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Tim Peter

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March 3, 2020

Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: How Hotel and Travel Companies Can Manage Business Disruption

March 3, 2020 | By | No Comments

Coronavirus COVID-19 and Hotels: Guests checking into hotel

[Latest update: 3 April 2020
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Table of Contents – Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: How Hotel and Travel Companies Can Manage Business Disruption

  1. Overview
  2. Why We're Tracking This
  3. The Bad News
  4. The Good News
  5. What You Can Do To Help Your Hotel Manage Through Coronavirus

Coronavirus COVID-19 and the Travel Industry: Overview

Travel and tourism make up about 10% of global GDP, according to World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). And that number grew faster than the global economy in 2018. Again according to the WTTC, travel accounts for one job out of every ten around the world and an additional "one in five new jobs were created by the industry over the last five years." So, travel is a huge deal. And anything that disrupts travel, by definition, is also a huge deal. Which brings us to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. For instance, GBTA (The Global Business Travel Alliance) stated that the impacts from the virus to business travel alone could be as much as $47 billion. Again, that's huge.

The Latest on COVID-19 and Its Effects on the Travel Industry

First, some background. To paraphrase Bones McCoy, here at Tim Peter & Associates we're consultants, "not a doctor." Lots of our clients are in travel, tourism and hospitality. It's an industry we're deeply passionate about. And we're trying to do our part to help our clients – and the industry as a whole – weather any storm around COVID-19. We're not making any predictions around what will happen with COVID-19, when its impacts will fade, or other medical information. For that, we recommend you check with the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control or your local health officials. The CDC in particular also has a great set of resources and FAQs for travelers that are worth reviewing.

Similarly, we're not economists. However, we do know some really good ones. The Conference Board has a list of possible ways that we might "reboot an economy in free fall" that is worth a look. None of the scenarios pictured are necessarily rosy. But they offer several outcomes you can expect for each of the likely ways that the economy will recover once the immediate health crisis has passed.

We're also not looking to catalog all of the stories about COVID-19 and its impacts to the travel industry. The fine folks at Phocuswire have a great liveblog for all the latest stories and HospitalityNet is offering a fantastic round-up of news stories and advice that is well worth your time. The last thing we want to do is ratchet up fear about this situation. This situation is already disruptive enough; we don't want to make it any worse than it is.

Instead, our intent is to update this post regularly over the coming days, weeks and months with tips and insights to help you navigate the business impacts associated with the novel coronavirus COVID-19 so that you can:

  1. Understand the bigger picture around novel coronavirus COVID-19
  2. Properly assess the likely impacts to your business
  3. Mitigate the risks and manage your business appropriately through this (potential) crisis

What Hotels and other Travel Businesses Should Do About Coronavirus COVID-19

Finally, here are a series of tips, techniques, and links to case studies to help you manage through the coronvirus COVID-19 crisis and the eventual recovery. We have been updating this section regularly during the last few weeks as the impacts have become clearer and will continue to do so as better insights emerge into how long the crisis will last.

For the recovery to begin, three things need to happen:

  1. Your market needs to address the underlying health situation. The situation will not get better until medical authorities can control the disease itself. A full vaccine isn't likely until somewhere in 2021 — if ever. But we're starting see some areas have success in controlling the spread and effects of the illness. As other national and local leaders learn from these successes — and implement appropriate next steps — we may see reductions in the extreme "social distancing" that is causing so much pain to the travel industry.
  2. Guests have to have the money to travel. The forced shutdown of many "non-essential" businesses has created unprecedented effects on the economy. The Washington Post noted last week that "a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week…" and that "Many economists say this is the beginning of a massive spike in unemployment that could result in over 40 million Americans losing their jobs by April." For context, "During the Great Recession, for example, the worst week for jobless claims was 665,000. Last week the nation saw five times that amount." How long it takes for workers to get back to work as local communities rebound will play a big role in how long it takes for them to be able to travel again. Hopefully, government stimulus and other interventions limit the downside economic effects enough to ensure sufficient demand exists. Obviously, time will tell. And, even if they're able to travel, there may still be one lingering effect…
  3. Guests must not be afraid to travel. This represents the biggest wildcard at the moment. Even once the immediate health effects have been addressed and guests have the money to travel, travelers may still have lingering concerns about the risks. There's simply no way at this point to predict how it will take. In all likelihood, guests will split into one of a few sub-groups:
    1. More adventurous types who, tired of weeks or months of forced isolation, can't wait to get back on the road.
    2. More cautious types for whom the current crisis will shape their longer term behaviors.
    3. A third set that falls somewhere between the first two.

I don't plan to predict which one of these groups will be most dominant. We should see recovery in luxury travel first, though, so it will be worth watching those travelers to see which group(s) take a leading position — or if some other as yet unknown set emerges.

What Your Hotel Should Do During Coronavirus and to Prepare for Recovery

For now, here are some best practices you can follow to minimize the effects to your hotel or other travel business:

  • Don't cut your rates. Anytime business softens, an easy "fix" is to offer deeply discounted rates to your guests. The theory behind this action supposes that you can use lower rates to attract attention and steal market share from your competitors. Except that most of the time it doesn't work.

    While you may experience a short-term lift in occupancy, competitive hotels typically react swiftly and lower their rates to avoid any lost share – before you're able to gain any long-term benefit from additional occupancy. Instead, all you've succeeded in doing is driving down rates for the market as a whole. It leads customers to put less value in your product overall. And it reduces your ability to market or serve customers effectively. We call trying to capture share by lowering rates "the race you can't win." Our advice: Don't run that race.

    Underscoring this point, research from Cathy Enz, Linda Canina, and Mark Lamanno at Cornell and STR found "the best way to have higher revenue performance than your competitors is to have higher rates. A hotel should not drop its prices below those of its true competitors if it wishes to enjoy a RevPAR premium" [PDF link].

    Revinate also outlines some of the challenges that hotels face when aggressively cutting rates during a soft period. The bottom line is that you're not going to influence a non-economic decision with an economic solution. As noted above, two of the three big issues driving travel decisions are the current health crisis and, longer-term, any fears guests have as we begin to recover from that crisis. Wait on using rate as a lever until it's absolutely clear that only economics influences your guests' behaviors. One thing you can do, however, is…

  • Consider offering value-adds instead. Continue any promotions you have in the marketplace (unless of course, they reference "sick deals" or some other truly unfortunate turn of phrase). But also look at including value-adds in your offers to attract attention and interest from potential guests. They can help you differentiate your product from your competition, increase the perceived value your guests and travelers will receive, but also help you maintain rate in the marketplace. It's tougher for guests to place a direct value on a spa, dining, or event credit included in their stay – and tougher for them to compare your offering 1:1 with competitors.

    Value-adds allow you to drive interest in your property, but don't carry the same risks associated with cutting rates. They can make the difference for many guests while giving you more control over your price in the marketplace for the longer term.

  • Control your costs. This one is obvious, but it's important to remember how important it is to control your costs at any time – bus especially during a crisis. A few ideas that may help:
    • Have a zero-tolerance policy against sick employees coming to work. Make your sick employees stay home. Seriously. We fully recognize the challenges that exist in a tight labor market. But sick employees run the risk of infecting guests and their fellow workers, each of which introduces a host of additional problems. If you can afford to pay workers for their lost time, we'd recommend it. You'll engender greater loyalty and increase retention overall. But, in any case, make sure that employees who aren't feeling well stay home.
    • Take rooms out of service. This one's tougher for some properties, but if you have rooms that need renovation or repair, slow periods are the perfect time to get those done. You can improve your property's overall service and experience without sacrificing additional revenues.
  • Review your insurance and other financial tips. Is coronavirus COVID-19 part of your coverages? Are you able to recoup any losses from business interruption insurance or similar? While insurance is unlikely to cover all your costs, they may help lessen any economic burden COVID-19 places on your business.
  • Market efficiently and effectively. One cost you absolutely don't want to cut is your marketing spend. Yes, you absolutely must monitor and control your expenses during any economic disruption. But evidence shows that travel companies that continue to invest in marketing during a downturn significantly outperform their competitors in both the short and longer-term. Research from Amrik Singh at the University of Denver and Chekitan S. Dev at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration shows that "The results of this study show significant differences between winners and losers when measured by top-line indicators (Average Daily Rate [ADR], RevPAR, TRevPAR) and profitability (GOPPAR and NOIPAR). Winners were also found to spend significantly more on marketing than losers… total marketing expenditures are significantly and positively correlated with RevPAR, GOPPAR, and NOIPAR [during a downturn]. This finding implies that an increase in marketing expenditures has a positive effect on revenue and profit." [PDF link]
  • Tips for how you can market your hotel most effectively
    • Leverage your content marketing strategy to tell a great story about your destination and brand. Screen Pilot has developed a tremendous set of resources for hotel marketers working their way through the current crisis. Their "Hotel Marketing COVID-19 Resource Center" is one of the best I've seen. In particular, they've got an amazing piece on how to use content marketing effectively during this period that's well worth your time. Fuel Travel also has a great Crisis Management for Hotels Resource List filled with excellent insights and ideas.
    • Don't disappear from social. Screen Pilot also put together an outstanding set of recommendation on how to effectively be "aware, available, and agile" on social. Many of these include items addressed above such as "encouraging consumer confidence" and using your FAQ pages to reassure guests. But the whole set is excellent and truly worth your time. You can check out their advice here.
    • Use email effectively. Email is always one of your best marketing and communication tools. But what's the right way to use email right now? Revinate offered 6 fantastic tips forwriting a guest focused email during coronavirus that you should definitely bookmark and refer to often during this situation.
    • Think about adopting a "Fast Follower" approach to the recovery. This one is more of a suggestion than a recommendation. But it's likely someone in your market will be the first to try to commercialize and capitalize on the recovery… and will do that too soon. This remains a rapidly evolving and emotionally charged situation. Jumping the gun on selling risks a negative backlash from those still coping with the crisis or concerns around coronavirus. We'd strongly suggest you let someone else in your market be the first to take that step. As long as you put together the right plan and prepare to launch quickly when the recovery starts to take hold, there's little downside that anyone will beat you to capturing your fair share of the demand when it exists. Plan to be a "fast follower" and you should be fine.
    • Manage Google appropriately. It’s no secret that Google continues to play a huge role in the travel industry, especially during the Covid-19 situation. I’m sure that we’ll one day go back to talking about them as a bad guy, but for the moment they’ve put together a handful of excellent resources you should use to ensure you’re making the most of their tools during this highly disruptive period. These include:
      • Some handy guidance for updating info and temporary closures for businesses affected by COVID-19 on Google My Business. Along with your website, Google My Business is probably the best resource available right now for keeping guests and other customers up-to-date right now. Make sure you check out Google’s advice here.
      • This terrific article on navigating your paid search campaigns through COVID-19 from Google Ads Help. There’s an argument to be made — and I would make it in some cases — for keeping at least some paid search running right now. These Google Ads tips will help you manage most effectively regardless of what you do.
      • Useful information from the Official Google Webmaster Central Blog on how to pause your business online in Google Search if that’s necessary. Think through how you’re managing your communication with guests around this situation and only pause what’s absolutely necessary. But follow Google’s advice in those cases to ensure you’re in the best position when you’re back in business.
  • Keep learning. The current situation requires an adaptable approach to the rapidly shifting marketplace. Anything that helps you keep learning is a good move. This post attempts to help there. And my friends Loren Gray from Hospitality Digital Marketing and Robert Cole from RockCheetah put together a fantastic AAHOA Webinar addressed to hotel owners in the age of COVID-19, "Creative Marketing & Messaging Strategies," that you can — and should — review here. And Fuel Travel has put together several excellent podcast episodes on dealing with the difficulties caused by coronavirus, including one with Loren Gray on "Applying Lessons Learned from 9/11 To The COVID-19 Crisis" and an interview with our own Tim Peter reviewing "8 Things Hotels Should Be Doing About The Global Crisis." (We've also embedded that episode at the bottom of this post). All are well worth your time.

Conclusion

Amazingly, it's still somewhat early days of novel coronavirus COVID-19, especially here in the Americas. But some things are starting to become clearer. It's increasingly less likely that this event will blow over with only short-term effects. And it remains possible that we will face a longer-term disruption or ongoing challenges every flu season from COVID-19.

What's more certain is that travel businesses and hoteliers who plan ahead, keep learning, control their costs, work to maintain rate, and continue marketing effectively will likely weather this storm – as well as any others that come along.

We'll continue to update this blog with additional techniques, tips, and strategies you can use to manage through this situation. And we'd love to hear from you. What's working for your business? Where have you found success in driving revenues and profitability? Drop us a line at revenuegrowth@timpeter.com. We'll be sure to share that here and keep the conversation going.

Past Coronavirus COVID-19 Coverage

We originally put together the following items to educate readers on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. There's now lots of coverage out there about what's going on with the illness and its economic effects. However, we're keeping these following sections available for your reference if you need them:

The Bad News About Coronavirus Covid-19

Let's start with the bad news. And, I'm sorry to say that there's a fair bit of it. The disease originated in Asia and, as you might imagine, that's where the greatest impacts have been felt so far. But, health officials are tracking rising numbers of cases in Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas, with, for example, California monitoring at least 8,400 people for the coronavirus. This sudden spike – which is expected to get worse – is leading many businesses to restrict or cancel conferences and business travel. Some of these include:

Again, Phocuswire's liveblog can help keep you up to date on additional cancellations that might matter to your business.

Impacts to Travel Businesses from Coronavirus COVID-19

A number of news outlets are also rounding up stories around the impacts from COVID-19 that may be worth checking out. We'll update these as needed over the next few days/weeks, but mostly these are to give a sense of the overall travel industry effects of the virus:

The Good News about Coronavirus Covid-19

Thankfully, it's not all "doom and gloom." Here are a handful of positive – or at least neutral – stories that show how some events and travel businesses are managing through the crisis. We'll highlight specific case studies where relevant:

Kirby Peter

By

October 23, 2019

Digital Marketing Directions 2020: The Key Trends Driving Your Hotel Marketing Next Year

October 23, 2019 | By | No Comments

Your customers spend their lives immersed in the social, mobile web, constantly connected but also all too often bombarded by a broad mix of messages, promotions, packages, and prices everywhere they look. OTA’s, metasearch, and direct channels compete to drive bookings and brand awareness, but is it possible that they’re only serving to confuse your guests?

Professional keynote speaker Tim Peter of Tim Peter & Associates presents the key trends shaping guest behavior this year and next — and how you can leverage those trends to cut through the clutter and capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of your guests.

Note: This event is not open to the public. If you’re interested in holding a custom event for your business, contact Tim Peter today.

Tim Peter

By

June 11, 2019

Hey, Hotel Marketers: What’s Holding Mobile Bookings Back?

June 11, 2019 | By | No Comments

What's holding mobile bookings back? Guest shopping for reservations on mobileLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


If anyone you're talking with describes 2019 as "the year of mobile," or some other such similar statement, I'd like you to smile at them, nod your head politely, and casually walk away. Why? Because that individual has no idea what they're talking about. 2019 is decidedly not the year of mobile. Not even close. The "year of mobile" has already passed us by.

In reality, we're not in the year of mobile; we're in an era of mobile, of shifting behaviors and business models alike. Uber and Airbnb and Venmo and Instagram all grew up in a world where mobile is the norm, not the new. And if you're genuinely committed to driving direct reservations for your hotels, you must accept mobile as the norm too. Whether you work for a property owner, management company, or brand, you must focus on providing an outstanding experience to guests – current and potential – on mobile all throughout their journey.

In case you missed it, a key data point underscores this reality. Mobile internet activity exceeded desktop internet use in October…2016, over two full years(!) ago. In fact, according to Stone Temple Consulting, mobile traffic now accounts for roughly 63% of all internet use, which is truly astonishing. Most hotels are seeing mobile traffic represent at least 35% of their total traffic and my own experience shows mobile traffic accounting for well over 40% of all sessions. And this shift creates significant opportunities for hotel marketers. Because one area where mobile has not bypassed desktop is its success — or more properly, its lack thereof — in delivering reservations.

Data from SmartInsights suggests that mobile conversion rates average only around 0.7%, compared with well over 2% on desktop. That's a significant decline relative to desktop with real-world consequences for reservations and revenue.

Consider a hypothetical hotel company that receives 12,000 site visitors per period (that period could encompass an entire year for a small hotel or a single day for a decent-sized hotel group; you can choose whichever is appropriate to your situation). If this hotel received only 40% of its traffic from mobile, it would potentially give away 62 reservations each and every single period (for you math wizards in the room, 96 desktop reservations from a 2% conversion rate minus 34 mobile reservations from a 0.7% conversion rate equals 62 "lost" reservations to mobile behaviors). Obviously, these numbers would be higher if your share of mobile traffic is higher. Given an average reservation value of $200, that's the equivalent of $12,400 in lost top-line revenue every period. Even if, by some miracle, 100% of those guests end up picking up the phone or booking your property via an OTA — which would be amazing…and unlikely — you're increasing your cost for those reservations by either the cost of the call or the OTA margin. That's not good. Like, seriously, not good. And that also ignores the fact that you already paid for the performance media or SEO efforts necessary to get that traffic to your website in the first place.

So, why are we losing bookings on mobile relative to desktop? What's holding mobile bookings back? Several reasons come immediately to mind.

Ineffective Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Even with increasing competition from hotels and OTA's, organic search typically represents a significant driver of traffic for most hotel websites. But beginning in March, 2018, Google began splitting its search index into separate versions for desktop and mobile, favoring sites for mobile searchers that specifically take mobile usage into account and penalizing those that work poorly in a mobile context. In fact, mobile-first is now the default for new sites Google finds.

While this change doesn’t directly affect conversion rate, it impacts your business all the same. Google's split of its index has left hotels providing a subpar mobile experience in a sad state, losing traffic and, of course, reservations.

Slow Web Performance
Your website's overall speed also plays a significant role both in SEO rankings and in your guests' website experience. Research from Akamai shows that "…fifty-three percent (53%) of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load" and that "…bounce rates were highest for mobile phone shoppers." And Google has publicly acknowledged that they now use site speed as part of their mobile search ranking algorithm. The search giant offers more favorable placement in mobile search results to hotels featuring websites that load speedily and help guests find the answers they need quickly and conveniently.

Poor Mobile Web Usability and Design
Of course, poor mobile experience isn't a negative solely from Google's point of view; it's bad for guests and bad for your business too. Many hotels are seeing significantly higher bounce and exit rates from guests visiting their site on mobile devices. Wonder where your low conversion rates come from? It should be apparent that guests bouncing off your site aren't converting. Again, speed plays a crucial role. But the need to improve usability and decrease bounce rate overall should be equally apparent.

Lack of Trust
As has been true for the better part of two decades, trust continues to play a key role in influencing conversion online. Slow, insecure websites with limited or outdated content – or most any subset of these issues — frequently fail to convert visitors to bookers. Screen real estate on mobile is limited and valuable. It must be used wisely to assure guests that you are the right choice for their stay and a trustworthy partner who will protect their information and payment details. Along with other elements, Google has also announced that trust plays a significant role in driving SEO ranking. OTA's invest heavily in content designed to reassure guests at each stage of their journey, but especially during the booking decision. Clear rates, quality content, and high-resolution images focused on answering guest questions represent key components in helping site visitors choose your property. Great hoteliers make guests feel comfortable no matter the situation. Helping guests feel comfortable that you represent a reputable option for their next stay is key to providing hospitality online. It deserves your full attention.

Complicated Checkout and Few Payment Options
Even given the current woeful state of mobile usability, checkout and payments present a particularly vexing challenge for users. The checkout process on mobile for many hotel websites remains far too difficult. A recent review of mobile booking engines showed that hotel websites typically require guests to fill in no fewer ten to fifteen form fields across three or four separate screens while completing a reservation. Given that the average guest must manage this while holding their credit card in one hand, a several-hundred-dollar piece of aluminum and glass in another, and type in these fields with, I don't know, a third hand, that's hardly the height of positive user experiences. Why are we making it so hard to do the one thing we most want guests to do?

Further, Booking.com's head of product marketing Morten Larsen recently wrote that "…one in five Booking.com customers don’t complete a reservation due to unavailability of their payment method of choice." Mobile wallets, such as those from Apple Pay, Google, Pay, PayPal and others can streamline the checkout process and can increase the options available for your guests. So, why are these so infrequently offered?

Improperly Configured Analytics
A fair percentage of guests visiting your site on mobile are likely to book via voice since, after all, they are holding a phone in their hands. But are your analytics properly configured to track clicks-to-call? For that matter, is your site properly configured to support click-to-call at all? Now, in fairness, this is less about improving conversion rate and more about measuring alternative reservations channels. But experience suggests that you may be receiving more reservations on mobile than you know, which can be skewing not only your metrics, but also any decisions you're making based on those skewed metrics about media spend or marketing efforts.

How to Make Mobile Drive Bookings for Your Hotel

Once you've identified the issues limiting your mobile website's effectiveness at driving direct reservations, you must establish an appropriate plan to correct these limitations.

First, focus on three key areas:

  • Site speed
  • Quality content
  • Rate parity

Why these three? Well, as discussed, site speed helps with both Google's mobile search index and improves overall usability — or at least perceived usability — by helping guests find the answers they need quickly. This often helps improve your search rankings and traffic, as well as helps lower bounce rate, retaining more of the traffic your site receives and lowering your costs for guest acquisition.

Quality content, both text and visuals, further enhances the guest experience. Content provides answers to the questions your potential guests may have and helps demonstrate the quality of your product. Clear, relevant content also builds trust among site visitors by addressing concerns they may have about your property and its fit for their individual stay. Content also plays an important role in overall search engine optimization and, if properly targeted and authored, may help your site rank better for specific guest queries.

Rate parity delivers multiple benefits for both you and your guests. The diffusion of disparate rates has taught guests that, if they keep looking, they're likely to find a better deal. Offering varying rates across OTA's, metasearch, and hotel websites damages trust in your direct channels by reinforcing the benefits for guests of continuing to shop around. And, when guests continue to shop around, you not only increase the likelihood that they'll book your hotel on a higher-cost channel, you also increase the risk that they'll book a different hotel altogether.

At the same time, make sure that your mobile site displays your reservations phone number prominently and that your phone number works correctly when a guest attempts to click-to-call. While many web browsers automatically convert phone numbers to clickable links, not all do. Automatically converted phone numbers may also fail to match your site's style and typically lack any tracking that shows whether they're being used. Work with your website developer and booking engine provider to put the proper code in place for your guests and for your business benefit.

Finally, work with your IBE providers to incorporate mobile payments and seamless checkout from digital wallets such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, and the like. Experience shows not only a better mobile experience overall, but also conversion rate increases for each new payment option added.

What's Holding Mobile Bookings Back? Conclusion

We've clearly entered "the Era of Mobile." Mobile represents a large and growing segment of your site visitors. And guests expect a quality, seamless, and, yes, hospitable experience when researching on mobile. They're not going to book your property directly on mobile until and unless you can satisfy their needs there. Google recognizes this fact and actively penalizes poor mobile experience. And OTA's have invested heavily to provide guests with the information and experience they demand. Your mobile web experience — in terms of site speed, quality content, trust, and usability — must meet or exceed their expectations. Or you can continue to muddle along and keep losing traffic and transactions to OTA's and others who do take mobile seriously.

Hotel owners, management companies, and brands alike have a vested interest in addressing these concerns if they're legitimately concerned with increasing direct bookings for their properties.

Mobile bookings aren't "next year's problem." They're not a trend you can afford to ignore. Lost mobile bookings dramatically influence your business right now, pushing guests towards OTA's as their first, last, and only choice for bookings, and driving up the cost of guest acquisitions both in the near-term and down the road. Fixing the problems takes work. But it's work that's well within your capabilities. Plenty of effective solutions exist in the marketplace to help you address these needs. But you've got to begin. Right now. Because if you continue to ignore the importance of improving your guests' experience on mobile, the thing holding back mobile bookings might just be you.

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

A version of this article originally appeared on Hotel News Now as "The Distribution Trend You Care About Most in 2019"

Tim Peter

By

May 10, 2019

The Hotel Marketing and Distribution Trend You Care About Most This Year

May 10, 2019 | By | No Comments

Looking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


Hotel marketing and distribution: Why Google matters

Let’s talk distribution for a minute. Yeah, I know, distribution is one of the least sexy aspects of the hotel industry. It’s also one of the most important, especially for hotel owners and independent hotel operators. Hotel owners, operators, and brands looking for ways to reduce costs and increase profitability need to continue thinking about how they’re going to acquire guests in a cost-effective manner. Also, hotel marketing and distribution are joined at the hip. And the whole topic is about about to get much, much more interesting.

Why? What’s going on here?

In a word, it’s Google. Google is what’s going on here.

The Beast That Scares the 800-lb. Gorillas in Hotel Marketing and Distribution

Google isn’t the 800-lb. gorilla of the hotel industry. No, Google is a much larger and more ferocious beast that has all the industry’s 800-lb. gorillas running for cover. Google is stealing mindshare — and potential margins — from OTA’s and other intermediaries every single day. No less an observer than Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom plainly stated that Google represents his company’s biggest competitor. In his words, “The internet has been littered with the bodies of companies put out of business by Google.” Okerstrom’s job is to make sure Expedia isn’t one of them.

Okerstrom is right. It’s no secret guests increasingly use Google as the first stop in their decision-making journey. And with recent integrations of Google’s artificial intelligence-powered, travel booking capable Assistant into Google Maps on Android and iPhones alike, expect even greater use of the search giant when guests plan their stay. There are over 3 million searches on Google every minute, with more than half of those on mobile and roughly 20% of those using voice. That’s at least 300,000 voices searches every minute, many of them targeted towards travel. Everyone’s scrambling for share, further driving up the cost of acquiring guests.

For example, Expedia, Booking.com, and others — OK, Expedia and Booking’s subsidiary brands and metasearch channels — recognize this shift, spending more on marketing and advertising with Google to drive more traffic to their direct channels. That’s a switch, huh? But it’s a fact. To drive traffic to its sites, Booking.com paid Google in Q3 alone last year somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Nice neighborhood, eh?

At the same time, as Google increases the amount of metasearch and paid inventory in its search results page, it’s also driving up costs for individual hotel owners and operators. Worse, without solid connectivity solutions — which far too many independent hotels lack — hotels can be shut out of Google’s latest product offerings and miss out on direct revenue opportunities altogether.

How to Deal With Google’s Domination of Hotel Marketing and Distribution

So how can you ensure you earn your rightful place at the table and gain booking share without significantly increasing your cost of guest acquisition? Here’s how:

  • Develop a comprehensive distribution strategy that includes both search and metasearch. Search is a distribution channel. And the search landscape gets more and more challenging every day. SEO, paid search, voice search, metasearch, AI, schemas, and whatever else Google rolls out next can’t be considered in isolation. Each plays a role in driving guests towards your direct booking channels and in delivering flow-through — positive or negative — towards your bottom line. Similar thinking should shape your OTA agreements. Do your internal team, website development firm, and marketing agency understand how to best make these work together to deliver the lowest total cost of distribution for your property? This is critical question that your property must get right. Otherwise, you risk continuing to fund OTA’s bidding against you in search, driving up the costs of your hotel marketing and distribution, and further risking your property’s distinct value proposition.
  • Offer destination content to gain guests earlier in their decision-making journey. Data shows that guests who start their research on OTA’s book on OTA’s. I strongly suspect the same will be true for Google before long, most likely in the form of metasearch and partnerships. Already, Google displays a remarkable number of paid listings and metasearch results before getting to organic results. This is a huge problem for hotel marketers. Why? Well, to put it bluntly, guests who don’t come to your website never get the chance to book direct. It’s critical you use content about your destination to move deeper into the long tail of search, getting guests to your site early in the journey and for terms that aren’t flooded with paid/metasearch offerings already. Google’s AI-driven search results place significant value on quality content. Give them — and your guests — something worth finding.
  • Focus on increasing conversion rates on direct channels. Here’s a simple truth: It’s always going to cost you something to get guests to contact you. You’d damn well better make sure they convert when they do. It doesn’t matter whether guests come to your website or call your reservations line; every lost opportunity increases your cost. Take a close look at where your reservations come from, how effective your direct channels are at turning interest into action, and how to improve those results to get the best return on your spend.
  • Ensure your connectivity options support Google — and potential future competitors. Do your direct channels appear in Google’s metasearch results today? Or does your property only appear via intermediaries? The latter is a clear sign you’re paying more for reservations than you should — likely much more. Make sure your team is working towards placing your property’s direct channels front and center in metasearch on Google, as well as on other metasearch partners who offer the opportunity to challenge Google in the future. Or accept the fact that you’re always going to pay more for bookings than you should. But that doesn’t seem like a good long-term plan to me.

Conclusion

Distribution funnels through a limited number of chokepoints and gatekeepers. And, at least for the foreseeable future, the number of gatekeepers continues to shrink towards just one: Google. If Expedia worries about Google eating its lunch, you might want to given the search giant some thought too. And then you want to put those thoughts into action.

Google may be the beast that 800-lb. gorillas fear. That doesn’t mean it should scare you. Individual property owners and operators may not be 800-lb. gorillas. But unlike the big guys, they can run through the jungle much faster. Think about your hotel marketing and distribution strategically and you’ll be able to outrun the big guys for a long time to come.

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

A version of this article originally appeared on Hotel News Now as "The Distribution Trend You Care About Most in 2019"

Tim Peter

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January 8, 2019

5 Key Insights into 2019’s Hotel Marketing Tech Trends

January 8, 2019 | By | No Comments

Guest using mobile phone to book, one of 2019's hotel marketing tech trendsLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


A client recently asked for some high-level insights into the hotel marketing tech trends available to drive more direct business this year. While this is a bit of a laundry list, the following offers a number of significant opportunities to help you increase your hotel direct business. Check out the list below and let me know your thoughts:

Make your website work. Obviously, most hoteliers at the chain and property level are making a big push for more direct business. Four areas worth investing in to help drive that direct business include:

  1. Improve your website's speed. Google increasingly pays attention to speed in its ranking algorithms. They've explicitly stated that in a blog post. The key takeaway: Slows sites simply won't rank. Guest behaviors show the same thing, with bounce rates climbing as page load times increase. We've reached a world where instant gratification isn't fast enough. Look at investing in a proper CDN and getting your tech team to improve your website's code to lower load times and improve the guest experience.
  2. Switch to HTTPS. Security represents another critical aspect improving ranking within search engines. Google Chrome now highlights insecure sites and data suggests that if you're site isn't using HTTPS today, you're hurting your ranking — and your opportunity for sales along with it.
  3. Ensure an outstanding mobile experience. Mobile accounts for more than half of all pageviews online. And Google split its index into two this year, ranking your site's mobile and desktop experiences separately. Given how many guests use mobile as their primary device when browsing and booking hotels, a poor mobile experience tells Google and guests alike that you're not interested in their business.
  4. Invest in content. Finally, when it comes to the web, content is, was, and always shall be king. A fast, secure, mobile-friendly web experience won't matter if your content doesn't help guests understand what makes your hotel the right choice for their next stay. Talk with your guest-facing personnel to understand the questions your guests ask most frequently, then invest in text, images, and video to answer those questions for your site visitors too.

Continue improving connectivity. Metasearch continues to grow as an option for attracting guests and driving direct bookings. Do your connectivity partners help you reach the right guests, not only on Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Trivago, but also on Google Hotel Ads too?

Don't just preach rate parity, practice it. Your guests often know more about your products, services, and, crucially, prices than many of your employees. They have more incentive to. After all, they're the ones taking — and paying for — the trip. And metasearch makes it even easier for your guests to find the information they need. Rate parity ensures your direct channels have an equal shot at converting visits to revenue. By the same token, rate disparity causes two problems:

  1. Guest might find a lower price for your property through a more expensive channel, and, even worse…
  2. They might find a different hotel altogether while shopping around.

Don't teach guests to shop around for a better rate. Provide clear and consistent pricing across your channels to connect with the guest and convert them to a long-term advocate for your property.

Become best friends with your data. Your guests provide you enormous amounts of data before and during their stay. Spend some time next year on getting that data into shape so that you can deploy AI, predictive analytics, and personalization more readily as those tools mature. OTA's and intermediaries such as Google have invested in learning all they can about your guests. It's time you do the same. Relatively low-cost tools like Google BigQuery and its competitors can help you get your data in one place and use it to better understand your guests. Make some time this year to get to know your data better so that you can spend next year getting to know your guests better. Obviously, you'll need to pay attention to privacy too — as Facebook's struggles over the past year illustrate. But, in either case, data matters this year and demands your attention.

Don't forget the on-property mobile experience. Many guests today would rather leave home without deodorant than leave their phones behind. Think about how you can help them put those devices to use to improve the guest experience and grow your business to boot. Already Expedia has taken steps to get deeper into the guest journey, such as with its investment in Alice. We're already fighting to keep bookings; don't cede the on-property experience to OTA's too. Whether through on-property messaging, mobile keys, or simply improved Wifi, look to integrate the mobile experience and the on-property experience for guests during each stay — and help them remember why you should be their first choice for their next stay too.

Now these are just of few of the hotel marketing tech trends you want to watch in the coming year. Of course, you need to remember that even the best marketing technology won’t save you from a bad hotel marketing strategy. But these should point you in the right direction and give you a great place to start.


If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success: