Another Summit, another virtual Platform, yet another discussion on the impact of the ongoing pandemic which has placed the world’s largest democracy in lockdown for the last four months. In the pre-COVID era, this summit would be happening in a hotel where participants, speakers, and panelists would have flown into a city and stayed at a city hotel for the 2-day long event helping the hotel with new guests to serve and provide an unparalleled experience. However, events, conferences, and corporate travel remain low on the recovery agenda, and therefore the question for every hotelier remains – How Do We Get Our Guests Back?

A fortnight back, I was honored to be part of an esteemed panel at the Hotelier India Summit comprising of hotel sales and marketing leaders to discuss the same CS Ramachandran, VP- Hotel Revenue Optimization, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Dhananjay Saliankar, Head-sales & Marketing India, Fortune Hotels, Kush Kapoor, CEO, Roseate Hotels & Resorts, Manoj Nair, National Marketing Leader-India, FCM Travel Solutions, Prasad Iyer, VP, E-Commerce, Distribution & Rewards, Lemon Tree Hotels, and last but by no means the least Sachin Pabreja, Co-founder, Eazydiner.

What’s On the Guest’s Mind?
The famed ‘pent-up demand’ will soon come to the surface as more tourist destinations in India contain the virus and put in place procedures to mitigate the virus. As the leisure traveler would lead the recovery, the key driver for hotels would not be price but experience, health, safety, and flexibility in handling cancellations.

However, at the same time, hotels will have to walk a fine line to ensure that the experience they promise does not appear like a medical tourism ad due to prevailing social distancing and safety norms.

Instead, contact-less solutions are being adopted by more hotels to implement steps like digital check-in, use of QR codes to keep things smooth and safe as well as the ‘safe car promise’ where all vehicles will undergo deep cleaning and each car will have a PPE kit for the guests.

The challenge for hotel commercial and marketing teams would be to manage these expectations in an already complex decision-making process and use social media to communicate the right price, the right experience, and the right safety standards.

This is where social media marketing plays a critical role.

How is Social Media playing a vital role?
In the Pre-COVID times, Facebook and Instagram played a key role in driving travel inspiration; however a significant role was also played by family and friends who would recommend travel destinations. With no one traveling at the moment, and very few people aware of which destinations are safe, which hotels are taking care of safety, the role of social media would now further increase as that would be the first source for getting up to date information.

Therefore, more than ever before, hotels have to look at social media as the channel to bring back guests and invest time, effort, and resources in continually communicating with potential travelers to win their trust and engage them.

While hotels attempt to re-establish a connect, they need to keep two age-old ideas at the core of their strategy

  1. One Size Does Not Fit All
    Each hotel property is designed for a specific set of travelers, keeping in mind the taste, lifestyle of the guests that would stay there. The same strategy needs to be applied to your social media strategy and continuously seek the right kind of guest with the right messaging.
  2. Don’t Prioritize Reach Over Reputation
    Most marketing leaders worry about reach, but in the post-COVID world when the number of travelers would substantially shrink for the next 18-24 months, reach, engagement might not be the right metric to target, instead of hotels should invest in managing their reputation and ensuring all guest queries, feedback, needs are answered instantly so that they can trust the property more efficiently.24/7 Personalized and Real-time Monitoring is critical for hotels in the post-COVID world where trust is at an all-time low. The best example that I like to quote is when a guest at The Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay reported a faulty door lock on social media, tagging the hotel and using the hashtag #fail which is the 3rd highest used Hashtag and can instantly be picked up by prospecting guests and even reach media sites to show the fault on the part of a prestigious brand like Ritz Carlton.

    Due to real-time monitoring, not only did the hotel get alerted immediately and due to the ability to personalize the guest experience, they not only replaced the chain in an hour but also as an apology placed a bottle of his favorite single malt whisky to both mitigate the negative experience. The guest ofcourse, captured this experience on social media tagging the hotel and using the hashtag #unrealcustomerservice and therefore not only become a loyal guest, but also helping prospective guests choose the hotel on their future trips.

Independent/mid-scale hotels can’t compromise on social media
In a poll conducted by BCV a travel technology company suggested that over 25% of them would invest close to 50% of their marketing budgets in social media this year. This number becomes more relevant for independent/ mid-sized hotel chains as their marketing budgets do not allow them to spend heavily on ATL advertising.

Due to lower brand salience, independent hotels will have to put in extra to win the guests’ trust. Social media is a level playing field, and with the right content done creatively and innovatively, hotels of any size can outdo the biggest chains.

Most hotels today rely on in-house teams to deliver this; however, in-house teams can drive social media engagement, but can’t bring varied experience from working with other hotel brands, cutting-edge technology as well as focus on driving RoI.

How do you convince guests to come back with Social Media?
We are witnessing that Middle East and South East Asia are now seeing a pick-up in economic as well as travel activity and therefore is seeing a substantial pick-up in bookings. While India recovers and the high-demand season approaches in the next three months, it’s a golden time for all the hoteliers to revise, refresh, and restart things that haven’t been done for a long. This is the time when hotels should re-look into their strategy, try to explore all channels of digital marketing, make the best use of social media.

BCV, one of the most awarded social media agency focused on hospitality solutions that works with over 400+ luxury hotels across the world, has been working with luxury hotels across Asia helping them not only to increase engagement but also drive RoI during the pandemic through a tailored social media engagement strategy using its proprietary technology that also delivers 24/7 real-time monitoring.

One such example is our work with Cinnamon Hotels in Maldives one of the first destinations to welcome back tourists. Our approach for them was to keep engagement on through-out the pandemic and deploy a four-step campaign across 45 days using different platforms and content formats created by BCV’s in-house creative team. The campaign helped them generated 204 Room nights and while delivering an ROI 274 on spends, clearly showing that social media continues to drive results even in the crisis and is the right channel for hotels to use to drive demand back.

So what should hotels keep in mind when looking to get guests back

DON’T TAKE THE PEDAL OFF SOCIAL: Irrespective of your size and ability to spend on social, hotels should not stop spends on social media, as in the absence of actual visits, the only way to build brand salience and mind-share is through targeted content continuously served to prospective guests.

DON’T MAKE HEALTH AND SAFETY BORING: As we look to welcome guests back by assuring them of safety, hotels should make sure they do not make hospitality boring and actually look at making health attractive and engaging both through social media content as well as on property. This could be easily achieved by replacing videos and photos of masks and sanitizers with shots of health-juices and immunity boosters that are served as a welcome drink.

MAKE ROI YOUR KEY METRIC: Every Digital Platform has its own metrics and today, Digital Marketers can track close to 50 metrics to show success such as followers, traffic, share of voice and many more however as hospitality marketers emerge from this pandemic, the only thing their social media strategy should work towards is actual revenue contribution and ROI from paid media efforts.


 

About the Author
 
Apurva Chamaria
Chief Revenue Officer
RateGain

Apurva Chamaria is the Chief Revenue Officer of RateGain, one of world’s leading SaaS company’s serving over 20,000+ customers in the travel and hospitality industry across 100+ Countries. In his role, he leads sales, marketing, alliances and customer success across the world. Prior to joining RateGain, Apurva was the Global Head of Corporate Marketing for HCL Technologies, an US$ 8 Billion global IT major.