Hotel Marketing Executives Stress Unified Messaging, Thoughtful Partnerships

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The drop-off in travel demand at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the hotel industry, and for sales and marketing teams, a lot of work had to be done to bring that demand back.

During a Hotel Data Conference panel titled “The Dos and Don’ts of Selling Your Hotel Guestrooms,” hotel marketing executives discussed the strategies needed to attract guests back to their properties. Sometimes, that meant advocating for higher marketing budgets and owning up to when a campaign didn’t meet its goals.

Erica Lipscomb, senior vice president of revenue strategy at Crescent Hotels & Resorts, said it was particularly taxing when several different sales strategies to drum up demand yielded little results.

“We just threw it all out there, and we said, ‘Something has to work.’ But when you do that, you realize it just doesn’t work, “Lipscomb said.

Going back to the basics in marketing a hotel or resort is a solution that can often be overlooked, she added.

“At the beginning of COVID, we had a resort destination that they were taking their time coming back,” Lipscomb said. “And I felt like I had to tell the team, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do differently. Tell me your three key strategies, [focus on those] and know it’s not going to happen in seven days. It’s a 30-, 60-, maybe even a 90-day plan. ‘”

Jason Pirock, vice president of marketing at Aparium Hotel Group, said a priority for his team was to drive more website traffic and direct bookings. He added that it’s important to update a hotel’s website regularly to keep customers engaged.

“Are you sitting down and looking at the website and making sure that it’s the most up to date, it’s reflective of the brand and has all the components? We know that things are ever-changing and they can get outdated really quickly,” he said.

Finding your hotel’s or brand’s unique story is the first step, but it’s easy to forget to unify that messaging across all levels of marketing, Pirock said.

“A lot of people are probably sitting in this room saying, ‘Well, content is so expensive, and where’s the ROI on it?’ Remember, it’s about telling the story, but we want to make sure that what we’re offering matches from on property to online, “he said. “Also from a ranking perspective on Google, when you’re changing out your site and you’re adding new content, that’s helping you increase your ranking and visibility.”

Jenna Villalobos, senior vice president of commercial strategy at Outrigger Hospitality Group, agreed that unified messaging is critical.

“Find your story and tell it across all your channels. Don’t just keep it on your direct channel,” she said.

Outrigger spent much of the early months of the pandemic earning the trust of guests to promote that direct booking relationship instead of booking through online travel agency sites, Villalobos said.

“Customers want to trust who they’re buying through. If you think about what happened in 2020, those folks who bought through third parties did not have control over their money or deposits or anything,” she said. “What we saw is we have more folks [book] direct because they got control by having their relationship directly with us. And that means a unique opportunity for us to earn their trust and earn that relationship. “

Even small gestures such as responding to bad reviews make a difference in how authentic a hotel or brand is perceived to be, Pirock said.

“I know it’s easy to just have a generic response back to a guest, but really taking the time to give them that personalized message to let people know that you’re actually following up on whatever that issue is, or if it’s positive that you ‘re embracing that as well, “he said.

Hotel brands and individual properties often rely on social media influencers for unique, authentic content, and panelists discussed the pros and cons of navigating those partnerships and budgeting for them. Pirock said the right influencer can be a boon to a marketing campaign and “maximize your reach.”

“Influencer partnerships are hugely important because of the engagement and the audience that they get in front of,” he said. “What’s important to think about when you’re evaluating a partnership is No. 1, what are their demographics? How are they aligned to your brand and the audience that you want?

“No. 2, don’t just look at followers, look at engagement; that’s much more important than the number of followers that they have. No. 3, make sure it’s aligned to your strategy. … there is some value in having influencers sporadically throughout the year, for sure. But really think about what is your need at that time? And how is that another lever in your strategy to pull and solve for that need? “

Outrigger’s influencer policy is any partnership has to be done via trade-off and not with any payments to the influencer, Villalobos said.

“We work a lot with art, culture and music influencers, but we don’t pay for this; we do trades or there’s content,” she said. “So there’s back and forth like that, but we don’t pay for them, because it needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship, and our target has to match their target.”

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