Going digital is no longer a matter of choice for hotel brands, but a matter of survival. Most owners and managers of independent hotels already know this. The days when travelers walked in just because they saw a big neon “vacancy” sign lit up are long gone. Sure, hoteliers should keep on displaying beautiful facades and elegant interiors, but a compelling presence online and on mobile is as significant. With this paradigm shift in mind, here are a few key strategies that can help your hotel property compete in the digital world.
Your Online Presence
Before we talk about specific digital strategies for small hotels, let’s first go over the bare basics of online engagement. While it is evident that developing an online presence on digital channels is a necessity, a surprisingly large number of smaller hotels still rely mainly on old-school, offline marketing methods, neglecting the opportunities available on the Internet.
Believe it or not, as many as one-third of smaller hotel businesses still operate without a branded website, social media engagement, or even digital advertising to help convert guests.
More significantly, many small hotels that do have a digital presence do not use the correct promotional mix to improve potential and current guest perceptions. Furthermore, very few boutique or smaller hotels have a unique targeting and communications strategy designed for their specific venue(s).
These digitally deprived companies have a plethora of reasons for their slow adoption of a branded website or social media accounts. The most common one by far is that business is going well enough without it. Thriving is not these hotel business’ dogma, and this could become a huge problem.
Consider this: a recent Deloitte study revealed travel is accounting for a staggering 10.2% of global GDP! The numbers for 2017 showed bookings worldwide had reached $1.6 trillion, making it the fastest growing sector in the world.
So, if your hotel is not thriving in such a market, when will it? Are small hoteliers waiting for travel to become 30% of world GDP? 50%? Where is the starting point for ultimate success? Many reading this ask the logical question, “What’s missing?”
Where digital differentiation is concerned, creating a compelling presence is the key to standing out. Here are some key facets of your overall digital marketing plan that must work as one seamless effort.
- Robust search engine optimization (SEO)
- Well planned content marketing strategy
- Website experience and traffic efforts beyond SEO
- Social media - proper targeting and scheduling
- PR and media relations – promotions and campaigns
- Pay per click (PPC) and SEM efforts
- Metasearch integration
- Native advertising
- Email marketing
- Trust, reputation, and reviews
- Performance measurement
A website would be the equivalent of a business’s billboard if we were living in the 1950s. As important as those roadway advertisements were for American motels on US Route 66 (for example), so too a mobile-friendly website that caters to visitor needs is today. Since the world is going mobile at an astonishing rate, mobile functionality, mobile search, and especially mobile booking are becoming imperative.
A fast, visually stunning site with proper UX and a slick booking engine is the catalyst for direct booking revenue today. See how to create a good user experience for a hotel website here. It’s also essential to understand that your website is vital for your hotel’s marketing and revenue strategy.
More importantly, protect yourself against brandjacking. For hotels, the most relevant example of brandjacking is Affiliate Brand Bidding – pretty much when you find your hotel’s name in ads from Booking.com, Expedia, and others.
Beating the Competition
Failing to understand a competitor’s strengths and weaknesses has doomed more hotel operations than failed world economics. This is particularly true for smaller hotels that may not seem to have the workforce or resources to monitor local and online rivals.
Operations that are constrained financially or resource-wise usually rationalize SEO, social media, and even ad spend out in favor of reliance on OTAs and other third-party revenue drivers. As we’ve already pointed out, this is a plan for losers. Return on investment is the key to business success, and SEM/SEO can provide considerable ROI if done correctly.
Here are a few easy points for helping with your hotel’s broad-reaching search presence:
- Ensure the mobile-friendly website is fully SEO optimized
- Determine which SEO keywords and featured snippets to use for better rankings
- Monitor and adapt to competitor efforts
- Glean valuable insight into strategies for content emulation/improvement (content is still King)
- Evaluate the competition’s target audience and emulate/improve
Use a competitor monitoring tool like SEMRush to identify how your rivals position in the SERPs within your business niche. You can also discover their main traffic sources, user behaviors, and top referring domains. You can compare up to five different competitors at once, uncover their keyword and PPC strategies and analyze their backlink profiles to see what makes them rank better than you. With so much intelligence at your fingertips, you can easily emulate their strategies and even create better SEO plans and campaigns to beat them at their own game.
Being There Locally
The importance of “near me” searches should not be underestimated. On the Internet and mobile, local search represents a considerable portion of the direct hotel booking segment. Consider these statistics from Think with Google:
- Nearly 1/3 of all mobile searches are related to the location
- Nearly two-thirds of smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.
- Over the last two years, comparable searches without "near me" have grown by 150%.
- 82% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business.
Additionally, one in every two “near me” hotel searches result in a conversion. Chances are, most hoteliers have never considered the way Google (for instance) algorithms rank their business for searches of the nearby area. Standing out in this area of digital sales is done through strengthening the local search engine optimization (SEO), which allows the business to reach an even broader audience. Local search using Google revolves around providing potential guests with products and services in nearby based on the search engine’s algorithms. Travelers can find nearby businesses ranked based on specific SEO criteria.
A well-optimized Google My Business listing with updates, posts, messaging, reviews, and events, as well as compelling photos from the owner, can boost rankings in local search. Social media and on page optimization also play significant roles in creating a stellar local presence.
Small hotels can win big by focusing on guest needs and preferences. The trend lately has been to use inbound marketing tightly focused on earning the guest’s attention rather than buying it through various ads.
In this strategy hotels actively engage in social media, first and foremost. Secondly, fresh content on blogs and via video provide the foundation for the comprehensive communication plan for growth and efficiency.
Recent studies suggest that inbound marketing is by far the preferable approach for all businesses, not just hotels. Inbound marketing ROI has also been shown 3x more effective than outbound marketing campaigning. With this in mind, let’s discuss the best social media presence briefly.
While many travelers are using Twitter and apps like SnapChat, the booking conversion trend still runs in favor of Facebook and Instagram. People get inspiration on Instagram and enjoy the community/friends aspects of Facebook, and these two networks tend to be part of the overall destination/hotel travel research matrix.
All the social channels help in branding and amplified word of mouth, and it’s essential for hotels to be where their guests are. That said, most smaller hotels cannot do more than to prioritize these social channels in terms of time and resources devoted. We recommend Facebook and Instagram for the top spots, followed by SnapChat, and Twitter. To be sure, each has its specific value and ROI quotient. Here is an in-depth guide to optimizing social media for hotels.
Do not ignore the value of video for hotels. Not everyone realizes that YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google. So, if you apply basic SEO strategies like keywords in the title and geotagging to videos on a YouTube channel, you make it easy for all the search engines to link your location with potential guests’ search criteria. Videos of your hospitality product can convey a thousand times more to prospective guests, and the value of video ads only magnifies the importance of this communicative media. Consider the following statistics:
- By 2021 IP video traffic grows to 82% of all consumer Internet traffic.
- Bookings are 67% more likely when a video tour is on a website. (WorldHotels Collection)
- 65% of business travelers visit a hotel’s website after watching its video. (WorldHotels Collection)
- Travel-related video content is up 118% year over year (YouTube)
The way guests book rooms, and other services is changing dramatically. The digital age has forced small and large hotels to transform their offerings and even their infrastructures to meet the demands of digitally empowered guests.
By 2025 even greater technology innovations raise the digital bar even higher. Novel innovations like robotic process automation (RPA), for example, are disruptive forces on hotel operations.
Chatbots are already in vogue and working at some of the larger chains. Furthermore, biometrics help keeps properties more secure, while robots and drones do some of the lifting needed to serve guests well. However, whatever shifts take place, competitiveness is always going to be about meeting guest expectations.
Loyalty is the critical factor in this industry. As technology reinvents every stop on the travel journey, the on-site experience is no exception. Guests’ growing comfort with technology is driving several disruptive trends. Staff-less hotels appeal to independent-minded travelers – and slash human resource and operating-related costs. Guest acceptance of tech-enabled hotel lobbies already green-lights hospitality companies’ big bet on the Internet of Things (IoT). Businesses that don’t adopt the trends remain behind and irrelevant for the connected traveler of tomorrow.