Hotels that establish meaningful relationships with guests can maximize revenue opportunities and increase customer satisfaction, travel industry experts said during the Digital Marketing Strategy Conference, which was hosted by Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International in Manhattan last week. Here are some best practices panelists shared for using technology to engage with guests before, during, and after their stays.
Before They Arrive
Google’s industry head for travel, Tiffany Miller, said that during the pre-booking period, consumers visit 18 travel-related sites. “You have two and a half weeks to inspire the traveler to book your property,” she added. To make an impact, marketers should take creative approaches, like using celebrities or YouTube stars to boost engagement or allowing consumers to spread the message through self-generated videos.
Marketers have to stay on top of a sea of data, even as customer patterns change dramatically, added Jeremy Kressman, travel industry analyst for eMarketer. It’s important to look at the customer’s behavior before their last click to purchase, and then market accordingly, which can help in retargeting efforts.
In order to know every customer and shape every experience, hotels should consider creating an experience database where fragmented customer information can be aggregated, said Mark Floisand, vice president of product marketing for Sitecore, a customer experience management company.
With that single view of the customer in hand, hotels can make experiences more specific through each interaction, not only on the physical premises but during all the precursors to a guest’s stay, Floisand said. “It means you can deliver personalized, automated messages across touch points in a way that is manageable, scalable, and feels unique to each individual.”
Promoting on Property
Employee engagement has a direct impact on how customers perceive a hotel brand. Adele Gutman, vice president of sales, marketing, and revenue for the Library Hotel Group, said her four New York hotels consistently rank at or near the top on TripAdvisor because of how the staff treats guests on property. “When you transform your hotel from a commodity to a bucket list experience, every other marketing strategy will be successful,” she said.
To improve the overall guest experience, hotels should leverage their unique position as a supplier, said Bernard Ellis, vice president of industry strategy at Infor Hospitality, a software provider. “You know more about your property than anybody else, so you can maximize that with things like early check-in and late checkout, room type, food and beverage—all based on looking at the guest’s past preferences,” Ellis said.
David Menda, senior manager of mobile marketing for Marriott International, suggested hotels identify pain points that can be alleviated during a guest’s stay. To better engage with its loyal guests, Marriott uses iBeacon technology to send personalized offers and messages based on their location within the hotel.
Hotels can also turn guests into brand ambassadors on social media. “You can create Instagrammable moments all over the hotel so that guests are encouraged to share photos,” suggested Laura Begley Bloom, executive editor of Yahoo Travel.
Creating loyalty is key to post-stay initiatives, panelists conveyed. Tim Sullivan, president of Cendyn/ONE, a hotel internet marketing and sales solutions company, said loyalty members book at a 47 percent higher rate, stay with a brand 81 percent more often, and spend 164 percent more during their stays.
Heather Richer, vice president of revenue management and distribution at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, said Kimpton properties have an advantage in their focus on restaurants. “Customers eat at our restaurants when they stay with us but also when they’re at home,” Richer said, “so that gives us a chance to maintain contact with them.”
Barry Brown, regional director of sales and marketing for the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, said his team has taken post-stay marketing from being offer-based to soft messaging that gets customer to engage. “It’s not all about data, it’s about remaining engaged with the experience.”