Innkeepers and hoteliers wear so many hats, that it can be hard to concentrate on lifting your marketing game. Fortunately we live in an era with a wealth of online marketing resources and technologies plus research for boosting results. But the the best solutions go beyond tactics and technology to the core of persuasion psychology. I’ve learned a lot about all this in close to 35 years in the trenches, so I’m pleased to share my own top 10 list to help you win the quest for heads in beds:
1) Triple-Leverage your blog content: Make your blog do triple duty. First, write each blog post with highly relevant content to increase your rankings. Second, use an automation tool (we like Hootsuite, or Delvr.it) to automatically push posts to social media — set it and forget it. Third, set your blog RSS feed to go out monthly with excerpts from your posts and a special or two using a smart email service like MailChimp (great pricing — send to 2,000 subscribers monthly for free).
2) Sell the sizzle, not the steak: Should a sailboard manufacturer sell the composition of the board, or the experience of sailing across the water? Should a restaurant show it’s store front and food only, or sell the social experience the venue affords? Should an Inn show only its rooms (the steak); or show guests enjoying breakfasts and heading off to local adventures (the sizzle)? You get it. Sure, it’s easier to settle just for room and building photos, but you’ll sell more when you present the sizzle of the vacation.
3) Upgrade your Inn’s Social “Tradeshow Booths”: Recently I’ve reviewed over 100 independent “boutique” hotel and inn websites. Only 2% are taking full advantage of the opportunity to present compelling images and an authentic presence across the major social venues. Would you buy a tradeshow booth, then fail to have any photos of your property and locale? Worse, would you fail to staff the booth with friendly people? The answer should be no to both questions, but innkeepers and hotel marketing managers are pressed for time, so often they only do this well on one social venue (or “tradeshow booth”) like FaceBook. I’ll be doing a webinar on this soon, but for now remember to use attractive images properly on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (yes — this G+ is important in a number of ways including to garner reviews which place you higher on maps), Pinterest, YouTube, Yelp, and LinkedIn. Pipe your blog posts to these venues automatically, and periodically use a time saving tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to show up live in your tradeshow booth, field guest questions and post some engaging tweets.
4) Capture prospective guests before they reserve a room: I’ve seen many inn and hotel websites with some great package specials. While almost all hoteliers have a basic contact form — it’s on a different page. Very few think to put a form on the special pages, and fewer still think to give folks incentive to fill out the form. Why? Your webmaster can do this very affordably. And when you wed a form with a smart “call to action” (ie. “Get on our list and we’ll send you our packages plus an exclusive special”) you’ll capture a marketing list of those showing interest in staying at your hotel.
5) Test. Analyze. Test: What is your reservation system abandonment rate? How many people are downloading key PDF brochures at your website? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you can’t make any improvements. Install analytics (we like Google Analytics, it’s free but powerful). Then when you have a handle on key performance indicators (KPIs… this industry is full of acronyms), test your landing pages for incremental improvements. We like to use A/B tests where every other visitor sees a different version of a page to test key elements like headlines, graphics, and specials. Google analytics has a built in mechanism for this, and on average we see 20% – 40% improvements in lead gathering. This tactic alone will boost profitability though it is often overlooked by your competition.
6) World Wide Web = World Wide Market: Our preferred cloud booking provider, Checkfront, has recently added translation features on booking listings, and we’ve worked with hoteliers to configure translation systems (manual or automatic) for WordPress websites. Plug in translations and turn on the power of an occupancy boost from international guests.
7) Make your OTA play pay: Get a smart Online Travel Agency (OTA) game plan and automate it so that your inventory system stays current and up to date, you increase occupancy rates, and don’t lose bookings to competitors. I’ve written a longer post about an inventory allocation technology we like. One opportunity a lot of properties seem to miss is allocating rooms to TripAdvisor, where millions surf each month. When you fail to do this, TripAdvisor shows competitors in your area that have rooms in inventory. What about AirBnB? Think progressively and embrace the breakthroughs of a new generation of travelers. Why not AirBnB if it will help you increase occupancy rates?
8) Smart questions win reservations: Do you have a bland, standard “contact us” form, or do you ask about prospective guests interest in weddings, wine tastings, local tours, and events, then deliver an auto response that caters to their desires? A good WordPress plugin, or smart forms program (Wufoo is one, plus we offer 1-2-3 Forms for all our clients) will facilitate this. One example is how the form at a mini-site we just built for a hotel client, will send a PDF weddings brochure if respondents indicate an interest in weddings, or different information if a different interest is selected on the pop-down field.
9) People buy on emotion — use it as a sales tactic: I know this is difficult for the scientific mind to accept and a lot of innkeepers have backgrounds in accounting, finance, business, economics with a no nonsense mindset. Ok. Just realize that the same science shows, in study after study (here’s a recent one), that even though you may believe you’re making a nice rational decision about where to stay — emotional arguments win more guests every time. Just one of many tactical examples — smiling guests versus a tidy but empty room photo. Sure… you can have a nice room photo in your booking engine, but should they be primary on top-level web pages? No. Sell with emotion. Sell the sizzle.
10) Your stories engage prospective guests: Humans love stories. When a story is told well, we live within it — every fiction lover knows this. So, smart innkeepers and hoteliers will keep this in mind when writing blog posts and website copy. Don’t just tell me about your inn — instead tell me a compelling story detailing a particular visit, celebration, event you’ve held… so I can place myself in the story and in your hotel. This way I’m in the scene and more likely to book a room.
11) BONUS TIP: Become a connected concierge: Lodging industry studies show that a good percentage of guests list smart concierge services as a bonus in their stay with you. The most successful hoteliers and innkeepers we’ve seen go beyond a simple list of local tourist attractions (which you should have and deliver automatically to guests and prospective guests), to setting up cross promotions with local tour operators, and event promoters. Imagine if you can offer a special to your guests for a tour of a local winery? It’s a win-win-win for you, the winery and the guest. Most of this relies on your negotiating and business connection skills along with key memberships in the local chamber of commerce and similar groups. Our preferred cloud booking platform, Checkfront offers a “partner” technology where you can set-up discounts with event promoters and other businesses. You can even give them a snippet of code to place on their own websites, so people can book rooms there for your property. Imagine a winery, or jazz festival even website showing and helping book your rooms. The Checkfront system automatically updates you, and pays a commission to your promotional partner. This gives you a powerful local travel agent (I like to call that an “LTA play”) option and makes you a well connected concierge.
12) BONUS TIP: Smartphone-Ready Booking AND Website: I almost left this one off, because the overwhelming statistics and so the parroting by “experts” must have already reached you — the percentage of guests booking on mobile devices is rapidly increasing. Great… you know that. Now when’s the last time you took a look at your website on a small screen smartphone? Do it. Too many times I see sites without true mobile ready (browsing with fat little fingers) booking systems. Worse… I’ve seen a number of websites whose booking pages are mobile-ready but getting there is very difficult because the main site is not optimized. If you can’t click a small little link to your reservation page with your finger, then your site is not mobile ready.
I know that if you have the rest of your property management game together, following the above marketing tips will increase occupancy in profitable ways. And in the interests of disclosure, I should mention that Webdirexion has reseller agreements with Checkfront, Hootsuite, and MailChimp, though we also use and love them for our own Agency (Hootsuite and MailChimp) and for clients.