The hotel marketing experts must’ve shouted loud enough, because now operators, owners and asset managers have seemingly all joined in touting the importance of hotel digital marketing and allocating the proper resources toward it.
And rightly so. The impact of digital marketing to a hotel’s demand, reputation and profitability has never been more evident than it is today, and yet hotels are still under-allocating resources to their team and their strategy, according to a number of hotel owners and asset managers at HSMAI’s recent Hotel Digital Marketing Strategy Conference at the Marriott Marquis Times Square.
Marketers are shifting their dollars and messages to the digital spaces, but the resources and budgets aren’t following, they argued.
Speakers said digital-marketing spend is shrinking as compared to most other operating budgets, and some blamed management for being ignorant to its importance.
“We used to say with revenue management, look at what you are leaving on the table,” said John Rosen, founder and president of asset management firm Wexford Lodging. “Now it’s, what are you leaving on the table in your digital-marketing efforts?”
Some argued digital-marketing teams have been at a disadvantage from the beginning because they’re often not given enough face time for a role that is growing in significance.
Even with a seat at the table though, for one reason or another, the importance of hotel digital marketing is not always easy to articulate.
“If we’re arguing why we should move $200,000 in direct sales to digit marketing, we need the GM to understand why,” said Jeremy McBride, VP at GFI Capital Resources, which partly owns or operates nearly two dozen hotels.
Therefore, much of the discussions centered on effective ways to approach management and ownership with regards to all aspects of digital marketing, from measuring its importance to better reporting, and particularly outlining the need for more resources.
How to Talk to Hotel Owners About Digital Marketing
When speaking with the rest of the departments, it’s important for digital marketers to open up an effective dialogue and clearly spell out the benefits of a campaign or effort, as well as the tools and manpower required. Define success, whether it’s a metric or something broader.
GMs should always be present at meetings and should be on board with changing the way the public perceives the property, Rosen says.
When discussing the needs for a bigger budget or additional spending, start with and clearly articulate the “why.” For supplier partners, avoid the temptation to start a conversation with, “what you are doing is wrong,” says Liz Uber, VP of Asset Management at BRE Select.
“We’re working with them to challenge their strategy. We’re asking, we’re listening as well as sharing,” she said.
During partner meetings, ensure key people from both sides are in the room, including someone who can speak to the strategy concisely.
“If it doesn't fit on a T-shirt or Post-it Note, it’s too complex,” added Donna Quadri-Felitti, director of Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management.
McBride cautioned that everything shouldn’t be a pitch.
“You have to be far more educational, because people in this space don't understand digital media — they just don't,” he said.
Rosen agreed, suggesting your message be digestible by just about anyone.
“You’re proving a ton of information that might not be understood,” he says. “It’s not their job to go out and figure it out. It’s your job to open up an efficient dialogue.”
Measuring Digital-Marketing Returns
While there are many aspects of digital media that won’t provide clear returns on investment, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment.
Hoteliers must start thinking one step ahead to engage more closely with travelers, panelists said. For example, while email used to be a preferred method of communication, many have eschewed overflowing inboxes and prefer to be contacted on other mediums.
Rather than ROI, BRE Select’s Uber suggested perhaps the right measurement to look at is engagement.
When a campaign is measured strictly on clicks, panelists said marketers run the risk of not staying on message or selling the hotel as if it’s something it’s not and disappointing customers.
McBride said digital-marketing measurement basically comes down to deducting costs versus how the program is inflating sales. “The job is to influence consumer behavior,” he said.
Perhaps Quadri-Felitti summed up the current state of hotel digital marketing best: “Please don't just hire an intern; we've evolved from that,” she said.