The travel and hospitality world has entered an era of chaos. Between OTA mergers, Google's arrival, niche startups and astounding technological advancements, things have come unhinged. But the great thing about chaos is that it creates room for growth and opportunity for hoteliers who know how to play their cards right. A strong digital marketing strategy is a great place to start.
The times, they are-a-changin'
Things are different in 2016. The end of 2015 was chaotic, with international OTA behemoths swallowing everything in sight and new powerhouse players entering the market and wreaking havoc. And yet, as the dust continues to settle around this brave new world, some interesting things have come to pass: mobile phones and micro moments are dominating, niche players (such as Airbnb) are gaining ground, while cloud management software, open APIs, social media and big data have become the word around town and show no signs of slowing down.
People have changed too. Travelers are thinking, researching and booking differently. They expect a different type of experience with more personalization and customization. OTAs, hotels (and everyone in-between) are battling to figure out the best strategies to win customers over. It is a market ripe for the taking…if you get your digital marketing just right.
7 Tips for successful digital marketing
It's not a new message, but if you want to thrive in a hostile environment, you need to diversify. The huge OTAs are here to stay (at least for the immediate future) and are focused on gaining as many commissions, while giving away as little guest data as possible. This is not great for hotels. Luckily a few new additions — such as Google's and Tripadvisor's instant booking tools— as well as niche operators, provide opportunities for hotels to become multifaceted and get some of their own back. If you want to succeed, you need to do your research, figure out what's advantageous for your hotel and spread out across multiple channels.
2) Be your brand
Savvy 2016 travellers are seeking authentic experiences that extend beyond the glazed smiles of big brand, cookie-cutter hotels. This gives boutique hotels an edge and room for creative digital marketing. Figure out what makes your hotel different and use it to better connect with customers. In other words: how can you present your hotel as something more than a vapid room with a bed? Do you have a wine bar? Unique service? Interior décor? Rooftop views? Technological gimmicks? Can you provide your guests with a taste of the area by partnering with restaurants, attractions or events? Nail your brand and represent it seamlessly across all channels before, throughout and after your guests' stay.
3) Customize and personalize
Anonymity is out. Everything is about delivering an unobtrusive personal experience. Study your big data to get to know your guests. Who are they? Why do they travel? What's important to them? Which keywords did they use to find you? Which channel did they book through? How can you cater to each guest personally (in a feasible way)? Use analytics to better accommodate your guests, build relationships and encourage direct bookings. Provide incentives like keyless entry, online check-in, digital concierge or pillow selection for guests who book direct and keep communication strong.
4) Web is everything
It's 2016; a clean, mobile-optimized, fast, responsive website is critical. OTAs invest millions to ensure that they have a powerful online presence. However since they work on a comparison-shopping model, they can't focus on the things that make each hotel unique. You can. Of course this means that your website not only has to look great and be easy to navigate, but also be personal and immersive. Integrate reviews and social media to give it dimension and ensure that it reflects your brand, shows off your hotel and that booking is fast and easy.
5) Mobile, mobile, mobile!
Today's travelers are all about crossing platforms to research and book their accommodation, with mobile devices taking a prime spot in this process. According to eMarketer, more than half (51.8%) of travelers who book digitally in 2016 will use a mobile device (up from 43.8% in 2015). Add to that Google's finding that mobile web conversion rates for travel sites have grown by 88% and it's nothing to sneeze at. Your mobile presence has to have it all — responsive design, one-click booking, location technology and click-to-call — if you want to capitalize on this growing trend.
Source: Luth Research ZQ Intelligence™ - Cross Platform Digital Behavior Measurement, Nov-Dec 2014
6) Don't forget traditional interaction
While technology is great, don't underestimate the power of physical interaction. OTAs are introducing measures to keep guest data for themselves, but hotels still have an edge — physical interactions are theirs to exploit. To take advantage, train your team to gather guest information at check-in, then follow up with pertinent, relevant and personalized promotions, offers and rewards to build a relationship and encourage loyalty. Don't forget phone bookings which, according to HospitalityNet, bring in 38% more revenue than OTAs.
7) Get social
Social media is booming and an increasing number of hotels are taking part. The latest Google algorithm rewards social interaction and reviews, so use them to boost your SEO. Other than climbing Google rankings, by joining Instagram, facebook or one of the other social media platforms, you also gain access to new demographics as well as a chance to cement your brand, establish authenticity and build guest relationships. There has never been a better time to engage.