When COVID 19 broke out it disrupted travel patterns like never before. For the first time in a very long time consumers were afraid to travel, not out of a fear for their safety in the traditional sense, but for fear of being around other human beings.
People did not want to be around people and risk contracting this newfound virus. And, to exacerbate the issue, this quickly became a global pandemic which placed a roadblock in front of travel the world over.
The leisure customer cancelled their vacations, business travelers (the ultimate road warriors) stayed home and learned how to work virtually, and organizations put a stop to their meetings and conventions. Hoteliers quickly huddled to figure out how to respond to this challenge. Marketers slowed their efforts and began to think about how they could help lead the industry out of this predicament. They looked at this effort in phases realizing that consumer sentiment would be volatile.
Timing, messaging, geography, etc. were critical factors in the strategy. It became apparent that the leisure traveler would start the recovery. Hotels promoted their efforts to be clean, safe and just a car ride away. Resorts and hotels in destination markets promoted their outdoor possibilities. Marketers relied on digital, social and PR efforts to lead through the recovery process. We learned a lot from the early days of the pandemic to where we are today. Core to this process was the reaffirmation that the “customer mindset” and the “customer journey” should always be at the forefront of any marketing strategy.
Fast forward. One of the outcomes from COVID 19 was complete alignment around a well thought out digital marketing strategy. If you were to ask marketing leaders today who in their organization led their digital transformation the answer might surprise you. Meet COVID 19! Yes, the pandemic forced hotels to rethink their service and marketing strategies. To address guest safety concerns, touchless technologies were refined and new capabilities for apps were accelerated.
Electronic room keys, F&B service and miscellaneous service requests could all be satisfied without having to interact with human beings. Making the necessary investment in the digital guest experience was moved to the top of the list as spending was prioritized and if you haven’t already done that, you’re behind the curve.
New platforms and technologies that enable marketers to reach targeted audiences with relevant and timely messaging, establish clear ROIs, and provoke engagement have become mission critical. Developing a multi-faceted digital strategy that is modified throughout the customer journey will help hotels stand out online. Access to and engagement with more customers throughout their online booking journey will provide better results. Mandy Gill, Vice President, Marketing for Marriott International said, “today’s digital strategies need to be more dynamic with creative and messaging built for the specific marketing channel and incorporating today’s current trends.
For example, more people today are traveling with their pets and from our data we have seen targeted creative that includes dogs performing strong. We’ve also developed a robust collection of creative designed with tailored messaging to that specific customer and where they are in the shopping journey. We’ve thought about how customers interpret our ads and built out content that connects.”
As a key component of your digital marketing strategy, social media is one of the most reliable tools at a hotel’s disposal. Social media is used by hotels to create a dialogue, encourage interaction and generate “buzz” in ways that traditional marketing strategies don’t. There are a myriad of social channels so thinking through your strategy, knowing who and where your customers are in this universe and how your story is told should not be taken lightly. 2022 is the year of the video and creating great content that can be shared across social channels is mandatory. Short video clips have proven to be successful on multiple channels. It’s important to be real and not over produce.
Hotels are partnering with local celebrities, bloggers and influencers to create a level of authenticity and credibility to the hotel’s story telling efforts. TikTok, which has become a global phenomenon quickly, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. are all channels where you need to be represented. These channels give you an opportunity to build your own communities and grow followers. And, while growing followers is the first step, it is even more important to drive engagement amongst your followers. Spend your dollars on creating great content; it drives engagement!
Amping up Local
Clearly, an important part of any hotel’s marketing planning today should include a focus on the local customer. Efforts to build a sense of community, highlight local attractions and develop interesting story telling through the eyes of real people resonate with the modern consumer. Hotels employ digital marketing and social media to encourage locals to experience the hotel and some of what their city has to offer. Local marketing efforts should be amplified. Giving locals a reason to visit your hotel is key. There is no better marketer to the local community than locals themselves. Word of mouth is driven by people’s desire to share. Use your resources. Create a pop-up kitchen and have your chef demonstrate the makings of their favorite seasonal recipe. Invite locals and even have them participate in the cooking demonstration.
The Courtyard Titusville (Florida) Kennedy Space Center offers stunning views of the Kennedy Space Center and launch pad and features The Space Bar, serving local favorite food and drinks and offering a spectacular viewing area for launches. “The hotel invites locals in to view the launches,” said Marriott’s Amanda Gill. The Sheraton Grand Nashville has partnered with the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere and offers a package that includes tickets to the zoo. They also offer the Rachel Bradshaw Girls Experience Package that includes a weekend of festivities with singer Rachel Bradshaw. With rising inflation and gas prices soaring hotels must realize there is no better time than now to own their local audience.
One of the most fascinating changes coming out of the pandemic has been the exponential growth of working remotely. And, for hotel operators and marketers the terminology “work from anywhere” introduced a litany of opportunities. Still today organizations are grappling with back to the office, hybrid work situations and worker safety concerns. The remote work force is predicted to continue to grow in size. Early on in the pandemic major brands like Marriott and Hilton along with many independently owned and or managed hotels created workspaces in their hotels. These were marketed to individuals working from home as a respite from inadequate home office space or energetic kids that made concentrating on important work difficult.
Today, working parents have figured out how to blend business with leisure – thus the term BLEISURE. In reality, this concept has been around for a long time. Thanks to COVID-19 it has now become not only an acceptable practice but one that hotel operators and marketers have pounced on. We saw Spring Break advertising that featured parents working on their laptops from a beautiful swimming pool with the kids in the background. “Work from anywhere this Spring Break”! There’s a whole generation that loves the idea of extending their business trip through the weekend to catch a concert or meet up with friends in places like Nashville or New Orleans. Business travelers want to enjoy the local culture and authentic experiences indigenous to the area. We should only expect “bleisure” to grow and your on-property programming and marketing efforts should speak to this audience.
It’s been a long haul as group business was severely impacted by concern for the safety of attendees. Meetings were cancelled until technology stepped in and provided virtual solutions that then evolved into Hybrid formats. Hotels began to compete with alternative venues like Airbnb that didn’t require sharing space with other groups. Flexibility in contracting became table stakes. But throughout it all building and maintaining planner loyalty is what separated the haves from the have nots. By working together to find solutions to challenges created by apprehension, organizational travel policies and depressed budgets hotels were able to hang on to this critical segment.
Group demand is now on the rise and hotels are aggressively positioning themselves for the return of meetings and conventions. New and or improved technology that makes a meeting planner’s life easier and more efficient are being adopted. Virtual site inspections, online booking tools and improving event capability on brand.com websites and apps are here and now and designed to enable finding the right meeting venue, at the right time and at the right price easier for planners. Hotels are back marketing to the group segment and touting the value of in-person meetings. Technology companies like Cvent offer opportunities to share targeted messaging with potential customers and provide tools and resources to make the entire planning experience seamless.
For example, Chris McAndrews, Cvent’s Vice President, Marketing said, “Cvent can enable a hotel to showcase photos and videos, interactive 3D floorplans and tours, and personalized microsites to planners as they engage online with venue profiles in the Cvent Supplier Network. The floor plans and tours can be created based on just a handful of photos taken on a smartphone, and they allow the potential customer to picture their desired event experience at the hotel without requiring a site visit. And, if the hotel wants to reach the planner before the planner finds the hotel’s profile, they can use Cvent Planner Navigator to proactively target planners sourcing in a particular market or for organizations in specific verticals like finance, tech, or pharmaceuticals.”
The Path Forward
Marketing is a critical part of any hotel’s business strategy. Hotels should be poised to capitalize on pent up demand by being focused, data driven, nimble and ensuring that their sales, marketing and revenue strategies are all in sync. Seasonality, consumer insights, buying behaviors and patterns should all drive your decision making. Consumer expectations are high. They want you to know who they are and where they are in their journey. To be successful; strategies need to be dynamic. They need to mirror consumer sentiment which, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, can change rapidly.
Successful hotels have continued to build confidence in their health and safety protocols. Hotels are leveraging their resources to win the hearts and minds of their customers and gain a greater share of their wallets! Today’s consumer is digitally savvy. There’s a significant younger generation with the money and desire to travel and they’re coming on strong. They make decisions based on what they see on your digital and social channels.
A thorough understanding of the retail ecosystem is paramount and ensuring that you have the right resources to manage the hotel’s marketing effort is critical. Marketing is complex and it’s ever changing. Knowledge and expertise make a difference. The time to get in the game is now!
*This article was originally posted by Hotel Executive on June 12, 2022.
Steve Heitzner is the CEO and founder of REVMAX Consulting, LLC and consultant at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants who advises clients in the hospitality industry on topline performance. He is a 39-year veteran of the hotel industry and was with Marriott International for 35 years prior to his new endeavor. Known for his inclusive leadership style, strategic thinking and pioneering approach to the business he has received numerous recognitions including being named as one of the top 100 sales professionals in 2016, one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2018” by Successful Meetings Magazine, and then as one of the “Top people in Events for 2018” by BizBash.