Know Thyself (Thy Guests, and Thy Community): How to Increase Midweek Hotel Bookings

The adage of knowledge being the key to success holds true even – or especially – for increasing your number of midweek bookings. Midweek travelers are likely to be retired or traveling for business; they could hold unconventional jobs (freelancers or hotel and restaurant staff, like yourself) whose ‘weekends’ occur midweek, or they could just be on the lookout for an enticing deal. In other words, they’re eclectic with potentially niche desires and expectations for a midweek stay. But with a little innovative thinking, you can find strategies to appeal to the guests you most want to attract. How?

Create and Promote Distinct Value-Added Packages

Significantly reduced room rates often do not entice enough bookings to offset the reduced revenue, and in the end, they set the wrong expectations and seriously erode your price integrity. As an alternative, use your imagination and resources to combine your hotel’s services into an appealing package. What does your hotel do best? Do you have a spa? Modern gym? Renowned restaurant? Know your hotel’s strengths, understand who your midweek guests are, and build packages that add value and appeal to individual tastes.

Build Community Relationships and Collaborate with Local Businesses

Knowing your community is important for all hotels, but it’s especially vital for smaller inns and B&Bs and anyone who has built their brand on delivering a personalized experience. Many travellers are looking to immerse themselves in cultures and communities, so it’s important to know not only the local tourist attractions (bus tours, wine tastings, amusement parks, zoos) but also to have a finger on the pulse of what events bring out the locals. Is there a musician who is beginning to gain attention? Or a university sporting team that’s set to beat a record? Travellers in their 50s and 60s are particularly intrigued by cultural festivals, art shows, and theatre. Those who are in the service industry might be intrigued by a midweek chef pop-up at a local restaurant. Collaborate with other businesses to build and promote mutually beneficial packages that encourage guests to travel midweek or to extend their weekend stay.

Reach out to businesses, like…

Larger restaurants. This is particularly important in the early fall (or even earlier) when restaurants start to book and plan Christmas parties. It’s in their interest and yours – and it offers flexibility to potential clients – to collaborate on an option for midweek celebrations that include accommodations. It’s becoming more common for businesses to offer post-party hotels to their staff, and large organizations with offices across the country are increasingly flying their staff to a central location for a once-a-year party to build staff relationships and boost morale. You may be the right place at the right time. Plus, don’t forget, that businesses that are particularly busy over the holiday season often hold early (November) or late (into January) Christmas parties, so expand your thinking to include not only midweek but off-season parties.

Real Estate Agents. Many people travel to cities and towns to view a new house or office building. Find out which agents are most likely to bring in out-of-town clients and discuss collaborations, special rates, and the potential for mutually beneficial advertising.

Building Contractors, especially those who bring in a large portion of their work force for large scale projects. These contracts are lucrative, but they require you to be proactive. Speak to contractors about the incentives, long term rates, and other services you offer, like earlier breakfasts and packed lunches.

Universities and other companies that interview candidates from out of town. Not only can you offer a hassle free and comfortable place to stay during what’s undoubtedly an anxious time for the interviewee, you have the opportunity to show them the community they will potentially be joining through providing the right package promotion.

Train and Encourage Employees to Know and Discuss Local Events

While related to community building and collaboration, it’s important enough to mention separately. Your staff is the voice of your hotel; they talk to guests every day, so educate your staff on events and encourage them to contribute their own knowledge of the community. A chat about a midweek author’s visit may inspire an impromptu extended stay, or a conversation about an upcoming concert may inspire a return visit.

Update Guest Profiles

This is especially important for repeat guests and those who are visiting from within a 250-mile radius. They are the ones most likely to be persuaded into a last-minute midweek getaway. Use your technology. The guest data provided by your PMS (property management system) can help you build your promotions based on demographics and past behavior. It can show a guest’s preferred rate and the days of the week he or she is most likely to stay. An updated profile with interests (like a preference for a certain fitness class or love of a particular sports team) can help you build the right packages and then promote them to the right people at the right time. To add an even more personal touch, it would be a particularly nice gesture if a guest shows interest in an upcoming festival, to make note and send them an email as a reminder.

Develop Email Lists

This is still an effective way to communicate with repeat and potential guests. Again, though, know your clientele and word your promotions accordingly. Some guests will be tempted by 2-for-1 appetizers or free kids’ meals while others will prefer a complementary tasting of local wines.

Keep on Top of your Social Media

It’s important and repetition is key, especially on Twitter because posts have a short life span. Be aware of the different advantages of each medium. Facebook can target a specific demographic or interest group, whereas Instagram should be used to promote the most visual aspects of your hotel experience. Dynamic social media accounts convey a dynamic hotel.

Promote Midweek and Off-season Weddings

With more people working flexible hours and unconventional jobs, midweek weddings are becoming increasingly popular, especially for second marriages, older couples, and those who are looking for a subtler, more intimate celebration. Learn to plan and execute midweek weddings well, and then why not promote them by holding a Midweek Wedding Fair midweek?

 

Midweek travellers are savvy. They’ve either thrown away the rule book on what a ‘getaway’ should be or they’re a business traveller with accumulated generic hotel experiences. So get creative and be proactive. Know your brand and what kind of clientele you want to attract, utilize your hotel resources and staff to create personalized experiences, and learn about your community to propose inventive collaborations. Combining knowledge, imagination, and action is how to increase your midweek hotel bookings.

Beat Your Competition this Busy Season

Here in the north the days are warming up, travelers are planning their summer vacations, and accommodation providers are eagerly anticipating more guests. But along with higher occupancy comes more pressure and strain on property staff — the high season can be an exciting but stressful time! With increasing competition in the hotel industry, it’s more important than ever to handle operations skillfully and strategically during busy times to encourage travelers choose you.

Here are our tips for staying ahead of your competition this season.

Know Your Competition

You probably know who your competitors are, but are you familiar with their strategy? Having an idea of your opposition’s tactics is key to winning the game. Do a little digging to find out what your competition is offering customers and how they are offering it. Look them up on OTAs, visit their website, check them out on social media and read their online reviews to compare pricing, discover their USP (unique selling proposition) and learn what guests like (and don’t like) about them. This knowledge is useful for sharpening your own strategy and, by comparison, pinpointing areas where your property stands out.

Identify and Promote Your Strengths

While your property’s strengths are due to your property’s own merits, getting to know your competition can help shine further light on what differentiates your property from others. Enhance and promote those areas in which you do (or can do) better than the rest.

Identifying your USP (unique selling proposition) is not necessarily an easy task, especially in a crowded market. Your property’s own reviews are a good place to look for insight on why your customers choose your property and what they like about it — and also for highlighting areas that need improvement.

Whether it’s your outstanding customer service, location, interior design or unique local experience(s), make your USP the cornerstone of your marketing strategy. Promote it fiercely on your website, in OTA listings, on social media and in email and advertising campaigns.

Price Strategically

Being the cheapest hotel in town isn’t going to win you customers. Attempting to beat the competition by simply undercutting their prices not only eats into your revenue but can actually undermine your property’s credibility. And while price is a significant motivator for most travelers, value for money is more important.

When it comes to comparing your rates with your competitors’ rates, also consider the value and experience your property offers relative to theirs. If your property is offering a superior experience — perhaps your rooms are nicer, you’re renowned for your onsite dining, or you provide more amenities — your price should be higher than nearby properties that offer less. Just make sure the value you offer is clear to customers.

Analyzing your data is key to successful pricing. Use your property’s occupancy and revenue data, as well as local market data (events, weather, economy, etc.), to help price rooms and optimize your distribution strategy. Implementing minimum and maximum length-of-stay restrictions can be effective for boosting RevPAR during peak times, depending on demand. Offering special packages is a great way to create high perceived value and stand out from your competitors.

As competition heats up, automated revenue management software is increasingly important to independent properties. Using powerful algorithms to forecast occupancy and optimize room rates, revenue management systems save lodging providers a lot of time and give properties a competitive advantage managing their rates.

Stand Out Online

It can be difficult to stand out in such a crowded place as the Internet, especially in the travel space.

As the most important piece of your digital marketing puzzle, it’s crucial to get your property’s website right. Your website must look great and be easy to use and navigate. High-quality images are key for painting an inviting (and accurate) picture of the experience your property offers, and go hand in hand with compelling and helpful written content about your property and location. Optimize your site for search engines and mobile devices (critical in our mobile-dependent world), and make sure you offer user-friendly (and mobile-friendly) direct online bookings. Read our recent post, Essential Elements of a Hotel Website for further tips.

Online travel agencies (OTAs) play a key role in expanding reach. While independent properties should always strive to increase direct bookings, studies show that more travel consumers currently use OTAs to shop for travel rather than supplier sites, so it’s essential to be visible on these channels too. Make sure your OTA listings are up to date and optimized with quality images, complete descriptions and amenity lists, and the right rates. Integrating your OTA channels with your property management system can give you an advantage over your competitors by automating (and therefore speeding up) rate and inventory updates across all channels.

Social media is another online space where most of your customers spend a great deal of time. According to recent research, 84 percent of millennial and 73 percent of non-millennial travelers are likely to make vacation plans inspired by someone else’s vacation pics and updates on social media. A great way for accommodation providers to stand out on social media is to encourage and share user-generated content. Read our Seven Smart Social Media Practices for Hotels for other effective strategies, including social media advertising (inexpensive, targeted and high-reach), posting videos, and adding a “book now” button to your property’s Facebook page.

You’ll want to make sure you are keeping on top of your property’s online reviews too. Reviews play a critical part in the average traveler’s decision-making process so be sure your property has plenty of good ones. The more positive reviews you have, the more likely customers will choose your property over the competition (and the better for SEO too).

Treat Every Guest like a VIP

If your property offers a consistently high level of customer service that exceeds guests’ expectations, word will get around, especially via social media and online reviews. Excellent customer service is born of genuine people who love what they do, supported by good training and the right tools.

An automated property management system (PMS) is an indispensable tool for managing daily operations and the guest experience. By streamlining and automating daily tasks, PMS greatly reduce the manual workload on staff, affording them more time to interact with guests — which, after all, is what hospitality is all about!

A modern PMS offers the ability to store rich guest profile data (and integrate with powerful CRM systems), facilitating the kind of personalized guest service that surprises and delights customers. Imagine being able to recognize repeat guests, surprise couples with a complementary bottle of wine on their anniversary, or swap the regular in-room welcome cookies for gluten-free ones for the arrival of an allergic guest. Imagine your customers’ satisfaction at being treated like valued guests (rather than just a reservation number).

From guest profile data to automated and customizable guest email communications to mobile (on-the-go) access, a cloud PMS equips properties with practical, relevant tools for upgrading the guest experience and for standing out in the market.

All the best for your busiest and most profitable summer yet!

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.

How a Budget Independent Motel Can Be a Lodging Superstar

When we think of a roadside motel, we probably don’t think of a business with five-star service and amenities, and that’s why independent motels are uniquely positioned to surprise and delight; most motel guests are simply not expecting to be surprised and delighted.

Designed to serve road trippers with cheap, comfortable and convenient accommodation, motels are the preferred choice for many travelers — travelers who expect to get nothing more than what they pay for.

Many independent motels operate within tight budgets, which can make going the extra mile for guests seem unpractical. But there are things any property can do to impress guests without breaking the bank — and the return on investment can be huge. Think rave reviews, loyal customers and no vacancy!

Here are some ways a budget independent motel can be a lodging superstar:

Deliver Service with a Smile

Service with a smile is of chief importance in the quest for guest satisfaction, and it costs nothing. The 2015 J.D. Power North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study found that there is a 50 percent reduction in the average number of customer complaints when guests are greeted with a smile “all the time,” compared to “sometimes.”

Engaged, empowered staff members who truly enjoy working with people are naturals at delivering service with a smile. But it also helps when staff is backed by efficient systems that make their jobs easier, rather than ineffective tools that create more work and stress.

A modern property management system, for example, automates administrative processes to increase productivity, reduce stress, and give lodging operators more time to focus on their guests.

Keep Guestrooms & Facilities Spick-and-Span

A motel doesn’t have to be new or fancy to be inviting, but it does have to be clean and well kept. Beyond vacuuming carpets, cleaning bathrooms and changing sheets, guestrooms — including kitchenette facilities and utensils, bedding and bath linens, furniture, lamps and TV remotes — should be inspected regularly for wear and tear and items repaired or replaced as needed.

Modern property management systems help to keep track of maintenance issues through housekeeping and maintenance reports. Cloud systems like WebRezPro PMS feature mobile housekeeping reports, which allow housekeepers to update room cleaning status and enter notes via a mobile device as they work so that nothing gets forgotten.

Replacing worn or outdated bedding and furniture and updating décor can be expensive. Most budgets won’t stretch far enough for everything to be tackled at once, but upgrades can be done gradually. Focus on the changes that will have the biggest impact first. Take a look at guest reviews for clues — do guests consistently criticize the beds or the peeling paint?

If renovations are in order, choose neutral (timeless) colors, classic styles and durable quality to maximize your investment for the long term. The goal is clean, fresh, inviting rooms, not bold design statements that are bound to go out of style.

The motel exterior and outdoor areas should also be well maintained for optimal curb appeal. From a freshly painted motel exterior to a clean and tidy pool area with quality outdoor furniture, cared-for grounds invite people to enjoy them.

Provide Guests with Current Technology

We are creatures of habit and used to our creature comforts, so when something we take for granted at home — like reliable Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs — is not available when we travel, it feels like a major inconvenience.

Wi-Fi, in particular, is as necessary as bathroom tissue these days; a 2015 study conducted by Hotels.com showed that free Wi-Fi remains the most sought-after amenity among both business and leisure travelers.

Modern guestroom TVs are another essential amenity for properties wanting to avoid the old, tired look. Flat-screen TVs are very affordable these days and are also a great way to save space in a small room when mounted to the wall.

To really stand out, some properties are providing guests with techy extras that put the spotlight on convenience, from in-room charging stations (or chargers for rent) to paperless check-in with e-signature.

Share Your Local Knowledge

Information about area attractions, restaurants, shopping and other points of interest is readily available online, but nothing beats personal recommendations from a local expert. Sharing local knowledge with guests face to face is not only helpful to them, but provides the opportunity to connect with guests on a more personal level — and it’s those moments of friendly interaction that make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary service.

Including up-to-date local information on your website can help boost bookings too.

Surprise and Delight with the Little Things

Most of us enjoy feeling appreciated, which is why greeting each and every guest with a smile is so important. But to make guests feel even more welcome, surprise them with a little something extra.

The simplest, most inexpensive things can make a big difference to the guest experience: a pre-arrival email with reservation details and helpful local tips (and post-stay emails too); in-room welcome treats, like a small bowl of candy with a simple hand-written welcome note; refreshing freebies in the lobby like a pitcher of fruit-infused water, coffee and tea, cookies, or a bowl of fruit; a DVD and/or board game library; or even just a quick phone call to the room shortly after a guest checks in to make sure they have everything they need.

Upon check-out, guests can be surprised with a small thank-you gift, such as cookies for the road, or a discount voucher for their next stay (if they book direct).

Even the smallest touches can go a long way to earning great reviews and repeat customers, turning an average motel into a lodging superstar.

Getting to Know Your Guests: How to Gather Guest Data

In our increasingly connected world, today’s consumers expect more personalized service from brands and this is especially true of the hospitality industry. To stand out in such a competitive market, a hotel needs to provide personally relevant (and therefore memorable) guest experiences — the key to which lies in guest data.

Guest data has long been leveraged by luxury properties catering to discerning guests, but now operators of all types of lodgings, from motels to B&Bs, are recognizing the value in utilizing guest data to build stronger guest relationships that differentiate a property from its competition.

Here are some tips for building guest profiles that empower lodging operators to elevate the guest experience.

Guest Email Addresses

Guest email addresses are a crucial part of the equation. Without them, hotels are unable to take ownership of the guest relationship pre- and post-stay.

Most consumers are willing to provide their email address when booking accommodation online in order to receive a confirmation email. Therefore, properties that offer direct online bookings on their website are probably already collecting customer email addresses via their online booking engine — a process made even more seamless when the online booking engine is directly integrated with their property management system (PMS) so that direct online booking and guest data is automatically recorded in the PMS.

When bookings come through third parties, the property might not always receive the guest’s email address, but this doesn’t mean you should give up on guests with blank email fields. Front desk agents can politely ask for email addresses during check-in or check-out, telling guests they’d like to send them discounts for future stays or to pass to a friend. Or offer to email guests their check-out receipt instead of printing one. Properties with a loyalty program can gather email addresses (and other guest data) by inviting guests to join.

Customers are more likely to share their email address if there’s something in it for them.

Special Requests

From allergies to room preferences, special requests are like gold nuggets in the world of guest data, providing obvious cues for how to personalize the guest experience.

Modern booking engines allow properties to offer guests the opportunity to make special requests at the time of booking, such as requesting in-room extras like wine and chocolates, adding activities to the reservation, requesting a pet-friendly room, or informing the property of any special dietary requests. This data is automatically recorded on reservation folios and can be saved in guest profiles to anticipate guest needs for future stays.

Special requests and guest preferences can also be noted through direct interactions with staff (via email, phone or in person) and manually recorded in guest profiles. If a guest requests extra pillows, note their pillow preference in their profile. When a guest asks for local recommendations, their interests can be recorded. If a guest mentions it’s their anniversary, that should be noted too.

Ancillary Services

Ancillary services or on-property purchases can provide clues about guests’ interests. When point-of-sale (POS) systems are integrated with the PMS, these purchases are recorded automatically on guest folios, but services can be recorded on a guest’s profile manually too.

Imagine a guest utilizes your spa services during their stay, and their delight upon check-out when they receive a small sample of spa product to enjoy at home. Or perhaps you’ve noticed a guest simply loves your blueberry breakfast muffins, so why not give them one for the road when they leave? If a guest has a morning paper preference, make sure that’s the one delivered before they even have to ask.

Keeping track of the ancillary services customers enjoy helps lodging operators to surprise and delight guests, as well as target offers more effectively.

Social Media

It’s a pretty safe bet that most travelers use Facebook and/or Twitter and/or Instagram or some other combination of social networks, which makes social media an obvious place to look for information about your guests.

Are we actually talking about stalking your guests online? Not really… Think of it more like eavesdropping — something hotel staff have long been trained to do in order to serve guests intuitively. But to avoid crossing the line from intuitive to creepy, only gather information that can actually be used to improve the guest experience.

There’s nothing creepy about profiling guests based on their likes, shares or comments on your hotel’s own posts and campaigns. Whether a guest likes or shares a post about your special holiday package, leaves a comment drooling over a photo of your delicious waffles, or tweets about why they loved their stay, these interactions help to reveal the identities of your guests.

Some properties also look guests up online manually, checking the guest’s Facebook page, LinkedIn account or Twitter feed to find out what their interests are in order to enhance their stay. For example, if a guest is a coffee connoisseur, the hotel can surprise them with a small bag of locally roasted beans to take home. Imagine a couple’s delight upon discovering a bottle of wine and congratulatory note waiting in their room on their anniversary weekend.

Modern CRM (customer relationship management) tools can track guests online automatically to help build rich customer profiles.

Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are evolving — in particular, those of independent properties — moving from strict, points-based systems to more flexible programs that cater to the modern traveler’s desire for instant gratification and relevant rewards. As mentioned above, when a guest joins a hotel’s loyalty program they are usually more willing to share personal information with the understanding that they will receive more personalized service and perks in return.

Modern loyalty programs can help lodging operators learn about customers’ travel habits, spending and preferences, and tailor reward programs, offers and future service to guests more successfully.

Guest Email Communications

From booking confirmations that invite guests to customize their stay with special extras or upgrades, to post-stay surveys and campaigns, strong calls to action compel customers to engage with email communications, and the resulting bookings, click-throughs and comments tell you a lot about your guests.

We’ve blogged before about how to maximize customer engagement with pre-stay and post-stay email communications, so check out those posts for some helpful tips.

Data Management

While guest data is critical in personalizing the guest experience, it’s not very useful without an easy way to access it. The right data management platform is key to sorting, analysing and acting on data for personalizing service and targeting campaigns to the right customer at the right time. This is where modern PMS, CRM and marketing automation systems come in.

PMS support personalized service through detailed guest profiles that include stay history, demographics, preferences and comments about the guest. And guest management features like pop-up reminders and reservation alarms for staff, VIP flagging and automated guest emails help staff cater to individual guests’ needs.

Marketing automation solutions take gathering and acting upon guest data to the next level, automatically aggregating data from other hotel systems (like PMS, POS and CRM systems) as well as from social media and online review sites to create extremely comprehensive guest profiles.

With such rich guest data at their fingertips, hoteliers can surprise and delight each and every guest.

5 Ways to Turn OTA Lookers into Direct Bookers

There’s no denying that OTAs pack a powerful punch when it comes to online bookings. OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia have a potent arsenal of cutting-edge technology and massive marketing budgets behind their very successful distribution strategies; they boast online omnipresence with global consumer reach and seamless online bookings. While lodging operators understandably begrudge OTA commissions eating into their bottom line, there are two sides to the coin — the flip side is that hoteliers have an opportunity to take advantage of the increased visibility that OTAs offer.

When I search for accommodation online, I often start my search on an OTA, but before making a decision, I always google the property’s own website. I do this because I want to get a better feel for the property beyond what’s presented in their OTA listing. This is known as the “billboard effect” — where a property’s OTA listing works much like a billboard; increasing a property’s exposure and even driving direct bookings.

But in order for the billboard effect to work, a property’s own website needs to offer customers a smooth path to booking.

#1. A well designed website.

A website that not only looks good but is easy to navigate and functions smoothly is key to impressing prospective guests and luring them to book direct. A property’s own website has the potential to give customers a much more distinctive and genuine online experience than an OTA.

Check out our post about optimizing your website for success, but in a nutshell, it comes down to successfully portraying the special experience of staying at your property through engaging imagery and content that communicates the unique features of your property, from special packages to property features to location.

And make sure your site offers just as good a user experience as the OTAs — with fast load times, intuitive navigation, mobile friendliness and easy online bookings (more on that next).

#2. Simple, secure, mobile-friendly online bookings.

OTAs are so successful with online bookings due to simple, trusted and mobile-friendly booking processes, and properties must follow suit on their own websites to avoid booking abandonment.  The fewer steps it takes to make a reservation, the better. Your online booking engine should reassure customers that the booking process is secure by displaying a secure payment badge when asking for credit card information, and should send automatic email confirmation to customers to assure them that their booking was a success. Your booking engine should also be able to display rates in different currencies.

#3. Best rate guarantee & benefits of booking direct.

While hoteliers can’t publicly advertise lower rates than those on OTAs (due to parity agreements), rates available through a property’s own website should match those offered on OTAs to support a best rate guarantee. Why shop anywhere else when the rate on your site is guaranteed the lowest?

Customers are more likely to book direct when the value of booking direct is apparent. Make sure the advantages of booking direct are advertised on your website — like preferred rooms, free breakfast, a drink at the bar or free parking — perks that are only available when booking direct. Value-added packages might cost more than discounted room rates advertised on OTAs, but the upgraded experience should offer more value than the discount offered through the OTA.

Rates lower than those on OTAs can be offered to limited audiences, like your Facebook fans, Twitter followers or newsletter subscribers, if they book direct. Invite customers to like your Facebook page or sign up to your newsletter to access special deals. Empower staff taking phone reservations to offer a lower rate.

#4. Convert OTA customers into future direct bookers.

Don’t give up on customers who have booked through an OTA — you’ll get ‘em next time. But in order to do so, it’s important to ask for their email address upon check-in or check-out. Tell guests that you would like to share special discounts for future stays or to pass to a friend. Alternatively, you could offer departing guests coupons for a 10 percent discount if they book direct next time.

If your property offers a loyalty program, invite guests to join to access points or perks when booking direct.

#5. Optimize your OTA listings.

While it might seem counterintuitive, it’s important to ensure your listings on OTAs are complete and high quality. Excluding quality content from OTA listings will not drive customers to your website; instead, customers are likely to skip the listing entirely to consider properties with more appealing listings.

Listings with great photos, complete descriptions and amenity lists, and competitive rates are much more likely to motivate a shopper to take note of your property and search for your website… which is where all the above tips come into play for turning that OTA looker into a direct booker!

Here Come the Baby Boomers. Is Your Hotel Ready?

There’s been much ado about Millennials (born early 1980s through early 2000s) lately — and for good reason; as the largest generation in the U.S., tech-savvy Millennials have essentially driven the recent evolution of hospitality (think online presence, mobile apps, social media, and personalized experiences). However, in our warranted efforts to please the young’uns, we must be careful not to neglect those without smartphones permanently attached to their thumbs.

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers represent a quarter of the U.S. population and are now in their travel prime. According to AARP research published late last year, the 50+ age group spends more than $120 billion a year on leisure travel, and, on average, are expected to take four to five trips in 2015.

Baby Boomers represent a very large and very relevant group of travelers that are beginning to explode into hotels across the globe. Let’s get to know them a little better…

Baby Boom—Who?

Spanning 18 years, the Baby Boomer generation consists of those at their peak earning years, those approaching retirement and those already enjoying their early retirement days. Many have the money, time and a strong desire to travel — music to a hotelier’s ears.

Baby Boomers grew up in an era that emphasized growth and learning, and it doesn’t stop with retirement. With their working life behind (or almost behind) them and kids now flown the nest, a Boomer’s life has, in a sense, just begun again. The 50+ age group is healthier and more active than ever, and, already experienced travelers, they seek new and genuine experiences for personal growth.

Baby Boomers are technically proficient too. While they’re not tech-dependent like Millennials, Boomers aren’t new to the Internet or social media. They appreciate the convenience of online and mobile services but are just as (if not more) comfortable interacting with businesses face to face or by phone and greatly value personalized attention.

To sum it up, Baby Boomers are independent, experienced, and looking for some fun. Now in their travel prime, they’re packing their bags and have money to spend. Sounds like the perfect guest!

Targeting Baby Boomers

Much of what you are doing already to target Millennials will also appeal to Baby Boomers — like quality website content, online bookings, free Wi-Fi and an emphasis on the stay experience. However, a central focus on Millennials may also alienate older generations, so it’s important to find a balance that works for your property. For example, both Millennials and Baby Boomers value personalized and attentive service, but while Millennials like to control their stay through technology like self-check-in and other mobile apps, supplemented by human hospitality, Baby Boomers prefer it the other way around. Even with the best self-service mobile apps, well-trained, customer-focused human staff are essential.

When targeting Baby Boomers, here are some tips to keep in mind…

Active Relaxation >> 50+ year-olds are more active than ever. When Baby Boomers travel they like to get out and about and truly experience a location. As the AARP research revealed, the top travel motivators for Baby Boomers are to get away from normal, everyday life (57 percent), to spend time with family and friends (55 percent), and to relax and rejuvenate (54 percent).

Packages incorporating activities that allow travelers to genuinely experience a destination appeal to all generations. When designing packages for Baby Boomers, think activities like wine tasting tours, golf, spa treatments, yoga classes, wildlife photography and cooking classes — experiences that provide opportunities for active relaxation and family time. It’s generally not worth marketing ski packages to Baby Boomers because, according to the AARP survey, they don’t like winter travel, so when it comes to the slopes, stick to the Gen X-ers and Millennials.

In marketing activities or packages to Baby Boomers, never refer to or represent them as “seniors.” Appeal to their forever young attitude… after all, 50 is the new 40. Choice is important too; growing up with the independent mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Baby Boomers like to customize their experiences to meet their needs.

Modern, User-Friendly Technology >> Unlike Millennials, Baby Boomers are not connected to technology 24/7, but technology is still important to them. For example, according to the AARP study, 85 percent of traveling Baby Boomers use the Internet to plan their trips. Baby Boomers view technology as a convenience rather than a necessity — and in hospitality, convenience ranks high. It’s important to provide the option of convenient guest-facing technology like mobile-optimized online bookings and self-service apps, and it’s also crucial to ensure that technology is user-friendly.

The AARP study also revealed that almost half of working Baby Boomers feel the need to stay connected to work while vacationing, and a third anticipate bringing some work with them, so, together with Millennials, Baby Boomers back the argument that properties must provide reliable Internet access for guests — preferably free and wireless.

The Human Touch >> While Baby Boomers appreciate modern technology, face-to-face human interaction is more important to them. Baby Boomers do book travel online, but they are also happy to pick up the phone and call. Your front desk staff must be personable and knowledgeable and available to answer the phone.

During their stay, Baby Boomers find mobile apps convenient and novel and get a kick out of ordering room service or controlling the TV with just a few taps on their smartphone. But, overall, they desire more of a human connection than Millennials do. Upon check-in, for example, Baby Boomers are more likely to go for the smiling front desk agent rather than the self-check-in kiosk. Even better — especially in a busy lobby — is for a guest to be greeted and shown to a comfy chair by a receptionist armed with a tablet PC for a mobile, paperless check-in experience complete with a warm, human welcome.

Earn Their Trust >> Baby Boomers wanna have fun but they are also a little skeptical. They weren’t born yesterday; they have a lot of life experience behind them. Hence, you have to earn a Boomer’s trust to gain their business. In your marketing efforts, don’t make promises you can’t keep. In addition to quality content that portrays the experience of staying at your property, make sure your website offers complete information and is easy to navigate, showing that you have nothing to hide. Baby Boomers won’t soon forget if their expectations aren’t met.

Including positive testimonials on your website is a great way to build credibility, and it pays to encourage guests to leave reviews on TripAdvisor too. Reviews matter to Baby Boomers just as they do to Millennials, with the AARP study showing that 30 percent of Boomers consult travel review websites when choosing a place to stay.

 

Baby Boomers represent a large, lucrative group of travelers that are now reaching their peak travel age. They’re keen to try new things (and new places to stay) so make sure you focus sufficient marketing efforts on them and reap the benefits of the boom!

For further insight into the travel trends of travelers over the age of 50, read the complete AARP report: 2015 Boomer Travel Trends.

 

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.

Six recommendations for your hotel’s digital marketing budget in 2014

Last week we blogged about US online leisure traveler trends according to a report by Adara and Hudson Crossing. The report showed that 123.3 million travelers researched hotels online this year, and 92% of those made online reservations. It also showed that today’s travelers don’t go anywhere without their smartphones, 9 out of 10 travelers under the age of 35 have social media accounts, online hotel shoppers shop around extensively before choosing where to stay, and OTAs (online travel agencies) attract a lot of “last-minute” bookings. These are all important things to consider when planning your digital marketing budget, because, if one thing is very clear: digital marketing is now a crucial component of any marketing plan.

A recent post by Milestone Insights, Budgeting for Hotel Digital Marketing in 2014, also points out that search engine technology is always changing in order to provide users with the most relevant information, so your online marketing techniques really need to be fresh and up to date. Here’s a summary of Milestone Insight’s astute recommendations for a hotel digital marketing budget for the upcoming year:

  • An awesome website: Search engines reward websites with good quality, original content, fast download times, and mobile compatibility. If you haven’t updated your website for 2 or 3 years, it might be a good time to do so!
  • Mobile marketing: Mobile traffic is set to surpass desktop traffic next year so a responsive website and mobile promotional strategies like paid search (mobile PPC) should be key strategies in your marketing plan.
  • Local and SEO: Search engine optimization still matters. (A lot). Ensure that your business’ information is accurate on your local search profile on Google (and Bing, Yahoo!…), and budget for directory listings in relevant, high-quality directories.
  • Paid search and media spend: Allocate a significant chunk of your digital marketing budget to paid search (PPC) channels like Google, Bing and Yahoo, as well as media purchases on key channels and OTAs like Google Hotel Finder, TripAdvisor Business Listings, Expedia Ads, etc.
  • Social media: Social media is a powerful tool for creating brand awareness and engaging with customers. On top of that, search engines favour sites that are present in the user’s social circles. Every hotel should invest time in a social media strategy.
  • Guest reviews and ratings: It’s important to monitor reviews across review sites like TripAdvisor and to respond quickly. Invest in review monitoring software (there are free tools like Google Alerts and Social Mention).

 

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