Boost Off-Season Occupancy with Staycation Bookings

As we leave the peak travel season behind us, it’s time for hoteliers to implement strategies to maintain occupancy as best as possible. Beyond dropping room rates there are more resourceful ways to boost reservations—marketing your property to staycationers is one of them.

A staycation is a vacation taken close to home, normally within a comfortable driving distance. As our lives are becoming increasingly busier, staycations are becoming increasingly popular. Whether it’s an overnight stay in a local hotel or a camping trip at the beach, a quick getaway that doesn’t require getting on a plane is an attractive option for families, friends and couples who are short on time and looking for an easy, budget-friendly escape from their daily routine. In fact, staycationing is such a convenient way to get away from it all that staycationers tend to get away more often—at any time of year.

Attracting locals to your property not only helps maintain occupancy rates during the off season (and all year round), but offers the potential to grow a loyal customer base. Show local visitors a great time and they’ll come back again and again.

Focus on Food

A big part of travel and escaping the daily routine is enjoying local cuisine—and not having to cook! While staycationers are most likely already familiar with the local fare, the luxury of having it prepared for them is a compelling reason in itself to book a weekend away. Take advantage of this by promoting your property’s dining services and/or culinary hotspots in your neighbourhood through packages and discounts, or simply by highlighting recommended restaurants on your website and social media channels.

Cooking classes and wine tastings can attract locals looking to do something a bit different.

Promote Local Events

Staycationers often look for activities and events to spice up their normal routine, so get involved with what’s happening in your community to provide a stay that excites and refreshes. In addition to recommending local restaurants, promote local events and activities too. Consider partnering up with tour operators and event organizers to offer packages or discounted tickets.

Organize & Promote Your Own Events

If you have the space, consider organizing onsite events that attract locals. Think markets and fairs, snowman competitions, art exhibitions, live music, etc. Even locals who only turn up for the event but don’t stay the night will get the chance to familiarize themselves with your property and may then follow you on social media (where you can inspire them to try a staycation with you).

If your property caters to private functions such as weddings and corporate events, boost marketing efforts for these services to attract local clientele.

Create Packages

Long-distance travelers aren’t the only ones who enjoy value-packed and hassle-free vacations afforded by packages. Bundling accommodation with activities (from dining to spa treatments to boat tours) provides guests with an experience that allows them to save money and time compared to organizing everything themselves, and that appeals to locals looking for a quick getaway too.

Offer Free Parking

If you typically charge guests for parking, consider including it as a perk for staycationers. Because staycationers are more likely to arrive by car than long-distance travelers, free parking is a very relevant amenity that will be much appreciated.

If you typically charge guests for parking, consider including it as a perk for staycationers. Because staycationers are more likely to arrive by car than long-distance travelers, free parking is a very relevant amenity that will be much appreciated.

Highlight Local Gems

Vacationing close to home gives people a chance to get to know their region better. Help them discover experiences that might be new for them, from tourist-centered activities like Segway tours and wildlife viewings to hidden local gems like the new cat café or a family-friendly nature trail.

Reveal neighbourhood hotspots in a local guide section of your website, on social media and share local recommendations with guests on site.

Welcome Pets

It’s much easier (and cheaper) to travel with a dog in a car than on a plane, so many staycationers will choose to bring their pets. If you don’t want to rule these travelers out, welcome their fur babies with pet-friendly rooms and amenities.

Reward Loyalty

Because staycations are typically easier and more budget friendly than vacations in far-off lands, travelers staying close to home are more likely to staycation more frequently, whenever their schedule allows for two or three days away. Reward them for their loyalty to keep them coming back and inspire them to tell their friends about you.

Think discounted rates, a free drink, and personalized service and communications that cater to their preferences and needs—from dietary restrictions to their preferred room type to the special occasion they might be celebrating.

Be Active on Social Media

Guests from nearby are more likely to follow your property on social media. Because your property is part of their local experience, you have the power to be especially relevant to them. They will be eager to learn of specials, events and activities you are promoting, and to be reminded of the wonderful time they can have at your property.

Keep your property’s social media accounts active with regular posts and stories that highlight the distinctive local experience you offer.

Staycation bookings help properties reduce reliance on seasonality, and offer a great opportunity to develop a loyal customer base. Show local guests they can experience something new and special when vacationing close to home, and your property is bound to become their go-to weekend getaway.

With all these bookings coming in, you’ll want to make sure your reservation system can keep up! Read our recent article on what to look for in an online booking engine.

An Independent Hotelier’s Guide to Loyalty Programs

Loyalty programs have been a part of the hospitality game for decades. And for as long as they have been around, they’ve been the subject of much debate. Like any strategy in hospitality, some consider loyalty programs an essential part of their business and others have found them to be nothing but a liability. What it comes down to is discovering the right solution for your business. With new technology and evolving guest expectations, rewards programs come in all shapes and sizes. You just need to find the right fit.

Here’s a quick guide highlighting the benefits of a loyalty program and the various options available to hoteliers:

The advantages

When implemented well, a loyalty program can do a lot for your property. Offering benefits for continued patronage builds an emotional commitment that makes a guest less likely to book somewhere else and more likely to act as a brand ambassador in-person and online.

Loyalty programs are also a great way to incentivize direct bookings, thereby improving profit margins. In fact, a recent study conducted by the School of Hotel and Tourism Management found that a hotel’s spending on these types of programs was associated with better performance and improved overall gross operating profits. They ultimately concluded that there is “strong and scientific justification regarding the investment budget on loyalty programs.”

Points-based systems

How it works >> Points-based systems are the more traditional option available. These loyalty programs award points for purchases made at the property, from room nights to products and services, which can then be redeemed for discounted services and other perks at a later date.

Tips for success >> The biggest headaches that guests have had with traditional loyalty programs came from complicated rules and annoying restrictions. To run a successful program, member points should never expire, and be easy to redeem. Avoid placing restrictions on and setting black-out periods for reservations made with rewards. It’s also a good idea to offer a variety of options for points redemption. Having scaled options (from little things like a complimentary beverage to large rewards like a free night’s stay) will make all members feel like they have a chance to benefit from the program.

In addition to creating more flexibility in the points-redemption process, you may also wish to include more options for earning points in the first place. Offering rewards for engagement on social media and online reviews can be an excellent way to generate valuable UGC (user generated content), and members will appreciate the opportunity to score points in other ways.

Instant rewards

How it works >> Instant rewards is a much newer concept in the world of loyalty programs. Many travelers today (particularly Millennials), are looking for immediate value. The idea of a free stay in the distant future just isn’t compelling enough to sign up now.  For this reason, many hotel brands that cater heavily to a younger cohort have adopted models that forgo traditional rewards for smaller perks (like free wifi, room service vouchers, or a complimentary beverage) that can be earned through immediate actions taken (like booking direct, sharing on social media, or signing up for the rewards program). Members get the instant gratification they’re looking for and don’t have to worry about earning points and navigating the redemption process.

Tips for success >> Like anything else in business, you need to analyze the numbers to ensure you’re creating a model that benefits your business. You need to know how much an action (like booking direct or posting a positive review) saves or makes your business and then choose an appropriate reward within that margin.

Partnership Programs

How it works >> For many independent hotels, running your own rewards program isn’t particularly feasible. With just one property, it can be difficult for members to accrue enough points for it to be meaningful. This is where partnership programs come in. Companies like VOILA and Stash Rewards allow independent hotels to sign up and benefit from a shared loyalty program. Members benefit from more property options worldwide, and your hotel will gain access to a much larger pool of (already incentivized) customers.

Tips for success >>  All partnership programs are different, so make sure you know what you’re signing up for. If they take a commission for all bookings made using the program, you need to know that it’s going to be worth it. You’ll want to look into the demographic that the program caters to, the number of members, and the traffic the website receives. Be sure to read lots of reviews⏤paying particular attention to those from properties similar to your own.

A loyalty program can help your business build a dedicated base of returning guests and maximize direct bookings. Consider implementing one at your property today.

How Hoteliers Can Turn Negative Reviews into a Positive Online Image

Responding to negative reviews is the key to creating a positive online reputation for your business.

***Guest post from BlueJay Reviews, a WebRezPro partner***

Many hoteliers dread negative reviews, however it’s important to know that when negative reviews are managed correctly, they can actually help to create a positive impression among your existing and potential customers.

When your property does receive the unfortunate negative online review it doesn’t mean that your property and service is actually terrible. The truth for any business is that no matter how great your business is, not all customers are going to leave happy. While you can’t prevent all bad reviews, you can have a game-plan for when it does happen.

Negative reviews can be a blessing in disguise

It’s only natural to be upset and defensive when a customer leaves a negative review, but these feelings are misguided. Here are two reasons why negative reviews can actually help your business:

1.) They legitimize your review pages.

A mix of negative and positive reviews shows customers that your online reviews are genuine. If a review page only has very positive reviews then consumers reading those reviews will become a bit suspicious about whether the page is genuine or not. Research has shown that customers will trust reviews more if they see both positive and negative reviews. After all, no one is perfect.

2.) They bring to light valuable feedback.

Negative reviews can uncover real problems and challenges that your property may be facing. This valuable feedback can not only help you improve your systems and processes but can also give you guidance to make simple changes that can improve your business’s overall guest experience. Also, responding appropriately to negative feedback from a guest could be the key to that guest coming back in the future.

The way you respond to negative reviews both online and in action at your property can have major consequences on your bottom line. All reviews, positive or negative, have an important place in your online reputation. The key is to effectively respond to the feedback and use it to grow your business.

Why you should respond to negative reviews

Potential future guests are looking at your property’s review pages. Research shows that 92% of consumers check online ratings and reviews before making any buying decision. This is truer in the hotel and travel industry than any other industry. 40% of consumers will form an impression of your hotels’ reputation based on those reviews.

It’s critical that potential customers who are reading your property’s online reviews gain the impression you want them to have. Customer perception is shaped by how well your business responds to negative reviews. The way you publicly respond to negative reviews shows potential customers what kind of service they will receive if they choose to stay with you. Potential customers understand that sometimes people have a negative experience at a business, but what is most telling is how that business handled that negative experience. Customers want to know that they will be treated respectfully if they choose to stay at your property.

I received a negative review: what do I do?

It’s important to take a deep breath and not let the initial emotional response you may be feeling come across online in your response. Respond to negative reviews tactfully to turn the customer’s negative experience into a positive one. Don’t be overly defensive, keep the conversation going. Make sure that you follow up with the customer until the customer’s issue has been resolved. Once the problem has been solved, you can politely ask the customer to edit the review or delete it altogether.

Here are a few helpful tips on how to respond to a negative review:

Be sympathetic and apologize. While dealing with an upset customer, take a step back and put yourself in their shoes. Whether or not it’s your fault, a polite apology can help retain the customer. The words “I’m sorry” are very powerful not only in your personal relationships with friends and family, but, believe it or not, in business as well. Even if you aren’t completely to blame, offering a sincere apology has the power to defuse a situation, sometimes even instantaneously. By apologizing, you show your guest (and potential new guests) that you hear them and acknowledge their concerns. You make it clear that you are willing to provide fantastic service for all of your guests.

Provide a solution. In addition to apologizing, offering real solutions to the problem is key. The solution should show that you’ve put an effort into the response and aren’t just posting a canned response. The solution should show genuine concern and thoughtfulness. 

Offer to take the conversation offline. If a customer is very angry it may be wise to offer to speak to them offline. Explain that this will help you ensure that the problem is resolved quickly. Don’t be afraid to provide them with your direct contact information in a private message.

Say “thank you.” Show that you appreciate their time and feedback. Be sympathetic to their concerns and thank them for leaving feedback that will help you build a stronger business.

Get more positive reviews. Responding to negative reviews is very important, but it is equally important to minimize the impact of negative publicity.  It is important to get more positive feedback coming in for your property. Email or text review requests to your customers. Studies show that 70% of customers will leave a review when asked. WebRezPro with BlueJay Reviews integration can help you automate this process when guests check out.

Stay on top of your reviews with BlueJay Reviews

Staying on top of customer feedback is hard. The BlueJay Reviews platform can help. With BlueJay you can maintain a steady stream of fresh reviews, manage feedback, respond to reviews immediately (even automatically) and share positive reviews on your social media pages plus more. To learn more about the WebRezPro integrated review management program with BlueJay Reviews please visit: https://www.webrezpro.com/partners/bluejay-reviews/

5 Essential Website Features for Independent Hoteliers

The online world might feel like it’s changing every day, but a professional website is still (and will continue to be) the cornerstone of any business’s internet presence. It’s responsible for showcasing your property to the world, communicating credibility to interested parties, and facilitating direct bookings. A hotel website can make or break your business, so it’s essential that you’re using it well. Here are five important features that will help your website reach its full potential:

Booking widget

Being successful as a hotel means making bookings⏤so of course, your website should be equipped to do that as simply and seamlessly as possible. Be sure to use an online booking engine with a widget you can embed directly in your hotel website. Allowing customers to search for availability quickly will reduce user frustration and increase conversions. More direct bookings mean more profit for you!

Chatbot

A few years ago, we blogged about chatbots, naming them a tech trend to look out for in the future. It seems that future has arrived as chatbots have fast become a staple of hotel websites. The AI software is an excellent way to guide users down the purchasing funnel. When a simple question arises (be it about dates, amenities, or anything else), it can be answered immediately. Without the inconvenience of having to make a call or lag-time associated with sending an email, a user is much less likely to abandon a booking.

Map

Potential guests want to know where your property is in relation to other businesses, attractions, and transportation. Include a map of your hotel’s location in the contact section of your property’s website. This will ensure users don’t have to click away from your web page, in search of more information about your hotel.

It’s best to include a map that is large and interactive. Embedding Google Maps will allow users to access directions with a simple click of the button.

Social proof

This likely goes without saying, but consumers today rely heavily on the recommendations of their peers. Glowing reviews online convince potential customers that you are the real deal, which is particularly important for independent hotels that can’t rely on global brand recognition.  While positive content on third-party sites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews does a lot for your brand, adding social proof directly to your website can be a big help as well. Users often visit a property’s website at a critical point in their purchasing journey, and seeing a 5-star testimonial at that moment can inspire them to follow through with a booking.

Most review sites offer widgets that can display content and ratings made via their platforms. The same is true for social media pages. Consider embedding your Instagram or twitter feed within your website to showcase your active engagement with guests online.

Local insights

It’s easy to get caught up in showcasing the best of your property (and you should!) but don’t forget that to score bookings you also have to sell your location. “Why should I visit this city?” has to come before, “why should I choose this hotel to access this city?” Consider dedicating a page of your website to highlighting and celebrating the local culture, attractions, and businesses. It’ll help sell your locality as a must-visit destination, and prove that your business has the community involvement necessary to provide the best and most immersive experience.

A local insights page is also a great space for posting fresh new content. You can make regular updates about events and activities going on in the area, offering valuable information for your guests while improving SEO.

Your property’s website is an incredibly powerful tool. Ensure you include all the necessary features to make the most of its potential.

7 Simple Ways Independent Hotels Can Personalize the Guest Experience

Personalization is a hot topic in hospitality and it’s important the industry keeps talking about it. The quest to personalize the guest experience not only inspires better customer service, but better hotel technology too; the kind of technology that improves guest satisfaction, operational efficiency and a property’s bottom line. 

As technology empowers travel businesses to target their customers more effectively, travelers have come to expect more personalized service. As always, hotels must strive to meet and exceed guest expectations and, in today’s increasingly competitive landscape, that means personalizing every guest’s stay in order to stand out and build guest loyalty.

Unfortunately, operators of small, independent lodgings can feel left out of the conversation, thinking that personalizing the guest experience is a trend that requires complicated, expensive systems and loyalty programs that the budget won’t accommodate.

But personalization is no longer a trend—it’s an expectation. And it isn’t complicated or expensive to put into practice. In fact, small, independent lodgings are perfectly positioned to personalize the guest experience. Here are seven simple ways to do it.

1. Build Guest Profiles

A truly customized guest experience starts with guest data. If your property uses an automated property management system (PMS)—and most independent properties do these days—all the data you need should already be at your fingertips.

Your PMS should allow you to collect and store guest information, automatically recording stay history and contact details in guest profiles so that you can identify repeat guests and treat them extra special. You should also be able to save additional information to guest profiles, such as birthdays, anniversaries, preferences and interests. Staff learn a lot about guests during interactions throughout the stay cycle and this valuable data should be recorded and used to personalize the guest experience by anticipating needs and surprising and delighting.

2. Send Pre- and Post-Stay Emails

Email is still one of the most effective customer engagement tools, with hotel pre-arrival emails boasting an average open rate of over 50 percent. Modern PMS and CRM systems for independent properties make sending personalized pre- and post-stay emails effortless. By setting up email templates that pull reservation information, personalized emails can be automatically triggered by stay or booking dates and other parameters like room and rate codes.

Pre-arrival emails provide the perfect opportunity to start tailoring the guest experience through pre-stay surveys designed to find out more about guest needs and preferences (for example, dietary and  transportation requirements, reason for travel, etc.). You can also offer ways to enhance the guest’s stay through room upgrades and added extras, giving your guest the opportunity to customize their experience, while your property benefits from the opportunity to boost ancillary revenue. Even a simple invitation for the guest to let you know of any special requirements or how you can make their stay exceptional makes customers feel valued.

After a guest’s stay, post-stay emails can help grow loyalty and provide properties with valuable feedback that can be used to improve and personalize future stays. Send an email to every guest thanking them for their visit and asking for feedback on their stay experience.

Whenever a guest communicates special requests or feedback, be sure to record any relevant notes in their profile.

Down the track, simple, personalized marketing communications can be triggered automatically (by booking or check-in dates) inviting the guest back. Tell them you miss them, ask if they miss you, invite them back with a discount code.

3. Tailor Packages and Add-ons

Packages and ancillary services that are relevant to your guests add value to their stay and enhance their experience. So design packages and offer special extras that appeal to your property’s guest segments. Consider partnering with local businesses like activity providers to offer your guests memorable experiences.

Think about your guests, the amenities they enjoy and their reasons for visiting. For example, families traveling with young children appreciate options like babysitting, activity bookings and playpens, while couples are partial to romantic touches like chocolate-covered strawberries and wine.

Your PMS should provide flexible rate and package management tools that allow you to set up discounts and package add-ons, sell them online, and limit package access to certain customers.

WebRezPro PMS also includes a Booking Options feature, which allows complimentary or paid products and services to be added to reservations at the time of booking (online or through the front desk). Booking options are a convenient and effective way to allow guests to customize their stay experience, and can also be used to gather more information about a guest’s stay, for example, expected time of arrival, whether they are bringing a pet, or need a child’s cot.

4. Welcome Guests with Paperless Check-in

With a mobile-accessible cloud PMS, independent properties are equipped to deliver a much more personable welcome than the traditional check-in desk experience.

WebRezPro’s paperless check-in feature allows guests to sign check-in receipts electronically on a tablet or smartphone. Imagine greeting your guest at the door, helping them with their bags, inviting them to take a seat, offering them a refreshing beverage, and then continuing to check them in and showing them to their room. Doesn’t that sound like a much more hospitable welcome than across a front desk?

5. Use Guests’ Names

Using the guest’s name (first or last name as appropriate) is the simplest and one of the most effective ways to personalize the guest experience. It shows your guest they are important to your business and are not just a number.

Whether communicating in person, on the phone or by email/text message, use the guest’s name whenever possible. Mobile-optimized PMS make this easier, allowing staff to access guest folios on the go when they might, for example, bump into a guest in the corridor who stops to make a special request.

6. Leave Handwritten Notes

A handwritten note waiting in the guest’s room upon arrival is a small personal touch that can make a big impression on guests. A simple note welcoming a repeat guest back, or inviting a new guest to let you know if they need anything is a genuine gesture that is always appreciated.

Guest profiles can help staff personalize notes at an even higher level. For example, asking a returning guest to let you know if they’d like you to make reservations at that restaurant they liked last time, or letting them know you left extra pool towels in their bathroom.

If your budget allows, complimentary in-room surprises make guests feel extra special. Consider leaving wine for guests celebrating a special occasion, or a welcome-back treat for repeat guests.

7. Share Insider Tips

Recent research from Amadeus and IHG found 70 percent of travelers would like hotels to offer more advice about unique things to do during their stay. Travelers are looking for local experiences beyond the main attractions in town.

Sharing your local knowledge with your guests not only enhances their stay, but it also provides an opportunity for staff to connect with guests on a personal level as they share their own experiences and recommendations and get to know your guests (recording relevant information about guest interests in the PMS, of course). It’s real human interactions like these that enrich the guest experience.

At the core of hospitality, personalized service makes guests feel valued and inspires loyalty, and should be incorporated into every property’s mission statement. It isn’t complicated or expensive to provide personalized guest service; with a modern PMS for independent hotels and lodgings, accommodation providers are already well-equipped to tailor the guest experience in simple, practical ways. And remember, while technology plays an important role in personalizing the guest experience, the human element is still just as important as ever.

Getting to Know WebRezPro: Direct Online Bookings

In our Internet Age of online shopping and instant gratification, online bookings are essential to any hotel’s sales strategy.

Proof lies in the success of OTAs (online travel agencies) like Expedia and Booking.com, but lodging operators shouldn’t rely entirely on third-party channels to sell rooms online. While the extensive reach of OTAs makes them important to a property’s distribution strategy, OTA commissions can eat away at a hotel’s bottom line if dependency on these channels is too high.

The key to maximizing RevPAR is selling rooms direct. And because over half of travelers prefer to book accommodation online, it’s essential for lodging operators to provide the option to book direct through the property’s own website to capture those bookings.

But that’s only half the battle. When it comes to the booking process, a smooth user experience is crucial to winning conversions. Here, we can again look to the popularity of OTAs as proof; OTAs have online reservations down to an art, providing an intuitive, user-friendly booking process across all devices (from desktop to mobile). Your direct online booking engine should be quick to load, intuitive to use, mobile friendly and secure. It should be powerful and flexible to allow you to sell your rooms and packages the way you want.

Direct Online Bookings with WebRezPro

WebRezPro offers a choice between two responsive online booking engines for your property’s website—the Carousel Booking Engine and the Parallel Booking Engine.

Both options are fully integrated with the property management system (PMS), meaning your online booking engine is always up to date with live availability and rates. Reservations coming through your property’s website are automatically sent to WebRezPro PMS and availability is instantly updated, saving you time and avoiding overbooking.

Offering a high degree of flexibility, WebRezPro booking engines can sell all manner of rates and packages, from limited-time offers and password-protected rates to add-ons and gift vouchers.

Whether prospective guests are booking on a desktop computer or their smartphone, our responsive booking engines automatically detect and adapt to any screen, providing a user-friendly and secure experience across all devices.

Both booking engines are commission free and provide analytics so you can keep track of bookings coming direct through your website. So, what’s the difference between them? The Carousel and Parallel booking engines each offer a different style and feature set to best suit all kinds of properties.

Carousel Booking Engine

Ideal for properties with up to 10 room types, the Carousel Booking Engine is great for showcasing your rooms with large default slideshow images. But the stand-out feature of this booking engine is the rate carousel, which allows users to easily view and select rates for dates on either side of their initial selection—a convenient feature for customers with flexible travel dates, and great for driving conversions.  

Carousel Booking Engine Features:

  • Rate carousel – After their initial room search, users can easily add or remove a night from their reservation based on rates and availability.
  • Slideshow – default room images are large and displayed inline (not in a pop-up window).
  • Room amenities are displayed as icons.
  • Responsive design.

Parallel Booking Engine

Featuring a compact display, the Parallel Booking Engine was designed for properties with more than 10 room types, loading results fast. Default room images are displayed as thumbnails, but large slideshow images can be viewed in a pop-up window.

Parallel Booking Engine Features:

  • Fast loading, ideal for properties with 10+ room types.
  • Compact display.
  • Slideshow – default room images are displayed as thumbnails; large images can be viewed in a pop-up window.
  • Room amenities are displayed as tags.
  • Basic background customization is available.
  • Responsive design.

Both the Carousel and Parallel booking engines are available in WebRezPro version 10.5.27 and higher.

Your online booking strategy directly impacts the health of your business. Make sure you’re converting lookers into bookers with a user-friendly, commission-free online booking engine that fits your property. Contact us to learn more about how WebRezPro can drive direct bookings through your property’s website.

An Independent Hotelier’s Guide to Ancillary Revenue

For any hotelier, booking rooms is, of course, the most important strategy for driving profits. But disregarding the potential for ancillary revenue would be a big mistake. Your hotel has more to offer than just a bed to sleep in, and it’s worth recognizing the potential of your property to offer additional products and services. This comprehensive approach to revenue generation will not only improve your bottom line but can help boost customer loyalty and build stronger ties to your community. Here are a few ideas for generating ancillary revenue at your independent hotel:

Utilize your space

When looking for new ways to generate revenue at your property, taking an audit of available spaces is a good place to start. Once you know what you have to work with you can make an appropriate plan. If your hotel caters to a high number of business travelers, or you’re located in a community with a demand for meeting spaces, consider setting up a conference room that can be booked hourly. Larger rooms could be rented out for events, or to local instructors to host exercise classes. A hotel in New York even knocked out two bedrooms to build a stage, and has hosted sold-out magic shows for the last three years.

Partner with local artists

You might not have enough space for large events or exercise classes, but what about a little nook in the lobby? A small display selling the work of local artists or artisans requires little investment of time and resources but can generate ancillary revenue and delight your guests. Think of it like a locally-sourced, trendy gift shop. Your guests are looking for authentic souvenirs to remember their trip. What better to buy than locally crafted goods from the community?

Offer entertainment

Events and activities are a great way to not only generate ancillary revenue from your guests but also members of the community. If you have an on-site restaurant or bar, you’re already set up to do it. Things like live music, trivia nights, and comedy performances can be a big draw in the right community. If you don’t have a restaurant, consider hosting things like outdoor film screenings or markets. And don’t forget about the option of offering your facilities for private events.

If you aren’t able to create your own events or activities, collaborate with community members that do. You can sell tickets to local tours, events, and attractions (for a cut of the profits) independently or as part of a package.

Sell hotel products

Are guests constantly raving about your luxurious linens or toiletries? You may want to consider selling those hotel products so guests can take a piece of your property home with them. Westin Hotels & Resorts are among a number of hospitality companies that sell their products (from shower curtains to body lotions) online. In addition to providing supplementary revenue, it can help reinforce brand recognition and loyalty.

Welcome pets

Pets are a part of 68% of American families. That’s a significant cohort you may want to start catering to. Opening your property up to guests’ four-legged friends means, in addition to potentially boosting bookings, that you have an opportunity for ancillary revenue. Not only are pet fees common practice, but you can also offer services like dog-walking, pet-sitting, and other pet-specific extras.

Finding alternative revenue streams is never a bad idea – especially with high OTA commissions cutting into properties’ bottom lines. Look at your business with an open mind and you’ll be sure to find new opportunities for generating revenue. The potential is there. You just need to find it.

How Independent Hotels Can Cater to Solo Travelers

The freedom to choose their own schedule; the opportunity to self-reflect; a yen for adventure – whatever the reason, more people are opting to travel solo than ever before. A survey conducted by Kayak found that more than a third of adults had holidayed alone, while Pinterest saw a 539% increase in solo adventure pins for 2018. It’s a trend that’s picking up steam across generations and one you might want to start capitalizing on. Here are a few things you can do to cater to this emerging cohort of travelers:

Create communal spaces

Co-working and co-living spaces, which have become a prevalent feature in hotel design as it is, are a big draw for solo travelers. Those globe-trotting alone are often drawn to properties set up to facilitate social interaction. Think about creating flexible lounge spaces, with relaxed seating, communal tables, and entertainment options (like board games and playing cards). Solo guests will appreciate the opportunity to unwind in a social atmosphere and meet like-minded people.  

Host activities and events

Scheduling activities and events at your property is an excellent way to appeal to the solo traveler. This type of guest is typically looking for new experiences, and you’ll be in the running for their business if you’re able to provide those opportunities. What types of activities and events should you host? That will vary greatly depending on your location and clientele. Pool parties, cocktail hours, and quiz nights are great opportunities for guests to mingle while film-screenings, cooking classes, and performances can offer a connection to the local culture.

If your property doesn’t offer tours, collaborate with local companies that do. Having your property serve as the check-in point for popular trips and excursions will help win bookings with solo travelers. Staying at accommodation affiliated with the tours they want to take adds an element of safety (and convenience) that people traveling alone will appreciate.

Sell the local social scene

Solo travelers are looking to immerse themselves in the community, so make a point of selling the buzzing social scene that your location gives them access to. Promoting nearby hot spots on your website will assure potential guests of the ample opportunity to mingle with locals. Include information about nearby parks, popular cafes, neighborhood markets, and any other notable spots. A calendar of events going on in your area (from concerts to bingo nights) would also make a great addition to the community page of your website.

Add health and wellness options

Wellness opportunities are a draw for many solo travelers. In fact, the majority of guests using The Healthy Holiday Company travel on their own. When planning activities and events to host at your property, consider adding in health and wellness options. Yoga, hiking, and meditation classes are all popular options to include.

Highlight the solo experience in marketing content

Once you’ve created an environment that appeals to the solo traveler, you’ll want to promote that aspect of your property online. Include images of people enjoying communal spaces in your marketing collateral and highlight information about on-site activities and events on your hotel website. Create social media posts that speak directly to the solo traveling experience (and be sure to use hashtags that will draw the attention of that demographic). Your marketing strategy shouldn’t focus entirely on solo travelers (of course), but allocating a portion of your content for this group will help establish your property as a solo travel destination.

Smartphones have empowered travelers of all ages to set out on their own. This growing cohort is looking to meet like-minded people, find adventure, and immerse themselves in the local culture. A few small changes can prove your property is the best place for them to do just that.

Paid to Post: A Hotelier’s Guide to Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing. It’s likely a term you’ve heard thrown around in the last year or two, and perhaps is something you’ve considered doing yourself. You wouldn’t be alone; Hotel brands like Starwood Resorts, Fairmont, and Hilton Hotels are just a few of the businesses that have capitalized on this new opportunity. And a recent post on eHotelier included it as one of the top 5 marketing strategies for 2019. But it’s not just for large chains. Influencer marketing is a powerful tool available to independent hoteliers as well—one that is certainly worth your consideration. Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

What is influencer marketing?

Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have created an ecosystem of influential people with huge followings. And just like traditional celebrities, their endorsement has immense commercial value. By partnering with these individuals, brands can reach new and larger audiences more authentically.

The arrangements between brands and influencers (and the content that is created) can come in many forms. Brands can ask for anything from blog posts, to photos on Instagram, to Snapchat videos, and compensation can be in the form of money or free product.

Why should I do it?

It works >> Influencers are called that for a reason: they have influence (a lot of it). These internet personalities have amassed troves of followers sharing their lives online and have earned tremendous loyalty from their fans. So, their endorsement matters. In the same way that a recommendation from a friend holds more credence than an advertisement, the endorsement of an influencer packs a massive marketing punch.

Makes targeting easy >> Partnering with influencers also gives you access to very specific and well-understood audiences. Their followers are their business, so influencers are acutely aware of who their demographic is and what they want. This can help you choose who to partner with in the first place and also means the influencer can create content they know will resonate with their audience.

Who should I partner with?

Find the right audience >> Choosing the right influencer is key to finding success with this marketing strategy. You want to find someone whose ethos and audience align with your business. Make a profile of your typical guest (based on region, age, lifestyle, and income) and search for an influencer that can deliver that demographic. If you own a boutique hotel that caters to affluent millennials, find an influencer whose audience reflects that. If your guests are primarily families, partner with a family travel blogger. Like any marketing investment, you need to ensure your content is reaching potential customers.

Micro-influencers >> Influencers with massive followings can be extremely expensive to collaborate with, but don’t let that scare you. Social media is a flourishing ecosystem, and there are plenty of smaller influencers, called micro-influencers, that make great collaborators. Not only are they cheaper to partner with but they tend to have a stronger relationship with their followers (more like a friend than a celebrity) and therefore can have much higher engagement.

How can I be successful?

Assess their engagement >> The success of social media influencers has prompted many people to buy fake followers in hopes of reaping the same benefits. Obviously, you want to avoid collaborating with these types of accounts. To ensure your influencer is legitimate, you should assess the engagement of their account (the number of likes versus the number of followers) and take a scroll through their comments to see if they reflect genuine, loyal fans. A comment section full of spam is a big red flag.

Measure ROI >> At the end of the day, influencer marketing is like any other marketing investment. The point is to increase revenue at your business, so you need to know it’s working. Calculate how much the partnership is costing you (whether it’s in free nights stays, amenities, or a fee) and compare it to the revenue they bring to your business. You can track their impact by giving them a unique promo code, a branded hashtag or using UTM parameters. 

Social media has changed the marketing game irrevocably. Today’s consumers (made up by a millennial majority) engage with businesses and each other in entirely new ways. Influencers that rose to fame on social platforms are the newest celebrities, and they have the power to bring in massive revenue with their endorsement. Consider incorporating influencer marketing into your current strategy to increase your marketing reach. 

Top Tips for Getting More Online Hotel Reviews

Despite the constant evolution of online marketing and distribution platforms and social media, online reviews remain so important. According to recent research, a total of 92 percent of leisure travelers in the U.S. consider online hotel reviews “somewhat important” or “very important” when choosing a hotel. Recent changes to how Google reviews are displayed on hotel pages within Google demonstrate the weight of reviews on the consumer’s decision-making process when looking for a place to stay.

Now when travelers “google” accommodation and click on a property within Google’s Hotel Finder results they will find a separate “Reviews” tab for the hotel that offers the ability to filter, sort and search reviews, and also pulls reviews in from other online sources like TripAdvisor and Booking.com, in addition to reviews from Google users. These changes have resulted in a more comprehensive and efficient review resource that helps consumers make well-informed decisions.

In our increasingly digital world, online reviews are more important than ever. Google’s recent enhancements to its reviews feature should serve as a reminder to lodging operators that reviews do matter—a lot. If chatter about your property has been a bit quiet online lately, here are our top tips for getting more reviews.

Ask at Check-out

There’s nothing wrong with asking guests for reviews face to face. You probably already ask departing guests if they enjoyed their stay—if they did, follow up with something genuine and light like, “That’s good to hear! If you have a spare few minutes sometime in the next few days, we’d love it if you could leave us a review online on [your preferred review channel].” Most guests will appreciate the opportunity to do something nice for your business if they had an enjoyable stay.  

You can ask guests for reviews in more subtle ways too, like including your review profiles on business cards or a small sign placed at the front desk. Include a message at the bottom of check-out receipts, inviting guests to leave a review online on your preferred review site if they enjoyed their stay. You could also consider adding a message that invites dissatisfied guests to email you directly with any negative comments, which will hopefully avoid those complaints going public online.

Post-stay Messaging

It’s best to ask for reviews as soon as possible after a guest’s stay while they are still focused on their experience. Post-stay messaging provides an ideal opportunity to encourage guests to leave a review online.

Whether by email or mobile messaging, post-stay messages thanking guests for their stay should be sent to every guest and should also politely ask them to leave a review if they enjoyed their experience at your property. As mentioned above, invite them to contact you directly with any negative feedback. Post-stay communications can be triggered automatically through your property management system (PMS), CRM or guest messaging platform.

Make it Easy to Leave Reviews

Whenever and however you prompt guests to leave a review, make it easy for them to do so. If it’s not clear where they should leave a review and they have to search online and click around, chances are it’s not going to happen. Instead, point them directly to your property’s profile on your preferred review channel via direct links (or linked icons/banners) included in emails, mobile messages and on your website.

Any printed material should also point guests in the right direction by including the logo or website address of your preferred review site along with your profile name (which should be the same as your property’s name).

Automate Review Management

Make it easy for yourself too, by automating review management with CRM or reputation management software that can send post-stay surveys to your guests, triggered automatically. Through platforms like Revinate, completed surveys can then be submitted straight to important review channels such as TripAdvisor and Google, steadily increasing online review volume.

When your PMS is integrated with your reputation management software, you don’t even need to enter guest details into your reputation management system or CRM—the PMS sends the data directly. The entire process becomes automated, saving you valuable time and ensuring no guest goes forgotten when it comes to asking for feedback.

Be on the Sites that Matter

From Google to TripAdvisor to Booking.com, set up profiles on multiple review channels to make sure you cover the ones your guests like and use. If you haven’t already, search for reviews for your property on Google (and other major search engines like Bing and Yahoo! Search) and take note of the sites that come up—these are the ones that your customers prefer, so make sure you set up profiles on all of them to make it easy for your guests to find you and review you.

Offer Incentives

Sometimes it takes a little incentive to motivate customers to write a review. While at first this approach might sound a bit like a bribe, it’s not really. There’s nothing wrong with running a monthly draw for all customers who submit a review (whether good or bad) online. Promote your draw on social media, on your website, and in emails and other guest communications.

Some ideas for prizes include a free night’s stay, a gift certificate, or a free meal at your restaurant.

Share Rave Reviews on Social Media

Sharing your property’s glowing reviews on your social media channels is a good way to inspire (and remind) other guests to leave their own reviews online. Social media users love it when their content is shared by other social media users, with credit given to the original creator.

Sharing positive reviews on social media is not only a good tactic for generating more online reviews, it also provides great content for promoting your property.

Respond to Reviews

You don’t have to respond to all reviews, but you should endeavor to respond to all negative reviews and some great reviews as well. Thoughtfully responding to online reviews tells customers that you care about your guests and their experience of your property, and motivates other guests to provide valuable feedback that helps your business succeed.

Treat Every Guest like a VIP

Consumers tend to write reviews about exceptionally good or bad experiences—not about average ones. So be exceptional by showing every single customer how much you value them. It doesn’t take much—from anticipating guests’ needs to greeting guests with a smile every time, the smallest efforts can make a big difference to your customers.

Generating a steady stream of online reviews isn’t always easy, but it’s a crucial part of maintaining a healthy online reputation. Follow the above tips and watch the reviews roll in—and your occupancy and revenue soar!