What Was Hot, And What Was Not. Hotel Marketing In 2018
By Martin Soler, Partner at Soler & Associates
Since 2011 (excluding the gap years) I've been going through the top headlines in hotel marketing and technology. Mainly for my own analysis and interest to see what subjects hotel marketing people are most interested in. In theory, we click only on the subjects that we are curious about. The system isn't perfect, click bait titles, sponsored posts, clever sensationalism can skew the results.
This year I included the top 50 articles from Hospitality Net and the top 10 articles from Phocuswire. This changes the scene a bit, since Hospitality includes paid distribution and opinion pieces that educational advertising - it isn't exactly the same landscape. However they can be filtered out on the graph below.
The short version: Hotel marketers are definitely over the direct booking hype. What OTAs are doing is much more interesting. The conflicts against the OTAs are less important, thought still exist. Disruptors are interesting and innovation remains of great interest as is technology. Loyalty is moving up on the list of interests as is the subject of Experience.
OTAS ARE WINNING THE MARKETING GAME
Over the last two years, the "Direct vs OTAs" debate has lost a lot of steam. It is still a topic that people want to know about, but it isn't the most important topic at all. Last year was the first time general news about OTA activities was more important than Direct Revenue. This year confirmed it and news about what OTAs are doing to innovate and change got the most views again. I don't think this is because hotels are ignoring Direct Revenue, but probably most have understood by now that there would be no winner on a war against OTAs. Optimizing one's distribution mix is probably a lot more productive than fighting OTAs.
DISRUPTION IS COMING TO HOTEL MARKETING
While the past years have seen mainly Airbnb as the disruptor, this year Amazon began to make ripples as well. But of course this has been a banner year for Airbnb in the hotel sector, so much so that it is also the most mentioned brand of the year. Google's increasing presence in the industry is concerning more than just hotel groups now, it's worrying the OTAs. With Booking even admitting that their Google-dependency is similar to hotel's OTA-dependency and they're trying to drive more direct traffic (there's always a bigger fish). On the advertising front, Amazon's return to the travel industry has been interesting for many hoteliers, much more so than the last time they made an appearance (according to the headlines).
INNOVATIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND TRENDS
Though less prevalent than previous years, trends and innovation remains interesting to hotel marketers. In fact is one combines these into one category they are the most interesting topic. This is slightly skewed by the fact that this year includes news from Hospitality.net and as mentioned above most of it is vendor written to promote their products. But like all media, we like news and new things so it makes sense that this category is growing. The startup scene in hotel technology is growing quite rapidly at the moment and the news is grabbing hoteliers attention. This is healthy for the industry, and maybe it can grow further (a few years ago this was the number one category in hotel trends). We need more innovation, now is not a time to settle on following what the OTAs do.
LOYALTY MAKES AN APPEARANCE
I mentioned last year that we're not really addressing the elephant in the room - hotel loyalty schemes. The points system has worked really well for a number of years and will probably survive as a great system for the many travellers that comprise the 8% high frequency guests. But the remaining 92% don't get anything - and yet they're probably more likely to become brand ambassadors. But nobody has come up with a better system, one that helps everyone. Nobody had worked out the Prime Membership of Hospitality. But is that even a fair comparison?
THE TOP BRANDS IN HOTEL MARKETING AND TECHNOLOGY
To measure the top brands I'm going to look only at the number of times the brand was part of the title in a top article from hotelmarketing.com. This doesn't take into account if it was a positive or negative mention it merely looks at who was most spoken of, year by year over the last 5 years.
This year Airbnb became the number one brand in hotel marketing which is quite a feat. Dethroning both Expedia and Booking who have been competing for the spot every year since 2013. Amazon coming in at 4th place is quite interesting and shows that hotel marketing people really are looking at the disruptors and watching what is happening there.
Google has steadily been declining in hotel marketing interest. Probably because Google wants to ensure they are very far from the limelight while they slowly take more market share with their various products. However they moved from 6th place in 2017 to 5th place in 2018 so they're not fully being ignored.
TripAdvisor peaked at 3rd place in 2017 but vent back down to 6th place in 2018, and unlike Google they need more visibility as they need the revenue. Will they manage to get that back with their social stream product? It would be awesome if they could. As I've said before, the product seems great, but a little late.
Hotel Chains have not managed to get much attention this year, outside of Marriott and for all the wrong reasons.
The hotel distribution space is looking for innovation and possibly a bit of disruption (as long as it is happening elsewhere). OTAs have largely matured into the default distribution system, but now that they have finished disrupting hotel distribution they've become the incumbents to disrupt and hotels seem to be curious about what will happen next. Meanwhile hotel tech companies are being consolidated while new startups are popping up everywhere.
Will 2019 be the year of disruption? I'm not sure, I think it will take another year or two.