In the third episode of the classic BBC2 comedy series “Fawlty Towers,” hotelier and protagonist Basil Fawlty tells one guest, “I’m trying to run a hotel here. Have you any idea of how much [work] there is to do?” And that was decades ago, before online bookings, Airbnb rentals and social media platforms even existed.
Were he real and doing business today, Fawlty would have needed a full-fledged digital marketing strategy just to let prospective guests know what kind of experience they could expect when staying at his Torquay hotel.
A hotel’s website, online presence and content marketing campaigns are all pivotal in differentiating its particular amenities from those of many other seemingly similar venues.
Hotel digital marketing 101: Why it’s essential and what it looks like
So what do prospective guests prioritize when booking a hotel room?
Location and price are considerations that even the absent-minded Fawlty or Hotels.com’s own Captain Obvious would recognize as important, but they’re not everything.
Loyalty rewards and incentives, staff friendliness and multichannel communications options (e.g., being able to text or email with a hotel about a reservation) are also key differentiators.
Hotels try to convey these granular advantages, along with the current promos and unique experiences they offer, through their digital marketing efforts, which range from website ads and calls-to-action (CTAs), to more detailed content such as blogs and even short films.
Indeed, such multichannel digital marketing is essential in the modern hospitality industry, as consumers now perform most of their hotel research and bookings via the internet.
TrekkSoft’s Travel Reports 2019 found that two-thirds (66.7%) of hotel stays were reserved via direct online bookings, with the rest coming from agents and affiliates (24.3%) and online travel agencies such as Viator and Expedia (9.1%).
Hotels have plenty of good options for telling their compelling brand stories, especially ones that revolve around the unique experiences they offer and fuel conversions on their websites and in all-important booking engines.
Let’s look at a few basic examples of current marketing trends that hotels are following to fuel brand awareness and drive revenue, starting with something relatively straightforward and simple – running ads – and working our way up to more sophisticated assets.
Display and search ads
Like organizations in most industries, hotels run digital ads to build their online presence and boost conversions.
This banner ad on TripAdvisor is typical, with its aspirational imagery, urgency (“best rates of the season,” “must book by July 31”) and actionable booking button.
Free email platforms such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail are also common venues for ads that work well in tandem with email marketing campaigns:
Search ads, also commonly referred to as paid search or PPC, are more advanced, in that they are contained in their own specialized cards or sections within search engines such as Google and DuckDuckGo.
A search for “Miami hotels” will return a listing of multiple locations, complete with reviews and map pins, as in this result from DuckDuckGo in partnership with Apple Maps and Yelp:
Each listing can be clicked to see a phone number and other contact info.
Ads are particularly useful for alerting shoppers to a hotel’s existence while they browse the numerous listings in an online marketplace. On their own, though, they are far from sufficient for sustaining a successful marketing campaign.
Ads have low click-through rates – far less than 1% for display ads across the industry as a whole, and only a bit better for paid search. Plus, they don’t tell consumers much about what they can expect from a particular hotel in terms of its perks and experience.
- Ads help raise awareness, both on search engines where there’s high purchase intent and on affiliate sites via display networks.
- Click-through rates are low in the hospitality industry, however.
Blogs and content marketing
Giving guests more context and option differentiation as they decide where to book requires more sophisticated types of content.
The online Four Seasons Magazine from the Four Seasons chain is a prime example of going deeper on what sets a particular hotel apart:
This huge, dedicated content marketing site features an abundance of feature-length articles, in which real customers describe their experiences in locales where they also stayed at a Four Seasons hotel.
While the site has a glossy and premium feel to it, it also smartly integrates CTAs that encourage bookings without seeming too heavy-handed, such as the “Check Rates” button on the home page or this “Check Rates & Availability” one that appears throughout the Hawaii article teased above:
Four Seasons’ efforts in creating this digital magazine show a commitment to cultivating a certain type of buyer, namely one seeking memorable experiences and not just nice or affordable accommodations.
The site’s design features many large high-quality photos and extensive guides (such as “How to unplug in Las Vegas”) that make it both a visually attractive and highly practical publication.
- A blog with a mix of photos and written content can provide a detailed look at what customers can expect at and near a particular hotel.
- While seeming noncommercial on the surface, the content still provides chances to work in CTAs that drive conversions.
Marriott conducted a similarly ambitious content marketing initiative, likewise focused on promoting the experience of staying at its locations rather than the price of doing so, with its “Two Bellmen Three” short film.
Starring Ki Hong Lee of “Maze Runner” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fame, this video marketing campaign was linked to the chain’s JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul location, where the short’s pivotal wedding sequence takes place. The film’s page on the Marriott site displays a Seoul city guide and a booking link next to the full embedded video.
Not every hotel marketing video has to be long-form, though.
Short spots are often very effective, too. This “day in the life” spot featuring the general manager of the Anantara Siam in Bangkok showcases everything from the hotel’s hallways to its pool, all set to music and a visual aesthetic that recall a Bond film:
- Video can provide a unique, in-depth look at hotel sites, a la a virtual tour or a series of testimonials.
- Both short- and long-form videos are potentially worth exploring.
More hotel marketing strategies that reliably convert leads
Digital ads, blogs and long-form videos show the enormous range of what’s possible in hotel digital marketing today.
Hotel brands often look to carve out their own niches by combining these approaches with each other and with additional strategies such as innovative rewards programs and hands-on engagement across social media platforms.
Loyalty campaigns: More than just points
With virtually infinite options out there for lodging, loyalty programs give hotels great opportunities to stand out from the competition.
Call-outs related to points-based enrollment and/or redemption are often among the first things a site visitor sees on many major hotels’ sites, such as this one from Hyatt:
Traditionally, rewards programs have been based on points accrual and redemption. However, their structures can be difficult to understand, making them frustrating to use. An Oracle Hospitality consumer survey found that many program participants thought it took too long to earn enough points for anything good.
In this context, some hotels have put a new spin on rewards with loyalty-focused marketing campaigns that communicate the value of their programs in straightforward language. For example, Wyndham redesigned Wyndham Rewards to include four distinct tiers, including an entry-level Blue Member status with immediate benefits including free Wi-Fi and no expiration of rollover nights – no points required!
To promote and explain the program, Wyndham shot a series of videos called Wyzard Wyzdom, starring a wizard played by “Game of Thrones” actor Kristofer Hivju.
In one of these videos, he notes how 15,000 points can be redeemed for a “magical free night” and provided some fun advice for packing luggage. There’s also a tip about how booking 2+ days in advance can earn 200 quick points.
- Hotel rewards programs can be frustrating to understand and use …
- … but creating simple tiers with immediate benefits can incentivize consumers to sign up.
- Exciting characters, a la the Wyndham Wyzard or Captain Obvious, are useful for explaining how rewards programs work and why they’re worthwhile.
Email marketing: Building and nurturing a list
Signing up for a hotel’s rewards program or securing one of its rooms via a booking engine usually requires an email address, not merely for confirmation but also as a seed for an email marketing campaign.
The hotel industry has honed its emailing practices into a fine art that incorporates exclusive offers, tips and other useful information alongside the more basic details about the customer’s stay.
This email from the St. Michaels Resort in Cornwall includes an enticing “special offer” price along with some beautiful imagery and granular details about amenities (“a hearty Cornish breakfast”):
More utilitarian and information-rich emails can also work.
This edition of Hotels.com’s newsletter is well-designed for several reasons:
- It provides easy access to the site’s “Secret Prices” for members.
- Its vertical design is well-optimized for mobile screens, and also provides a quick way to download the service’s app.
- It concisely explains the benefits of the rewards program.
Email marketing should begin with an easy way to sign up on the hotel’s site, like this option from W Hotels, which leads to a registration form requiring an email address and opting in by default to the chain’s email newsletters:
From there, make sure to write concise copy in the emails themselves, include images where appropriate and provide quick access to any details or promotions that recipients can easily take advantage of.
Personalization, like using the recipient’s first name and customizing email for their upcoming destinations, is essential, as is careful tracking of email campaign metrics.
- Email marketing has great synergy with rewards programs.
- Imagery and exclusive offers are important components of these email communications.
- Optimize for mobile screens and avoid large chunks of text if possible.
Social media: Rewarding loyalty and engaging influencers
Social media platforms give hotels a powerful set of tools for reaching large audiences with their digital marketing messages, as well as for engaging with customers.
Beyond standard profile pages and hashtag-driven campaigns, some hotels have gotten very creative and hands-on in how they use social media, as in this instance where the official Instagram account of The St. Regis Mexico City reached out to someone about their meal:
This shows how rewarding loyalty can take forms other than points redemption – in this case, an exclusive meeting with a mixologist.
Hotels have a keen interest in engaging with guests and travelers on social media, not only to respond to basic inquiries but also to conduct influencer marketing campaigns.
Having a prominent influencer stay at a particular location and post about it can be a much more effective ad for a hotel than a conventional piece of marketing.
Take this photo of influential travel blogger The Travelista staying at Brenners Park-Hotel and Spa:
View this post on Instagram
Waking up in Baden Baden at the beautiful @brennersparkhotel. I’ve known about this hotel for years and always thought it looked timeless and so elegant. Now I’ve been lucky enough to experience it for myself and tick it off my hotel bucket list. How amazing is this princess room? Do you have a bucket list of hotels that you dream of staying in? I’d love to know which ones are on your list 🇩🇪✨ #GermanySimplyInspiring #Spon
It’s a compelling image that says a lot about the hotel’s vibe without using any words.
At the same time, hotels have to be careful about which influencers they partner with, as some of them might not be able to provide enough qualified leads.
- Customized social media messages and responses offer unique ways to reward guest loyalty.
- Influencer marketing is an effective way to show what a hotel looks like and the clientele that stays at it.
- Hotels should conduct proper due diligence about audience suitability before working with specific influencers.
Leaving a lasting impression on hotel guests
The hospitality industry is highly competitive, with many choices that consumers may struggle to choose between without easy-to-follow marketing efforts to help inform their decision-making.
From digital ads to one-off influencer marketing campaigns, hotels should use multiple tactics within a strategy for engaging their current and potential customers.
The most engaged online hotel shoppers are also the least sensitive to price. In other words, providing a unique experience along with the marketing collateral that supports it is essential in driving revenue to a specific hotel location.
We hope these digital marketing examples and takeaways provide a great starting point as you think about how to leave a memorable impression on your guests.