Here are some must-have digital marketing items to include and how to think through that process.
Note for branded hotels: be sure you understand what the brand does for you, and what you need to handle at the hotel level. The brand sets aside funds for branding, but it generally does not make its way down to promote specific hotels. For Marriott, you have the option to opt into Marriott Digital Services. If you are a Hilton, you are automatically enrolled in Hilton Advance and can opt into Hilton Amplify and Elevate.
Gather reports and analyze trends
When thinking about what a hotel may or may not need, first look at historical data that is available. Here are some high-level things most hotels will be able to access, whether branded or independent:
- Channel Mix – What percentage revenue is the website driving against other channels? Is it trending up or down?
- Traffic – Is Organic and Total website trending up or down year over year?
- Paid Marketing – Look back and determine what worked and what did not
Here is more granularity on hotel digital marketing KPIs.
Analyze your hotel booking cycle
If you determine that your hotel has opportunities, determine where in the hotel booking cycle things are breaking down.
- Is the problem exposure against your comp set?
- If traffic is up, but revenue is down, do you have a conversion problem? Does it make sense to invest more in content and imagery or look at your rate strategies?
- How is communication with current and past guests to ensure they return again and again? Do your reviews reflect overall positive guest experiences?
Ensure you dedicate resources within your in-house team
When developing your next year’s hotel marketing plan and setting budgets, be sure you allocate both TIME and MONEY. You cannot expect any vendor to do 100% of the work. They still need input and direction and a PLAN from the hotel. In the relationship between owner, vendor and hotel, ensure you have a “digital quarterback”. Dedicate in-house resources to drive strategy, even if you are outsourcing execution.
Ensure your plan is holistic and that you have to have all the foundational pieces in place before you can build upon it. Ensure all your online channels tell a consistent story that promotes your value proposition against the comp set. Check out your collateral and check if the same story is being told. And that you have a fast, modern website that is easy to navigate. We won’t dive into website costs here, but consider a refresh your website design every 2 to 3 years and stay on top of technical components mentioned in #5.
Where to devote funds within your hotel marketing budget
Now, to the meat and potatoes of what areas to consider devoting funds.
- Conferences/classes – Invest in your “digital quarterback” to ensure they have the tools to develop strategy, execute and hold any vendors accountable for the digital presence.
$500-$1000 for registration plus travel
- Content – Having strong content is the foundation of any good website or story. Read your entire website if you haven’t in a while. If you have recently been through a renovation, it is a good time to refresh your static content. For independent hotels, devote resources to a good blog to connect with new audiences via search engine optimization (see #5). Budget for a content writer if needed.
Consider refreshing your static content every 2 to 4 years, and expect to pay $0.10-$0.30 per word. If you need a regular blogger, expect to pay $100-250 per blog, depending on length and frequency and whether SEO and topic selection is involved.
- Images – Ensure you have the images to support that storytelling that you created in your content and value proposition against your comp set. Try to have at least 4 images per each room type. Focus on showcasing the full dimensions of the room and bathroom. Examples are shuttle, fire pits, pet-friendly amenities, local demand generators and more.
$100-$200 per image plus travel costs. Here is more information on how to choose a hotel photographer.
- Social media – This looks different at each hotel. If you are a select service branded hotel, you may not need to invest time in regular postings (unless it is a brand standard). But, no matter the hotel, there are ways to leverage social media advertising to align your hotel with local demand generators and target markets as defined by sales or revenue management. So, you may have to devote resources to both content marketing and paid social marketing. Generally, full-service hotels or hotels with more meeting space and outlets will need higher budgets.
$300-$1500/month for posting depending on number of channels, the volume of engagement that needs responding and goals. $100-$1000/month for social media advertising to target demand generators, specific markets and remarketing.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – There are different tactics to getting your hotel to rank on Google. Most people tend to gravitate to only focusing on what keywords are being used, and while relevant, this is just part of the efforts. This is considered on-site optimization but consider other components. The operations team should focus on Google reviews, the sales team should focus on getting the hotel site listed on demand generator websites (off-site optimization) and you should ensure the technical aspects of your website are in place. Your website should be fast, have schema and good interlinking as a base.
You can hire companies that only do SEO or may be part of the services from your website developer or agency.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – Consider SEM if you are not ranking well for your niche keywords. In some scenarios, a hotel’s physical address may prohibit them from competing in sister markets organically on Google, so you must “pay to play”. If your budget is limited, start with niche keywords where you are most likely to convert with the lowest competition. Also, get a report of your feeder cities to drill down further. Those buying non-branded terms, remember that these people are in the beginning stages of research, so consider this if you would otherwise not make it into their consideration set.
$500-$5000/month for Google and Bing Ads PPC but varies greatly on keywords, market and complexity of strategies plus funds for agency management.
- Expedia Travel Ads – This is like a faucet that you can turn on higher in the slower season to steal market share. Then, turn down or off in the high season. This traffic is usually farther along in the booking cycle and tends to result in higher conversions. You can target windows (Weekdays versus Weekends, Inside/Outside 21 days). Actively managing scheduled ads and your target windows against the CPC “sweet spot” will yield the best ROI. Before running these, ensure you have optimized your OTA listings.
$20-$40 per day is a good starting point for the slow season but varies per market and hotel size. Email [email protected] ask for your Expedia Travel Ads Manager and they can advise on your area.
- Metasearch – These are sites like TripAdvisor, Google Hotel Ads, Kayak and Trivago. Participating in metasearch does not increase your placement on any of these sites, but allows the transaction from these sites within your own listing to go direct to your website. Participate here if your channel mix has a high OTA reliance.
$200-$1000 per month depending on how large your opportunity to shift business is. Both IHG and Marriott use Koddi as a partner and can give you 3 levels of budget recommendations depending on how aggressive you want to be. Email [email protected] for details.
- Email marketing – This is hard to do as a branded hotel, but a MUST for independent hotels. If you don’t have a database, ensure your website collects them and that any other systems like your PMS and CRS can collect within GDPR rules.
For bootstrap email marketing, you can use MailChimp or iContact but the ownership of design and execution falls onto the hotel team. For independent hotels, systems like Revinate allow for automated eblasts to dynamic lists and integrate with the PMS.
- Partner sites – Devote resources to partner sites. Some partner sites may have databases aligned with your target market and getting in those should be part of your strategy. Partner sites could be your CVB, Chamber, Cvent, FedRooms, wedding sites and pet-friendly sites to name a few. Most brands and all independent hotels should be able to see traffic and production from these partner sites by looking at the referring domains to the website.
Each website has its own advertising options (sometimes free!) so reach out on an individual basis.
This list is not comprehensive and is basically endless for an independent hotel. It does not include tools you may need for reputation management or posting on multiple social media channels. Choose partners that know the complexities of the hospitality and hotel industry.
The hotel marketing plan and costs determination should be a joint effort between marketing, sales, operations and revenue management. If you do the hotel marketing budget when you work on the marketing plan, you can determine segments with opportunity and create a marketing plan broken down by month that includes events, trends and seasonality.
About the author
Stephanie Sparks Smith is Founder and Digital Matriarch at Cogwheel Marketing and partner and partner at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. Her focus is helping hotels drive incremental exposure and revenue to their websites and online channels through digital marketing and advertising. The expertise of Cogwheel Marketing is openings and conversions along with knowing the intricacies of the brand systems of Marriott/Starwood, Hilton and IHG.