Hotel Digital Marketing Leaders Gather for HSMAI Roundtable

I recently had the pleasure of representing VFM Leonardo at a Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Roundtable, which focused on emerging hotel e-marketing challenges and opportunities. If you’re not familiar with HSMAI, they are a very well-established organization focused on identifying hospitality industry trends and educating industry professionals to drive future success.
I was joined by high profile executives from hotel chains as well as HotelMe and Google, to name a few to have an insightful conversation on topics including the transition of digital, evolution from single channel to multi-channel marketing, engaging consumers with social, mobile and reviews and how hotel brands can reinforce their value propositions. My contribution was to share research and insights on the role of visual storytelling in hotel marketing today.

The discussion looked at the big picture and covered a number of hot topics which I’ll discuss here.
Changing Marketplace
This discussion surrounded the idea of answering one question, “why would it take 8-10 website visits on the sales path to a hotel booking?” Many intermediaries are trying to meet the mark by making it easier for travel shoppers to book a hotel. Customizing search makes it easier for travelers to get their preferred hotel choice.

As more players enter the game such as “Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and possibly Amazon-who have the potential to be consumer gatekeepers for travel in the future,” it will become more difficult for hotels to attract new customers, directly. It will also be more crucial for hotels to ensure that they have a good multi-channel strategy to catch the attention of potential guests.

The content discussion was very lively, as it is currently an exciting topic due to the emergence of new technology and tools. We’re now seeing record levels of content creation by consumers thanks to the capabilities of mobile devices which make taking photos and sharing experiences online so easy.

The expectations of travel shoppers have also transitioned. They no longer look at content and classify it as professional or amateur, instead they’re asking “is this interesting or not?” One attendee brought attention to how effective Pinterest is for consumers to share their travel stories and how online hotel marketers can learn from them to put the right information in front of travel shoppers and dreamers

Many attendees noted their mobile traffic accounts for approximately 10%-20% of bookings today and Dave Pavelko, from Google stated his prediction that it will grow to 25% in 2013. With almost all the growth coming from smartphones and tablets, hotels must ensure they provide a friendly online mobile experience.
HSMAI-Room view

Furthermore, David Doucette of Fairmont Hotel and Resorts said that mobile should be “an extension of in-room,” for example by “providing both relevant and unobtrusive merchandising of its on-property offerings.”

As digital is slowly more intertwined in consumers’ everyday lives, hotels have to think of how to transition their mobile activities from a strictly pre-stay routine to an immersive activity to surround the whole travel experience. If you have a slow, lagging mobile website, you can expect to “lose consumers for every second those consumers must wait for a search result or page load” according to Dave Pavelko from Google.

Ratings and reviews
This was another hot topic. Paul Peddrick from HotelMe shared that more than 60% of consumers start their travel shopping on third party channels such as OTAs and review websites. The majority of these sources feature reviews of each property to help guide the consumer’s purchase decision. However, the advice provided from the reviews may be limited. This is where the brands and individual properties have to come in and provide value-adding information, because ultimately consumers seek this out.

What it all comes down to for hoteliers is that in order to be a leader in this industry, you must stay on top of the current digital trends by tailoring your content accordingly to fit your strategy and tell your story using the almighty pixel.

The full report summarizing the CDO discussion is available for download to HSMAI members here. We also have many educational resources that touch on the topics covered in the discussion available for download, you can explore them here.

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