Marketing teams across the industry are being asked the same question- how do we keep bookings direct? Both independent and branded properties are faced with the challenge of changing the consumer booking behavior while competing with companies who have marketing budgets in the billions (Business Insider).
Large brands have taken notice of their disadvantage and are standing together in an attempt to change consumer behavior during the booking process, with the popular Marriott campaign, “It pays to book direct” and Hilton’s recent, “Stop Clicking Around.” These efforts are moving the industry in the right direction to transform the changes in travel.
Independent properties are hearing the message and many have also joined the fight by creating promotions and campaigns focused on encouraging site visitors to book directly with the hotel. But the challenge for independent hotels is projected to stretch much further than that of chains. Boutique and independent hotels need to convince the consumer to take an extra step by going through their property website to complete the booking following the search process. So how do independent hotels compete with companies who have billion dollar marketing budgets?
Independent properties should be able to sell their ‘experience’ simply through the website. Here’s how:
1. Finding A Niche
What makes an independent hotel stand out? Their independence. The rise of Airbnb has proven the consumer's want for more unique and personalized vacations. Travelers now expect their hotel to have just as much character as their vacation so they can show it off to their friends through pictures and social. Independent hotels have a lot going for them in this arena. By playing off the uniqueness of their rooms and the history of the property, a brand can be built around the one-of-a-kind experience that can be had at the hotel.
Independent hotels who understand what is important to their guests can start to build their ideal experience before they even enter the hotel. Creating an authentic experience is something that many large companies don’t have the ability to do as their audience ranges from hotel to hotel.
2. Using Segmentation
The brands and OTA’s have dedicated teams to evaluate their traffic and segment out their site content, but small brands and independents may actually have the tools to do it better. Many marketers on the independent level have the opportunity to interact with the guests at many points in the guest/ hotel relationship. From the booking process to in-stay and post-stay marketing campaigns, they understand guests needs and wants on a more personal level. Understanding and predicting the guest needs will allow marketers to present each guest with the messaging, campaign, or offer that will be most meaningful to their experience.
When independent brands break down their guest traffic, they can make more intentional decisions about what will drive a booking from each segment because of their personal experience with guests.
3. Implementing the Right Marketing Mix
Over the last three years, the hospitality industry has seen a boom in the amount of technology providers offering tools to address the needs hotels face every day. So, for the first time, the applications and capabilities that were previously only used by large companies, are now available to any size property. The challenge for independent properties is creating a mix of the tools and platforms available to create the best experience for their visitors.
While this process takes time and energy to implement, many solutions keep the hotelier in mind by offering tools that are easy to use and interpret on a tight schedule. Independent properties should consider the entirety of the guest experience when creating their marketing mix, from discovery of the property to the booking process to the in-stay and beyond.
At the core of this process is the need for independent hotels to deeply understand their guests wants and needs throughout the booking process. Determining who guests are and how they behave will tell hotel marketers which tools they should implement to develop a strategy focused on their niche and personalizing the experience for guests.