In an age of ever-expanding digital interconnectivity, hotel digital marketing professionals must adapt to changing customer demands.
But the best in the business aren’t satisfied to just adapt. And they would rather lead than follow, by surprising and delighting clients with daring and imaginative initiatives.
The top hotel companies know how to shape customer preferences better than anyone, which helps to explain their immense success. Hotel managers and marketing experts everywhere can learn a lot from their example and must learn from their example if they expect to ride the digital wave to glory.
Best practices in hotel digital marketing are changing on the fly. And here are five you should be up to speed on, along with fascinating examples of how the world’s most prestigious hotel chains are putting them into action.
1. Embracing digital media with gusto.
Example: Marriot International’s Travel Brilliantly digital magazine.
Travel Brilliantly began as a website targeted at millennials. It has now evolved into a sleek digital magazine that caters to the desires of travelers seeking new adventures, new perspectives, and new vistas.
Diverse in long-form content, Marriot’s quarterly digital publication features interviews with prominent thinkers from various walks of life. It discusses emerging trends in travel, introduces specific hotel innovations, and offers fresh contributions from partner companies like the art/tech company VSCO and the media organization TED. Each issue is organized around a single theme that challenges travelers to rethink their old assumptions. And to also reimagine what is possible, in a world where new experiences are always just beyond the horizon.
Travel Brilliantly Marriot is marketing the entire travel experience to younger clients and anyone else looking to explore unchartered territories. In doing so Marriot is repositioning itself as a “smart travel” resource. It’s expanding the scope of its expertise and giving potential clients good reasons to return to their Travel Brilliantly site.
2. Letting the customer come to you (or at least letting them think they’re coming to you).
Example: Hyatt’s Google Lightbox Ad campaign.
In response to surveys that suggested problems reaching female business travelers, Hyatt launched an ambitious video advertising campaign. This took place across multiple digital platforms with the help of Google Lightbox Ads. When viewers hold their cursors over a Lightbox Ad for two seconds, it blooms to cover the full screen. It creates a memorable visual experience with a brand-specific message that entertains even as it informs.
So far Hyatt’s approach has proven wildly successful. And they’ve surpassed the industry average with a 2.8 percent engagement rate on their Lightbox video packages. Using this aggressive yet unobtrusive hotel digital marketing strategy, Hyatt has expanded its demographic reach as desired. They offer carefully customized content in an opt-in/opt-out format that puts the customer in the driver’s seat.
That feeling of autonomy and personal choice only strengthens the impact of well-crafted advertising. They have eliminated the normal resistance a customer might feel when confronted with obvious marketing tactics.
3. Marketing digital convenience in a package format.
Example: Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program plus complementary app.
If greater convenience is what hotel customers seek, why not give it to them in a fully streamlined package? That’s what the fine folks at Hilton Hotels & Resorts have done, with their HHonors customer loyalty program plus accompanying app.
To help spread the good word about its amazing benefits, Hilton supported the HHonors rollout in 2016 with a ‘Stop Clicking Around’ informational campaign. And this introduced travelers to the ease and convenience of direct booking. ‘What’s good for us is good for you’ was the message of this campaign, and as of early 2017 Hilton was snaring an average of one new enrollee every three seconds.
But the HHonors initiative was only part of Hilton’s plan to market a smoother customer experience. In conjunction with their HHonors enrollment, clients can download an associated app that lets them choose specific rooms, check-in, and check-out remotely and even open their hotel rooms with the app’s digital key.
Nothing offered in the Hilton HHonors program is overly exotic by modern industry standards. But they’ve gotten a jump on the competition by packaging digital benefits together, and that syncretic approach to customer service is one of the best ways to make an impression on the discriminating digital-age traveler.
4. Never forgetting that travelers prioritize the destination over the accommodation.
Example: Choice Hotel’s Travel Top 6 Guide for European tourists.
European travelers can explore the continent’s most popular and desirable destinations from the comfort of their own homes by visiting Choice Hotels’ Travel Top 6 online tourism hub.
To begin their adventures, Travel Top 6 visitors can simply click on a photograph of Rome, London, Frankfurt, Cannes, Vienna, Budapest or two dozen other well-known tourist meccas. Before their eyes, a menu of options will appear that will introduce them to the spectacular sights, sounds, tastes, smells and overall ambiance of their chosen location.
Direct booking options are readily available on each travel destination page, entirely appropriate since Choice has facilities in each city, village or region.
Choice Hotels’ centralized model for browsing is perfect for European vacationers. But it provides an ideal template for smart hotel marketers everywhere who want to market their locations in addition to their facilities. Choice is building brand loyalty by anticipating its customers’ traveling preferences and catering to them profusely, and there’s nothing to stop any other hotel from doing the same.
5. Never put limits on what the technology can do—and what you can do with it.
Example: InterContinental’s experiment in virtual reality.
Even the biggest hotel companies can’t offer accommodations everywhere in the world.
But InterContinental Hotels Group has found a way to work around that problem. Or more specifically, the technology to work around that problem: virtual reality. As a result, visitors to several InterContinental properties in China can now enjoy a fully immersive virtual reality experience. And this can be done in a special gaming and entertainment zone or from the privacy of their own rooms.
Hype and techno-wizardry aside, virtual tourism and entertainment will never be a substitute for the real thing. But as a three-dimensional supplement, it can bring unprecedented depth and breadth to the travel experience—and offer a ridiculous bounty of marketing opportunities to those smart enough (like InterContinental) to jump on the train before it hits full speed.
Virtual tourism in many ways is the final frontier, and InterContinental is boldly going where no one has gone before. This pilot project will break new ground in hotel digital marketing, and the sky is the limit on what InterContinental can accomplish as they blend and bend their best digital marketing strategies to accommodate the brave new virtual world.
Hotel Digital Marketing: Finding the Winning Edge
In each of our five examples, these hotel giants evaluated customer preferences and expectations. They then devised strategies not to meet them, but exceed them. Innovation means staying one step ahead of the game, and the best way to do that is to rewrite the rules as the game progresses.
In hotel marketing, being proactive and inventive always equals success. That formula can make a winner out of any marketing professional regardless of the size or reputation of the hotel that employs them.
What do hotels need to understand about content marketing?
The bare bones of content marketing is obviously about publishing and distributing content online to a targeted audience, but it gets much more complex than that. Major considerations have to be given to what type of content is used and for who, when and how often content is produced, as well as what results hotels can expect to see.
Ben believes content marketing is very much a patience game.
“The most important thing is to be realistic with your expectations. Content marketing will not drive any results for at least three months,” he says. “Secondly, hotels need someone who understands search engine optimisation (SEO), social media marketing, email marketing, and the value of channel providers who know the industry and can create lasting relationships.”
“Hotels must also pay attention to the marketing metrics that content marketing provides. Every piece of content should be driving new customers to your hotel – if it doesn’t, then change it. If it does, keep doing it.”
Once established, a content marketing strategy can be very effective, although Ben stresses each hotel will be unique in how they approach it.
“There’s a number of strategies that can work very well,” he states. “But they depend on the hotel itself; its digital properties (including website, email relationships, strength of social media channels) and what exactly the hotel is trying to do. However, generally these techniques present a good repeatable path towards driving high-value customers. The greatest thing about content marketing is that it is low-cost, measurable, repeatable, and it builds upon itself. Once the foundation is in place, customers roll in at increasing rates.”
What is holding some hotels back from achieving optimal results?
Developing and maintaining a content marketing strategy can seem like hard work, too much at times for some hoteliers. Seemingly easier options to drive traffic and bookings may present themselves, but Ben remarks these may not be your best option.
“From our conversations in the industry, we assume that many independent hotel owners are resolved to ride the coattails of Groupon and other more established channel providers. We certainly respect the value and the reach of these providers, but we also look at the total margin that they take and we see a lot of hotels that are on what we call the ‘Groupon Treadmill’ – meaning their hotel continues to get by, but
“When we start shifting the balance from 60% Groupon down to 45% Groupon and then eventually down to 20%, there’s a lot of cash flow hotels can then use to tackle capital improvements or upgrade the facility.”
Often it may also be a case of independent hoteliers lacking the knowledge to lure customers via a content marketing strategy, instead relying on providers such as Groupon. But there are simple ways to change that situation.
What are some useful content marketing recommendations for hoteliers?
Whether you’re just starting out or have been at it a while, concentrating on becoming very good at simple strategies is always a good option. For instance, maintaining a blog on on your hotel website is a no brainer. Ben agrees, saying it’s a great help in getting your hotel found via Google.
“If your hotel is in a popular tourist area (such as Palm Springs, California), it would make sense for you to post a blog on different restaurants to try in Palm Springs. We like to look at a website as a repository of all of the unanswered questions potential customers may have. Answer those questions accurately and often and you’ll start to see new customers coming in your door.”
There are various forms of content your hotel can use. High-quality images, videos, written copy, virtual reality, social media etc. all have value in engaging potential customers.
According to Ben, however, there is still one thing which trumps them all.
“Our research has shown that the most powerful path to new customers is to continue exploring new search terms for relevance and brand fit,” he advises. “Once we find these opportunities, we put the terms on our client’s website. This approach generates a lot more search traffic for the client. While there is awareness value in imagery and video – few things have surpassed the conversion performance of search marketing.”
This is why it’s so vital to be conscious of collecting and analysing customer and prospective guest data. For Ben, any modern business that isn’t utilising data is missing out.
“In some ways, customer data is the untapped economic potential of the 21st century,” he states. “It tells you who your customer is, why they are your customer, what they are looking for, and how you can stay connected with them in the future. Hotels that harness customer data to drive more-personal guest experiences are likely to have the most loyal customers and will see the new revenue streams.”
“The best method to achieve this is to build out a data management plan, which includes where and how customer data can be captured and utilised to drive more business results. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but getting started collecting, managing, and using data is a great journey for any business in the 21st century.”
There’s also merit in capitalising on user-generated content and making sure your hotel is marketing specifically to target segments.
“User-generated content has a tonne of potential,” says Ben. “Hotels should be looking at user-generated content through the same lens that they look at all marketing channels. First and foremost, what can we start doing with it today that can help us and secondly, what do we need to build holistically to use it more aggressively in the future?”
“As for demographics, content certainly engages different segments on different levels. Making sure that your message is being delivered to the right audience through the right channels is important. That said, the concepts of reaching an audience (regardless of their demographics) is very much the same – speak in their language and solve their problems. Do this consistently and you’ll be on a good path, whether you’re serving millennials or baby boomers,” he finishes.