The online travel industry is geared for acceleration in the coming years. It is estimated to reach $762 billion by 2019 — almost a 50% increase from 2015. Undoubtedly an exciting time of exploration and growth, opportunities are abundant, especially if hoteliers and marketers keep an eye on these four critical digital musts.
1. Mobile is a traveler’s best friend
Mobile is now a mandate for luxury and boutique hotel marketers. Travelers have become increasingly dependent on mobile to plan, book and connect. This trend is no surprise to many hoteliers, and there has been a significant effort to create mobile friendly or mobile optimised websites. However, we have now reached a tipping point. Pre, during and post engagement for travelers on mobile are expected to top desktop activity this year. In fact, Asia Rooms and Lenovo did a survey that revealed Asian travelers are the most likely to search, compare and book travel on their mobile device.
Mobile can no longer be treated as a a nice-to-have, dumbed-down version of desktop. Although luxury hotels have made a laudable effort to create a mobile version of their brand site, features and functionality still considerably lag behind the desktop experience. Hotel marketers must remember that approaching mobile as a “simpler” version of the desktop experience will most likely leave them in the dust. The expectation is for mobile to have everything and then some. Keyless entry and mobile check-ins are gaining ground. And luxury hotels are stepping up the game, creating mobile apps that seamlessly connect their properties, while integrating on-property experiences that are accessible to travelers with a few taps of their thumbs.
Perform an audit on your current booking experience on mobile, map out the customer journey and identify opportunity areas for mobile to add value and convenience. Pay attention to your conversion funnel on mobile. Is it as smart (if not smarter) than your desktop experience? How many steps does it take for a customer to make a booking? Where do customers abandon the site, and where are there inefficiencies or points of frustration?
Do mobile justice, because as they say in the big leagues, you’ve gotta go big or go home.
2. Capture the traveler’s imagination through short videos
If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a video can capture a thousand moments. As travelers spend more and more time on pre-travel research, planning and inspiration, there has never been more pressure on hotel properties to showcase themselves. From the food, cocktails, rooms, and interiors to exclusive experiences available to guests upon arrival, travelers need to be able to indulge their imagination and connect with your brand before deciding to book.
In marketing, videos have traditionally been thought of as a long-term investment: A brand asset that lasts and takes a significant amount of investment and effort to produce. However, this line of thinking runs contrary to digital behavior: The consumption of content is only increasing, while attention spans are decreasing.
One of the smartest digital content pieces for hoteliers to explore are short videos. By short, we mean both short-lived and short-in-length. These bite-sized pieces of content act as an authentic and un-staged representation of the experience you offer. Hoteliers must ensure there is a social media strategy in place that utilizes the right platforms to create short stories and narratives about their property.
To end on a cautionary note: The pitfall of short, digestible content is a fragmented storyline that doesn’t adhere to an overall brand narrative. All digital content, no matter how small, needs to be aligned with the brand strategy behind your luxury hotel.
3. A new hybrid of organic and social media is the future
For most luxury hotel brands, a solid social media strategy that incorporates user generated content is a key pillar to their digital game plan. However, it’s become apparent that organic social media is on the decline, while paid social media is projected to top $41 billion this year for Facebook alone. The platform has evolved from a community building platform to a core business strategy and an essential tool for customer acquisition.
Especially for newer boutique hotel brands, a lively social media community will need to depend on more than effort alone. Although at first glance, this trend seems like a budget drain, there is a silver lining. Paid social media allows you to have enhanced reach and targeting for your brand’s content. It offers boutique hotels more control over the type of audience to reach out to and engage with.
Factor in countries of origin that drive tourism in your city, age demographics and other discerning filters to tailor the reach of your social media content so that it reaches the right people. It is also helpful to think of paid and organic as addressing two different goals; one helps with awareness and acquiring followers en masse, while the other is to nurture and foster the relationship.
Whether it’s physical or virtual, the concept of community is the cornerstone of any luxury hotel. As the scramble for bookings continue at a breakneck speed, it’s no longer viable for luxury hotels to only engage in organic social media. As Facebook becomes a monetised platform for businesses, a cohesive social media plan that is a mix of best practices from both organic and paid social media is the best bet to build and foster your luxury hotel’s online community.
4. Email marketing still a crucial channel to nurture the guest relationship
As unpredictable and fast-changing as the world of digital can be, email marketing remains one of the cheapest and most effective ways to communicate to your guests along the entire customer journey.
When it comes to pre-booking, on average, travelers browse 38 sites before making a decision. Abandonment is a reality and retargeting emails are an effective way to re-capture an already attentive travel audience. Once a guest books with you, there is a golden window of opportunity for upselling and brand storytelling as they eagerly await their trip. The pre-arrival email is the best time to introduce tempting impulse purchases. Additional value-add information like introduction of the hotel’s social media channels (or even a specific hashtag), events and activities are great ways to engage, and even generate more content for your brand once guests are on-property.
Emails post trip are vital to really understanding the customer experience. It’s a chance for you to thank your guests, invite them to subscribe or become loyalty members, or offer a win-back incentive if the experience was subpar. Remember that emails don’t have to be boring. With a structured approach, strategic targeting at critical points along the customer journey, email marketing is an amazing tool at nurturing the guest relationship.
Of course, we will see many developing micro trends and, perhaps, shifting macro trends as the year continues, but investing resources and time in these 4 digital must haves will serve as a solid foundation for whatever may come your way.