Hotel Marketing

7 Step – Hotel Marketing Strategy during uncertain times

Night Curfews, Weekend Lock downs, uncertainty in terms of what to do next and how to deal with this situation are all questions that Hospitality and Tourism Industry is asking right now. I believe that the only way to predict the future is by creating it, Though the situation is grim now and we don’t what would happen next, but we need to be ready for the Future.

Given the current Situation it is only natural that there would be knee jerk reactions to save money. One such reaction that we normally see is the Hotels wanting to cut down on their non essential spending, Old Maxim, Money Saved is Money earned and unfortunately the first one to get the AXE is the Hotel Marketing. Why? because a large majority of Hotels do not really understand what Marketing can do for their Hotel, specially in these times, They view the Hotel marketing spend as Unnecessary. 

Let me tell you why cutting down your Hotel Marketing spend is counter productive to your Business.

Table of Contents

The Current Scenario

The Traditional Channels that Hotels relied on are largely not working. Travel Agencies are in Hibernation mode, 90% of them have furloughed the Teams and no one knows when the situation would change.

Corporate Clients have largely frozen all non essential Travel and Conferences and Meets that at one time were the backbone of day events for the Hotels are all Virtual and given the situation would stay this way at least till the end of 2021.

It is said that it takes 21 days for us to start forming new beliefs and patterns and in 90 days these become a habit. With Virtual Offices and WFH now in play for over a year, people have adjusted very well to this new Normal and seeing this first hand daily, I can safely say that Virtual Conferences have been successful and Companies have continued to grow.

The Companies have also realised that all this adds to the Bottom line and it would be really childish on our parts to expect that post pandemic things would go back to as they were before. Because they wouldn’t.

Listing Platforms (Some may choose to call them OTA’s but Travel Agents they are not, as they lack the skill set to consult in most of the cases and are largely self service) have continued to grow and have been a saviour for a large number of Hotels.

As a matter of fact lets ask the question here who has saved whom? Hotels have diluted their pricing to get the Business and paid hefty commissions to these Listing Platforms, from the commissions received Marketing has been done by the platforms and a percentage  has been retained by them to grow their Valuation.

The Hotels were in a Fragile condition already and have to then dilute the Pricing and pay out hefty commissions to maintain cash flow, why because the Industry largely had refused to change and adapt to the more modern approach to do the Business.

The Hotels still relied largely on Sales and neglected Marketing. Marketing ROI cannot be calculated is what I still hear all the time. What did the Listing Platforms do? They did the reverse, they Invested in Marketing and increasing their Brand Awareness.

They were visible to the Audiences all the time. They understood the concept that to sell more you need to be visible more.

This “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude of the Hotels is what has put them in this situation.

Next Step - What should the approach of the Hotels be?

Does not matter whether you are a 30 Room or a 300 Room hotel, you need to build and have an in-depth knowledge of your ideal customers Demographic and Psychographic profile and there could be more than one profile, since as a Hotel you could be selling to multiple segments. 

Incorporating the Demographic and Psychographic profile in your Hotel Marketing Strategy is important and will help you understand a lot more about your customers.

Once you have understood and created this profile then you need to understand where your ideal customer hangs out.

You don’t need to go far, your own family and team members would give you all the indicators you need. 

First, stop thinking like a Hotelier and start thinking like a Customer.

Starting Point

A) Where do your Parents/ Senior members of your Family engage with Brands.?

B) Where do you Engage with Brands?

C) Where does your Spouse/Partner Engage with the Brands?

D) Where do your Children / younger members of the family Engage with Brands / Content.

I am pretty sure you would discover that in practically all the cases (B,C & D) it would be more skewed towards Online and in case of A) It could be healthy mix but Online would have an edge

Next step is what is the Platform where the A to D demographics hangout. Once you have figured the platform see some sponsored content from SAAS companies / FMCG’s / E-commerce Players. This would give you a great overview of how companies who have been successful have engaged with their audiences.

By dividing people in demographics we realise that People in certain age groups and  have similar habits. This then helps understand the behaviors. The next step is pretty obvious, your Brand needs to start creating an awareness on the Platforms that are best suited for you.

Lets take the guess work out and give you the answer. Facebook and Instagram would help you cover around 75-80% of your audience.

Next Step - Creating your Hotel Marketing Strategy

Now that we know that these Platforms are best suited to reach a wide audience, the next ideal step would be to engage in Social Media Marketing (SMM). Wait some may say we are already doing Social Media Marketing and have an Agency for the same. 

If your Hotel Marketing strategy already has Social Media Marketing in it & you are already doing SMM for a period of Greater than 90 Days and not seeing the results you are not doing it RIGHT, What you are probably doing is Organic Posting not Marketing.

As per Oxford Dictionary the very definition of Marketing is

Hotel Marketing

Organic Posting being done by you cannot qualify as Marketing, Marketing itself is the activity of Advertising and reaching to new audiences. When we post organically on Facebook we are reaching out to people connected to the Brand already, and as per a study only 5.2% of people or 1 in 19 people if your content is engaging, That is why you see 10-12 likes on your Hotel posts in majority of cases. 

In case of Instagram by leveraging Hashtags we may reach new people. But an Organic post on Instagram lacks a call to action. You may reach out to new people but it does not result in turning a Looker into a Booker.

Paid Social needs to be a part of your Strategy, Running paid AD’s (known as Sponsored Ads) gives your Brand a Super Power to reach a wider audience across Geographies and if you are working with Smart Digital Marketers, (These usually don’t come cheap – Remember you pay Peanuts you get Monkeys) they can help you turn your Hotel around. 

Whether you are looking to fill Rooms, or need support in F&B or Spa or wanting to promote more events big and small. A smart marketer would be able to find the hidden niche and start working his/her magic.

How long does Marketing take to start showing Results?

Contrary to what you think, Social media is not a magic bullet which would give you instant results and overnight success. Remember the Old Saying Rome as not built in a day. As a hotel you want to be dealing with a warmer audience rather than a cold audience.

(A Warm Audience is someone who has already engaged with your Brand and a Cold Audience is one who hasn’t)

Sometimes the Cold audience would convert as well, it truly depends upon how razor sharp or broad your Potential Audiences have been defined by the Marketing, but it should be seen as an exception rather than the norm.

In my experience of 10+ years as a Marketing Specialist working in the Middle East and India, I have realised that 90 Days is a good period for your Marketing efforts to start warming up an audience if you have been consistent in your messaging.

It is all about Touch points, As a Hotel you should have a strategy to create between 10-15 touch points to see decent conversion. Just like when you you hire a sales team to do your Sales, the first visit from the Sales teams to your potential clients does not result in a Booking, Marketing also should be given its due share of time.

The One question I get a lot is, Is there a Guarantee that Marketing would bring in Sales? The answer is Yes, it may take longer if your audiences have not been defined and warmed up properly (This usually happens when not the best person is Hired to do the Job, but the cheapest one is and when the Hotel decision makers do not give the Marketing efforts time) You have planted a seed, give it time to nurture and grow.

I always recommend that Hotels follow a 3 Step process with their Marketing, Building Awareness, Driving Engagement and finally Conversions. Most of the times you may be tempted to jump straight from Building Awareness to Conversions. Though Possible, not only does it needs a larger Budget, but could be counter productive. 

This would also result in a poor conversion rate of between 2-5%. So understand this, if 100 people inquire and only 2 convert, it is a bigger drain on your resources both human and financial. Where as a warmer audience converts at between 5-8%.

Does this mean you don’t need Organic Posting??

You would always need Organic Posting, you don’t want an Empty Social Media Asset when the client comes back to check you out. Lets understand what a typical customer behaviour on Social media is going to be like, they see your AD and find it interesting but they are not free right now and they bounce off. 

Later they want to check you out, the AD they saw is not visible to them anymore so they either google you and end up on your Website or they go back to the Platform and search for you there, they would not like to see an Empty page there, it should be populated and have content.

How often should you post?

The Jury is still out on this one, a lot of people believe that once a day on Facebook and more than once on Instagram. Having worked in the Hospitality Industry, I have found that every alternate day is good enough for Hotels, Please remember Organic posting is more of an engagement thing for people connected to your Brand. A Regular message needs to go out, even if they don’t see it always.

Measuring your Efforts: Google Analytic and Facebook Pixel.

Data is the King, in 2021 we should have no excuse to not use Data to our Benefit. Data is a complete Topic in itself and something which I believe can make a Brand extremely powerful if used in the right manner, however for this article, the only Data that I want to address is what is being recorded by Google Analytic and Facebook Pixel.

Majority of Hotels do not have any Analytics code installed, hence are unable to measure the traffic coming to their pages,. This means that they do not know a key data metrics which could be extremely beneficial to their Brand. 

Let me give an Basic Overview of what could be relevant for the Hotels.

Google Analytics can tell you where the traffic is coming from (country and city) it can tell you how much time the traffic is spending on your website and what pages they are viewing. It can tell you a whole lot more but lets just understand these basics. If you knew which country and city were driving traffic to your Site, wouldn’t it make sense to market your Hotel in that City, If you knew what pages were being viewed the most, it would give you insights on what interests your potential clients about you.

Facebook Pixel: Every Visitor who has come to your site is probably on Facebook or Instagram and once they have come to your Hotel Site this data has been recorded by Facebook Pixel. Now Imaging you combine the knowledge from Google Analytic and curate an Offering for the right product and 

A) Market to audience in the city which is already giving you traffic and
B) re-target visitors who have already been on your site with a follow up messaging, 

you have now an increased chance of conversions.

Hence it is mandatory to have analytics codes installed on your website. I recommend having Google Tag Manager installed on your Site (Google Analytic code and Facebook Pixel code can be added to the Tag Manager and that ways you only have 1 script running on your website)

Supplementing Social Media: Email Marketing

Email Marketing is very powerful but when combined with Social Media Marketing, a winning combination is created. 

Every Hotel needs to have an Offers section on the Website, having worked with 100’s of International Brands, I realise that you cannot change the entire layout despite it not having the best User Experience because of Brand Standards, but what you can do is have an Offer Section to Promote your Specials.

Once the Traffic lands here from your emails they are recorded by the Facebook Pixel and from there your Marketing Teams can create Re targeting audiences to showcase your new and future offerings to them on Social Media. (every time they interact or engage with a Brand a Touch Point is created)

You can also use the Client data for building direct audiences on Facebook but a lot of times that Email Address they may use to login may be different from the one you have on the file. So, driving traffic back to the Website works better.

Take away for Senior Management, Finance & Revenue

The biggest push back that comes for Social Media marketing comes when the Senior Management does not know the Power of Social or has pre-concieved notions about Marketing for Hotels or when the revenue / Finance departments ask for unrealistic ROI’s.  

My advise for The Senior Management and the Revenue / Finance leadership, Please educate yourself on the power of Marketing specially Social Media Marketing and understand that this is an Investment you need to make if you want to build a brand with today’s Customers

Believe it or not you are already paying for Paid Marketing when you sell through Listing Platforms, but instead of getting your Brand across to the prospective pool of customers and getting a Direct Sale you are diluting your pricing and building the Listing Platforms Brand.

Also, where do these listing Platforms stand today is a big question mark? As has just been reported on April 14th 2021, Cleartrip is in distress and is set to be acquired by Flipkart. What would happen with it in the future remains uncertain, maybe Flipkart would keep it for a while and once the data has been acquired by them they will sell it or write it off. 

Where do you stand if your preferred Listing platform suddenly is unable to sustain itself? 

You need to invest in building your Direct Pool of customers and the most effective way to build a customer today is by going Direct leveraging the Social Media.

Please remember that Todays customer engages with the Brand on its own Terms, On a time and the Platform of their choosing. As a Hotel you need to Adapt if you want to stay relevant.

Final Thoughts

I have been a Part of the Global Tourism and Hospitality Industry since 1989, Have been giving my Sales a boost by leveraging Marketing since 1993 and have been helping Brands with Digital Marketing for 10+ years. What I am sharing here are my observations that comes from my Interaction with over 50+ General Managers, Hotel Owners and Revenue Heads Since September 2020

I have seen how little Senior Management of some of the Hotels understand about paid Social Media Marketing as a Channel for growth, at the same time I have also met some Amazing forward think Senior Managers who have not only made Paid Social Media Marketing a Part of their Hotel Marketing strategy but also leveraged it to the Max and were able to build Awareness, Engagement and drive in Conversions from it. 

Both the sets of People have made me realise and firm my belief that If Hotels wish to stay relevant today then they need to go Direct to Consumers and meet the consumers of Today on a platform where they hang out & connect with them at a Time of their choosing.

If your Hotel has not experienced the Power of Social Media Marketing (Paid+Organic) still, have a chat with me and let me show you how you can Build and Improve your Brand Valuation in front of the people who matter for you the most – Your Potential Customers.

Lets get your Marketing Sorted