The emergence of digital technology has changed the way both multinationals and smaller, independent providers market their hotels.
For those working in sales and marketing within the hotel industry, you can either put your head in the sand and run the risk of becoming irrelevant or keep abreast of emerging opportunities and position your hotel as a leader.
Of course, this is going to take buy-in from more than just the marketing professional, so I have provided a business case for each of the following hotel marketing tips. I would like to point out that this is by no means a complete playbook. I haven’t even touched on optimising your website, which could easily be a white paper on its own.
Provide FREE WiFi
You may encounter resistance from within the moment you mention the word ‘free’, but complimentary WiFi is now considered part of your commitment to customer service and is fast becoming a norm in the industry. So take it seriously; make it easy for your guests to connect and leverage the opportunity.
This means asking people to sign up to your email newsletter or ‘like’ you on Facebook when they first connect from your premises. This is an opportunity to develop your email database and your social media following.
Check out this infographic: ‘Does your hotel wi-fi suck‘. It outlines a few key stats, including results of a survey of 53,000 hotel guests who consider free WiFi more important than any other amenity offered by hotels, including free breakfast and car parking.
Own the social media space
The way we use social media is evolving every day, so if you’re still using Facebook simply to get more likes and drive leads to your site, you need to take a step back and reassess.
This approach was so three years ago! Now we can use social media as a terrific platform for basic customer service provide real help to potential customers.
So let’s talk about your strategy. You want an online presence so that when a potential customer researches accommodation, they find you and can use your website or social media page to help them assess where to stay. You need to be everywhere your customers are; your profiles should be optimised so that they find you quickly, making it easier to convince them to stay with you.
Beyond this basic strategy you should be using social platforms to respond promptly to any requests. Seriously, people expect this of you. If you don’t think you can do this, I suggest you ignore the online space and just hope you get by.
This commitment to online customer service will require assigning the responsibility of monitoring your social media to people within your organisation. Don’t make the mistake of leaving it to one person; you don’t want to lose a potential customer because they had to wait too long for a response.
With all the technology available to you, you can use social media to position yourself far above your competitors through exceptional customer service and innovation.
One example that I love is quoted in Jay Baer’s new book, Youtility, in which he explains how Hilton Hotels uses Twitter as a concierge service. In the example, Baer notes that someone had asked via Twitter where he could find a vet for his sick dog – @Hiltonsuggests promptly replied with directions to a vet. This very small but conscious effort helped Hilton acquire a customer for life, received loads of publicity and established a ton of goodwill.
Here’s some links to articles highlighting how other hotels use social media to set themselves apart from their competitors:
The world’s first Instagram themed hotel
The world’s first Twitter themed hotel
Four Seasons guests can use Pinterest to help plan their vacation
Understand the online ecosystem and encourage reviews
You have to know how important the ecosystem of hotel booking and travel review websites are to your business. Underestimating the opportunities or the pitfalls can really affect your bookings.
You should know where you are listed, where your competitors are listed and if there are other opportunities to be listed. Perform a basic competitive analysis of each site to better understand the decision process of your potential customers.
Have a strategy in place to not only encourage positive reviews, but also to deal with any negative reviews that may pop up. This is very important. A clear strategy to help boost your reviews will improve your ability to be found and your likelihood to convert browsers to customers. A strategy to deal with negative reviews will ensure your staff do not react in a way that could make the situation worse. Every negative review should be seen as an opportunity to win more friends.
Check out this infographic ‘The naked truth about hotel reviews‘. It illustrates some of the main reasons you should take your online reviews seriously, including a reported 49% of survey respondents stating they will not book a hotel if there are no reviews.
Step up your mobile presence
Encouragingly, the most popular digital technology as reported by a survey of hotels worldwide were mobile devices. This should no longer be considered just an option, it should be the basic mobile offering to your potential customers.
Another survey conducted in July 2013 by Harris on behalf of Expedia.com found that 28% of smartphone owners had used their mobile device to book a hotel, and 34% indicated they they intended to do so in the future.
Know thy data
As the hotel industry is now directly affected by people’s online activity, you need to understand both small and big data, or internal and external data.
Internal data can mean tracking your website’s statistics and learning to interpret them, so you understand how your site is performing; where your traffic is coming from, what your audience is looking for, and what opportunities are emerging before anyone else realises.
External data can come from research indicating changing trends, such as where your future guests are coming from and how they prefer to book their accommodation.
Keep one step ahead
If you think that technological advances will plateau, you are sorely mistaken. No matter how big your hotel is today, it is impossible to remain relevant in the future without putting a bit of effort into your online strategy. You need to be one step ahead of everyone else and be aware of opportunities on the horizon.
So find the sources of information you trust, subscribe to their updates and start embracing technology. Your career will benefit from the efforts you put in, and if you get the buy-in from those signing the cheques, then your hotel will too.
How’s this one? ‘Ford adds Hotels.com to its voice-operated dashboard‘.
Images: Toby Turner