A hotel’s director of Sales and Marketing traditionally toted around a treasured list of accounts — a Holy Grail of names to be cultivated and vigorously maintained with a significant manual overlay.

Today, those leads are also coming through digital channels — including third-party event-management sites, email links on owned websites and RFP submissions — and hotels’ inbound sources and formats are increasingly complex and challenging to manage. The end result of this development is a modern hotel customer who wants a show of sales-and-marketing presence and responsiveness that encourages intimate relationships with hoteliers. Anything less and they’ll move on to their next choice.

“No matter if you’re a modest bed and breakfast or a massive hotel chain, I would suggest you spend all your sales-and-marketing money on digital,” says Trina Notman, vice-president Sales and Marketing at Victoria-based Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, where digital accounts for 80 per cent of the marketing budget. “It’s a big deal.”

That’s because the digital wave has flooded every compartment of the sales-and-marketing bulkhead. More and more guests are booking on mobile, for one — a trend that’s still alive five years after its advent and one recently enhanced by data-driven personalization. On the marketing end, Notman is consumed with pushing people down the sales funnel in an inverted-triangle model that sees marketers first employ digital (in the form of 15-second pre-roll video ads) to get people aware of a brand, then grant them different perceptions of the brand through sponsored-content pieces and, at last, convert them to the brand with price-point specifics. “It’s all about leveraging data,” says Notman.

Success comes, too, for the hotelier who’s mastered the exploitative transfer from one realm to another; offering guests a juicy abundance of off-line experiences whose splendid quirkiness is a straight-up invitation to share on social media. For example, guests scanning the humdrum of their hotel phone’s console directory at Accent Inn get the gift of “Ghostbusters” as the call contact for “If you see paranormal activity.” And at Hotel Zed, hotel shuttles ferry guests in VW buses whose eye-catching hot pink, blue and orange exteriors are constant fodder for giddy online disclosure.

The hotels also land on social media courtesy of active efforts on the company’s part. Facebook and Instagram are a big part of this and the interactions are always undertaken by individuals, so the hotels don’t come across as anonymous elements of a faceless corporation. “The relational piece is important to maintain,” agrees Lisa Demoney, senior director, Digital Marketing & Media for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, where a people-first policy pushes the human connection throughout the sales-and-marketing experience. “The back and forth is critical,” notes Notman, whose company responds to almost 100 per cent of the comments on its Facebook page. “When people see you’re posting things that demonstrate you care about them, that’s meaningful. Social media is so important to marketing and sales — I couldn’t stress it more.”

Eric Proskurnicki, vice-president of Sales at Halifax-based Holloway Lodging says that, of all the developments technology has delivered to hotel sales-and-marketing professionals, none has been as influential as review sites. He views TripAdvisor as the de-facto arbiter for travellers researching destinations they’re not familiar with and urges hoteliers to constantly monitor their TripAdvisor presence. “If I was considering two hotels in Moncton and one had a great review and the other not so much, guess which one I’d choose, regardless of price?”

He recommends hotels load up on visuals, including shots of the hotel’s exterior, rooms and lobby. He also urges the inclusion of info on nearby attractions and events and their proximity to the hotel. “The more pictures and information there is about a hotel online, the more marketable that hotel will be.”

Demoney agrees, calling visuals “a cornerstone of hotel sales and digital marketing.” But she acknowledges it can be cost-prohibitive to stage and execute a high-quality photoshoot. For her organization, user-generated content saves the day. These real, personal accounts and photos from Kimpton guests and clients “help hoteliers tell the story of their spaces and properties in a truly authentic way.”

More than that, properties need to keep the data on their vanity site up to date. “I’ve seen hotels that still list a pool when their pool was filled in two years ago,” says Proskurnicki, whose Holloway Lodging owns and manages 33 hotels across Canada. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t come down to price. It comes down to how a place is rated and the pictures online.”

More than anything else, says Demoney, digital technology has been a boon to hospitality sales and marketing for the way it’s transformed the distribution pipeline. Before OTAs and hotel companies built their own online-booking engines, guests could secure a room only through the hotel directly or a travel agent. Today, the possibilities for how and where bookings can be made are numerous, including OTAs, direct-web, mobile and voice channels. Keeping abreast of them is crucial.

Marketing follow-up is easier than ever, too, thanks to the rivers of data digital technology has opened up. Now hoteliers can test ad creative to see what drives conversions and quantify everything from impressions to view-through and last-click revenue from their campaigns.

A few years ago, Kimpton was the first hotel brand to replace printed sales collateral with a custom-programmed and designed iPad sales app. It features high-level content about the brand and all the details a planner needs about event and meeting venues. The sales manager can showcase any Kimpton hotel and send a follow-up e-mail right from the app at the end of a sales call.

Similarly, the World of Hyatt mobile app is designed to create a seamless experience from discovery through stay and provide additional functionality through a single channel. “Mobile apps are a very dynamic platform and truly function as a way to enhance guest experience,” says Heather Geisler, VP, Global Brands, Hyatt Hotels.

“All marketing is digital and all digital is a moving target,” says Notman. Part of that movement is the introduction and evolution of digital regulations, including Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). At Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, the oversight of this area — which includes addressing requirements for one-click e-mail unsubscribes and ensuring no boxes are pre-checked or require a double opt-in — “takes a lot of time out of our marketers’ day.”

At Kimpton, both anti-spam legislation and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation are equally “fresh on everyone’s minds.” It’s why the company proactively conducted audits of every one of its 130-plus sites to pinpoint where and how it collects and uses customer data. Its digital team also works closely with legal and IT departments to stay informed about evolving policies and practices.

When Facebook changed its algorithm, Notman and her team “had to jump fast” to react to a scene that saw the company’s reach plummet. The marketers insinuated themselves into online forums and blogs and began polling their agencies about how to get posts seen. Their efforts revealed a new reality in which video is served up more often than static photos. The company increased its video posts in response. The team also learned the link between exposure and likes was no longer relevant. The rewarding of such “passive engagement” was transferred to instances of “active engagement,” including conversations in the comments section.

Social media may have become a prominent force in the way hotels are sold and marketed over the last decade, but, says Proskurnicki, “the opinions people form haven’t changed. It’s how they get the information for their opinions that’s changed.”

Written by Laura Pratt


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