How consumers research and shop hotels — and on what channels — can be considered rather fluid. Keeping up with the constant changes, additional distribution sites and package options is a nonstop job.
For this reason, hotels must place an importance on building quality digital-marketing teams and position them well within the organization, as well as offering training and access to the right budget and resources. It’s important that digital marketing decisions are made with the right data, often shaped by the demand forecast from the revenue team. Missing an opportunity to capitalize on a high-demand day can mean leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.
It’s also important that the sales team understand the data and strategy, particularly why you might choose to turn away certain business. Operations leaders can coordinate labor and staffing around the same real-time information.
Creating a culture where all departments are making decisions based on the same sets of data will help stave off rising digital-marketing costs, according to a group of hotel digital-marketing experts speaking at the Hotel Data Conference.
A diverse mix of marketers from a brand, management company, asset manager and software provider shared how they are overcoming the evolving digital-marketing challenges and building strategies to capitalize on a new generation of travelers.
1. Rising Costs are Too Real
It seems as if digital-marketing budgets have been on a steady climb since forever. Carolee Moore, VP of Revenue Management and E-commerce at Crestline Hotels & Resorts, referred to it as a “creep.”
“We have seen an increase with loyalty program costs and even things like photography,” she said. “Our challenge for 2019 is to look at costs across all of sales and marketing, have a healthy discussion and define old-school methods we still have in place that we can eliminate or reduce.”
Lisa Giaimo, VP of Sales and Marketing at OTO Development, said her team has shifted how they deploy resources. They’re spending more money on content and imagery and competing less with brands on paid search.
Scott Bacon, VP of Business Development for Miles Partnerships, says with all the new cost-per-click platforms available to distribute content, and with more features and options available on Google, it’s nearly impossible to maintain the same budget year over year.
2. It’s a Soft ROI, Folks
Attempting to track returns on marketing, especially digital marketing, can be futile.
“As much as tracking is getting better, there are still things that are occurring before the last click that aren’t being accounted for,” Bacon said. “It’s easy to go to an asset manager or owner and talk about brand [pay-per-click] campaigns that saw 10-1, 20-1 returns. But you really have to work backwards and peel back the onion.
“The data can be extremely deceptive.”
Liz Uber, VP of Asset Management for BRE Hotels & Resorts, said her team will be asking tougher questions when evaluating upcoming e-commerce budgets, but admitted that asking for hard ROI numbers is tough. Marketing return-on-spend numbers provided by brands are easily refutable, she said.
“You can look at it holistically. How are you performing against your comp set?” she said. “There is not a one-size-fits-all approach; if you’re a 100-room branded hotel in a downtown location, how much digital marketing do you really need and what’s the ROI on that?”
3. Content Remains Undisputed King
It might seem simple, but the best return you can get is by ensuring your content is fresh and accurate across all channels. For example, the last thing you want showing when a traveler visits your website is event information for something that happened in the past.
Content strategies for brands will differ from those of independent hotels, which need to focus on the broader awareness pieces, Moore said. She said it’s important hoteliers go over the basics, such as making sure the URL is good and the property’s address and phone number are consistent across all channels.
Google’s Knowledge Center has become a prominent place where hotels should pay close attention to how they appear, Bacon said.
“Google doesn’t want to show your old pictures before a renovation, and neither do you,” he said. “You play an important role in that content that Google curates.”
Giaimo said OTO Development offers Google training for its employees who have a focus on writing content for search and external-facing material.
Moore, of Crestline, said the corporate office must communicate closely with the properties about what should go on the website and how often it should be updated.
“Do a call with the hotel, read their site; I can’t tell you how many times they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s not true anymore.’”
Other evolving areas to pay close attention to: e-mail, where GDPR has limited some abilities; social, where hotels are realizing they must hire staff to manage the Facebook and Instagram accounts; organic search, where more paid placement is making it even more difficult to stand out; and reviews, where even asset managers want reports on GM response rates.
4. Personalization Hinges on Missing Data
Many industry experts are pointing to personalization as a way for hotel suppliers to innovate from within and fend off third-party disruptors. After all, it’s hotels that have the most direct contact with their guests.
But while the data is out there, access to it can be rather limited, said Uber of BRE Hotels & Resorts.
“Brands have become over time even more protective,” she said, “and now there are new rules and laws about sending mass emails. The data is there, but we don’t spend money to collect it, and we rely on the brand for a lot of that.”
“Having the data and access that data to coordinate marketing strategies was almost impossible,” Bacon said. “But that’s changing. More and more technologies are allowing hotels to move away from the big brands and their archaic forms of data.”