Since the dawn of the internet, hoteliers have tried and failed at finding the perfect template for marketing an independent hotel. Whereas flag hotels can cash in on fail-safes like loyalty programs and brand recognition, independent hotels face a unique set of challenges that determine the success of their online marketing campaigns.
Besides organic search — which should be a priority regardless of the product you’re selling — the bottom line is: no one digital channel will consistently work across a wide variety of independent hotels.
That said, it helps to know which acquisition channels historically perform better for certain types of independent properties, be it resorts, luxury hotels, urban boutique hotels or select-service (budget) hotels.
The best way to think about content marketing is as an umbrella term for any channel that allows guests to authentically engage with your brand online, including website content, email content and social media content. It can be in the form of text, photo or even video. The point is, engaging content can set your brand apart and elevate your search engine rankings, brand recognition and, ultimately, conversion rate.
If you’re marketing for a resort, I recommend finding four or five key passion points that resonate with your guest experience and brand values. From wellness to cuisine to recreation, these can serve as pillars to shape your online content strategy. You should incorporate your passion points into the website content, but more importantly, you can use them to create a monthly editorial calendar for your blog publication. In turn, you can then share your blog content through social media and email campaigns, which can help with website engagement and organic leads.
Luxury Hotels: Aspirational
Luxury hotel consumers share many of the same values as resort guests, particularly in that they’re both looking for a certain feeling and experience. The difference is, they hold your brand to a higher standard.
Aspirational content is what stands out to the luxury consumer, be it through videos on your website, editorial blog content or even traditional print ads. More than anything, however, luxury consumers are driven by the experiences and endorsements of other luxury consumers.
One great way to tap into this mindset is by encouraging user-generated content — for example, creating a branded hashtag and integrating a social feed into your website that shows real-time social photos from current guests.
Another effective strategy is social influencer sharing. This can be done through organic social influencer outreach, where you target credible influencers to share your content if it’s relevant to their audiences (this can often be done for free), or through paid influencer agreements, where well-known influencers receive compensation (i.e., a stay at the hotel) in exchange for sharing their experience with their followers.
Urban Boutique Hotels: Advertising
I’ve found that content marketing also works very well for urban properties, especially if the hotel identifies as a boutique lifestyle brand. However, what’s most important is to fish where the fish are — on search engines, online travel agencies (OTAs) and social media — looking for the best value for the experience. Hence why advertising campaigns, in my experience, tend to provide the highest return on investment.
Start with classic pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and prioritize your bidding for search terms involving your brand name (make sure you’re not ranking below OTAs). I also recommend investing in a handful of longer-tail keywords that align with your branding strategy. For example, if you’re marketing a lifestyle hotel in West Hollywood, you might want to especially focus on terms like “rooftop hotel in West Hollywood” or “boutique hotel in West Hollywood.”
You have to also consider the fact that a large portion of an urban hotel’s business comes from business travelers who will often price-shop on OTAs to find the best deal. To avoid losing 18%-20% in commissions to OTA bookings, I recommend allocating a significant budget toward META advertising. That is, paying to place your brand.com booking engine link within hotel listings on places like Google, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Kayak.
Lastly, whichever demographic you’re marketing to, make sure you’re running a personalized retargeting campaign. If a guest showed engagement before leaving your website — measured by either visit duration or amount of pages visited — target them with personalized ads (based on the package or room they showed interest in) after they drop off. It will help you stay front-of-mind as they continue their research, which, in the right circumstances, can deliver some of the highest ROI of any digital campaign.
Select Service Hotels: Advertising And OTA Mix
Consumers who seek select-service (or budget) hotels are primarily motivated by price. So while they’re different than the consumers for urban boutique hotels, who are motivated more by experiential value, they’re also doing quite a bit of online research in places like OTA listings. Meaning, marketers can use many of the same techniques to appeal to them in the sales funnel — that is, PPC advertising, META advertising and retargeting.
What’s interesting about select-service, however, is that the cost of sale for an OTA booking is, in many cases, less than the cost of direct bookings on the website. The lower average daily rate works in your favor with OTA bookings (lower commission payments), but against you with marketing acquisition costs. In other words, you’re paying the same marketing dollars as higher-cost hotels to bring guests to your website but are making less money on each conversion to make up for it.
The takeaway is, whereas most hoteliers minimize OTA commissions at all costs, select-service properties should consider OTA bookings to be an efficient way to drum up business. I still recommend investing in standard marketing campaigns, but the proportion of direct-to-OTA bookings should be much more equitable than for other types of hotels.