Spending the weekend on a road trip through Europe, I am observing this European summer tourist flows (not surprisingly, more visitors from Asia) and new tourism promotion trends. What has most caught my attention in the past two days is the polarisation of hotel promotion between the big chains and the smaller ones who are falling behind.
In 2014 we are past the time of big wayside banners. Most people choose and pre-book a hotel through Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Venere and similar websites, and they make their selection based on location, price and other customers reviews on the booking sites or on Tripadvisor.
It may sometimes be difficult to remember, but there used to be a time before the internet. In that time, value chains depended on middle men. In the hospitality industry, hotels nurtured relations with travel agencies and agents who brought them a regular flow of new customers.
Then there has always been the best customer category. The returning guests. Those who come back, maybe again and again and who require no promotion to return, who come back because they like the hotel and its service.
At present, we live in the digital age, and life moves fast. So fast, sometimes, that we don’t even notice it is changing. The internet is a constantly evolving source of information, news, entertainment, communication and commerce. For hotel marketers, the need to adapt and keep up with marketing and be visible among competitors has never been more critical.
However it can be a challenge to keep up with the latest trends. The second you have mastered the art of video promotion on Vine, Twitter’s six-second video burst software which has surpassed 40 million registered users, then Instagram introduces their 15 second version. Then just when you finally start to generate “likes” on Facebook, you hear that Google+ is gaining popularity. it is like a digital marketing arms race, and the reality is that you can not risk falling behind – after all, your competitors, travel channels and guests are not going to wait for you to catch up.
Big hotels and chains with resources master the art of digital marketing. For example, having worked on innovation management capability development with Fairmont Monte Carlo, I became impressed with their skills at using internet promotion and campaigns integrated with their CRM.
Visual storytelling has emerged at the heart of the most successful marketing campaigns in recent years. Stories are being told everywhere, about everything from consumer packaged goods to reality shows and naturally, the travel industry. Take a look at the way the web has evolved in the last year. Even on the sites you visit on a daily basis you can see it is more than just talk. Pictures are bigger and more dynamic. Large blocks of text are dwindling. Streaming video is commonplace. Rather than simply “reading” websites, users are now “experiencing” them.This is a very important change.
Then as Leonardo, a technology and online media company for the global hospitality industry, have noted, online content has become increasingly “snackable.” Glenn Engler, the CEO of Digital Influence Group defines snackable content as “bite-sized chunks of information that can be quickly ‘consumed’ by its audience”. In 2013 we learned to share easily digestible portions because on-the-go travel shoppers are more likely to engage with websites that offer bite-sized pieces and photos over text heavy websites.
Hotels can create snackable content by converting the material they already have into small, easy to digest snippets of information, using visuals and short descriptions to convey your message to travel shoppers. The average attention span of an adult online is only eight seconds so it is important to make every moment count by making the promotion content quick to digest, snackable, shareable and optimized for smartphones.
The channels to promote digital media are now many. Twitter is now having video sharing, Instagram added video sharing in June last year, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube both having over a billion regular users, and Google+ that recently underwent a visually-driven redesign, with a multi-column layout that can show off multiple forms of media – including photos that can span the width of multiple columns – along with larger cover photos and albums. Google+ experienced a 33 % growth in its user base in the last year.
To be seen and heard in this flood of digital content requires frequent updates of unique and interesting snippets. For hotel marketers, preparation and planning can help mitigate the risk of falling behind, but what can small hotel owners do? Hotels without major marketing resources and time to push out snackable snippets?
At the heart of any marketing strategy today is your hotel’s story. It’s the foundation upon which you’ll build the rest of your marketing plan. A good story attracts attention, inspires, is remembered and shared.
Not every hotel has a grand, all-encompassing story, but from roadside motels to five star resorts, each property has a unique tale to tell. If you are in a unique location, you have a story. If you have a special promotion, you have a story. Don’t become overwhelmed trying to craft a singular masterpiece, instead, highlight the individual anecdotes that make the hotel unique.
However for smaller hotels without the budget to be visible in the flow of digital content from the big chains, the best promotion is to have happy, returning customers.
Last night I stayed at a hotel that really surprised me. Hotel am Froschbächel in Bühl, in the state of Baden Württemberg is on the edge of the Black Forest and close to Baden Baden. What surprised me so much with the hotel was how good the service was, from the moment I entered the hotel last night to the checkout procedure this morning, when the Manager told me they had quoted the wrong price upon check-in and gave me a 20 euro lower price.
I was very surprised but then realised this was a smart customer retention strategy. The hotel has an average review rating of 4,5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and the excellent service is the reason. The friendly service does not cost the hotel anything extra and it most likely gives them a nicer more enjoyable workplace as well.
The location of the hotel is on the edge of the Black Forest, a place wrapped in mystique. Its name refers to the heavy stands of fir on the upper slopes. Below are extensive forests of oak and beech, and logging is a major element of the region’s economy. Nearby is Baden Baden with spas and baths where already the Roman Emperor Caracalla used to go to cure his arthritis.
As most of us knows from school or road trips, south of the Great European Plain a band of dramatic geological structures sweeps across Europe, creating the most intricate landscapes of the continent, the Central European Uplands. Throughout this region the landscape is intriguing and dramatic with the folding of the Jura range, the Vosges and Black Forest mountains, the volcanic Massif Central, or central highlands, of France, and the the Meseta Central, or central plateau, of Spain.
In these regions we find Europe´s most intriguing tourism attractions where charming historic villages, castles and rural landscapes are scattered across alternating mountains, plateaus, and valleys. The visitors come from ever further distances and they often return to these peaceful environments. Then having returning customers, as I am sure Hotel am Froschbächel has, is important.
I have a few hotels I like to return to. Not because they are fancy or luxurious but because of a really good service experience. My list includes Palace Hotel in Zagreb, Park inn Hotel in Sandton, Marriot Residence Inn by Bryant Park in New York, Hotel Lindtner in Hamburg, Hotel Jägersro and Hotel Nostalgi in Sweden, Strand Palace Hotel in London, the Art Deco Abbey Hotel in Miami, Beverly Hills Hotel and now a new one I will for sure return to.
Below is a picture of the hills of the Black Forest, from a window at the Hotel am Froschbächel.