In today’s world of marketing, technology offers new channels on an almost regular basis. Gone are the days of simple advertising on television or in print. Nowadays, the Internet, smartphones, and social media have changed the rules of the game.
In the travel sector, the change has been immense. Hotels must look at marketing through a different lens to reach a new breed of consumer brought up on computers and instant messaging. Whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any number of social media sites that have sprung up, reaching potential guests means thinking in bold terms and offering instantaneous reactions. Meanwhile, smartphone technology continues to make marketing even more direct and immediate, and the changing channels are only becoming more pronounced.
Jennifer Rodrigues is visibility development manager with ThinkInk Communications, and is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk’s travel division called TravelInk’d. At TravelInk’d, she is responsible for developing cost-effective and creative public relations and marketing strategies for clients in the travel and tourism, airline, lodging, cruise, and meeting/event sectors. Recently, she discussed the changing nature of travel marketing with Lodging Editor Len Vermillion.
1. Len Vermillion: The world of marketing has greatly changed in the modern era. In general, what are some things hoteliers should expect to see and do to market their properties in the coming years?
Jennifer Rodrigues: The mobile channel is, and will continue to be, the most profound change going forward. The wave of accessible smartphones and devices, coupled with mobile-optimized browsers and robust mobile apps, are giving hotels the ability to appeal to an entirely new customer segment: the mobile consumer. These customers are untethered and always connected, so they are less concerned with “locking-in” reservations. This has drastically decreased the booking window, thus adding new challenges to the marketing mix and operational efficiency of hotels. Because of mobile, customers can research and make their booking decision on the sidewalk outside a hotel’s door.
In the immediate future, look for hotels to start integrating products and services into their mobile apps, even after checking-in, to maximize the marketing opportunities to this growing segment. A new system—still in its infancy, but which will reach widespread distribution soon—enables hotels to link in-room television to guests’ mobile phones. This gives the hotel an opportunity to directly market products and services to mobile customers within its walls.
2. LV: There is a growing number of media outlets in print, online, on television, and other emerging channels. How can hotels best ensure that they can get covered in the crowded and competitive field?
JR: Unfortunately, there will always be a trial-and-error period when attempting to determine the most successful marketing strategy. The good news is that new technologies decrease the trial and error period. I think the best way to get “covered” is to carve out new market share from emerging channels.
I go back to mobile: it is cutting edge, and most hotels are just now implementing standard features. The hotel that capitalizes on expanded products and features within the mobile channel will expand market share and earn an opportunity for increased consumer loyalty.
3. LV: As a new generation of consumers emerges, how is marketing changing?
JR: Speed. Everything happens so quickly today, which can be a good or bad thing.
The good: Just as I mentioned before, the trial-and-error period for marketing strategies to this new generation—especially using new forms of media—has decreased dramatically. And because this generation is adept at utilizing emerging technology, adoption time is quick and results are immediate.
The bad: Because of this adeptness to technology, it’s hard to stay ahead of this generation. Often, by the time you’ve developed a new marketing approach, another technology has emerged, making it obsolete. The only way to combat this is to stay ahead of technology, looking as far ahead as possible—a tough challenge, and one that usually requires consulting industry experts.
4. LV: What impact has social media had on planning and budgeting marketing plans for hotels?
JR: I would say that the impact has been what I call “optimistically skeptical.” While hoteliers know that social media is extremely valuable, they understand that it is dynamic and susceptible to immediate changes and trends. This has resulted in cautious restraint: budgets are flowing toward social media, but in trickles, not waves.