It wasn’t easy to be a digital marketer for hotels in 2015. And it’s not likely to get much easier in 2016.
With issues such as the growing power of online travel agencies, rising customer acquisition costs, a shifting media and advertising landscape, and the challenge of luring the best marketing talent to the hotel industry, some marketers in the industry say one of their biggest obstacles remains helping executives and others in the industry truly understand what they do and why it’s so important.
“Many times hotels are willing to pay a price to get guests that first time,” said Tim Peter of Tim Peter & Associates. “But what the best hotels know is that instead of paying somebody else you can use that in house and make that investment in your own talent and Web presence.”
Here’s what some digital marketing and e-commerce officials in the hotel industry said about some of the biggest issues they face heading into the new year, shared during Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International’s recent chief digital officer executive roundtable.
Driving direct bookings
To maximize revenue, digital marketers must find ways to drive more direct bookings. This means hoteliers must convince potential guests to do two things: book at their hotel and do so on their own site as opposed to some intermediary like an online travel agency or metasearch site.
Chi Chan, SVP of e-commerce and distribution for Loews Hotels, said hoteliers need to accept that there’s a cost in acquiring new, loyal guests, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smart about spending your money.
“Say we’re paying 20% commission to the OTAs,” Chan said. “What if you took 15% (of what you’d spend on commissions) and spend it on digital marketing so you could optimize the business instead of just saying, ‘Oh there’s no money for digital.’”
Working with OTAs
Dan Wacksman, SVP of global distribution for Outrigger Resorts, said he views working with the OTAs, along with other third-party players in online bookings, almost as a necessary evil to develop long-lasting relationships with guests.
“We have to make sure they have a fantastic experience when they stay with us so we build that relationship that’s not only that one time but they follow us on social media, opt into our media campaigns and join a loyalty program,” Wacksman said.
“The challenge is getting them that first time around, and that’s difficult with a duopoly. … The way I look at it is we have to pay a toll in order to get our brand in front of people. There’s no way to get there without paying that toll that you pay to TripAdvisor, Google or Expedia,” he said.
Finding and luring talent
Some digital markets said that, even with big distribution issues hanging over their heads, one of the biggest obstacles they face is attracting the most talented young marketers to the hotel industry.
Chan said landing premier marketing talent is critical now more than ever as the digital marketing landscape changes. He added the timetable for learning a new way of doing business was once a matter of years. Now it’s a matter of months.
“Things are changing so fast,” Chan said. “So how can we get the right people on board?”
One of the problems, according to multiple digital marketers at the event, is that many of the most talented young people in the field are lured into different industries with more curb appeal and prestige, particularly Silicon Valley technology companies.
“We need to find that talent outside the hotel industry,” Chan said.
Dealing with the fragmentation of media
Bruce Dincin, senior director for media strategy and analytics for Choice Hotels International, said one of the big issues he’s grappling with is the shift and fragmentation for media and the advertising that goes with it.
He said the move away from traditional television viewing experiences offers not just challenges but opportunities.
“We’re talking about how to replace TV,” Dincin said. “One of the things we’re looking at is more advanced TV and making (advertising) more targeted for the consumer online.”
What’s next in digital marketing
Isaac Gerstenzang, assistant VP of corporate e-commerce for Destination Hotels & Resorts, said he thinks the focus in digital marketing going forward is likely to move toward more individualized experiences and interactions with guests.
“I think the next thing is personalization,” Gerstenzang said. “Each of our hotels have their own unique experience, and guests are immersed in that local culture. The challenge is then how do we translate that experience. We need to create the unique, authentic experience on our website.”
He said one way to accomplish that is by featuring “more robust content” online.
“We really need to share those stories and have that shine on social media, whether that’s Facebook, Instagram or blogging on our own site,” Gerstenzang said. “You need to immerse that consumer. … And we hope to know what (that consumer is looking for) and personalize that content based on that.”