By Kerryn Gower

After saying goodbye to 2018, we’re starting the new year with fresh priorities and goals. January is a great time for hoteliers to reflect on last year’s strategies and analyze results in order to create a blueprint for a successful new year. Determining your hotel’s most successful digital marketing initiatives is the first step to executing a strong plan that will achieve greater results this year than last year.

With new technology and digital innovations announced daily, it can seem overwhelming for hoteliers to stay on top of trends and work them into their own strategies. With voice search and AI, omnichannel marketing, and the use of influencers on the rise, hoteliers have the opportunity to reach potential guests at more touchpoints than ever before.

It's important to start 2019 with a strong foundation to your digital strategy and be able to incorporate new initiatives as the year goes on. To get you started, we put together the top resolutions for hotels based on current and forecasted trends.

1. Understand the importance of an updated website and technology. Implement design trends on your website that follow UX and are backed by the right technology that leads user towards a booking.

Selecting the right CMS is important for your hotel’s digital strategy. Content management systems can help your hotel implement website personalization, present real-time rates and inventory, promote offers and specials, and more. All of these factors will showcase the property and can turn website visitors into bookings and revenue.

As mobile continues to dominate, you should also make sure that you have a mobile-first, fully-responsive website design. Last year, Google began to use the mobile page versions of a domain for indexing and caching in its search results, and subsequently, for ranking. Historically, the desktop version of a page was primarily used when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query.

2. Make CRM a priority. The goal of customer relationship management is fairly straightforward – improve your hotel relationships with guests. A CRM solution can help to understand customers through data and deliver them messages that they want and care about.

By engaging guests before, during, and after their stays, hotels can fuel loyalty throughout the customer lifetime journey. Own the conversation from the moment a booking is made, nurture the experience with marketing automation, and retain your best guests by showing them how much you value their business.

3. Learn about the importance of omnichannel marketing. Multi-channel marketing has been around for some time now and has proven to be a successful strategy for hotels. Now, with consumers expecting more personalized communication from brands, comes omnichannel marketing. This refers to providing a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device.

Consumers expect their experiences with a brand to be the same in a physical location, on a website or app, through social media, and across online advertisements on any device they use. All of these touchpoints create an omnichannel experience for the user. Hotels can take advantage of omnichannel marketing by monitoring what guests are responding to best (on social media and on the website) and create content that reflects the brand and property. Utilizing data can help hotels understand what guests really want from the brand. From there, hotels should make sure all digital touchpoints represent the brand. This can include look and feel, the tone of voice, and the use of colors. Multi-channel and omnichannel campaigns can help achieve high results on a fairly small budget, sometimes generating over 10X ROAS.

The final aspect of omnichannel marketing is personalization. As mentioned above, personalization can connect users to brands and help develop relationships. By personalizing content, hotels can achieve the omnichannel experience where guests will feel noticed and appreciated no matter what platform they interact with the hotel on.

4. Give website visitors a personalized experience. A personalized online experience is more important than ever for hotels as customers expect brands to remember them and present them information that is relevant to them.

Data doesn’t lie. It’s evident that customers expect a personalized experience when they visit your hotel website. 74% of consumers feel frustrated when website content is not personalized (Infosys) and 77% have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized experience.

It’s no longer enough to present potential guests with static website content and expect them to find what they’re looking for and make a reservation. In fact, a Salesforce study found that, by 2020, 51% of consumers will expect brands to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions.

Through personalization, hotels can create a dynamic user experience. Rather than a broad experience that attempts to reach all possible travelers, hotels have the ability to create unique content that appeals to different segments in order to achieve specific business needs. In this way, the hotel website can—and should—be the primary channel for engaging your best guests.

5. Invest in video. Video continues to dominate.70% of consumers have shared a brand’s video (Wyzowl) and 52% said that watching a product video makes them more confident in online purchases (Invodo).

Although investing in video assets can be costly, the payoff can be huge for hotels. Videos can be utilized on websites, shared on social media channels, and provide a great way for potential customers to get a feel for their experience before ever stepping foot on the property.

A video on The Grand Ely Lodge homepage recently helped the property increase the time spent on the website and decrease bounce rate, both of which impact search engine rankings and the overall health of the website.

6.Optimize for voice. As the use of voice assistants grows, hotels need to optimize their websites in order to capture this audience.

Although still in the early phases of being a viable distribution channel for hotels, voice search is already shaping consumer behavior, with the use of digital assistants higher than ever. In order to stay on top of the changing landscape, hotels must optimize their website content for voice by combining traditional SEO, technical SEO, and incorporating patterns inherent to voice commands.

A robust content strategy also helps in voice search optimizations for those in the beginning stages of the travel planning journey. At this stage, users can have their devices search for destination information. Further into planning, they may say to their device, “Siri, find me the best hotel rates in downtown Boston.”

The impact of voice search will have on the hospitality industry is still uncertain, but, based on current trends, we can anticipate that the voice search landscape will continue to evolve and hotels can expect to see new opportunities for engagement and revenue.

7. Be aware of AI & BI. Over the past few years, we’ve heard about artificial intelligence. Advancements and innovations will have even more people talking about its potential impact on different industries, including travel.

AI & BI (business intelligence) can analyze consumer behavior by utilizing data from across the web to help businesses understand users. By beginning to plan for AI technology this year, hotels can have an edge over competitors.

8. Don’t ignore the upper funnel. Often times, when analyzing the success of a campaign, hotels are led to believe the most important KPIs are bookings and revenue. While these metrics are significant, it’s also important to understand the purchase funnel. Marketing to users who are still in the early phases of their travel planning journey means engagement metrics are equally as imperative as reaching those who are ready to book.

When a customer is in the upper funnel, or the dreaming phase of the travel planning journey, they are undecided on which accommodation they will book, with 67% of users more likely to book with a brand that provides relevant information for the destination they’re interested in (Google). Consider adopting or investing in some of the following initiatives to capture the attention of those beginning to think about their next getaway:

  • SEO-Optimized Destination Content – feature local neighborhood guides on the hotel website
  • Lifestyle & Editorial Blog – create long-form editorial content about the destination
  • Destination Video – create and share video so travel planners get a better sense of the destination and hotel property
  • Destination-Focused SEM – target keywords promoting destination-specific content
  • Native Advertising – reach potential guests with relevant content on websites where they spend their time
  • Social Media – be visible on social media where travelers ask for advice from friends and family throughout the dreaming phase
  • Metasearch – have a presence on Google and TripAdvisor to ensure the hotel website is discovered during the early phases of travel planning

9. Try influencer marketing. It’s been a hot topic in the hospitality industry, but with 92% of consumers saying that they trust word-of-mouth recommendations more than any other type of advertising (Nielsen), it’s clear that influencer marketing isn’t going away anytime soon.

Using influencers can be a very effective method to attract new customers to your property as well as a way to generate fresh content for your brand. The first step is to identify key advocates that embody your brand and can deliver the messages you want to convey in an organic way. Additionally, you need to look at the follower loyalty of the influencer. Having a high follower count is much less important than the engagement their content receives (i.e. how many people interact with their posts).

10. Invest in a virtual concierge for your hotel. As a form of AI, chatbots or virtual concierges will make a splash in the coming year. This technology allows for instant messaging in real-time with website visitors.

Many people are already used to interacting with chatbots online and 80% of businesses are already using or plan to use bots by 2020 (Oracle). And with the development of Facebook Messenger bots, it’s easier than ever for hotels to utilize bots in their online presence. The bots are programmed to understand questions and provide answers.

The benefits of chatbots include reaching an audience directly, saving time and money on customer care, qualifying customers, handling transactions, and re-engaging users. A good example of this is Marriot’s Facebook Messenger chatbot The bot helps customers link rewards accounts and was so helpful that the company transitioned it into a booking bot.

Overall, as you begin to execute your 2019 strategy, it’s important to be aware of the continuously changing trends and technology updates. Your resolutions can be a guide for your digital plan and should adapt throughout the year as business needs change and as technology innovations become available to you. Using this as a “checklist” can help ensure that your strategy stays on the right track and that your digital performance is successful through 2019.