Research shows just 22% of travelers in the US are fully engaged with the hotel they visit most frequently, showing just how much room for improvement hoteliers have when it comes to guest management. It’s critical to not only have an effective marketing strategy that draws visitors in, but one that also converts them into loyal fans. This can be challenging in the competitive independent market, but there are ways to conquer this strategic challenge and ultimately increase your return on investment.
1. Ask yourself, “What does the traveler care about?”
This is a loaded question. It’s also a crucial one that requires strong branding as your guiding light. According to market research, travelers focus on one major aspect during their time away:
Travelers seek unique and different experiences.
- The insight: The traveler doesn’t settle for routine. They seek thrills and the excitement of novelty. There’s a reason this customer is choosing boutique properties over franchises.
- The solution: Be whomever you want to be and own it.
Engage with your senior leadership and marketing teams in a brainstorming session to create a strategic plan. This will serve as a brand manifesto for establishing a set of values by which all employees will live. End the meeting with a clear answer to the question: “What is our brand about?”
Task the marketing team with educating all employees about this philosophy with clear guidelines on how to infuse the sentiment into all consumer touchpoints, from point of sale and signage, to digital communications and on-site events.
Ensure the marketing team keeps up with industry trends and has a concrete process in place to translate them into a unique guest experience backed by your strategic plan. If the department has limited resources or if you’re not sure where to begin, consult a local market research firm in your area to conduct a focus group. A successful focus group gathers the right mix of people together to determine what inspires your target audience. Alternatively, you can email a survey to your audience to get the answers you need. Tools such as Survey Monkey are cost-effective and easy to use. Read more about behavioral and transactional consumer data to get an idea of how insights drive branding.
2. Increase direct bookings with a strong digital presence.
Inbound marketing is an essential piece of the puzzle for hoteliers looking to drive more business through Brand.com.
- The Insight: 51% of travelers use online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia or Travelocity to book. While OTAs are beneficial to drive awareness during the shopping phase, bookings through OTAs generate less revenue for the property than those made direct.
- The Solution: Charge marketing leadership with a 360° digital plan that draws travelers in and makes it easy for them to book directly through your website.
Build your web presence
Digital creative directors will treat your website as your hotel lobby. It is the central hub that draws visitors in and invites them to stay. Before physically entering the lobby, guests will enter the doors of your website. Still, a striking 96% of website visitors are not ready to buy. There’s no rest for the weary when it comes to websites.
Strong calls-to-action matter and so does the information on the page. While pretty pictures are worth a thousand words, it’s imperative to marry them with a seamless online booking and transaction experience. Checkout is the point of sale where the reservation is made, and the deal is sealed. Simplicity is your driving force.
Key takeaway: be visually compelling, clear and seamless. Learn more about why your website is the new hotel lobby and how to use that knowledge to your advantage.
Use social and paid media as your ally
On the surface, social media is a feed, grid, tweet, or pin of people’s adventures, frustrations, and wishes. We all want to identify with someone, something, somewhere. An organic social media content calendar will encourage people to engage with your brand. A paid media strategy will talk to the traveler and present him or her with relevant content based on their profile and engagements. Call upon the digital marketing team to target specific audience subsets and get into the weeds to target consumer locations, interests and behaviors. It’s an absolute must as part of your inbound marketing strategy.
3. Use reviews to improve guest experiences and your bottom line.
Reviews are everywhere and they’re here to stay.
- The Insight: “My voice matters:” this phrase is a domino effect. There’s nothing more gratifying to a customer than knowing their specific concerns are valid and worth acting upon.
- The Solution: There is always more opportunity for companies to invest time and resources to address the following three scenarios:
Public-facing reviews on sites like Google and TripAdvisor remain open forums for the good and the bad.
5 stars: “Everyone from the reception area to housekeeping was delightful. My partner and I were traveling with our one-year-old and the minute we realized we had forgotten to request a crib, the staff was right on it. We barely had to wait to check-in. It’s obvious they have their operations as top of mind.”
- Do: Reply with a public acknowledgment of the review. Thank them for taking the time to share such positive feedback and close with a pride point about your brand. For example, you can speak to the technology solutions your hotel has implemented to ensure shorter wait times. You can even mock up this review in a graphic to share across your social media channels to engage with your follower base.
- Don’t: Ignore the review all together simply because it’s not “problematic.” Positive reviews need acknowledgment if you want to build consumer loyalty.
1 star: “Too bad zero stars don’t exist. Marriott is way better. Enough said.”
- Do: Reply and express interest in learning more about the experience. Issue an apology and reassure the customer you always aim to deliver a positive experience. Close your reply by offering a customer service phone number or email address to carry the dialogue offline. Inform the customer that you look forward to hearing from him or her.
- Don’t: Ignore this review due to lack of detail. The traveler was frustrated enough with his or her stay to publish something, albeit vague.
When it comes to reputation management, think these three statements: a) you spoke; b) we answered; c) we’ll keep answering no matter what.
4. Grow and retain loyalty with rewards.
An effective and impressionable marketing strategy requires hoteliers to engage with the traveler from all angles. By keeping loyal guests engaged and the conversation loop open, you will develop more sophisticated personalization strategies as well as brand advocates.
- The insight: Guests appreciate when hotels proactively address their needs, interests, and preferences.
- The solution: Use insights to establish a deeper connection with guests. Our research shows 47% of travelers would be happy to share personal information with brands they trust for exclusive discounts. Consider polling guests throughout their stay to understand their lifestyle and behaviors, and capture the data in your CRM platform to offer tailored experiences. For example, if you know exercising is part of their daily routine, provide a list of gyms and fitness centers in the area, or surprise them with a yoga mat or protein bar in their room.
Guest loyalty doesn’t require a massive budget, it’s more about letting the customer know you value their business and care about what matters to them. A successful marketing strategy starts with knowing your travelers on a deeper level, hearing their feedback, and engaging with them throughout the travel lifecycle to create a lasting impression.