Category Archives: Content Writing

How Travelers View a Hotel’s Digital Experience

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We have discussed the role technology plays in the hospitality at length on the ResortsandLodges.com Business Blog, but the digital customer experience agency MCD Partners has taken this examination a step further.  They surveyed 1,000 American travelers about their views on the average hotel digital experience.

In particular, the agency breaks down digital experiences across three demographics:  Family, Leisure and Business travelers.

MCD presents four findings in their white paper, which is available to download here.  We will be discussing each finding in detail over the course of the next few days and let you know how you can incorporate these findings into your digital campaign.

Finding Number One:  Quality is King

For 70% of travelers surveyed, a hotel’s website and app influenced their decision to book a stay. Travelers often feel that a hotel’s digital offerings reflect what the experience will be like at the hotel itself.

Travelers were asked, “How much of an impact does the quality of the hotel’s website, app or other digital tools have on your decision to stay?”  These were the results:

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As you can see, quality digital tools play a moderate to strong role in the decision making process, regardless of demographic.  Family travelers in particular indicate that digital tools affect their hotel choice. One such traveler said, “If they take the time to have a great website, it tells me they will take the time to make sure I have a great travel experience.”

How This Applies to Your Website

You do not have to break your marketing budget trying to create a state-of-the-art website that is more confusing than effective.  At the same time, you do not want a website to look like it was constructed in the 1990’s.

Here are three things to keep in mind with your brand.com website, apps and other digital tools:

1) Functionality is the key – Make sure your website is easily navigable and that travelers can get to your booking platform with the least number of clicks possible.  Make sure your images look professional, or that you have a nice blend of guest submissions with your professional photos.

2) Mobile responsiveness across all devices  – Your standard website may not appear the same way on a mobile device as it does on a standard desktop or laptop computer.  Make sure your site is coded to be responsive to fit a wide variety of screens including tablets and smartphones.  That way travelers on-the-go will be able to use your site wherever they are.

3) Mobile apps are great…BUT – They are useless if the app does not work.  Many companies release their applications without beta testing them, leading to mixed results.  If you have to make a decision between releasing your app early, or ensuring it is the best tool possible, delay the release and get the bugs out.

Optimizing Your Hotel Distribution Strategy

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2013 was a year full of tremendous growth within online distribution in the travel industry with meta-search engines, mobile bookings and social media all taking significant steps forward.  However, hoteliers expecting similarly massive changes in 2014 may be in for a surprise.

While new technology and platforms of distribution may emerge suddenly, the overall distribution strategies should still be based on the channels that offer measurable ROI.  Understanding the intricacies of each of the following channels is essential in developing a strategy that will be unique to your hotel.

Mobile and Same-Day Bookings

In the multi-channel travel space, mobile has become a major player.  Mobile bookings doubled from 2012 ($6 billion) to 2013 ($12.3 billion), and that trend is expected to continue in 2014 with experts at PhoCusWright forecasting $24.3 billion in bookings made from these devices.  In all, about $1 out of every $12 in travel bookings will be generated via mobile.

A rise in mobile users appears to be influencing business strategy and changing customer behavior.  A recent Hotel Business Review infographic showed that 65% of travelers choose their mobile phone for same day hotel bookings.

Mobile applications will allow you to engage a greater number of potential customers and may allow you to increase your same day booking potential without falling pretty to heavy discounting in an attempt to garner these “spur of the moment” travelers.

OTAs

Whether you hate them, or love them, Online Travel Agencies appear to be here to stay.  These oversized companies have seemingly limitless resources that make them effective in reaching out to customers, often times in markets that hoteliers may find difficult to penetrate.  Along with these positives, third party channels and other travel intermediaries are quick to adopt emerging opportunities to stay ahead of the market.

Although these channels may be among your least profitable thanks to outrageous commission fees (market averages range from 15 to 25%), they offer visibility and exposure like no other platform.  The key in using OTAs is maximizing your revenue potential with room rates (i.e. selling lower rates to OTAs with lower commission rates, thus making these rooms more desirable).

Meta-Search Engines

On the surface, meta-search engines appear to be the perfect channel for distribution of your available rooms.  The concept is simple – meta-search sites neutrally compare various travel sites and other sources to give travelers the best overview results of their requested search.

However, meta-search engines add an additional level of complexity to the system with a keyword bidding system.  Essentially, these sites control the ranking of OTA and hotel websites within the hotel search results based on the value of bids each website has paid for the search keywords.

Larger OTAs have an advantage in this particular arena thanks to larger marketing budgets that allow them to outbid independent hotels and other properties.  If you want to go the meta-search path, it will be important to invest time and resources in understanding the bid management process, or finding an intermediary that can do the keyword bidding for you.

Because of this modified pay-per-click model, you must evaluate the strength of meta-search sites as a traffic source and monitor the click-to-book ratio generated from it.  If not used properly, these meta-search engines could be more costly than helpful to your site.

Direct Online Booking

In a perfect world, you would be generating all of your bookings and filling all of your availability through your brand.com website.  Flashing back to reality, there is only one way to increase bookings on your own site: driving traffic to (YourBrandHere).com.

How do you drive traffic to your website?  Try the following techniques.

1) Make sure your site layout is simple and user-friendly with logical navigation that allows guests to make bookings in just a few clicks.

2) Visual content is always a plus.  Highlight your unique accommodations and use images to share a story of what a traveler can experience when they stay with you.

3) SEO management is a key to showing up on results pages for major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing!  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but keyword-heavy content is king when gaining customers on the internet.

4) Using Google Analytics, or other analytics software, allows you to see where your site traffic is coming from.  This will help you to develop customized marketing plans to attract these guests.

By effectively using some combination of these distribution channels, or all four of them if your property can afford it, you can optimize your online distribution strategy and fill your availability in 2014.

Your Website: An Online Dating Profile for Travelers

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With Valentine’s Day upon us and love in the air, it is time to talk about hearts and Cupid.  Well…maybe not Cupid, but we will talk about hearts, specifically the heartbeat of your eMarketing program:  your website.

Because travelers research hotels in a variety of ways, it is important to place the correct content in the correct medium, whether that is online through your website, on social media channels or on mobile devices.  To show customers and potential guests that you care and want their business, hotel marketers need to learn how to romance these potential travelers with appealing and relevant content.

A recent HotelMarketing article, written by DJ Vallauri, compares setting up a hotel website to setting up a dating profile.  This is the channel that will tell prospective guests everything you want them to know about you.  It is important to know what your potential “suitors” are looking for, so here is a list of five things your dating profile should include to help garner the most potential “dates”.

Make Sure Your Content is “Fresh”

Fresh content does not mean tweaking the copy you use for social media, and placing it on your website as well.  Your site needs to look its best in order to attract the most prospects.  Make sure your services and amenities are up to date, and give other tempting tidbits to keep travelers away from the generic OTA sites.

Widgets are Useful and Helpful Interactive Tools

Attaching widgets to your website that link to various social media outlets allows travelers to connect with other individuals who have already visited your property.  They also can add some additional interaction between your site and potential guests.  One recent trend is offering a live chat widget, which allows travelers to connect to your property in real-time, although social media channels can be used in the same capacity.

Make Sure Your Mobile Website is User-Friendly

Based on consumer demand and the prediction that there will be more mobile users accessing the internet this year than desktop users, extra attention needs to be placed on the mobile web.  The latest responsive design technologies adapt website content to a variety of screens making them easily viewable across whichever device travelers prefer to use.

Make Sure Your Social Media Content Matches the Social Media Channel

We have consistently discussed the importance of using social media channels to attract a greater following for your property, but truly reaching prospective customers requires hoteliers to respect the context of each platform.

Users of each social media platform are different, and they like to be communicated to in the context of their social media platform.  You will not be effective in communicating to Instagram or Pinterest (photo-based platforms) users with a lot of wordy content.  Effective online marketing is about using all the tools available to reach and engage with potential customers wherever they are online.

Storytelling is a Great Way to Connect

Build an experience for a guest, and you may be able to build loyalty and future business opportunities.  Use video resources to give potential travelers a tour of your property, or to showcase annual events that draw large numbers of visitors.  Give your potential guests a typical experience, whether overnight or extended, they can expect when they stay with you.

Guest Acquisition: E-mail vs. Social Media

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I cannot go a day without seeing a social media-driven article on many of the top hospitality and travel marketing websites.  Social media is everywhere and plays an important role in your marketing campaign, helping you connect with potential travelers.

With that being said, is social media the most effective marketing tool available, or should you stick with more traditional options like e-mail?

A recent study by predictive analytics firm Custora discovered that customer acquisition via e-mail has quadrupled in the last four years and now accounts for almost seven percent of customer acquisitions.  The study also found that organic search is the most powerful acquisition channel, accounting for 16 percent of customers acquired.  Despite substantial recent growth in social media channels, Facebook and Twitter lag far behind in customer acquisition.

Custora’s data also gave some insight into Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), which refers to the future profit a company expects to earn from a customer throughout his or her relationship with the business.  Similar to the customer acquisition model, organic search lead the way with a CLV of 54% higher than average.  Twitter ranked dead last in this category with the lowest-value customers (23% less than average).

E-mail may not have some of the flash and pizzazz of social media, but it’s a medium that generates revenue.  Whereas Facebook, the highest-ranking social media platform in CLV, ranks at 1% above average, e-mail has a level of 11%.  Simply put, customers who come to businesses through e-mail tend to shop more and spend more.

Social media is at its most effective when it is used as a customer engagement tool.  It can be a two-way communication line between a company and potential customers.  Twitter is typically used to relate breaking news and deals, while Facebook users usually want to increase their contact with a brand.

Mobile Plays a Role

One reason why e-mail is so effective is the fact that it is permission-based.  Customers typically have to opt-in to start receiving e-mails.  Moreover, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, they are always listening.  In fact, e-mail is the top activity for most people on their phones.

People check e-mail constantly, wherever they are, and that enables you to stay connected with them.  However, people who read their e-mail on a mobile device do so quickly, meaning your messages must be powerful enough to grab their attention.

For all of its positive aspects, mobile also offers some drawbacks for marketers.  Forty percent of all e-mails are now viewed on smartphones, which means they must be coded to be attractive on a phone screen.  If your message looks bad on a mobile device, 70% of customers will unsubscribe from your e-mails.

Using YouTube to Generate Bookings

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Content may be king of the marketing world, but the modern consumer is less interested in text-based advertisements and more interested in video.

The video content site YouTube claims to host more than one billion unique user visits to its website each month.  These one billion viewers spend more than six billion hours watching videos.  These numbers may seem astounding and nearly incomprehensible, but it follows the trend of a tech-savvy population looking for the quickest and easiest way to digest information.

Nielsen, a company known for producing television ratings, has noted that YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18-34 than any cable network.  Seeing that this age group, commonly referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, will become the core customer within the hospitality and travel industries over the next five to 10 years, it is important to understand the best way to reach them.

If these numbers are accurate and video marketing is the key to attracting attention of hospitality’s largest audience going forward, why is video so underutilized today?

According to DJ Vallauri, Founder and President of Lodging Interactive, hoteliers simply “need guidance as to how to create videos for search engine marketing and guest engagement.”

Marketers must continue the evolution from keyword proficiency, to content-driven marketing that helped maximize search results for websites.  Now similar practices will be required to optimize video.

Valluri believes that the best way of turning lookers into bookers is found in delivering creative, yet relevant, content that informs and entertains travelers and prospective guests, and there is no better vehicle to do that than video.

Why is Video Effective?

“Authentic, compelling and informative video content will entice travelers and convey a hotel’s unique experiences to online visitors,” said Valluri.  “A video embedded on the homepage of a hotel’s website and also uploaded to YouTube and the other leading social media channels can be what sets your property apart from other destinations.  Video conveys visual and emotional touch points which are present in almost every travel offering, and that is what drives bookings.”

Facts and Stats About Video

-Bookings are 67% more likely to happen when a video tour of your property is available.

-Internet shoppers who view your video are 89% more likely to book.

-Google purchased YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion when the video site was only a year old.

-Both Google and YouTube offer tools such as “Google Trends” and “YouTube Videos Keyword Tool” to help hoteliers identify keywords to use in video titles.

– When it comes to engagement, Comscore says online video is 5.33 times more effective than text, and, site visitors who view video stay two minutes longer on average and are 64% closer to purchase.

Three Keys for Effective Video Marketing in the Hospitality Industry

1) Increase Awareness

2) Generate Buzz

3) Boost Bookings

To read more about the role of video marketing going forward, click here.

The State of the Online Travel Industry in 2014

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State of Digital recently released a Travel 360 report after collating the viewpoints and analysis of experts, thought leaders and key commercial players of both the hospitality and travel industries.  The report aims to act as a marker of the level of integration between travel brands and the various online channels within digital marketing.

The key trend throughout this report is the idea that companies must be able to adapt their business and marketing models in an attempt to future-proof their businesses.  Facilitating ongoing relationships and interactions with travel consumers has now become critical to survival.

The following are seven key points highlighted in this report that you should keep in mind going forward.  They address challenges facing businesses today, and the holistic approaches and angles that will provide real value, strategy and insight to your brand.

1) Communicating a holistic brand message, consistently across all channels, is now very important to a brand’s long-term prospects.  Consistency is crucial when planning your marketing strategy.  It is important that your message is the same whether consumers see it on your website, in e-mail blasts, on a mobile site or from a third party site (OTAs, vertical marketing sites, metasearch engines, etc.)

2) Brands need to install a startup culture and nurture a digital experience that runs through the business.  Word of mouth is a great way of advertising to dozens of people, but those numbers will not sustain your business over the long haul.  “Rewriting the rule book” should not be seen as a negative experience, but rather as growing with the always-changing digital landscape.

3) Storytelling helps the digital travel industry to get the right customers in the right way.  Honest, authoritative and local content, infused with quality storytelling is the future of travel content.  The millennial generation is looking for a unique experience when planning a getaway.  Capturing that audience by telling your own unique story will be an important marketing tool going forward.

4) Storytelling, marketing, PR and outstanding content will inspire loyalty and provide long-term success to a brand.    Brand loyalty has recently taken a step back to deals when consumers are planning to travel.  Re-establishing brand loyalty with quality content and marketing is a key to survival in the future.

5) There is going to be an increasing trend towards personalization and the creation of more unique experiences.  As noted earlier, this is precisely what a new generation of traveler is looking for.  Millennials are willing to spend the money if they believe their experience will be unique

6) Mobile is the biggest growth area in terms of sales.   Recent projections by PhoCusWright predict that U.S. mobile bookings will almost double in 2014 to $24.3 billion, up from $12.3 billion in 2013.

7) Mobile has led to the rise of the ‘always connected traveler’ and the possibility of in-experience interactions with brands.  Social media allows guests to provide feedback and interact with a company in a way that has nearly usurped the role of the on-site concierge.  Travelers use their mobile devices for everything from getting directions to their accommodations, to finding a restaurant or tourist attraction during their stay.

To download and read the full State of Digital Travel 360 report, click here.

Finding the Right Balance with Facebook Posts

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Too much of a good thing can be negative.  It goes without saying that you have heard a rendition of this phrase at some point during your life, but did you ever think it would apply to your social media account?  According to data accumulated from 2,121 resort and hotel Facebook pages by InsideFacebook.com, there is such a thing as too much of arguably the world’s most popular social media platform.

On average, hotels post on Facebook 32 times per month.  This is broken down into the following categories:

-1.9 links

-27.8 photos

-1 status update

-1.6 videos

Some top hotels including the MGM Grand, Aria or Sierra-At-Tahoe average more than 50 posts per month in an attempt to drive high interactions.  However, increasing the number of posts does not automatically guarantee that interaction.

If approximately 86% of your posts are images, links and videos, you have to ensure that the content you are creating is meaningful.  Showing the same picture once every three or four days is not going to do a lot to capture a new audience, and may make it difficult to retain loyal customers.

Posting 30-50 times in a month will provide your followers with a steady stream of information that they can easily digest without overwhelming them, but this is not the policy for all hotels.  Some companies are posting close to 30 times per day, and have only one-sixth of the engagement of some of their competitors.  That means your followers are being buffeted with nearly 1,000 posts per month, far too many to actually track and follow for the typical consumer.

The “sweet spot” for number of daily Facebook posts is somewhere between three and seven posts per day.

To learn more about what types of posts garner the most customer feedback (likes, comments and shares), click here.

Getting the Most out of Deals and Promotions

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A great way for a company to focus on strengthening its awareness and garnering more followers on social media is to advertise deals and promotions.  Initiatives like this can be a push for short-term tactical sales growth.  They can also strengthen a major strategic message or unique selling proposition (USP), or simply raise awareness.  However, it is also important to deliver a high-quality experience with these deals and packages.

Carol Cork, the marketing director of PrivateFly.com believes that “Travel marketing is about experiences, more than just travel – there is a need to be disruptive and different.”  A successful digital travel marketing approach is to connect the brand with the reasons that customers travel.

PrivateFly.com combined strong content marketing and a partnership with Ski Verbier to create an amazing, all-inclusive ski experience promotion for the discerning skier.  Cork explains that it is not about selling a ski holiday.  Rather, it is about connecting the PrivateFly brand with target customers’ lifestyles and making it relevant and desirable.

Be Prepared

Here are a few things to keep an eye on when creating promotions:

-When finalizing a promotion, make the decision whether the campaign is a brand-building exercise or commercially driven.

-Offer travelers opportunities to buy an attractive value product while accounting for extra capacity.

-Underline the brand position/message while coming up with an attractive deal.  Some examples of this include find the lowest prices and smooth ways to confirm a booking.

-Target new customers, meet their current needs and match their propensity to buy.

Do’s and Don’ts of a New Marketing Campaign

Do:  Involve the team.  Marketing ideas and energy should be encouraged as widely as possible.  Members of a sales team, development team or finance team provide a vision not considered by a marketing team member.

Do:  Have a commercial lens.  It is important not to prize speed and agility over commercial success.  Create a criteria checklist to make sure your marketing campaign fits your target market.

Don’t:  Plan too far ahead.  Companies used to plan annual or semi-annual campaigns.  Now it is more about quarterly planning and a consistent flow of daily and weekly ideas.

Don’t:  Assume things are working when they are not.

 Some Tips for an Appropriate Communication Plan:

1) Deliver a message that is easy to understand.

2) Make the proposition an attractive one (whether financial or tangible).

3) Be relevant with the theme and content.

4) Ensure uniformity in communication across media channels and platforms.

5) Do not come across as just another deal or promotion.

Combining Business Needs with the Right Rewards

One thing that should always be considered when planning a deal or promotion is seasonality.  Campaigns should be worked out considering occupancy level, and key calendar dates; the validity of the period is always important.

When talking about rewarding customers, there always needs to be an element of benefit for the consumer.  This could be in the form of monetary saving or included amenity.  Overall, sustaining a structural approach to the execution of a campaign is crucial to remain feasible in operations.