How to be MAGNETIC.

David Collins, columnist and Co-Founder/Director of Communications at Great National Hotels & Resorts discusses how to attract and retain hotel guests by being ‘magnetic’..

The hotel business is tough. As industries go, it is resilient but not immune to external shocks.

Take BREXIT for example. As a direct result, consumer confidence is tanking, capital investment is stalled and business growth is stunted, and this is directly impacting on hotel performance as both business and leisure travel spending contracts. Case in point, Premier Inn’s announcement last month regrading sluggish Q1 2019 sales.

And if things were not already challenging enough, this slow-moving, 3 year-long car crash is now likely to be a ‘crash-out’ which is going to at best exacerbate market difficulties further.

Whatever about macro-shocks which we have little or no control over, there are however a number of more immediate micro-realities to take stock of when it comes to customers.

Reality #1

Acquiring new business have never been as challenging and costly. Consequently holding on to existing business has never been so important.

This point is self-explanatory in so far as trying to compete for page 1 visibility when you’re up against Google and Booking.com. And it’s going to get even more competitive as Google starts to dominate the meta-search space.

New business is as a result very expensive to generate by the time you cut through all the noise and distraction. Holding onto an existing customer therefore is vital.

Reality #2

Loyalty as we know it is pretty much dead in the water. And this is perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the Digital Age.

Now that we’ve passed the tipping point in terms of digital, the average consumer’s attention span has been whittled right down, thanks to the fact that our world now almost revolves around the screen of a mobile device: if you cant say what you have to say in 140 characters or less, you’re already on the back foot.

This in turn has been compounded by social media apps which have reduced brand and personal relationships to little more than side-swipes, likes and dislikes.

Reality #3

The old saying was that ‘Loyalty is not bought but earned’. I’m afraid this is no longer the case.

At best loyalty is borrowed.

Price, product and value used to be the primary tools for driving loyalty and repeat purchase. Nowadays, it’s more about business values and company practises. Just take the issue for example of plastic and the shift against brands which are seen to be environmentally unfriendly and socially unethical.

Reality #4

Your guests do not want a relationship with you. Despite what you might think.

Furthermore, your customers dictate the terms of engagement .. not you.

Case in point a study by the Harvard Business Review found that only 23% of consumers felt that they had a relationship with a brand. And when asked why, a typical response was “it’s just a brand, not a member of my family.”

So whereas you think your brand or hotel is a worthy contender for their undivided attention, your guests think otherwise. Don’t take offense, this is just the way it is.

So what do we know so far?

Well, firstly, you have to hold onto your customers because new ones are as rare and as costly as hens’ teeth; secondly, your customers don’t need you as much as you need them; thirdly, your customers dictate the rules of engagement not you; and finally, even if they are your customer, likelihood is it’s just a phase they’re going through.

Pretty grim I think you’ll agree. But the fact is you can never assume loyalty particularly today. So what CAN you do that might, just might, help you to at least borrow loyalty and encourage repeat business?

In terms of driving direct business to your website, there are 3 pillars you need to consider Visibility, Conversion, and Retention.

Simply, Visibility is how visible you are to your target market. Here’s 5 things you can do here for starters.

First off, take a long hard look at your site. Often a site has been up for a while, links might be broken, content outdated etc..

You must sanity check your site as part of your regular routine. Go back to basics. Have you key search terms embedded in your content? How localized is the content on your website? Have you quality links in place?

As you’ll know, your SEO impacts on your organic rankings. It’s also a mostly free way of generating valuable traffic if done right, it can make a real difference to your site performance.

Secondly, are you social enough? Have you tapped the rich source of traffic that social media can now provide?

Increasingly, hotels are weaponizing FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter: social advertising now accounts for 29% of digital ad spend, while 56% of hotel marketers are planning to increase their video spend on Facebook (Sojern 2019). And don’t forget Google+ and Google Places.

No-No’s by the way include: Not being active. Not responding. Promoting bland content. No Opportunity to Buy. No follow-up.

Thirdly, if you’re not getting sufficient organic traffic, paid search is always an option. Approach with care however as this is a dark, much misunderstood and expensive art. Google and Booking.com for example will ensure you pay over the odds. So it’s best to take advice here so that you’re at least attracting convertible traffic.

Fourthly, if you don’t use Google Analytics, do. Get into the habit of checking your stats such as bounce rate, conversion, etc. Remember, what gets measured, gets managed.

And know your competitive set. Remember, your main competitors may not be local to you so keep an eye on them. And in particular their pricing, your guests are … so you should too.

Finally, and I know this is a tough one to swallow but the reality is we live in an ‘OTA first’ world. By that I mean, your guests will more likely than not have found your hotel on a 3rd party booking engine.

Even if they do know your website address or they do have you bookmarked, I guarantee you if they’re looking for a room, they will still check your prices with Booking.com. No matter how much you appeal to them to ‘Book Direct’.

Therefore, manage your OTA presence diligently and avoid hysterics. The reality is that OTAs can deliver you buckets of convertible, profitable, direct traffic.

Having addressed your visibility and having delivered the right traffic to your website, Conversion as you’d expect is all about converting lookers into bookers.

Here’s 6 things to remember.

Firstly, is your site optimized for mobile? If not, you need to address this as aside from everything else, Google will penalize your rankings. Is it easy to navigate? For example two many drop-downs are a turn-off. The booking process should also be minimal, smooth and seamless.

Secondly, ensure that you have rich, visual, engaging content. Always look your best. Rule number 1: as with eating, we book with our eyes.

For example, your photography should be hi-res, visually stunning and fully optimized depending on the platform people are using. And avoid too much text and distracting content. Trust me, most people don’t want to know about the fact that you’ve a new bar menu.

Thirdly, an obvious one I know but your booking engine is so critical. Use one that’s fit for purpose and avoid the booking engines provided by PMSs. They just don’t work, at best you’ll see mediocre results. Don’t be swayed by a ‘fixed fee per booking’ .. there’s a reason why PMS booking engines are so cheap.

Fourthly, providing a safe, secure environment for your customers is no longer optional. Whether you like Google or not, there’s nothing more unsettling for a consumer to see ‘Not Secure’ when they pull up your website. There may not be anything wrong with your site but this nevertheless is a huge red flag and will directly impact on your conversion rate.

By the way, HTTPS is also a confirmed ranking factor since 2014 so it’ll help your visibility and re-assure lookers by publishing guests reviews. Booking.com makes a virtue of this as it helps convince people to buy. So invite feedback, as it creates transparency, implies honesty and inspires trust.

And finally .. Don’t forget to stay in touch. Not just with a basket abandonment email or booking confirmation or pre-arrival note. All these done well BTW can be very powerful reinforcement tools. Be sure to invite your visitors to sign up for relevant, targeted offer alerts, or to join as closed user group for genuinely exclusive offers. Also make it super easy for them to update their details, recommend friends and also to unsubscribe.

As regards Retention, do all of the above and trust me, you’ll have no problem retaining customers. Deploying best practise in terms of visibility and conversion will create loyalty amongst your client base.

Why? Because consumers have diminishing patience, a low threshold for pain, and are hugely intolerant if your site ‘doesn’t work on their phone’ or if it is considered unsecure. Which by the way is where it gets personal as remember our phones are now considered an extension of our own personal space.

Customers therefore increasingly expect their online experience to be intuitive, personalized, seamless, friction-free, secure and mobile enabled. And this includes booking a hotel room.

But do this across your entire digital eco-system and you’ll rank and convert better, you’ll drive repeat demand, and you’ll successfully borrow loyalty.

In short, you will be MAGNETIC.

About David Collins: David is Co-Founder and Director of Communications for the Great National Hotels and Resorts Group – one of Europe’s largest independent hotel services companies – which now includes specialist rooms revenue agency, Revanista. With over 30 years experience in results-driven marketing, David’s award-winning work has been instrumental in building some of the largest hospitality brands in the UK and Ireland.
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