1. Have a long-term strategy

Many hotels do not have an email strategy. Emails are at the bottom of the to-do pile. Mostly, emails are used to send out blanket offers. But a strategy is essential to wringing the real value out of email marketing. First, emails are a one-to-one channel. Even if you send to a list of 150k names, each recipient sees it as a direct communication from your brand. Second, emails are an opt-in channel with an incredibly high ROI if done properly. Third, email performance is measurable and trackable. You know what went right and what went wrong, so you can constantly fine-tune your campaigns.

Use data points and the customer journey

There are many ways to build an email strategy. We begin with the list and the guest profile data points that can be used for segmentation. We also map out the customer/guest journey. People enter your marketing funnel at different times with different expectations. Some may be web leads who are still researching their vacations. Others may be past guests who originally booked through an OTA but now have an understanding of your brand experience. If you do not collect data on guests, specifically names and emails and information about their stay and accommodations, it will not be possible to use automation to its fullest extent. And automation is one of the strengths of email marketing.

The goal is to reduce reliance on discounts

The goal of any hotel e-marketing strategy should be to reduce reliance on room discounts. Instead, emails should promote brand awareness and the benefits of the brand hospitality experience.

A hotel in Miami has emailed me eight times in the past eight months. Every single email has been about a seasonal deal or discount in the range of 25% to 40% off the current rates. That's absurd! I have been a full rate customer who booked direct with them when I stayed at their property. Why do they insist on bringing me back there at at discount? What if I don't want or need a discount? Furthermore, I start wondering if there is something wrong with the hotel.

Vikram Singh

Build out your strategy in a calendar

A content calendar will hold you accountable to your strategy. Map out your strategy month-by-month and include content topics. Topics should always be relevant to your audience and their stage in the guest lifecycle. So, you might send web leads general information about the destination but past guests might be more interested in hotel upgrades or a unique local event.

2. Build relationships

Hoteliers have a unique relationship to their customers. Unlike merchants, a hotel's customers are guests who purchase a brand experience that goes beyond a utilitarian place to sleep. It's important for hoteliers to avoid the trap of engaging with customers as transactions. Because email is a direct form of communication, it is ideal as a channel for building relationships. Your guests are interested in relevant communication; they have opted into it. Put your brand experience on display and engage your audience in stories that are authentic and tailored to their interests.

3. Send segmented campaigns

Segmentation can boost your ROI if done properly. CRM software provider Revinate stated in its first Hotel Email Marketing Benchmark Report that segmented emails result in a 20% higher open rate, a 70% higher click-through rate and 73% higher revenue per recipient than non-segmented campaigns.

An example of segmentation would be sending a last-minute travel offer to people who live within a short distance of a hotel. Staycations target local residents. You can target families with children for summer travel.

Segmentation depends on the data points attached to your guest profiles. Many hotels have skimpy guest profiles: just the name, date of prior stay, and resort stayed at. Consider sending out a survey that asks guests for information so that you can provide more relevant travel information and offers. Do not include more than five questions in your survey and tell recipients upfront how many questions there are and how long it will take to complete the survey. For example: "Please answer 5 short questions so we can send you offers you'll love. The survey takes no more than 3 minutes."

4. Don't send too often

There's no short answer to the question of how often hotels should send emails. It depends on your brand and the quality of your offers and content. Generally, once to twice a month is enough. Do not skip a month because consistency is a factor in deliverability.

If you are sending too often, you will see low open rates and high unsubscribe rates. Revinate reported in its Benchmark study that hotels in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) see the highest engagement and conversions, but those hotels send about half as many emails as North American hotels.

5. Avoid constant discount offers

Constant discounting cheapens your brand and erodes your room rates. I am not a revenue manager, but my feeling is this: If you must constantly discount your pricing by 50% to 60%, your pricing structure is too high and guests do not see value delivered. Hoteliers have known since 2003 that discounting does not deliver more business. Discounting persists because hotel rooms are perishable. You can't replace a lost room night. Airlines face the same dilemma with unsold plane seats.

The prevailing wisdom is that reducing room rates entices new consumers to enter the market and buy more rooms. This has never worked for the hotel industry, and it won't work in this era of proliferating hotel room discounts and Web-based travel deals, because new consumers do not enter the market in response to hotel discounting. Instead, existing consumers simply get more for less, and hotel revenues fall.

Cathy Enz, Cornell University

Further, discounting drives consumers to OTA sites to book. Think about it. If the mentality is "get it cheap," consumers will turn to OTAs because they do not realize hotels offer the same rates. The common misconception if that OTAs always have the cheapest rates. Hotel discounting has created a frugality mindset that makes it very difficult for hotels to keep their revenues intact.

Whenever possible, add value instead of discounting pricing. Hotels can also use this tactic to fight OTAs, to some extent.

6. Give your subject lines CURVE appeal

CURVE stands for curiosity, urgency, relevance, value, and emotion. The CURVE approach recommends making sure your subject lines have two or more of these attributes.

Sometimes, it is best to be extremely straightforward in your headline. An offer should be stated clearly. Make sure it is relevant to your audience and represents a real value. This you might send a romance package to people who traveled as couples. Or you could send it to families with free babysitting thrown in.

7. Use dedicated landing pages

Dedicated landing pages can increase conversions by up to 400%. A dedicated landing page is a campaign-specific webpage that drives visitors to complete a single action, usually in the form of a "book now" CTA. Dedicated landing pages are powerful because:

Gateway landing pages

Gateway landing pages are not dedicated landing pages. Gateway landing pages act as an enticing invitation to something more. It could be an overview of hotels that have something in common (for example, they are all adults-only) or a grouping of hotels by location.

Gateway landing pages on a website might include location pages with hotels in those areas, category pages, keyword pages that describe a product or service. Because we are sending to a targeted group (email recipients), we would not use keyword pages. Instead, we would use location or category pages designed specifically to be relevant to the email structure and/or offer.

Core landing pages

Core landing pages are not dedicated landing pages. Instead, they are part of the main website and can be found through the site's navigation. Core landing pages can include category and sub-brand pages that link out to specific properties. They can also be room type pages.

Why do dedicated landing pages covert so well?

Think of your email campaign as an invitation to learn more. Most often, recipients are not planning a vacation when you email them. They are probably in the inspiration phase. When they click on "learn more" in the email, they are making a low commitment that is appropriate for their stage in the sales funnel.

The landing page's job is to be a selling page. It should contain all the information needed to move a prospect from "thinking" to "acting." Salesmanship of this sort requires focus. You can't sell a Chinese menu of properties. You have to zero in one one.

The other reason dedicated landing pages are conversion powerhouses is that they are uncluttered and free of distractions. Most pages on the website have too much information to create a clear and convincing sales pitch for one desired action. Visitors can be easily distracted or wander off into the site's navigation.

8. Limit calls-to-action

Email recipients can process between five and seven ideas. But this does not mean you should include five offers or five hotels in your email. Ideally, all email campaigns will have just one call-to-action. And the landing page will be completely geared for that call-to-action.

9. Use web forms to get leads

It's astounding how many hotels do not have a web form on their site to collect leads. Or, they bury the web form as a nondescript "subscribe now" somewhere below the fold. Ewww, these hotels are missing out on pure gold.

Website lead forms collect contact information from people who are interested in knowing more about your hotels. These people have never stayed in your hotel. They represent a fresh source of new guests who book direct. Wowzie.

Further, every list will experience churn. New web leads will replace some of these un-subscribers, but you have to approach them differently in your email marketing if you want to get optimal results.

Not long ago, the most powerful hurricane in history, Dorian, was on everyone’s mind. What should hotel marketers do to prepare for after the storm?

Why it matters

In 2017, the Caribbean suffered from two significant hurricanes. With the national media heavily covering the devastation in Puerto Rico, many Americans made the assumption that ALL of the Caribbean suffered major damage or were completely shut down.

In actuality, the storms impacted only about 25% of the region. 75% of the Caribbean – more than a million square miles and 30 countries – remained untouched and were fully operational shortly after the storms.

Let’s face it, geography isn’t a lot of people’s strong suit, so it’s important for hotels to immediately communicate that your property and destination is in great shape, the sun is shining and you’re open for business.

Here are a few tips:

Consumer Email

Send an email updating your database of the post storm recovery or perhaps provide a more human touch with a story of how their favorite staff members weathered the storm, how the property is undamaged and you can’t wait to welcome them back.

Trade Email

It’s important to notify your trade partners immediately that the airport is open, property is up and running and fully staffed to welcome their clients.

Social Media

The fastest you are able, post an image or, better yet, a video to all your social channels showing the beach, grounds and property. State how the island weathered the storm and the sun is shining again, the rum is flowing, and holiday vibes are in full effect.

Website

Provide a quick status that the property is open and undamaged. This can be done with a pop-up window or a banner on the home page.

The quicker the above tips are in place, the faster the bookings will start rolling in again and you’ll be back to business as usual.

Let's look at at a specific example of how email marketing can reduce reliance on OTAs and discount offers while generating revenue.

In this case, we have three very different properties operating under one flagship luxury brand:

  1. Hotel A is a true luxury hotel, which also offers private villas
    • Hotel guests are Luxury travelers who book direct or through travel agents. They include families and couples.
    • Villa clients are UHNW travelers who book through high-end travel agents. They include multi-generational families and celebrations.
  2. Hotel B is an intimate, boutique luxury hotel
    • Hotel guests are Luxury travelers who skew to a mature demographic. Boomers use hotel websites for research but call in to book. ("Millennials vs. Boomers," info.247.ai)
  3. Hotel C is a premium hotel
    • Hotel guests are Affluent travelers, particularly families. They book through OTAs.

Revenue Opportunities

We have three opportunities for increasing revenue:

  1. We can use email to reduce reliance on OTAs and third parties.
  2. We can cross-sell between Hotel A and Hotel B.
    • Hotel C does not fit the profile of the Luxury traveler.
  3. We can use pre-arrival and on-site email to produce incremental revenue at dining and spa venues.

Website Challenges

Most hotels use the website as a landing page for their email campaigns. Let's say this particular hypothetical brand is relaunching its website.

  1. We are looking at several months of lost revenue due to problems with the current site, including a page load speed of 5.6 seconds on desktop.
  2. Although the new site will look nicer, it will have the same functional issues as 90% of hotel sites.

Hotel websites are generally built to provide a brand experience. This means that these sites do very poorly as an e-commerce (booking) channel.

  1. Hotel websites do not convert well, especially on mobile.
    • Website conversion rate for a luxury hotel is 1.9% on desktop but just 1.5% on tablets and 0.20% on smartphones.
    • More than 50% of hotel traffic is mobile, but accounts for only 21% of website revenue. ("Mobile Booking Trends of Luxury Hotels," Hotel Speak, April 2018)
  2. Booking engines perform poorly on mobile.
    • Once a user is in the booking engine, conversions are 6% on desktop but just 2% on mobile. ("Booking Engine Conversion Rates," TripTease, January 2018)

Hotel website solutions

  1. The first solution is to solve the most common hotel website fails.
    • This goes beyond creating a responsive website. The content should be stripped down and optimized to work well on mobile. The menu should avoid dropdown items. Further, many mobile users will not come in through the home page. The booking engine should be changed to the most mobile-savvy option available. The website should also include prominent phone and chat reservation channels.
    • Website lead forms should be added along with enticing lead magnets. We can then use email to nurture these leads into paying guests.
  2. We can use email to bypass the website altogether and get better results. Here's why:
    • Dedicated landing pages produce 200% to 400% higher conversions than websites.
    • We don't need the booking engine. In fact, our Luxury guest prefers to book by phone.
    • Affluent guests (Hotel C) rely on OTAs not travel agents or booking direct. But why? They prefer to retain control and do their own research online, but hotel booking engines are unwieldy on mobile – and a large segment of this group is on mobile.

One-third of people now book on mobile. OTAs own 45% of mobile bookings compared to 16% for hoteliers. And while OTA mobile bookings are increasing by 61%, hotel mobile bookings are barely moving forward at 11%

Travel Flash Report by Criteo

So, What's The Strategy?

Replace one-time offers with automated campaigns

Like most hotels, our hypothetical example sends out e-bast offers on an as-needed basis. This is a bad idea for many reasons, but the most serious consequence is that it erodes the brand and ultimately drives down pricing.

Automated emails place less of a burden of hotel marketing staff. They also have a much higher ROI than e-blast offers, especially if list segmentation is used.

This requires:

  1. First, the data points in the guest profiles that can be used for segmentation must be identified.
  2. Two, an engagement email should be sent to clean out list deadwood
  3. Three, then it is a matter of sitting down and mapping out a list of automated emails that will work together to be the backbone of our email revenue generation.

Add cross-selling and incremental revenue emails

  1. We can cross-sell guests of Hotel B on booking the more expensive Hotel A. Again, this group prefers to book by phone – so we simply need an unique phone number in the email to capture and track reservations.
  2. We can build out pre-sell and on-site automated emails to capture incremental revenue at dining venues.

Together, these strategies will require three to five months to implement.

Layer on content-rich emails and storytelling

This is where hotel email marketing goes from being about driving sales to building profitable relationships. Sales emails are important, certainly, over the short-term, but they do not create guests with a high lifetime value.

  1. Content-rich emails include information on local sights and events.
  2. Brand storytelling presents the human side of the brand with insights into the people who provide service and why they love to create unique guest experiences.

And how is this accomplished?

Strategies paint the big ideas that drive results. Tactics outline how those strategies are executed. There are two ways to implement tactics.

  1. Follow Plan A, which is based on hard work and organized staging, or
  2. Follow Plan B, which depends on the powers of pixie dust.
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