3 Hotel Marketing Secrets from 2013’s Top MindsApril 10, 2014 by Taylor Short
The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) recently handed out its annual Adrian Awards, recognizing the “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing” of 2013. These awards acknowledge recipients for creativity, innovation and cutting-edge marketing campaigns.
Out of a pool of more than 7,000 HSMAI members, the 25 top professionals were chosen for spearheading some kind of initiative that pushed the boundaries of marketing innovation, or for executing a marketing practice with exceptional results.
For hospitality brands, the task of marketing has always been crucial to operating a successful business—but never have the opportunities been more numerous or powerful than now, with social media and a wealth of other guest information to leverage. We spoke to three of the top 25 marketers to discover their secrets for hotel-marketing success.
Amir Eylon of Brand USA: Use Partnerships to Extend Marketing Reach
Global marketing is of growing importance to hotels today, due in part to an increase in international travelers visiting the U.S.: Strategically advertising to various types of travelers from emerging tourist markets, such as Brazil, India, Australia or South Korea, can drive them to book rooms at your property. And with spending rates that are, on average, five times greater than those of domestic travelers, international travelers can represent millions in extra revenue.
The challenge for many hotels, however, is encouraging international travelers to venture beyond the gateway cities like Los Angeles, New York City or Miami and experience more of the country. Knowing that everyone benefits when international visitors spread their spending more evenly across the U.S., the federal government decided a few years ago to lend a helping hand.
The result? President Barack Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act of 2010 into law, opening up new resources to help lesser-known U.S. destinations market themselves worldwide. More specifically, the Act facilitated the creation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Essentially, this system allows foreign travelers to apply online for temporary authorization to enter the U.S. for a fee of $14. These funds are then split between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and an international travel marketing fund.
The Act also instructed the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to appoint an 11-person board of travel industry professionals, now known as Brand USA: a public-private partnership that helps lesser-known destinations across the country market themselves to international audiences. Amir Eylon, a 23-year tourism industry professional, serves as vice president of partner engagement, and works to develop relationships with hospitality brands in North America.
Brand USA must “unlock” its budget by raising financial contributions from U.S. travel industry businesses each year: $1 in cash donations unlocks $1 from the ESTA fund, which Brand USA can then use on marketing efforts. The team was challenged with raising $100 million in 2013, and they more than surpassed this goal: Eylon’s award recognizes his work in helping the organization earn over $130 million in contributions.
His strategy? Establish a positive reputation for Brand USA among potential hospitality partners, and demonstrate the importance of marketing the entire country to the rest of the world.
“Until now, [international travelers’] image of the U.S. was driven by Hollywood, but we’re showing them that there’s so much more to this country than that,” Eylon says. “That’s really making a difference.”
The U.S. received approximately 60 million international visitors in 2010, when the Travel Promotion Act was signed. In 2012, that number increased to 66.7 million, and it jumped again to nearly 70 million in 2013. But how are Brand USA’s efforts actually helping spread this influx in international travel across the country—to a small hotel in Cincinnati, for example?
“Most international travelers don’t wake up and say, ‘I want to stay at a Hampton Inn in Cincinnati, Ohio,’” Eylon says. Rather, he explains, people travel because of the unique experience they can have at a particular destination.
Thus, instead of merely marketing a trip to Cincinnati, hotels should market “the Ohio River experience,” or “an urban experience in the Midwest.” Whatever the city and region, Eylon says, hotels should craft packages and itineraries that give travelers a full, authentic experience—and just happen to include a hotel stay.
From there, Brand USA and its partners can help push that message to the desired audience through their various cooperative content marketing programs, such as “Brand USA Originals,” which include print and online destination guides and custom social media campaigns. Brand USA also promotes a variety of experiences on its consumer-facing website, DiscoverAmerica.com.
Brand USA’s international consumer website, DiscoverAmerica.com
To help further encourage foreign travelers, Eylon says, the organization helps hotels target specific segments based on language with a program called “native content videos.” These videos feature native speakers explaining attractive features of a given destination to the target audience in their own language.
For example, Brand USA helped Loudoun County, Va., promote itself as the “East Coast’s premier wine region” to the German tourist audience with a German-language YouTube video.
Eylon says Brand USA’s campaigns added 1.1 million of those 70 million total international visitors in 2013—which represents about $3.5 billion in additional travel spending.
Adele Gutman of the Library Hotel Collection: Investigate Every Complaint From Every Customer Review
By now, most managers are acutely aware of their hotel’s presence on popular review sites such as TripAdvisor—but it’s taken many marketers a while to determine the most effective ways to boost a hotel’s ratings on these sites. Adele Gutman, however, figured it out early.
Gutman, vice president of sales, marketing and revenue for the Library Hotel Collection, is a 34-year hotel marketing veteran. By making the most out of customer feedback, she’s helped the Collection’s four Manhattan hotels climb the ranks and consistently maintain city-wide top-10 spots since 2006. In fact, the HSMAI awarded her a Top Hotel Marketer specifically for her effectiveness in reputation management for the Collection.
“When we first started looking at TripAdvisor scores around 2003, we realized there was a clear relationship between the number on TripAdvisor and how the phones were ringing,” she says. “One of our four hotels in New York City was number four and one was number 56.” And there were a lot more customers calling when a hotel reached the ranks to make the front page of TripAdvisor, Gutman says.
Gutman says her team began using ReviewPro, a hotel reputation management software program, in 2012 to collect and organize mentions of the hotel online—before then, they watched TripAdvisor like hawks.
Gutman decided her team should begin focusing on what these TripAdvisor reviews represented in terms of quality of service at the hotels: What got the most positive and negative comments? What barriers were keeping the hotel from providing a positive guest experience? How could they remove those barriers?
As an example, her team noticed comments showing that many guests wanted coffeemakers in the rooms at every hotel. They were available by request, but Gutman says this was a miscommunication she realized the staff could remedy quite simply.
The current review page of the Casablanca Hotel in Times Square on TripAdvisor
Instead of simply adding coffee machines to every room, Gutman’s solution was to create a list of things guests could add to customize their stay, and present this clearly in multiple places throughout each of the properties.
Other guest reviews mentioned the noise from the Manhattan streets below, so the team looked into how doors and windows could be improved to block noise. They also had buffers installed on guestroom doors, to better muffle incoming sounds and prevent loud slams upon shutting.
Going even further, they added to Gutman’s list items that could mitigate potential sleep disturbances, including upgraded pillows, mattress toppers, nature sound machines, eye masks and “sleep phones” (headbands with built-in headphones that guests can connect to their smartphone or MP3 player).
“We have a solid grasp on what to do in these situations, and most of that is not about the words you write replying to a negative review, but the actions you take behind the scenes to improve your guest experience,” Gutman says.
This new approach of taking a comprehensive look at every issue mentioned in customer reviews has helped Gutman and her team bring all four hotels into top-10 spots for New York City hotels within just a few years. She’s been so successful at maintaining ratings, the HSMAI and even TripAdvisor itself have booked her for speaking engagements.
Larry Mogelonsky of LMA: Realize ROI of “Wow” Moments for Guests
Imagine this hotel scenario: Walking through the front doors, you receive a message on your smartphone: “Good morning, [your name]. Please proceed to room 1243.” The elevator doors whip open automatically on your approach, and the button-less elevator delivers you to the correct floor with no instructions. You step into the hallway and find your door, which opens up with a wave of your smartphone. You’ve already been checked in.
These are the hospitality situations that Larry Mogelonsky thinks about: “wow” moments that encourage the kind of social media sharing that boosts a brand’s online reputation. He is the founder of hospitality marketing communications agency LMA Communications, the author of two marketing and management books and a prolific blogger, having written at least 300 articles in the past 12 months for sites such as Hotel News Now, HOTELSMag, eHotelier and his own website.
Mogelonsky received the HSMAI award for not only his writing, but also his ability to imagine realistic ways that technology from any industry can be used to improve the customer experience in hospitality. This focus has led him to work with just about all the biggest players in the hospitality industry: Hilton, Four Seasons, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Westin and Loews.
“We know that the guest is number one in hotels,” he says, “so the question is, how can we unobtrusively use technology to enhance the guest experience?” As in the example above, he foresees facial recognition technology (with devices such as Google Glass) being the next big adaptation in hospitality. “Now we’re talking about guest service on a new level,” he says.
Whether through technological or more traditional means, Mogelonsky emphasizes that going the extra mile to deliver a specific “wow” moment to guests is usually cost-effective, and always beneficial. His advice is to think about service outcomes in a normal distribution chart, like a bell curve from statistics class.
If you think of the bell curve below as a collection of guest service interactions, most will produce a reaction in the guest that falls somewhere near the middle of the curve: an average response.
Mogelonsky says that instead, hotels should aim for positive “tails”: meaning, they should strive to deliver “wow” moments that are typically so rare, they fall within the small percentage of occurrences on either side of the distribution. Such extraordinary moments are more likely to be shared on social media and in online reviews, helping to boost your brand’s reputation.
A distribution curve representing service outcomes
For example, people don’t typically share photos of a cup of McDonald’s coffee. It’s a good product, but not amazing or uncommon enough to share online. However, if a Starbucks barista writes your first name on top of your latte in cinnamon, they have given you a rare experience that falls within the tail-ends of a normal distribution—one that’s much more likely to be shared with friends.
“Two coffees delivered the same: both are excellent. But one is tweetable and one is not,” he says. “One [has] a ‘wow’ factor, and what I’m telling hotels now is to find those ‘wow factors.’ And do it cost-effectively; cinnamon dust costs almost nothing.”
Real-world examples can be traditional but still impactful, such as the Four Seasons’ brand-standard bouquet of flowers located within view of incoming guests. Or, for example, the chocolate lollipops offered to Mandarin Oriental’s guests.
Examples of the Four Seasons’ standard flower bouquets in every hotel lobby
Hotels can also get a little more creative and include their branding in these efforts. The Savoy London’s restaurant, Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill, draws a cat logo on top of coffee drinks to reflect the eatery’s brand. The Grand Hotel Kempinski in Geneva goes a step further and brands the skin of fresh red apples in its restaurants.
Apples branded with the Grand Hotel Kempinski Geneva logo
Hotels have some of the biggest marketing challenges to face with social media and online reviews being very real measures of a property’s online reputation. Examples from three of the top 25 in the industry show that working together to reach new audiences, responding to customer concerns and bringing the next big guest-pleasing innovation to life all add to that value.