Given that technology and media landscapes are changing, we would like to know what challenges hoteliers are subsequently facing? What should hoteliers embrace? Let’s have a conversation.
In this conversation we are joined by:
- Aaron Henry - founder of Foundest Agency;
- Eugene Oelofse - National Marketing & Communications Director, Hilton Malaysia;
- Tom Thrussell - VP of Brand, Marketing & Digital of Centara Hotels & Resorts;
- Tony Chisholm - Chief Operating Officer at GCP Hospitality (Gaw Capital Group);
- Marc Bichet - Chief Marketing Officer of of GCP Hospitality;
In this conversation, let’s see how they tackle these changes that affect their branding, marketing and PR strategies.
With swiftly changing technology and media landscapes - for instance, a declining number of media outlets worldwide and the rise of OTAs - what challenge(s) should hoteliers be aware of and prepared to address?
Aaron Henry: "While traditional PR still has its place in communications, the opportunities to land great coverage are fewer and farther between. One challenge is – when looking across the array of available communications channels – determining which ones can now deliver on your specific objectives, and then integrating them for amplification. As content marketing is a natural extension of PR capabilities, forward-looking agencies and publicists already foresaw this and adapted to encompass social, influencer, and even native. Introducing programmatic advertising campaigns – display, video, social, and mobile – can add another dimension. We’ve been exploring ways in which retargeting can interface with traditional PR.
OTAs present other challenges, such as managing reputation. Traveler reviews are outside of our control, but not beyond our influence. According to RateGain, 87% of travelers have an improved opinion of a hotel if management responds appropriately to negative reviews. (https://rategain.com/blog/overcome-shortcomings-challenges-in-online-reputation-management/). Even unattended reviews can be damaging to revenue. According to a Cornell University report, booking revenue increases in relationship to review responses up to a 40-45% response rate.
While OTAs dominate online sales, even independent hoteliers with smaller budgets can implement customer relationship and revenue management systems to reclaim some of their bookings. Email, social marketing, and a consumer-experience-optimized website can all be leveraged to increase direct bookings."
Eugene Oelofse: Traditional Media outlets may well be on the decline however the media landscape is rapidly expanding, the amount of content that is made available to us and our customers has amplified, convertible content is on the rise and becoming more beneficial, I see this as a positive move forward, content which becomes revenue based, a click through window, exclusive deals based of an opinion piece or referred by said influencer. As the landscape changes the age old theories still reign supreme, focus on your customer, realise what matters to them and decide on your platforms, we as marketers might need to put in a bit of extra work now with the mass of options however our target remains constant.
Tom Thrussell: "Our current media landscape is the new norm. Traditional publication advertising costs remain high, the array of new media is complex, and it’s hard to know where to focus PR efforts given the diversity of new channels and players. Meanwhile the OTAs dominate online, investing over 10m USD in advertising daily (and much of offline too!) It’s never been more critical to identify the most efficient and relevant media and channels for your brand, much of which means navigating a minefield of bloggers and influencers to ensure credibility and reach. But managed well, this is good news. We used to broadcast or shout at customers, and pay a fortune to do so. Now we have conversations, targeted content and metrics. As for OTAs, we won’t compete with their budgets so let’s work wisely with them. Be grateful for all the advertising and brand awareness they generate for us. And then implement strategies to drive customers to direct channels, at the very least on their second and subsequent stays."
Tony Chisholm: "OLTAS are becoming a familiar platform for customers today to book hotels. Therefore Hotels need to understand what drives business via these channels to their respective hotels and try to take advantage of this. Pictures and rich content helps customers to navigate their way through a booking decision when narrowing their choice. Different classes of hotels and brands have clear and distinctive branding and positioning DNAS so marketers of today need to be clear on how they wish to have their hotels presented in the eyes of the booker and ensure the customer booking journey reflects the brand promises. Hotel companies need to continue developing their technology to have strong synergies with the OLTAS. With such a vast array of hotels and brands available to customers today hoteliers need to put themselves even closer to the consumer to ensure that that the purchase decision is easy for the consumer to make. Taking a 360 degree view on this booking journey from start to finish and comparing the experience to competitors can often help a hotel team understand their own strengths and weekends in this domain. Hotels to follow travel trends will be looking to extend services and attractions and activities in and around their hotels which is an interesting subject on its own to explore."
What marketing strategies do you recommend for their effectiveness, and what metrics do you use to measure their success?
A: "Effective marketing strategies originate with compelling messaging and content. What special experiences are you creating for your guests that inspire sharing, as well as opportunities to engage bloggers and influencers? Bangkok is a great, diverse city in which to offer experiences to travelers. Local market and cooking tours, fieldtrips to lesser-known temples, catering to the latest fitness fads – there are endless activities to capitalize on, as in other Asian cities. Good content can be directed and repurposed in all directions – social, influencer, PR, and advertising.
To monitor and measure success, I aggregate and compare data from as many sources as possible: social performance, web and print impressions, CTR, etc. When the roles and objectives of your communications channels are explicitly aligned across your sales funnel, from top to bottom, performance data becomes more meaningful."
E: "I still maintain a traditional view of large funnel down to small funnel into convertible business is the only way forward, I don’t believe that there is any one step that can be employed in the pursuit of a sustainable business model. New media has opened the door for us to earn quick wins, but so do these quick wins come at a detrimental cost to brand values."
TT: "To keep it simple let me highlight two examples. It seems obvious but the most vital is taking a mobile first approach which amazingly many companies still have as an afterthought. The majority of our web visits come via mobile and while the revenue share is catching up. With mobile often a brand's first entry point, a poor experience can mean losing potential customers before they've even arrived
It's of course easy to measure the impact too, in terms of traffic, engagement and revenue. Separately, and a strategy specific to hotels, we focus on valuing and nurturing OTA bookers as we seek to turn them into direct bookers. Through on property stay extension, and direct booking return incentives, some of our most brand- and channel-loyal guests’ are OTA converts. Of course we leverage other tools too such as preferential rates and benefits via our member programme.
TC: "I think I have answered this in the above so I will add that the metric can be based on a few factors;
- Market shares, is my hotel market share growing at the same or better pace than my competitors
- What ratio or percentage of business do I want to derive from OLTAS and how do I make this work to the best of the hotel taking advantage of seasonality as example
- Can I attract a new market origin by taking specific advantage of a targeted approach with one of the OLTAs as my partner."
What guidance do you provide hoteliers for the use of public relations today, and working with their agencies?
A: "You might be able to (and probably should) ask for more from your agency – integrated capabilities, market insights, and regular deliverables. Your agency should have a truly in-depth understanding of your business, and align with your sales goals to ensure they're bringing real value to the table."
Is your PR agency using strategies that constantly reinforce the uniqueness and appeal of your hotel brand – and creatively exploring ways to expand on that? Well-executed communications strategies project your message outwardly, and – coordinated with sales and business development – enable you to reflect inwardly on the effectiveness of your value propositions for travelers.
Hoteliers should be able to turn to agencies that have both regional and genuinely international capabilities. It's to clients' disadvantage in costs and efficiency to utilize agencies in different markets, especially in the condensed region of Southeast Asia.
E: "I believe that PR now bears more weight than ever before, it is imperative to be building your brand message through content that is relevant to your market, the only way to mitigate spend on new channels is to influence the broader audience into searching for you and believing in you. Alternately it would be more cost effective to open up your allocation to the OTA’s."
TT: "Target a good mix of traditional and new media and carefully review quality, reputation, relevance and reach of bloggers and online influencers. The sheer volume of online players is overwhelming and there are some cowboys out there so you really have to do your homework. And get a commitment on the volume of content, posts and channels you’ll will be getting in return – there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or stay!). Most importantly however, my consistent message when trying to drive effective PR, is be creative. Develop initiatives, events and partnerships that are unique and reinforce the brand positioning. People want great content and that content should drive the brand. This is particularly important when seeking international coverage. And don’t expect to drive good international consumer PR without the help of a strong agency network in different markets. Multiple markets cannot all be managed from one office successfully."
TC: "I think what has worked in hotels I have seen perform well over the years working with PR agencies had these rules in place:
- The hotel was clear on the target audiences they were targeting
- The hotels considered the PR agency as their in-house agency and had a full open relationship aiding the agency to understand the hotels challenges and strengths and weekends
- The hotel gave the agency a very clear and consider brief, that brief was then challenged by the agency so that total clarity was achieved.
- The hotel ensures the agency had fully experienced the services, product and experience so that the employees could relate well to the brand experience
- The best relationships challenge each other and this is a healthy relationship, sometimes hotels over decide or over instruct their agency rather than having a more consultative approach. Sometimes and outside in approach is very important to keep hotels on their toes."
How do you measure ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) from using bloggers or travel influencers? Is this the way to go in building brand awareness?
A: "Bloggers and travel influencers are a great – even, essential – way to build brand awareness. For results, I prefer influencers' engaged audiences to the diffuse and typically less-engaged audiences of broad news coverage.
Advertising value equivalency is a false comparison, as the context for earned media is entirely different. Working closely with clients' sales and revenue departments, I've found it meaningful to track ROMI long-term, particularly for earned media. If your bookings and revenue rise over time while your impressions rise, it's understandable to make a positive correlation.
In one case, I was responsible for building the brand of one of the best-known digital publishers. I worked closely with the sales division to set up road shows with advertisers. I created weekly and recurring branded content for hundreds of media outlets, including TV, web, and radio – as well as branded events. Over time, I increased our annual media impressions by more then one thousand two hundred percent. Within that same timeframe, the publisher grew to lead its division in sales. The week-over-week trends in coverage were useful, but it was really the long-term trends that were compelling, as the increase in sales revenue traced brand awareness.
To directly link ROMI to influencers and bloggers, you can coordinate with them to offer promotions with specific, track-able codes. Although I can see a use for gathering conversion data like this, I believe it's the long game that you should keep your eye on in building brand awareness through bloggers and influencers.
Also, use every tool at your disposal to monitor data. Google Analytics and Facebook's Business Manager are good resources. And third party tools like HubSpot are useful when you can legitimize the expense."
E: "Its all about the selection of the blogger / influencer and what metrics they hold, in certain instances I will opt for an influencer with 15K following as opposed to a blogger with 150K, it all comes down to relevancy, choosing the right medium at the right time in the right place for the right audience."
TT: "For all brands, online and offline PR is an integral form of driving strong brand awareness, particularly those that aren’t superpowers with gargantuan advertising budgets. Targeting the right bloggers and influencers means we can build the appropriate brand image and awareness, reputation and trust through advocacy from partners that resonate with our target audience. Whilst there is no disputing the wow factor of a Chinese celebrity with millions of followers generating record reach, clicks, likes or views for us, the truth is that we are advocates of quality over quantity. We review audience type carefully and then measure reach, engagement with posts, referral traffic, brand site engagement, conversions and revenues. We also take into account media value according to extent of content but media values are difficult enough to give credibility to in traditional print media, let alone new online media!"
Marc Bichet: "Hotels cannot solely depend on bloggers and influencers to build their brand awareness. They need to be treated as one specific promotional channel part of a larger pro-active marketing strategy in which all relevant channels are triggered…Media Relations, Digital Marketing, Events, Social media, etc…Calculating bloggers and influencers ROMI is quite difficult if they are not part of an overall strategy promoting a specific event/package unless hotels have a proper affiliate program allowing them to track the number of bookings/sales referred by each blogger and monitor the action uplift vs cost."
Thank you to Aaron Henry, Eugene Oelofse, Tom Thrussell, Tony Chisholm and Marc Bichet for joining our conversation.
If you're in the industry and would like to hear a conversation on a particular topic and / or with a particular panel, let us know!