Owners and operators know the importance of online presence, however, they don’t always know how to efficiently and effectively impact revenue-generating change. Guests in the pre-booking phase, either transient or group, have so many touchpoints throughout their journey, where do we, as marketers, start?

Understanding the Entire Online Space

While we ideally want all guests to book direct on the first visit, there are many other places influencing their hotel selection process. Other realms are common, like OTAs (online travel agencies), social media, and Google. When you dig deeper, there are travel agencies, CVBs, reviews, public relations, partnership opportunities, and rates that can help impact the traveler’s journey.

Consumers like a choice; you can’t change that, but we can be sure to put our best foot forward at each turn.

Where Do You Start?

There are endless levers to pull, so which ones make the most sense for your hotel(s)? You likely have the time and resources to execute up to 10 of 100 levers well. Action starts with defining a strategy.

Sometimes we become frustrated and just want to do something, we just don’t know what that something is. Don’t throw money at a wall to see what sticks.

As an agency owner, it’s disappointing to see agencies approach clients with a price list or set of packages, asking them to pick. How are they supposed to know what they need? They are probably seeking agency support because they have an under-performing hotel or segment, but don’t exactly know how to proceed (or solve) on their own.

Do a Gap Analysis on your Hotel’s Online Presence

We find that, before you start implementing tactics, you first need to do a gap analysis. Some hotels naturally excel in certain online ecosystems either due to location, guest satisfaction, or a great revenue management team.

On the other hand, a hotel may struggle in other online areas, either due to fierce competition, market economics, weak brand or product, or other internal or external factors. We created a 30-point checklist to analyze and identify digital gaps. The goal is to determine opportunities before diving into tactic implementation. As a leadership team, you should go through a 30-point checklist audit to try to find your gaps to help lead your hotel’s digital marketing strategy.

Questions to Discuss as a Commercial Strategy Team

  1. What makes your hotel stand out against the competition? WHAT makes your hotel special and WHY should someone stay at our property?
  2. Does seasonality affect performance? What segments and target markets should we be going after during softer periods, and how far out are we planning to make an impact?
  3. What KPIs are you using to measure success? Do you have realistic expectations about success? Or, are you only focused on ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) as it relates to last click attribution? How are you benchmarking against not only your historical self but also your competitors? (does the audience know what “ROAS as related to last click attribution” means?)
  4. Historically, what has worked? And what have you learned from past campaigns? How strong are your reviews? Do you typically rank for non-branded keywords that drive volume? Do you have strong brand awareness for your individual hotel? What paid media campaigns have performed well?
  5. What investment are you willing to make in digital marketing? Look at your top line revenue production and your marketing investments. Is your investment in digital marketing aligned with your expectations for digital marketing production?
  6. What market trends are at play? Is your destination more or less popular than years past? Are you expecting more or less compression from conventions, festivals, and other events?

Defining Tactics Related to Strategy

Once you have gone through this exercise, and then constructed a foundational audit of where your hotel(s) sits across the various online channels, it is time to define a strategy. From the combination of your 30-point checklist and the questions you answered, you should know your gaps plus WHO you want to target and WHEN. Then, and only then, can you determine what tactics to put in place and assign spend to those tactics.

This analysis should hopefully uncover if and where your potential buyer journey is broken.

Bottom of Funnel Problem

This is where most hotels tend to focus. Bottom-of-the-funnel tactics like MetaSearch and OTA Ads tend to show strong ROAS. While high ROAS is good, this is when travelers already identified their destination, know the preferred area in a given city, have narrowed down their choices and they just need to complete the transaction.

If bottom-of-the-funnel conversions are a problem, you might see low website conversion rates, poor reviews, and possibly lacking imagery, video, or descriptive copy. Competitive rates or a premium location may mask these deficits but leave money on the table in the long term.

MetaSearch is a bottom-of-the-funnel approach. At this point, guests have already CHOSEN to stay at your hotel, now simply deciding where to book and complete the translation. This tool should only be activated if your OTA dependency is extremely high and you are only focused on probability.

Just above MetaSearch are the OTA ads. It is a last-minute tactic when we have nothing else on the books and need to throw money at the problem. While they do deliver strong ROAS they should be used as a last resort to fill last-minute holes. Additionally, the capacity to spend on OTA Ads is high, but it will not drive the needle on increasing OTA market share unless your budget is substantial. Nor will it create non-existing demand, only capturing existing demand for your location. Focus on using OTA Ads when your organic presence on OTAs is poor, and you have specific need dates you need penetration.

Middle of Funnel Problem

When a traveler has determined their destination and shifted from inspiration to consideration, you want to make sure your hotel is part of the consideration set. During this phase, it’s important to remember that your hotel cannot be all things to all travelers.

When building a middle-funnel strategy, identify a proper and realistic budget then focus on the key niche area in which you excel. What niches can you excel in? Where can we get in front of those specific audiences with our storytelling of images and content to make them choose us over the competition? What partnerships can we leverage to ensure those that are in market know we exist?

This stage is where you can make the biggest impact if there is market demand. The goal is to capture existing demand in your market, steal market share from your competition, and ensure that you are touching the guest multiple times, and you are front and center.

If you struggle with middle-of-the-funnel exposure, search engine optimization, Google paid search,social media, email, and strategic partners are key here.

Top of Funnel Problem

Introducing or re-introducing a hotel to a client base is the most expensive and least trackable segment of the funnel. This is especially hard if you are competing against other destinations in the early research phase.

This is the hardest marketing, but sometimes the most worthwhile. While you are targeting travelers in the inspiration phase, they are not often close to the booking phase, making it harder to connect the dots to a tangible transaction. The magic happens in the storytelling aspects of awareness campaigns with unique video content, elaborate email campaigns and strategic partnerships to get in front of your ideal guest.

Strong awareness plays are a must for any new hotels, rebrand, or conversion. Some owners may think the newest hotel in market by its nature will steal market share. This is rarely the case and typically takes longer than anticipated to ramp up. More often than not, that new hotel does not have adequate top or middle funnel strategies that will reach the desired guest.

Social media, display ads, device ID campaigns, public relations, partnership marketing, CVB co-ops, and email can all be tactics to affect top-of-funnel awareness.

Bringing in Commercial Strategy

And sometimes you don’t have a funnel problem at all. Some hotels with weak sales efforts have a minimal base business, and all the digital marketing in the world will not fill a hotel to needed occupancy levels without a very large sum of money. Identifying the ideal group/transient mix helps identify target goals across the team.

Most revenue management systems won’t tell you what transient business you are missing until it is too late. We have to start looking at the customer journey earlier and understand that the RMS systems tend to look at pace and pickup reports plus history to help determine future forecasts. If the RMS system says you are forecasted to underperform, create a strategy well in advance to target those needs dates.

There is no single bullet that will transform your hotel’s online presence. You can’t turn on Expedia TravelAds at $500/month and turn around your top line revenue goals. But, it should be one tactic that can help you get there.

Rather than working backwards into a given number and deciding how to divide it up across too many tactics, in partnership with sales & revenue teams, work through the exercises referenced above for a strategy-based approach. Identifying GAPS in sales mix, HOW you want to tell your story, WHO you want to target, and WHEN those buyers are starting their online journey.

As part of the above exercise, hopefully, the above exercise included your sales and revenue management teams. They are going to help you determine what segments to go after at what times of the year, and where the competition likely outperforms your hotel.

Originally published by HotelExecutive in February 2024