WORLDWIDE While 2010 was not quite the tough year the industry feared it would be, hoteliers still grappled with a number of challenging issues: a slowly recovering economy, the ever-changing world of social media and the mobile web, mobile-obsessed consumers and customer review enthusiasts, and significant revenue leakage from hotels to OTAs in the form of abnormally high merchant commissions.
These challenges led to a fundamental shift in hotel Internet marketing tactics, including the need for multichannel marketing, engaging the new breed of on-the-go hyper-interactive travel consumers, and a smarter approach to analytics to determine what really works for hoteliers with limited marketing dollars available. The hurdles presented by 2010 encouraged hotel Internet marketers to simply be smarter so they might achieve greater online successes in 2011.
Max Starkov, chief e-business strategist, and Mariana Mechoso Safer, senior director of marketing at Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, share their top 10 resolutions for hoteliers to approach digital marketing this year.
1. “I will adapt a new marketing approach around the customer engagement channel and develop campaigns that fully align marketing efforts with the behavior of the hyper-interactive travel consumer.”
Today’s travel consumer is exposed to and engaged by so many snippets of information coming from all directions in a fast-paced, real-time 24/7 environment, that they live in a perpetual hyper-interactive information cloud. Consumers no longer keep track of where exactly they have been exposed to information or content; they no longer care what format the information or content they have been exposed to is in; and they no longer differentiate between media channels and content formats. In other words, the convergence of marketing and media channels plus the new hyper-interactive travel consumer equals the emergence of one single customer engagement channel.
This demands a completely new approach to distribution and marketing. Hoteliers must find a way to convince consumers that the channel is theirs—that they are in full control of the content they receive and how they receive it.
Provide multiple options on the hotel website for how consumers can hear from you (email, mobile, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). If they unsubscribe from one marketing format, give them the option to choose to hear from you in another way. Invest in electronic CRM in order to send more personalized marketing messages. Keep your marketing plan dynamic—if people aren’t responding well to a campaign, move on quickly. Stimulate website visitors constantly with fresh content, and implement contests and promotions on your website and through social media.
It will be important to invest in technology needed for centralized content delivery. A good content management system can dynamically push content to social media, the mobile site, email, Web 2.0 functionality on the site, etc.
2. “I understand that 2011 is going to be the ‘Year of Video’ and will continue to invest in videos for my hotel website, mobile website and other online marketing channels and efforts. Virtual tours are out, and videos are definitely in.”
While online video was an important part of the hotelier’s strategy in 2010, this year it is even more essential that video marketing be in the arsenal. Videos excel at selling your hotel and engaging consumers better than any other medium. Also note that consumers will be watching video even more while on the go, on their iPhones, Android devices, tablets, etc.
Develop hotel videos presenting hotel services and amenities to your different customer segments, post them on the hotel website and YouTube, and send them out via MMS messaging. Due to the shortened attention span of today’s traveler, plus mobile distribution restrictions, best practices require shorter 30- to 60-second videos illustrating different aspects of the hotel product: weddings, spa, entertainment, etc. This, followed by an exclusive offer, will increase the likelihood of ancillary revenues while on property.
Additionally, advertise your videos on YouTube and make sure they can easily be found on your hotel’s website, Facebook page and in email newsletters.
3. “I will no longer operate in marketing silos and I understand I will lose serious revenue opportunities and even market share if I send non-symbiotic or conflicting marketing messages about my hotel across various channels.”
Many hoteliers use separate arrangements, departments or agencies—some in-house, some outside—to manage the hotel’s SEO, SEM, email marketing, social media, mobile marketing, etc. A silo marketing approach goes against the nature of the new breed of consumers that hoteliers are trying to reach, and often results in different, confusing, even contradicting messages on different channels. For example, you may run a contest on your Facebook page but not mention it anywhere on your website or in your SEM, text and email campaigns. This will result in lower levels of participation, as well as confusion as to the legitimacy of the contest.
Hoteliers need to work in a multichannel marketing environment, with centralized content creation and delivery. In this environment, the hotel website, SEM campaigns, email marketing, social media presence, mobile, etc., have a symbiotic relationship. Your website content and marketing campaigns should be managed centrally and distributed via multiple platforms so that similar content across all channels engages consumers at multiple touchpoints.
4. “I will continue to launch multichannel marketing campaigns and invest in technology to better execute these types of multi-platform and multi-format campaigns. I know that I need to reach my current and future guests via multiple touchpoints.”
In last year’s version of this list, HeBS accurately predicted that multichannel marketing would be the norm in 2010. Many marketing initiatives, on their own, cannot generate the high revenues that multichannel campaigns can produce. Hyper-interactive travel consumers’ need to receive and share fresh and relevant information and comment on experiences has blurred the boundaries between various distribution and marketing channels. These channel convergences exacerbate not only the need for multichannel marketing and distribution strategies, but also for centralized marketing content creation and multichannel distribution.
Invest in technology that allows for smart and centralized content delivery. As mentioned above, your website CMS should enable you to create a special offer or new package that not only posts this new promotion on the special offers page and featured special promo tile on the hotel website, but also pushes this promotion to your social media profiles and populates your mobile website. Hoteliers must also consistently provide website visitors with fresh, engaging content such as contests and promotions concurrently on your website, SEM campaigns, email newsletters, mobile marketing campaigns and through social media.
5. “I will make room in the budget for smart investments in 2011 and not rely on outdated business approaches or short-term solutions.”
Many hoteliers are still investing in 1990 business approaches or quick fixes. Outdated CMS technology that does not allow for centralized content delivery, mobile websites that do not work across multiple devices, flash-heavy websites and websites that read like static online brochures are unacceptable in 2011. These investments may save you money in the short run, but in the long run can spell disaster for your business.
This year, invest intelligently in technology and marketing approaches that enable customer engagement across all Internet marketing formats. Any investment by hoteliers should go through a litmus test:
a) Does this investment help me generate more engaging content?
b) Am I engaging the hyper-interactive travel consumer with this campaign?
c) Have I created tools that enable the hyper-interactive traveler to share this campaign and their experience on my hotel website?
6. “I may no longer delay serious time and efforts in mobile marketing and social media. This year, I will work hard to integrate mobile and social marketing into my overall digital marketing strategy.”
In October, Google reported that year-over-year mobile searches for hotels had increased by a staggering 7,000%. Industry experts project that the mobile web will surpass the traditional web by 2013, and HeBS’ own research and other industry sources show that between 1% and 1.5% of visitors to hotel websites already come via mobile devices. It is also evident that social media is not going anywhere. In 2010, Facebook’s traffic surpassed that of Google’s. Facebook users uploaded more than 2.7 million photos, shared 1 million links and “liked” 7.6 million pages every 20 minutes in 2010.
People are using the mobile channel to conduct searches as well as to share content, interact with friends and browse the web. This year, consider these ideas to integrate mobile into your social media strategy: build your mobile list by featuring a mobile widget on a customized Facebook tab and on your website; run a mobile promotion on Facebook and Twitter to build your mobile list by prompting users to text a keyword to a short code to be entered to win a prize; cross-promote your mobile initiatives on your Facebook customized tab, in Facebook wall posts and on Twitter; and use mobile to increase visibility of your social media messages.
7. “The time has come to upgrade my hotel website, which has become the main face of my hotel to the rest of the world. I understand that my hotel website should offer the best visual and rich media content about the property on the web and should become the most potent customer engagement tool via Web 2.0.”
Over the past two years, many hoteliers who desperately needed website redesigns simply put Band-Aids on their existing sites to save precious budget dollars. Today’s hotel website has become the main revenue driver that carries the burden and responsibility of generating the bulk of bookings for the property. The hotel website is the first—and in many cases, the only, and unfortunately for many hoteliers, the last—point of contact with the travel consumer. The property website is the backbone of the hotel multichannel marketing mix and the main “engagement tool” with today’s hyper-interactive travel consumer.
In 2011, this approach needs to be rethought. The hotel website is the backbone of your Internet marketing strategy—the most important tool in your arsenal. Your outdated website allows your competitors to steal your market share.
There have been so many changes in the past 24 months that it would be virtually impossible to have kept up with all of them. If your hotel website is more than two years old, it’s time for a redesign. If your website is a year old, keep it current with search engine optimization strategies, a Web 2.0 optimization and ensure you are fully addressing all your customer segments in your copy and navigation.
A site redesign is a three- or four-month project. Our experience shows that any website optimizations, enhancements or site redesigns pay for themselves within four months.
8. “I will continue to make the direct online channel the foundation of my hotel Internet marketing strategy and stop ‘leaking’ revenues to the OTAs. I know I need to reduce my reliance on the OTA channel and establish direct relationships with my guests. This will result in significant incremental revenues, increased loyalty and long-term competitive advantages.”
Revenue “leaked” from the hotel industry to the OTAs in the form of abnormally high merchant commissions of 25% and higher will have reached US$5.4 billion in 2010. Hotel reservations are financing the OTAs’ operations and are allowing the OTAs to obtain billions of dollars of abnormally high merchant (wholesale) commissions and reap huge profits on Wall Street.
For major hotel brands, OTA contribution—including agency, merchant and opaque models—should be kept below 15%. For the rest of the industry, the OTA contribution should be kept below 25%.
Hoteliers should maintain strict rate parity across all channels, create unique product offerings on their own website and engage guests directly through social media, mobile marketing and Web 2.0 functionalities on the hotel website. Additionally, every single Internet marketing initiative should be planned and launched with the goal of producing revenues directly on the hotel website.
9. “I will no longer suffer through information overload and will use analytics to make smart business decisions. Every report that I analyze must answer this important question: How can I use this data to improve my business and generate more revenue?”
Understanding business issues and decision-making is made more difficult by the overwhelming amount of reports that are constantly made available to hoteliers. Many hoteliers are only focused on website analytics and are not taking advantage of new tools available to them such as offline conversion tracking, including call tracking.
Start requesting reports and analyzing them with specific questions and goals in mind. Also, start using analytical tools to measure your offline efforts and channel contribution. By constructing private landing pages for print offers, enabling call tracking—especially to help measure what percent of business is coming from the mobile channel—QR codes and short codes that must be texted to redeem specials, hoteliers can get the bigger picture of what works and what does not work. In 2011, move beyond just using website analytical tools.
10. “I will not be intimidated by the complexity of it all. I will stay on top of dynamic developments by partnering with the best hospitality experts in Internet and digital marketing.”
Consider partnering with a hotel digital marketing firm with a proven track record in the industry. Partner with hospitality experts in digital marketing and direct online channel strategies who can help you acquire new core competencies and adopt best industry practices. Partner with those who can help you and your hotel stay competitive, preserve and increase market share, beat the industry averages and generate the highest direct online channel revenues and ROI. Hire experts who will work with you in complete transparency and that are ROI-centric, yet innovative and will keep you in the know of the latest trends, including social media and mobile marketing.