Lodging Industry Pros Focus On Connecting With Customers
Driftwood is scattered about the beach at the foot of the three-story Stephanie Inn at Cannon Beach – random beauty generated along Oregon’s rugged north coast. It’s the kind of getaway spot that your mind wanders to in day dreams, an escape that draws rave reviews on websites like TripAdvisor.com. Yet savvy lodging executives like Dave Norstedt of Martin Hospitality (parent company of the Stephanie Inn and other Northwest hotels) are well aware that they can’t leave promotion of their properties to chance testimonials or customers might drift to the competition. In today’s ultra-competitive world, you either find a way to put heads in beds or business becomes as rocky as the towering spires jutting into view from a Stephanie Inn balcony.
For Norstedt, Martin Hospitality’s Vice President of Operations, the best avenue to full occupancy is the road most traveled. He is a big believer in getting the basics of digital marketing right, and using them to drive reservations. “We maximize visibility through our websites and our email promotions,” he explains. “We measure conversions through clicks and views from our exclusive offers via enews email campaigns. Typically, we do at least one email blast a month. The rule of email etiquette used to be that you really didn’t want to bombard people, but it seems like people are more accepting, particularly if it’s somebody they want to hear from.”
Getting its marketing foundation right is paying off for Martin Hospitality. “The one advantage to a lot of digital marketing is the cost of entry is so reasonable,” observes Norstedt. “Our email blasts are less than a penny per person in terms of what we invest.” The ROI is often immediate. “When we send out an email blast, we make sure that our front desks know exactly when that is going to hit because the phones literally start ringing within minutes,” he says.
Norstedt is not the only believer in the basics. “We find great traction with email blasts sent to our various databases, sharing information about special offers and packages,” according to Erin Martin, marketing manager at Sunriver Resort. “Our customers look forward to these emails because they know it is a first look at a discounted rate and thus allows them to take advantage before we sell out.” Martin adds that pay per click (PPC) advertising, such as Google AdWords, is another of the resort’s most effective means to drive traffic to its web site. “We find value in it specifically for our home and condo rentals,” she says.
As more digital options become available, lodging operators often expand their marketing programs and campaigns. “We strategically layer our promotions across all channels to ensure maximum visibility and drive conversions,” explains Kate Buska, PR director at Provenance Hotels. “Being proactive and integrated with our messaging ensures it is heard in an increasingly fragmented communications landscape. We constantly monitor new technologies, from site design innovations to emerging social media platforms, to ensure that we have the right tools to connect with our customers whenever and wherever they happen to be making their travel decisions.”
Though Buska is forward-thinking, she still realizes getting the basics right is critical. “Ultimately, we find good old-fashioned customer service is the key to customer retention and a powerful way to pique the interest of travelers who have not yet stayed with us,” she notes. “Guests who have had a fantastic experience come back, they tell their friends and family about us and, in the digital world, they spread the word on social media and review sites.”
There is other low-hanging fruit to be harvested when it comes to promoting a property. Those easy pickings might include management responses on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google reviews. “The management responses on user-generated review sites are not just free marketing, but it's customer service, concierge work, service recovery, sales, and more,” according to Michael Hraba, owner of Hraba Hospitality Consulting. “It's free, and it’s vital to engage consumers and guests concerned enough with your brand to share their experiences with you, potential future guests, and the world.” continue →