If you need a reason to invest in building your hotel’s digital presence, consider this: more than 80 percent of travel bookings in 2018 were made online via a mobile app or website, without any human interaction.
Today’s guests have the ability to book every aspect of their trip at the click of a button. That means they also have the ability to quickly move on to the next option when faced with technological difficulties like a slow or outdated website, glitchy booking platform or unresponsive social media. A robust digital marketing strategy is essential if your hotel hopes to keep up with competitors and meet customers where they are – on their desktops and smart phones.
Digital marketing is an umbrella term that covers several platforms and strategies designed to reach audiences on their desktop computers, mobile phones, laptops and tablets. It uses social media, search engines, websites, email, display advertising, blogs and other digital channels to reach consumers.
With people around the world projected to spend more than $818 billion booking travel online this year, you can’t afford not to prioritize your online presence. If your property is new to digital marketing, getting started may seem overwhelming. Here are some tips you can immediately incorporate into your marketing plan.
Conduct a Website Audit
First impressions matter. Your website is often the first introduction potential visitors will have with your brand, so you want to make sure to put your best foot forward. Your website should accurately portray your property’s strengths as they appear today, but far too many hotels have dated or low-quality photography, poorly written copy and are painfully slow to load.
- Review your site page by page with an objective eye. Ask a few trusted employees to do the same and provide feedback.
- Do you always have updated photos that highlight your property’s attributes? If you’ve recently renovated, don’t forget to show the new areas. Include photos of anything that makes your property unique and that guests love, like cool design features, a big pool, your famous breakfast spread or something your chef specializes in.
- Is your website copy short, engaging and formatted for easy reading (think headlines, subheads and short body copy), or long and rambling, with large chunks of body copy? Your copy should reflect your brand’s unique voice, showcase your amenities and differentiate your property from your competitors.
- Does your website take too long to load? According to HostingTribunal, 74 percent of website users will leave a site if it doesn’t load on their smartphone in five seconds. Every second of delay reduces conversions by 7 percent. Think of all the missed opportunities that occur because your potential customers hit the back button on their browser.
A booking.com survey revealed that mobile hotel bookings exceeded desktop bookings for the first time in 2018. A mobile-friendly website is a must as travelers migrate toward completing transactions on their smartphone. Make sure your site offers a seamless, easy-to-use booking experience so travelers aren’t tempted to find alternative methods to purchase their rooms.
Harness the Power of Social Media
Sixty percent of travelers share their vacation photos on social media, and those images have the power to sway other travelers to act – more than a third of millennials admit to booking a holiday because of content they saw on social media.
If you haven’t already, claim your business profile on Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other review sites. Upload stunning photos that showcase the best your property has to offer and craft a compelling business description that sets you apart. Make sure your physical address, website URL, phone number and other business information are correct.
- On Facebook, customize your business page so it highlights the information you want. By clicking the “Templates and Tabs” section of Edit Page Info, you can add and organize the tabs that are shown to prioritize photos and videos, reviews and even offers. You can also link your Instagram and other social media profiles to Facebook. One best practice to keep in mind is to customize your @username in the Page Info section so it matches your other social media tags.
- Instagram and Pinterest are key channels for hotel and hospitality brands because of their strong emphasis on visual content. On Instagram, encourage users to take photos at your property and share them by using a branded hashtag. Feature your favorite high-quality photos from guests on your own feed (don’t forget to ask for permission beforehand and include a photo credit).
Engage On Social – But Maintain Control Of Your Message
Once you’ve set up your accounts, you need to be prepared to engage. Your guests and potential customers will expect you to respond to questions sent via direct message or in public comments in a manner that is both timely and professional – think hours, not days. Your guests will equate the service they receive in their online interactions with the service you will provide during their stay, so time is of the essence. Consider drafting template responses to frequently asked questions so your team can respond quickly while remaining consistent in its approach and messaging when interacting with guests online.
Generally, when you allow more employees to have access to your social media accounts, you invite more risk that something will go wrong. An employee could easily go rogue and respond in a manner that is not in line with your brand, or even post inappropriate content (accidentally or on purpose). Either of these scenarios could result in significant reputational damage to your property.
To avoid this, limit admin access to one or two trusted members of your team who possess solid judgement and deputize them to post on behalf of the property. Develop a clear approval process for social media posts that creates a system of checks and balances. Provide social media guidelines to these team members so they are clear on the voice and tone they should use when responding to guests and are consistent with their message and information.
Manage Reviews to Build Your Reputation Online
Online reviews can define a brand’s success, especially in the hospitality industry. According to TripAdvisor, 72 percent of people always or frequently read reviews before making a decision about where to stay, what to eat or what to do while traveling.
Before you encourage online reviews, do everything you can to increase your odds that those reviews will be positive. It starts with providing a stellar experience. Ensure your guests are showered with excellent service and accommodations that meet or exceed their expectations.
During check-out, ask your guests if they had a positive experience. If they did, ask if they would consider sharing that experience on the review site of their choice. If you send a follow-up email thanking guests for their stay, include a link to common review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
Once you’ve set the foundation, take some time every day to respond to questions, comments and reviews, both positive and negative, following best-practice guidelines for online review management. While it’s not always helpful to engage with trolls, if you do come across legitimate negative feedback or complaints, be sure to acknowledge your guests’ concerns and apologize if the situation warrants it. Try to move the conversation offline to email or direct message to resolve the issue.
Customize Your Marketing Strategy
Remember, when you try to speak to everyone, you speak to no one. Digital marketing is most effective when you have a firm understanding of the travelers you are trying to reach and can tailor your strategy and message accordingly. Once you stop trying to reach the average consumer and start targeting specific market segments, you will be able to improve your conversion rate and ROI.
- Create different personas for each of your target audiences. Go beyond basic demographics such as age, location, income level and marital status – strive to understand what motivates your guests, what they are willing to spend money on and what they look for in a vacation. Are they value seekers with young children, independent travelers who want to research and book every part of their vacation, or all-inclusive guests looking for resort-like amenities? Where do they get their information and what influences them to make a decision?
- Create different visuals and messages to target each segment in your email marketing, social media ads and paid search campaigns. Additionally, you can develop personalized marketing messages to reach your target audiences at different stages of the buying process, serving up what they need to hear or see when they are researching, evaluating and ready to make their purchase.
Digital marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective, as long as you are strategic with your budget. It pays to invest in assets like high quality photography and video, which are essential to marketing your property and can be used across multiple platforms. When it comes to social media advertising and pay-per-click campaigns, start small and refine your strategy.
Above all, know that digital marketing is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a highly customizable way to reach travelers and drive bookings. Know your audience and tailor your strategy to achieve the best results for your property.