Innovations to the hospitality industry over 2015 are making a substantial impact on the outlook for hotel marketing in 2016. One of the largest and most obvious shifts in the industry stems from the creation and success of the sharing economy. Forbes estimates the revenue flowing through the share economy directly into people’s wallets will surpass $3.5 billion this year, with growth exceeding 25% (Forbes.com). Independent companies, such as Airbnb, are making it easier for travelers to find and rent out rooms online at a lower cost. At 2.1 million registered users, Airbnb is leading the way and sparking competition with brand name hotel companies (fastcompany.com).
Aside from this phenomenon, online bookings now accounts for more than 40% of total travel sales. This has undoubtedly paved the way for online travel agencies to take off, making it more difficult for brand hotels to generate on-site bookings. Expedia and Priceline are at the forefront of bookings with revenues now reaching $35 billion. With the majority of the global population being online users, OTAs will look to untouched international markets like Italy, Spain, Germany and Mexico (MarketRealist.com).
As a result of the success of the global economy, business travel is on the rise. In 2014, The Global Business Travel Association recorded $72 billion in spending, showing a 7.1 percent increase from 2013 and it is steadily increasing (inc.com). With the start of the new year, domestic business trips are projected to reach 480.5 million. This is great news for Hotels catering to business professionals; specifically Marriott who is currently the most expensed hotel by north american business travelers (statista.com). Marriott is additionally experiencing growth from its merge with Starwood and other companies are following in its footsteps. Just recently, AccorHotels bought out Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel for 2.9 billion, creating an empire for the prestigious hotel brand (skift.com).
Over the last twelve months, the industry has seen some exciting changes in the market. These changes have been heavily influenced by the shift in customer behavior in the market. Customers are now researching and booking much differently than they were five years ago. They are expecting hotel sites to be easy to use, responsive and to interpret and predict their needs. The rise in millennial and business travelers plays a large role in the digital shift hoteliers will begin to see, so keeping their expectations at the forefront is critical.
There are three common themes that have continued to be a large focus in the hotel marketing community over the past year. We believe that these will become critical aspects to digital marketing over the next year.
1. Targeted Content
Sometimes third party booking sites and search engines are given a bad reputation, but at the end of the day they’re bringing guests directly to hotels, saving time, energy, and personnel costs. Hotel marketers should maximize this value by using a more customized website design and targeted content to accommodate visitor preferences from their very first visit. Studies have shown that travelers visit up to 38 different sites before booking their stay (Skift). This means that the short amount of time a visitor hits a site will make or break their decision to book, and that marketers need to ensure content, campaigns, and messaging are focused and personalized for each visitors needs.
2. Building Better Customer Relationships Through Email
All marketers are aware of the importance in building strong, lasting relationships with their customers, but what about building relationships with visitors who have yet to book? Some of the strongest brand awareness campaigns are built by engaging visitors who are still in the search process. Properties have the opportunity to begin to get to know their potential guests by placing a simple email capture banner or form on the site that will entice visitors to sign up before leaving. Email marketing has proven to be extremely effective in returning potential guests to the site to complete their booking. In addition, a positive email experience can persuade guests to return to a property, even if they booked with the competition in the past.
Social media should also be utilized to engage customers by providing relevant and useful information to potential guests. But, since most social media applications are public, it limits the personal relationship that can be built through email. With the consolidation of the industry, email marketing will begin to play a crucial role in the hotel marketing environment as small brands and independent properties fight back for direct bookings.
3. A better understanding of the customer booking experience.
If there’s one thing we learned in 2015, it’s that the industry is rapidly changing. The millennial travelers are quickly shifting the market and hotel marketers must constantly be ahead of the curve to stay relevant with this large segment of consumers. While there is an excess of data regarding customers post booking, there is little reporting done on the process customers take when deciding where to book.
Properties can already begin to answer a few questions, simply by using their site data. 1) How are people searching for hotels? 2) How are people completing the booking process? Third party or direct? 3) Importance of certain types of information to search (pictures, reviews, amenities).
When hotels begin to understand the what role specific information plays in the booking process , they can build out a more responsive and personalized site that will keep the new era of traveler fully engaged.