Hotel marketing is a complex, multifaceted discipline, and it’s easy to use up precious time and resources without producing substantial results. To drive the best performance, hotels need to take a strategic approach, combining the fundamentals with creative new ways to attract today’s travelers.
Whether you operate an independent hotel, inn, B&B, hostel, or vacation rental, these marketing strategies and ideas will help you achieve the primary objectives of hospitality marketing: building brand awareness and generating demand.
1. Create a marketing plan
As the saying goes, a goal without a plan is just a wish. An annual marketing plan is a crucial first step to ensuring your marketing activities are focused and results-oriented.
A marketing plan should contain the following components:
- Market overview and the latest hospitality trends
- Marketing goals, brand positioning, and competitive landscape
- Roles and responsibilities
- Target markets
- Objectives, strategies, and performance metrics by channel
- Packages and promotions
- Marketing budget and activity calendar
Marketing channels include the hotel website and SEO, paid media, third-party listings, social media, email marketing, guest loyalty, collateral, trade shows and events, partnerships, public relations, and online reputation management.
Yes, that is a lot! But you don’t have to do it all on your own. And bear in mind that a marketing plan should be a fluid document, with performance reported monthly and strategies adjusted as needed to optimize results. Be sure to keep informed on the latest marketing trends as well.
2. Identify your target markets
Rather than try to be all things to all people, it’s much more efficient to identify your target markets and focus your resources on attracting them.
To identify your target demographic, answer the following questions:
- Who are your ideal guests?
- What’s their purpose of travel?
- Where do they live?
- How do they find out about your property?
- Where do they book?
By grouping guests into market segments, you can tailor messaging to each group of your target audience and find other travelers who share similar characteristics.
3. Set a tone of voice and style for your brand
Another critical element of hotel marketing strategy is to have a clear, compelling description of your property’s brand, its positioning in the market, and what sets it apart from competitors. Are you a button-up boutique or a button-down B&B? Your brand should guide the tone of voice, style, and personality of all your marketing materials, from online marketing resources to print collateral and email marketing campaigns.
4. Build your hotel website
Unlike a static brochure, a website is a dynamic entity that should be updated regularly with fresh new content. This may include seasonal promotions, changes to Covid-19 policies, or information about upcoming events.
Today’s travelers expect hotel websites to be easy to navigate and formatted for any screen, with real-time rates and availability. If yours isn’t, it may be time to build a new website or add a commission-free booking engine. For inspiration, check out these stunning hotel website designs and templates.
5. Invest in professional photography
With today’s smartphone technology, virtually anyone can take impressive photos. That’s fine for social media, but for that crucial high-quality imagery that will make your property stand out as the best hotel choice, the images on your website, OTA listings, and collateral should be done by a professional photographer. Find candidates with lots of experience shooting hotel businesses, compare their portfolios, fees, and licensing terms, and commission a mix of lifestyle and architectural photos.
6. Drive website traffic with SEO
If you build it, will they come? Maybe some will, but to attract the high volume of visitors your website needs, you need to activate a variety of marketing channels. For organic (unpaid) traffic, a top priority is search engine optimization (SEO). SEO involves formatting website content with keywords, titles, descriptions, tags, and links to maximize visibility and rankings in search engines. SEO is best left for the pros, but if you want to try your own hand at it, this hotel SEO guide will get you started on the right track.
7. Leverage the power of content marketing
Another way to attract organic traffic is content marketing. For hoteliers, it can be as simple as posting information on your website or blog that helps travelers plan their trip and make the most of their in-destination experiences. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to find popular topics and questions and phrases users are searching for related to your destination. Afterward, promote your content through social media and email marketing.
Here are a few ideas for content:
- The best attractions, activities, events, and restaurants in your area
- Behind-the-scenes stories and videos from your property
- Interesting travel industry content that could attract potential guests
- Social media contests and incentives such as inviting people to post and tag photos or videos for a chance to win a free stay
8. Claim your Google Business profile
In addition to hotel websites and OTAs, a lot of traffic on Google is directed to Google Business Profiles (previously called Google My Business). Information from these profiles is also displayed in Google Search results, Maps, and hotel listings. So it’s vital to claim your free profile, optimize it with high-quality photos and information about your location, services, and amenities, and manage your Google reviews. And don’t forget to activate your free booking links as a way to get more visibility and direct traffic on your website.
9. Invest in search engine marketing and metasearch
Another critical part of the hotel digital marketing mix is paid media (SEM marketing). With a modest investment, you can compete with OTAs and big hotel brands to appear at the top of search results by bidding on highly targeted keywords via Google Ads or Google Hotel Ads. Metasearch marketing on platforms like Tripadvisor, Kayak, and Trivago can be especially effective at driving direct bookings. Learn more in this guide to Google Hotel Ads.
10. Leverage the power of social media marketing
Travelers love using social media to share trip experiences and discover new destinations. For hotel owners, Facebook and Instagram are low-cost channels for connecting with travelers and engaging guests with inspiring images, videos, reels, and stories. Create content that encourages sharing and use hashtags, contests, special offers, and paid ads to amplify your reach. Click here for more social media marketing ideas.
11. Try TikTok
With over one billion monthly active users, TikTok has taken the world by storm in recent years. Users post short videos that often feature music, dance, and entertainment, and popular videos can go viral across social media. While the app is especially popular with young people, its user base is growing across generations, and it can be a great way to showcase your property to potential customers in a fun and creative manner. Spend some time scrolling popular videos and then get out your smartphone and start experimenting.
12. Broaden your reach with influencer marketing
With their large, loyal followings, social media influencers can wield a lot of clouts when it comes to influencing behavior and impressions. For lodging operators in the hotel industry, influencers can help broaden your exposure and build your followings. While big influencers can be expensive to work with, many “micro-influencers” may be willing to promote your property in exchange for a free stay and meals. Look for influencers who specialize in travel and have highly engaged followings.
13. Keep top of mind with email marketing
Email marketing is a cost-efficient, highly targeted way to drive direct bookings and incremental revenue. Build your database by striving to collect email addresses from your hotel guests, along with permission to send promotional messages. Create special email offers and incentives to generate advance bookings, fill need dates, and convince OTA guests to book directly on their next stay. A pre-stay email can be a great way to increase your profitability by driving incremental revenue through upsells, activities, and restaurant reservations. More info in this guide to email marketing for hotels.
14. Try your hand at video marketing
With over 2.3 billion monthly users worldwide, YouTube is a powerful promotional channel that many hotels overlook or underutilize. And YouTube is just one of many popular video marketing channels that include Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. To seize the opportunities, create a YouTube channel for your property, and then be on the lookout for stories. When creating videos, pay special attention to lighting, perspective, sound, and after-effects to ensure your footage is compelling and professional.
15. Supercharge your guest reviews
Online reviews are the hotel marketer’s secret sauce for building traveler trust and increasing conversion rates. If your hotel, inn, or hostel isn’t managing online reputation on Google, Tripadvisor, OTAs, and other travel sites, you’re missing out on a rich source of user-generated content and social validation. Take a proactive approach by sending post-stay feedback requests to guests, resolving issues promptly, and designating members of your hotel management team to respond to reviews within three days.
16. Showcase your property with augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) heightens real-world environments by overlaying digital elements such as labels, icons, sounds, and links. Using AR technology, guests can explore a hotel room and property with their smartphone camera as messages pop up to alert them of special offers in the restaurant, bar, and retail outlets. Some of the big hotel brands are investing heavily in augmented reality. Small properties can get in on the action by exploring ways to incorporate AR into marketing activities and the guest experience.
17. Turn your guests into brand ambassadors
Happy guests can be a powerful sales & marketing force, but sometimes they need a little nudge to remind them to tell the world how fabulous your property is. This can come in the form of a post-stay email requesting an online review, a selfie spot on property encouraging guests to post photos on Instagram using your branded hashtag, or a request to a wedding couple for a testimonial on your website. The more you surprise and delight your guests, the more brand ambassadors you will recruit. Be sure to thank them for helping to spread the word.
18. Build partnerships with local businesses
We’re stronger together. By building partnerships with like-minded businesses, you can leverage your combined marketing power. This may involve collaborating with local activity operators to create special tour packages or negotiating special rates and discounts for guests with nearby restaurants, shops, florists, and transportation providers. Support partners with a write-up on your website and ask for reciprocal links.
19. Promote your destination
They say it’s about the journey, not the destination, but in hotel marketing it’s really about the destination. You can’t assume travelers have already chosen your destination when they visit your website; you need to sell the hotel and the destination. For help, join your local tourism association or destination management organization (DMO). DMOs often list members on their website and provide access to destination photos, videos, and visitor data, as well as opportunities to participate in regional promotions.
20. Create special offers during local events
Local events can attract a lot of overnight visitors to a destination, providing opportunities for accommodation operators to generate awareness and bookings. This may include festivals, concerts, sporting events, conferences, and seasonal events like spring break and winter holidays. Leverage events by flagging them on your marketing activity calendar, creating packages and promotions around events, listing upcoming events on your website, and talking them up on social media.
21. Launch a loyalty program for returning guests
Loyalty programs aren’t just for big hotel companies. Frequent guests are often the most profitable for all types and sizes of properties. Create a simple, cost-effective loyalty program to recognize your repeat guests with special perks, upgrades, and amenities. A good property management system will help identify frequent guests so you can put a plan in place for your staff to welcome them back and prioritize them for special privileges. Post-stay emails can be an effective way to promote your loyalty program and incentivize guests to keep coming back.
22. Target corporate guests with business services
These days, the line between business and leisure travel is increasingly blurred, as more remote workers, digital nomads, and workcationers check in to hotels for extended stays and mix work time with playtime. To target these types of travelers, advertise services important to them like high-speed wi-fi, spacious work areas, meeting rooms, special offers for extended stays, and discounts on food and beverage. By listing on the Global Distribution System (GDS), you will get your property in front of travel agents and corporate travel planners and can grow your business traveler base.
23. Use storytelling techniques
Great marketers don’t just list features and benefits, they weave them into compelling stories that grab attention and inspire action. Hotels are a rich resource for stories, and social media has created unprecedented platforms and audiences for sharing them. Stand out from competitors by using storytelling techniques and visual elements in your marketing materials to generate intrigue, excitement, and anticipation. Likewise, encourage guests to share their travel stories on review sites and social media.
24. Audit your hotel OTA profiles
When was the last time you reviewed your OTA listings? Content can go stale over time and from season to season, and that can have a direct impact on conversion rates. A smart OTA strategy involves more than managing rates and availability, it also includes ensuring OTA listings are always fully optimized with up-to-date photos, descriptions, amenity information, and traveler reviews. A channel manager will help streamline the process, allowing you to manage multiple distribution channels from one dashboard.
25. Offer a digital guide for guests
Help out your guests with navigating your property and the local area. You’ll do them a huge service by creating a local guide complete with answers to common questions about their stay and the local area. Include recommendations on things to do and places to eat and information on where to find basic services like a pharmacy, post office, and supermarket. To augment its functionality, you can post the guide on your website, forward it as a link or pdf in pre-stay emails, and include it in your hotel app or digital directory.
26. Promote sustainability
In a recent study by Virtuoso, 82% of people said the pandemic has made them want to travel more responsibly. You can help the planet and attract eco-conscious travelers by advertising your property’s eco-friendly practices on your website and in the guest directory. Encourage guests to participate in on-property programs to reduce waste, save energy, recycle, compost, and support the local community. Afterward, you can report progress on your blog and social media.
27. Create a PR plan
Public relations can be a highly effective way to amplify your property and brand, as well as reach travelers through articles, blogs, videos, and news. Create a PR plan outlining your objectives, the stories you wish to share, and the media outlets to approach. Make sure to include a plan for how performance will be evaluated. Consider working with a PR professional to leverage their expertise and contacts.
28. Use marketing tools
Take advantage of the vast array of tools available to help hotel marketers create efficiencies and track return on investment. Google offers a number of free tools for marketers, including Google Analytics and Keyword Planner.
Paid options range from email automation software to online reputation management tools, as well as software for social media management, video editing, and graphic design.
29. Adapt pricing strategy to seasonality
No matter how much travelers’ tastes and preferences may change, pricing will always be a primary factor in hotel booking decisions. To capture as many bookings as possible at the highest possible rates, make sure your revenue management strategy includes a dynamic pricing plan. This practice involves maintaining a flexible rate structure and adjusting pricing and stay restrictions in response to changes in internal demand, market conditions, and competitor activity. This strategy will help ensure you always offer the right rate to the right guests at the right time.
30. Elevate guest service with instant messaging
In the era of digital messaging, travelers aren’t willing to line up or wait on hold for answers to their questions. By maintaining an active presence on messaging channels like SMS, Messenger, and WhatsApp, hotels can elevate service by ensuring guests get the information they need when they need it. With automated replies and alert features, guests receive an instant response to queries even when employees are tied up. Learn more about guest messaging best practices and best tools today.
31. Use a website chat widget or chatbot
Website chat widgets are literally popping up everywhere online, and people are growing to expect them as a convenient way to interact with hotels. A chat widget can be a great way to engage visitors on your website, answer their questions, and nurture them along the booking process to nudge them toward making a direct booking. If you’re worried about employee availability, a chatbot can provide instant answers to common questions, freeing up staff to handle more complex tasks.
32. Create extras, packages, or add-ons
A great way to show value and generate incremental revenue is to bundle services into packages like meals, parking, gas, and activities. Offer a range of packages to appeal to different traveler types such as a bed-and-breakfast package, romance package, spa package, culinary package, and shopping package, as well as packages built around seasons, special events, and local experiences. Show value by including extras and add-ons such as free parking, room service discounts, and late checkout that aren’t offered by your competitors.
33. Offer branded welcome gifts
Travelers love take-home mementos of their trip experiences. By creating a branded welcome gift or amenity, you’ll remind them of their stay long after they’ve checked out and will encourage them to come back. Find a thoughtful gift that represents the quality of your property and conjures up memories of your destination. With a branded item like a hat, pen, or magnet, guests will be reminded of their trip every time they use it.
34. Engage in offline marketing to empower your brand
While most of the action in travel planning takes place online these days, don’t overlook opportunities to promote your property through offline marketing. Some examples include ad placements in print publications, billboard advertising, or event sponsorships. Just because people can’t “click” these ads doesn’t mean they aren’t making an impression.
35. Check out your competitors’ activity
Another essential but often neglected marketing strategy is to monitor competitor activity on a regular basis. Activities include comparing website information, reading reviews, and benchmarking pricing. Share your findings with your team and use them to ensure you’re always positioned where you should be and aren’t missing out on opportunities. Use a rate shopping tool to keep track of competitor rates and optimize your pricing to maximize revenue.
36. Get your employees involved
Last but not least, don’t overlook your biggest brand advocates: your employees. They know your hotel and your customers better than anyone. Many of them can help share your brand content and promotions. Encourage them to help spread the word by providing guidelines on content sharing, encouraging them to contribute marketing ideas, and recognizing them for receiving positive feedback from guests.
As you can see, there are a number of hotel marketing strategies you can use to gain more visibility, boost your brand, and get more bookings. See what you can get started on in-house and don’t be afraid to hire additional help to support and build upon your efforts. The results from your hotel marketing efforts should only grow over time.