Digital Marketing Trends for Luxury Hotels in 2015

By Ryan Clarke

Each year, we compile a list of digital marketing trends for luxury hotels. With the end of 2014 being as busy as it was, it must have slipped our mind.

In the past 6 to 12 months, amidst an enthusiastic hotel industry outlook, we’ve seen the boutique and lifestyle hotel sector expand at a rampant pace. Big hotel chains are expanding and diversifying their portfolios into the lifestyle market as they see the demand for properties that deliver experiences more closely-tied to the cultures of their respective neighbourhoods, cities, and environments. Travellers are actively seeking more authentic travel experiences and, naturally, the market is responding.

This article will serve as an overview of digital trends for hoteliers in the boutique, luxury, and lifestyle market. As Q1 draws to a close, we’ll take a high-level look at some of the digital marketing strategies that hotels could employ in the remaining months of 2015.

Responsive design

This is not a new trend. We’ve been talking about it for almost 4 years. And as expected, this year the majority of all travel related searched will be performed on mobile devices. Especially with Google’s Algorithm update, hotel’s can no longer afford to make mobile an afterthought.

The proper approach to photography

The quality and diversity of a hotel’s photo-library has become one its most important assets. We wrote a great guide to it here. The point is that prospective guests expect to see your entire property in the form of consistent, large format photography. One image that is commonly overlooked is a photo of the actual physical structure. Marketers spend so much time on their interior shots that, at times, the actual setting of the hotel gets forgotten. We’ve come to learn that this hero shot is one of the first things guests want to see if they are unfamiliar with a hotel.

Social media is actually pretty easy

When it comes to social media, hotel brands should effectively act as the curator of experiences for both their guests and local clientele. In the leisure market especially, guests don’t come to a hotel to stay in their room (save for maybe honeymooners). They want things to do. They want to know what’s going on. The want to feel like their part of the action. This is one of the big draws of AirBnB: “living like a local”. Integrating these insider tips into the digital experience through social channels is the best way to make guests feel at home. Even better, work it into your content strategy. Write about what’s happening on your website and drive the traffic back to your site to increase engagement.

Mobile apps that enhance the guest experience and improve RevPAR

We are seeing more focused mobile applications move into the hotel world. These apps blend the physical and digital experience for the guest on property for everything from speeding up the check-in process, merchandising room upgrades, up-selling food and beverage options, and providing two-way communication with the front desk. On top of that, the hotel is also equipped with a sophisticated data set in the form of a social CRM dashboard that profiles guests’ habits and social influence. There is also considerable potential for merchandising via iBeacon and RFID technology.

You may have read about our recent partnership with GuestDriven. Reach out if you’re interested to learn more.

Virtual Reality will soon become a reality in hotel marketing

This may not fully come to fruition this year, but it’s certainly area worth keeping an eye on. How far away are we from letting prospective guests put on a headset and walk the entire property? As VR-headsets become more common among consumers, we’ll see this trend continue to evolve. Google Glass may have failed miserably, but the concept will certainly continue to evolve.

Comparative pricing tools

We’ve recently formed a partnership with Triptease, a London-based start-up focused on recapturing direct bookings. We are integrating their product, Price Check, on behalf of our clients. The tool automatically pulls in live pricing from the major OTAs as a way of improving transparency and increasing direct-booking conversions. Recent tests have shown Price Check can increase direct-booking conversions by up to 30%. When the guest can see real price comparisons in one place, it eliminates the need to look at every OTA just to save a few dollars.

Film

Hotels are continuing to see the value of integrating high-quality short films that tell a story about their property. Although the upfront investment can seem high, when examined over a period of 3-5 years (the average life of a professional piece) 100,000 views on a $40k investment works out to about $0.40 per view. This is a down-right bargain compared to PPC. Not to mention that the overall effect on the conversion, especially for high-end destinations, is much stronger.

Balancing Organic and Paid Search Marketing

We talk about this subject a lot with clients, and this year the relationship between SEO & PPC will become one of the most important things a hotel should focus on (digitally speaking). Some time ago, Google removed the ability to see organic keyword data from Analytics. This means you can only see the search terms that brought someone to a specific page on your site through paid ads. While your paid-search advertising strategy bolsters your organic efforts (through better data), your SEO strategy is also an important factor in improving the efficiency of your PPC spend. With a proper approach to SEO, we’ve seen clients cut their PPC budgets in half and the achieve the same results. Indeed, SEO and PPC are more intertwined than ever.

Economies of scale on large projects

Hotels are seeing great value in a scaled design framework for multi-property collections. Stephen wrote about the technical side of things here. But from an investment standpoint, when multiple properties are able to leverage a common design and technical framework, the cost of a website per hotel can be reduced by approximately 30%. For a collection of 6-12 properties, these savings are significant, especially when accounting for increased efficiency with respect to content management and turn-around time.

Embedded cloud-based tools

The interactive tools that were once hard-coded into your website are quickly being supplanted by more user-friendly, cloud-based versions. In the same way OpenTable changed restaurant reservations (for better or worse) the same techniques are being applied to event-ticketing, meeting & events RFP forms, spa reservations, tee-time bookings… you name it. Regardless of the data, your goal should always be to ease the process for both the client and your team.

Digital ADA Compliance for Hotels

ADA compliance is becoming more of a top of mind issue for our clients, especially in states like California. Now, in light of precedent set by a few key class action law-suits, our team is building websites that conform to the US DOJ’s interpretation of Title III of the ADA and the voluntary standards set by the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”). It is definitely more time intensive, but forward-thinking hoteliers are seeing the advantage both in getting ahead of the competition and avoiding expensive lawsuits. Not to mention that it’s the right thing to do.

What is your hotel’s digital strategy worth?

We sat down with our team to try to calculate the true value of digital marketing work for our hotel clients. Keeping the math really simple, on a hotel group with 1,000 rooms, an ADR of $200 and an average rate of occupancy of 70%. A basic annual revenue calculation would come in at $51.1 million. If a properly planned digital strategy is able to achieve a conservative increase to ADR by 2% (to $204) and average occupancy by 2% (to 71.4%), Running the calculation again, we land at $53,164,440 in annual revenue. A lift of more than $2 million in bottom-line revenue.

There are certainly other factors involved, economic or otherwise. However, most hoteliers agree that the digital channel is the most important sales tool they have. Doing it right is more important than ever.

Did I miss something? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. Or reach out on Twitter @wallop.

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