COVID-19 and the resulting downturn in travel is causing a fundamental shift in how hoteliers will fill rooms. In the past hotel marketers have had a relatively easy job due to the huge demand for travel resulting in strategies revolving around “harvesting intent.” Now, when there’s more rooms than travelers, hoteliers have to take a much more aggressive strategy in wooing the interested travelers as well as finding entirely new guests.
This brings us to the topic today, how can a hotelier evolve to be an alpha hunter of new guests? The answer lies in two steps, known to all successful hunters. First you must create an environment for your hunt to be successful. Second, you actually get out in the field and start hunting.
Step #1: Creating a Target-Rich Environment
Anyone who has ever done any hunting, particularly those who constantly harvest game, will tell you the most important part is creating an environment your prey will want to visit. For a hunter this means putting out food, eliminating natural predators, providing safe places for your prey to live, and creating clear hunting paths (aka: conversion funnels). A great hunter will easily spend ten times the amount of effort getting the environment right compared to the amount of time they’re actually hunting.
Hoteliers who decide to get away from the gatherer strategies of the past, which are becoming less and less effective, and move toward the hunter mindset will do well to learn from our orange-vest and plaid-hat friends. They will begin by cultivating their hunting grounds by making sure you have these fundamentals in place. Only then, once they have created an environment where potential guests will want to spend time, will they start the actual hunt. We won’t go into great detail on creating that environment here, but you can find more by browsing the rest of our hotel marketing news and tips here.
Before you go into the field, you will want to make sure you have created an ideal environment for your guests (aka prey) to learn about your property and decide to visit. You will also want to make sure you are still setup to do a bit of “gathering” while you’re hunting or more elusive guests. Just because you’ve adopted a hunter mindset, you should not give up on the tried and true ways of being a gatherer.
Before your hunt, answer these questions so you can be sure you’re ready… when you find your trophy guests.
- Is your website an amazing, mobile-first, experience that will give your guests the information they need to overcome any objection?
- Is your conversion funnel and booking engine as efficient as possible?
- Have you created great content that your guests can enjoy after you’ve brought them in to the site?
- Is your hotel’s search engine campaign running well and driving people to your site?
- Are your local listings designed to engage your guests?
- Are you running effective paid search campaigns on your brand?
- Do you have your analytics systems in place to help you understand where you should be hunting and how you can improve your strategies?
Answering these questions will make finding these new guests much easier because when you become a hunter hotelier your goal is to first create the desire to and then ensure you can fulfill their travel needs.
Step #2: Strategies To Transition To A Hunter Hotelier
Your transition from a gatherer to a hunter is happening. You have created a great environment that spurs engagement & conversion and you are working your existing “gathering” avenues. Now, it’s time to begin getting in the field and taking proactive steps to drive guest engagement.
Proactively driving guests can be more expensive, because you are both creating the demand and fulfilling the demand. This means you will want to ensure your analytics systems are working well, you are tracking, and most importantly… testing. All five of these strategies can work in tandem to help you multiply your success.
Hunting Strategy #1
Work Your Owned Assets
Working your existing, owned assets, is the most effective way to hunt for new guests. You have already invested countless dollars in developing your marketing databases and these customers have already shown some interest (either now or in the past), failing to make full and exhaustive use of your owned assets is a huge mistake you can ill-afford to make.
Your owned assets extend beyond just your email database and include your social media following, direct mail list, phone list and more. Create tactics under this strategy that will help drive your guests desire to travel and alleviate any of their concerns that might prevent them from pulling out the credit card. Examples would be:
- Personalized re-engagement email to anyone who has stayed last year, but not this year.
- Good old fashioned direct mail. However, make it hyper-personalized with a guest’s previous room information, photos, and unique calls to action. Segmenting your list to a small specific audience (such as guests who had a COVID cancellation) will keep your costs down and conversion rates up.
- Make the most of your phone list with a personalized call to invite the guest back for another stay.
- Create contests and other engagement tools for your social followers to spur them (and their friends) that trip may be worthwhile.
- Create content you can drive these guests to that alleviate their concerns. If you don’t know why your guests are traveling, the answers are in our 9th Edition Consumer Sentiment Study.
Hunting Strategy #2
Proactive Social Campaigns
You’re a successful hotelier (you’re reading this right) and have a great social following. You are also most likely using your social channels to share information, engage with potential guests, and perhaps even run a few ads. When you make the decision to become a hunter hotelier you are going to want to take your social marketing to the next, proactive, level.
The most effective hunter strategy is going to be through the use of lookalike audiences. Facebook’s lookalike audiences allow you to upload your guest history list, with as little as 100 users, and the algorithm will then find people who most closely match your ideal guest. Once the list is created you can use it with any of Facebook’s marketing and advertising methods. You are already targeting your existing guests, this will allow you to target an entirely new segment that looks just like your ideal customer. You can learn more about Facebook’s lookalike audience in their business tools here.
Hunting Strategy #3
Expanded PPC Campaigns
Your hotel’s PPC campaign is more effective the further down a customer is in the conversion funnel. Your hotel’s brand name is going to have a phenomenal conversion rate (harvesting specific intent). Your amenities campaign, such as “hotels with an indoor waterpark,” also likely perform very well (harvesting specific intent). However your broader campaigns typically will have a lower ROAS.
This is where PPC begins to become a hunter strategy, but can still retain a positive return. There are four primary tactics we recommend to turn a portion of your PPC budget into something that can drive intent:
- Top of funnel campaigns such as “hotels near (your location)” or “hotels near (specific venue)” can be very effective at driving your visibility for someone who is not necessarily interested in your property, just a property near where they want to be.
- Getaway & staycation campaigns are a great way to create demand for your location or brand, though it is very early in the decision process. Keyword related to “weekend getaway” can work very well if you carefully set your geotargeting to a close in drive radius.
- Refining your overall targeting is also an incredibly effective way at improving your overall performance and reducing your costs. Are you targeting the right customers at the right time? Are you targeting the right geographic areas with the right messages? Are you a luxury property but accidentally running on terms such as “cheap hotels near me?” Are there days or hours that don’t convert and you can simply pause your campaign?
- Competitor campaigns where you are actively targeting someone else’s keywords. This might be bidding on your competitor’s brand name and creating a persuasive headline/text to have the user consider your property instead. This would also be used for broader competitors such as “1 bedroom Airbnb.”
- One word of caution, about competitor campaigns. They can absolutely help drive new guests, but to use a hunting term it’s like “hunting over someone else’s feed.” You may draw the ire of your in-market competitors and they may return the favor and bid on your brand.
Hunting Strategy #4
Animals don’t hunt alone, and neither should you. Building strong partnerships can go a long way in helping drive business as well as improve the overall community. Obviously you should have a great partnership with your local chamber of commerce and destination marketing sites, but you also want to expand your partnership reach beyond just the obvious.
- Venue partnerships: All venues that draw a crowd such as concert venues, attractions, golf courses and so on. In many cases if you make an agreement to send them business they will return the favor. A small investment to promote to their guests (preferably pre-arrival) can very likely offer a phenomenal return.
- Business partnerships: Unfortunately business travel is on the decline and the forecast is for corporate travel to have a permanent shift. You can still create great partnerships by reaching out to the larger companies in your area and negotiating competitive rates for your property.
- Competitor partnerships: Consider creating programs with non-competitive hotels in your area. For instance, if you are an economy property are you able to work with a luxury property to share leads that may not be relevant to your respective properties.
- Out of market partnerships: One partnership that may be very effective, particularly if you are in a vacation destination, is to work with companies that can send visitors to stay at your property. This could be in the form of a contest for the partner where you give them a free vacation for their employees while promoting your property or a simple paid promotion for your property.
Hunting Strategy #5
Finding New Opportunities
There’s a word we use around the Fuel office to describe our fellow Fueligans, “scrappy.” Whether in the office or out on the hunt, being able to adapt to changing opportunities can mean a world of difference in being successful. The best part about finding a new opportunity is your competitors are not there yet. This means you enjoy a first mover advantage and the revenue that goes along with it.
Unfortunately with all “new opportunities” we don’t know exactly what they will be, or when they will arise. This means to find and take advantage of new opportunities you need to always be on the lookout. The good news is most new opportunities are telegraphed pretty clearly, if you are paying attention. Here’s a few ways you can spot that yet-to-be-found opportunity.
- Watch retail, the technology born here eventually trickles down to many other industries. What’s Amazon up to and what can you take from it?
- Follow the industry news, new technology and ways of marketing are rarely a secret. In fact, sometimes its headline news. The question is who sees it first for the opportunity that it represents.
- Listen to your vendors, they may have a technology that is a huge opportunity. If you are worried your vendor is just trying to sell you something and doesn’t have your best interest in mind, then maybe it’s time to find a new vendor.
- Lastly, look for problems. As Henry J. Kaiser said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” If you find the problems, and solve them, you’ll have more opportunity than you can handle.
In Conclusion: Keep Gathering Where You Can, But Be A Hunter At Heart
What has worked in the past, when people were knocking your doors down to check in, still works. However you have to be much more nimble, much more scrappy, and most of all you need to be much more of a hunter. If you can become a great hunter hotelier you’ll be able to survive what may very likely be a market downturn. Even if the market resumes the strength of 2019, having a hunter mindset will make your future even brighter.
If you’re in need of help, or looking for a great “hotelier hunting guide” reach out to us right here.
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