Special report: How to come out on top in hotel marketing

The blurring of search and social is presenting new challenges. Here, Stefan Hull insight director at digital marketing specialist Propellernet describes how marketing strategies should adapt to ensure the best exposure in both earnt, owned and paid media., and hears the views of hotel panellists brought together for a roundtable debate

Google dominates the search market and will increasingly do so in social. Links that will drive most value to you as a business come from high-profile authors and people that influence other people.

RoundtableThe top of page one is where it’s at; brands want to be on page one. If you are on page two or below you are effectively invisible.

For a strong brand like Virgin, holding the top position might suck up 35% to 40% of available clicks for that entire market because it’s a recognised brand. If you are not a recognised brand it’s more difficult.

In the natural space, where you earn the right to be there, you can pick up three-quarters of your search volume. People trust natural results more but travel businesses commit about 80% to 90% of search spend on paid search.

A lot of them bid quite aggressively on hotels. They will try to become known for hotels in Jamaica or the Caribbean, but when it comes to bidding on a particular resort it’s impossible to dominate.

But where does social media fit in with this? Can you track it? Can you make money from it? Where do reviews fit in? Then there’s PR.

It’s all got very complicated. One of the difficulties is that, traditionally, search might have been sat with the IT department while PR would be over there somewhere and it might own social or social might be in a separate team.

What’s happening is a lot of people in search now talk about this idea of content marketing to achieve the win. That’s why a lot of agencies are calling themselves recommendation agencies.

They talk about how those different pieces fit together and how you can drive the opportunity of bringing them together. Very few businesses are doing this effectively at the moment. What you need to do is recognise your business structure.

Search used to be about technical stuff. There was a guy in the office who did search. Now it’s about 10% of the story. Now, without authority, you are hamstrung.

That authority sits with your relationships with key influencers, bloggers, lifestyle media. PR teams are often speaking to these people but not in the right way because they are not thinking about the social or search opportunity.

Where do responsibilities sit in your business?

Sasha Kerman, Red Carnation Hotels: We do everything in-house, although we use an agency for SEO.

We have social media, which I look after, PR and search all grouped together so there’s constant discussion. The PR team would probably not know exactly the keywords but we do try to make sure everyone knows the areas that we are targeting. We’re small so we have to integrate everything and make sure everyone is working together.

Vera Stamm, Dorchester Collection: We have an agency that does search and I manage the agency. We are pretty much aligned when it comes to keywords. We focus on brand keywords and, depending on trends and promotions, we do run specific keywords.

Sundip Bedi, Starwood Hotels: We do SEO in-house and we have a PR team that works closely with them and they advise them on the keywords. The PR team is measured on the coverage that they generate. Within the marketing we are measured on rankings.

Once you have the title of the hotel in the release that’s already helping your SEO, but the challenge is how do you cut through when there is so much competition. What keywords should be optimised? In the group we have the Le Méridien across the road from this hotel, so the two are competing for traffic, but completely different markets and brands.

Eve Ireland, Lastminute.com: Social media is a big part of what we do. Our social media manager, search team and PR manager all sit within the marketing team.

Paul Bunce, Riu Hotels & Resorts: We are slightly different as we are a big chain but we also have a relationship with Tui, so a lot of product is exclusive with Thomson and First Choice. We tend to find a lot of results come via marketing done through Tui and the operators we work with. The social media sites are operated within our head office in Palma while our sales function is here in the UK. The extent to which we are looking for brand awareness has evolved through our growth with the big tour operators.

The need to be targeted and have a strategy in social media

Stefan Hull: Social media is probably one of the most ill‑defined terms and badly delivered strategies in marketing. People just think of it as Facebook or Twitter. Clients don’t really know how or what to do. It has to be structured.

For example, when a cruise operator tweets ‘If you had your own ship what would name it?’, is that an engagement strategy? Or when I see the likes of ‘Retweet if you’re ready for a summer vacation’ what I see is someone saying ‘we need a social media presence’. Those things should follow great ideas, not be just about posting 20 tweets a day – is that really a good use of someone’s time?

What happens in my experience is that there’s never enough people to do it. Their job description is PR and social media manager and they’ll be asked ‘have you done your five tweets for today?’

People get focused on the latest technology and hop on it as part of a strategy. However, just saying we need to be on Pinterest is missing the point. It needs to be about focus and strategy.

Hotels might want to communicate what it’s like to stay in a room that has a bath looking out on to a great vista through images on Pinterest. I’m not against that, but it’s adding another channel when they may not already be getting enough out of existing channels where they already have a lot of followers.

Communicating the experience is something travel has done badly and could do better, so Pinterest is potentially a really valuable tool.

Brands can use Twitter as an engagement or customer service channel, Facebook for building a community and Pinterest could be used for linking to pictures and saying ‘Look, you too could have a massage by this chap’.

Convert: Visitors are good, turning them into customers is great

Stefan: Conversion is like gold dust at the moment. It’s important to look at conversion rates and ask why don’t your visitors become customers? It’s about using customer behaviour to improve the success of your website.

When we started working with a retail client they had a conversion rate of 1.7% – now, after four months, it’s 2.6%. The same number of visits are now generating £300,000 more a month in revenue.

When visitors land on your site look at how effectively you convert them into a customer. It’s a massive game-changer and often it comes down to persuasion. Make sure when they’ve landed you’ve answered their questions and there’s a short step to the booking process. This will all have a massive impact, but often it does not sit within any budget.

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