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Online spend rises in 2010 marketing budgets
March 10 2010

Hoteliers are stepping up their use of social media and blogs this year, as well as using new online tracking tools.

SAN FRANCISCO and NEW YORK—Hoteliers are stepping up their use of social media and blogs this year, as well as using new online tracking tools.

Social media sites are generating the greatest interest—along with more dollars and staffing—from hotels’ marketing teams this year.

Niki Leondakis, COO,
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

“Since early 2009, when Kimpton first joined Twitter and Facebook on a brand level, we have increasingly integrated social-media initiatives into nearly every aspect of our company,” said Niki Leondakis, COO of San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.

About half of Kimpton’s 50 hotels and 50 restaurants are on Facebook, and some of its chefs are on Twitter, along with the hotelier’s corporate Facebook and Twitter pages.

While Kimpton conducted successful promotions on the two social media sites last year, marketing executives measured success by “our ability to forge even deeper relationships with our guests and ultimately inspire brand loyalty,” Leondakis said.

Kimpton will take its social-media utilization a step further this year with its launch of a travel blog for its hotels and restaurants. The blog will be integrated into sites including Facebook and Twitter.

“Our blog will allow us the opportunity to not only share more in-depth content with our guests, but also inspire people to travel, experience amazing food, and learn about wine and spirits through the stories we’ll share,” Leondakis said.

Kimpton also plans to conduct more “Tweetups”—a gathering of Twitter users—at its hotel restaurants this year. In addition to hosting outside groups, Kimpton wants to host events that introduce its hotels and chefs to the online community, Leondakis said.

Relationship building

While many hotels effectively have used Facebook, Twitter and other sites to profit from last-minute marketing pushes, some are focused more on relationship building this year.

“A lot of our efforts online are being focused on customer service, versus just blindly throwing out offers,” said Jim Zito, VP of interactive marketing for New York-based Morgans Hotel Group.

 Zito realizes online marketing must be effectively integrated with Morgans’ offline marketing. As a result, the hotelier will be consulting with “outside groups” to determine how best to integrate its offline and online public relations and marketing.

 The hotelier may add staff or outsource some of its social media work as a result.

“There is a shift in dollars to online marketing, but not a complete disregard for print. It is important for brand awareness,” Zito said.

While San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels has not increased its budget for online or offline marketing this year, it will continue to heavily focus on its Facebook and Twitter promotions.

“We have so much enthusiasm for and we are getting such good results from social media that it makes sense to continue,” said Ann Nadeau, director of marketing for JDV Hotels.

The medium is inexpensive and grassroots, which makes it ideal for the boutique hotel chain, she said. “We have always done low-budget marketing campaigns.”

JDV has integrated most of its online and offline marketing campaigns since early 2009. Still, special discounts for Twitter and Facebook followers, dubbed “Twitter Tuesdays” and “Facebook Fridays,” have proven to be very popular among its guests.

“It gave them special access to something they couldn’t get anywhere else,” Nadeau said.

Bigger budgets

Social media sites are not the only online venues that are receiving more attention. Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is boosting consumer awareness of its brand on TripAdvisor and numerous travel sites.

“We do see quite a good return from the ad spend on TripAdvisor. In 2009, it was in the top 10 referring sites to Fairmont.com,” said David Doucette, executive director of Internet marketing for the company.

TripAdvisor is particularly effective at introducing travelers to new Fairmont properties, he added.

Fairmont also is increasing its spend with Advertising.com, an AOL-owned advertising network of approximately 2,000 Web sites, as well as Google, Bing and other search engines.

“We have been doing more on the display ad side of things. With all the tools out there now, you can really quantify what the impact of your activity has been,” Doucette said.

Fairmont is also focused more on its own online content with its recent launch of an interactive community Web site called Everyone’s An Original. The site, which offers non-traditional Fairmont content, is designed to be a place for guests to meet and post comments, as well as enter polls and contests.

A photo contest is kicking off the site launch and will be included on a regular basis. In addition, articles and videos will focus on the culinary aspects of Fairmont’s hotels, its green measures, weddings, and families. The site also will highlight videos with unique content from various Fairmont hotels, such as celebrities visiting the properties or footage of events.

Tracking usage

David Doucette
executive director, Internet marketing
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Because of the wide range of travel ratings Web sites, blogs, and social media sites on which hotels need to track their brand, many are also investing in online tracking software this year.

“We signed a deal with a company that aggregates the data. The hotels receive a weekly email that shows how many tweets there were about that hotel, how many reviews on TripAdvisor (and other benchmarks),” Doucette said.

JDV Hotels is testing a few different applications before it chooses one to use across all properties. “There are a lot of services out there that help you monitor social media. Getting a dashboard is something that we need to do,” Nadeau said.

Morgans Hotels is also evaluating various aggregate tools before purchasing a system.

“It allows you to benchmark yourself and respond appropriately,” Zito said. “It helps decrease the time of tracking what people are saying about you across the Internet.”

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