Innovative Hotel Digital Marketing Campaigns to Inspire Us

In a digitally saturated world of marketing, traditional advertising campaigns just aren’t cutting it anymore. Promotional messages come at consumers from all angles — on social media, search engines, websites, YouTube videos, mobile apps, emails, TV, text messages — and consumers are becoming adept at tuning them out.

To cut through the noise, brands must change tack to generate engagement rather than awareness. Campaigns that offer interactive digital experiences win loyal customers. The proof is in the pudding — here are some innovative hotel marketing campaigns that were (and still are) a big hit with audiences…

Movie Magic

Marriott has produced a handful of short films in an attempt to appeal to a younger generation of travelers, and their efforts have paid off. Two Bellmen, filmed at the JW Marriott Los Angeles and released in March last year, has at the time of writing over five million YouTube views. Marriott’s second film, French Kiss, shot in and around the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysees Hotel and released in May last year has been watched more than six million times on YouTube. Earlier this year, Marriott released a sequel to Two Bellmen (Two Bellmen Two), filmed at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, which has almost eight million views so far.

Shangri-La’s 2015 Christmas campaign, A World of Christmas Warmth, took the form of a beautiful animated advent calendar that was released over 25 days leading to Christmas. Following the journey of a Christmas Star traveling to Earth, each 15-second episode features a new Shangri-La destination, and combines to form the complete five-minute video that was released on Christmas Day. The Instagram and WeChat campaign earned millions of impressions, increasing Shangri-La’s Instagram and WeChat followers by 20% and 40%, respectively, in less than a month.

While most independent properties are without the kind of budget that covers film production, the success of these campaigns may inspire lodging operators to think outside the box when it comes to their own properties’ videos.

Hashtag & UGC Campaigns

Some luxury brands are resonating with customers by tapping into their guests’ creativity and experiences. Loews Hotels showcases real on-location guest experiences with guest Instagram pics rather than professional photographs in travel magazine ads, online banners and on airport displays via their #TravelForReal campaign. Fairmont’s ongoing #FairmontMoments campaign highlights guest stories and unique Fairmont experiences and the brand has even developed a separate mobile site for promoting user-generated content (UGC). Marriott’s #TravelBrilliantly crowdsourcing campaign inspires travelers to submit ideas about how to improve their travel experience, with winning ideas actually implemented at Marriott properties.

The result is a more authentic representation of the brand that stands out from all the glossy, manicured shots of spa-goers with rocks on their backs and couples sipping cocktails by the pool. User-generated content resonates with audiences because it represents the customer’s point of view, not the brand’s.

If your property has a solid following on social media, it’s worth trying out your own hashtag campaign to generate engagement and share user-generated content. Hashtag campaigns are especially effective if tied to a competition or give-away.

Twitter Hotel

Crowned the world’s first Tweet Experience hotel, Sol Wave House Majorca targets Millennials by melding social media with the on-property experience. The property’s beachfront location, artificial wave pools and weekly events are complemented and enhanced by their “Tweet Concierge” service, allowing guests to check in and make requests via Twitter and connecting guests to their #SocialWave community. The enthusiasm for social media at Sol Wave House is even reflected in the décor throughout the hotel.

While we don’t necessarily think the world needs more “Twitter hotels,” creating a seamless on-property social media experience is an interesting concept. Many hotels work hard to improve guest engagement on social media; promoting social media participation on property could be an effective way to go about it. Consider displaying on-property signage referring guests to your hotel’s social media channels, surprising guests with thoughtful extras that inspire them to share their delight on social media, or even setting up “selfie stations.”

Virtual Reality

While virtual reality may seem like a futuristic novelty, it’s been a hot topic in the hospitality industry recently with Marriott trialling the technology last year and Hilton Hotels launching a 360-degree video campaign earlier this year.

Marriott paved the way with VRoom Service — a novel in-room amenity designed to excite and inspire guests. Via VR Postcards, hotel guests could experience the Chilean Andes, an ice cream shop in Rwanda, and the bustling streets of Beijing, right from their hotel room. Hilton’s mobile-first 360-degree video brings prospective guests to the chain’s Barbados property, creating an immersive experience designed to inspire bookings (the video includes an end card that is integrated with the chain’s booking system).

While producing 360-degree video is an expensive endeavour involving specialized cameras and production teams, virtual reality offers powerful potential for travel promotion and is a trend to watch as it becomes more mainstream and affordable to independent properties.

Whatever their budget, brands are looking to engage customers with compelling, interactive content rooted in real experiences. Today’s travelers are looking for authenticity and travel marketing campaigns need to align more closely than ever with travelers’ desires in order to win their attention.

Family Travel is on the Rise! Kid-Friendly Ideas for Hoteliers

You may have noticed that family and multi-generational travel is featured on many travel trend lists for the year ahead (like this one from Condé Nast Traveler, and this one from Virtuoso®). Family travel is on the rise — perhaps that’s partly because the world is becoming more accessible and many extended families find themselves living farther apart.

According to the AARP, one of the top motivators of travel for American Baby Boomers (practically all of whom intend to travel in the coming year) is to spend time with family and friends. And with money to spend on travel, more and more grandparents are bringing the kids and grandkids along on vacation.

Traveling with kids comes with its challenges, from feeding the mob to keeping the kids occupied during downtime. But despite logistical challenges, families are still packing their bags and opting to travel — now more than ever. That’s why there are hundreds of blogs, online guides, printed guide books and even some TV shows about traveling with kids, offering family travelers tips on what to bring, where to go and where to stay.

When it comes to travel accommodation, families look for lodgings that are safe, convenient and fun.

For lodging operators who would like to increase their share of the family travel pie, we’ve compiled a list of simple ideas for making your property family friendlier. Even the smallest efforts are likely to stand out to guests traveling with kids!

Lighten the Load – Traveling light is next to impossible for families, especially for those with small children. But lodgings can help lighten the load by having space-taking items like strollers and playpens available to borrow or rent. Baby swings or jumpers, baby baths, in-room highchairs and bottle warmers are other convenient items that could be made available on request and would be much appreciated by guests traveling with infants.

Be sure to advertise these amenities on your website so that guests know they don’t have to bring their own.

Family-Friendly Local Recommendations – Staff members should brush up their knowledge of local family-friendly attractions, activities, restaurants, parks and other points of interest to be able to offer helpful suggestions to guests with kids. Highlight these nearby attractions on your website too, to help sell your property to family travelers.

In-Room Amenities & Boredom Busters – Kids can get a little crazy cooped up in a hotel room (even for 20 minutes), so providing items like colouring books and crayons, board games, books, a DVD library, and game console rental that can be enjoyed during downtime will go far to impress kids and adults alike.

Also be sure to promote regular in-room amenities that families would particularly appreciate, such as kitchenettes and rollaway cots.

Kid-friendly Common Areas – Family travelers often seek lodgings with playgrounds and swimming pools, but properties without can provide plenty of fun too. Consider dedicating some outdoor and/or indoor space for kids to play. Even a simple swing set, lawn games like badminton or swingball, a ping pong table, or a giant Jenga set will appeal to kids of all ages.

Family-Friendly Activities – Quality family time is important to vacationing families and properties can enhance those moments by providing activities that families can enjoy together.

For example, you could offer bicycles (including kid-sized bikes and helmets, and bike trailers) to borrow or rent, or family-friendly walking tour maps. Consider running a bocce ball or ring toss tournament, or simply provide fun family lawn games on demand (hint: Google “DIY lawn games” for inspiration!). How about a family-friendly morning yoga session? Or an evening toasting marshmallows around the fire pit?

Supervised Kids Activities – Properties don’t have to run an official kids’ club to offer fun activities for kids. Craft sessions, lawn game tournaments, colouring competitions, pajama parties and movie nights are some inexpensive organized activities that can be supervised by qualified staff members (with current first-aid certification, clear background checks, and great communication skills with kids!).

Kid-Friendly Food – For properties with onsite dining, offering a kids’ menu is a no-brainer if catering to families with young children. But if you really want to impress the parents, review kid-friendly menu options to ensure healthy choices are available, like grilled chicken with celery sticks and Ranch, oven-baked (not deep fried!) chicken nuggets, mini hamburgers with 100% fresh ground beef, and fresh fruit salad.

With food allergies on the rapid rise, providing allergen-free options will make traveling much easier and safer for many families.

Stock Your Store – If you have a small store on site or offer a few conveniences for sale, be sure to stock items like baby wipes, diapers and sunscreen for purchase — daily conveniences that families with young children often run out of or forget to bring on vacation.

Family Packages and Offers – Entice families to stay with year-round or seasonal packages and offers created especially for family travelers. Consider partnering with nearby attractions and restaurants to offer discounted or free activities and meals included with a stay. Or implement a “kids stay free/dine free” policy. Multi-generational family groups would likely appreciate a discount on additional (and preferably adjoining) rooms.

Get to Know Your Family Guests – Make note of any special requests, ancillary services or other relevant observations about family groups in guest profiles within your property management system (PMS) or customer relationship management system (CRM) to get to know your family guests. Comprehensive guest profiles are key to personalizing service — through proactively providing the things guests need during future stays (like extra towels, a playpen or gluten-free cookies) and targeting marketing efforts more effectively.

Promote Your Family Friendliness – Promote your property wherever family travelers are likely to find you!

Make sure your website highlights your property’s family-oriented features, including amenities and services, packages and nearby attractions. Convey a family-friendly vibe with bright photos of families and kids having fun at your property, and highlight positive reviews by family travelers.

Your property’s listings with OTAs and review sites should also portray family friendliness through descriptions, amenity lists, photos and special offers.

Use your social media channels to promote family packages, stand-out amenities and your proximity to nearby attractions too. Social media is also a great way to share glowing reviews and guest photos that can help persuade potential customers to make a booking!

 

Family travel is an ever more lucrative market, and it isn’t difficult or expensive to make a property family friendly. Even the smallest conveniences can make a big difference to families away from home. Putting some of the above-mentioned simple initiatives into place can help your property stand out and become a family favorite!

2016 Online Marketing Checklist for Independent Hoteliers

The holiday rush is almost upon us, so now’s a good time to get a head start on strategizing for success in the New Year — after all, 2016 is just around the corner! With US adults spending an average of six hours a day on digital media, your digital marketing strategy is one thing you want to get right.

Here’s our digital marketing checklist for a successful year ahead for lodging operators:

Mobile-Friendly Website & Mobile Bookings

Did you know that 69 percent of travelers begin their search online via a mobile device? Mobile is no longer a trend, it’s a way of life — especially in the world of travel. With Google’s major mobile-friendly algorithm update implemented earlier this year, businesses can no longer afford not to have a mobile-friendly website.

If your website isn’t already mobile friendly, there’s a good chance it’s due for an update anyway. When it’s time for a redesign, consider a responsive website that automatically detects and adapts to the screens of all devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops).

According to eMarketer’s latest estimates (based on research to date), 51.8 percent of travelers who book trips online in 2016 will do so using a mobile device, up from 43.8 percent this year. So it’s also crucial to offer a mobile-friendly (and user-friendly) booking engine on your website.

SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves various techniques and can be confusing to the layperson, but if you keep in mind that search engines are designed to provide the most useful results to users and you follow suit with your own website, you are already on the right path. This means your website should be mobile-friendly (as mentioned above) and should feature fresh, local content relevant to your guests, in addition to using traditional SEO techniques like appropriate use of keywords and SEO-friendly design.

With the rise of mobile search, Google has been improving local search results — in other words, tailoring results to the user’s local area — so make sure your property’s website is easy to find for travelers booking accommodation on the day. To do this, include NAP (name, address, phone number) details on every page of your website, verify your business on Google My Business to ensure that your website appears on Google Maps, verify your business with Bing and Yahoo! too, and make sure your business is listed in popular local directories.

As for paid search/SEM (search engine marketing), HeBS Digital just published some great tips for maximizing revenue from SEM campaigns in 2016, including tailoring your ads to key customer segments,  optimizing campaigns for your property’s seasonality needs, creating a dedicated paid search campaign for each multichannel promotion, and utilizing advanced targeting methods like Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA).

Data-Driven (Targeted) Marketing

Sending customer segments targeted offers that are relevant to their needs and interests is more effective than sending generic campaigns to everyone. For example, if you segment your customer base into business travelers and leisure travelers, you can deliver offers for adventure packages and corporate packages to the right customers. You can target your marketing even further by segmenting your leisure guests into family travelers and couples.

Such simple segmentation has the power to significantly boost revenue — 75 percent of hotels in a recent case study agree.

Review the data in your property management system (PMS) to get to know your guests (who comprises your most important customer segments?) and use that information to offer your guests more value through targeted marketing. Consider integrating your PMS with your CRM to automate your targeted email marketing efforts.

Mobile-Friendly Email Marketing

According to Litmus, more than half of all emails are now opened on a mobile device. Whether you are sending a booking confirmation email, special offer, post-stay thank you or survey, your customer email communications should be optimized for mobile so that they look great on a desktop or smartphone.

Email marketing experts at Constant Contact offer some simple tips for creating mobile-friendly emails, including concise content (short, sweet and simple!), single-column templates, clear calls to action (buttons are better than links), and larger font.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is great for SEO because fresh, relevant content provides real value to your customers online. Content marketing focuses on content that is engaging, inspiring and helpful to your customers. Needless to say, knowing your target audience is key to providing content that is relevant to them.

High-quality content tells the story of your property or conveys the stay experience while providing helpful information that prospective guests want to know. Tell your story through well-written text, photos and video, and ensure website content is organized in a user-friendly manner.

Maintaining a blog is an effective way to keep your website fresh, share your local expertise and highlight your property’s personality. World Web Technologies Inc. shares some best practices for hotel blogging.

Social Media Marketing

Working hand in hand with your website, social media is key to improving brand awareness and building customer relationships. Search engines like businesses that are active on social media too. And here’s an inspiring Twitter fact: 70 percent of followers have taken action after seeing travel content on Twitter.

Paid social media advertising is not very expensive and can boost the visibility of promotional posts to targeted audiences. Facebook is an effective advertising platform for lodgings with highly visual ads that can be interacted with in a variety of ways (comments, likes, shares and click-throughs).

Engaging with customers organically (unpaid) on social media involves creating posts that tell interesting stories related to your property or location. Highlight local events and happenings, your blog posts and special packages, and share user-generated content about your hotel to humanize your brand and inspire conversation.

Reputation Management

The first step in managing your online reputation is to optimize your online presence. This means having a great website and being present and active on social media channels, OTAs, meta-search sites and review websites. Make sure online content is truly representative of your property (i.e. don’t make empty promises that will only lead to disappointed guests), and ask for and promote guest feedback.

It is very important to monitor social media and review sites for comments and feedback about your property and respond appropriately. Social listening tools like Hootsuite ensure that you don’t miss a mention. Online reputation management systems like Revinate step it up a notch by providing a whole suite of tools to help measure and analyze feedback for actionability.

Remarketing

Remarketing is the process of targeting email or ad campaigns to people who have previously visited your website. Without remarketing, a whopping 92 percent of those visitors will not return.

You know how that jacket you were looking at online but didn’t buy is now following you around the Internet? That’s an example of remarketing.

Remarketing can be implemented via simple code inserted into your website or email marketing campaign that tracks website visitors or subscribers who have opened your email, and subsequently allows you to target display ads to them throughout the Web. It’s an excellent way to build brand awareness and even bring back visitors who abandoned the booking process.

If you’re new to the concept of remarketing, Google is a good place to start. And here’s some information about Facebook remarketing.

Channel Integration

Simplify online distribution management by integrating your PMS with third-party distribution channels (GDS, OTAs, channel managers) for real-time room visibility across the board. Integrating your PMS with online distribution channels not only enables you to more efficiently maximize revenue, but it also allows you to automatically track where your bookings are coming from to help you optimize your distribution strategy.

We all know how important online marketing is in this day and age — especially in the travel industry. While the above strategies work together to comprise a solid online marketing plan for lodgings, properties will find that some strategies work better than others; the right online marketing mix differs from property to property and depends on such factors as seasonality, customer base, business goals and budget. Monitor and analyse the success of your campaigns to find the perfect balance for your property.

Boost Revenue with Hotel Gift Certificates

To some people a gift certificate is the ideal gift, allowing the recipient to choose what to spend it on; to others, gift certificates are not such a thoughtful idea. But, whichever way you look at it, gift certificates (or gift vouchers or gift cards) are a very popular option when it comes to gift giving.

Hotel gift certificates hold a prepaid amount (or customer credit) for future use at the property. Gift certificates for hotel stays are especially appealing because they represent a memorable experience rather than a physical product, making them a personal and thoughtful gift. They also offer convenience in their flexibility, allowing the recipient to redeem their gift certificate any time before the expiry date.

For lodging operators, gift certificates are a great way to promote their property, build their customer base and increase revenue streams.

The Advantages of Selling Hotel Gift Certificates

When a happy customer purchases a hotel gift certificate for a friend or family member, they are actively advocating that property — building the property’s credibility and reputation, and expanding the property’s reach.

Gift certificates are a way for the satisfied guest to share their positive experience with someone they care about and feel will enjoy your property just as much as they did. This means that gift certificate recipients are highly targeted customers with good potential for becoming loyal guests. Satisfied gift certificate recipients are likely to return and/or buy a gift certificate for one of their friends or family members.

Once gift certificate recipients are on property, they usually spend more than the value of the voucher — particularly on ancillary services — making gift certificates a great way to maximize revenue. According to research conducted by the gift card industry, 72 percent of customers spend more than the value of their card.

And for those gift certificates not redeemed, well, that’s 100 percent straight profit!

How to Sell Hotel Gift Certificates

Manual or paper-based methods of selling and managing gift certificates are prone to error; keeping track of voucher numbers, values and expiry/issue dates manually is time consuming and can lead to inaccuracies that cause confusion and even revenue loss. To sell and manage gift certificates efficiently and successfully, an automated system is key.

Some property management systems (PMS) like WebRezPro include a gift certificate function that allows properties to sell pre-paid customer credits as gift vouchers for future stays, automatically track vouchers and their associated codes, values, issue/expiry dates and customer information, and easily convert vouchers into real reservations upon redemption.

When it comes to promoting your gift certificates, don’t be shy! Your guests can be made aware that gift certificates are available a number of ways: via signage at the front desk, the in-room guide, post-stay emails, your website and social media. Customers will especially appreciate the option to purchase gift certificates leading up to traditional gift-giving holidays like Christmas.

Focus on promoting gift certificates as a special, memorable experience… and live up to that promise. Hotel gift certificate recipients have high expectations — after all, their stay is a very personal and thoughtful gift!

Fresh Fall Marketing Ideas to Spice Up Your Shoulder Season

During this past week I’ve noticed mornings are becoming chillier, the leaves are slowly beginning to turn, and as I write this, rain is steadily falling from a stone-gray morning sky. Fall is coming. This may bring a sigh of relief from lodging operators coming out of a crazy busy summer, but the end of the peak travel season is bittersweet; while fall offers a bit of a breather, it also spells a decline in occupancy. The upside is that quieter times present the opportunity to do those important things you didn’t get the chance to do over summer — to reflect on, assess and improve operations and revitalize your fall marketing campaigns to boost business during the shoulder season.

If your fall marketing is getting a little stale, now’s a good time to look for some inspiration. Start with thinking about who your guests are during the fall season. With kids back in school, are you seeing mostly baby boomers and young millennials? Business travelers? What about families traveling from nearby for weekend trips? Tailor your marketing efforts to your fall customers for maximum conversion. With that in mind, here are some ideas to work with…

>> Review Feedback

Read through all those reviews you amassed over summer to find out why guests chose your property, what they liked about it and what they didn’t. Analysing guest feedback is one of the best ways to identify areas for improvement in both operations and marketing.

Reviews can shine a light on gaps between guest expectation and experience and, therefore, areas in your marketing that may be misleading. Align your marketing more closely with the positive aspects of your guests’ actual experience and reap the rewards of more satisfied guests and positive reviews. Guest feedback can also reveal unique selling points that you have not considered before, offering you a fresh perspective to promote. For example, you might be focusing your marketing efforts on your trendy boutique décor while your customers are actually more appreciative of your historic location.

>> Highlight User-Generated Content (UGC)

Now with a little more time on your hands, search out guests’ positive tweets and photos about your property on social media that you may have missed over summer, and share them on your own social media pages. Add comments like, “What a great summer! Thanks for spending some time with us, [insert guest name here]! Hope to see you again next year!” Be sure to tag or credit the guest.

By building trust and providing prospective customers with social proof, positive UGC can be one of your most powerful marketing tools. For more tips on making the most of user-generated content our recent blog post on the subject might help.

>> Celebrate Fall Holidays

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! There’s lots to celebrate in fall — Halloween, Thanksgiving and Oktoberfest are the big events. If you haven’t taken advantage of these holidays in your marketing efforts before, or you do the same thing year over year, it might be time to spice things up with a big celebration or something subtle yet novel.

Some ideas for on-property events include costume parties, cooking classes and wine tastings, or how about running a pumpkin carving workshop with an expert pumpkin carver? If you offer dining on site, consider creating a special menu to celebrate the holidays, or simply create a signature holiday cocktail.

If you google “unusual holidays” you’ll discover that September is Classical Music Month and Better Breakfast Month, and September 22nd is Elephant Appreciation Day. In October we have Seafood Month, National Golf Day (October 4th) and Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day (October 11th), and November brings National Sleep Comfort Month and Go for a Ride Day (November 22nd). There are literally hundreds of bizarre and wonderful little-known yet official holidays waiting to be celebrated. Can you feel those creative juices flowing in your mind already?

Whether a special dining package in celebration of Thanksgiving, or complimentary teddy bears for business guests to mark Take Your Teddy Bear To Work Day, market your holiday festivities on your website, on social media and in your newsletter. User-generated content will do the rest!

>> Promote Seasonal Activities & Local Events

From leaf peeping to winery or brewery tours, and Halloween festivals to football games, lodging operators can help drum up excitement about local activities and events to attract visitors to the area and, thereby, their property.

Consider developing relationships with tour operators and event organizers to offer guests packages that include activities or event tickets, or discounts. Seasonal events and activities can also inspire fun social media campaigns, for example, asking guests to share photos of their prettiest fall colours or scariest Halloween face. Or simply add value by providing your customers with helpful tips about seasonal things to do in your area across your digital channels — on your website, blog and social media.

>> Create a Local Fall Guide

Most hotels offer recommendations for local activities, attractions and restaurants year round via concierge services, their website and printed in-room guides. Why not create a special local fall guide highlighting suggestions especially for fall visitors? A fall guide could feature the best spots for viewing fall foliage, restaurants offering special fall menus, where to experience popular fall activities such as golf, wine tasting and hiking, and community events like Halloween festivals, corn mazes and pumpkin patches.

Add your fall guide to your website, concierge app, and provide printed copies in your lobby and guestrooms. Include the website link to your fall guide in reservation confirmation and pre-arrival emails for fall stays, and in related social media posts.

>> Rev Up Your Fall Social Media Campaigns

As mentioned above, fall fun provides plenty of inspiration for social media campaigns. In addition to sparking conversations about local events and activities, you can really get creative with your seasonal social media engagement efforts. Consider those unusual fall holidays we talked about above… Let’s take National Seafood Month in October as an example — if your property runs fishing charters, or a lot of your guests enjoy fishing while staying with you, ask them to share photos of their catch on Facebook or Twitter to win a prize. Or simply ask guests to tweet about their favourite fish dish on your menu to win a free meal.

 

We hope these ideas generate some inspiration for fresh fall marketing efforts that you and your guests can get excited about!

 

 

It’s Official: Travelers Want More Mobile

There’s a big push for mobile services in hospitality and a lot of statistics to support going mobile, but aside from mobile-friendly websites and mobile bookings, do travelers really want more? A recent study by The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University of Hotel Administration revealed that yes, they do.

The study surveyed more than 750 smartphone owners to ascertain how they currently use their mobile devices when they travel and how they’d like to in the future. Supporting plenty of other research in the field, the report also reveals some intriguing issues in the use of mobile technology throughout the entire travel cycle.

Not surprisingly, the Cornell report confirms that travelers do (and want to) use mobile devices before, during and after a hotel stay, but here are some key takeaways from the research that we found particularly interesting.

Travelers Don’t Keep Individual Hotel Apps

While most smartphone users are willing to download travel apps, about half are subsequently deleted, suggesting that travelers don’t want single-purpose apps cluttering their phone. Rather, the study discovered that travelers are more interested in having access to a (hypothetical) general app that allows them to create a personal profile that is used by numerous hotels to provide customized offers and service.

So while individual hotel apps are useful to guests during their trip, hotels should find a way to offer real value in retaining the app beyond the stay — like loyalty program access and customized offers — in a bid for customer loyalty.

Travelers Want Utilitarian Mobile Functionality

Currently, travelers mostly use their mobile devices to augment travel during their trip, doing things like using maps or navigation apps and checking the weather (94%), locating restaurants (81%) and finding things to do and see (80%). Of course mobiles are also used for social networking during a hotel stay, with 77% of respondents using their mobile device for sharing photos and 65% for checking Facebook or FourSquare activity.

In addition, travelers largely want to be able to use their mobile devices (via a hotel app or mobile website) to gain convenience during their stay, most notably for receiving notification when their room is ready, checking in and out of the hotel, and requesting guest services. Survey respondents felt neutral about using a mobile hotel app to book spa appointments or tours, and were even less enthusiastic about using an app or mobile site to connect with other hotel guests, implying that travelers desire greater automation of utilitarian tasks relating to their hotel room, rather than ancillary services.

Travelers Are Concerned About Privacy

There is a lot of untapped potential for targeted mobile marketing and service before, during and after a hotel guest’s stay. Post-trip, travelers mostly use their smartphones for sharing photos (64%) and updating statuses (63%) on social networks, but 31% of survey respondents used their mobile device to look for special deals at the same hotel — and 17% wished they could.

The conundrum is that fewer travelers are willing to share more personal data via mobile applications to receive customized offers (10% did and 10% wished they could). Generally, mobile users are willing to share some basic information like gender, age and preferences in return for personalized offers, recommendations and services, but are reluctant to share social profiles, employment information, smartphone number and geolocation.

In light of this, hotels should take care to earn guests’ trust, reassuring them that personal data will be stored securely and used to benefit the guest.

 

Moving forward with the mobile revolution, it’s important for hoteliers to keep their finger on the pulse; to be aware of available and emerging applications that are relevant to their property and guests. The evidence from the Cornell report suggests that hoteliers should proceed with offering mobile functionality for on-property convenience tasks like check-in and check-out and requesting guest services, as well as provide mobile applications that promise customers value in keeping the app after their trip. In addition, we suggest looking for cloud hotel technology that will adapt to your growing mobile requirements, because one thing is for sure: travelers want more mobile.

The full report, The Mobile Revolution is Here: Are You Ready?, is available for free from Cornell’s Centre for Hospitality Research.

Sizzling Summer Marketing Ideas for Hotels

The promise of sunshine and outdoor fun spells the hottest season in travel, and, as the days warm up, hoteliers are getting ready to kick off their summer marketing campaigns. While occupancy generally tends to be higher during summer months, the market is also more competitive as travelers put more time and effort into planning their long-awaited summer getaways.

Whether you’ve noticed peak occupancy slipping in recent years, or just want your property to stand out, it might be time to revisit your summer marketing campaigns and try something different to make a big splash and earn some loyal guests this season.

Family Travel

Summer is the favourite time of year for family vacations. When designing packages for families, consider teaming up with local tour operators and attractions to offer activities that will appeal to these multi-generational groups. Theme park or zoo passes, tickets and transportation to a local festival or event, trail rides and canoe rentals are some examples of family-friendly experiences that can be packaged with a stay.

Highlight amenities at your property that families are likely to enjoy, like the pool, breakfast, playground, BBQs, games room and DVD rentals, and consider including paid amenities in family packages to add value.

Have you thought about hosting events to keep the kids and kids-at-heart entertained? Simple ideas include pool parties, movies under the stars and sandcastle competitions. You’ll find more ideas for on-property events in the following section.

And don’t forget to refresh your knowledge of family-friendly attractions, restaurants and things to do nearby. Have this information readily available to your guests via your website and maps they can take with them.

With a focus on fun family experiences, your property can become a yearly destination for family travelers — not just a place to stay.

Summer Events & Holidays

Take advantage of the buzz generated by local summer events (like parades, sporting events and festivals) by creating packages and themed campaigns around them, or by simply providing information about these events on your website or blog.

Holidays provide a great opportunity for some creative marketing. In addition to widely celebrated holidays like the Fourth of July and Canada Day, there are literally hundreds of little-known holidays that have the potential to inspire unique packages and attention-grabbing campaigns. Just google “unusual holidays” and you’ll quickly get the idea!

Pet Appreciation Week (the first full week of June) can be celebrated with a special pet package or “Doggy Days” event, and there’s no better day than National Selfie Day (June 21st) to stimulate social media engagement. July is Share a Sunset with Your Lover Month — and what better way to celebrate it than from your patio overlooking the ocean? Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day (July 10th) would be a hit with young families, and wouldn’t someone on your staff just love to don a Batman costume on July 23rd for Batman Day?! (Imagine the photos guests will share on social media!) In August we have American Artists Appreciation Month — think self-guided gallery tours or perhaps even hosting a local art show or artist-in-residence — Elvis week (10th – 16th) and Sandcastle Day (first Saturday). These are just a few of many fun (and official!) holidays waiting to be celebrated. Inspired yet?

Food

There’s something special about enjoying good food al fresco and, come summertime, patios are in hot demand. Appealing to your customers’ appetites is a great way to celebrate summer — after all, the way to a guest’s heart is through their stomach!

For properties that offer on-site dining, consider shaking up your menu with new items that taste of summer — think grilled meats and seafood, bright salads, fun drinks and cool desserts. You could even consider throwing a weekly outdoor BBQ, cooking class or wine-tasting soirée (in the garden perhaps?).

Spruce up your patio with a fresh coat of paint, hang some flower baskets and replace those faded sun umbrellas to get guests excited about their al fresco experience at your property.

Properties without a restaurant can still put a gastronomic spin on their summer offerings to attract food lovers. Tailor your local dining recommendations to the summer crowd, suggesting great spots with patios and live music. Whether you simply highlight restaurants on your website, put together a self-guided restaurant tour, or offer packages that include dining discounts at local restaurants, wine tours or food festival tickets, the foodies are sure to come.

Health & Wellness

The health and wellness trend is growing at all types of lodgings — and you don’t need an on-site gym or spa to participate. In fact, activity and rejuvenation in the great outdoors is what summer’s all about. Properties without fitness or spa facilities could outsource yoga instructors, meditation gurus and massage services to host sessions in a secluded space in the garden. The third week of July is Everybody Deserves a Massage Week — what an irresistible excuse for a health and wellness campaign!

Other fit ideas for summer include teaming up with a nearby golf course to offer a summer golf package, providing guests with jogging or cycling trail maps, offering complimentary bike rentals, and setting up a volleyball net.

Content Marketing

Use your website, blog, social media and newsletters to excite your customers about their prospective summer travel experience. In addition to freshening up website content to highlight your property’s summer appeal, and promoting your summer packages and promotions, provide helpful content across your digital channels about your favourite local beaches, the best restaurant patios, local events and festivals, scenic walking trails, and outdoor activities and attractions.

Search engines love this kind of relevant, helpful content because it’s exactly what travelers are googling this time of year.

Reviews

During the peak travel season you have the opportunity to amass online reviews – make sure you aren’t dropping the ball, because reviews are often the deciding factor for a traveler choosing one hotel over another. Whether you politely ask at check-out or email post-stay surveys to guests, every guest should be invited to provide feedback about their stay.

Although you’re busy, it’s also important to watch for online reviews about your property and continue to respond to negative feedback promptly and appropriately, as more eyes will be reading them during the high season.

 

This summer, have fun with some inspired marketing campaigns that make your property shine!

5 Tips for Designing a Hotel Loyalty Program that Really Works

In a previous post about the benefits loyalty programs can bring to independent hotels, we highlighted a study by the Center for Hospitality Research at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration that showed independent hotels enjoyed an average 50 percent increase in annual revenue per enrolled guest, due to increased room-nights purchased. The research provides solid evidence that loyalty programs for independent hotels work.

But for any loyalty program to be successful, it has to be done right. In our current travel climate, where millennial travelers are leading a hospitality revolution, the stiff loyalty programs of big-brand hotels are losing their relevance. The complicated, elitist, rules-heavy programs of old may provide value for frequent corporate travelers, but not really for anyone else.

Software Advice, a company that evaluates hotel management systems, recently conducted a survey about millennial participation in hotel loyalty programs. The study highlights the potential for boosting loyalty program enrollment among this growing traveler segment, with 86 percent of millennials not yet participating in hotel loyalty programs. The report also debunked the common perception that millennial travelers are less loyal to brands, suggesting they are just more discerning — as are a lot of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers these days, due to wide accessibility of travel information online.

Indeed, the Software Advice report found the most common reason for millennials joining a hotel loyalty program is loyalty to a hotel brand (46 percent), followed by easy-to-earn rewards (41 percent), simple sign-up (37 percent) and a variety of reward options (19 percent). To attract loyalty members of the millennial kind, loyalty programs need to be simple, meaningful and flexible. In fact, such a program will not only appeal to millennials, but to everyone.

When it comes to designing loyalty programs, independent properties have an advantage over chain hotels; unrestricted by rigid standards, independents have more freedom to be creative and to personalize rewards. Ultimately, the perfect loyalty program should be established based on your particular property, who your guests are, and what they want.

Make it Easy to Earn Rewards

It can be difficult to see the value in a complicated reward program wrought with rules, where rewards take a long time coming — especially for infrequent travelers. To attract a wider range of members, loyalty programs should make it easy for travelers to earn and redeem points, with no black-out dates and points that never expire.

For frequent corporate guests who enjoy status recognition, a program offering tiered benefits provides them with the distinction they seek. And with points that never expire, the complicated (and awkward) situation of demoting members can be avoided.

Kimpton and Marriott hotels are making it easier than ever to earn points, now rewarding guests for sharing on social media. While some have their reservations about incentivizing social engagement, awarding points doesn’t have to be limited to nights; points could be awarded for attending hotel events like wine hour and for utilizing paid amenities like the restaurant or spa.

Deliver Instant Gratification

Businesses are more transparent and accessible than ever — and, therefore, more competitive — so rewards programs should deliver tangible value that loyal customers can enjoy sooner. In addition to a simple sign-up process, hotels are beginning to offer guests immediate perks simply for enrolling, like a free drink at the bar or a small welcome gift.

While free and discounted stays are the most popular rewards, it typically takes an infrequent traveler a long time to earn them. To maintain interest (and loyalty), properties should offer more frequent rewards that could include room upgrades or dining discounts, and throw in soft perks like late check-out, drink vouchers, a free movie rental, or in-room cookies with a personal note.

It’s all about perceived value; unexpected freebies don’t have to cost much but go a long way in winning loyal, life-long fans.

Make Loyalty Members Feel Extra Special

All guests should be made to feel appreciated, but repeat guests even more so because loyal customers are a business’ most valuable asset. How do you make guests feel appreciated? Through personalized service that demonstrates you really care.

It’s important to get to know your guests and what they like in the quest to personalize service. Thanks to detailed guest profiles in customer relationship management and property management systems, properties have the ability to store rich guest data that empowers them to provide highly personalized service that earns and maintains loyal guests.

Through face-to-face interactions, phone calls, social media engagement and guest reviews, hotels can garner valuable information about guest preferences — particularly of repeat guests who engage with hotels more often. Armed with this knowledge, properties should aim to delight loyal guests with tailored service that goes above and beyond. Imagine Ms. Smith always buys certain local chocolates from the gift shop… and her pleasant surprise to find the decadent treats waiting in her room upon arrival!

Provide Easy Access

According to the Software Advice research, most respondents (49 percent) prefer to be notified about point balances and rewards via email. This information could be combined with targeted return offers and other targeted marketing campaigns. As we’ve recommended before, all email communications should be mobile optimized.

Mobile hotel apps can also offer loyalty members the ability to check their point balance, see what rewards they are eligible for, and redeem points. A combined 58 percent of millennials that participated in the Software Advice research say they would find a mobile hotel loyalty app “very” or “moderately” valuable. Integrated with the hotel’s property management system, such an app could also greatly enhance guest profile data for loyalty program personalization.

Alternatively, many hotels offer an online dashboard that allows members to log in and view their account status.

The more transparent your loyalty program is, the easier it is for your guests to understand and engage with it.

Spread the Word

While loyalty programs are expected of large brand hotels, they are not yet as common among independent properties. Let customers know about your loyalty program on your website via a dedicated explainer page (that is linked to from the homepage and main menu), as well as through social media, in-room cards, mobile hotel app, and at the front desk.

Social media is especially valuable in building customer relationships, and through the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, your loyalty program members can become your biggest advocates.

With a flexible loyalty program that offers guests what they really want, independent properties can attract and retain repeat business from all types of travelers across all generations. WebRezPro property management system now offers integration with two sophisticated loyalty programs — Preferred Patron and Stash Hotel Rewards — simplifying guest rewards management for independent hotels.

8 Great Email Marketing Tips for Hotels

With so much focus on social media for marketing and customer service these days, your email campaigns may have taken a back seat. But successful marketing is driven by a mix of complementing strategies — and email is still one of your best tools.

Email marketing is a very effective way to build guest loyalty, encourage brand engagement and increase direct bookings through well-targeted communications. It’s cost efficient and easily automated, making it an ideal marketing technique for busy hoteliers without a lot of time on their hands.

So, without further ado, here are our top eight tips for maximizing conversions from your property’s email marketing campaigns.

1. Grow Your Email Lists Organically

Permission-based email marketing ensures that you are communicating with prospects and customers that genuinely want to hear from you, which essentially means that you’ve already got one foot in the door. Growing your email lists organically is important for maximizing engagement and for staying on the right side of anti-spam laws like CASL, too. Just because a guest gave you their email address in order to make a reservation doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to receive future communications. Likewise, you might not receive email addresses for guests that book through travel agencies and OTAs.

Get your customers to actively join your email list by:

  • Adding a simple sign-up form to your websiteIt can be as simple as an email address field and a “Submit” button. Provide incentive like “Join our email list to receive special offers and inside tips!”
  • Including an opt-in checkbox, or a link to your sign-up form, in your post-stay survey. For example, “Check this box to join our email list to receive special offers for future stays.”
  • Placing cards in guestrooms. Consider adding a note to your welcome cards, inviting guests to join your email list.

And just as it is important to gain customers’ permission for email marketing, it’s also necessary to provide opt-out instructions on every email communication you send.

2. Optimize Emails for Mobile

With nearly half of all emails opened on mobile devices, your emails need to look good on small screens or they might not be given the time of day. Inc.com recently shared five quick tips for optimizing your emails for mobile, and it’s much easier than you think. Suggestions include using an email service provider that offers responsive templates, and avoiding large image files and long paragraphs. You can also encourage your customers to share your emails by including social sharing buttons. This is where your email marketing and social media strategies can really complement each other.

3. Create a Schedule

A successful email marketing campaign is all about timing — well, much of it is. Decide how frequently and when you are going to send emails and more or less stick to the schedule. Email too often and you risk annoying your customers and losing subscribers; don’t email enough and they might forget who you are.

In addition to your pre- and post-stay emails (confirmation emails, pre-arrival emails, thank-you-for-staying emails), you could send newsletter sign-ups a welcome email with an offer of a free drink at the bar as a thank you for signing up. Then, going forward, keep in touch with your subscribers whenever you have something truly interesting to say or offer. You could boost slow seasons with special rates and upsell during busy seasons by promoting your F&B or spa services.

When it comes to the clock, Pebble Design offers their insight into the best time and day of the week to send marketing emails in the hospitality industry.

4. Automate

Pre- and post-stay emails, welcome-to-the-club emails for new sign-ups, monthly newsletters, special offers… you’re too busy for all of this! That’s where automation comes in. Email newsletter services and automated email marketing systems can be integrated with your PMS and help manage your email campaigns through list management, customizable templates, scheduling, social media promotion and results tracking. WebRezPro PMS offers the ability to automate pre- and post-stay emails and also integrates with email marketing services like Constant Contact and Guestfolio for streamlined, professional email marketing campaigns that don’t take up too much of your time.

5. Personalize

Just because email marketing lends well to automation doesn’t mean your emails should appear like a generic mass mail-out. Personalize your emails as much as possible to build relationships and encourage engagement. Start by knowing who your customers are and target your marketing to them. For example, repeat guests that utilize your on-site spa services would most likely love to know about your new spa package. Use your PMS data to segment your contact list by corporate clients, spa users, family travelers, etc. to be sure you are sending the right content to the right customers. You don’t want to send corporate discounts to vacationers; sending irrelevant information is a sure-fire way to lose subscribers. Also, address emails to the individual (the process of which can also be automated — clever, huh?) and sign off from an actual person.

6. Deliver Great Content

Great content = stuff that benefits your customers. This doesn’t always have to be discounted rates and services; local “insider” information, like exciting events, new attractions or destination tips, gives your customers food for thought and could put your property front of mind when planning their next holiday.

Both prospective and new customers also appreciate being first to know about new services and amenities, like your awesome, renovated pool area with brand new poolside bar opening next month. Your local staycation customers would no doubt like to be privy to the wine-tasting event you’re holding soon. Think about who you’re targeting (point #5 above) and what would interest them.

Make sure you include links or buttons (buttons are better, especially on mobile devices) with calls to action, like “Book Romance Package Now” or “RSVP to Winter Wine Taster.”

Visuals are important, too. While you should avoid large image files in optimizing for mobile, photos catch the eye and lure readers in. Whether it’s that newly renovated pool sparkling in the sun, the latest addition to your menu, or your smiling staff, photos help nurture relationships with your customers and inspire sharing on social media.

Note: be sure to link to the Web version of your email in case the actual email doesn’t display properly. Most email newsletter/marketing services include this feature.

7. Gather Feedback

Short post-stay email surveys are part of great customer service and provide a marketing opportunity, too. As long as there’s no mention of (or link to) an offer or promotion, surveys are not considered a commercial electronic message and are therefore exempt from spam laws. You can include a checkbox in the survey for customers to opt in to receive future email communications from your property if they haven’t already. WebRezPro PMS integrates with Revinate Post-Stay Surveys for automated post-stay survey communications that can also be posted to online review sites.

8. Test & Track

To measure the success of your email marketing campaigns, track all opens, click-throughs, enquiries and bookings stemming from your emails, which is easily done through your automated email marketing system. See what works best by changing up subject lines, calls to action, message length, images, types of discounts/packages, email frequency, day, time, etc., and tracking the results.

And one last piece of advice: look at your emails from your customers’ perspective and ask yourself what’s really in it for them? If the answer is obvious, your email marketing campaign is bound to be a success.