Howard Johnson’s iconic orange roofs that once dotted America’s highways were the precursor to today’s powerful and high-tech hospitality industry. It was a time when travelers took to the roads in droves as Dinah Shore sang the wayfarer’s anthem, “See the USA in your Chevrolet.” Now, the industry has grown into a social media-driven enterprise, where just one segment alone – the hotel industry in America – reached 208 billion dollars in revenue in 2017.
Personalization Through Digital Experiences
Today’s traveler demands a personalized travel experience before his bags are even packed. The contemporary traveler relies on digital and personalized interactions, and travel-related platforms to research and book travel experiences. Hotel marketers are answering the call by leveraging digital technology to engage future guests. For example:
- Many hotels use virtual room tours to start positive guest experiences before a reservation is even made.
- Virtual reality is beginning to play a major role in the process that consumers “experience” in their travel planning. Adobe Digital Insights reports that eight of the largest hotels have tested some kind of virtual reality (VR) technology in the past six months.
- Hotels are increasing engagement through mobile apps. According to Intelity, hotel apps are being used to optimize the check-in experience, allow guests to make special requests, create two-way communications between guests and hotel staff for better customer service, send push notifications, and more.
The Hospitality Market’s Social Media Footprint
Much of the buzz generated by the hospitality industry is reflected in travel-related references found in social media. LinkedIn editors, citing a study from Charles Schwab, said more than a third of Gen X and millennials say their spending habits have been influenced by friends’ social media feeds and confess they spend more money than they can afford due to “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out.
Reviews are also influencing travel decisions in greater numbers. An article in HuffPost states that over 95% of leisure travelers read at least seven online reviews before booking their travel itinerary.
A relatively new phrase, “bleisure,” has been added to the travel lexicon, as an increasing number of travelers extend business trips for leisure purposes. Although Baby Boomers and Gen X take advantage of bleisure opportunities, it’s millennials that have led the way in normalizing the trend says travelagentcentral.com. A major reason, the site says, is likely tied to budget, as 49 percent of millennials say they’ve extended business trips to include leisure time to save on travel costs. This article from G2 Crowd describes the way bleisure is disrupting the business travel industry. Hotel properties, especially those that regularly host conferences or are located in cities frequently chosen for major business events, may be able to capitalize on the trend. They could use social media or other channels to promote the idea of extending business stays and seeing more of what the city has to offer.
High Costs Put a Toll on the Hospitality Industry
The resources and travel apps used by prospective travelers target them at the moment their trip plans are top-of-mind, and hotel apps can even be used to market to them during their guest stay. Clearly, the opportunity to create new marketing strategies goes well beyond the old Howard Johnson’s business model. However, the increasing cost of the digital highway carries a hefty toll. According to Richard Millard, Chairman and CEO of Thrust Hospitality, digital marketing and social media are increasingly eating up expenses and hotel management companies are casting a wary eye. “Marketing is a minimum of probably 6% of your expenses, so it’s a pretty big number,” he stated. “It could be as high as 8% to 10%, depending on what you’re doing.”
Successful Email Marketing is Key
Many travel venues continue to turn to the proven results generated by email marketing to hedge their digital bets. 59 percent of marketers say email is still the highest ROI generator for their digital marketing efforts.
No matter which digital strategies are applied by hospitality marketers, the magic formula still lies in being able to create personal connections with travelers throughout their travel experience. This means reaching them with key messaging from the customer’s initial research phase to final conversion, and from first visit to repeat visits. Leveraging every possible digital marketing avenue to create positive guest experiences is key.