Browsing articles tagged with "hotel marketing - Hotel Marketing Blog - Mirarmedia by Martin Soler"
I just received the list of most popular articles from hotelmarketing.com and am republishing it here. I couldn’t find it on their site and emailed them to publish it but am not sure if that’s going to happen any time soon since they also announce that they’re on holidays until January.
Looking through the list is quite interesting. I wrote about it in a Google+ post (which has limited distribution) so am republishing the content of that post here:
Just went through the hotelmarketing.com‘s list of most popular articles in 2011. An excellent list, reading through the list alone is a great analysis of what’s happening in the hospitality world. Here’s my analysis of the scene: Feel free to add yours.
1. Hoteliers are more and more worried about their dependency on OTAs. Rate Parity problems, Cutting availability to OTAs being flagged and more.
2. Hoteliers still haven’t figured out how to yield results from social media. And nobody blames them. The stats talk for themselves: while social media brings lots of visits and can be used as a branding strategy the conversion of those visitors is much lower than on search. And what should we talk about?
3. Hoteliers want more direct. OK that’s nothing new, it’s the eternal problem of every industry, how to increase direct sales.
4. Hoteliers are searching for new marketing ideas. The posts with catchy headlines like Google+ will re-shape search… andGroupon and Expedia… are high on the list indicating that new ideas are definitely on their mind, even if many are just not mature yet. It leads me to believe that the common phrase that hoteliers are not up-to-date is just wrong, they are probably more careful and aren’t going to invest heavily into stuff that doesn’t work.
5. Big names still work best. I guess this isn’t limited to hotels but if there is Facebook, TripAdvisor, Google, Kayak or other big name in the headline it just gets much more readers. That’s just one of the PR laws, big names sell.
It’s probably more revealing as a trend to see what posts were most read and shared than the content of the posts. It gives a great crowdsourcing of hotel marketers interests (at least those that read hotelmarketing.com).
|MOST POPULAR ARTICLES IN 2011
My collegue and friend Tony Loeb at WIHP published a study yesterday called Where to find new customers online analyzing websites that bring new guests and customers versus those that are used as a passing point in the purchase cycle.
I thought it was quite interesting and am re-posting the infographic here. I’m not going to put the entire article since you can read that on the WIHP Magazine.
Where to find new customers - infographic by WIHP, click on the image to see the full article on WIHP Mag
For those wondering why I am not blogging so much here, it’s just because I’ve been busy blogging on WIHP’s Magazine and I figured just taking all the articles and duplicating them here would be boring for everyone not to mention the duplicate content that search engines won’t appreciate too much.
In any case, if you’re really upset because you want more on mirarmedia.com then drop me a note and I’ll find some time to blog ideas here…
With the analysts at WIHP we’re constantly crunching numbers. How many visits before clients book, what countries book most, what links are the best, how do they find the hotel, what pages are most interesting, how fast the booking goes etc. Good marketing is based on lots of analysis and I think every good marketer out there knows that. I thought it would be fun to share some of the numbers, so I got an infographic made with some of them and it’s pretty cool. Here are the booking trends in the independent hotel market as an infographic.
The data is pretty interesting and Scott Thomas from abouttheinn.com did a pretty good summary of this on the tnooz.com post, he says:
Very interesting stats, and definitely reflective of our observations. Key takeaways: (1) Your home page MUST be optimized for conversions; (2) You need to be visible in conventional search, have good reputation with prior guests, AND be on the OTAs; (3) your website must stand out as providing something different.
To which I added that you need to have a booking engine that’s designed to convert. With 44% of user time spent on the booking engine if it’s somewhat complicated, slow or not representative of the hotel you’re going to lose conversion since the OTAs have some pretty good booking engines.
With no further ado, here is the hotel booking trends infographic:
My profile on Google+
I’ve been using Google+ for a few weeks now and I’m starting to get the hang of it. I am actually quite liking the design and feel for the platform and can’t wait for Google to open the business listing so we can really start using the platform for hotels. But meanwhile here are 5 ways a hotel can use Google+ for their property.
First of all it will require that the concierge or front desk staff open an account and become the “voice” of the hotel, this can’t be done trying to pretend to be a hotel, it needs to be an individual. But that can work too.
1. Open an account for the front desk or customer services of the hotel and determine who will be the user. It’s got to be a person.
2. Build circles for the different types of clients you have. This could be Summer holidays, New Year’s eve, Weekend breaks, Luxury Suites or so. Make groups with your guest types and load them into the system into various circles. It doesn’t matter if they are on Google+ or not because G+ has this great feature that one can share with people not on G+ via email. By clicking on the check box you can share stories, offers, photos or news to a particular circle which will get forwarded by email.
3. Create photo albums for the hotel and categorize them properly, such as room type, lobby, pool etc. Make this a display for the hotel. And remember to put captions with each photo providing a proper link for the hotel’s site and the specific page where they can get more information.
4. Remember this is a social network so it’s about talking to people and getting them to share their experience, comments, viewpoints etc. Don’t try to make this just a sales pitch for the hotel, interact with people, help them. And remind them of the great services that you can offer. That also means responding to their reviews and fixing things that went wrong.
5. Invite people to hangouts and if they’re interested answer questions about the hotel, how to get there, things to do in the area reassure people who haven’t been there before that your hotel is best for them. And those that have, tell them about new things being done in and around the hotel.
Couple of words of caution, don’t put people in too many circles as you’ll likely start spamming them and that’ll be the end of your Google+ experience for them. Don’t post everything public, use Circles for what they’re good for – making circles. Keep them exclusive it’s more fun that way and you get the right message to the right people.
And most importantly assume the viewpoint of the people getting your messages, if you write to them as if you were the one receiving the message you’ll get a long way. Nobody wants a sales pitch thrown at them all the time, they want to see the human side of the hotel.
Maybe Google+ is going to eliminate the need for email marketing altogether. I guess time will tell…
Together with the analysts at WIHP I just published a study of the top referring sites that bring bookings. Contrary to what some may think, referring sites as seen in Google Analytics doesn’t necessarily show the sites that bring bookings. And while some say that it’s a numbers game of more visits = more bookings there are some sites that really produce and others that don’t. Here is our analysis after reviewing several thousand sites and more than 35,000 bookings.
Follow the official blog of WIHP here: http://wihphotel.com/mag | WIHP on Twitter: http://twitter.com/wihphotel | WIHP on Facebook
In the highly competitive market of Travel, hotels need to analyze their top referring sites constantly. Unfortunately most hotels look at referring sites on their web stats with tools such as Google analytics or other and can only see which sites bring traffic, that doesn’t always show the real picture since a site can bring lots of traffic, but does it bring qualified traffic which turn into bookings.
At WIHP, like a few other professional hotel marketing companies, we’ve developed our own tracking systems that permit us to really study the ROI of the campaigns being done for our clients and track all the way to the booking.
A recent study we conducted taking into account over 35,000 bookings on the largest European markets (Paris, Rome and Barcelona) gives a pretty good picture of which type of sites generate most bookings and the market share these sites have. Taking into account that each of these categories actually generate revenue for the hotels in question, it important to state that none of them should be left out as “a minority” since they will generate revenue. The question is only one of how big an investment to make into those sites.
Below are two graphs, one with search engines and one without. We included the one without search engines to make the graph clearer as a sort of “zoom in” on the real referring sites.
Top Referring Sites for Hotels
Top Referring Sites for Hotels (source: wihphotel.com)
Top Referring Sites for Hotels, excluding search engines (source: wihphotel.com)
|Reviews and Review sites
|Social Media sites
|Rate checking sites
Explanations of the results:
Search Engines, this is self-explanatory, these are all the search engines. They bring the most of the traffic as mentioned in my prior article about the real source of hotel bookings, the majority of the people booking the hotel have found the hotel elsewhere and at the time of booking have already decided which hotel they want to stay at and thus search for the hotel directly in the booking engine.
Map Search, we’ve purposely separated this from the broad Search Engines category since map search behaves slightly different in that one could be searching for a type of hotel in an area and find the result on map search etc. Map search isn’t limited to Google Places but also includes other map-based search systems that are trackable.
Reviews and Review sites, included here is Tripadvisor which is one of the largest in the category, but also other sites such as yelp.com, vinivi.com and the multitude of review sites on the market. In this category we have also included online reviews by online magazines or review sites (non-social).
Emails, these are all the trackable email that we found, people using non-web emails clients are not trackable and wont appear here, they aren’t in this statistic at all since they’re considered direct visitors by any tracking system.
Travel Guides, as this is a study of referring sites, travel guides in this case is all the online travel guides such as Fodors, Frommers, Lonelyplanet etc. again, for more information on the off-line effect of travel guides see our study on The Real Source of Hotel Bookings.
Other, we’ve included in this category all the miscellaneous sites such as a university referring their visitors to a local hotel or corporation etc. Of which there are quite a few but not enough to make it a category on it’s own.
Directory Listings, in this category are all the listings such as Yellow Pages, local hotel directories etc. Surprisingly this category doesn’t bring that many bookings.
Social Media sites, this includes Facebook, Twitter and other minor social media sites. While these are often on the top list of referring sites, they don’t necessarily all convert into bookings. As I mentioned earlier none of these sites should be neglected since they are all generating revenues and I am a strong believer of Social Media as a platform for hoteliers to reach out to potential guests. See my article on the launch of Hotel Seven in Paris which was almost entirely done via social media.
Blogs, we’ve separated blogs from Review sites as they’re a different type of review somewhere in between user reviews and journalist stories. In some cases blogs are extremely efficient and should definitely be considered in any hotelier’s marketing campaign.
Rate checking sites, in this category are sites like Kayak, Trivago and other rate comparers. Which per experience have a more qualified audience but who in many cases bring traffic to OTAs more than to hotel websites since hotel websites can’t easily push their rates.
Top Search Engines for Hotels
Further we analysed the search engines that bring bookings. On this category there is no mystery, Google leads by far with Yahoo and Bing right behind. As the Yahoo/Bing alliance rolls out this will become one and hopefully will take more than 7.6% of the market. Oddly enough with 30% of the market in the US the bookings aren’t nearly that much which probably comes from the non-US markets.
Top search engines for Hotels (source: wihphotel.com)
Conclusion for the Top Referring Sites and Search Engines for Hotels
While there are obviously some key sites that bring the most interested users and converts them into bookings, a hotel needs to be on every possible site in order to get all the bookings possible. It isn’t enough to focus on a single source or two, each of the above categories need to be worked on and the hotel’s presence on each will determine their brand recognition in the eyes of the end-user. The leading position of search engines in the bookings shows that to get the booking requires that the hotel is present everywhere. Only in that way will the end-user finally search for the hotel’s name, which is the search the user will do when he is ready to book. Other information that we will cover shortly shows that on average a new customer visits your site 3.78 times over several days before they make their purchase, which proves that there is a lot of shopping going on.
Some weeks ago I met Josiah Mackenzie from Hotel Marketing Strategies in Paris and we had a chat about opening hotels, social media, Seven Hotel and lots of other points. It was great finally meeting Josiah after having followed his blog, spoken over Skype etc. I am re-blogging his article entitled “How to Successfully Open a Hotel” as I thought it’s a great article (and I won’t have to re-write it since he did a pretty good job).
How to successfully open a hotel (the Martin Soler way)
Martin Soler and his team at WIHP mastermind some of the most successful hotel openings in Europe, such as Hotel Seven. This weekend, I sat down with him in Paris to discuss digital communications in hospitality. Our conversation covered a broad range of topics that we’ll share with you in the weeks ahead, but the focus of this article will be the marketing approach he uses during the crucial months surrounding a hotel opening.
“Know your purpose”
Clarify what you are trying to achieve with your pre-opening marketing. Defining your brand positioning is critical during the early stages of planning. Your brand positioning will affect the messaging and tactics you use at each step.
“Showcase the designer”
Design plays a huge role for the hotels that Martin typically works with. For many hotels, the link between design and revenue is closer than it may appear- which this is a topic we’ll discuss in a separate article. The reality is that if you have a unique product, the chances of people talking about your brand increase dramatically. Great design always generates more buzz.
Martin believes at least 40% of a hotel’s marketing value comes from its design. Because of this, he asks who the designer will be before taking on any hotel opening project.
The bigger concept here is to showcase the inventors, artists, and builders behind the product. What makes your brand unique? Is it the concept? The way in which it was built? Each of these areas can play a role in differentiating your property, making it stand apart from the competition.
It takes time to build an engaged, authentic online community. In order to have a substantial group of fans and followers by the time you open, starting to build this community early is important.
Martin tries to build online pre-opening buzz at least 6 months before opening. With Hotel Seven, this took the form of using Facebook as an exclusive content distribution channel. The community building approach you use will go back to the positioning goals for the brand, but getting an early start is beneficial regardless of platform.
“Build a next-generation website”
Just as beginning to build an online community early is important, creating a compelling website as early as possible is important as well. For hotels, the website is their professional presentation, while social media acts as the more informal communication channel. Both channels play important roles that complement one another.
A “next-generation” website is comprised of several key elements. Martin believes in the extensive use of photos and rich visuals. At the same time, the website must be fast and accessible on a wide range of devices. The hotel site needs to be “social” – integrated with as many other relevant external networks as possible. And above all, it must sell.
“Guard first impressions”
While some social media agencies have experimented with showing construction in progress as a way to build pre-opening buzz, Martin typically advises against showing the work in progress. Showing an unfinished product could give your community the wrong first impression.
Instead, the primary objective in the pre-opening phase should be to sell the dream of what the property will look like. This is best done through building a prototype of your design or concept, and then releasing previews of that.
“Use social media to get attention offline”
Hotels that generate a lot of buzz in social media tend to be covered by journalists writing stories for offline publications and traditional media. The media is always looking for stories that will interest their audience. If a blog post is generating hundreds of tweets, for example, that indicates strong story potential. For this reason, Martin sees social media playing a key role in obtaining crucial media coverage during a hotel’s opening period.
“Give away lots of rooms.”
Giving away room nights is a key pre-opening strategy that Martin recommends. Letting journalists and bloggers stay in the rooms of a soon-to-be-opened hotel helps them experience the product, which is crucial for building early online buzz and back links.
This strategy is not limited to journalists. The owner of the Seven Hotel even gave away room nights to staff members and other key people involved in the project. Everyone had to experience what it was like to be a guest at the hotel so they could do a better job of selling it and providing service.
Whether you decide to give away rooms or not, the key lesson here is to involve as many media producers as possible in your project at the beginning. Generating some early buzz is crucial for building awareness and your web presence.
“Setup distribution partnerships”
Instead of viewing distributors as adversaries, Martin recommends setting up as many smart reseller partnerships as you can. But there are two things to keep in mind as you set these deals up:
1) Make sure you only pay a commission on reservations. Avoid websites that charge a large fee up front to list your hotel, unless you know they have the huge potential they are promising.
2) Make sure you’re generating enough direct bookings through your website. Making 20% of sales through online travel agencies is healthy, but if 80% of bookings are coming through third parties, that could be a danger sign.
“Measure and track everything”
Martin and the team at WIHP make a point of tracking a wide range of numbers: from the website traffic to social media activity to online reputation. Performance metrics are extremely important to guide the direction you take during the hotel opening process. Don’t be afraid to abandon whole sections of your strategy if you see it isn’t bringing qualified visitors that buy room nights.
As the saying goes: If you can’t measure it, you can’t track it, and if you can’t track it, you can’t manage it.
If you want Martin’s expertise to guide your next hotel project, you should visit his hotel marketing website, and learn more about WIHP.
[All hotel photos from the Seven Hotel Paris]
I’ve been doing some research lately to find out how the customers that booked on the hotel websites heard about the hotel. We (me and our analysts at WIHP) reached out to over 6000 guests to gather their information. The hotel base we selected was about 100 hotels located in Paris, Rome and Barcelona. A selection of independent hotels varying from cheap to luxury and including Boutique. A pretty wide variety of hotels but all of them independent and in the smaller category of about 30-50 rooms.
We used the classic question “How did you hear about us?” and to be quite honest I was expecting something rather different from what I found. We already know that about 90% of the bookings done on a hotel’s website are done by people who search for the hotel on their search engine, the question that we wanted to answer was how did the guest find out about the hotel.
After some months of surveying the guests we started seeing the answers roll in and they were very interesting, here we go:
Hotel Marketing Survey - how did you hear about us - by WIHP
Survey Question: How did you hear about us?
24.1% Friends or Family
11.8% Repeat Guest
2.7% Travel Agent
1.0% Travel Guide
Amazingly (or not) Friends or Family is the leading reply, Google found exactly the same in their survey which you can find here. While I didn’t expect that to be the top answer it obviously makes sense and we’re back to the old marketing and PR law that word of mouth is your best advertising. However here is where the Social Media Marketer needs to realize that his role is to leverage that and yield it to the maximum, sure Social Medial will also create new customers via totally different channels but your social media campaign is all about Friends and Family and do it right, it’s a massive revenue generator. All the staff participate, they’ve got to make sure the guest don’t just feel “good” they’ve got to feel GREAT! and Social Media manager better be concerned about that and do something about it if it isn’t the case.
OTAs (Expedia, Booking.com, Orbitz etc) come second and here is where the hotelier who tries to shut off the OTA is a fool, and his goal shouldn’t be to exclude them but include them intelligently so it generates bookings via the OTAs and spills over to the website, it needs to be a win-win partnership. The article I wrote in February about shifting from OTAs to Direct bookings is still the best way that partnership will work and remain healthy for both parties.
The category “other” contains too many variable replies and while we’re analysing those too I wanted to mention that Google search is included in here. I mention that because some hoteliers will think they their SEO strategy is to be found through all manner of search terms and thus pull in new customers. For your average independent hotel that’s a bad strategy. You will end up with a tremendous bounce rate and eventually Google will notice your site isn’t about “Boutique Hotels in London” and will push down the ranking costing you the double in work. The best strategy for an independent hotel is to build a proper website and get popular through all the regular channels. Additionally I purposely didn’t give the option “Google” or “Search engine” in the survey since sure they found the hotel on Google, but they knew the name before they Googled it.
Tripadvisor comes fourth which is quite interesting. Some time ago I was all over telling hotels to buy their link on Tripadvisor, however about 50% of the hotels that participated in this survey didn’t have that link and oddly enough some of the hotels that didn’t have the link and were very low on the overall chart (1100 out of 1800 hotels) had about 20% of their guest come from Tripadvisor. What I learned from this is that your ranking on the site is not as important as the reviews. Having the last 5-10 reviews all positive and great is more important to your revenues than tearing your hair out because you lost 10 places on their site. Which is great news – because now you know you can always do something about it.
While I am not going to cover the rest of the results, I am sure you understand the figures as well as everyone else, I did want to mention that Facebook with 2% is quite interesting. Facebook is definitely on the rise as a travel marketing resource and I recommend hoteliers to embrace it as a means to reach millions and help them on their buying process.
Feel free to comment and ask questions I’ll do my best to answer them.
Hotel Chateau Frontenac Paris, adding menu items without confusing the user.
Working at WIHP I come across lot’s of hotel websites both good and bad, there are some points that I find commonly misunderstood by hoteliers and some web designers which make for ineffective hotel websites that don’t sell as much as they could. I started writing this as an article about hotel website design, but as it turns out I’m going to make a list of DO’s and DON’Ts or rather Don’ts and Do’s as I am listing it here. While some of this may go against established viewpoints, I am not writing it as a series of opinions, this is based on over 12 years of trial and error in the highly competitive market that is Paris.
To start with let’s get one thing straight. A Hotel website is there for one purpose and one purpose only – to sell inventory directly for the hotel at highest possible profit to the hotel. What a website isn’t is a medium to flatter a hotelier’s ego, it isn’t there to impress people with fancy animations, it isn’t there to be liked by Google, it isn’t there for any other purpose than to generate maximum bookings at the highest possible profit to the hotel.
Now that we got that straight let’s go over some do’s and don’ts of common points I have noticed together with other professionals at WIHP.
Don’t create a website for Google, Google isn’t going to sleep in your hotel!
It’s a classic we keep running into, some hotelier has been “advised” by a “professional” that the website needs lots of keyword heavy text and lots of information on the home page in order to be well indexed in Google. So they make a horrible website that guests try to avoid. Get this straight – someone who is booking a room in a hotel isn’t interested in a description of the hotel’s history and or something like: “This is really a boutique hotel because it was renovated with a specific boutique hotel design and therefore is getting some of the best reviews as one of the top boutique hotels in the city”. That is making a website for Google rather than for your guests. Sure your SEO guys will complain, but they’ll just need to get better at their jobs.
Don’t focus on animations, it’s distracting.
We all want a sexy website, with fancy animations that look great. We want to show the world that we have the latest technology in the world and we’re up to date, skip it – it’s a distraction! Your guest knows what he wants – even if he is seeing an average of 12 websites before he choses his hotel it isn’t because he doesn’t know what he’s looking for. On the contrary, he just isn’t finding it and your animations are making things worse.
Don’t present the entire city, you’re trying to sell your hotel.
I can’t count how many times I’ve landed on a hotel website only to be searching for the “Rooms” menu option so I could get to see the rooms and find out what the hotel was really like. Some people seem to think the hotel needs to present every single corner of the hotel and then every single corner of the city. Sure it’s great to show your bar but why in the world are you telling him about your Concierge, Shopping, Things to do, Events, Shows etc on your main menu? You aren’t the local tourist information you’re trying to sell him a room. Waste his time and he’ll go somewhere else, like an OTA for example (they understood this long ago).
Don’t go cheap on your booking engine, it’ll cost you the sale.
Unfortunately too many hotels think the Booking Engine is something they can relegate to the cheapest on the market. What would you think of your reservation office telling the potential guests “Hm let’s see I think I can accept your reservation but you’ll have to hold while I check with the manager and my supervisor, after that I’ll run a credit check and you can call back in about 15 minutes” you’d fire the lot of them. That’s what a bad booking engine is doing to you. Pay a little more, get something that’s efficient.
Now that we’ve looked at those points, the contrast will probably seem obvious but let’s go over them.
Hotel du Quai Voltaire Paris, Showing the USP in 3 seconds. This Hotel has been the hub for artists for almost two centuries, yet, that isn't their USP on the contrary people don't sleep in a museum they've got one across the river.
Create a website for users. As I mentioned in my earlier post about USPs you need to present 3 factors in 3 seconds: Location, Comfort and Value. How do you do that? Visuals, large ones, show don’t tell. People want to see the room, see the location, see the rates and that is what will close your guests to come. Use great and large photos, as I mentioned in my post about hotel photography – guests want to see your room, your hotel and what you have to show, if a photo tells a thousand words, then you don’t need to write a lot. If your site is pertinent, Google will show it, so focus on the people. They’re the ones that will sleep in your hotel.
Make your website fast and to the point. As I mentioned just above you have 3 seconds to make the sale. The potential guest knows what he wants, show him your hotel, if you fit his criteria you’ve got the sale. So make your website fast, add some animations if you want but only if it helps the three second rule, the WOW effect of your website should be your hotel not the animations.
Navigation must be simple. Menus need to be simple and easy to navigate. There are essential points of the hotel that need to be shown, such as the rooms, the location and how to book. Sure you can add more but add intelligently because your guest needs to know how to book or where to check your location without being rocket scientists. Remember you’ve got lot’s of competition and they may sell faster than you.
Invest in a good booking engine. The booking engine comes at the most crucial moment of the sale. Now is the time the guest needs to pull out the credit card, all the reasons in the world why he shouldn’t pay are going to creep up. You can either help yourself make the sale with a fast and smooth booking engine or help him find reasons not to pay by having a complicated booking process. Test the booking engine before you sign a contract. How smooth is the booking process, get your parents to try it can they figure it out? Try some people to see if they find it annoying, smooth, easy or if they just leave.
As a hotelier, you have one objective to keep in mind – is it effective? demand from your web-designer that he produce a site which converts and is measurable in increased revenues. Simple analytics can provide you with the information. While we have developed a sophisticated hotel analytics system at WIHP, you can already start measuring by installing e-commerce with Google Analytics. Track your conversions, how many visits create how many bookings etc. compare with your friends that have similar hotels, are you better, worse etc.
This list isn’t everything but I hope it gives enough to make hoteliers think and maybe review their design.
I am re-blogging an article by Daniel Edward Craig about how to write posts for social media. I was honored to contribute to this post since it’s something I strongly believe in.
Social media is essentially about marketing and PR and when you say PR you know that facts are best told as stories and events are only events if turned into a story. However that said, almost anything can be turned into an event. A newly renovated room is an event, a new staff hired is an event, buying special gifts for valentines is an event and so it goes on.
The idea one needs to operate with is that we’re connecting with people and it’s our job to be real with those people, often a relaxed unformal approach is much more productive than a bunch of official statements from the hotel.
Now enough of my stuff, here is Daniel’s much more complete version:
Social media and storytelling for hotels
“Good storytelling makes people sit up and listen … It is worthy of their attention, worth remembering and retelling.” Corey Torrence, iMedia Connection
My dual careers as a hotelier and novelist couldn’t be more different, and yet they’ve overlapped in unexpected ways. As a hotel manager, I learned to pay close attention to detail, to be more decisive, and not to drink on the job. As a writer, I’ve learned to be focused, how to cope with a bad review, and how to invent clever excuses for missed deadlines.
Surprisingly, it’s the storytelling skills I’ve developed as a novelist that have helped me most as a hotelier. Hoteliers are natural storytellers. We can often be spotted at social gatherings regaling crowds with tales of impossible guests and improbable situations, all the while carefully editing details to ensure discretion and inflate our importance.
Hotels are a rich, virtually unlimited resource for stories, and social media has created unprecedented platforms and audiences for sharing them. And yet this storytelling talent isn’t always apparent in social media, where hotel content often leans toward the bland and unoriginal.
The challenge is, when we’re already scrambling to keep up with the technical and operational demands of administering a social media program, who has time for creativity? And yet as travel research and purchasing increasingly shifts online, our ability to communicate our unique offerings, to drive advocacy, and to build loyalty has never been more important. And nothing accomplishes this quite like good storytelling.
To that end, I thought I’d share a few storytelling principles I’ve learned as a writer that have equal relevance to social media in the hotel industry.
Why tell stories? In the age of social media, to stay relevant online we need to think like a publisher and communicate like a storyteller. Travelers are telling stories about our hotels on review sites and social media platforms, and while we can’t control the conversation, we can influence it, and we can own our own story. The more interesting and relevant the content we produce, the more it will be remembered and shared, and the greater traffic it will drive to our website and booking channels.
Start with your core story. A good story has compelling characters, an appealing setting, an intriguing plot, and an easily identifiable genre. For a hotel, these elements are your staff, location, guest experience, and style of property. Write these elements into your core story and post it to your website and social media profiles. Then share fragments of this story on social media channels that compel readers to click to find out more. The subtext to every story? Your brand promise, key value propositions, and core values.
“In crafting your story, work as a group to imagine the stories you want your guests sharing with others once they leave your hotel,” advises Bill Baker of BB&Co Strategic Storytelling, whose clients include Relais & Châteaux. “Envision what you want those guests doing, thinking, and feeling to create those stories and, most importantly, get your staff to see their role in making those stories happen.”
Dramatize description. Lists of features and benefits are helpful but a bit dull; they’re far more compelling when woven into stories. Packages are great for this, as are slice-of-life updates on Facebook and Twitter. Like this Facebook update from Brewster House in Freeport, Maine: “Cute couple got engaged here last night. Now enjoying champagne and blueberry-stuffed French toast.” The subtext? Romance, excitement, and scrumptious breakfast.
Speak to your audience. When we read a book or watch a movie, if we identify with the universal needs, desires, and values of characters, we form an emotional connection. Similarly, travel shoppers want to know how they’ll fit into our story and how we’ll fulfill their needs and desires. Ultimately, our guests become our critics, assessing in reviews and social media feedback how well we communicate and deliver on expectations through the stories we tell.
Take a page from the book of online reviews. Travelers tune out hotel marketers because of our propensity to tell fairytales and fantasy. Instead they turn to online reviews for the real story. Reviews contain all the elements of good storytelling: a gripping lead, a strong point of view, lessons learned, humor—and yes, occasional myth and melodrama. Use these techniques and a healthy dose of reality in your stories to capture the attention of travelers and earn back their trust.
Show, don’t tell. Online we have the attention span of three-year-olds at Toys ‘R Us: we’re drawn to shiny, moving objects and repelled by large blocks of static text. Use imagery to bring your stories to life; video in particular takes the guesswork out for travel shoppers. Video content doesn’t have to be slick on social media channels, but it should be professional, entertaining, and on-brand. If your budget allows, get it professionally produced.
Resist the urge to explain. Be concise, and let words and images speak for themselves. Advises Martin Soler with Hotel le Seven in Paris, “Treat content like a news story. Break it down into sections and give it to them bit by bit to maximize yield. If you do a photo shoot, write that a shoot was done, and then a little later release one photo, then a few more, then the restaurant photos, now the single rooms, etc. Don’t just dump the stuff on them.”
Editorial, not advertorial. Blogs and social media platforms are often used as dumping grounds for media releases, specials, and the latest discounts on discounts. Those aren’t stories, they’re commercials. Put a unique, non-salesy spin on promotional content, and balance it with original, editorial-style content. And remember that the most compelling, authentic stories are told by your guests. Listen to them, learn, and encourage them to share. End of story.
A few examples of good storytelling:
- The fantastical Faena Hotel + Universe in Buenos Aires takes storytelling to a new level by presenting its core story in storybook format.
- L’Apostrophe Hôtel in Paris tells its story in video format by accompanying une jolie femme around the city, creating a powerful sense of place.
- La Basse Cour in Normandy and Fort Putney Road in Vermont create intrigue by sharing the story of how they came to be innkeepers.
- Story Hotel in Stockholm lets guests do the storytelling by scanning their handwritten notes and posting them to its website.
- Diverse and engaging content by Hotel le Seven in Paris has helped attract over 12,000 Facebook fans.
- Hopton House’s blog in Shropshire, England conveys its distinctive pastoral setting and appreciation for nature through compelling photography.
- Best Western’s vintage videos show that someone at the company has a sense of humor (and that there were some seriously bad hairdos in the 70s).
- Sheraton and Fairmont have created online communities for guests and staff to share their stories on Better When Shared and Everyone’s an Original.
See highlights my Storytelling & Social Media presentation at the Professional Association of Innkeepers conference.
Expedia - taking 25% commissions
Probably 60% of all the hotels are to some degree dependent on OTAs. Meaning the OTAs are bringing them more than 40% of their business.
The common problem for hoteliers is how to increase their revenue with a limited stock of rooms per day and any day lost can’t be recovered. Once they have worked out how to fill the hotel, the dilemma is often how to decrease the market share of OTAs and increase their direct bookings. For those of you who aren’t hoteliers OTAs take up to 30% commissions on the bookings they send to hotels. That is a large part of the hotel’s profit.
Back in 2008 when I was the director of Hotel Taylor in Paris (a three star boutique hotel) I was living that dilemma every day. The hotel had just been renovated and was becoming quite popular on OTA sites, so much so that I had month where 80% of my revenues came from OTAs. While I welcomed the revenues it was obvious that this model would not last. It became urgent to work out a strategy to shift to direct bookings. Here is how we did it (and I say we because this was a teamwork between the hotel and our internet marketing agency).
We contacted the best webmarketing agency in our area (WIHP, which is where I work now) and told them to make the best website they could. We gave them carte blanche and told the designers that the site has to be better than anything on the market. The site they made was this one www.paristaylorhotel.com some key elements where, full-screen images, easy navigation, easy to book from anywhere in the site.
2. Invest in your online marketing strategy
We took two thirds of the OTA commission budget and invested it into online marketing. Working with pay-per-click advertising, blogs and every possible means of direct marketing they had to offer. We weren’t going to make much more profit, but we wanted to be independent.
3. Use Social Media
We started working Social medias, blogs, Facebook and any other medium we could find to get in direct contact with future guests. We had to get out there and make the hotel known to real people that were all potential guests for us.
4. Print advertising
To make things worse, aside from the OTA dependency we also had a recession well on the way. So we went even further and bought print advertising signed contracts for full page ads in travel magazines. It was expensive and the smaller hotels had not tried it before. Most of our friends thought we were crazy, but we trusted our strategy.
5. Keep working with OTAs
OTAs are not evil, they’re just expensive. So of course we didn’t shut them out and start some kind of revolution. But since our direct bookings took over most of our inventory, we didn’t have much to sell through them anymore. However we kept them all going and paid our commissions. Even if they were rather small.
6. Best Rate Guarantee on your website
This is always a heated subject, but you need to decide where you’re going to put your future.
With about one year of work, applying the strategy, spending the money, we created a reputation for ourselves and currently have a hotel that is known by the public and booked at an average of 88% over the year. With an ADR that doubled on 24 month. It’s not undoable, but it takes some courage and it takes being backed by a strong marketing agency that knows what they’re doing.