By now your 2017 hotel marketing plan is probably finalized and underway. However, we at Hotel Link Solutions wanted to highlight some of the marketing practices and tactics that the most successful hotels are going to be paying attention to in 2017. Namely; increasing direct sales, paying attention to the costs of online distribution and customer loyalty, mobile marketing and content plans for customer engagement. Are they on your plan? If not you could be seriously missing out.
Whilst hotel marketing budgets vary widely, I think it is safe to say that for most independent hotels their online marketing strategy boils down to: a few social media posts, an avid observance of the terrifying but highly rewarding Trip Advisor and the rest is left to the online travel agency partners (OTA’s). A few larger hotels dabble in online advertising but rarely get a true picture of the returns on this. Usually lack of in house skills or time means independent and small hoteliers rarely see beyond these actions. The truth is that attention to a few things could really set your property apart from the crowd and see you reaping the benefits this year. So please, read on and consider your hotel marketing plan again.
Direct Sales and The Channel Management Mix: the dangers of relying too heavily on the online distribution partner.
More than ever it is important that hoteliers understand all the selling channels available online and ensure their hotel is listed. Be aware that in today’s online travel agency space we are not just looking at OTA’s, but also meta-search sites, flash sales on deal sites, mobile and of course search engines like google now getting in on the game. Having a channel manager is an essential tool, not a luxury anymore, as it is impossible to manage all these channels one by one. A channel manager not only means that you are aware of all these potential sales platforms but also can connect seamlessly and manage them all from one place.
Part of managing these online distributors is being aware of their cost. Considering the plethora of channels out there it is even more important to know what each channel costs and use the channels cleverly to maximize revenue. Often hotels do not consider the true cost of OTA or online sales. Commission is deducted as a cost of sale and driving occupancy is seen to be most important. Rarely is the cost of acquisition of OTA business compared to the marketing budget. This is really a mistake. Take a look at what you paid to OTA’s last year. Put this budget alongside what you spent on your direct marketing and you will see that there is room to spend on your own brand and claim some of these bookings directly.
I know, I know, it is very easy to just let them do all the acquisition. I am a hotelier too, I know how tempting it is. But let me share some more reasons why it pays to have your guests book direct.
The Extra Benefits of Direct Bookings
Apart from the obvious room revenue in full, with only your own cost of acquisition to deduct, not a large commission of 10% to 25%, what else do you have to gain? The gains are in brand loyalty and the ability and opportunity for up-selling.
If an OTA or other online channel sells your room the guest is not yours until they arrive. They are also often not yours when they leave, as hotels regularly fail to gather contact information or do post visit feedback.
The OTA is the one that sends them the details and holds their hand and gets the loyalty – “they were helpful we will book with them again”. The online channel is the one that gets to email them and sell tours and event tickets for their stay.
If you win that client you can email them and help them get the most from their vacation. Make them welcome before they even set foot on your property. Have the chance to up-sell tours yes, but also dinner plans, in-room packages, spa packages. Whatever you think of! As an hotelier you know that once you have your guest you need to maximize their spending, but in your property, not someone else’s. With a booking engine you can add extras at the point of reservation and have the guest pre-buy options. With a Property Management System (PMS) the opportunity to up-sell is even easier with automatic pre-visit emails and options.
Once they leave as a satisfied guest you are the one that owns that loyalty and may get the repeat visit. Of course, whether they booked with you or not, a post stay email campaign is essential. Having a property management system like the one offered by Hotel Link Solutions is very helpful for this – capturing guest data and enabling auto-emails to be triggered prior to and after stay.
The Email Conversation
Owning your guest opens up the benefits of email marketing. The majority of independent hotels do not do enough of this. Consider this year making an active effort to build your database and send regular (not too regular) newsletters to it. Nurture your guests. Many studies have shown that email is still the number one conversion tool in marketing. Don’t waste the opportunity to engage with your guests and potential guests. Hotel Link Solutions can also send your campaigns out to their large database of customers and help build your base.
Which Brings Us To Engagement
If you do anything this year learn that online hotel marketing is about content. It is about being of interest to your customers and possible customers. Spend a little of your time creating a content plan and stick to it. A few well written and search engine optimized pages on your website, a few well written articles posted on your social media and an email campaign to direct your mailing list to this content, will reap rewards.
Don’t forget that with a Hotel Link Solutions website you have the ability to add extra pages, so use them. We can also help you plan and execute a content and email marketing campaign and manage it for you if you prefer. Remember guests buy based on their experience of superior service not just price and location. So offer this superior service outside of the actual stay, in the booking process itself, from awareness to sale.
Word Of Mouse
We did some research this year which revealed surprising facts. We surveyed about 10,000 travelers who had booked a hotel in the Philippines and asked them what influenced them to book their particular hotel. Unsurprisingly, the number one reason was word of mouth. We all know that this has always been the number one influencer in purchase choice.
What was a surprise though was to discover that although previously the most trusted source of information was family and friends, it now ties with online reviews from review sites. This is actually quite astonishing. As purchasers we now trust the reviews written by people we do not know, just as much as we trust the opinions of friends and family. So it is imperative as hoteliers that we not only monitor this ‘word of mouse’ but actively seek good reviews and referrals and use the in our marketing efforts. Using a reputation manager to manage all the different sources can help considerably here.
Do not neglect mobile this year. If you don’t already have a fully responsive website then get it changed. All Hotel Link Solutions websites are fully responsive and look good on any device including mobile. You no longer need a separate mobile website. Studies we have done show that 52% of all reservations were made on a mobile/smartphone device last year. Google have made no secret of their involvement in optimizing the search experience for mobile. Their recent move to launch a mobile-first index sees mobile sites now getting priority listing over traditional websites. Bottom line, if you don’t have a mobile friendly site then you will not list at the top of the page, even for your own brand name.
Also important to remember is the speed at which customers wish to close their booking. The development of smartphone technology means that if your site is slow or hard to navigate on mobile platforms then the customer will go elsewhere. Make sure the process is speedy, with very few clicks to take a looker to a booker.
Consider also using messaging and chat apps to assist browsers to make their reservation. This function is easily set up within Hotel Link Solutions websites and statistics show that being able to answer any questions immediately will result in more reservations. In today’s speedy world if a customer has to wait, you have lost them.
So have another look at your hotel marketing plan. Does it rely too heavily on external online distribution channels? Then take action to make some of those guests book direct this year. Create a content plan, dust off your email list and work on it this year, not forgetting to proactively up-sell to guests and afterwards get that recommendation via ‘word of mouse’. Provide service beyond their stay in your property and earn a loyal returning customer.
We have designed for you a simple Essential Task Checklist to help get you started. Go on give it a try! As always we are here to assist and advise you. Don’t forget also that if you are unsure of where you stand now in your online marketing we offer a free online marketing Healthcheck to provide a current audit and starting point.
Best of luck for 2017!