your website is down can end up costing you reservations. Likewise, a slow host will prompt many visitors to start looking elsewhere. Fortunately, business hosting tends to be affordable and scalable, so there’s no excuse for going for the cheapest option you can find.
With regards to the domain name (your Web address), you’ll almost certainly want to use the name of your hotel. Do not be tempted to use a key phrase or an exact-match domain, since doing so will confuse your visitors even if it does give you a short-lived initial boost in search engine visibility. If your registered company name is reserved by a so-called cyber squatter, then you may need to seek legal action to get it back. For the most part, the only consideration you’ll need to worry about is the top level domain (TLD), which is the final part of the Web address. As a general rule, you’ll want a .com address, particularly if your primary target market is international tourists. However, for other venues, a national TLD should be fine.
Building Your Website
Unless you have extremely specific and high-end requirements like those of major global hotel chains, there’s rarely any need to have a website built from scratch. Today, most small business websites use a content management system (CMS), allowing them to easily create, publish and update content and customize the website using a simple editor. Generally, you don’t need any knowledge of coding when using a CMS, so there’s usually nothing stopping you from doing it yourself. The free and open-source WordPress platform is by far the most popular CMS available, and thanks to the wealth of themes and plugins available for it, it should more than adequately suit your needs.
When setting up WordPress (and the same applies to most other CMSs), you’ll need to choose a theme, which you’ll later want to customize with your own branding by changing colours and uploading and editing any other visual effects. There are hundreds of highly customizable visual themes available for hotels, such as Sailing, Hotel Calluna, Bellevue, Paradise Cove and Hotel Engine Classy among others. Although all of these themes cost between $50 and $100, you’ll generally want to go for a paid theme rather than a free one. Most importantly, make certain that any themes and plugins you use for your website are fully responsive, meaning that they’ll offer an optimal experience on mobile devices as well as desktops.
Content is ultimately the fuel that drives traffic to your website as well as what helps you to build and keep and audience and your visibility in the search engines. Without enough content, your website is little more than an empty husk akin to a half-built hotel. Unfortunately, content is often one of the most difficult things to get right, because of the necessity to be particularly creative and adopt a unique approach to keep impatient online audiences engaged. To start with, you’ll need the following pages on your website at minimum:
- A contacts page featuring your name, address, phone number and location on the map. You can also provide directions on this page, along with an integrated Google Maps and location marker.
- An about page featuring the story of your brand. Your About page presents the perfect opportunity to make a personal and meaningful connection with your target market by talking about your origins and your mission.
- A page showcasing your rooms, apartments and any other accommodations you offer. Be sure to provide plenty of professional, high-resolution photos as well as pricing information and any other relevant specifications.
- A reservation page where visitors can ask questions or make a reservation. For best results, consider integrating a hotel reservation system into your website rather than just a message form.
- If your venue also features a restaurant, you’ll need a separate section of your website showcasing your menu, prices and any related special promotions or events.
Although it takes time, you might also want to integrate some content marketing into your hotel website by running a blog. A blog provides a great opportunity to keep connected with your current and potential customers by providing tips and advice on things to do and see in your area.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing broadly falls into two main categories; search engine optimization and sponsored advertising. The former, commonly referred to as SEO, refers to the various technical processes involved in improving your website’s visibility in the search engine results. The latter refers to paid advertising by way of sponsored listings in the search results, typically using a platform such as Google Ads. As a business with a physical location, your primary focus will be on local SEO, which solely concerns local search results and queries that make references to a geographical location.
Although the golden years of SEO are long gone, resulting in many businesses starting to doubt its efficacy, there’s no doubt that your standing in the search engine results pages (SERPs) is something that you need to pay attention to. There is a growing trend among people searching for accommodation to head directly to Google rather than to a company website. After all, the first time someone hears about your venue will likely be as a result of a search on Google. Of course, there are also the majorly popular online booking engines and review websites, such as booking.com and tripadvisor.com respectively, which are also crucial to establish a presence on.
SEO used to be largely about building up a far-reaching link profile and optimizing the content of your website with some strategically placed keywords. However, as algorithms continue to get smarter, the search engines are basing their results more on user intent rather than keywords. Additionally, heavily keyword-optimized content tends to look like spam to the extent that Google might actually penalize it. Ultimately, ethical and sustainable SEO is about making your website easier for the search engine robots to explore and offering an optimal experience to your visitors. Although Google never releases much information on its ranking factors, there are a few widely known characteristics that any website should have to do well in the search results:
- Mobile-friendly websites get much greater visibility in mobile search results which, given the ubiquity of mobile Internet usage, is of great importance.
- Slow websites, typically due to poorly optimized content or bad hosting, greatly increase your bounce rate, thus decreasing search engine visibility.
- Unique, value-adding content that has not been visibly optimized in the hope of manipulating the search engine robots.
- No duplicate content. Duplicate content confuses the search engines, so it should be removed or tagged as such that the robots ignore it.
- No excessive on-site advertising. In fact, a brand website generally shouldn’t have any advertising on it at all except, perhaps, from partner companies.
- No use of black-hat SEO tactics, such as doorway pages, hidden text, keyword stuffing and other things commonly associated with spammers.
- A high-quality link profile, meaning that any links to your website should only be on quality, relevant websites that are likely to be useful to your audience.
As you’ll see from the above, good SEO is about offering an optimal user experience and driving quality traffic to your website. After all, you’ll be achieving precisely nothing if you’re trying to target a huge audience, yet most people who land on your website leave immediately because your venue is completely irrelevant to them.
While the above refers to general SEO and the best practices to adopt to maintain your visibility in the search engines, most of your efforts will concern local SEO. After all, almost anyone searching for accommodation online will include a location in their query. If a searcher instead enters a query like ‘hotels’, without any reference to location, Google will provide results near their current location instead. Google also displays the first three results as business cards, complete with ratings, contact information and markers on the integrated Google Maps. For greatly increased quality traffic to your website, you’ll need to make every effort to get in these top three results. Following are some of the most important local ranking factors:
- The number and quality of reviews and ratings you have, particularly on the Google+ social network.
- Location-related keywords, particularly in titles and in any listings you have elsewhere online (these are known as local citations).
- You have claimed your business on Google My Business and Bing Places and, consequently on the mapping services of those platforms.
The most important local SEO routine is to keep building up your citation profile. According to Internet marketing experts Moz.com, citation volume and consistency accounts for about 15.5% of your ranking criteria in Google. In other words, you need to make absolutely sure that you’re listed in all major online directories and, even more importantly, your name, address and phone number (NAP) is correct and consistent across the board. Among the most important local citation sources for hotels and other accommodation venues are tripadvisor.com, hotels.com, expedia.com, hotelguides.com and yelp.com. However, while these international platforms are important, every country has its own directories which can be even more important.
Social Media and Digital Reputation Management
Consumer habits are very different today from how they once were. Before the Internet came along, the only way for people to plan their holidays and find suitable accommodation options was to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from friends or travel agents. The occasional write-ups or entries in magazines and guidebooks also helped people to decide which accommodation to book, but it wasn’t always easy to find the information and opinions they needed. While these traditional methods of finding hotels or similar venues still play a role, and will continue to do so, almost all searches and bookings are now carried out online. The ratings and reviews that people share using social media platforms are now the new word of mouth, and your digital reputation management counts on you being present to respond and aware of what people are saying about you.
While you generally don’t have direct control over what people say about your business online, it is important that you’re there to respond to customers’ concerns and analyse the feedback. After all, people are often more interested in how businesses respond to bad reviews than the reviews themselves. Likewise, customers will appreciate feedback and thanks for leaving positive reviews. In other words, the way you interact with your existing and potential customers in the online public forum is key to building your reputation and increasing your visibility on social media. In doing so, you’ll also learn more about your target audience and how better to appeal to them. In fact, according to Forbes, a fifth of people looking for hotels turn first to social media for inspiration during their preliminary research.
The social media platforms, with the exception of the various paid advertising services available, are largely about building up an engaged audience rather than promotion in the traditional sense. However, even a small amount of promotion can still go a long way on social media, which shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that Facebook, for example, is the second most visited website in the world. Nonetheless, experienced marketers will generally recommend that you stick to the 80/20 rule with social media marketing, whereby no more than 20% of what you post is about your brand and/or promotional in nature. The rest should be content shared from others that is most likely to interest your target audience. This content could include links to articles about your surrounding area or popular activities to participate in. For example, if a new restaurant or guided tour has just started up in your area, social media presents the perfect platform for sharing the news, because it’s something that will likely interest your target audience.
Many accommodation venues, particularly those in more obscure or remote areas, have to spend just as much time promoting the place around them as the company itself. If, on the other hand, your venue if located in a popular area that everyone knows about, such as downtown Manhattan or London’s City of Westminster, your main focus will be setting yourself apart from the competition. Either way, your social media marketing efforts should serve as an extension of your website by providing branded content written and delivered in a style that is consistent with the rest of your digital marketing efforts.
The Importance of Visual Appeal
The hospitality industry is enormously reliant on visual appeal, and this is doubly true for any venues that cater primarily towards tourists. Visual content tends to enjoy the most engagement on social media, particularly in the case of the increasingly popular travel niche. As such, the most important features of your Facebook page, for example, will be the timeline image and profile photo. Always take care to choose something that represents your brand in a way that makes people remember you and think to themselves ‘I wish I was here’.
Visual appeal is so crucial in the travel industry in particular, that the image-sharing social platforms are among the most important of all. While Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter, is an essential platform for any hotel social media marketing strategy, primarily visual networks like Instagram and Pinterest should also not be ignored. Regularly posting photos or even just using them to host the images on your website is highly recommended for building up a large follower base and spreading awareness not just about your venue, but also the region it serves. Again, if you’re in a situation where you need to sell the place as well as the venue itself, the visual social networks are even more important.
Specialized Websites and Social Media Marketing
In the hospitality industry, it is the specialized websites that tend to be the most important platforms. Recent reports by TripAdvisor found that more people were turning to the listings and reviews on that website than ever before to help them find places to stay. As such, TripAdvisor has become one of the number-one websites for accommodation research. Its key social components include customer reviews, local listings and citations and the ability for hoteliers to respond to feedback.
Similarly, the online booking engines also have their key social components. For example, many people looking for accommodation will head straight to booking.com and choose a venue that meets their requirements while also sporting good reviews. Because of the growing influence of online travel agencies like booking.com, lastminute.com and various others, most venues cannot afford to miss out, even if it does mean paying a substantial commission.
With so much talk about social media these days, email marketing has shifted to the back seat as far as many businesses are concerned. Some have even been so bold as to say that email is dying out as social media and instant messaging take over. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Email is now more popular than ever before, perhaps largely because most people can now check their email dozens of times throughout the day from their smartphones. Studies have also shown that email remains the favourite way for consumers to keep in touch with businesses. There’s no doubt that email marketing remains a highly effective way to build loyalty with your guests and cut out the middleman by increasing direct bookings. It’s also one of the most cost-efficient forms of marketing out there.
Building and Organizing Your Mailing List
Any email marketing campaign starts with building a quality mailing list, which will eventually become a very valuable asset. A quality mailing list can only be grown organically through purely permission-based marketing. Since your aim should be to target customers and prospects who want to hear from you, buying mailing lists is out of the question. It’s also sure to get you labelled as a spammer, potentially leaving you open to legal action. It’s also important to recognize the difference between implied and explicit permission. For example, just because you obtained an email address through a reservation doesn’t mean you’ve been given explicit permission to send promotional emails. Sometimes, you might not receive emails anyway, particularly when people book through online travel agencies.
Fortunately, there are many ethical and effective ways to build up your mailing list, such as by adding a sign-up form on your website or a check box (unchecked by default) on your reservation form. Alternatively, you can use more traditional methods, such as by placing business cards and your rooms or when asking for feedback at the end of a guest’s stay. It is also just as important to provide a clear unsubscribe link in all email correspondence.
Choosing an Email Provider
An email marketing platform, such as the popular MailChimp, provides you with the tools you need to implement your strategy. Any reputable and full-featured solution should provide the ability to customize your emails using templates, automate sending processes, facilitate personalization and, most importantly, track your performance. While it’s important not to rely on automation so much that you end up losing your voice to it, a good email marketing platform can save a lot of time. Most are also flexible and scalable, so you only need to pay for the volume of emails you need to send. Aside from the more general email providers, you might want to consider a more specialized solution, such as Guestline, which caters specifically for the hospitality industry.
Crafting Great Content
Although building a quality mailing list typically takes a long time, it’s crafting excellent content to keep your readers engaged that presents the greater challenge. Firstly, you should always send new subscribers a welcome and thankyou email as soon as they’ve signed up. This and all other emails you send should also be branded using a customized template that falls in line with the branding on your website and elsewhere.
You should also optimize your emails for the small screen, since around half of emails are viewed on mobile devices, and this statistic is constantly increasing. If you choose an email provider that offers responsive templates, which most now do, then this step shouldn’t present much of a problem.
Insofar as content itself is concerned, you’ll need to provide content that is relevant and genuinely beneficial to your target audience. If, for example, your venue caters to overseas visitors on exclusive holidays, there’s no point in sending them a constant stream of promotional emails as soon as they return home. After all, most people aren’t likely to repeat an expensive trip abroad to the same place very often. In fact, if your venue generally doesn’t cater towards repeat guests, email marketing might not be a very appropriate option, unless you have a chain of hotels. Nonetheless, even in this case, you can still use email to gather feedback by way of post-stay surveys. Additionally, this type of content is not considered to be promotional in nature, so it can operate outside of a conventional mailing list.
Digital marketing has been largely responsible for the rapid change in consumer habits in recent years, making it a critical area of consideration for businesses of all types. Now that most people plan their holidays exclusively online, no accommodation venue can hope to succeed if they don’t have a strong online presence. Even if you offer the best prices and have the best location in town, few people will ever hear about you unless you’re listed in the major online booking engines and search engine results at the very least. However, to truly succeed, you’ll need a complete strategy that takes into account email, social media, content and search with your website at the centre.