Being an On-line Hotel Brand

David Collins, columnist and Group Marketing Director at Great National Hotels and Resorts discusses how being an on-line hotel brand is increasingly the norm.

With the seemingly inexorable move on-line, hotel marketers face the challenge of having to adapt to a new world order whereby it’s less about readership and phone-calls and more about user-bases and click-throughs. Where instead of buying press column inches and air-time, you buy impressions and page views.

Some hospitality brands have launched on-line from the get-go with little or none of what would be considered traditional media: take Priceline’s Booking.com for example, when was the last time you heard them on radio or saw their ads in the newspapers? And yet Booking.com represents 453,000 hotels world-wide, handling 625,000 room nights … daily.

Certainly, based on the performance of traditional media in terms of return on investment (RoI), advertising on radio, press and TV for independent hotels – even groups of independent hotels – is increasingly untenable. The economies simply are not there particularly when compared to on-line paid search such as pay per click (PPC) where the return is typically £10 or higher for every £1 spent. Plus PPC is easily monitored with 100% transparency in terms of cost and return.

Compare this to placing a personal display in a national newspaper and hoping that a) your reservations team remember to ask where the customer saw the ad and/or b) the customer actually remembers where they saw your ad. In fact the latter is a real challenge given the number of ads the average consumer is exposed to is estimated at 4,000 daily which is double the amount compared to 10 years ago.

So more and more hotel brands are spending their available marketing budget on-line. The danger here of course is that without proper guidance, this can be just as wasteful as spending valuable reserves off-line and living in hope rather than expectation.

I say proper guidance because on-line marketing agencies are just as culpable as their off-line colleagues of dazzling clients with beautiful, engaging campaigns yet failing to underpin these with cost/benefit projections and analyses despite how measurable on-line channel spend is and can be: ‘we don’t have visibility over our clients’ campaigns’ is the usual retort.

In my experience your website and booking engine provider provides a key role here. Ideally they will be one and the same as your site is your on-line shop-front, it represents your brand and everything you stand for so it should be the best it can be, better than your competitors’ sites and capable of consistently exceeding your customers’ expectations. Similarly the buying process should present your clients with an intuitive user experience, again superior to that of your competitive set, this in itself being one of the reasons why Booking.com is the brand it is today.

It’s up to you therefore as hotel marketer or business owner to ensure that you’re getting the best value you can out of what is probably less budget than you were spending 5 years ago.

The tools are there, they’re free and easy to use so don’t delay in monitoring campaign effectiveness as over time you’ll have a very valuable knowledge-base of what works and importantly what doesn’t work. Doubtless you will have colleagues in the industry and forums that you subscribe to so I would recommend exchanging this information with your peers to expand your market intelligence. In fact as an industry, we’re reluctant to do this but my experience is that it’ll come back to you in spades.

And if you do decide to migrate your business development on-line, be prepared for a few detractors; don’t be put off by comments such as ‘I don’t know your brand’ or ‘I’ve never seen your ads’; as long as you’re allocating your marketing budget based on cost/benefit and you can point to accelerating visitors, conversions, revenues, etc., your business is in a good place and perhaps your detractors simply don’t get the fact that the world has moved on. On-line that is.

So it’s OK to be an on-line hotel brand. The fact is that most of the best ones are.

About David Collins: David is Co-Founder and Marketing Director for Great National Hotels and Resorts, one of Ireland’s largest hotel brands and one of the UK’s fastest growing. With over 20 years’ experience in results-driven marketing, his award-winning marketing has been instrumental in building some of the largest hotel names in the UK and Ireland.
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