As consumers become savvier in how they search and book, sales and marketing experts are constantly upgrading the online presence of their independent hotels to match.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Trends in how people, and brands, consume and process information online are driving digital marketing strategies for independent hotels.
It’s important not only to have an online presence, but also to have the proper digital footprint, sources said.
A potential guest visiting an independent hotel’s website must have access to information that is intuitive and search-friendly, said Amy Ramskill, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach, California.
“It’s our No. 1 priority, because the current buyer has so much access to information,” she said.
Keep content fresh, legitimate
Content is still king, but that content must be legitimate and engaging, said Amanda Wallace, director of strategic marketing at Lark Hotels.
Wallace said her team is constantly revising the company’s website and will soon roll out a new version, which includes restructured search-engine-optimization and more blog content.
Ramskill said her team is focused on ensuring content is consistent across all of the platforms Hotel Erwin is on. The lexicon of the traveler is ever-changing, so SEO remains a priority, she said.
“It’s all about positioning these days and ensuring that consistency across all those platforms is maintained,” she said. “That’s a challenge for us because we don’t have corporate entity overseeing (everything). … It’s labor-intensive for us on the creative side.”
Independents also have to contend with the big brands’ loyalty programs, which are becoming more powerful, Ramskill said. That requires some creative thinking to differentiate the property and its perks, she said.
“We have to constantly upgrade ourselves,” she said.
A good online presence can be expensive, she said, noting her hotel has to realign its marketing budget annually based on its position in the market. Luckily, the hotel’s ownership team is very proactive and sees the value in marketing spend, she said.
Connie Villeta, director of sales and marketing at the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto, California, said online presence and SEO will be a big focus for 2020. In prior years, her team has focused on promoting direct bookings.
“You’re going to see a lot of changes with our website,” including updated photos and social media, she said, noting more travelers are turning to social media for reviews on hotels.
Villeta said paid search will still be priority, but not the top one. Next year, the hotel is looking to implement 3D models of rooms to give clients and guests an experience of being on-property before booking.
Relationship with OTAs
Wallace said Lark Hotels’ marketing budget is spent largely on maintaining direct bookings, Facebook advertising, pay-per-click and advertisements on regional and national travel sites.
She added the company isn’t completely shying away from online travel agencies, which are important to providing exposure.
“It’s hard to see them as a competitor, per se, because they are actually selling rooms for us, but it’s at a pretty steep commission percentage,” she said.
Villeta said her team continues to foster a relationship with OTAs as some brands are increasing commission rates with them. About 60% of Garden Court’s inventory is on the OTAs, she said.
Ramskill said OTAs are a tool and a friend in the boutique space, as many international travelers rely on the channels. Her team is testing different deals and offerings, “working with the new bundle technique Expedia and Booking.com (are using).”
Looking ahead, Villeta said it will be crucial to continue to monitor which channels consumers are booking on. She said she has noticed a decrease in direct bookings for business travel.
“It’s not that they’re traveling less; it’s that they’re using other tools to book better rates in the market,” she said.