By Nancy Huang
A hotel marketing plan is an important aspect of any property owner’s demand strategy. Without a plan in place, marketing initiatives can become forgotten and end up getting done last minute, or not at all.
A well-thought-out plan can save hoteliers a lot of stress and time throughout the year. And while it may seem complicated to put together, once the marketing fundamentals are in place it is simple to plan and maintain programs.
Read on for a review of hotel marketing essentials and tips on how to create your own plan. To get started with your plan, download our customizable template.
Why you should prioritize your hotel marketing plan
Simply put, without demand, there is no business. Marketing plays an important role in not only educating travelers about your property but also getting them to book through your hotel’s website.
Marketers often refer to the path that consumers follow when buying a product or service, or in this case booking a hotel stay, as the “purchase funnel” or “customer decision journey.” This process is made up of different phases and starts with an initial awareness phase before moving through to interest, consideration, intent, and evaluation.
As travelers do research for their trip, they look to a hotel’s website, social media channels, and other third-party outlets to gather information. Hoteliers have the chance to attract their attention through activities such as SEO, paid advertising, and email marketing.
But it doesn’t end there, McKinsey & Company suggests that the purchase journey is not funnel-shaped but circular, featuring a “loyalty loop” in which buyers who’ve had a positive experience go straight to repurchasing.
A strong presence on multiple channels, combined with an exceptional guest experience will help ensure that your property’s demand stays consistent and your direct booking rate increases.
The most important elements of hotel marketing
They say that ‘content is king,’ and this is especially true when it comes to hotel marketing. Marketing content can be divided into three main types, each of which serves a unique purpose in bringing attention to your property.
Paid Media: is content that you pay for through advertising or OTA listings. Paid media requires a chunk of your marketing budget, but can drive results fast. As the purchaser, you have high control over the messaging, but it tends to have low trust among travelers
Owned Media: is content that you create as part of your content marketing strategy, such as descriptions and imagery on your website, blogs, and posts on social media. Owned media contributes to your search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing strategy and is a long-term way to drive traffic to your website. As the owner, you have high control over the messaging, and it typically generates moderate trust among travelers.
Earned Media: is also referred to as user-generated content or content created by third parties, such as media coverage or online review sites like Tripadvisor. Potential guests often look to earned media to get an unbiased look at your property. You have low control over the messaging, but it generates a high trust factor among travelers.
For your hotel marketing strategy, you should strive for a balance of all three types of content in your promotional activities. For example, your website may feature descriptions and photos (owned media), along with a Tripadvisor review feed (earned media), combined with a listing on Airbnb (paid media).
Key marketing channels in the hospitality industry
Digital marketing has taken over the way people consume information today. Different demographics resonate more with different types of media, making it important for hotels to prioritize the channels that work best for their target audience.
For anyone in the hotel industry, here are the key online marketing channels to prioritize.
Your website and SEO.
The most important marketing effort to prioritize is designing a website that is appealing to travelers and optimized for search engines. Creating relevant pages with targeted keywords is important for ranking your website high in search engine result pages. Your website’s content should clearly communicate your property’s brand and positioning and include high-quality videos and pictures to give travelers a sense of place. The site should be easy to navigate and mobile-friendly. Be sure to include information for your different personas, for example, if your target audience is business travelers, then let them know about your free wifi and meeting rooms. Utilize Google Analytics to check the performance of your website and SEO efforts and make changes based on data.
Paid advertising can be expensive, however, it’s often the only guaranteed way to reach travelers online. Determining your goals ahead of time will help you decide which type of campaign to run. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Drive conversions? To make sure that you’re hitting your goals, closely monitor the results of your ad campaigns. Prioritize cost-per-click ads on Google and display ads on Facebook and Instagram. Test out different incentives and offers to get travelers to book direct. Make sure you update your property’s Google profiles such as Search, Maps, and Google My Business to ensure the best results.
Online reputation management.
Online reviews are an essential source of earned content and a powerful marketing tool for increasing hotel bookings. Five-star reviews help instill trust in travelers when it comes time to book. In addition to monitoring, responding to, and soliciting reviews on major review sites like Google and Tripadvisor, hotels should also manage their listing on these sites and other review directories.
Customer relationship management (CRM).
CRM is the process of building databases and guest profiles to personalize services. You can utilize information gathered through your booking engine to send personalized emails, and provide surprise and delight services during check-in. The best hotels are those that tailor their services to increase guest satisfaction and loyalty. To execute this strategy on a larger scale, create market segments out of your guest profiles and devise specific marketing messages for each group. Use marketing automation or CRM tools to send out these messages and offers.
Travelers like to share their trip experiences and find inspiration on social media. With a small investment of time, you can create marketing campaigns for Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube that engage a community of fans. Many travelers prefer to support local businesses, so make sure your social channels highlight your location and unique amenities. Track important metrics, such as engagement rates, to ensure that your time is being well spent. Use a social media management platform to manage posts and track results.
Public relations can be a rich source of earned content, reaching potential guests through stories in newspapers, magazines, travel websites, and other providers. Create partnerships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers to generate media coverage including articles, photos, and video content. Appearing in third-party publications can really help bring visibility to your hotel business.
The most effective digital marketing channels
While different channels work better depending on your target market, there is research showing clear overall winners. A 2021 survey from Skift asked travel companies to rate the following marketing channels from most to least effective. The top three channels were:
- Search search engine optimization (SEO) – 74%
- Paid search – 72%
- Social media advertising – 70%
Not surprisingly, the lowest-rated channels consisted of print newspaper (30%), radio (22%), and TV (12%). This shift to online channels should be an important consideration when drafting your hotel marketing plan.
5 steps to create a hotel marketing plan
Getting started can often be the hardest part. Below are five important steps to incorporate as you start your hotel marketing plan.
- Create a compelling brand. A marketer’s job is to bring a brand to life and make clear to travelers what they can expect while staying at your property. This includes building out everything from a name and logo to descriptions, imagery, and collateral. Make sure that your message is clear, compelling, and consistent across all channels.
- Highlight your key value propositions. What makes your property different from others? Why should a guest choose you? It is important to highlight your unique selling points or key features and benefits that will attract guests to your property. This could include anything from your location, style, ambiance, amenities, or reviews.
- Identify your target markets. It is important to know who your potential guests are and how to reach them. Ask yourself questions like where do they live? What do they share in common? Once you’ve identified who your ideal guests are, you can further segment them into groups, such as leisure or business travelers, or by geography, personas, demographics, or psychographic.
- Activate your channels. Knowing who your guests are will help you decide what channels you should be active on. Does your target market favor online travel agencies (OTAs) or social media? Do they primarily use smartphones or desktop computers? What is the best way to entice them to stay again? Identify your priority channels, set a budget for each, and invest in tools such as marketing automation to reach potential guests.
- Measure the results. To maximize ROI and reduce wasted dollars, closely monitor the results of your efforts. Pay attention to conversion rates, revenue, cost of acquisition, website visitor volume, cost-per-click, and email open rates. Over time, you’ll identify trends and can shift resources accordingly to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
If you have yet to create your property’s marketing plan for this year, it’s not too late to start. You know your property and guests’ behavior better than anyone, so start by brainstorming who you want to reach and how they consume information. From here, develop relevant and engaging content and distribute it across channels. Don’t be afraid to reach out to tech partners for support and to travel industry partners to explore opportunities for collaboration.