On Message: Why London’s luxury hotels must go digital

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

With a spate of new openings set to flood the city with top-end rooms, traditional properties and new entrants alike face a battle to stand out in the crowd.

In the final episode of Channel Five’s Hotel Inspector series last week, the irritatingly posh Alex Polizzi – granddaughter of the hotel magnate Lord Forte – was advising a rather sweet (and equally posh) old couple who were struggling to run the Kingston Estate hotel in Devon.

In one painfully funny scene, the ageing hoteliers were seen struggling to create the property’s first website booking service: ‘Er, what does ‘settings’ mean, dear?’ croaked the bemused old duffer.

While this is a caricature of distinguished hotels trying to adapt to 21st Century marketing techniques, there is a parallel with London’s increasingly overheated luxury hotels sector. The capital is about to see an unprecedented boom in luxury hotel openings and re-openings, which will prompt a concomitant web war.

Over the next month or so the legendary Savoy will re-open on The Strand, after a three-year £100m refit of every aspect of the building, from the bars to the suites; Starwood will open one of its huge ‘W’ hotels on Leicester Square; The Corinthia will open on Whitehall Place; and Von Essen’s ambitious Hotel Verta will open in Battersea, complete with its own heliport.

It is not ideal for so much top-end hotel capacity to be added to a market which is still frankly in the doldrums. IHG’s chief executive Andrew Cosslett – whose portfolio includes the well-situated Intercontinental London Park Lane – recently admitted that although rates had recovered well during 2010, they were still below their 2008 peak.

Cosslett and his peers realise that the spate of openings will create a fiercely competitive 5-star central London hotel market over the 12 months. With often little to choose between the properties in terms of service, rooms and location, the war for bookings and premium rates will inevitably shift to the internet. 

No surprise then that the 100-year-old family run Goring Hotel in Victoria launched a new website last week, with the designer saying ‘[It] will become absolutely critical for each [luxury hotel] to attract, convert and retain bookings via their websites.’

The Goring is also making its first serious foray into SEO, which will certainly prove pivotal as spoilt-for-choice travellers trawl the web.

However, in such an environment, successful hotel marketers will need to go way beyond even this and develop comprehensive social media strategies. Having decided on a quick personal trawl, it was incredible to see an institution like The Ritz London reduced to the two user comments “What a huge disappointment” and “Quite pretty” on TripAdvisor, a first stop for many potential customers.

Enlightened hotel marketers will seek to engage more with such social media. I recently stayed at the very pleasant H10 Punta Negra hotel in Mallorca, where the general manager – despite being Spanish – reads and answers every single posting on TripAdvisor.co.uk.

Obviously this becomes more resource-heavy if one operates a massive Mayfair hotel, but the sentiment is bang on in my mind.

For too long London’s great hotel brands have eschewed digital marketing in favour of promotions and affinity deals, but with the market about to seriously hot up, this is one luxury they can no longer afford to overlook.

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