There was a time when we thought of digital as somehow separate to marketing but those days are long gone. In a world where the average UK adult now spends more time each day on mobiles, landlines and the internet than they do sleeping, it has to play a key role in your business.
With almost 60% of hotel bookings now occurring online, your website is most often the first impression customers have of your venue. In a highly competitive industry like hospitality, paying attention to elements that give your business the edge pays dividends – so things like Search Engine Optimisation, social media and review sites are also increasingly important.
Patrick Landman, CEO at Xotels, a revenue management consulting and outsourcing company for hotels, believes great website design is the first step to digital marketing success.
He explains, “Your hotel website is your business card and the most important tool in generating direct bookings. It’s your best friend and you should treat it with care and attention to detail.”
His top tips include having an original design and a style which reflects the character of your hotel. It should include a user-friendly booking engine and be well-optimized to attract natural search engine results.
He says, “The design should be impressive, clean, functional and easy to navigate. Explain everything in great detail – it may help to ask your reception staff what questions they are asked most often – use as many pictures as possible, a great video of your venue, include guest reviews and make sure your site is mobile friendly.”
That last point is particularly pertinent given that 30% of all direct online bookings are made on mobile devices (Rezdy) and 65% of tourists book same day hotel reservations on a mobile device (Statistic Brain, 2015) – while desktop website revenue is down.
Patrick also highlights the fact that change is constant so hotels need to be proactive to stay ahead of the game. He explains, “Major search engines (like Google) are changing their algorithms more than 500 times a year, plus introducing new features and functionality. All the changes impact how search results appear on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
“What you want is that potential customers spend longer times on your pages and that they visit more pages of your website and you need uniquely engaging content to achieve this.
“Also you want to minimise the bounce rate – people leaving your website from the landing page without browsing any further. Those metrics send positive signals to the search engines, which utilise the information in determining where a page ranks on the SERP.”
He recommends that hotels check their ranking visibility regularly, using tools like Google Analytics and Bing Search Console, and make changes as user search demands and the competitive landscape shifts.
Grant Ruxton, Managing Director of Boyd Digital, http://www.boyddigital.co.uk adds, “In my experience working with global hotel chains and travel companies a strong international Search Engine Optimisation strategy is vital.
“Technical SEO ensures that customers and Google finds the great content that hotels have worked hard to produce. It generates high value incremental direct bookings, adding to the bottom line and reducing aggregation fees.”
Melissa Lang, Digital Marketing Team Leader at Smarter Digital Marketing in Glasgow, says that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ campaign when it comes to effective digital marketing strategies for hotels.
She explains, “It is important that your website stays on brand and if that means a web design update, it is worth the investment.
“Any digital marketing strategy should cover both short-term and long-term goals. SEO, when maintained, is a long-term digital marketing strategy. Once your hotel gets to page one, it is not guaranteed to stay there, which means a continual SEO strategy should be put in place.
“As for Pay Per Click (PPC), your hotel can start generating revenue almost instantly. Constantly running campaigns can be fairly expensive, which is why you should also get a PPC expert to look over your ad scheduling and the keywords that you are using as click bait.”
She adds, “Hotel comparison sites are dominating SEO results, which means independent hotels may struggle to keep up with their local competition. At least 60% of your business should come from organic traffic and SEO will help your business achieve quality traffic through carefully considered keyword research.
“Digital marketers often use the term ‘content is king’, and this could not be more true when it comes to marketing hotels, as millennials are constantly looking for exciting spots home
One of the issues, she says, is that many hotels are not achieving their marketing goals – and that even venues with excellent reputations can struggle to attract new guests.
Melissa explains, “The main objective for hotels with online booking platforms should be driving traffic to the website and improving sales online. Building long-lasting relationships with your customers is important in keeping them coming back after their initial booking.
“You should keep your brand at the forefront of everything you do – and this is where email marketing comes into play. Email marketing is
successful if it is balanced, but sending out hundreds
of emails to your customers will not work.”
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) also present a considerable challenge to hotels, with sites like Expedia and Booking.com accounting for a significant chunk of the market – despite commission fees of up to 15%.
Independent hotels can be particularly dependent on them with research suggesting that, while 42% of their rooms are booked online, just 24% of these bookings come via the hotel’s own website. The remaining 76% are made via OTAs. Yet research also shows that most customers would rather book directly with a hotel – as long as they can do so easily and for the same sort of price as they would get if booking via an OTA.
Patrick Landman, of Xotels, again, “The elevated fees hotels have to pay to third party websites for selling their own rooms can leave them with substantially reduced profit margins.
“On the top of that, often hotels are forced to sign agreements with OTA’s stating that they can’t offer lower prices on their hotel website directly, but the winds have been changing lately and the ‘trend’ is shifting back to divert the business from OTA’s directly to the hotel’s own website.”
Melissa, at Smarter Digital Marketing, highlights the importance of guest reviews. She explains, “Online PR is incredibly important to the success of your brand, in fact, 87% of customers will not choose your hotel if it has negative or no online reviews. Having reviews on your website shows customers that you are transparent and trustworthy, two qualities which are extremely important within the hotel sector.”
She suggests adding positive feedback to your website using applications such as Trust Pilot, adding, “It is also important that your hotel actively responds to both negative and positive feedback. One way to target customers who may have complaints is to email guests before they check out, so that you can ask them to report any issues directly.”
TripAdvisor found that 65% of their users are more likely to book with a hotel that responds to reviews, while 85% say that a good management response to a poor review improves their impression of a hotel.
Digital signage software has a growing role to play in helping your guests get the most out of their stay and boosting your marketing efforts and there have been some exciting advances on this front.
Hotel groups like Marriott and Radisson are using Enplug – a package that enables live streaming of social media, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, so that their information displays are constantly updating.
The device connects to HD TVs and WiFi and gives marketing teams the ability to manage content from any computer or mobile device via a user-friendly web dashboard. Multiple Apps can be enabled for a rotating selection of content – you can also include the TripAdvisor rating and reviews for your business as well as events and localised news.
Bill Garrity, CEO at Engage Displays, whose firm has exclusive distribution rights to supply Enplug software in the UK, believes that simplicity and ease of use is the key to successful marketing packages.
Bill says, “The Enplug technology has evolved to a point where its offers a simple, ease of use of really powerful content. It also includes user-generated content so your guests feel they are part of the environment, that they have a voice at your venue. Being able to see that this is part of the hotel.
He adds, “We work with some of the biggest brands in the world but smaller organisations can also afford this technology because it doesn’t have the same requirements.
This is just the sort of advance that potentially takes media and communications to a whole new level for the hotel industry. It makes it easier than ever to adopt a 360-degree approach to marketing strategies – with digital taking centre-stage rather than being an afterthought.
With more and more of us – from millennials to silver surfers and everyone in between – becoming tech-savvy, the digital marketing genie is definitely out of the bottle. If you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace it.