The Sheraton New York Hotel recently changed its name to the Sheraton New York Times Square to take advantage of its location via online searches.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As the hotel market becomes more competitive, hoteliers should consider taking a two-pronged approach to distinguish themselves from the competition. First, including the location in the name of the hotel helps differentiate hotels and gain market share while including location, landmarks or popular neighborhoods throughout Web pages assists in gaining online travel search dominance, according to sources.
“These two things aren’t incompatible,” said David Brudney, principal and founder of hospitality marketing consulting firm David Brudney & Associates. Both search-engine optimization and marketing identify the wants and needs of customers, delivers them and does it at a profit, he said.
First, if hotel websites contain relevant, unique and accurate information, then they can dominate SEO, explained Max Starkov, president and CEO of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, an Internet marketing services and strategies consulting firm.
“The content on the website is what matters. How engaging the content is and how relevant and deep it is,” is what optimizes online travel searches, he said.
Second, adding the location to the hotel name hones in on differentiating the product from competitors in the same area while capitalizing on locations that have brand power.
David Brudney & Associates
For example, Marriott has dozens of different brands in downtown Chicago, Brudney said, and the largest of those Marriott hotels is the full-service 1,200 room Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue.
“They don’t call it the Chicago Marriott,” he said. “They call it the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile” so travelers wanting to stay in that neighborhood can help identify hotels that offer them the location they want.
What’s in a name?
A staple in New York for 50 years ago, the Sheraton New York Hotel is an emblem of the city’s Times Square neighborhood. Frequented by tourists and loyal returning guests, the hotel has hosted prominent dignitaries and gala functions, and yet even as well known it is among a certain sect of travelers, the hotel is hoping to distinguish itself from its Manhattan hotel competitors’ by changing its name to the Sheraton New York Times Square*.
This was done in part as “a byproduct of letting people know of where our hotel is located,” explained Kai Fischer, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. “We have the Sheraton in Tribeca (New York Hotel), but the Sheraton New York doesn’t tell you where we are.”
Coinciding with the hotel’s renovation, the addition of Times Square to the hotel’s name along with updating the hotel’s website with recommendations for area restaurants and activities will make the Sheraton more competitive in the online and travel worlds, Fischer said, especially with the rising number of Internet searches for New York hotels.
“When most people from outside of the New York area search for hotel location, they center on the most popular areas. Times Square is one of the top search terms for the city. We’re in Times Square, and we’re not taking advantage of our location,” said Fischer.
“Today in marketing in the hospitality industry, it’s all about product separation,” Brudney said.
Name changes like the one at Sheraton will help, he said. “Everyone is focused on Times Square; it’s an established brand. You want to leverage that you’re near that power brand.”
Sheraton has done a $6-billion** reinvestment in its products worldwide to signify a change in its brand, Fischer said, adding “for us to refresh our name and showcase our location in our iconic city with an iconic brand that has global draw and appeal made natural sense.”
“I think it allows us to compete with the major brands and allows us to distinguish ourselves from them,” he said.
Karmela Gaffney, manager director of marketing and ecommerce for Best Western, said the brand doesn’t get involved in naming Best Western properties because it’s a membership organization, but she said changing a hotel’s name won’t enhance SEO unless that location is mentioned within the property’s website as well.
“You could make a huge impact with your property name, however, with the changes to the algorithm … it doesn’t have the impact that it had back in the day,” she said. “It does make some sense, but if you look at it from an organic (search) perspective, it won’t make that much difference.”
Gaffney said Best Western’s strategy goes for depth of search on its Web pages, where the location of the hotel is mentioned numerous times, along with popular destination and activities around the hotel.
“For our hotels in Cleveland,” Gaffney explained, “they might not have Cleveland in the name, but we’ll make sure that it’s repeated several times throughout the copy of the property page. We’ll make sure it’s in the meta-tags on the backend of the website.”
Hoteliers that capitalize on SEO then can focus on other marketing avenues.
“If you have 100 things right about your property—having the location in your hotel name is slightly beneficial, but it’s No. 57 after you’ve done everything else right,” Starkov said.
The Sheraton’s name change is only one way the hotel is marketing to its guests.
“We need to make sure we have on our site what customers ask for in the lobby—to have current, relevant information to come up higher on the search pages,” Fischer said.
Mark Shougar, GM of theWit, a DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Chicago, said most suburban hotels in the area add Chicago to their names because “most properties now in suburban areas want to identify with a metro area,” he said.
But, he added, consumers are savvier than they used to be. They’ll look beyond the name of a hotel and do Web searches using keywords such as landmarks they want to be around when they’re booking a hotel, so they can ensure they’re close to museums, sports stadiums, the theater district, etc.
“I think consumers are searching more for those keywords and optimization keywords than the name of the property so that’s where we put our energy,” he said. “Our industry has changed when it comes to marketing this way, and we’ve all had to learn. It’s an exciting progression.”
*Correction, 22 January 2013: An earlier version of the article stated the Sheraton's new name incorrectly.
**Correction, 22 January 2013: An earlier version of the article stated the Sheraton reinvestment was $6 million.