For this final post, I am zooming out of my former hotel marketing via mobile topic and now give a more complete view on new marketing trends for the hotel industry. They still include approaching potential customers via their smart phones so feel free to read my post about mobile hotel apps and whether they are necessary.
OTAs – Online Travel Agencies
Currently, as holiday season is approaching, TV spots are full of OTAs and the likes of Expedia, Trivago, and Kayak and every platform is claiming to have the best price. So, as a hotel, you want to be listed among these websites in order to be found.. right?
That’s at least what VLM Leonardo, a technology leader in online visual content management with prestigious clients like Best Western, Marriott, and Hilton Hotels, strongly advises you to do. They emphasize that 20% of bookings are made through Online Travel Agencies and insist that you should create a stand out profile on these platforms because only focusing on your own site would according to them makes you miss 1/5 of potential business. On the other hand, Robert Rauch, who is the president of a market research company that manages two Hiltons in San Diego and who is also called the “hotel guru”, states that Amercian hotels spend $2.7 billion on OTAs which illustrates that hotels should be looking at ways to increase direct booking from their own websites. However, the marketing agency wihp supports the view that more customers can be reached with these travel websites by arguing that the regular search is replaced by meta-search and travellers are not satisfied with generalized search anymore but want to be provided with an overview. Nevertheless, the trend seems to be going away from OTAs and Rauch is joined by the award-winning Hotel Managers Group who admits that hotels that are listed in hotel sites benefit and bookings are increased but explains that due to the price comparison, mainly rooms at the low end of the price scale are booked and the travel sites usually charge a fee for each booking. Kritika Signh, from Internet Monguls with clients like the Radisson Blue and Lemon Tree, adds that it is thus imporant to have a well functioning online booking system on your own website. But how to get the customers to your very own online presence?
Social Media and Content Marketing
Google is like advertising at a store. Facebook is like advertising at a party.” – Business Insider
Content Marketing is THE new trend and the suggested way to get away from travel and tourism websites, but what is it about? The answer is rather simple, providing content in the web and on social media. Does it disagree with the quote? No, because you do not place ads in the likes of Facebook but create a profile yourself to present your hotel to the world (which is also for free at the beginning, but keep in mind that someone must take care about the profiles quite frequently).
Facebook is not really new but already established and a good way to get started. VFM provides us with some convincing facts, that 29% of travellers start their research on Facebook, 48% change plans after seeing reviews, more than the half of the bookers share their travel destination and 3/4 post vacation photos. But they are also warning that you should only post value content and not spam your followers because then many will unlike you. That might be a little unusual for advertisement as you want to confront your potential customers very often to stay in mind, but Facebook users usually scroll through their feed more carefully and will pay attention to interesting posts. On the contrary, as whip remarks correctly, you need to have something to say because otherwise it is rather pointless. According to them, Facebook is not for everyone and especially small businesses should put the emphasis on being locally visible (for example in Google maps and qype). The mag Entrepreneur agrees and warns businesses of the “shiny object syndrome” and declares that just because something is innovative, it doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. They provide 5 questions to help you deciding if Social Media fits your goals and are also convinced that you sometimes have to stay regional (and most digital platforms are not). MPK Systems is specialized in SaaS but also puts it quite drastically, saying that “you do not need to engage [in social media] at all” and make sure the marketing tools you choose fit your business. One self-explanatory example I found was hotelcluster which hails content marketing but they only have 61 likes on Facebook themselves (and, let’s face is, at least half of it is probably from employees and friends). Robert Rauch is disagreeing in a second article and suggests that online profiles boosts the search ranking and points out the advantage of personalized customer service. Melià Hotels take that to another level by opening a “Social Suite” that is designed by their Facebook fans and they are a role model for customer service by answering every single comment (also negative ones) on their wall in an enthusiastic and polite way. They also guarantee the best price on their weibsite and give you a dicount if you find a cheapter offer elsewhere – that is a way to fight the OTAs. On top of that, loyal customers are rewarded with free stays.
New social media would be Pinterest and Instagram. These platforms only focus on pictures. Entrepreneur claims that “people use Pinterest for inspiration on fashion, dinner ideas and home decorations” while Rauch uses the term “lifestyle messages”. And travel is lifestyle! I know that both tools are not very popular in Germany yet, but already 6 of my Facebook friends like Mr. & Mrs. Goodlife (over 70,000 likes in total) and currently, they only post pictures of designer apartments, pools and the sea. The Canadian chain “ALT hotels” held a photo contest via Instagram in order to create a collective work of art designed specifically for the ALT Hotel Toronto Pearson.
Ernst & Young is a company that also gives advisory services and has clients like Amazon, Coca Cola, Google, et al. They do credit online marketing, for example for restoring confidence in New Orleans after Katrina, but also advise to do non-traditional (do they consider Twitter and Facebook already as traditional?) “Guerilla Marketing” with flash mobs, scavenger hunts and public stunts. They believe that these tools are cost effective and memorable. You should also be flexible and make to most of recent events, as did the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, who invested $200,000 and got a huge response. The campaign made use of “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” and “Keep calm and carry on Harry” (I do pity him, but it’s funny tough!) which also got over 7,000 Facebook likes.
To include a wider range than just technology related trends, I am finally also providing you with a cultural trend. And no, the trend is not to go on vacations in Asia (instead of bothering with your own marketing) but to attract more Asian tourists. Rauch claims that China has about 100 billion leisure tourists and quotes Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott Hotel & Resorts, who believes that the Discover America Campaign will stimulate new demand. So if the U.S. get their typical market share, 10 million visitors from China will stimulate the hotel industry. The Hotel Manager Group suggests that hotels should make an effort to make visitors from other cultures feel more at home and highlights the fact that foreign visitors usually stay longer and spend more during their vacations abroad. However, according to MPK, there is a potential weakening of travel & tourism growth in parts of Asia in 2013. But it is important to consider that in developing countries (also including Brazil and India) there is a growing living standard and hence also growing demand in the travel industry. Additionally, the tourism market in already developed countries is more mature and not likely to increase significantly and there is no big need to adapt cultural differences in the Western World, so focusing on new markets seems to be worth trying.
The main focus of this post lies on the travel industry in the U.S.