In 2022 our industry was very lucky. The post-pandemic travel demand, fueled by sheer lockdown-induced restlessness, accumulated consumer savings to the tune of trillions of dollars plus government handouts to many trillions of dollars, has fueled the 2022 travel rush.
Is travel demand going to continue strong this year? Or, as some industry experts are predicting, consumer savings will run out, the persistent inflation will negate any payroll increases, rising interest rates will make everything more expensive and make shopping by credit cards or buy-now-pay-later very expensive.
Will all of this, plus the ongoing much visible layoffs at marquis companies, and the looming probability of a recession, negatively affect consumer discretionary spending, which means tourism in general? Many industry leaders are concerned that in 2023 fewer people will be traveling, those that do will be traveling less, going on shorter trips and to closer to home destinations, staying at cheaper hotels.
There is another wrinkle to the story that makes life of hotel marketers even more complex: Digital transformation accelerated by ten years during the pandemic (McKinsey & Co) and today's travel consumers are AT LEAST three times more tech- and digitally savvy. The average consumer spends almost 7 hours on digital media a day vs 19 minutes on print media (newspapers and magazines). Overall consumers spend more time with digital media than with TV, radio and print media combined (Hootsuite) hence the need for hotel marketers to have extensive digital marketing proficiency.
The uncertainties around what travel demand will be in 2023 present quite the conundrum for hotel marketers. In this complex, unpredictable economic environment with accelerating digital adoption, and lingering aftereffects from the pandemic, hotel marketers have to come up with the right strategy and adequate marketing budgets, choose the right marketing messages, channels and formats, and manage marketing campaigns to increase occupancies, boost direct bookings and decrease overall distribution costs, and increase repeat business.
Add to that the increasing government privacy regulations and ongoing privacy moves by Google, Firefox and Apple, which make digital marketing quite tricky and complex. All of these privacy moves underscore the importance of first-party and zero-party data, which allows marketers to establish direct relationships with their potential, past, present and future customers.
The question is, what are hotel marketers' Top Digital Marketing Resolutions to ensure success in 2023?
If I were a hotel marketer, here would be my Top Digital Marketing Resolutions to ensure success of my property in 2023:
1. I would fish where the fish are!
I know that hotel marketing today means digital marketing. Over 90% of travelers turn to the Internet when looking for a place to stay, which is more than all other sources of travel inspiration combined, including family, friends, travel guides, travel advisors, tour operators, etc. I would make my utmost to become a savvy digital marketer and understand in depth the complexity of the Digital Customer Journey.
2. I would invest adequately in digital marketing and digital technology.
I would do my best to secure an adequate digital marketing budget for my property. I know that the hospitality industry has been suffering from systemic underinvestment in digital marketing and I wouldn"t want my property to share the sad faith of my competition who fall easy prey to the OTAs due to lack of investments in the direct online channel.
I know that in normal years hoteliers spend less than 2.5% of room revenue on marketing, including digital marketing and payroll for the sales and marketing team. As per STR, during the pandemic in U.S. hospitality, marketing spending including payroll (wages and benefits) to hotel sales and marketing personnel, payroll shrank significantly compared to the pre-pandemic, dropping to as low as 50%. Compare this to Expedia, which spent on sales and marketing 52.3% of its 2022 revenue to the tune of $6.1 billion.
3. I would not forget hotel marketer's "old" friend Google.
Google now controls 92.21% global search engine market share (Meltwater, January 2023), and, on average, contributes to independent hotels- directly or via referrals - over 55% of website revenues (30% via SEO; 25% via SEM/paid search, 5% via Google Hotel ads/metasearch.
Google now "owns" the travel consumer and has become the "shepherd of the digital customer journey" by positioning itself at and making money in the form of referral, CPC, CPM, CPA and CPS fees from each of the five phases of the Digital Customer Journey: Dreaming, Planning, Booking, Experiencing and Sharing Phases.
I would make sure my website is mobile-first; overhaul the SEO on the site, keep my Google Business Profile updated; monitor and respond to Google Reviews, launch Google Ads to protect my property's brand name and target key customer segments and key feeder markets, launch a GDN retargeting to target users who have visited my website, and launch a comprehensive Content Marketing to engage potential customers and generate backlinks to my website.
Read a concrete action plan in "Who is hotel marketer's best friend going into 2023?" https://www.hospitalitynet.org/opinion/4114042.html
4. I would invest in CRM technology and CRM Marketing
I know that CRM is the only viable avenue to retain my customers and drastically increase repeat business to my property. Oh, I would love to double and triple repeat business!
I understand that repeat customers are 5-10 times cheaper to acquire than new customers. I understand that only with CRM I can have a cleansed, deduped, appended database, providing 360-degree view of each guest, determine their RFM and LTV values, engage, acquire, and retain past guests via marketing automation and drip campaigns, etc.
I know that utilizing CRM initiatives in combination with ORM (Online Reputation Management) technology I can turn my happy guests into brand ambassadors and avid social media influencers.
5. I would invest adequately in Content Marketing.
I know that Content Marketing is the best "hotel marketing message amplifier." It elevates my hotel website importance in the eyes of the search engines via the backlinks (links from other websites and blogs to your website) and citations (mentions of your hotel) it creates.
An equally important benefit of content marketing is that it engages and entices the travel consumer in the Dreaming and Planning Phases and creates ready-to-book customers for the Booking Phase.
Very much like the tentacles of an octopus, Content Marketing spreads the word out about the hotel and its product, services, amenities, and value proposition. Typically, content marketing does not explicitly promote a price, package, campaign, or discount, but is intended to stimulate interest in the hotel product and services.
Content formats include the hotel website content, SEO, PR, email marketing, social media posts, videos, podcasts, infographics, blog articles and posts, expert knowledge marketing (tips, how to, advice and recommendations by the property's experts such as golf pro, tennis instructor, spa specialist, wedding coordinator, recipes from your chef and bar tender, etc.), announcements, as well as B2B marketing initiatives to engage corporate group planners, SMERFs and transient business travel like conference speakerships, white papers, panel discussion participations, award announcements, sweepstakes, etc.
6. I would make my property the "hero of the destination"
I would expand the area travel, attractions, and activities content on my website, will launch destination-related content marketing and social media tying my property to the destination, and bundle hotel room rates with local places of interest and activities into attractive hotel packages thus unlocking significant revenue opportunities.
As a hotel marketer, I know my hotel destination, local attractions, and places of interest better than anybody else. This is where I believe I can truly outwit the OTAs, Airbnb and provide real value to my customers.
7. I would create a Short-Term Rental (STR)-type of hotel product
I know there is a real "booking war" going on between hotels and short-term rentals (STR) for every guest and every roomnight. During the pandemic, close to a third of roomnights in North America, Europe, etc. were consumed at vacation rentals/ short-term rentals: houses, villas, condos and apartments. PhocusWright recently reported that 45% of Short-Term Rentals (STR) users compare rentals with hotels. To sway the travel consumers away from STR, I would focus on and promote features and amenities that STR properties lack.
I would create a short-term rental type of hotel product: Introduce weekly and monthly rates for suites with kitchenettes, adjacent rooms to appeal to family travelers; rooms with the use of a community kitchen, washers and dryers. How many hotels offer rates for extended stays or family stays which are favored by travel consumers in the current environment? Remember, a weekly rate is NOT a daily rate multiplied by seven. A monthly rate is NOT a nightly rate multiplied by 30! I would make sure that my hotel tech stack – the PMS, CRS, WBE (Website Booking Engine) and Channel Manager can support weekly and monthly rates and fire them if they can't.
8. I would invest in the creation and marketing of Ancillary Services
I am a firm believer that a hotel is more than a place for providing temporary sleeping quarters. In the post-pandemic era, it is time to analyze, identify, diversify, and maximize the revenue opportunities from core and non-core ancillary services and adopt a total revenue management strategy and culture at the property.
I understand that my property has numerous untapped, quite often significant revenue opportunities from: core "hotel" ancillary services, including upselling, upgrading and cross-selling the property"s core amenities; non-core ancillary services, including sale of guest stay-enhancing ancillary products like champagne for special occasions, sale of city passes and tickets to local museums, theme parks, sporting events, concerts and performances, maximizing utilization of hotel spaces and creating and selling of co-working spaces, F&B revenue opportunities in empty and underutilized spaces by installing vending machines, pizza or burger robots.
I understand that generating ancillary revenues requires a) the implementation of merchandising strategy and culture at the property/hotel company, b) incentivizing and training your staff, c) adopting technology solutions to automate as many of the internal processes as possible, and d) marketing, marketing, marketing of the ancillary hotel product.
9. I would use marketing to help my property's labor shortages
I know that travel consumers' expectations are around self-service and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) so let"s give the digitally savvy travel consumers what they want!
One of my objectives would be to eliminate at least 75% -85% of inbound calls to the hotel and guest calls to the front-desk. The issue with handling calls at the property is that when people call, someone must pick up the phone. Who will do that? The overworked, understaffed, overstretched, and underpaid front desk? The non-existent reservation department?
Here are just some marketing tools and applications I should be able to implement quickly and inexpensively to help the property with labor shortages and unsustainable labor costs:
- Property Website: 70% of today's travelers visiting hotel websites via mobile devices to access information and book, so I will make sure my property website is mobile-first and delivers "readable" content and provides booking capabilities on smartphones.
- Website content: I will make sure we feature the most accurate and relevant information about the property, the correct descriptions, business hours, directions, area attractions and activities, etc.
- Guest Web Portal: I will launch a digital version of the Hotel Room Directory with all of the property information, services and amenities, menus, business hours, etc., automatically accessible with Wi-Fi sign-ins, QR codes in the room and front desk, and when accessing the property site while on property.
- Virtual concierge on the property website site to answer questions about the the property services and amenities, events and happenings at the hotel and destination, area attractions and activities, etc.
- Booking Engine: Mobile-first,user-friendly, state-of-the-art website booking engine to guide the user through a frictionless mobile booking process that results in higher conversion rates and ncreased sales of rooms, packages, and promotions.
- Chatbot on the property website: I will install a chatbot like Asksuite or Quicktext to engage users, answer all of their questions and steer them toward making a booking? Chatbots provide users with information through text, images, video, audio, and serve as your property's 24/7 virtual customer service department.
- Email Reservation Assistant: I will implement a hotel email reservation assistant, like the AI-powered HERA, to understand, automatically book and and handle booking requests sent to the property by email.
10. I would not fall easily for industry buzzwords.
I know that in hospitality we have become an "industry of buzzwords and flashy gadgets" in the hope of impressing guests, owners, and investors: half-baked robots, blockchain, NFTs, metaverse and ChatGPT type of AI applications. "We have to have it and have it first" is the prevailing mentality irrespective of the bigger picture and the rest of the hotel tech stack. Supposedly, having a shining new gadget or piece of tech shows that your hotel is not "falling behind the curve."
I promise not to fall for new "cool" and brag-worthy digital marketing and technology gizmos not ready for prime time, while at the same time abandon marketing and technology fundamentals that generate concrete revenues.
Investing in cute but worthless butler robots instead of redesigning the 6-year-old property website to bring it to the mobile age. Or spending a fortune on metaverse replica of your hotel in place of investing in a video and photo shoot of the property to use on website, social media, content marketing, etc. The list goes on and on.
Example, I know there have been heated discussions in hospitality about the impact of the metaverse on the industry. From proponents predicting that it will "change everything in travel and hospitality", to detractors who are skeptical about its immediate value proposition and useful applications. I understand that both sides are somewhat correct: the metaverse is a new medium that needs to be studied and monitored closely, like how the Internet was a new medium back in the mid-1990s. At the same time, let's face it - the metaverse is not yet ready for prime time.