Courting Minority Lodgers

Hotel companies are using a variety of specialized and targeted marketing methods to encourage minorities — African Americans, Hispanic Americans and gays and lesbians — to spend their lodging dollars on their brands. The reason has more to do with good business sense than political correctness, hoteliers claim.

“We are not looking at marketing to minorities and wondering if we need to do it, but how do we need to do it,” says Wayne Hamilton, director of brand marketing for Holiday Inn. “With shifting U.S. demographics, we know we need to make an impact with these target market groups.”

While these three segments are not by themselves large marketing opportunities, they are attractive targets to marketers because their growth rate is greater than the general population, according to Kevin Rupert, vice president of marketing and strategy for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.

Patrick Sorge, director of sales and marketing for Hyatt Regency Boston, says he does not target a particular minority group, but makes it a priority to reach out to different races, religions and sexes to diversify the hotel's business base. “It's all about what makes sense for the hotel, and what business opportunities are available,” Sorge says.

Choice Hotels International claims it reaches minority audiences in its national advertising buys, but that's not enough. “All minority groups use multi media, but we feel we need to extend our reach and frequency by going into targeted media,” says Laura Bajkowski, vice president of advertising and marketing communications.

A COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH

InterContinental Hotels Group established a company-wide task force in 2004 to research what its brands should do to try to attract more minority guests, reports Hamilton. “We decided to focus on the U.S. Latino market company wide, but each brand would own and implement its own plan,” he says.

Holiday Inn initially focused on Houston with radio and television campaigns, and later expanded its target to New York and Chicago. “We wanted to drive awareness of aspects that we thought would be attractive to U.S. Latinos, such as swimming pools and kids eat free,” says Hamilton. “The U.S. Latino family size is larger than the general market, and those amenities add value and provide entertainment to families.” The hotel brand measured the advertising campaign's effectiveness through attitude awareness and a usage study of U.S. Latinos before and after the campaign.

“In Houston, we saw awareness of kids eat free and pools in all locations, but it had not increased as much as we thought it should,” he says. “We used the same creative in 2005 but tweaked the TV campaign to call out kids eat free and the pools, and we saw increased awareness of those in Houston and New York.”

Holiday Inn's favored hotel status among U.S. Latinos also increased in both markets, reports Hamilton.

Sponsoring a nationally broadcast Spanish-language television show and offering Holiday Inn packages as prizes spiked awareness of Chicago-area Latinos, according to the brand's study of that market. “We are building on that in 2006 by offering Holiday Inn roomnights as prizes in another Spanish-language national TV game show broadcast on Galavision,” he says.

Hamilton also is turning his attention to a different minority. “It seems our next biggest opportunity would be to make penetration with the African-American market,” he says. “We are looking at doing qualitative research on perceptions of the African-American market, and trying to understand the potential in the marketplace. This doesn't have the basic language challenges presented by the U.S. Latino population, but there are cultural connection challenges. We anticipate getting started with a campaign next year.”

Choice Hotels uses indexing to determine where its national advertising falls short in reaching minority segments, according to Bajkowski. “We look at our total media buy and specific properties and overlay that with targeted media for African-American and Hispanic markets,” she says. “There's a lot of data available on African-Americans and Hispanics and some is measured by third-party media outlets like Arbitron and Nielsen.”

Choice advertises in more than a dozen minority-targeted magazines, including Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business. The company also is the exclusive hotel sponsor of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, which has an 84 percent reach into African-American and Hispanic markets, says Bajkowski. The company also uses online search engines in Spanish and specific Web sites that cater to African-Americans and Hispanics. It also produces a general brochure for African-American and Hispanic markets. The Hispanic brochure is published in Spanish and English.

Choice shies away from television ads targeting Hispanics. “Television concepts must be targeted specifically to the Latin community, which is an issue with casting,” says Bajkowski. “To go on Hispanic television, you can't just do a voice over, it will be too obvious. It needs to be rooted in targeting a Latin audience, starting with its concept and inception.”

BLENDING IN

The Wyndham brand historically has advertised in specialty group publications, and now it has moved into national magazines, such as Black Enterprise, Diversity Inc. and Passport, a gay and lesbian magazine, according to Rupert. “In general, our creative has been very cultural and diverse,” he says. “You will see many women, Hispanics and African Americans in our advertising. The world in general is more diverse. Our general approach is to be inclusive in mainstream advertising and have a presence in publications that are relevant to key minorities.”

Many minorities are avid readers of mainstream magazines and need to be represented in those publications, says Rupert. “Historically, Wyndham tracks awareness and advertising scores in its specialized marketing, but now we want to be more inclusive from a total business perspective, and treat it more like a regular part of the business.”

Marketing to minorities also is a way of life at the Hyatt Regency Boston, reports Sorge. “Our campaigns typically evolve through ads or partnerships.”

For example, the hotel partnered with a gay and lesbian chamber of commerce organization to host networking receptions and a speaker and dinner series. “It's a priority to reach out to different potential market segments to diversify our business. If you focus only on one segment and it is no longer profitable, your business will suffer.”

In addition to gays and lesbians, the hotel has targeted Jews, Armenians, Indians, Greek organizations, Hispanics, African-Americans, Irish Americans and Chinese Americans, says Sorge. “This is about networking and reaching out to the community,” says Sorge. “It is not a campaign with a beginning and end date, because people don't stop being who they are or what they are. This is not a fad, it is a way of doing business.”


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