As 2016 wraps up and with 2017 just around the corner, hotel marketers need to step up their game if they want to compete head-to-head in the same arena as the 900 lb gorillas a.k.a. the online travel agencies, such as Expedia and Priceline. In 2015, OTA consolidation has especially made it a threat for many independent hotels to drive direct bookings. If you don’t know what OTA consolidation is, it is essentially bigger OTA giants gobbling up smaller companies, like independent hotels, by uniting together and becoming an even bigger force in the travel industry.
OTA consolidation has also given OTAs more bargaining power, which means they will end up negotiating the best deals on behalf of the travel consumer and themselves. One of the biggest limitations that OTAs has imposed with their purchasing power is their assertion on best rate guarantee and rate parity amongst all channels, which leaves little room for the smaller, independent hotels to make their offer any more enticing and attractive for consumers to book direct.
With that being said, OTA consolidation, has made it challenging for independent hotels to really set themselves apart from the competition. Although it is challenging, it is not impossible for independent hotels to level this playing field as long as hoteliers take on a holistic approach in their marketing campaign. I’ve identified 10 of the most vital New Year’s resolutions every hotelier should be making next year in order to reduce reliance on OTAs, drive direct bookings and ultimately increase ROI:
1. Be Proactive in Your Marketing
The beauty of online marketing is that it is constantly evolving, which means that your strategies must also evolve with the newest digital trends and algorithms. As we head into the new year, make it a commitment with your marketing team to focus on proactively managing your overall online presence and optimize for ongoing success. It is not enough to build a website and optimize the tags and then expect a sudden boost in traffic to your website. Success is measured by how active your marketing is and your ongoing presence on all channels.
2. Tell Your Hotel’s Story
If you haven’t already established your hotel’s story, 2016 is the year to do so. An impactful way to describe the features of your hotel and what unique selling propositions you offer is not only through content marketing but through high resolution photography. What better way to showcase your hotel than through photos and a video tour? Visitors want to visualize themselves at your property, so paint a picture for them and create a captivating narrative describing the experience they will expect as soon they arrive at your hotel.
3. Design for Conversion
A key to designing a high-converting website is by having a clear call-to-action. With all the competition out there vying to get consumers to book with them, it is critical that your website inspires potential guests to want to book direct with you. Make it easy and hassle-free for shoppers to book on your site by creating a responsive site that adjusts to all devices. Grab the user’s attention immediately by having a clear call-to-action, like a visible booking widget with ‘Book Now’ displayed on the upper fold of your website. Many hotel websites are now displaying the ‘best rate guarantee’ or/and offering a special rate for direct bookers, which would potentially give consumers more confidence in booking direct.
4. Begin a Video Marketing Strategy
The biggest trend in 2015 is the rise in video marketing. This will only continue to rise in popularity in 2016. In order to stay relevant, hoteliers need to start crafting a video marketing strategy that will ignite inspiration and prompt travel planning. Begin by creating a content calendar of all the videos that you plan to shoot for the upcoming year and get all your assets together. Analyze what people are talking about on your social media channels and shoot videos that would be of great interest to them.
5. Use SSO Best Practices in Your Social Media Strategy
There is an art to posting. If you’re merely posting because you’ve heard time and time again from marketers how important it is for SEO, then you must change this mindset for the coming year. As you probably know, there is a strong correlation between your hotel’s social media activity and your overall search ranking. However, did you know the success of your social media campaign is based on whether is it is social search optimized? Google’s algorithm is ever-evolving, so be sure to develop a SSO strategy that incorporates optimizing your profiles, tagging photos, using relevant hashtags and proactive outreach. Even more importantly, make sure your posts are compelling enough to spark up a conversation.
6. Allocate a Budget for Social Media Advertising
If organically you aren’t seeing immediate results that you are seeking on social media, then you may want to consider running social media ads. To gradually grow your fanbase or to gain likes, you may want to initially allocate a budget towards running social media ads. Social media advertising is a great way to extend the reach of your social media posts. If you are running a contest or promoting a special, social media advertising is a great way to increase exposure and brand awareness.
7. Develop a Balanced Partnership with OTAs
Let’s face it, there are definitely many benefits for hotels that partner up with OTAs. For one, it increases brand exposure and visibility for your hotel. The “Billboard effect” which was introduced by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research in 2009 was first thought to boost direct reservations on your hotel’s vanity site due to your hotel simply being listed on OTA sites. In a recent study done this year, however, the contrary was found which claimed that travel shoppers who browsed hotel sites on metasearch sites or OTAs tended to book through these channels rather than booking directly on the vanity site.
Although this may be true, it is an undeniable fact that simply having your property listed on these OTA and metasearch channels can have a huge impact on your site’s search visibility. Assuming your hotel is in rate parity, the possibility of a consumer booking with your hotel directly on these metasearch sites is far greater than hotels not in rate parity with OTAs. With that said, develop a ‘happy balance’ between direct bookings and OTA spend and be sure to monitor your rates and stay in rate parity.
8. Manage Online Reputation
By now you should know how important online reviews to your hotel’s reputation and how poorly managing them can be detrimental to your hotel’s credibility and conversions. If you do not have someone in your marketing team dedicated to monitoring and responding to reviews, then make it a goal for 2016 to delegate that task to one of your staff members or a marketing agency. If time is an issue for you, there are plenty of online reputation management tools that can help automate the process and notify you of any incoming reviews that come in including ReviewPro and TrustYou.
9. Establish Value (Online & Offline)
One of the key components that independent hotels have over brands is their ability to provide a more personalized experience for their guests by establishing value. Independent hotels need to focus heavily on establishing value both online and offline. Remember don’t try to sell your hotel, sell the destination. There a plenty of ways to do this including being a digital concierge for the guest, promoting value-added packages and providing the best customer service to you every guest that walks through your front door. When you successfully establish value for the guest, then price becomes just a secondary thought.
10. Define Goals & Measure Marketing Efforts
Before you come up with your marketing strategy and apply all these must-do marketing tips, make sure to define what your goals are and how best to achieve these goals. Once you identify what the goal is then you must figure out how you will measure the success of your hotel marketing campaign. Start off analyzing the data that is readily available to you on Google Analytics and look over the metrics on all your social media activities using Facebook Insights. In this way, you can discover new marketing opportunities and make an informed marketing decision.
As we near the end of 2015, hoteliers need to evaluate all the marketing channels to see what strategies worked for them and what didn’t. Once that’s figured out, then deciding where to allocate most of your marketing budget will get easier. Get your marketing strategy in place and be on your way to the path of success by applying these 10 resolutions.
By Melody Ciria
Sunday, 3rd January 2016