7 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty

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Online hospitality is transforming into an industry defined by personalization, relevant content and the social experience travelers influence everyday. As this trend continues to unfold, it is becoming increasingly difficult to build brand loyalty. How do you win a customer over and keep them coming back time and time again, when the travel process starts earlier than it ever has, and is not over, even after booking and stay?

This is a dilemma that has been creeping up the alley of online hospitality marketers everywhere. Finding the right combination of social interaction, email marketing, promotional activities, etc. can be a fine line to walk. At the core of any successful business (or hotel in this case) is a loyal customer base. Customers are the primary factor in shaping the success of your hotel, resort, or lodge.

The question now becomes; how do we, as hotel marketers, build a customer base that is loyal, and remains that way for an amount of time that will prove to be profitable for our business? In a recent white paper released by Maxymiser, 7 primary ways to build a loyal customer base were revealed. Let’s take a look at each one, and explain the significance of each as it pertains to your business.

1. Ensure a Quality Experience – It is important to recognize that customers attitudes are shifting. What was once a market dominated by the best value, or lowest price, is (and really, already has) shifted to a market in which buyers are looking for an experience that will set one resort apart from another. When you are attempting to lay the foundation for a loyal customer base, keep in mind that travelers are looking for that once in a lifetime experience, that little something that makes their stay different from anywhere else.

2. Increased Ancillary Sales – Depending on the size of your hotel, ancillary revenue will obviously shift one way or the other. The tricky intersection of when and how to offer ancillary value to the traveler is one that hotel owners and GM’s have played with for years. When you are thinking of how to adopt a loyal customer base, think “Timing and Description.” It is important to offer an ancillary opportunity to the traveler at the right moment, as well as very clearly depict what exactly is being offered.

3. Personalization – According to data from Google, 83% of leisure travelers, and another 76% of business travelers now plan their travel online. The planning process includes anything from reviews, to price points, social media to video and visual assets. Because the road to selection is so clouted with variables, personalization becomes extremely important. The key to personalization is ensuring that the process begins in the earliest phases (research) and continues through the travel journey, concluding with personalized follow up, post trip.

4. Transform the Experience – Personalization can be thought of as points similar to what is explained above. However it can also be thought of as transforming an online experience to make the message more personal to the traveler, and enhancing the likelihood of purchasing. For example, a common message on several hotel sites is a “no availability” pop up of sorts, often times on the event calendar or booking engine. A simple way to improve this message, and make it a positive for the traveler is to add in something like “here are some other available dates that you may find helpful,” or something equating to a message of that nature in an attempt to squash any discouragement.

5. Ratings & Reviews – The always important and heavily relied on online reviews are a sure shot way to build a loyal customer base. Hotels with reviews are viewed as more credible in the eyes of the consumer. More credible sources typically have a higher rate of conversion and a more loyal customer base.

6. Leverage Social Media – According to independent research, one out of every four travelers uses social media to research and plan their vacation. Furthermore, a Forbes study of Facebook users revealed that 50% of travelers were “influenced” by seeing friends pictures of travel on Facebook. So what does this mean for your social media efforts? Billions of users scroll the pages of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more, everyday. It is important to have an understanding of your customer base and reach out to them in ways that connect to them on a personal level – if you are a family resort and your Facebook audience is comprised of families who have stayed with you before, put out relevant offers, offer special savings to your fans, etc.

7. The Mobile World – Development across the mobile platform has reached new heights in the previous months. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become more widely used than the everyday computer. Consumers are on the go. Plain and simple. In fact, tablet use is projected to spike by 180% in the next year alone. If you are a hotel marketer, this is big news. It is extremely important that your website is responsive – fits to exact screen sizes across multiple devices. Why is this so important? Failure to run a responsive site means that your messages, visuals and representation of your hotel are distorted when they are not viewed on a computer screen. The masses are moving to mobile and tablet. Your website must do the same!

Visuals: They Are Everywhere!

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As valued ResortsandLodges.com customers, you are more likely than not familiar with the emphasis our team places on visual assets. ResortsandLodges.com on the Road, a traveling media team dedicated to making your property shine through photos and videos, is an extension of this emphasis. While the importance of high level visual assets is understood, the question of “why” are these important has been something raising questions as of late. We know it is important to have them…but why?

There is seemingly endless amounts of data, theories, tests, and case studies driving the power behind high level visual assets. When it comes to your ResortsandLodges.com listing, there are 3 primary reasons to invest in your visual assets. These 3 reasons are based off of our travel expertise and industry data, coupled with a dedication to ensuring the success of your listing. Let’s take a look at the 3 reasons:

1. One Minute of Video is Equal to 1.8 Million Words – Think about that statistic. Data published by Diamond View Studios (a video production agency housed in Miami, FL) suggests that just one image holds the equivalent value of 1.8 million words. That’s a lot of words! Simply put, visuals are a great way to get your message across in a crowded web marketplace that can easily become overwhelming with written content.

2. Images and Video Sell – How much you ask? According to a recent study conducted by the same video production company mentioned above, indicates that consumers who view a video during the research phase, are 85% more likely to purchase. The same is true for images, as 67% of all consumers said that images are “Very Important” in the purchasing process.

3. The Travel Industry – Images and video are important across various segments and markets for their own unique reasons. But what about the travel industry? Why are visuals so critical to your hotel, resort or lodge? The answer; we are in the business of selling experiences. There is no true physical product to what we are selling aside from the hotel itself. We are in the industry of capturing emotion, inspiring people, connecting families, and so much more. Visuals play a key element in all of those things. Visuals give our travelers something to grab on to, something to engage in, and something to share.

If your website is in need of new visual assets, take the time and invest in what needs to be done. The metrics are to incredible to deny, and the industry that we as hotel marketers are in is one that sells on experiences and the whole human spectrum of emotions.

Fill Vacant Rooms

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Vacant rooms are a problem for hoteliers across the world. There is seemingly always a few rooms open here, a few rooms open there. Old logic will tell us that these rooms are going to remain empty; if you did not book anyone in advance, that room is going to sit empty. In today’s tech-savvy, multiple device world however, this is not the case. There are several great ways that hoteliers can fill vacant rooms – even last minute. A recent article by hotelmanager.net shed some light on 3 simple, efficient ways to fill last minute availability. Here they are:

1. Always Have Something to Offer – Creating a deal or a package is a great way to fill last minute availability. Same day booking discounts, special incentives for the duration of a guests stay, etc. are all great ways to drive guests to your front door. Some may argue that by offering a discount, money is being lost. Think of it this way: if the room sits empty, is that also not money being lost?

2. Leverage Social Media – Recent data published by eMarketer, revealed that 1 in 4 individuals will use social media in 2013. With this trend continuing to rise year over year, social media is hoteliers gold. If you have last minute availability, broadcast it to the billions of people using these platforms. Keep it consistent and deliver a solid message across your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Google+ page, etc.

3. Use Travel Ads – Fairly similar to the second tip, travel ads require leveraging a second, and even third party to assist you in promoting last minute deals, packages, and awareness. There are dozens of opportunities and companies to lend a helping hand with travel ads. They have a history of being affordable and yield effective results.

Last minute availability does not have to be a waste of a room or lost profit! Using these simple and effective ways to create awareness around your open rooms can prove to be very valuable.

Social Media Interaction

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Hotel marketers could not have hit a longer home run than that tied to social media. Social media is undoubtedly a monumental player in today’s online marketing landscape. Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn offer different avenues to different demographics, all of which can be utilized to brand and drive front end conversion to your hotel.

There are a million best practices when it comes to social media; make sure you post a certain number of times per day, keep your content fresh, use visuals, the list goes on and on. As hotel marketers ourselves, ResortsandLodges.com has recently utilized one small, but very effective tool to leverage our social presence across numerous platforms. What is it? Interaction.

Interaction on social media can be defined in several facets – commenting, sharing, posting, hashtags, check in’s, etc. All of these are fantastic ways to engage your social audience across the platforms mentioned above. Of course, the dilemma now becomes how to answer every single comment, “like” every single comment or post, etc. Simply put, this isn’t necessary. A healthy amount of interaction is enough to show your following that you are engaged with what they are telling you.

What is a healthy amount? That is for you and your marketing team to decide. Responding to a handful of comments on the same topic is a great place to start. Sharing posts from fans, both people and companies is another hot spot for social interaction. But, when it comes down to it, there are three elements to social interaction that work well for both boosting your social reputation and increasing your following. Let’s take a look at those practices:

1. Post, Post, Post – Posting to your social multiple times per day is the best place to start in terms of generating any kind of interaction. After all, if you don’t have any content for people to comment on or share, interacting will be terribly difficult. Shoot for no fewer that 4 posts per day to the various social mediums you are on.

2. Share Others Content – More so than a comment or a “like,” sharing another individuals or company’s content shows that you are engaged in what they have to say. Sharing is a great way to interact, as often times the source of the content will return the favor and share your posts. The great part about that? Your content is now not only in front of your following, but the following of whoever shared your content as well.

3. Keep it Fresh – As many times as this has been said, it cannot be overlooked. People love looking at new content, new visuals, etc. For that reason, it is important to keep your content fresh each day. For the sake of others engaging and interacting with your content, this is a must do on the list of social do’s and dont’s.

Remember, social is an incredibly powerful platform to brand your hotel. Social gives you the power to reach millions of people, connect with potential customers, create original content…and oh yeah. its FREE! A solid effort around your social presence will not leave you disappointed.

Your Email Marketing: The Facts

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Hotel marketer’s are not foreign to the impact of timely, relevant emails. In fact, email marketing is a staple in many marketing programs as it delivers fresh content to a proven customer base. What can often times be overlooked in a marketing email campaign is the trends that shape an industry; the impactful forces of change that, if ignored, can be detrimental to the overall efforts of a campaign.

Perhaps the biggest news in the email marketing world currently is the use of mobile to open, view, and click through on emails. What was once a slowly rising trend is now right on top of marketers across all industries. Recent data collected by leading email design company, Litmus, revealed that 47% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device. This number holds a 3% increase from July, and a 24% increase year over year. If the data is any indication of what is to come, mobile is not only the future of email marketing, it is the present.

So what does this mean for your business? As a hotel marketing extraordinaire, it is time for you to adapt (if you haven’t already). The spike in mobile opens is a wake up call that your content, visuals, etc. all need to be responsive. Responsive design is one that allows content to be viewed across multiple devices, without the look of visuals, text, etc. changing. The content on the screen “snaps” to the size of the screen. Ensuring that your emails appear sharp, clear, and without hassle across mobile devices is critical to your email campaign success.

ResortsandLodges.com Best Practices

As hotel marketers, best practices for producing responsive emails can include a number of things. The content in your emails can be extensive and far reaching. Ideally, everything in your email will appear exactly the same on a mobile device as it does on a desktop computer. While technical and development support will be necessary to implement a responsive design to your emails, here are a few tips for the time being:

1. Test Across Multiple Devices – When your responsive design is built, it is best to test all of your emails (before sending) across multiple devices: Desktop, mobile, tablet, etc. This quality assurance is a peace of mind tactic when it comes time to send.

2. Keep it Clean – The best emails are those that are un-cluttered. This is not to say that your email should contain the bare minimum, but rather the most important things you want your subscriber to take away from the email. Remember, that 47% of individuals who open emails on a mobile device are more likely than not on the go. They might not have the time to sift and scroll through lengthy, cluttered emails.

3. Include Visuals – Everyone likes visuals. Especially in the hospitality industry, visuals are a huge part of selling your hotels experience. ResortsandLodges.com emails generally contain no fewer than 2 images. Be creative and work with your team to decide what looks and feels the best as a representation of your property.

 

9 Ways to Generate More Revenue Through Your Bottom Line

The recent white paper released by HSMAI is a gold mine for hotel managers and owners as shoulder seasons start to creep in. The white paper is an in depth explanation of various (and proven effective) ways to generate more revenue to your hotel’s bottom line. How? It is simple really; a good majority of the tactics discussed in the report deal with internal management, trends, and developing positive habits that lead to positive results. To recap, here are the top 3 ways that Trevor Stuart-Hill, President of Revenue Matters, recommends for driving more revenue:

1. Focus on Forecast Performance – It is critical to ensure that every level of employment has a clear understanding of the operational and financial forecasts of  the company, as well as the implications that each carries.

2. Engage Your Associates - It is no secret that guest satisfaction is often times directly related to a physical experience. With that being said, it is important to empower associates at your hotel. After all, there is a good chance various associates will play a roll in forming your guests experience. Empowering your associates raises morale and creates a positive energy around the workplace.

3. Optimize Market Segmentation – Perhaps the most critical element to any successful business is understanding your customer. Rather than target customers in a broad bucket, find and focus in on your most profitable customer. Understand actions such as booking windows, channel preference, etc.

But What About the Other Ways?

Not to worry, there are still 6 more ways to generate more revenue through your bottom line, as discussed in the white paper. Let’s take a look at the remaining ways, as well as discuss what they mean for your business:

4. Match Staffing Levels to Demand – The hospitality industry is no stranger to last minute fluctuation in demand. It is important that hoteliers adapt accordingly and staff according to demand.

5. Know the Value of Your Services – Understanding the value of your various services and perks can go a long way in driving revenue. For example, a late check out or early check in time sliding for a normal fee – consider some options there.

6. Be Religious About the ROI of Your Marketing Spend – ROI is a key business metric in measuring the success of both basic and complex business projects and activities. Having a holistic approach to these numbers can pay dividends in the short and long term.

7. Wow Your Guest Before They Walk in the Door – A creative way to drive additional revenue to your bottom line is to enhance the guest experience before they even walk in the door. Leverage your social media to offer incentives to guests who book early, as well as present supplemental services that can be utilized for a small additional fee. Little things can go a long way.

8. Know Your Charges – It is a good practice to review a guests expenses days before they arrive. This ensures that everything was covered, and nothing was under or over charged. On the day of check out, do the same thing. You would be surprised at how often things are missed.

9. Be on Top of Your Hotel – Proactively managing your hotels assets is a sure fire way to increase your revenue. Closely monitor energy and efficiency at your hotel according to occupancy level and seasonality. Doing so with committed practice will prove to be beneficial.

If you are looking at the coming months and wondering how to grow your revenue through your bottom line, look internally at these nine steps first. Simple practices that go a long way in both employee and guest experiences. Using these steps as a reference will be beneficial to both hotel management and guest.

Google & Reviews

Many of our business partners at ResortsandLodges.com have been given insight into the power of customer reviews: Reviews drive credibility, can be used as a tool to improve front end staff, as well as drive a higher conversion rate. As consumers continue to use reviews as a trusted source of online research in the hospitality industry, generating positive reviews becomes increasingly important.

New data and analysis from Digital Marketing Works, has revealed the importance of reviews as they pertain to Google, and the recently updated carousel feature in basic searches. The study, performed in June of 2013, revealed a strong correlation between average review rank and quantity and where hotels popped in the carousel search results. How strong was the correlation? To put it simply, the correlation between these data points was strong enough to yield that “Earned media (online guest reviews) is now a major component of Google’s search results for hotels.

So what does this mean for your business? Using the research as a platform for any type of actionable item, experts are urging hotel owners and GM’s to focus more on generating Google reviews. Of course, the standard platforms for reviews remain equally as important (Hotel Review Sites, Social Media, etc.).

To learn more, and to read the full article with data and analysis, click here.

The Big 3: Keeping Your Customers Happy

In an online market place filled with banners, pop-up’s, sign up’s, etc. the art of customer service in hospitality can sometimes be overlooked. It is important to remember the value behind genuine customer service – personal interaction and understanding your customer on a deeper level than hooking them into an email sign up. After all, quality customer service typically leads to new and repeat business – something hotel marketers can attest the importance of.

So what are some of the key things to keep in mind when talking about customer service and satisfaction? A recent white paper from Market Metrix discusses 3 primary areas that hotel owners, GM’s and marketers should be obsessive over. Let’s take a look at the big 3:

1. Direct Guest Feedback – Perhaps more powerful than anything in the hospitality industry is direct feedback from your consumers. This feedback can come in a variety of forms…satisfaction survey’s, social media posts, telephone calls, etc. The power behind direct guest feedback is the message it conveys about the experience of your consumer at your hotel. After all, experience is everything. Aside from giving you insight to your guests experience at your hotel, direct guest feedback also presents a nice snapshot of what you do well operationally, as well as what you can improve on. It’s a win win.

2. Competitive Benchmarking – While direct guest feedback remains very important, it becomes even more valuable (to you as a business owner) when you can leverage the data against your competitors. Things like overall satisfaction score, ratings of amenities, etc. become critical to the over riding presence of your hotel. Understanding your own performance is key to the present and future success of your business. But what is perhaps even more important is addressing and analyzing what makes your competitor stronger in one area, weaker in another, etc. A solid understanding of this information will give you a competitive advantage over other hotels.

3. Social Media – It is no secret at this point that social media is an incredibly powerful tool to leverage your business. In fact, 93% of global travelers say that their decision to book was directly influenced by online reviews and social media. The mobility of social media (Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop, etc.) is icing on the cake when it comes to social platforms. Access to social across multiple devices allows for real time analysis of what guests are saying…where they are staying, what they thought of a particular property, ratings, recommendations, the list is endless!

To Sum it All Up

A firm understanding of the 3 metrics listed above will equate to a serious advantage in the marketplace. The combination of guest feedback, competitive benchmarking and leveraging social media is a strong box of tools to help your business grow. While each element alone holds its own unique value and importance, the combination of the 3 is even more powerful. Mark Waite, EVP Marketing and Client Development put it best: “The combination of the three brings powerful balance – three legs of a stool, three primary colors, three parts to the atom and the three musketeers.