Partner Insights | Find Near-Term Revenue in Your Drive Markets

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Fuel Travel recently surveyed over 10,000 travelers about their post-COVID 19 travel plans. The survey–one of the widest-reaching to date–uncovers important insights for hotel and resort marketers and revenue leaders. 

Notably, nearly 70% of people have had vacation plans disrupted. This, plus quarantine frustrations, are stoking travel demand. The question is: where, when, and how will leisure travel emerge?

Based on Fuel’s study, interviews with industry leaders, and Navis’ client website traffic reports, drive markets offer the likeliest near-term revenue opportunity. 
 

Capturing Drive Market Business

Few travelers want to get on an airplane, but in the next three months, 69% of travelers say they will drive up to two hours for vacation. Almost 40% say they will travel within one month of loosened restrictions. [See Figure 1, below]

To capitalize on this reentrance, properties need to focus on: marketing and revenue strategy, messaging, and booking channels.
 

Marketing Strategy
 

Establishing “worry-free” travel experiences is critical, shares Chris Jackson, Principal & Chief Evangelist at GCommerce. This means promoting traveler-friendly cancellation or change policies and reinforcing health and safety measures. Consider other issues for local travelers; public transit access, self-parking, in-and-out privileges, and pets.

Marketers must position their property as an ideal getaway for cooped-up guests. After months of sheltering-in-place, people long for nature, space, and fresh air. Highlight these, where possible. 

Similarly, build on the romanticism of a road trip. Alise Deeb, VP of Revenue at Strategies at Dragonfly Strategists shares how after 9/11, “smart properties found success bundling gas cards, or car snacks, car washes, and activities into their offerings.”

Other focus areas include:
 

Local Search Optimization:

Keep local directory listings like Google My Business up-to-date with your hours and opening. These are a first stop for web and mobile traffic – especially those using maps as they drive. Include dining availability too; for example, if you’ve introduced takeout or expanded in-room options.
 

Paid Search and Social:

Emphasize geo-targeting in paid search campaigns. As you plan, remember: guests want to travel for less than a half day, to make weekend trips worthwhile. This means that typical drive markets are 150-200 miles, or 3-4 hours, from a property. 

Think like a restless guest. Search terms like “hotel staycations near me”, or “market name + hotels open” work. Also, ensure ad copy relevancy. Promote with phrases like “Weekend Getaway,” and “Just a Short Drive Away”. These may entice hesitant prospects who aren’t yet comfortable with a full-fledged vacation. 
 

A cost-effective channel for deeper targeting is Facebook. First, segment your email database based on drive-market proximity, and then upload it. You can build a custom audience to promote a special offering, and/or retarget prospects based on location or dates of interest.
 

Consider niche trip planning sites like RoadTrippers or TripMaker. These sites work with hotels and resorts on product integrations, native content, and experiential social content – and offer a way to get your property featured. 
 

[For more tips on effective geo-targeting, check out Fuel’s how-to guide for targeting drive markets.]   
 

Email Marketing:

Location segmentation can be used for social, as well as email marketing. In particular, consider shopping cart abandonment. Leads can be pushed into NAVIS or another CRM, triggering automated follow-up emails. Reservation sales teams can then act.
 

Meta Search Marketing:

Many properties have paused their metasearch campaigns. This means: it’s reasonably cheap to stand out on sites like TripAdvisor or Trivago.
 

Website Content & Messaging
 

Subtleties in content and messaging may be the difference between a booking and a prospect staying home. Consider guests’ psyches; it takes guts to venture out when fear and uncertainty are rampant. Your prospects are bold but still human. Easing any concerns around health, safety, and accessibility may draw them out. 
 

As well, update website schema and structured data markup to reflect policies, hours, and amenities for those planning a trip and take advantage of voice search and zero positions.

Mobile Channel
 

Growing interest in drive market travel underscores the importance of mobile booking experiences. La Quinta’s Deeb advises adding mobile rates targeting last-minute travelers through select OTAs. Expect an uptick in the use of platforms like Hotel Tonight and Expedia Mobile – some travelers will simply get in the car and find a destination on the road.

Voice Channel Strategies
 

Localization: 

Arm your reservation teams with up-to-date, local knowledge. Consider a daily team briefing covering CDC guidance, the status of popular attractions, dining availability, and similar market updates. Where there are issues and closures, prepare agents with a viable list of alternatives. Every market is different; assuaging the concerns of out-of-town travelers–even if they are just a few hours away – is essential.
 

Improve Personalization:

One of the most effective ways to convert leads is personalized, friendly, human-to-human interaction. This is true in any market; however, it’s essential in a season of crisis. Guests want to talk to someone; they want assurance that the property is safe, that activities are available, that published hours and sanitation policies are accurate. They want to know that the getaway they need is exactly what they’ll get. 
 

Agents must prioritize thoughtful, personal conversation. Ask questions, capture and track responses. Of course, once concerns have been addressed, ask for the sale. If prospects don’t book: offer a concierge-style call back the next day. Agents can’t depend on online leads, they must prioritize inbound and outbound voice.

Revenue Management Strategies
 

Reassess your competition: 

In a recent webinar, Garth Peterson of IDeaS talked about rethinking your comp set. As air travel declines and “staycations” grow, every property in your local drive market becomes a competitor. Reassess your target guest; what offerings and messages will connect? Historically, the road traveler who craves space may not be your target, but with a reduced pool of leads, they are now.
 

Localized packages instead of discounts: 

According to Fuel’s study, discounts and offers are two of top three motivators for travelers today. Deep discounting is unsustainable, so shift to value adds. These may include partnerships with local attractions, or subsidized food delivery if dining is unavailable.

Learn from past campaigns: 

Identify what channels and campaign content drove local market traffic in the past. You can repurpose language, offers, and content themes–plus other available insight–to target drive market travelers and optimize channel mix.
 

Hospitality research company Skift suggests that “Drive-to locations will probably be the biggest and earliest beneficiary in a recovery.” CNBC believes that recovery will be slow, careful and phased – and will start close by. “The signs of a new normal will be parents taking their kids to the zoo. From there, they’ll venture a little further for a night away from home.” 
 

If a property is accustomed to destination and air travel, it’s time to pivot. The opportunity to fill beds is in the local, staycation, and drive-market business. 

For more NAVIS resources, visit their blog page.

Top 5 Reasons Your Hotel Needs Prospecting Campaigns

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You want your hotel to make money, right? At least that is usually the main goal when it comes to most hotel digital marketing campaigns. What if we told you that the secret to driving more revenue and building your audiences up was by prospecting and targeting top-of-funnel users? 

We all know that retargeting campaigns, or campaigns serving ads to users already familiar with your brand or hotel, are the main money makers of the marketing world. However, those digital marketing campaigns would quickly run out of gas without the continued support of prospecting. While we don’t typically see a hefty number of conversions through prospecting campaigns (although a strong campaign can still see results), they are a key player when it comes to success with any digital marketing campaign.

Here are the top reasons why you should be running prospecting marketing campaigns for your hotel.

  1. Audience Refresh. The continued use of prospecting (or brand awareness) campaigns will help refresh your retargeting audiences by consistently bringing in new users. Most retargeting windows are within 30-90 days of being onsite, but if you aren’t refreshing this audience regularly, it will quickly decrease. This in turn will cause whatever users are left to be shown your ads in excess which can lead to ad fatigue, higher bounce rates, lower CTRs, more spam reports and of course, less revenue.
  2. Discover New Audience Targeting Segments. Many people shy away from prospecting because they think they already know their target audience. At GCommerce, we argue that there’s always potential to expand into new markets, geographics, demographics, and more! After all, there’s no way to see if a new targeting segment is viable if you never try it out. By steering away from the traditional targeting segments into new geographic locations or interests, we’ve often found new, responsive audiences that were previously unconsidered and thus expanding our reach and driving more revenue.
  3. Increased Traffic to Your Hotel Website. Aside from building up the run of site list, getting users to your site is a major benefit of prospecting campaigns. Our clients are always seeking out new ways to increase their site traffic with qualified visitors. Prospecting is one of the most cost-effective ways to do this, especially if you use Display and Facebook advertising as they traditionally see much lower CPCs and can run on a smaller budget compared to other channels, such as paid search.
  4. Increased Brand Awareness. Prospecting isn’t only for supporting retargeting campaigns. In fact, most people will think of prospecting in digital marketing as a tool to build brand awareness and high visibility across the web. This is especially important if you are launching a new brand or starting out on a new channel for the first time. Whenever we launch a new client at GCommerce, we tend to focus on their prospecting campaigns first so that we can build up our retargeting lists as quickly as possible and increase brand visibility at the same time.
  5. Drive More Wedding, Meeting & Event Lead Submissions. That’s right, prospecting campaigns are also great for eliciting onsite leads or on-Facebook leads. Unlike using retargeting lists, which are normally limited in size, prospecting marketing campaigns can be specifically targeted to drive quality traffic to your onsite lead form. Facebook also has great lead generation ability and allows you to re-create your form in the Facebook ad itself, allowing the user to engage with your hotel’s ad and complete the form in with less clicks. As a bonus, you can also add the users who filled out your form to your retargeting lists (win-win).

Utilizing prospecting marketing campaigns for your hotel is always important and will always be encouraged by the marketing experts at GCommerce. It’s especially important to use them right now as we’re learning how to cope with COVID-19’s impact on the industry. If you’ve had your marketing channels paused during this time and are now getting back to you regular advertising schedule, prospecting will be pertinent to your hotel’s digital marketing campaign success. 

Most likely, your retargeting lists are depleted and your normal target audiences have shifted to the drive market or similar markets. Pushing your marketing dollars toward prospecting over retargeting first will help to build up your run of site and serve your ads to the most qualified audiences rather than wasting it on an audience who isn’t looking to travel to your location or is no longer interested in your brand. 

For more information and guidance on building your prospecting audiences up, consult the experts at GCommerce today!

Flywheel News | August 2020 Digital Marketing Month in Review

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  1. Google Travel Updated With New COVID-19 Related Features

COVID-19 had severely impacted how people travel and plan for travel. Knowing this, Google has incorporated new features into its travel portal to help consumers with their planning and keep them on Google as their travel planning resource. Along with COVID-19 related warnings about specific destinations, Google has also incorporated a feature that shows you the percentage of open hotels with availability and flights currently operating. It will also show travelers if a specific destination is trending for COVID-19 and new cases. Another new feature allows travelers to filter by hotels that offer free cancellations. Ensure you are keeping your hotel’s guests and potential guests as up to date as possible with your policies and procedures on all of your channels, including Google My Business.

  1. Facebook Announces More Ad Targeting Option Removals 

In the past, Facebook has removed targeting options within it’s platform due to anything that could be used on a discriminatory basis. Facebook doesn’t state this as a reason for this most recent removal of 1000 targeting options, and instead notes it as removal “because they’re just not seeing much use.” However, it’s important to note Facebook’s decision to get rid of more granular targeting. Even though we don’t think this will impact us or our clients targeting much, we’ll be monitoring campaigns to ensure we update and replace targeting as necessary. 

  1. Google Showcases Mobile Data with COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports

Google has released what it’s calling "COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports" which are developed to help public health officials combat COVID-19. You’re able to dive into data that Google has from mobile devices to understand how people are moving around their communities vs pre-COVID-19. You’re able to look at categories including Retail & Recreation, Grocery & Pharmacy, Parks, Transit stations, Workplaces, and residential at the state or county level. Check it out here.

  1. Facebook Warns of Impacts to Audience Network Due to iOS Update
Facebook announced that due to the most recent iOS update on Apple devices, they will no longer be collecting the IDFA for advertisers on their apps on iOS 14 devices. This impacts publishers' and apps' ability to monetize through the Audience Network, which is Facebook’s off-Facebook, in-app advertising network for mobile apps. It does not impact on-Facebook ad audience targeting. This is yet another example of privacy changes coming to platforms, devices, and browsers that will impact digital advertising targeting and tracking moving forward.

  1. Facebook Ads Shop Tab & Expands Shops to All US Businesses 
Facebook has unveiled the new Shop tab navigation within its menu, allowing users to easily find products from their favorite brands and businesses. If you have any sort of retail or eCommerce component to your business, you should be taking advantage of the Facebook and Instagram shops that are now available to all businesses in the US. Learn more about all of these new features here. These are just a few of the ways Facebook is building it’s eCommerce component, taking on Google and Amazon.

  1. Pinterest Shares Travel Recovery Data & Ways Brands Are Inspiring Travel Again
Pinterest recently shared a blog that highlighted some of it’s Pinterest trends and travel-specific data. While it calls out trends that we were already aware of, like the increase in road trip searches and outdoor focused destinations, it’s important to note that it’s also seeing increases in air travel-related searches like “airplane essentials” and that the number of travelers passing through airport security is nearly 10x higher than in early April. Pinterest also dives into how top travel brands including Disney are helping travelers imagine future trips and reassuring travelers with messages of safety and trust. GCommerce continues to recommend that hotel clients focus on the planning and prospecting phase of the consumer journey through effective campaigns that showcase messaging around safety as well as escapes.

5 Phases to Relaunch Your Hotel's Marketing Campaigns During COVID-19

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The world is slowly opening up again, and as hoteliers and other players in the hospitality game that means it’s time to welcome guests back with open, yet socially distant, arms. Similar to phased reopening plans throughout the country, your hotel’s marketing efforts should take the same approach. By phasing out your hotel marketing targeting you’ll be able to provide the most value for your property in this current market for less (we know many will still be operating with smaller budgets at this time). Below we’ll outline a great phased approach that can be curated to fit any property’s strategy amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

PHASE 1: Focus efforts on your hotel’s current and upcoming guests

 If your property isn’t ready to resume marketing efforts and outreach quite yet, then the most basic approach should be to focus on the guests you have. People are still traveling, even to the most restrictive areas, and your top priority should be to make their stay at your hotel as safe and comfortable as possible. This could include imposing smaller capacity caps, ensuring social distancing between guests, using stricter and more frequent cleaning guidelines, and more.

Focusing on your current hotel guests presents the opportunity for providing a much more intimate and personalized experience. Fewer guests mean you can get to know them by name, provide upgrades and other premium amenities, and showcase the service of your hotel in new ways. This focus on guest experience can turn into positive reviews and chatter throughout the web, which has a great impact on your hotel’s reputation, website traffic, and conversion rates.

PHASE 2: Initiate your hotel’s marketing with loyal and previous guests

When you are ready to begin your hotel’s marketing efforts again, we recommend starting small, especially if your hotel is located in a very restrictive area. Your audience should be focused primarily on loyal guests like pass holders and loyalty program members first and then broadening to previous guests or families that return year after year. One of the best ways to engage with this audience is through email marketing because you already have these guests’ contact information and you can draw them in with a more personalized approach.

PHASE 3: Engage with your hotel’s local audiences  

Once you’ve taken care of the loyal users, it’s time to move on to your hotel’s local drive market audiences. Whether this is within city limits or up to a day’s drive away, your local market will be the first to return to your property through serious marketing efforts. This is when you really want to make sure your Facebook, display and paid search efforts are ramping up to draw that awareness and highlight the benefits of a staycation or long weekend out of the house.

PHASE 4: Draw in regional guests for your hotel

As we start seeing the United States and other parts of the world opening up more safely we’ll also start seeing people traveling further distances. This goes beyond day trips and weekends and dips more into longer stays. These guests will be driving to your hotel from places that are over six hours away or even taking short flights in. 

Some properties are already seeing an influx of regional guests, especially those located in larger metro areas, while some are barely getting local visitors. It’s important to pay attention to your state or city’s reopening guidelines and phases to determine which audiences are worth targeting at any given time.

PHASE 5: Return to normal by reaching your hotel’s destination audiences

Eventually, things will go back to normal and travel will continue as it had before COVID-19 hit. This fifth and final phase includes all guests and normal operations, meaning you can return to targeting your new top-of-funnel audiences and guests that live out of your property’s region. 

While this phased approach is simply a guided recommendation, it’s still important for any property or business to evaluate their current standings and plan out their future marketing efforts. Eventually, this will be all over and we will return again to a saturated marketing landscape, but until then you can lean on GCommerce to create a strategy for your hotel’s marketing efforts during COVID-19.

Our hotel digital marketing experts are standing by to help you craft a custom digital marketing relaunch strategy for your hotel. Contact us today.

Flywheel News | Your Top 7 Hotel Digital Marketing Updates From May 2020

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1. Google Announces New Signal in Ranking Factors

Google has announced that it will be introducing a new ranking signal that focuses on evaluating user experience from a web page. Existing signals that were aimed at assessing user experience such as HTTPS, mobile-friendliness, and avoiding interstitials will be combined with what is called Core Web Vitals. These Core Web Vitals include:

Google has defined these as the Core Web Vitals:

  • Largest Contentful Paint: The time it takes for a page’s main content to load. An ideal LCP measurement is 2.5 seconds or faster.
  • First Input Delay: The time it takes for a page to become interactive. An ideal measurement is less than 100 seconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: The amount of unexpected layout shift of visual page content. An ideal measurement is less than 0.1.

These won’t impact ranking until next year at the earliest but you should start taking a look at how your site performs by auditing these in Search Console or Chrome’s developer tools. Webpages that are able to positively impact these metrics will have a leg up on the competition. 

2. Google Ads SMB Credits Start Rolling Out to Accounts

Good news for SMBs! Google ad credits have started showing up within accounts. The first is going to SMBs in New Zealand but will expand to other countries over the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for these additional marketing funds. We’re actively monitoring our client accounts for these ad credits.

3. Facebook Launches Shops Feature

Facebook has officially entered the eCommerce world with the introduction of its new feature, Facebook Shops. Facebook’s new feature looks to directly compete with Amazon and Google Shopping. Positioned at helping SMBs during this crisis, pages are able to add products to their Facebook Shop and people are able to interact, shop, and purchase either directly on Facebook or by visiting the business’ website. Shops are free to set up and right now don’t have any fees or commissions charged. Facebook does plan on launching fees in the future, but now is a great time to test this feature for free. Learn more here.

4. Bing Can Now Answer Certain Queries With a Simple Yes or No

Do you loathe having to read through an entire paragraph before you can find the simple “yes” or “no” answer you’re looking for in the search results snippets? Well, Bing has come to the rescue. The search engine is now able to answer certain queries with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Give it a whirl at Bing.com.

5. Google Sunsets Gallery Ads Beta to Focus on Image Extensions

Google has decided to kill one of the most talked-about features from its Google Marketing Live in 2019. Gallery ads beta has been sunsetted to focus on image extensions instead. Microsoft Ads has had this feature for a while now. Google’s image extensions are currently in a closed Beta so if you aren’t included you’ll have to wait until the official release. 

6. New and Missing Google My Business Reviews Now Showing

During the start of the crisis, Google made the decision to disable certain features on its Google My Business product. This included the Q&A feature as well as the ability to post new reviews and customer photos. We’re excited to say that new reviews are now showing up on listings. If you are now open don’t forget to re-engage your customers through eCRM to ensure you’re generating new reviews. Review rating and quantity plays a large role in local SEO rankings.

7. New Google My Business Feature for Hotels: COVID-19 Responder Policy

Last month Google introduced a new Google My Business feature specifically for hotels. This feature allows hotels to post information about any discounts or free lodging for COVID-19 first responders. You can find this feature under the hotel attributes section of your GMB account.

Best Practices for Messaging Your Hotel’s Reopening During COVID-19

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When people are ready to travel again they are going to return to brands and hotels they trust. The question is, how can your hotel instill trust in loyal guests and new guests in a post-COVID-19 world? The answer is consistent communication and thoughtful messaging. Your team has been working hard to develop a plan for reopening that follows local guidelines to maintain guest and employee safety. You should share this information and messaging across different channels to help re-establish trust with your customers. This trust will make them feel secure in booking at your hotel to drive the revenue your business needs to thrive. Here is a breakdown of our recommendations for great communication and messaging by channel.

Hotel Reopening Messaging Best Practices By Channel:

Hotel Website Messaging

Your hotel’s website is your online storefront and the place where guests and potential guests go to get official information from your business. Make sure you keep this information up to date and accurate. Here are some best practices and ideas to follow:

1. Create a post-COVID-19 reopening website landing page specifically developed to communicate your hotel’s new policies, procedures, and FAQs around how it’s complying with regional requirements to keep guests safe.

2. Install a post-COVID-19 website ribbon at the top of the homepage that links to the landing page. We recommend using messaging in the banner geared towards cleanliness and peace of mind vs. using the words COVID-19 update. 

3. Include updates with specific information about the current status of your hotel’s amenities such as the pool, restaurants, and spas. Include any new procedures and what guests can expect when interacting with your hotel’s amenities during their upcoming visit. For example:

  1. Lounge chairs at the pool will be 8-ft apart. 
  2. We’ve removed ½ of our tables at the restaurant to comply with social distancing regulations. 

4. Do not hide any pages devoted to business entities at your property that might be temporarily closed. This could negatively impact your performance in the search engines and confuse customers rather than inform them. Instead, place text at the top of the page with a status update on the specific amenity. 

5. Avoid pop-ups as Google has stated these can negatively impact SEO and provides a poor user experience, especially on mobile devices. If a visitor closes the pop-up it also makes it difficult to find the information again.

6. Add an email sign up right below any “We’re Temporarily Closed” messaging so visitors interested in your hotel can stay informed and connected with your property. This ensures you can maintain communication and encourage future stays through email marketing campaigns.

Hotel Booking Engine Messaging Updates

Keep messaging around new policies visible within the booking engine flow to make people feel secure. Include messaging around flexible reservation cancelations or changes and include details on how you are keeping them safe to increase conversion rates.

eCRM & Email Messaging for COVID-19 reopening

Ensure all of your email and eCRM communication include messaging around COVID-19 related policies, procedures, and links to learn more from your hotel’s COVID-19 specific landing page. Help the guest understand what to expect upon arrival at your property.

Hotel Social Media Communication

Your loyal hotel customers, as well as aspirational ones, are following you on social media. Make sure you are utilizing this channel to keep them informed on your hotel’s reopening or current status and any changes to policies and procedures. This is also a great place to keep your hotel’s fans updated on what’s happening locally that may encourage them to consider traveling to your area soon.

Paid Media

If your hotel hasn’t relaunched paid media, you should strongly consider jumping back in if you are able to find the funds. Check out our last blog post for a list of very convincing reasons why. Not sure what approach to take with your hotel’s reopening messaging? Here are a few examples:

  • Hotel Paid Media COVID-19 Messaging Examples:
    • Book today with peace of mind. 
    • Our spacious grounds are the perfect escape. 
    • Book a Risk-Free Vacation with our Flexible Cancellation Policies
    • Plan your worry-free escape and book today. 
    • We’ve made changes to make sure our guests stay safe. 
    • Book today with worry-free planning. 
    • Cancel for any reason. 
    • Escape to the mountains where fresh air and blue skies await.
    • Escape a world of worries. We’ve got your beach chair ready. 
    • Celebrate with a staycation and experience local attractions like never before. 
    • COVID Services Update – Learn More
    • Questions? See up-to-date COVID Information >>
    • A Deep Clean and Peace of Mind for All of our Guests
    • New Standard of Clean 

You can find an expanded list of ideas for themes to drive your hotel’s messaging during a crisis here

Your hotel’s direct booking channels are going to be the key to communicating with your guests and making them feel secure in planning their next stay at your hotel. Keep them informed and make them feel secure in order to have the most positive impact on your hotel’s website conversion rate to drive more bookings.

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