By Jennifer Rodrigues
When it comes down to it, every hotel offers the same thing—a place for travelers to use as their “home away from home” while on vacation or business. Certainly, some offer bigger accommodations, more luxurious amenities and state-of-the-art technology, but offering these things doesn’t ensure a property’s success.
There are two major components to a successful hotel operation. The first is creating an overall positive experience for hotel guests. From attention-to-detail and cleanliness, to the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, even the smallest touch can make a huge impact – good or bad – by creating a comfortable and welcoming environment that will leave guests wanting to come back again. The second—and just as important—is a solid public relations and marketing plan, because let’s face it, no matter how top-notch your hotel’s service is, people have to know about your hotel before they book.
These “visibility” strategies are particularly important for small, independent hotels because, while many of them provide phenomenal vacation experiences—in fact, some of my most memorable vacations have included staying in lovely B&Bs and unique boutique properties—these hotels don’t often have the luxury of being associated with a well-known brand – and the marketing machine that goes along with it.
Read on to see some out-of-the-marketing-box ideas for creating some noise about your property.
PhoCusWright, a leading travel research company, found that smartphone owners are often frequent travelers. Its most recent consumer technology survey, released in May 2010, showed that people who take more than four leisure trips annually are more likely to have a smartphone. It’s smart business, therefore, to give these tech-savvy, frequent travelers options to research and book their next hotel stay – from the convenience of their smartphone. Clever operators offer not only a website for their hotel, but a mobile booking website that works around the restrictions of the mobile internet. As well, hotels should list their properties on as many OTAs with a mobile presence as possible in order to get as many mobile bookings as possible.
Another excellent way to reach customers on their mobile phones is through mobile marketing: SMS (text messages), MMS (multimedia messages) and increasingly rich media, like video. Mobile messages can take the form of news, or property updates, to mobile coupons, time-sensitive offers, birthday specials to reminder messages. The only restriction to what you send to your guests’ phone is your imagination!
One message that is especially effective at driving hotel bookings is the mobile coupon. Mobile coupons can be stored and carried in any phone, and have a much higher redemption rates than paper or e-coupons because they are not forgotten, or left at home. Mobile coupons enable hotels to reach customers at precisely the right time, like sending an offer for a discount off a hotel stay just before the start of summer vacation season or an event reminder and mobile coupon if there is an event or attraction taking place nearby.
Yes, there’s an app for that
Additionally, mobile applications—available for use on different smart phones like Blackberries, iPhones and Androids—can make it faster for consumer to find out about your hotel. Presence on apps like Google Maps and Yellow Pages can give consumers access to the exact location and contact information to your property, while apps like Yelp allow customers to rate your establishment and provide first-hand reviews of their experience.
Another mobile app, Foursquare, is a location-based social application that allows users to publicly “check-in” into a number of locations, including hotels. “Checking-in” enables a Foursquare user’s followers to see these locations and find out about places they want to visit. Additionally, many businesses are using Foursquare as a marketing tool by rewarding visitors who “check-in” with special coupons and rewards. Hundreds of similar apps are being created every day, and they offer your property a way to earn recognition and reputation among the app’s users.
And if you can’t find an app that suits the message that you’re trying to deliver, then make your own! In May 2009, Apple’s App Store listed more than 2,000 travel applications, making travel the fifth-largest category. Creating a personalized app a great way for hotels to generate buzz and even earn a small income off of the sale of the app.
Give Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse
While engaging in social media can be a very effective way of reaching out to existing and potential clients—and it could likely be the type of marketing hotels are putting most of their efforts towards at the moment—it’s not the only online medium hotels are using as a way to entice consumers.
Everyone loves a great deal. That’s why it’s only logical for a hotel to grow their business by continually offering packages with attractive rate discounts; and added values like free breakfast, resort credits, complimentary spa treatments or tickets to a local event or attraction. Vacation packages can be offered for a limited during the holiday season, during a special event, or any time in between. And the more creative a package, the more enticing it becomes.
For example, a number of hotels in Hong Kong are offering special packages during the city’s Wine and Dine Month, which takes place October 28-November 30, 2010. These properties, which include the Cosmopolitan Hotel Hong Kong, Shamrock Hotel, and Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees, among others, are not only advertising these deals on their own websites, but are listed on the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Month site, allowing for a greater number of opportunities to be recognized among potential customers.
Meanwhile, hotels like the Grand Hyatt Tokyo are using similar tactics. The hotel’s “Explore Local Discovery” package includes full breakfast and tickets to the nearby Mori Art Museum. These added perks make Grand Hyatt Tokyo stand out among its competition. As a result, customers shopping for hotels in Tokyo are now more likely to book at this property rather than one that doesn’t offer any extras with their reservation – even if it does cost a little more.
Letting travel agents know about these packages is also another significant way to generate noise and interest in your property, especially if there are added incentives for agents. These could be anything from bonus commissions with every booking, to winning a prize after booking a certain number of client reservations at your hotel, or free stays.
Involving the Media
While online marketing and social media are two ways of getting media to know more about your hotel, it is important to utilize public relations strategies to bring media attention to your property—especially if it’s a smaller hotel. A great way to do this is by holding media gatherings and trips, commonly known as FAM tours – familiarization tours. This allows influential editors and journalists an opportunity to visit your property—whether for a few hours or a few days— and get a first-hand experience. As a result, your hotel could be featured in a number of newspapers, travel magazines, websites, guidebooks and television segments.
To avoid any possible pitfalls, however, make sure that you have a solid plan when putting together any media event or presentation. Using an experienced public relations team is important when planning these types of trips, because it’s important that your property’s first impression to media is very important.
Making Your Hotel Shine Among Celebrities
We’ve all done it, walked through a hotel and became a little giddy at photos of celebrities who have stayed or visited the hotel or restaurant. The truth is many people love to feel associated with the rich and famous and by hosting events like celebrity birthday parties, celebrity charity events, or by acting as a sponsor for big concerts and sporting events, your hotel can gain valuable recognition among celebrity clientele, as well as gain valuable media visibility.
The Mira Hotel in Hong Kong recently used this marketing strategy when they had American singing sensation Katie Perry perform at the hotel’s grand opening. Not only did this marketing strategy generate a lot of media attention, it also put the property on the radar of Katie Perry and music fans, planting the seed for future bookings at this hotel.
And let’s not forget about the current obsession with celebrity chefs, or even DJs. Many hotels are bringing in celebrity chefs and well-known DJs to raise the profile of their properties, and elevate their “celebrity status”. The Mira Hotel in Hong Kong also used this strategy with great success when it recruited celebrity chef William Giard to run its signature restaurant.
Last but not least, Private-Sale Websites
Another fairly recent phenomenon in the hotel marketing world is private-sale websites like Jetsetter, Gilt and Vacationist. These websites allow hotels to sell their leftover inventory for a limited time and at an attractively discounted rate to the websites’ members. These websites have developed huge followings and give hotels the opportunity to increase occupancy during slower periods, while attracting a new clientele base that may spend more on non-room related items, such as food, beverage, spa and concierge services.
Creating a buzz about your hotel is possible, no matter the size of the property. What’s important, especially for smaller properties, is to use a combination of PR, marketing and social media strategies to ensure that you are gaining exposure and creating buzz through as many channels as possible. True “buzz” is created by reaching the same audience in multiple sources with multiple messages, so by ensuring that you’re using all strategies, you’ll find that the buzz soon turns into a deafening roar of new business.
About Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Development Manager with ThinkInk and TravelInk’d, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division, TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise and meeting/event sectors. For more information on TravelInk’d, please visit www.travelinkd.com or contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more news about PR and marketing in the travel industry, follow TravelInk’d on Twitter @TravelInkd and visit the TravelInk’d Facebook Fan Page.