Getting Onboard With Online Marketing

Last year was another strong one for the Internet's increased impact on hotel marketing strategies. And, guess what? The Internet will continue to explode in hotel marketing relevance in 2008. If this is news to you, then you might want to get that 8-track in your Camaro replaced with a tape deck.

To help hoteliers keep track of the latest online marketing trends and understand how to make the most of their marketing dollars in the coming year, here are five keys to successful online marketing in 2008:

Brand utilization

In order to leverage your least expensive distribution channel, you need to use your most expensive partner — your brand. As consumer shopping habits change and the number of online bookings increase, the importance of using your brand's website and other key brand marketing tools are further emphasized. The quality of content and visual media on your website can greatly affect not only the guest perception of your hotel, but a poorly managed website can also have a negative effect on booking conversions.

Major brands are constantly investing their dollars into developing new tools to enhance their brand.coms. Discover your internal resources before seeking services from external agencies. By becoming a brand expert, you can ensure that you are leveraging all brand opportunities and capturing your fair share of business.

Reevaluate your marketing budget

While many properties have made the marketing leap into the 21st century, too many hotels are still stuck in the stone age of AAA ads and CVB directories. Don't get us wrong; all of these advertising outlets have their place and can bring great revenue to a property, but is it really the best way to spend a buck? If you owned your hotel (and many of you do), how would you spend your limited marketing dollars? Fully explore the list of opportunities and measure the costs against projected incremental ROIs. If it doesn't have the highest ROI, maybe you need to reconsider. The end result should be a streamlined marketing budget that invariably includes at least a few more aspects of eCommerce.

Consumer-generated content

The buzz around consumer-generated content (CGC) sites like TripAdvisor and YouTube is not unwarranted. In fact, in a recent study of two million consumers, 20 percent claimed to already reference CGC sites during their travel planning process. As new Travel 2.0 technologies emerge, hoteliers need to determine the best strategy toward adopting these into their marketing initiatives. Although the options to enter the world of consumer-generated content sites seem endless, hoteliers should begin by targeting travel-related CGC sites. Regardless of what you decide works best with your hotel's business objectives and the most effective ways to reach your target market, you should at least consider developing a response strategy to effectively manage consumer reviews — something that 58 percent of travelers say would put the hotel in a positive light.

Emerging channels

An exciting solution to years of unbearable third-party channels exists, and 2008 will be the year when consumers fully embrace them. Rapidly growing meta-search engines such as Kayak and Side-Step could be the key to unlocking a new generation of online travel — giving consumers the chance to shop and compare without suppliers suffering the pain of third-party placement with punitive commissions.

These new channels feature superior technology and are available to hoteliers at a simple cost-per-click basis. Keep an eye out for these travel search engines and take advantage of their emerging marketing potential — you might be the first one on your block to leverage them, creating a unique competitive advantage.

Group online channels

It is clear that meeting and event planners have become more comfortable with using online resources for research, but they have yet to make the leap into the online direct booking realm. While intermediaries like StarCite/OnVantage, Groople and Worktopia battle each other for a chance to become the “Expedia of Groups,” what is your hotel going to do to get the most out of this fast moving trend? An easy recommendation is to participate in any channel that will allow you to post inventory and charges a reasonable commission. While you wait for the leader to emerge, keep pushing your brand to make the leap like Hilton has — providing inventory to planners online - but ensure they are making strides in CRS technology so you won't be filling out two inventories for long.

2008 will be another year of exponential online growth for the hotel industry, with more than 60 percent of bookings affected by online channels. Keep these thoughts in mind as you plan your marketing efforts, but remember that it is imperative that hoteliers focus on their property website first — promoting the page appropriately and maintaining the most user- and booking-friendly design.

Susan DeBottis is the Marketing & eCommerce Manager for HEI Hotels & Resorts, where she is responsible for developing online marketing initiatives. Jess Petitt is the Corporate Director of Marketing Communications for HEI Hotels & Resorts, where he has created an internal marketing agency focused on driving HEI's usage of brand marketing resources.

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