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Need PR and Marketing Help? Ask Away! Q & A with Jennifer Rodrigues of TravelInk’d
For hotels, public relations and marketing is often viewed as a vehicle for developing new business, with the rationale being that in order to attract potential consumers to a given property, they must first be made aware of the property. This is definitely one of the aims of a comprehensive hotel PR and marketing plan, but it is not the only aim of a PR and marketing program. Savvy hoteliers realize that repeat business is often the most lucrative business, and that at least a portion of outreach resources should go to encouraging loyalty.
Determining how PR and marketing should be used to develop repeat business and loyalty can be a somewhat confusing process, however. So once again, ehotelier has allowed me to answer some of your questions about strategy and tactics for increasing loyalty and repeat business through effective PR and marketing.
Q: Since the recession began and demand dropped out of the hotel market, my hotel has had to make tough decisions regarding PR and marketing spend. What is the value of marketing to loyal and repeat customers, who by definition are already exposed to our property and brand?
If simple exposure to a brand was enough to ensure repeat business, then travelers would only stay at Hyatts, Hiltons, and Marriotts. Of course, this isn't the case. Independent hotels flourish in many different kinds of markets, and many enjoy high rates of repeat business without the benefit of a household brand name. Conversely, many brand-name hotels have difficulty attracting repeat customers, despite the near-universal awareness of their property and brand.
Loyalty is determined by a wide range of factors, not just exposure to brand or product. The most important factor, clearly, is guest experience, though continued interaction with the brand and loyalty-related incentives follow closely. It is in these two areas- consumer interaction and loyalty program incentives- that PR and marketing can make a crucial difference.
Courting repeat guests can sometimes be an exercise in conjecture, and well-planned and executed PR and marketing strategies can help a hotel avoid some of that murkiness. In terms of future bookings made by potential repeat guests, the purchasing decision is made in part during the original stay, when an impression is formed about a hotel, and in part at the time of booking the future trip. Increasing guest interactions during the time in between these formative moments- through a loyalty program, or through correspondence, or through a social media relationship- can influence the probability of a repeat stay.
By targeting these efforts to a defined and captive audience- guests who are staying at your hotel- and by capitalizing on the inherent spending power of return guests, the return on such marketing efforts will be positive, and generally more positive than marketing efforts designed to attract new unique guests.
Q: My hotel has an established loyalty program, but we would like to attract more members. How can we achieve this?
There are three cardinal rules for developing (or increasing) strong loyalty program participation. First, inundate current guests with opportunities to enroll. Every marketing material, every piece of in-room collateral, every paper receipt issued from a food and beverage outlet should make some mention of the loyalty program. This doesn't have to be cave-man marketing (hitting guests over the head with the message); it can be subtle, but it should be there. Second, make enrolling as simple as possible.
Collecting consumer information is an important goal, but joining a loyalty program should not involve as much paperwork and form-filling as applying for a mortgage does. Streamline the initial sign-up process, and collect more information gradually, through additional interactions. Third, offer incentives.
A small discount on the current stay can go a long way, as can milestone rewards and other enticements. Offering a token discount for providing feedback or additional information is a good way to leverage incentives to deliver a clear picture of your core customer base.
Q: Of all of the strategies and tactics available, what is the single best way to encourage repeat business?
The single most important aspect of encouraging repeat business is to provide the guest with a positive, expectation-exceeding experience. As with many things in this industry, the bottom line is service. In terms of marketing and public relations, however, the best way to encourage repeat business is to encourage guest interaction beyond the initial stay. If your hotel has a loyalty program, get guests to join. Start a hotel newsletter full of upcoming events and promotions to send to your email database.
Engage in social media outreach; start a Facebook page and add friends, Tweet with regularity and relevance. Consumers will return first and foremost to places that delivered exceptional experiences, but they will also return to places that showed enough interest in them to interact with them.
Q: Our hotel is a center-city, business-oriented property that derives most of its revenue from Monday through Friday corporate room sales. How can we increase our FIT bookings on weekends?
There are some established practices designed to increase weekend bookings at hotels that cater to businesspeople during the week. The most common is the straight weekend discount, though package deals (like an average rate reduction for adding a weekend day stay onto a weekday reservation) are also widely used. These tactics can be effective, which accounts for their industry-wide commonality.
But a robust internal marketing campaign can also help increase weekend FIT bookings, building on the existing base of customers currently staying (during the week) at the hotel. Enticing a businessperson to extend their current stay may not reap immediate results, but a PR and marketing campaign targeted at these travelers can yield future stays. Again, correspondence or social media interaction with these guests (the introduction to which can be made during the original stay) can increase future weekend bookings. This sort of outreach effort will also drive engagement with the hotel's proprietary website.
Did this information help you? If you have other questions, I'd love to hear from you - please don't be shy! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don't forget to check back twice a month for more PR and Marketing Q&As.
About Jennifer Rodrigues
Jennifer Rodrigues, Visibility Specialist with ThinkInk and TravelInk'd, is a seasoned public relations professional with a passion for the hospitality industry, which is expressed in her role at ThinkInk's travel division, 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. For more information on TravelInk'd, please visit www.travelinkd.com or contact Jennifer at email@example.com.
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