A new hotel opening or changing of flags has so many moving parts. As an owner or manager overseeing this transition, you are likely wearing multiple hats. Here is a hotel digital marketing timeline for opening hotels to ensure you are building your website presence and a healthy channel mix that has reduced OTA dependency later down the road.
1 Year Prior to New Hotel Opening: FOUNDATION
- Buy your preferred domain. Develop a 1-page site or temporarily redirect to a page on your management company site. This should have contact info about sales and careers.
- Determine your opening budget. Be sure to include an extensive photo shoot, UNAP (URL, Name, Address, Phone) consistency and heavy paid marketing for the first 3 to 6 months of the new hotel opening. Participate in brand promotional add-ons if applicable for year one.
- Create a fact sheet. The sales team will need something that has stock photography, amenities, and proximity to local demand generators.
- Pencil in a photographer. If you are a branded hotel, ensure you meet brand standards in case they require certain companies to shoot, and also specific images. For more photo shoot considerations, visit these hotel photography guidelines.
- Choose the best systems. For an independent hotel, ensure there is proper alignment between your PMS, Booking Engine, Channel Manager and Website. Make sure respective systems can integrate with a CRM down the road. The website vendor should be on top of latest search engine optimization trends, site speed, responsive design, booking engine integrations, and Google Analytics e-commerce/goal tracking.
- Develop a voice for your brand. Who is your target audience? How will you fit into the compset? What are your goals, for digital marketing and otherwise? Pull market statistics from your CVB to properly set expectations.
6 Months Prior to New Hotel Opening: WEBSITE
- Hopefully, your website is live or being built and these points are considered.
- Define your unique selling propositions. Consider what is unique to your hotel and location against the comp set. Also, what is unique about your sub-brand, in terms of food and beverage, pet policies, in-room amenities. This is also location-based and how far your hotel is from specific demand generators. If your hotel has a free hot breakfast, are there any signature items? If you are close to a university, how far and are you the closest hotel to that place?
- Find niche keywords for your on-site search engine optimization. Each page should be dedicated to different keywords. Start with niche keywords and expand into more competitive keywords later. Your meta descriptions should include unique selling propositions again. Integrate your keywords into on-page content and header/alt tags.
- Write extensive content. Ensure your homepage lists all your unique selling propositions. Supporting pages should be dedicated to amenities, rooms, offers and the local area, at a minimum. Include keywords strategically placed throughout.
- Have a working phone number. You should have your local number, but likely no front desk, so set this up to forward to your corporate office or someone’s cell phone.
- Create a social media presence. Keep it minimal and just start with Facebook then you can grow into more platforms later. Aggressive posting isn’t needed at this time, but post construction pics, job fairs, and team training events.
3 Months Prior to New Hotel Opening: RATES
- Ensure rates are live. Rate strategy should be built and rates should be selling on your website. Submit to get your interface set up with the larger OTAs, at least Expedia and Booking.com. Audit your content and imagery on these sites and fill out as much as you can.
- Build at least 1 local package. It should showcase your unique selling propositions, partnerships or proximity to local demand generators. Leverage these to get exposure on your local CVB and chamber websites. And keep the fall back packages, like AAA, Points and Advanced Purchase.
- Activate local listings like TripAdvisor and Cvent.
- Check GDS strategy. Ensure major GDS channels are live and pushing AAA at a minimum.
2 Weeks Prior to New Hotel Opening: EXPOSURE
- Write your press release. If you are a new hotel that is a flag change, the press release will need to comprehensively show the volume of the renovation. Later, this press release will be easier to submit to TripAdvisor to wipe old reviews than some other documents they accept.
- Execute online partnerships. Your sales team should be in full force. As they are creating relationships on the ground, they need to think about how to promote the hotel online and get listed on local sites. Not only will it drive referral traffic to your site, but it will also help with off-site search engine optimization.
- Tweak your paid marketing budget. Does your original budget align with hotel needs and season you are opening? Finalize your UNAP partner to ensure your hotel is visible on all channels with correct URL, Name, Address, and Phone number.
Day Of Opening: TESTING AND LOCAL
- Ensure a working phone number. It should be ringing to the front desk.
- Do test reservations. Test inventory selling for day of on multiple channels and do test reservations.
- Distribute your press release. Consider using a national distribution service but also send to local avenues to distribute like your CVB and chamber.
- Communicate opening on social media. Post the new hotel opening on Facebook and any other social channels you have.
- Claim local listings. This includes Google My Business, Yelp, Bing and Apple. There is usually a phone verification involved.
2 Weeks Post Opening: PAID MARKETING, GPS AND PHOTO SHOOT
- Turn on paid marketing. Considerations are Google Adwords, MetaSearch, Groupon/Flash Sales, Social Media, Waze, Eblasts, Travel Ads, Retargeting, Banner Ads. If you don’t have a database yet for email marketing (as most won’t) check with your CVB to advertise in one of their e-blasts or e-newsletters. Most states also have a tourism website that you can advertise.
- Submit the new location to maps sources. With new builds, sometimes GPS devices don’t recognize road extensions or that a building physically exists. Check Apple Maps, Tele Atlas, Navteq, OpenStreetMap, and Waze. Google My Business should already be claimed at this point, but do submit turn-by-turn direction changes if needed.
- Prep for the photo shoot. Your photo shoot should be scheduled within 30 days of opening. Ensure your landscaping looks good and you have extra staff scheduled around breakfast and reception times, if applicable.
90 Days Post Opening: CLEAN UP
- Distribute new imagery to all channels. Ensure consistent image storytelling on your website, OTAs, local listings and social media.
- Check with front desk for guest complaints. Cross-reference sites to make sure amenities and directions are not vague or misstated.
- Check analytics and reporting. Check Google Search Console and Google Analytics for increased organic exposure. You also need to check Google My Business statistics. Look at your channel mix for red flags on really low channels. Tweak strategies as needed.
- Plan for Grand Opening Party. Time to celebrate and invite your favorite and potential clients for a party. Budget for food and entertainment. Showcase local vendors specific to your area. Design custom invites and play it up on social media.
The goal should be exposure sooner than later and integrate a plan that spends money in the right areas for your new hotel opening until base business is acquired. Also, you want to ensure a consistent story is being told across all channels to avoid guest confusion and higher conversions. For assistance in executing on this timeline, contact Cogwheel Marketing.
About the Author:
Stephanie Smith, founder of Cogwheel Marketing, is an expert in hotel digital marketing and comprehensive digital strategy for both branded and independent hotels. The company has opened over 40 newly built hotels plus handled the flag / name conversions of another dozen hotels. To ensure a cohesive online presence, the digital strategy must be aligned with the goals of operations, sales and revenue management. Cogwheel Marketing understands the roadblocks teams face in hospitality and how to work around system issues, restrictions and delays. Contact them if you are interested in the execution of the above timeline with their opening package.