Industry Update
Opinion Article 8 March 2021

Leisure in the Time of COVID

By Craig Jacobs, Freelancer

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Competition for local and regional leisure business among hotels is unusually intense for the painfully obvious reason that COVID has curbed everything else. To generate leisure demand, properties invest in digital marketing including social media, SEO, paid search, and display advertising. They also engage with on-line travel agencies to capture discounted business. While there are reliable key performance indicators to measure results from these marketing tools, creating an acceptable financial return on investment is challenging. Keeping up with the latest trends surrounding marketing technology requires a major commitment. And deployment of a fluid digital marketing strategy takes an expertise that most of us don't have time to master. So, how can a property compete to win more than its fair share of leisure business?

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Personalized Engagement: Thoughtful direct marketing to past guests and rewards club members reflects the common-sense wisdom that it is more efficient and productive to engage with known customers than to invest in finding new ones:

  1. Marketing communication content must be entertaining, relevant and timely.
  2. Permission to communicate is necessary not only to comply with privacy guidelines, but also to ensure the quality of a target audience.
  3. Content must be specifically designed for the chosen medium whether it is voice, email or message.
  4. Marketing communication will inevitably include a link to the property web site, which must anticipate those customer visits and track behaviors. A customized landing page may be appropriate for the sake of acknowledgement and continuity.
  5. If a property is part of a brand, strategic alignment regarding use of the guest database and coordination of messaging is crucial. Carefully adding selected members of a rewards club or past guests of sister hotels will contribute to the potential success of any initiative as long as those contacts are filtered. Conversely, the absence of alignment may inhibit results or inundate a target audience with too many offers at once.
  6. The target list should include datapoints that are necessary for high quality, relevant content including personal information like birthday and anniversary dates, behavioral information like past spa or golf patronage and demographic labels like Family or LGBTQ. (Knowing that a guest stayed in a standard room with King Bed is not helpful. But recognizing that she made her reservation three days in advance, was part of an informal "Girl's Getaway," played golf and wrote a review on Trip Advisor are central to an effective communication plan.)
  7. Accuracy of email addresses and mobile numbers is essential, yet this basic data is often either obsolete or missing from guest profiles. Ironically, contactless check-in presents an opportunity to capture what has been historically elusive for the front desk staff of many hotels and resorts by making email and mobile phone number fields mandatory to activate a device.

Personal Sales: Proactive email and telephone ­­sales to past guests based on relevant personal information can be an extremely effective approach to engagement. A call to remind a past guest to make their annual reservation to celebrate an anniversary or to splurge on a getaway because a new, unusually affordable Promotional Rate is available are primary examples of personalized engagement. The key is to match the message to the recipient. The celebration reminder is part of the strategy aimed towards past guests who have celebrated anniversaries and the promotional rate suggestion is directed towards a list of prospects that did not make a reservation recently due to rate resistance. This approach requires a property to operate its own reservations department. Converting reservation staff to sales people is an outstanding way to implement sustained customer engagement and to crush employee productivity standards.

Travel Industry: Leisure reservations that come from travel agencies represent a powerful sales opportunity for enlightened hotels. Proactive planning to ensure their clients' satisfaction opens the door for a resort to:

  • Establish personal relationships through frequent interaction with qualified customers.
  • Earn long-term relationships by demonstrating strong professional sales support in advance of the guest stay, personalized service that wows the client and professionalism after the guest departs including paying commissions accurately and promptly.
  • Qualify each agency in order to understand the life-time value of each relationship.
  • Develop and grow each relationship through referrals and reputation.

Many Travel Agencies have been conditioned over time to be distrustful of hotels and resorts that have attempted to highjack their clients or have been reluctant to paying commissions. Approaching a relationship with the intent to build trust and respect and to collaborate on the common goal of delivering a superb experience for their shared client can lead to success with the proper level of attention and commitment from senior management. As more luxury travelers come to rely on travel agencies to assist them with the new complexities of travel, hotels would be smart to recognize their growing significance. Hotels that define the moment as a sales opportunity and follow up proactively after a reservation has been made will be rewarded for the efforts.

Digital marketing is amazing. It offers reach to large audiences, targeting to ensure that the audience matches hotels' designated guest profiles and tracking to measure results. It is also expensive and has become the primary battleground where large brands, online agencies and destinations compete making it increasingly difficult for small brands or independent properties to get noticed. Google and Facebook have permanently altered the Hospitality Industry marketplace. As a result, it is vitally important to pay close attention and cherish repeat guests and their travel agencies and to take every possible opportunity to both retain and grow their business. In the hospitality industry, guest loyalty is fleeting and must be earned over and over again.

Craig Jacobs

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