Budgeting season is a time to analyze your hotel’s marketing and technology initiatives from the last year and set a new plan in action to achieve greater success. Today, many sources project that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the hospitality industry for years to come, which makes budget planning for 2021 even more complex. In light of this, it’s important to have an idea of where the industry is heading and keep forecasted trends for 2021 top of mind when determining how to allocate your marketing dollars.

When putting together your budget, investing in the right marketing initiatives is just one part of the equation. Investing in the right tools and technology is just as critical to success, so it’s important to audit and evaluate all website and marketing technology you are leveraging and think about additional technology and upgrades that may be needed to drive greater returns. This is also a great time to assess any tools or technology you may no longer need and determine where you can invest those funds for greater impact.

To ensure your 2021 hotel digital strategy and marketing plan is set up for success, there are 5 key areas to consider:

1. Building a strong foundation for your plan with the right process

2. Successfully navigating COVID-19 into 2021
3. Staying ahead of industry and marketing trends
4. Leveraging the right digital channels and strategies
5. Measuring the right KPIs for success

Read on to learn the top considerations in each of these critical areas, and learn the blueprint for 2021 digital strategy success.

Building the Foundation for a Successful 2021 Digital Marketing Plan

To build a strong foundation for your 2021 digital strategy and plan, ensure you consider the following:

  • Conduct an In-Depth Discovery Session with Internal Stakeholders: Every year it’s important to revisit any shifts to your goals, who you are targeting, top business needs, and determine any new developments that will need to be considered for your brand and business. Especially with the volatility of travel due to the pandemic, keep a pulse on any shifts in average length of stay, booking windows, RevPar, and so on. This will help all internal stakeholders align on goals and KPIs for 2021, and help uncover critical areas where you may need to invest.
  • Evaluate Past Performance: Determine what marketing initiatives and campaigns were most successful and what initiatives fell short of your KPIs. The most important part of this exercise isn’t just determining what initiatives were successful or unsuccessful, but getting to the root cause of why. This will help you determine if the initiative isn’t right for your plan, or if you simply need to adjust your strategy, messaging, or targeting. A well-informed strategy is a successful strategy. Due to the volatility of travel in 2020 with the impact of COVID-19, it’s important to analyze both 2019 and 2020 performance when making decisions for your 2021 marketing plan.
  • Audit Your Website Across Devices: A robust marketing plan without a website that converts will dramatically lower your returns. Determine areas that need improvement on your website and determine if you need a full website redesign. While it’s a best practice to redesign your website every 2-3 years, if your budget doesn’t allow for this, it’s critical that you at least identify areas of improvement that can help fuel the booking funnel and increase conversions. It’s important to evaluate the overall health of your website including SEO, content, user experience, and performance. Does the content and imagery still resonate with your key customer segments? Are there UX issues that are causing a high bounce rate or prohibiting visitors from booking? Does the design still capture your brand aesthetic? Some metrics to evaluate include website pathing behavior, revenue and traffic on desktop vs mobile, top pages by visits, revenue, bounce rate, any notable shifts in your website’s look to book ratio, and of course, any notable trends in conversion rate. If conversion rate is down, before you pin your website as the culprit, be sure to evaluate your website traffic sources for a dip in visits or revenue.
  • Evaluate Tools & Technology: Streamlining your martech is critical to create efficiencies, cost savings, and ultimately creating a cohesive digital ecosystem. Which tools or technology do you no longer need? Which tools or technology can be streamlined into one platform? Is there new technology you could be leveraging to achieve your goals, KPIs, or help you leverage industry trends? These decisions are just as critical as your website and marketing plan.
  • Refresh Your Creative Assets: Your marketing messages and brand story should be compelling at every touchpoint. Evaluate all creative to ensure it still aligns with your brand aesthetic and story, follows current design trends, and conveys the right message. With COVID-19 top of mind for travelers, ensure that all imagery with people reflects social distancing, and all messaging is still relevant through a COVID-19 lens.
  • Research Industry and Marketing Trends: Understanding industry and marketing trends for 2021 will help you navigate the digital landscape for success and innovate your digital strategy. Be sure to not only identify trends, but determine how each trend is relevant to your digital strategy and how your digital strategy must evolve to leverage the trend successfully. With COVID-19, there has been many shifts to travel planning behavior and your strategy must adapt.
  • Determine the Right Budget: When determining your marketing budget for 2021, it is important to consider how the pandemic is affecting your destination and your target markets. In order to remain competitive and capture remaining travel intent, make sure you have as much funds as possible available and scale your budget according to the rise and fall in travel demand. If your marketing budget is severely limited, focus on the highest-performing marketing channels and ensure adequate budget required to achieve goal KPIs. As the year progresses and travel demand increases, you can shift budget between upper funnel and lower funnel initiatives and ramp up ad spend to fuel conversions.

    Use this formula to determine how much budget you should allocate for digital marketing in 2021:

    ((# of Rooms x Average Occupancy Rate x 365 Days x ADR) x 5%) x 40%

    It is important to keep in mind that the budget determined here should serve as the minimum budget and does not account for marketing assets and upper-funnel initiatives focused on brand awareness.

Navigating COVID-19 in your 2021 Digital Marketing Plan

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, STR projects that while occupancy, ADR, and RevPAR will improve in 2021, full recovery in US hotel demand and room revenue remains unlikely until 2023 and 2024. As the situation continues to evolve, these projections are subject to change.

In light of the volatility of the COVID-19 pandemic, your hotel marketing budget should be looked at as a fluid action plan to give your hotel a clear picture of where your marketing dollars will be distributed each month and throughout the year. Ultimately, it will help you achieve the goals that your hotel is working toward and can help you realize success if you keep your budget nimble and adjust your marketing mix with the shift in travel behaviors due to the pandemic. Start with an established annual plan, and be prepared to adjust as necessary throughout the year.

It is also important to ensure that your 2021 digital strategy continues to embrace key strategies that will guide guests through the travel planning journey amidst COVID-19.

To ensure your 2021 hotel digital strategy is COVID-19 ready, consider the following action items:

  • COVID-19 Task Force: At the start of the pandemic, NextGuest recommended establishing a COVID-19 task force with a representative from each internal department. Your team should continue into 2021 focusing on monitoring COVID-19 travel trends, monitoring property booking trends and behaviors, and proactively shifting your digital strategy and plan to accommodate these trends.
  • Continue to Prominently Display your COVID-19 Prevention Plan and Property Precautions: Continue to ensure that your COVID-19 prevention plan is easily accessible on your website including relevant FAQs. The more visual and easy-to-digest your prevention plan is, the better. Link to this plan in your reservation confirmation emails, pre-arrival communication, and all critical guest touch points.
  • Continue Flexible Cancellation Policies: Where possible, continue to embrace flexible cancellation policies as people are still anxious about how the pandemic will evolve. This will continue to give people the confidence to book. To help ensure revenue, you can give cancellation refunds in the form of a credit towards a future stay.
  • Make CRM and Loyalty a Priority: Staying connected with past and future guests and building a strong brand relationship is critical during these uncertain times. Promote exclusive offers and perks to loyalty members throughout the year, and set up automated campaigns that reward guests on their birthday, anniversary of their stay, and holidays. In addition to automated campaigns, It is important to share editorial content that adds value to people’s everyday lives even when they aren’t traveling such as sharing recipes from the restaurant chef, at home spa tips, and more.
  • New Photography and Creative Assets: Assess all of your existing photography to ensure it will resonate with potential guests in a COVID-19 environment. Do you have any photography with a crowded room or people sitting too close? Do you have dining photography with limited capacity? To put guests’ minds at ease, eliminate any photography that does not reflect the “new normal” and add additional photography that shows social distancing in a natural way (people spread out working in a communal space, etc). Consider updating wedding and meeting photography to reflect limited capacity while continuing to embrace the look and feel of natural, lifestyle photography.
  • Update Meeting Space Floor Plans and Capacity Charts: If you haven’t already, update meeting space floor plans and capacity charts to reflect limited capacity for social distancing. Your meeting and wedding section of your website should be a critical resource for planning a wedding or meeting in line with social distancing guidelines. This includes content surrounding COVID-19 meeting and wedding FAQs, updated floor plans, updated photography, and more.
  • Keep a Pulse on Travel Planning and Booking Behaviors: Keep a steady pulse on shifts in booking windows, ADR, average LOS, and more to ensure that your digital marketing plan is responding to critical shifts in travel planning and booking behavior due to COVID-19. For example, many hotels are seeing booking windows shorten for local markets. So in response, hotels can launch packages and campaigns focused on last-minute travel. Another example is if a hotel’s average LOS is decreasing, they can promote length of stay offers where if guests book a certain amount of nights, they receive an additional night complimentary or at a discounted rate. These are just a few basic examples of how keeping a pulse on travel planning and booking trends can set your digital strategy up for greater success.
  • Create New Revenue Streams: Since many revenue streams will be negatively impacted by COVID-19, it’s time for hotels to get creative. For instance, with meeting travel expected to be down in 2021, consider making your meeting space available to book online for local businesses interested in a socially distanced offsite with their team. With occupancy projected to still be down compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, consider allowing your hotel rooms to be bookable by the day to those working remote and in need of a change of scenery or more privacy. While these are just a few examples, for every revenue stream that will be negatively impacted by COVID-19, challenge your team to brainstorm creative ways to create new revenue streams.

Staying Ahead of Industry and Marketing Trends

By now, hotel digital marketers have COVID-19 marketing strategies in their arsenal, but how do you level up your strategy in 2021? One of the best ways to ensure your strategy answers your top business needs and exceeds KPIs is to stay ahead of both travel industry and marketing trends, and incorporate these trends into your digital marketing strategy.

Here are the top industry trends we are seeing in travel and how to leverage in your digital strategy:

  • Evolving Booking Windows: The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on travel for much of the world, and while some regions are recovering, the uncertainty around the situation has had an impact on booking windows. Additionally, travel restrictions and safety measures have also influenced which destinations people are considering. Since many people want to start traveling again but are hesitant to take mass modes of transportation such as airplanes, they are opting for staycations and road trips to nearby destinations. Therefore, local booking windows are shortening. Meanwhile, non-local booking windows are expanding as travelers are planning trips to more distant destinations further in the future. As the situation around COVID-19 continues to change, booking windows will continue to evolve. When planning for recovery, hoteliers should continue to monitor first-party travel data to assess booking windows for their top feeder markets and launch marketing that reaches their target customer segment with the right message at the right time.
  • Rise in Local Travel: Local travel will continue to take priority in 2021 as people will be less willing to take mass transportation while COVID-19 continues to persist. Additionally, with airlines requiring major shifts in aircraft configurations and reduced passenger numbers, the costs of air travel are increasing. According to a GlobalWebIndex survey, 31% of people plan to take more staycations and local trips when the outbreak is over. Meanwhile 29% of people will take more domestic vacations rather than international trips. As parts of the world continue to recover, hotels can focus on driving bookings from local and drive-in markets by promoting mid-week and weekend staycations, unique packages with complimentary parking, and road trip incentives such as offering an F&B credit for miles traveled.
  • Decline in Business Meetings & Group Travel: With COVID-19, business travel is expected to decline as companies will be more conscious of protecting their employees from potential health risks and will rely more on communication technology. Additionally, there will be fewer large international events as people will be more reluctant to travel and mix in large groups. To combat the decline in business, meetings, and group travel, hotels can focus on hyper-local targeting and make up for loss in revenue through other opportunities such as local markets, ancillary services, and new creative concepts such as meeting space for locals. Additionally, hotels can capture what business, meetings, and group travel demand remains through intent-targeting strategies and capitalizing on CRM data around these segments.
  • Unique Experiences Become Even More Priority: Unique experiences will be a bigger priority for travelers in 2021. After staying home for an extended period of time, consumers will seek more experiential packages and offers that allow them to make the most of their travels. From wine tastings to outdoor yoga classes to biking tours, hotels are getting creative and promoting events and activities that resonate with their target customer segment as they daydream about their next getaway. To drive more bookings, hotels can create an even deeper focus on experiential packages and strive to provide unique property activations that set the hotel apart from competitors.
  • Rise of Contactless Touch Points: With COVID-19, cleanliness will be a key factor for consumers when choosing a hotel. With safety top of mind, travelers will expect more contactless touchpoints throughout their hotel experience.Many hotels have taken measures to ensure a safer and more contactless guest experience to protect their guests and employees. From limiting capacity in common spaces to heightening cleaning protocols, hotels around the world have made significant changes on property in response to COVID-19. To put guests at ease, hoteliers should ensure that the hotel’s cleanliness standards and prevention plan are at the forefront of guest communications and visible on the website. They can also allow guests to check-in and check-out on their personal devices, offer contactless menus, and reconsider how the hotel delivers services such as valet and room service.
  • Shift to More Private Hotel Experiences: With travel demand slowly picking up in parts of the world, people are looking to get away while keeping as much social distance as possible. As a result, the demand for more private hotel experiences has grown. Many hotels have started offering full-floor bookings along with private transfers from the airport. If available, hotels can cater to guests looking for similar experiences and drive more revenue by offering full-floor special packages or promoting more private accommodations such as villas and cottages along with private transportation.
  • Rise of Micro-weddings: As the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in restrictions on large group gatherings, there has been a rise in elopements and micro-weddings. In fact, in June to July, Etsy found that there was a 29% increase in searches for small-scale ceremonies. Keeping this trend in mind, hotels looking to increase their weddings business can promote smaller weddings while highlighting ways their venue can accommodate social distancing and virtual guests.
  • Deeper Focus on Mental Health & Wellness: While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a sense of uncertainty around the world, it has also brought on an increased interest in mental health and wellness as people are seeking to live in healthier environments. Hotels can capitalize on this rising demand for wellness by highlighting their spa, gym, and onsite activations that promote guests’ wellbeing and offering packages that include add-ons such as in-room fitness equipment, healthy snacks, a guided meditation class, and spa credit.
  • Non-Linear Travel Planning Journeys: The travel planning journey is becoming less linear with digital channels evolving and new ones being introduced every year. Furthermore, with the rise in marketing practices such as remarketing and cross-device targeting, consumers are encountering more digital touchpoints before ultimately booking a hotel. As non-linear journeys become more common, a multi-channel approach becomes more important than ever. In order to engage potential guests at the right place and the right time, hoteliers should personalize messaging for target personas throughout every phase of the travel planning journey, and implement strategies such as one-to-one marketing campaigns, remarketing, and cross-device targeting. Across all channels, all initiatives should work together and deliver cohesive messaging.
  • Personalization: Personalization has become increasingly important over the last few years. In fact, 36% percent of travelers would likely pay more for services if a travel brand tailored its information and trip experiences to personal preferences or past behavior (Google). Personalization needs to be present throughout a hotel’s website, CRM, and marketing. Create a dynamic user experience by providing unique content that appeals to different segments in order to achieve specific business needs.
  • Customer Personas are Evolving: While middle class consumers are becoming more value conscious, luxury consumers are becoming more discerning as they really want to make their travel choices count when it’s safe to travel again. When planning for 2021, hoteliers should revisit their target customer personas and reevaluate their online behaviors and functional and emotional benefits. Based on these findings, they should reconsider the USPs to highlight in marketing and adjust strategies with the changing needs and times.
  • Rise of Subscription Service Models: Subscription services have grown in popularity as people are looking for ways to get what they need more conveniently. Now, more hospitality operators are making strides to offer a subscription service model as a new revenue stream. For example, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott, and Accor have launched or are considering monthly payment plans that grant members access to rooms, facilities, and workspaces at a flat monthly rate. By offering a subscription service model, hotels can potentially drive more revenue while making it easier for people to book a stay at a moment’s notice. For single property hotels, consider a monthly membership for locals to use the hotel as a remote place to work or to access amenities.

Leveraging the Right Digital Channels and Strategies

With a proactive and smart approach, hoteliers should be able to capture travel demand and increase profitability in 2021. To stay competitive and make progress towards achieving KPIs, digital marketing and technology budgets should consider all the core marketing and technology initiatives, as well as some noteworthy trends and ad formats worth testing.

Here is a summary of key marketing initiatives hoteliers should consider when creating their 2021 budgets:

SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)

SEO continues to play a critical role in driving direct bookings, with 40% of travel and hospitality revenue attributed to organic search (BrightEdge). If your property is not actively running campaigns such as SEM, email marketing, or other marketing initiatives, then this number will be higher despite lower total revenue. Creating quality, optimized content, refreshing website content regularly, ensuring technical SEO health, claiming and optimizing local listings, and maintaining a spam-free inbound-link portfolio are the pillars of a successful SEO strategy.

With the rise of voice search, additional SEO strategies should be in place in order to appear through voice commands. Google devices read out featured snippets when they answer search queries, so appearing in this is crucial if someone asks a question about your hotel.

Additionally, Google’s Page Experience update, which ranks a web page based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with it, will further increase the importance of optimizing page load speed, interactivity, and mobile-friendliness.

Core SEO Initiatives:

  • Local Listings: By claiming and optimizing your local listings, you can increase your property’s visibility for those searching for accommodations “near them” and influence clicks to the website. Setting properties up in local listing directories, including Google Maps, Bing Places, and other local business directories, can help play a huge role in the discovery of your hotel.

    • Ensure that all local listings are up to date (e.g. logo, description, hours, amenities, services).
    • Periodically add new photos to showcase the property and any renovations.
    • Consider utilizing a service such as Yext to optimize listings across multiple local directories.
  • Ongoing SEO Maintenance & Updates: We recommend ongoing SEO maintenance instead of one-time SEO projects, as search engines can take time to recognize and reward updates. Ongoing SEO maintenance is a critical initiative to ensure that your website follows SEO best practices and is more likely to rank for keywords, attract organic traffic, and drive revenue. Your ongoing SEO services should leverage insightful SEO tools and include website health analysis, crawl and indexation optimizations, schema markup, canonical tags, metadata and on-page optimizations, backlink profile analysis, and more.

    • Assess website health on an ongoing basis by conducting a site crawl to identify and fix any errors around page status codes, indexability, metadata, noindex & nofollow tags, etc.
    • Add schema markup code to certain pages on the website to help visual aspects and informational content including opening hours, star ratings, and menus appear in Google search results.
    • Identify opportunities for new pages and on-page content optimizations based on search interest trends.

Noteworthy in SEO:

  • Google Page Experience Update: Google announced a new ranking algorithm designed to judge web pages based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Page experience is made up of several existing Google search ranking factors, including the mobile-friendly update, Page Speed Update, the HTTPS ranking boost, the intrusive interstitials penalty, and the safe browsing penalty, while refining metrics around speed and usability. While this update is not expected to go live until sometime in 2021 and the impact is unknown, it should be kept top of mind for future optimizations. To start, hoteliers should ensure that the website is optimized for page load speed, interactivity, visual stability, mobile-friendliness, safe browsing, and accessibility of content. The website should also be served over HTTPS. By preparing for this update, hotels can help improve their rankings when it launches.
  • Semantic Search & BERT: Search engines are continuing to become more intelligent and understand more about the intent behind search terms than ever before. Late last year, Google announced its BERT algorithm update which improves how the search engine understands language and breaks down queries, allowing it to match queries with more accurate and relevant results. This trend is important because it impacts how websites are optimized for search. By keeping track of search engine developments and the way they interpret searches, hotels will be able to continue to implement the correct optimizations for metadata, on-page copy, and schema markup — with a focus on optimizing content to reflect the search intent or answer a direct question. Hotels should also focus on crafting better, human-friendly content that fulfills their target audience’s search intent.
  • Featured Snippets: Appearing in featured snippets will push down other organic competitors and show consumers you are an authoritative voice within the hotel industry. To optimize for featured snippets, hotels will need to complete optimizations for on-page copy including question and answer style content to increase the possibility of appearing in Quick Answers or People Also Ask results.
  • Voice Search: As voice search technology continues to improve and voice assistants become more prevalent, more and more consumers will be conducting voice searches during their travel planning journey. When a consumer asks a search engine a direct question, featured snippets are often used to answer the question. With the rise of voice search as a digital touchpoint in the guest journey, optimizing the website for voice search is an important strategy to increase reach and visibility. One way to do this is by targeting phrases and questions that are commonly used in voice search, enriching website content to include related queries, and optimizing the website for page speed and load time. By increasing visibility in featured snippets, hotels can simultaneously optimize for voice search.

SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING (SEM)

As one of the most reliable advertising initiatives, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a must for hotels. A tried-and-true initiative, it is integral in the hotel digital marketing mix and one of the best ways to gain visibility on search engine results pages. With Google rolling out new updates on a regular basis, it’s crucial to have enough budget allocated toward SEM in order to be nimble and agile in case any updates or new advertising opportunities arise.

Core SEM Initiatives:

  • Paid Search: SEM is a pay-per-click initiative involving the process of purchasing keywords and optimizing ads on search engines with an end goal in mind. It’s important to cover 100% of branded search terms and focus on long-tailed destination keywords, with personalized messaging and targeting based on campaign goals. In 2021, ensure your SEM messaging is highly relevant to the destination landing page to ensure a high Quality Score and lower CPCs, as well as get creative with your sitelink extensions to highlight your safety protocols, flexible cancellation policy, and more.

    • Prioritize A/B testing due to the volatility of travel demand and the shifting needs of travel consumers.
    • Reevaluate all SEM campaigns surrounding annual events and reallocate funds for any events that are no longer occurring.
    • In RLSA campaigns, be sure to personalize messaging to users who have already visited your website to emphasize your flexible cancellation policy and any compelling offers.
  • Google Display Network: The Google Display Network (GDN) is a series of placements across the Internet where ads are served. Placements can appear on websites, YouTube, Gmail, apps, and mobile devices. GDN provides robust targeting capabilities that allow you to reach your target guest at the right place and the right time. In 2021, it’s important to leverage the available targeting options in a strategic way. Affinity Audiences is a great upper-funnel targeting strategy to help you reach new, relevant users who are likely to be interested in your hotel. Meanwhile, targeting strategies such as In-Market Audiences and Similar Users allow you to reach users who have displayed travel intent.

    • Test new available targeting strategies and features and incorporate into your ongoing optimization strategy.
    • Evaluate how past display creative performed and create new campaign creative that utilizes high performing creative elements.
    • Create unique creative for remarketing campaigns with lower-funnel messaging.
  • YouTube & Gmail Ads: TrueView allows you to create a campaign using a range of video ad formats to engage with audiences when they are searching on YouTube, while Gmail Ads allow you to target audiences specifically within their Gmail account inbox with a mix of teaser and email-like ads. In 2021, prioritize leveraging unique targeting strategies on these channels.

    • Utilize life event targeting that allows you to target people who are moving, graduating from college, or getting married. For instance, with many people moving due to the pandemic, a campaign targeting people moving to your destination and needing interim accommodations can help drive occupancy.
    • Leverage customer match to target users who are similar to your customers with personalized messaging.

Noteworthy in SEM:

  • Discovery Ads: Discovery ads are now available to all advertisers globally. Served across the YouTube Home and Watch Next feeds, Discover feed on the Google Search app, and in Gmail Promotion and Social tabs, Discovery ads allow brands to reach consumers across even more digital touch points. Discovery ads provide an additional opportunity for hotels to reach their target audiences throughout the travel planning journey. By utilizing visually-rich, high-quality creative and strategic targeting based on intent, this ad format can effectively reach and engage more qualified audiences.
  • Image Extensions: Google is phasing out Gallery Ads. Instead, Google will focus on image extensions which are still in closed beta. Image extensions are images that show as a thumbnail alongside a text ad on mobile devices. With Search becoming more visual and consumers conducting more searches on their mobile devices, it is important to have your SEM ads stand out from competitors’. Once available, hotels can test image extensions with relevant, high-quality images that capture the user’s attention and encourage them to click.
  • Call Ads with Website Links: Google call ads are an ad format that allows users to easily call the hotel by tapping on the headline. Call ads can now include an optional “Visit website” link. By tapping on the link, users will be taken directly to your website. Since the “Visit website” link expands the call ad, it gives you greater visibility on the search results page. In addition, including a website link can increase traffic to the hotel website where users can access the information they seek.
  • More Engaging Display: In an effort to compete with social platforms, Google is coming out with new display features that will make display campaigns more engaging. One new ad type they are testing is lead ads with prefilled email addresses. Another beta features an ad type that displays 3-4 images. In 2021, hoteliers can take their paid search campaigns to the next level by testing display betas as they become available. These new ad types have the potential to engage audiences more effectively and help push weddings, meetings, and incremental revenue.

CONTENT MARKETING

A robust content strategy is important for hotels to inspire and engage guests at every phase of the travel planning journey. Hotels can create relationships with new and existing customers by producing content that adds value, and, in doing so, encourages customers to book. As brand touchpoints expand well beyond the website, the creation and distribution of distinct, consistent content across the blog, social media, and email becomes essential to ensure the hotel’s own website is its primary distribution channel. With a strong content strategy, hotels can successfully engage potential guests and shape the brand story across the hotel’s owned channels.

Core Content Initiatives:

  • Blog Management: Blogs are a great way to drive new, organic traffic to your website and into the top of the funnel. Blog ongoing management ensures that new content is consistently published on the blog, allowing you to stay connected with past and potential guests and build SEO value. In 2021, editorial content becomes even more important as the dreaming phase of the travel planning journey is longer for those planning long-haul trips.

    • With a rise in local travel, it’s important to feature editorial content that highlights the unique aspects of your destination and property activations to excite locals who are already familiar with your destination.
    • Incorporate feature writers into your editorial strategy to create dynamic content from different perspectives.
    • Incorporate more infographics and video into your editorial strategy which will not only boost SEO but will also help bring your content to life.
  • Social Media Management: Social media is an extremely effective marketing tool to position your brand and generate traffic that leads to conversions. Social media ongoing management ensures that new content is consistently published on the brand’s social media channels, which builds awareness, increases engagement, and drives traffic to the website. In 2021, your organic social media strategy should be thoughtfully curated and socially relevant.

    • Revisit your Instagram aesthetic to ensure your brand has a cohesive grid with consistent filters and coloring across images and lifestyle imagery that embraces the same aesthetic.
    • Leverage influencer content and user-generated content to provide users with a first-person perspective of the guest experience.
    • Utilize social media to feature causes that are relevant to your brand.
    • Create Instagram Reels to showcase the playful side of your brand through organic content.

Noteworthy in Content Marketing:

  • Short Form Video: Video has the ability to pack tons of information into compact, snackable content. More than just an entertainment medium, it can be an effective means to communicate brand stories and make a lasting impression. Short-form video is poised to take a bigger chunk of marketing spend as consumers watch more and more short-form video content. Short-form video is effective because it engages the user and presents information in an efficient and interactive manner. Not only will users find the information they’re looking for, but they’ll spend more time engaging with the brand. By developing short videos of 60 seconds or less and repurposing them on your website, blog, and social media channels, you can educate, entertain, and engage your target audiences.
  • Influencer Content: Influencers gain the attention of their followers through relatable, sensational, entertaining, or educational content. To drive awareness and reach their target audiences, hotels are partnering with influencers and micro-influencers for sponsored social media and blog content. As social media becomes more and more ingrained in everyday life, people are more reliant on authentic voices from their social circles to support their purchases. By leveraging strategic influencer partnerships, hotels can engage with their target audiences through influencers they trust and follow closely. With the right influencers, this form of marketing can be highly effective.
  • Instagram Reels: Instagram debuted Reels, a new short-form video format that allows users to record and edit videos with audio and music soundtracks, similar to TikTok. Reels are displayed in users’ Home feed and Explore page, as well as within a new tab on users’ profiles. Reels provides brands with a new opportunity to get more playful with their organic social media content and increase visibility on Instagram. As people spend more time on Instagram, hoteliers can drive more reach and engagement by developing creative Reels that set themselves apart from the competition.
  • Testimonials: Travelers are becoming more and more interested in reading reviews from their peers, and they actively seek this information out before booking. If a hotel website doesn’t feature testimonials, they will head to other websites (usually OTAs) to find this information, where they will be exposed to offers and conversion strategies that can take the booking away from the hotel. Guest reviews are considered valuable content as they can influence a booking, especially in the COVID-19 environment where people are hesitant to travel. To provide potential guests with the information they seek, hotels should display testimonials utilizing technology that pulls reviews from third-party websites such as TripAdvisor. By displaying this content directly on the website, hotels can reduce abandoned bookings and drive more conversions.

ONLINE MEDIA

There is a vast array of different options to utilize in online media campaigns. Media buys, native advertising, social media advertising, and dynamic rate marketing are just a few of the options. All of these initiatives can increase your brand’s visibility, increase your hotel’s conversion rate, and ultimately reach your best guests.

Core Online Media Initiatives:

  • Intent-Driven Display: Leverage travel ad networks like Sojern and ADARA’s to tap into first-party data and hone in on the most relevant audience based on trip planning details, and serve relevant messaging to solve business needs such as increasing LOS, driving midweek bookings, and building brand awareness. Utilize their private marketplace to launch ads across a network of top travel publishers such as Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. Within Intent-Driven Display, you can also utilize Dynamic Rate Marketing (DRM) which allows you to serve real-time rates and availability to travelers who have shown intent to travel to a destination.

    • Utilize native ads as an upper-funnel initiative and drive qualified traffic to the website.
    • Test CTV ads and leverage their targeting capabilities to reach your target audiences on streaming services.
    • Leverage travel data to understand fluctuations in travel demand to your destination and adjust your strategy accordingly.
    • Utilize Sojern and ADARA’s private marketplace to launch display across top publishers.
  • Metasearch: Metasearch advertising is one of the fastest growing marketing arms of any hotel’s marketing mix. The meta placements available for CPC bidding let travelers compare hotel room rates from various online travel agencies (OTAs) and other travel websites. Popular examples of metasearch include Google Hotel Ads, TripAdvisor, Bing, and Trivago. Through metasearch, hotels can drive more direct bookings and ultimately shift share from the OTAs to the direct channel. In 2021, focus your bid strategy on high-performing SEM audiences and hotel need dates.

    • Utilize meta callouts to highlight your flexible cancellation policy and best rate guarantee.
    • Increase bids on traveler set dates and past website visitors to reach users who are actively planning a trip.
    • Utilize Enhanced CPC to compare performance metrics like device type, traveler country, advanced booking window, and other factors to find your best converting and most valuable segments.
  • Paid Social: Paid social (or social media advertising) has become increasingly more prevalent in 2020, with the continued decline in organic reach and shifts to platform algorithms. Through paid social, brands can significantly increase engagement, drive website traffic, build followers, and increase brand awareness. Like organic social media, paid social media can be used to build a compelling and cohesive narrative across multiple touchpoints. In 2021, increase share of voice for your paid social campaigns as social media usage will continue to rise. With new compelling ad formats available, test different creative across social channels to increase engagement and fuel the booking funnel.

    • Test IGTV ads with short-form video up to 15 seconds focusing on destination content.
    • Leverage Lead Generation ads to drive leads for meetings and weddings.
    • Utilize targeting unique to social platforms such as interests, life events, and behavioral attributes to reach highly relevant audiences and drive qualified traffic.

Noteworthy in Online Media:

  • IGTV Ads: Instagram is introducing advertising within their long-form video platform, IGTV. The IGTV ads will initially appear when people click to watch IGTV videos from the previews in their feed. These ads will be built for mobile and up to 15 seconds in length. IGTV ads provide another opportunity for hotels to reach their target audiences, drive brand awareness, and fuel the purchase funnel. Brands can test IGTV ads by creating compelling creative that engages rather than disrupts the user and targeting audiences who are most likely to engage.
  • YouTube Shorts: YouTube is rolling out YouTube Shorts, a short-form video creator tool similar to TikTok and Instagram Reels. Users can make 15-second videos set to music and utilize a multi-segment camera, speed controls, and a timer and countdown feature. YouTube Shorts is launching as an early beta beginning in India and will appear on the homepage in a dedicated row. With over 2 billion monthly active users and one billion hours of video viewed every day, YouTube is an effective channel to drive brand awareness and reach. YouTube Shorts provide brands with a new opportunity to engage audiences with short-form video. Once available, hotels can incorporate Shorts into their organic social media content strategy.
  • Lead Generation Ads: An untapped resource for building out robust email lists, Facebook and Instagram Lead Generation ads allow you to collect emails without requiring users to leave the platform. By auto-populating the email and name associated with each user’s account, these ads remove additional barriers to convert, maximizing results at a low cost. Lead generation is an important strategy as it helps you connect with qualified audiences and build your customer database for future marketing promotions. Facebook and Instagram Lead Generation Ads are cost-effective ads that can be used for building email marketing lists, driving loyalty subscriptions, and reaching wedding planners, soon-to-be brides, and event planners.
  • TV Streaming Ads: Streaming entertainment is growing in popularity, especially with people spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 50% of consumers are watching more streaming services than before (GlobalWebIndex). As a result, brands are investing more in TV streaming ads on platforms such as Roku, Hulu, and Apple TV+. TV streaming ads offer a new opportunity to reach consumers where they’re spending time on TV, desktop, and mobile streaming devices. By leveraging each platform’s targeting capabilities and optimizing reach, frequency, and performance across devices, you can effectively engage your target audience through this ad format.
  • Native Advertising: Native Ads have become increasingly important to any successful marketing strategy. They seamlessly integrate into the platform consumers are using by taking on the format of other suggested articles or posts on the online publication they are browsing. As Native Ads blend in with page content, consumers won’t be interrupted, allowing you to get ahead of ad blocking. Native Ads are increasing in popularity among travel brands that need to drive awareness and grow relevant site traffic. While this ad format can function as a standalone upper-funnel initiative, it can also complement standard display or DRM campaigns. By leveraging travel intent data, layering on audience behavior and demographic, and tailoring creative to speak to your target audience, Native Ads can be invaluable in driving highly qualified audiences to fuel lower-funnel initiatives.

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM)

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is an essential marketing tool for hotels. CRM can be utilized to gather guest data and put this data to good use to engage guests before, during, and after their stay. In order to cut through the marketing buzz, CRM can offer data-driven campaign capabilities that provide one-to-one personalization and attribute-based offers by combining real-time intent and historic customer data. By carefully defining target segments and delivering personalized messaging, you can drive new guest acquisition, enhance the guest experience, and foster brand loyalty.

Core CRM Initiatives:

  • 360° View of the Guest: Guest information is typically collected through a number of different siloed systems, for example, the Property Management System (PMS), the Central Reservation System (CRS), booking engine, and website. CRM can be used to cleanse, normalize, and match/merge data from all sources to build the most complete guest profile possible, giving you a true 360° view of the guest.
  • Transactional Emails: Own the conversation with the customer from the moment the booking is made and improve the guest experience by sending personalized and automated transactional guest communications along the entire booking cycle. Incorporate upselling and cross-selling promotions tailored to the individual booking details to generate more revenue from each booking.
  • Intent-Triggered Marketing: Launch ad-hoc, scheduled, or automatic email campaigns to your guests and prospects. Utilize a combination of historical data, current real-time intent, and interests to build audiences and target these audiences with highly-personalized email marketing campaigns and “drip” campaigns.

Noteworthy in CRM:

  • Contactless Communication: In a COVID-19 environment where physical touchpoints are minimized, CRM has become a critical component in providing guests with contactless communication. By allowing guests to easily follow social distancing guidelines for their safety and integrating fast and personalized online check-in/check-out into your guest communication, you can increase guest satisfaction and build brand loyalty.
  • Guest Feedback: Post-stay guest feedback is becoming even more critical in a COVID-19 environment, as travelers want to be reassured that a hotel is taking the appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of its guests. By requesting feedback, you can continuously improve your services and show guests their experience with your brand and property matters. Send guests a post-stay email to request feedback around hotel cleanliness and other COVID-19 matters.
  • Data Visualization: While data visualization has been a priority for quite some time, it is even more critical now as hoteliers strive to understand what segments are driving revenue, which campaigns are performing, and what optimizations will make the most impact on their bottom line. Data visualization is now at the forefront to helping hoteliers make quick business decisions. CRM data visualization tools can help you quickly understand your guests, campaign results, and key components of your business in order to make more effective, data-driven decisions. Connect the dots even further, by integrating with your website and digital marketing insights.
  • Dynamic Email Content: Dynamic content changes to suit a customer’s behaviors, preferences, buying habits, and other targeting metrics. In dynamic email, the pictures and text change according to the customer segmentation, providing a more personalized experience. Consumers value personalized, one-to-one communication that addresses their needs throughout the guest journey. Dynamic email content allows you to elevate your email marketing strategy by segmenting your email database based on factors such as age, travel segment, RFM value, and market. This enables you to create dynamic email content that resonates with your target segments for greater engagement. Go beyond demographics to better understand guest interests and behaviors and use this information to personalize guest communication. Integrate psychographics, real-time intent data, and guest profile data for a 360-degree view that allows you to provide more relevant communication.

Measuring the Right KPIs for Success

When adjusting your marketing mix and budget allocation throughout the year, be sure to set the right KPIs to measure success of your campaigns. The same marketing initiatives can play a role in the Dreaming, Planning, Booking, and Experiencing phase of the travel planning journey with different targeting strategies aimed at expanding reach and awareness, fueling the booking funnel, and ultimately winning the booking.

Be sure you are focused on the right KPIs for each phase of the travel planning journey:

  • Dreaming Phase: In the Dreaming Phase, travel planners are still narrowing down where they want to go weighing between destinations. Reaching potential guests early on in the Dreaming Phase allows hotel brands to more easily steal share of voice and capture demand. KPIs to measure are unique impressions and CTR.
  • Planning Phase: In the Planning Phase, travel planners have narrowed where they want to go and begin comparing accommodations. Reaching potential guests in the planning phase allows hotel brands to fuel the booking funnel as travel planners begin shortlisting their hotel options. KPIs to measure include CTR and engagement.
  • Booking Phase: In the Booking Phase, travel planners have narrowed down their hotel options and are ready to book. Owning the direct booking in this phase is critical to increasing revenue. KPIs to measure are conversion rate, ROAS, and revenue.
  • Experiencing Phase: In the Experiencing Phase, travel planners have booked and are ready to travel. Engaging guests in the experiencing phase allows hotels to upsell spa, dining, and onsite activities. It can also enhance the guest experience with pre-arrival and in-stay CRM communication. KPIs to measure are engagement and an increase in ancillary revenue.

Thoughtfully crafting your hotel’s digital marketing budget will be the blueprint for a successful 2021. A strong 2021 plan follows a strategic process, properly navigates the COVID-19 environment, stays ahead of industry trends, and leverages the right digital channels and strategies. Consider investing more heavily in your core initiatives that have delivered proven results in the past and allocating proper budget towards new marketing initiatives. Although the budget will provide you with a solid framework and plan, it’s still important to be nimble and adjust as the year progresses. Measuring the right KPIs for each phase of the travel planning journey will ensure campaigns are well-optimized and a full-funnel marketing approach maximizes returns.

ABOUT NEXTGUEST

NextGuest provides hoteliers with everything they need to thrive in the digital world, with bespoke technology solutions developed to meet the needs of luxury hotel clients coupled with elegant design capabilities that bring brands to life. We marry the power of data with brand discovery to uncover unique strategies that apply to everything from website design, content marketing, CRM, and more, helping the world’s top hotel brands maximize ROI as they acquire, convert, and retain guests throughout the travel planning journey. While each of our services is available on its own, the integrated technologies, marketing, and consulting offerings work together to increase digital engagement and generate revenue for hoteliers, allowing them to focus on what matters most — serving their guests. www.nextguest.com | (800) 649-5076 | [email protected]

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