A Dynamic Approach in Travel Marketing

As digital continues to mature, there is a shift occurring among marketers: travel marketing and digital travel distribution strategies are converging, and it’s having a major impact on the industry. To be successful in this era of convergence, travel providers must think more strategically, not just about inventory, but about how they’re selling entire experiences. With convergence, new revenue streams are up for grabs and these extend well beyond the traditional traveling ecosystem.

Blurred lines

Travellers all have needs, but those needs vary dramatically depending on the moment. Travellers are increasingly agnostic about who meets their needs, and that business is there for the taking
One week, a traveller may be flying for business, and the next that very same traveller may be on a summer vacation with family. They’re not one or the other—they’re both, just at different times. As these lines blur, habits are shifting, and travellers are finding unconventional ways to meet their in-the-moment needs.
Unlike in the past when people were using phone calls, travel magazines, and traditional travel agents to research, today’s complicated consumer is bouncing between numerous touch points in a digital ecosystem. They’re sending out travel intent signals and leaving a trail of data behind them. For marketers, this presents a golden opportunity, but only if they take a holistic approach.
It’s no longer about aggregates or averages, every traveller is unique and marketers must be flexible enough to look at each traveller’s ever changing needs and act quickly to meet them.

Smarter, faster, nimbler

If travel brands want to act quickly, they must improve their understanding of what customers want and need at any given moment. And to get there they must be “always on” across every channel. It’s one thing to personalize marketing to a leisure guest by using broad stroke segmentation, but when brands get on a one-to-one level with the individual customer, they can understand their constantly changing needs.
To get there, they must understand each customer on a trip by trip basis—and combine the person with the occasion to serve up relevant offers.
Since modern travellers are always on, brands must be, too, because always on means valuable data.

Paving the path with data

The first step is using data to establish intent. Consumers may be dreaming or researching – or they could buy at any point. By looking at each trip as a mini campaign, marketers can focus on that whole journey and the points along the way, and then engage them in the moment. Once intent is established, marketers must take what they’ve learned about each customer and put the right messages in front of the right people at the right time.
It’s a combination of taking one-to-one marketing, making sure it’s “always on,” then testing, measuring, learning and adjusting.

This dynamic approach is a shift from traditional methods that are often seasonal in nature.

It’s a race to see which travel brands can do it best, and those that do will win the ultimate prize: customer acquisition and loyalty.

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Loyalty Programmes

Loyalty programme guests are also more likely to perceive the company’s products and services as providing good value and so they are less sensitive to the company’s price premium. They are further likely to act as brand ambassadors by recommending the company through word of mouth, either through personal recommendations or via online review sites. Such recommendations, the researchers comment, are highly valued by hotel companies as they are known to be highly effective.

Nevertheless, loyalty programmes also bring challenges. They are, for instance, expensive to set up and maintain, and the profits they generate are hard to separate from those of other marketing efforts. It is also challenging for marketers to create and manage profitable loyalty programmes because there are high costs associated with adding value to customers’ experiences, especially given their widely differing needs and interests. Overinvestment is thus an ongoing concern.

Loyalty programmes also open up the possibility of “service encounter failures”, which can sour the relationship between a hotel company and its customers and thus damage its reputation. Another potentially negative effect is that “bystander customers” sometimes perceive “unfairness in comparison to target customers”, which could put them off the brand.

It is found that hotels’ spending on loyalty programmes was associated with better performance, as measured by the average daily room rate, revenue per room and occupancy rate. Spending on loyalty programmes also pays off in terms of hotels’ overall gross operating profit. This is particularly interesting because it implies that loyal customers do not just increase room occupancy, but their spending on “food and beverage at the hotel, spas or other amenities” also contributes to better overall financial performance.

Even when factors such as the amount spent on e-commerce, advertising, marketing strategies and the size of the hotel and scale of the hotel chain are taken into account, spending on loyalty programmes still has the most positive effect on hotels’ operational and financial performance. In other words, loyalty programmes bring in the greatest returns compared with investments in other forms of advertising and marketing, regardless of the type of hotel.

Hence Managers are justified in placing more emphasis on loyalty programmes because they bring the greatest returns.

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The importance of Hotel P.R.

In a market as competitive as the hospitality industry, an effective PR strategy is essential and it must be creative, agile and adaptable. For smaller hotels without the benefit of a corporate engine, PR tactics are vital both in terms of positioning and creating valuable partnerships to help the hotel expand and grow.
PR as an art is about telling a story or creating a memory, and if word of mouth was always a valuable currency, social media platforms have made it more so, with customers sharing and interacting with one another and directly with the hotel as individual brands and hotel groups. The degree to which customers trust influences decisions has never been higher and is clearly rising. So whilst every brand behaviour is on public display, customer interaction and building trust is more important than ever.
To an extent, a brand’s story is now out of its control – the internet put paid to that – so we must recognize the customer as an author and fabulist exploring the possibilities of what they can give towards your overall PR effort, rather than take away from it and build outwards on that.
Hotels need to utilize as many platforms as possible and engage with as many of our customers as they can on a daily basis, developing conversations and points of view to enable a differentiated position in the market.
Hotels need to continually collaborate on ideas and innovations to keep their stories fresh and different, trying to stay a step ahead so they can be at the top end of any adoptive curve! You may not win the game by deploying PR, but you will definitely lose without it.

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Photography, social media and travel

According to a recent survey conducted by Schofields, more than 40 per cent of travellers under 33 prioritise ‘Instagrammability’ when choosing their next holiday spot. Across all markets, the travellers’ growing appetite for experiences that go deeper and farther beyond the established destinations are a unifying theme. The greater the lengths that travellers go to for the creation of these faux-spontaneous images, the more contrived and antithetical it feels to the spirit of travel.

Isn’t travel about staying, exploring and immersing yourself in the moment?

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Tried & Tested Hospitality Advertising principles

In the same breath as the mantra ‘new is always better’ seems to make sense, it also unearths the realisation that it may at times be the wrong advice to be following.

In the lightning pace of today’s society, it may seem like guests are shouting at you to constantly provide something new, something upgraded, or something that excites them. And only a fool would fail to listen to their customers.

However, the way in which you deliver what your guest wants doesn’t always have to be completely reimagined. New marketing strategies aren’t always the answer – and aren’t always necessary. Yes, new technology and data gives you greater insight and more potential to impact prospects, but there’s a lot to be said for sticking to tried and true advertising principles.

We’re talking about taking lessons from ‘Mad Men’, street vendors, and vintage travel posters. Here’s what you could do with your hotel advertising now – that worked perfectly in the past.

Give your brand a narrative: You need to recognise the need to tell your story succinctly. Make your brand statement clear from the outset of any marketing activity you employ. Humans love nothing more than a good story; one that makes them feel. Once they ‘feel’, they’re more likely to act which is exactly what you want – the action being a booking. Advertising of yesteryear was very much focused on this and it’s driven companies like Coca-Cola to global success. Have the time and patience to craft a story for your hotel brand that will ignite the imagination of your potential guests and make them familiar with your business. Think of ways to present your story with some originality and uniqueness so you can stand out from the almost literal wave of ‘oceanfront’ hotels, for example.

At the same time you need to recognise people nowadays have ever shortening attention spans, so you need to tell your story succinctly. Make your brand statement clear from the outset of any marketing activity you employ. Consistency is key. If people are only going to be looking at your hotel for a short time and catching glimpses here and there of your brand as they research, you need to make sure the picture you paint holds the same message. This way, travellers will more easily recognise you and have some confidence in your ability to deliver a great guest experience.

Be as visual as possible: capitalise on the sense of wonder and awe great visuals can instilin travellers. It allows them to imagine themselves in the destination. In the past, travel posters and billboards had to accomplish this when there was very little else to rely on. Examine some of the best examples you can find and take a similar approach to any design or imagery you use for your hotel. Always keep in mind what kind of brand you are and who you’re trying to attract – then match this to the visuals you use.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on stock images too much or poor quality photos that make your property look dated.

Don’t waste time on dead ends: The best marketers have historically understood you can’t be everything to everyone; they knew when to push and when something was a lost cause. A lot of people may show interest in your hotel while they research for a trip. You need to identify which of these look right for the markets you usually attract and convert at a high rate. If they fall outside of your criteria, your efforts may be wasted. For example, a business traveller might not be the right fit for your all inclusive package including surf lessons.

By the same token, if a guest’s interest is peaked and they match the profile of your usual clientele you need to nurture this relationship. Make contact with them through online remarketing or email (or whatever is most relevant to their initial interaction), giving them a little more information, highlighting your best features and solidifying your business offering. By maintaining a connection, you can stay top of mind when the traveller decides to make a purchase decision.

Zero in on your guest personas: Traditional marketers would often work towards a niche, targeting their products very specifically to a preferred segment. You need to do the same. How specific you are is up to you. You may simply identify millennials as your target or you could go further and target travellers who work stressful jobs if you’re a resort, people on health fads, or adventure junkies if you’re located in rugged terrain etc.

It doesn’t matter who your key audience is, just as long as you know who they are and develop a strategy to get their attention.

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Online Marketing Buzzwords

Online marketing in the hospitality sector has a lot of buzz words associated with it. Here’s what 3 of them mean:

 Authenticity: “People like people”. Online, this means that users look for the “human” touch and social media is where they find it as opposed to a company’s website. Make sure you don’t fall in the trap of creating “standardised”, “automated”, “impersonal” content. It is very easy to do, but don’t expect any effective results: everyone and anyone can do this. Creating “personal”, “human” content is unique to your brand or business, and this is what will engage your fans, help you create a relationship with them. This is a very important point for hotels and restaurants as it is essentially a “people” industry.

Brand: Your hotel or restaurant brand is what makes you stand out on the market, what communicates your USP. It is important that your brand stands out as much online as it does in your dining rooms or hotel rooms. This can be done through the content you share, the tone of voice or even thanks to design. There is so much content shared online that in order to drive revenue and maximise your assets, you need to make sure it is your strong brand that is recognisable and visible.

Content: Before setting up your social media accounts, think about what type of content you will publish – video, pictures, text, GIFs… Any restaurant or hotel can publish pictures of their rooms or of their menu. You have to think of the content that will stand out, authentic content that relates to your brand and your positioning. There are so many luxury establishments that publish very low quality pictures for instance or even budget properties who publish very high quality content. One rule: never over-promise and under-deliver.

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Storytelling to connect with Guests

It is not as difficult as it might seem to trigger an emotional response with your hotel marketing ideas. Even the typical guest room and pool images that hotels use appeal to emotions. The trick really becomes how to play an emotional ‘trump card’, one that generates a stronger emotional reaction, so your property sticks out from the rest.

In the hotel industry, storytelling can be your trump card. From making your message more memorable, to making your content more exciting and emotional, storytelling is what can drive more business through your website.

The first step in integrating stories into your hotel marketing ideas. Instead of focusing on the features of your property, start focusing on the benefits, experiences and emotions those features generate. For example, a pool isn’t just a pool. It’s a place where children can play, families can connect, and adults can relax.

The second step is to start telling these ‘stories’ in as many ways and places as possible:

Write Copy that Connects– Language can turn a typical hotel website page into an emotional story. For example, ‘Planning Your Stay’ can be a helpful page that informs travel shoppers about some of the amenities of your hotel, and some of the sights and attractions they can enjoy nearby. But ‘Prepare for Your Adventure’ infuses the emotion of discovery and a sense of the experience they will have.

Put People in Images– If there is one thing that’s common in hotel marketing images, it’s the absence of people. Adding people to at least some of your images instantly tells a story, illustrates an experience, heightens emotion and sets your site apart from the rest.

Let Customers Tell Their Story– User-generated content(UGC), both written and visual, can be your best source of storytelling. From the reviews that guests leave, to the videos they post on social media, UGC speak volumes in emotional, experiential ways.

Put a Face on Your Team– Visitors like to know they are dealing with real people. Sure, a ‘Bio’ tells a story, but an image adds to the emotional connection.

Create Stories Everywhere – Take a moment to read the descriptions you have of your images, both on your website and those that appear on OTAs. Do they tell a story? Or do they simply put into words what’s in the picture? Instead of ‘Fitness Room’ try ‘Give our fitness centre a workout.’

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Mobile SEO tactics for hoteliers

According to Google, the ‘Mobile Tipping Point’ was crossed back in 2015 when more people made searches on their mobile over their desktop. Mobile searches have reached nearly 60% of total website visits for the first half of 2017. With the smaller screen-size, organic results are shown much further down below the fold on mobile, making it even more vital to position yourself highly.

There are many SEO practices and tips but here are just 4 from the latest algorithm updates to optimise your hotel website’s ranking on Google both today and for improvements scheduled in the near future?

Be Mobile Friendly

Google is a constantly evolving animal and you must play by their rules, so keeping abreast of the latest Google algorithms is essential to get the top spot on the SERP’s.

Google rolled out an algorithm in spring 2017 which favoured ‘mobile-friendly’ websites over those only suitable for desktop. This means getting a mobile website is not ‘just a phase’, it’s now an essential part of maintaining website traffic.

Load Your Site Quicker

For mobile in particular, users want content to load quickly, under 2 seconds in fact. According to KissMetrics47% of users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and 40% of users abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Scale down on heavy content as much as possible (such as images, videos & interactive maps), not only for a cleaner and easier-to-digest appearance, but also to keep site weight to a minimum.

Content & Language

Meta descriptions and meta tags must be paid attention to. These pieces of text appear in SERP’s as the title and small excerpt of preview text underneath, therefore they need to be carefully crafted to appeal to potential guests, and Google.

Mobile SERP’s naturally provide much less space to sell your hotel in so your message needs to resonate with users across all devices.

The main take away points for creating Meta copy are:

To use keywords liberally but never sacrifice on quality – if it doesn’t make sense, it can’t be included.

Use descriptive language and imagery to entice users to click – this is particularly easy to achieve with hotels and travel in general.

Employ psychological techniques – fear/urgency tactics such as rapidly diminishing room availability, and conveying exclusivity at your hotel are effective in getting users to click.

Showcase enticing rates and special offers – numbers attract attention because they are easier for the brain to process, particularly helpful for smaller screens.

Google My Business

Google My Business is a free tool for every company. It displays all the vital pieces of information about your hotel such as address and contact number, as well as user reviews , property images, and most recently, Google Posts – among other features in the ‘knowledge panel’.

Making sure you have claimed your listing will help make your hotel the most prominent result for brand related searches. It also gives your hotel the opportunity to appear as one of 3 businesses displayed for non-brand related search queries so make sure you’re optimizing this feature, to ensure Google displays your hotel above others.

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Driving Loyalty

53% of consumers said that good service would keep them loyal to a hotel brand, even if they could get a cheaper deal elsewhere. Meanwhile, 40% said good deals and 39% said a rewards scheme would result in greater loyalty.

This shows that long-term loyalty is possible for travel brands, but the key to achieving it is delivering a service that takes into account the individual’s needs. So while personalisation is somewhat of a buzzword at the moment, it’s certainly something that consumers value.

This is reflected in the reasons certain brands are favoured by consumers. The second-most favourite, Booking.com, was chosen because of its ability to personalise and tailor offers based on previous behaviour. Similarly, the biggest factor cited for British Airways was its superior rewards scheme. Outside of these, there are a few standout examples of brands succeeding when it comes to loyalty.

Hilton and its Hilton Honours Program is particularly good, mainly because it allows consumers to make use of points in situations unrelated to the brand. Members can use them in restaurants and in shops, and even pool points to share with family and friends.

Marriott is another hotel chain that is similarly innovative, this time using a beacon-driven loyalty scheme to allow people to earn rewards based on where they are.

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Increasing the guest experience

When it comes to the opportunity for customer engagement, the travel industry already has a head-start – because who doesn’t get excited at the prospect of going on holiday? But while travel consumers might naturally be more inclined to engage, this also means there is greater opportunity for brands to get it wrong. Delays and disruptions might mar a travel experience, but how a brand deals with it can make or break a customer relationship.

Travel Brands need to do the basics as below:

  1. Consumers prioritise pragmatic needs, such as honesty, authenticity, value, and good service. Brands that do not meet these expectations (or view them as standard) run the risk of losing trust.
  2. Customer-centric brands create deeper relationships. Offering something of value (on top of the expected) can be the key to generating longer-term loyalty.
  3. Transparency is key when it comes to data-sharing. Personalisation can help to improve the customer experience, so it is important to communicate this value-exchange clearly with consumers.
  4. In-the-moment technology can take brands to the next level. VR, AR, and chat-bots can enhance and improve the travel journey, engaging consumers when it matters most.

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Mistakes made in designing your website

A website should be modern, aesthetically pleasing, inviting, and be able to show off your property. It is hard to remember that these small things can matter more than the expensive design things, but do not give in to marketing peer pressure. Usability beats trends. Make sure your most profitable revenue channel is more than just a pretty face. Also also remember to avoid the pitfalls below:

  • Missing Address & Phone Number
  • Fluffy Homepage Taglines
  • Putting music on your website
  • Cannibalizing Your Own Traffic
  • Poorly Embedded Videos
  • Bad Photography
  • Press Releases
  • The Dreaded Restaurant & Spa Menu PDF
  • One Call to Action
  • Bad Booking Engines

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