Own your content, bookings, online reputation
Own your content, bookings, online reputation
20 FEBRUARY 2014 8:19 AM

Hoteliers must control their costs of sales, online reputations and their guests’ booking journeys, said panelists during the HSAMI Europe Revenue Management Conference.

LONDON—Revenue managers must employ a range of strategies to control the increasingly fragmented booking funnel, according to panelists during the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Europe’s 4th Annual Revenue Management Conference. 
The task is proving more difficult and more complicated with the proliferation of digital distribution channels, they agreed. 
“Within your own hotels, keeping control of the booking journey is relatively straightforward, while on the owners’ side, it’s a matter of promotions, competitive rates and merchandising destinations and the hotels themselves,” said Chinmai Sharma, VP of revenue management and distribution for Louvre Hotels Group.
Hoteliers must analyze the cost of acquiring customers on every channel, said Philip Gardner, director, revenue management Continental Europe, InterContinental Hotels Group. 
Doing so brand-wide can prove challenging given the number of individual franchisees, Sharma added. 
“(They) need to be fully engaged in promotional activity,” he said. “Working with large scale is challenging, but it’s improving, because franchisees see the results.”
“We will manage digital campaigns and work on a percentage (cost per acquisition) model capped at around 10%, which is still less than a hotel would pay for those same bookings via OTAs. Owners do not always deal with our revenue managers, who I believe should all have marketing experience,” said Janel Clark, revenue director of booking engine technology company Avvio.
Cross-company strategy
While one person within a hotel company must take ownership of the booking journey, measuring and managing costs along the way, those efforts should not occur in a silo, panelists agreed. 
“How costs are looked at still needs to be integrated across marketing, sales and revenue management teams so as to optimize the data and find out exactly who are our customers. There is no one easy solution, and it needs to be optimized for each property,” said Anabelle Beets, corporate revenue and reservations manager, Kempinski Hotels S.A.
Goals must align across various departments, she added. That starts with communication—making sure team members have knowledge of their colleagues’ roles, specifically in regards to the conversion of potential guests.
“Great communication and leadership make sure that understanding is good and the correct digital marketing is done on behalf of hotels. If anything, from a strategic view, we sometimes discourage hotels doing too much, as it might replicate efforts,” Gardner said.
“Have the tools in place that allow hotels to market in their own markets and have a voice on how national digital marketing dollars are used,” he added.
OTAs are a viable tool, Gardner said. “Sometimes we have resisted them a little too much, so how do we focus moving forward? How do we embrace them and use those channels to have guests return directly? One obvious thing you can do in a brand is to own a little more of the guest experience,” he said.
The panel pointed to two things all hoteliers should concentrate on: Spend more money to convert marketing into sales and have better content on owned channels than on those of their partner OTAs.
The panel stressed that ignoring OTAs would not help hotels in any manner.
Talent Pool
The rise of the revenue manager, and the recruitment and retention of such talent, has changed dramatically, the panelists said.
“I do give preference to (potential revenue managers) who have been in sales. There’s a healthy cross pollination. Revenue managers must understand the power of the ecommerce channel,” Sharma said.
“It is my experience that revenue managers rarely go into sales,” Beets said.
“And revenue managers have to look more at costs, not just at the cost of sales and conversions but where digital promotion sits on the (profit and loss account). This can be difficult, especially within smaller hotels,” Gardner added.
Clark noted the rising number of independent hotels employing dedicated revenue managers, “which is a huge, recent change.”
Reputation management
Keeping the guest journey within the hotel’s own booking engine is the goal of every hotelier, with social media increasingly playing a very large part in this process.
“Reviews have a huge effect, and I see a correlation between those reviews and the strategies we implement,” Beets said.
“It is this type of social media that has taken us the longest to get to grips with, in terms of policy towards our hotels—for instance, how to manage a Facebook page. If you are active in social media, then you need to do it well, as the argument is, if you are not doing it well, do not even bother,” Gardner said.
The same level of thought must be put into paid search marketing. Some hoteliers, the panelists said, are exasperated at having to bid on words that would help search-engine optimization put their hotel at the top, or close to the top, of any online search, especially when the words are part of their own hotels’ names.
“But if you are not (bidding), then Booking.com is. Conversely, if you use new keywords, often conversion rates drop dramatically,” said Sharma.
The panel was also guarded against last-minute booking platforms such as Hotel Tonight.
“What I do not like about the Hotel Tonight model is its cannibalization,” Gardner said.
“But just because the guest has a mobile does not mean that we will offer discounts on it. For us, it is about being consistent across all channels. Hotel Tonight is just another segment,” Sharma added.

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