Think about it – just 20 years ago, we didn’t have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat. We couldn’t look up hotel reviews on Yelp. We couldn’t hop online to see where our friends and favorite celebrities were traveling and staying. We didn’t have to worry about our hotel marketing strategy in online channels.
If you wanted to book a hotel back then, you pretty much had to rely on that hotel’s marketing messaging and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family members.
Obviously, times have changed.
The explosive popularity of the Internet and social media in recent years has completely revolutionized hotel marketing and the customer journey in the tourism industries. In fact, 63 % of leisure tourists and 69 % of tourists on business use the Internet to plan their trips.
And make no mistake – people want to take more vacations. Vacations are reported to make 8/10 people happier than marriages, religion, cats, and birthdays. And 92% of Americans would give up alcohol, video games, or chocolate for a vacation.
So, as a hotel marketer, how can you tap into people’s strong desire to travel and provide content that pushes them through the entire stage of the customer journey and makes them choose your hotel over one of your competitors?
Exploring the Customer Journey in the Hotel and Tourism Industries
The Travel Idea/Awareness Stage
Leisure trips start at the moment the traveler realizes that they want to travel.
Often, that moment is spurred by the traveler seeing inspiring online content. For example, they might find themselves itching to travel after looking at an image online of someone enjoying themselves while traveling.
Let’s go over the stage of the customer journey more in-depth with an example:
Say you’ve wanted to take a trip for a while now, but you aren’t sure where to go or where you should stay during your trip.
But one day, you’re scrolling down your Instagram feed, and you notice this photo re-posted by the Lindblad Expeditions account:
You read the caption and gaze longingly at the photo.
And suddenly, you picture yourself canoeing in Scotland while relaxing and taking in the scenery.
That’s when your “aha” moment happens, and you realize that a trip to Scotland is exactly what you need. It’s your dream trip, and you’re ready to start planning to make it happen.
Obviously, this stage may not happen this exact way for every customer, but the point is this:
Social media can have a huge influence on the “Travel Idea” stage of the customer journey.
Take a look at these statistics:
- One survey showed that 52% of people reported being inspired to travel because of their friends’ Facebook photos.
- About 1/5th of leisure travelers worldwide look to social media platforms for inspiration within different categories of their travel planning.
- 92% of consumers trust earned media (user-generated content like the photo above) over all other forms of advertising.
Based on this data, you can see how important it is for your hotel to have a strong social media presence and regularly share content that inspires travelers to plan a trip.
The “Research/Consideration” Stage
Once a traveler has decided on their destination, they begin the research process. This typically involves asking peers for recommendations and then analyzing different options in-depth and picking the best one based on reviews, social media images, and price.
Searching for the best option
When the week of booking a hotel at the travel destination comes, travelers spend a lot more time searching online for information about their trip.
In fact, online travel content consumption during the week of booking more than doubles from that of the previous week. And while 47 percent of that takes place on online travel agencies (OTAs), the share of travel visits for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) has increased by 30 percent since 2010.
Travelers just can’t get enough online content about their travel destinations – especially if it’s user-generated. One study found that exposure to user-generated content increased conversion rates for hotels dramatically, which resulted in more transactions and business revenue overall.
But it’s not just pictures and articles about their vacation destination that travelers are interested in, it’s also online user reviews.
Think that online reviews have little or no effect on your hotel’s bookings?
Think again. Research shows that 77% of people read reviews before choosing a hotel, and 53% of people won’t book a hotel without reviews. On top of that, people are 62% more likely to book a hotel if management actually takes the time to respond to online reviews, and wealthier travelers are influenced more by online reviews than they are by peer recommendations.
So if you’re a hotel marketer, you must make an effort to collect authentic online reviews and respond to them.
Of course, to beat out your competition, you’ll need lots of positive reviews on Yelp, your hotel website, and the booking sites where your hotel is featured. So if you aren’t prioritizing the guest experience as much as you should be, it’s time to start. That way, you’ll inspire lots of your customers to give you the kinds of reviews that’ll help you win more business.
That being said, Harvard Business School research shows that the majority of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mixture of good and bad feedback. If you only have perfect reviews, customers are going to perceive your brand as inauthentic!
Looking at images on social media
So, you need to make sure you’re giving your potential customers plenty of inspiration by posting real content to all of your social media accounts.
This is important because it allows your potential customers to visualize what their experience will actually be like when they stay at your hotel. They can’t do that when all you offer is professional, staged photos that don’t provide a sense of authenticity!
Looking at hotel websites and interacting with the content
According to Expedia research, some consumers visit up to 39 websites before booking their travel plans.
That’s a lot of researching! In fact, a recent study showed that 49 % of travelers used a price comparison website like Expedia, Priceline, or Kayak. 36 % of those who used these sites ended up booking their stay through them, but you better believe that potential customers who are serious about booking at your hotel will check out your main website too.
So, ask yourself this question:
Does my website create an inviting image for my hotel?
If not, it’s time for you to make some changes. First of all, you should have a customer review section displayed prominently on your site to increase conversions and customer confidence.
Also, consider dedicating a page on your hotel website to sharing customer pictures. Here’s how hotel company Rusticae does this on their site:
Showing this content off to prospective customers who visit the site allows Rusticae to give them a real look at people’s experiences staying in the hotel.
Using this strategy is a great way to push people further along in the customer journey and make them more confident in their decision to book a room at your hotel.
Related reading: Read this to learn more about how Rusticae uses UGC to grow their customer base.
Comparing all the options
When potential travelers have access to so many resources, where they decide to stay comes down to their own decision-making process.
According to Cornell research, customers browse through hotel names, images, price, and location, as well as user ratings – but they fixate the most on images. That’s why great images can make up for less favorable ratings or a lesser known brand logo.
If the images posted to both social networking platforms and your website make your hotel look appealing, you’ll have a greater chance of securing new guests.
Think about it – which of these hotels would you rather stay at:
- A hotel with no photos online whatsoever.
- A hotel with some exterior photos online.
- A hotel with detailed photos of rooms, amenities, the surrounding area, and more posted on social media and on its website.
It’s pretty obvious that you’d pick the last one. And travelers looking for the best possible hotel stay during their vacation would too.
The “Book and Stay” Stage
Once travelers have become your guests, it’s up to you to convince them they made the right decision. And while they’re in your hotel, you can encourage them to start posting their own pictures to help you spread the word about your hotel.
Appreciating the experience
The truth is that it’s completely up to your hotel’s quality to influence guests in the right direction.
If your hotel doesn’t live up to standards, you might suffer from a negative review. If there are horrible stains on the carpet and holes in the walls, the pictures your guests share on social media might be discouraging to future guests.
When they made the decision to stay at your hotel, it’s because they were impressed by your online presence. For them to remain impressed, you have to be consistent with your service and presentation both online and offline.
Posting to social media
When your guests arrive, you should introduce them to your social media presence by using decals near your hotel entrance. As they walk through the doors, they’ll be encouraged to follow your social media channels, post pictures from their rooms, or even give your hotel a shout-out when they check in.
If your guests feel satisfied at every stage of their stay, they’ll post pictures to show all of their friends the great time they’re having at your hotel.
This will help you encourage more content for your hotel to help build your brand, keep customer acquisition costs low, and encourage more bookings in the future.
Engaging with a loyalty program
Another way to encourage your guests to share content on social media is to offer a rewards program that interfaces with certain online platforms.
Le Club Accor Hotels offers points for guests to earn during their stays by collecting badges in a Facebook application. Here’s what a guest might see when they check into their hotel:
Every time a guest stays at an affiliated hotel, their user account fills with these points that they can use for rewards later down the road.
This activity is posted to Facebook, where all the guest’s family and friends can see their location and read more about their experiences. Then, the next time the traveler considers a hotel, they’ll remember their points and book with Accor hotels.
The “Post-stay/Sharing” Stage
During this stage in the customer’s journey, the guest is (hopefully!) happy with their experience at your hotel. If you’ve provided them with an exceptional experience, they’ll be ready to share information about your hotel with their friends and family members.
Spreading the word
To encourage your guests to share their journey, tell your front desk agents to ask all leaving guests about their experience. If the guest reports that they have had a positive experience in the hotel, the front desk agent should encourage them to share their opinions online!
When people take the time to leave a review about your hotel, there’s a strong chance it’ll influence other travelers to stay with you in the future.
Who knows – that customer’s experience could inspire one of their social media followers to take a trip. And when they do, there’s a good chance they’ll book with you because they’ll have already seen how wonderful it is to stay in your hotel!
Appreciating their relationship with you
If your guests have such a fantastic time that they can’t wait to come back, you should actively encourage them to do so.
If you have their contact information, you can remind them in the future – be it 6 months or a year from now – about their stay at your hotel. When you do, it will plant the seeds of travel in their heads and they’ll want to start the vacation cycle all over again.
And if they do want to return, it means you’ve successfully created a lasting relationship with them.
That means more money for you – engaged customers spend 46 % more per year than actively disengaged guests.
When guests feel like they have a more personal relationship with your brand, they’ll be more inclined to share photos of their stay and enjoy learning about the experiences other travelers have had with you as well.
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