This article originally appeared on Tambourine.
One of the most frequently uttered hotel marketing catchphrases of recent years has been “selling experiences,” but while many marketers talk the talk, more than a few are a long way from truly walking the walk. After decades of touting their vast array of in-room amenities, fitness centers, pools and large-screen TVs, many hotel marketers are still too self-indulgent and product-focused to recognize that it’s what happens outside of the property that really matters these days.
Millennials are leading the way amid a rapidly growing consumer trend among all generations that places emphasis on spending on experiences rather than material goods, and hotels are directly in the crosshairs of this purchasing revolution. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that hotel marketers dig deep, review all their hotel digital marketing touchpoints and set a course of action for turning their property’s messaging from being product-focused, to experience-focused.
Ready to make the selling shift? Here are some key suggestions for hotel marketers operating in the “age of experience”:
1. Position your hotel as the epicenter of the destination.
Modern travelers are increasingly basing their trip planning, research and booking activities around the destination in question, rather than searching for any specific hotel brands in a given area. According to Google’s 2015 “The Traveler’s Road to Decision” report, destination-related keywords are the primary search terms consumers use when planning trips. (51% of the time when planning, compared to 31% usage of brand or specific website names.)
That means your hotel’s location is your most appealing asset to new-era travelers.
A great example of this theory in practice comes from the venerable Driskill in Austin, Tex., built in 1886. The hotel uses a combination of experiential methods to delight guests, focusing on history tours of the stunning Romanesque Victorian property, deep-rooted immersion in Texas culinary culture, as well as opportunities to take in the expansive Austin music and nightlife scene.
“We really highlight the fact that compared to every other hotel in Austin, we are the hotel that guests can visit when they’re here in Austin where they can get a truly authentic Texas experience,” says Ashley Hartert, Director of Sales, Marketing and Events at the Driskill. “Our competitors are much more traditional in hotel style, so those hotels can exist in just about every other city in the country. But the Driskill is singular, in that from the moment our guests walk in, they’re inspired. We infuse that throughout the sales process and then throughout the guests’ experience once they’re on site.”
2. Your advertising and website messaging should promise a unique experience.
Building upon suggestion #1, be sure all messaging — website, banner ads, social — focuses on the unique experience your hotel provides. Play up the reasons why it’s best to stay at your hotel to experience the location, aside from saving $15 per night compared to your competitor next door.
One very useful means of achieving this goal is to create a special page/section within your hotel’s website that’s devoted entirely to tips, itineraries and “insider” information regarding the local area, as well as any special corresponding experiences offered through the hotel. Include invaluable tidbits like where to park for free, hole-in-the-wall spots the locals love, best hours for visiting popular attractions and ways to save money on admission fees. You can also make this information downloadable/printable in PDF format, so guests can take it with them when they explore.
The French Quarter Inn in Charleston, SC, showcasing itineraries of local experiences
3. Create unique packages that simplify guests’ ability to experience the destination.
Remember that even though your guests are now paying more attention to what’s outside your doors than what’s within, they still want your help and guidance with the best ways of enjoying everything your location has to offer. That goes far beyond just offering standard concierge services; try creating special themed destination packages that incorporate stays at the property with deals, tours and excursions to local points of interest, from museums and historical sites to artisanal shops and iconic eateries.
That can also include favorite local pastimes. For example, at the Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz, Calif., guests can sign up for surfing lessons conducted by local experts, which ties directly into the local culture and lore.
“Santa Cruz is famous for surfing,” explains Tom Faust, VP of Sales at Benchmark Hospitality, which manages the resort. “One of the experiences the resort offers is surfing lessons for beginners. If you were going to a business meeting in Santa Cruz, how cool would it be to take surfing lessons before or after your meeting? The resort is also on 300 acres and has abundant hiking trails, so we hold events like going into the woods with horticulturists to do mushroom picking and education.”
4. Showcase user-generated content (UGC) and review testimonials of past guests’ experiences.
Social media has made UGC even more impactful than your own content, since viewers are more likely to trust the opinions and perspectives of fellow travelers than any corporate material they see on a branded website. So, by showcasing your guests’ UGC, you’re tapping into the underlying craving for authenticity and the all-powerful fear of missing out (FOMO), while also promoting your property more effectively than you could ever do on your own.
But don’t just spend your time looking through past guest Instagram posts; it’s also useful to keep abreast of what your guests are saying on testimonial sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp. Beyond just viewing the feedback on your actual property, you can learn valuable information about what guests like best about your location and neighborhood, as well as the useful travel tips guests have gathered on your locale. Repackage and integrate those insights into your own marketing materials and messaging.
Hotel Hugo in NYC showcasing guests’ UGC and displaying reviews from past guests that highlight their experiences
5. Change hotel imagery to focus on experiences, rather than amenities.
No one wants to look at pictures of your pool or fitness room. Instead, show them images of the ideal experience you are selling them, whether it’s families frolicking along your hotel’s amazing oceanfront real estate, spa-goers enjoying unique, signature treatments only available at your property, and/or compelling snapshots of the street-front outside the building, so guests can sense the excitement they’ll feel when emerging from the front lobby.
You can see this concept in use at Riverhouse on the Deschutes in Bend, Ore., where much of the hotel’s imagery spotlights its incredible location on both banks of Deschutes River. (A scenic bridge spanning the waterway connects both halves of the resort.) That factor, along with its proximity to Bend attractions, makes for a powerful sales proposition to convey to potential guests.
“When you come to Bend, you want a unique experience, and where else will you find a hotel built on two sides of a river? You can sit out and have breakfast with a rushing river right in front of you and see the osprey come down,” says Erick Trachsel, director of sales and marketing for Riverhouse. “I do feel we sell that to our advantage. When you’re sitting on the patio of our restaurant, you feel like you’re out away from everything, but we’re five minutes from the heart of Bend. We really pitch that we’re the best of both worlds.”
6. Train guest-service personnel (and call center teams) to know local unique experiences.
It’s tough for hotel staff to advise customers on how to best experience a destination if the staff doesn’t know this themselves, which can be challenging to overcome if employees don’t live near your hotel. The situation is even more problematic for call center teams, which may be located offsite, potentially very far away from the hotel they are selling. To solve this dilemma, you’ll need to get a little creative.
For offsite call center staff, try conducting some remote training sessions, and share information sheets and website pages you’ve created that list all the hyper-local information and tips you want your guests to know. Make sure call center staff have this information on-hand, should customers ask by phone. And for on-site employees, devise some ways to inspire them to explore the area surrounding your hotel, including earmarking funds to send them to top-ranked local businesses and attractions. You can even “gamify” the effort, rewarding the employees who visit the most locations, then post Instagram selfies and/or Facebook check-ins from these local hot spots.
Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 34th year, is located in New York City, Carlsbad, and Fort Lauderdale.
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