The single biggest opportunity in digital marketing for hotels in 2022 – Hospitality Net

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As lockdowns start to lift, hotel bookings are beginning to pick up. Despite ongoing COVID concerns, people are eager to venture out again and this is very good news—as long as travel is managed responsibly, with effective preventative measures in place. With positive signs now visible, lodging operators can look forward to and plan for increasing occupancy rates with more confidence. According to McKinsey’s research, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by 10 years and today’s travel consumers have become more digitally and tech-savvy than ever.
Which begs the question: Where lies the single biggest opportunity in digital marketing for hotels in 2022?
There are so many different technology solutions that to list or rank them is all but impossible. The opportunity is to convince owners/brands to make the commitment to, and investment for these solutions. The ‘good old days’ of operating unchaged through the late 20th century are over. The solutions to the labor crisi is at hand. That is, if hoteliers are willing to embrace it!
This is a tough question… but if I had to single out the biggest opportunity in digital marketing for hotels in the upcoming year, I would say Google! To be more precise, Hotel marketers should double down on Google Business Manager – the tool formerly known as Google My Business – to ensure they have completed their profile, products and services.

But why Google, you may ask? Consider these stats, if you will:

This last stat is perhaps the most telling of all. Also known as “Zero-click”, this phenomenon implies that a hotel website is perhaps important, but never as much as ensuring users get as much information prior to reaching said site. And this information is found on Google, in the Knowledge graph (box that shows up in the right-hand side) managed through the Business Manager.

This is where hotel marketers will want to ensure of some of the following aspects:

Of course, we could talk about Google Hotel Ads and other possibilities, but managing well the organic presence on Google is a must prior to any other paid activity.
Changing travel conditions and new COVID variants that have fewer symptoms but still register on PCR test make travel a bit of a gamble. The biggest issue in the recovery is going to be reassuring travelers that their $7K trip will be fine. Hotel companies, travel companies, airlines (who still use non-refundable rates) are strugling with that. Last minute postive covid tests are a thing, and they ruin a trip – usually after the standard cancellation time has passed. Online travel agents who sell packages – it turns out they werent customer focused but revenue focused – they are strugling with this even more than hotels because they are aggregating rates through third parties and booking through fourth parties if not worse.
The single biggest opportunity in digital marketing for hotels in 2022 is …hospitality’s old friend Google!

STR just released some troubling data, clearly showing that marketing spending in U.S. hospitality during the pandemic shrank significantly compared to 2019, dropping to as low as 50% in 2020 and rebounding slightly to 54% in 2021 of the pre-pandemic level.  Equally troublesome is the drop in payroll (wages and benefits) to hotel sales and marketing staff throughout the pandemic, ending 2021 at 58% of the 2019 levels.

Marketing spending in Europe and APAC is even worse than in North America.

With all the lingering repercussions in hospitality from the pandemic, I do not expect hoteliers, all of a sudden, to double their marketing spend in 2022. I believe hospitality’s old friend Google is the single biggest opportunity in digital marketing this year, and here is why:

So what should smart hotel marketers do in 2022 with their limited budgets?

Overhaul your website SEO

Google has frequently stated that it is using more than 200 major ranking “signals” with many thousands of sub-signals and variations.  Make sure your website features unique, relevant and editorial-level copy that is significantly different than the one you have used in the property descriptions on the OTAs, travel guides and directories, etc. and is fully optimized for the three main SEO categories: on-page SEO, inbound linking, technical SEO. Make sure your SEO agency can handle very complex Google-specific technical SEO requirements including automated schema markup, Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Google Sitemap XML, Google Search Console dashboard management, etc.

Improve your website download speed

Make sure the download speed of your website on mobile devices is below 2.5 seconds to avoid your site being penalized by Google and reduce its bounce and abandonment rates. Google’s Core Web Vitals now uses a load speed of under 2.5 seconds as one of the primary measurements of indexing a website, stricter requirement from the 3 second benchmark just a few years back.

Invest in content marketing

Content marketing elevates your hotel website importance in the eyes of Google via the inbound links and citations it creates.  An equally important benefit of content marketing is that it engages and entices the travel consumer in the Dreaming and Planning Phases and creates ready-to-book customers for the Booking Phase.

Content marketing is neither new nor free and has ways been an integral part of the digital marketer’s toolbox. All segments of content marketing cost marketing dollars since someone has to create the content and creative, set up and manage the campaigns, monitor analytics and prepare reports: SEO, website content, social media posts, corporate group B2B marketing initiatives via LinkedIn, PR, blog articles and posts, white papers, webinars, case studies, influencer marketing, panel discussion participations, award and new amenity/service announcements, etc. Naturally, content marketing, when done well, could be cheaper than performance marketing like paid search, metasearch and paid media. When done well, content marketing is much cheaper than performance marketing.

Update your Google Business Profile (GBP)

Google Business Profile is free an easy-to-use tool to manage your property’s online presence across Google, including Search and Maps that helps customers find your hotel and help you “tell them your story.” Make sure your GBP is fully optimized and updated, including your property information, amenity and services descriptions, business hours, your COVID preparedness and cleanliness programs, hotel images and videos, etc.

GBP p,SHS another important to,e – it serves as the management dashboard for Google Reviews, where you can monitor and respond to customer reviews.

Google now has more hotel customer reviews than all of the review and OTA websites combined! GBP directly influences travelers in the Planning Phase and creates powerful word-of-mouth effect in the Sharing Phase.  

Google Hotel Ads (GHA)

GHA is Google’s metasearch marketing format, which offers two distinct marketing opportunities: free GHA listings and sponsored/paid listings that provide better visibility, both featuring the property ARI (Availability, Rates, Inventory). Make sure you work through your CRS or Channel Manager provider to join the free GHA listings. If your property is in a competitive location, join Google’s paid GHA program as well, which uses the pay-per-stay model. Google launched this program understanding well that a) hoteliers do not have much advertising dollars and b) travel consumers often cancel their hotel reservations due to the volatile COVID-19 situation.

Google Ads (GA)

Launch hotel-branded keyword terms GA campaign to target past guests in the short-haul and drive-in feeder markets, and level the playing field with the OTAs who are indiscriminately bidding in your branded keywords. Your past guests already know your hotel brand name, they know your hotel product, all you need to do now is to convince them that your property is safe to stay at and that you have packages and promotions that address their current needs.

Google Ads is perfect as a “deal closer” ad format to convert past guests as well as new customers already exposed to GDN ads and for customers who know exactly where they want to stay.

Google Display Network (GDN)

Launch a GDN Retargeting campaign, which will help communicate your property’s value proposition to users who have visited your website and are already familiar with your product, offerings and location. GDN Retargeting serves as a great “reservation abandonment recovery” and “brand reminder” tool.

Based on your budget, launch a GDN Targeting campaign, focusing on your most important short-haul and drive-in feeder markets. GDN offers great targeting capabilities: Location, Keywords, Audiences, Similar Users, etc.

GDN Targeting is the perfect solution to expand your hotel marketing reach and attract new customers from your important feeder markets.
Are we saying that our industry has saved 10 years of its R&D lifetime in digitalization processes? I wish this would be the reality. Even if we have seen huge progress in our digital capability developments, unfortunately, our industry has difficulties laying aside the effects of old fears in terms of technology, data management, customer-centricity, third party distribution, people management, analytics, marketing, budgets…! And of course, it’s very hard to act upon these topics pro-actively when despite some great recovery, most of the big hospitality organizations are still running significantly behind the 2019 levels of business. While we behave in one of the best industries in the world, it’s also one of the most complex industries to run: real people serving other real people! What is true and so important for the coming years is that this crisis has brought us so many new opportunities and surely in the digital marketing arena.

Let’s go to the main topic of this panel conversation being what is the biggest opportunity in digital marketing? Well, I will make it very clear: data privacy management is my answer! Until now, data privacy policies have been under DPO’s (Data Protection Officer) responsibilities while tomorrow data privacy should be used by all CMOs and CDOs to shift the paradigm of who is the owner of consumer’s personal data. And the only possible answer is – the consumer itself! Give back this full control to your most valuable customer and you will see the immediate rewards: better conversion rates, increased customer lifetime value (CLV), enhanced customer engagement levels, and finally, reduced cost of marketing. It’s not sustainable anymore that close to 80% of your marketing dollars are spent without knowing exactly the return you are getting from it. The best source of information should come directly from your customers choosing their favorite brands, which channel you can use to engage with them, how frequently you can send them communications, what type of content they like, …etc. They control, they choose and you reap the laurels. If on top of that you play the blockchain technology and use token marketing, you can even start rewarding your customers for sharing with you their most personal data in order to get from you only 100% personalized content, I call this a true win/win situation and a potential base for new loyalty programs.

Let’s disrupt significantly this MarTech industry and do not allow any more third parties being distributors or publishers to own your customers! They are the most valuable asset of your company!
That’s an interesting one. Again, hard to name only one opportunity, but I’d say that, post-pandemic, hotels now have a better understanding of the importance of ROI in any digital strategy. Especially when it comes to advertising, I think the boat not to be missed is the application of artificial intelligence/machine learning in your campaign management.

According to a MarketingProfs study, businesses that implemented AI witnessed a 58% increase in revenue and 52% more conversion. In my latest book, I mentioned several case studies with similar figures from different areas, from revenue management to web design.

So, if your marketing strategy (and its application) is still 100% managed by humans, this is probably the right time to give non-biological marketers a chance to prove what they can do for you. You might be surprised…
With OTAs’ online marketing efforts crippled by the death of third-party cookies, hotels have the opportunity to better leverage their in-depth knowledge of, and data about, the guest to reach out and capture more than their fair share of the recovering travel market. Investments in CRM, email marketing and closeness to the customer should pay off big time as hotels reach back further in the marketing funnel and position themselves in front of motivated customers at the inspiration stage of their decision-making process. Simply being there will be half the battle. And in-depth customer understanding will be what ultimately wins the war.
The recovery in this circle is different from the previous ones. For example, hotel ADRs are picking up quickly and faster than occupancy, and leisure (or bleisure) travel drives the demand.

Indeed, the pandemic has accelerated consumers’ adoption of technologies, especially for touchless self-services. Accordingly, consumers left chasable digital footprints in the service roadmaps. The tremendous real-time consumer data captured in the cyber marketplace could become the biggest digital marketing opportunity. The question is whether businesses can “harvest” them in time and transform them into business insights. To take advantage of such an opportunity in digital marketing, hotels must find effective ways to identify instantaneous business intelligence through real-time big data analytics.  
On top of living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I’m lucky that in my role as director of the Master’s in Hospitality Strategy and Digital Transformation at Les Roches (also home of the Spark Hospitality Innovation hub), a big part of my job is looking at emerging technology in the hotel ecosystem. 
 
Overall, it is impossible to overlook the impact that artificial intelligence and machine learning will have across a wide spectrum of the industry. The most obvious one is AI helping hotelier’s optimize revenue, by reducing the ever-increasing amount of available data into something manageable. 
 
AI is also already poised to deliver the digital marketer’s Holy Grail: Personalization. The only obstacles that remain are how to provide clean enough data to start with and to clearly define the line that should maintained to prevent personalization from becoming creepy.
 
In addition to this direct application of artificial intelligence, there are several technologies that are already in use in other industries that are showing great promise in hospitality, that are only possible because of AI. My favorite is facial and object recognition. In my career at the property level, I am sure I spent hundreds of hours searching for people and things, and the proper use of this technology would allow hotels to know where all their high value items are at any time.
 
In partnership with an existing facial recognition technology provider, two of our master’s students recently completed a capstone project resulting in a very promising application that uses this facial recognition anonymously, alleviating the innkeeper’s fundamental concern for their guest’s privacy, to measure a restaurant’s service standards and revenue management KPIs in real time.
 
When the dust settles, a lasting impact of COVID accelerating digital transformation will be a widening of the already-existing gap between the hotels that are on top of their tech, and the ones who are not.
As our potential guests have become increasingly more tech-savvy, hoteliers must step up their processes and productivity by integrating the marketing function throughout their hotel tech stack. 

This begins with the guest-facing hotel website which needs to be responsive, contextual and personalised for each and every hotel booking request.  Using travel data to provide guests with the most relevant special offers relating to the booking window and length of stay (LOS) for their booking type (geographic origin) is just one example where hotels need to capitalise on marketing intelligence and apply this to their website booking process.

If I could provide one short answer to the question you posed it would be this: Data Driven Marketing. Hotels need to understand who their guests are post-pandemic and how/where to attract others like them. To be able to do that there’s a much greater need for a data-first approach because without data it’s just guess work.

There are several transformational trends that have already (or will soon) change how we approach digital marketing. These include: third-party cookie changes, consumer demand shifts (drive markets, domestic travel and bleisure) and Apple & Facebook’s on-going privacy tussles. There’s a central theme throughout all of those trends and it’s that hotels must place data at the center of their marketing planning, execution and reporting if they are to stay competitive.

In my opinion Customer Data Platforms will see greater adoption this year to provide hotel marketers the audience insight and targeting capabilities. The focus for every hotel should be on cultivating their first party data across all platforms where they have an audience. The other data driven trend will be automation. The labor shortage looks likely to be one of the longer term impacts of the pandemic and as a result marketers need to leverage as much automation as possible. Again, that requires a data-driven approach where audiences are segmented, and communications are personalized i.e. automating the right message to the right guest at the right time. 2022 will be the year to establish your data driven strategy and be well positioned for the travel recovery boom.
While the pandemic severely impacted the hospitality industry over the past two years, it accelerated the industry’s digital transformation, leading to new opportunities for hoteliers. With intense labor shortages and unsustainable operational costs impacting the industry, it is imperative that hoteliers drive measurable return via their digital marketing spend. The single biggest opportunity in the realm of digital marketing for hotels lies in the collection and application of data. 
To truly supercharge your hotel’s digital marketing efforts, you need to utilize all the guest data at your disposal. This will enable you to create a memorable, personalized experience for every guest, lowering operational and customer-acquisition costs and driving guest lifetime value and total revenue. So how do you bring your guest data to life through  digital marketing strategy? Good question! 
Your hotel CRM isn’t only the hub for your guest-facing operations. It can also supercharge your hotel’s digital marketing by leveraging real-time guest data to shape your strategy from start to finish. By embedding your CRM’s single source of truth into your digital marketing, you’ll drive direct bookings, repeat bookings, and stay top of mind with travelers as travel continues to rebound. Tools such as your hotel CRM or a customer data platform (CDP) will help hotels operate more effectively — and with less manpower. 
By tapping into your guest data, you’ll be able to increase conversions at every stage of the guest journey – from driving more direct bookings on your hotel website to driving repeat bookings with loyal customers post-stay. Hotels that put their CRM rich guest profiles at the center of their digital marketing efforts will be perfectly positioned to take advantage of increased travel demand throughout 2022 and beyond. 
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