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By Robin Roberts

Now that travel is back in gear and the worst of the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, hotels are clamouring to steer heads into beds with innovative new sales and marketing strategies.

Of course, the road ahead is not all smooth: the industry continues to navigate other challenges, such as inflation, political unrest, and the longstanding labour shortage. But, according to STR, the forecast is sunny, as “global occupancy is strong and growing,” with occupancy at 70.7 per cent at the start of the summer, close to the post-pandemic high of 70.8 per cent. As well, RevPAR is seeing year-over-year growth of 29.3 per cent, its highest since March 2020. In Canada, occupancy was at 62.6 per cent, up 4.2 per cent; ADR at $177.72, up 19.6 per cent, and RevPAR at $111.23, up 24.6 per cent.

To take advantage of the good news, hoteliers big and small, brand and independent are devising crafty new ways to stand out from the crowd.

Partner Power

Partnering or aligning with powerhouse promoters can give you a leg up when pushing your name front and centre. Toronto’s Chelsea Hotel is capitalizing on its strategic position as the official hotel of the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), which is including the independent in the Exhibition’s marketing and advertising campaigns. “It’s those larger partnerships that help drive our brand awareness when we don’t have the higher-end budgets the bigger brands do,” says Desha Sampson, director of Marketing & e-Business for the Chelsea.

Jesse Nagle, Marketing manager for Travelodge Canada, agrees linking with a big name helps big time, but where the Chelsea rides the CNE wave and its heart-of-the-city locale, Travelodge capitalizes on its properties’ proximity to parks such as Banff, natural wonders such as Niagara Falls, as well as big and small cities across the country.

“[Our campaigns] showcase our brand as the base camp for adventure, and the place to fuel up and face the day’s events,” he says. “And finding partners that can fill gaps in your existing strategy is really important.”

To that end, Travelodge taps into online news agencies with targeted audiences. “Not only are we able to share our brand messaging that way, but we’re able to target it directly to our key demographics who are highly engaged and interested in the type of travel and accommodation that Travelodge offers.”

Laura Pallotta, regional vice-president, Sales and Distribution, Canada, Marriott International, says partnerships with MLSE, Montreal Canadians, LIVE Nation and TIFF helps them attract new guests. “The power of our Marriott sales channels helps our B2B customers buy, and our customer-relationship-management tools provide our stakeholders with key information, such as account history and potential sales opportunities.”

Tapping into Tech

Nagle says that, rather than relying on a specific ad set or medium to carry Travelodge’s message, its campaigns cast a wider net to include other platforms such as streaming audio services such as Apple Music and Spotify, as well as paid social media, and partnerships with other brands that share the same passion for exploration.

“Streaming and other audio companies have fantastic tools where you can get what basically would have been the equivalent of a radio ad out to a very specific demographic,” says Nagle. “The free versions run ads where we’ve put some initiatives, on top of paid social on Instagram, Facebook, et cetera. It’s a way to hone in and deliver our messaging to people who will be receptive to it.”

While Sampson agrees keeping on top of new tech is important, the Chelsea doesn’t necessarily jump on board instantly. “We monitor what is happening, and if we see an increase of guests booking through a certain channel or requests for information or reports, we’ll source the initiative and see where we can come into play,” acknowledging the challenges of a smaller budget that may price them out of certain initiatives.

“That said, we try to place ourselves in front of guests who are looking to travel to Toronto. That’s really the only way we can steal share from other hotels. We don’t try to capture guests, necessarily, in the inspirational stages where they’re researching where they want to travel. We leave that up to our destination-marketing companies like Destination Canada and Destination Toronto to attract those guests.

Once that guest has decided to travel to Toronto, whether it’s booking through an online travel agent or doing the research for Toronto, that’s where we try to serve our ads or have placement in organic listings. As the largest hotel in Canada, at 1,590 rooms, we have the space to cover a lot of different target audiences, whether it’s corporate, group, leisure, family or couples.”


From vegan to vegetarian to gluten-free to dairy-free, it can be a challenge to keep on top of changing dietary needs from a diverse travelling public. James Cushinan, director of Food and beverage at the Chelsea Hotel, says the kitchen team cooks up a variety of options to accommodate. “All the raw chicken used in the hotel is 100 per cent Halal, for instance,” he says. “In our Market Garden restaurant, we introduced some of our past favourites and our new ‘bowl’-style offerings. In T Bar, we re-introduced our breakfast menu to cater directly to our guests’ feedback. Eggs Benedict, a staple for any hotel restaurant, avocado toast, and overnight oats are a few items we engineered to meet our guests’ needs.”

He says ongoing training ensures the team is on top of varying demands, not just in the restaurants, but during banquets and conferences. As an example, he cites the Chelsea’s partnership with Lavazza coffee company to provide a range of espresso-based drinks — and know-how. “It not only adds value to our guests’ experience, but also provides enhanced training opportunities for our team members. Through the Lavazza training centre in Toronto, they can further develop their skills and expertise.”

Pallotta says Marriott’s F&B teams focus on healthy menus, including organic, sustainable, locally sourced ingredients as well as zero-proof alcohol cocktails to meet the increasing demand for creative mocktails.

OTA vs. Direct Booking

Direct bookings drive direct dollars, but hotels recognize the value inherent in partnering with OTAs (online travel agencies). Sampson says that, while the Chelsea is listed on Expedia and aligns with Aeroplan for rewards, discounting its rates “doesn’t line up with our rate-parity strategy. We rely on our pricing structure to attract those who aren’t necessarily brand loyal or care about loyalty points. And I think our value-added services almost outweigh the points that guests might be receiving if they book with a bigger brand, and pricing.”

Pallotta says the key to luring the traveller to Marriott’s site is “constantly upgrading the functionality of our website and our Marriott Bonvoy app with video and photography that focuses on both the product and experience, and to ensure these platforms are dynamic, easy to navigate, and provide a seamless booking experience through functions such as flexible calendars to search by dates and price. We also provide best available rates and loyalty-member offers on Marriott-owned sites, as well as instant booking options for meetings and events through GroupSync, which we promote through marketing, social and PR efforts.”

Nagle says being part of the Wyndham rewards program has been “incredibly powerful for our brand,” even though the OTAs have their own rewards programs as well. He says travellers across the board not just an age group such as millennials but a more educated traveller, are very aware of the rewards programs and other ways to get more value out of their hotel stay. And if it’s an OTA that helps drive a traveller to complete a booking, he says it’s still beneficial to Travelodge. He does acknowledge, however, that direct bookings are on the rise. “Some of the leading OTAs have recently announced historic drops in commission rates in order to be more competitive on this front, and to me that signals they’re fully aware of the gains direct booking in our industry are making.”

He hasn’t noticed a “new kind of traveller,” per se, but does note the necessity of having a presence on as many different platforms as possible to appeal to a broad range of traveller. “You do have to be bold and willing to try new things in this changing travel landscape,” he says. “We’ve done some work with social and athlete influencers online, which is all part and parcel with display advertising. The key is finding partners that mesh well with your brand. It’s one thing to convey your messaging across all these platforms, but if you’re not doing it with the right groups, you risk being lost in the shuffle.”


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