Digital technology is revolutionising every stage of a hotel guest’s customer journey – and the pace of change is showing no signs of slowing. In this new world, you need to meet your customers at the most opportune points of their digital journey if you ever want to greet them in person.
The old world of hotel advertising was relatively simple and straightforward. Staged photo shoots and hand-picked testimonials were churned out for travel magazines and billboards – and those with bigger budgets would indulge in slick TV ads. These soft-focus efforts were perfect for glossing over potentially disappointing facilities and experiences. After all, the hotel owner, rather than the customer, was very much in charge.
Today the situation has been turned on its head with a digital-first, customer-led market place. In a more level online playing field, positive ratings and good SEO are more important barometers of success than an expensive photo shoot.
As well as navigating new digital platforms, hotel owners also need to manage the extent to which digital disrupters like AirBnB have stolen their (now self-catered) lunch. So, what does the digital consumer journey look like for hotel visitors today, and how can hotel owners ensure they insert themselves into the journey at the right time to get noticed?
As we spend more of our time online, social media has become a powerful tool for influence, particularly for younger generations. Smart hoteliers keen to attract this younger demographic are creating opportunities for organic marketing through encouraging visitors to self promote. Selfie culture may well be anathema to more traditional venues, but consider a study in 2017 by insurer Schofield, which revealed that Instagram was the most important factor in choosing a destination for 18-33-year-olds.
Whether or not a holiday is “Instagrammable” was the most important factor for 40.1% of respondents – higher than the cost/availability of alcohol (24%) and chances to experience the local cuisine (9.4%). Just look at the incredible rise in ‘instagram’ trips to Chernobyl following the success of the highest ever ranked show in IMDB.
Pinterest boards are also a huge factor in the inspiration stage, particularly with women, and an overall audience of 250 million active monthly Pinterest users. It’s no wonder that 75% of the top hotel brands are active on Pinterest, according to Skift. These brands know where their target audiences are, and engage with them at an early stage.
According to research from McKinsey, 31% of accommodation searches started on search engines in 2018, up from 23% in 2017. Ensuring visibility on page 1 for key search terms is vital – whether it’s in the main search results or the prominent local pack. Reviews, relevant details and locally optimised SEO for the hotel website or booking platform are all crucial.
Beyond optimising around location for potential visitors, real thought should go into optimising your site based on long-tail searches targeted at highly qualified customers (e.g. “4-star Manchester hotel with wheelchair access”). What are the key facets your hotel offers that will be of interest to your target audience that others in the area don’t have? Make sure you capitalise.
Keeping up with trends is also key. Google has consolidated various elements of its hotel search experience in one platform with the launch of a full destination search site for hotel listings including booking, ‘google.com/hotels. This integration was of course influenced by TripAdvisor, arguably the biggest game changer in the hotel listings and advertising market. Research in 2018 by Comscore revealed that TripAdvisor reached 60% of all travellers who researched and ultimately booked travel online in Q2 and Q3 2017.
This revelation speaks to the importance of review management and being able to respond in a timely fashion. Hotels need to ensure that customer complaints (as well as positive comments) are responded to genuinely and in a timely manner. A survey by Statistic Brain in 2017 revealed that 49% of people will not make a reservation for a hotel that has zero reviews. Not engaging is not an option.
As well as the platforms they are using, it is vital to understand the devices potential guests are using to access information about hotels. Unsurprisingly, mobile plays a huge role from the discovery phase to booking. In fact, according to Skift 42% of consumers look for travel inspiration on mobile, and 40% actually complete their booking via mobile. In order for hotel brands to remain competitive, they need to think about the travel micro-moment, and be present and visible to the consumer very early on in the purchase journey. When and where will they be accessing information, and how can you engage?
The journey is critical to choosing the destination
For hotel owners, it’s clear that presence and relevance are the two most important online qualities in a competitive industry that has been turned upside down by digital technology. But how are they achieved? Hotel owners should consider taking these four steps:
Build marketing strategies that address the entire thinking-planning-doing consumer journey, from the initial discovery to booking to post-purchase engagement.
Offer personalised messages and support at every stage of the travel journey; cut through the noise and reach customers in their moment of need.
Know that cross-device journeys take longer than single device journeys (requiring five additional days, 55% more sessions, and 45% more digital touchpoints) and are harder to track. Ensure you cater for the new omni-channel shopper.
Recognise that social media is as integral to your hotel’s promotion as it is to users’ everyday lives. It can offer another touchpoint to those that can utilise it wisely.
In a world where user-generated content and recommendations are key, you need to interact at the right time and meet customers where they are, both physically and digitally. You can put your hotel forward as the destination of choice if you understand the journey.
By Koen Smeets, a strategy director for Europe at local digital performance marketing agency DAC