Delegates attending the Hotel Marketing Association's (HMA) National Hotel Marketing Conference 2017 last week at the Hilton St George's Park in Burton-upon-Trent were advised how to win the online marketing battle.
Natalie Wiseman of independent research consultancy BDRC Continental spoke about the battle hotels face with online travel agents (OTAs) and homestay platforms. She pointed out that not only does the combined online advertising spend of the five biggest hotel groups not compete with that of the two biggest OTAs, in just eight years the largest homestay brand (Airbnb) has built up a brand awareness to rival Marriott. Marriott, AccorHotels, IHG, Choice and Hilton have a combined online advertising spend of $5.3b, while Expedia and Priceline Group have a combined spend of more than $6b. And in 2016, Airbnb had a brand awareness of 63% - compared to Marriott's 69%.
Among users of homestays, 23% would have ordinarily gone to a chain hotel and 6% to an independent, highlighting the threat to hotels.
Or, she added, companies can of course buy the homestay brands, for example AccorHotels' acquisitions of Oasis, Squarebreak and Onefinestay. "It's about what works for you and your bottom line," she concluded.
Thomas Landen of Revinate, which collects data on the hospitality industry, emphasised the importance of hotels' online reviews and reputation as one of their most important marketing tools.
"Guests are more likely to use your hotel if you have a better reputation and more willing to spend more money if you have better ratings online," he said - travellers are 3.9 times more likely to choose a hotel with higher review scores given equal prices, and 76% of travellers are more likely to book a hotel with a higher score, even if it means paying a higher rate.
He added that there is a direct relationship between online ratings and revenue - for every point increase in ratings, they found bookings increase by 14.2% and average daily rate by 11.2%.
In online reviews, he pointed out that interactions with staff was a regular theme in positive reviews, but bathrooms in a poor state was by far the biggest recurring issues in negative reviews.
He also urged hotels to think about driving reviews on Google, as hotels with more positive reviews will show up more quickly on Google Maps, and to think about their presence on Chinese review sites. There is a lot of potential for driving revenue from China, he said, pointing out that three of the top five sites for UK hotel reviews - Mafengwo, Dianping and Ctrip - are Chinese.
"Make sure that you're really well represented on those markets such as Spain and China, where your main markets are, when thinking about investing money," he said.
Videos from The Caterer archives