By Garrick Lee and Kerryn Gower

As we say hello to 2018, January marks a time of resolutions and new beginnings. During this month, it’s important for hoteliers to reflect on their past strategies and analyze results in order to set the framework for a successful year. Mapping out goals and determining your top digital marketing priorities are the first steps in executing a strong plan that achieves greater results than the year before.

With the trend of increasing levels of supply and steadying levels of demand continuing in 2018, hoteliers need to reach potential guests at meaningful micro-moments throughout the entire travel planning journey. But the even greater mission that should be at the center of every hotelier’s strategy is closing the loop on the customer lifecycle. To achieve this, hoteliers need to focus on reaching potential guests at meaningful micro-moments, preparing for Google’s Mobile-First Index, fostering customer loyalty, creating fresh content, and more.

To make sure your 2018 digital strategy is off to the best start, we asked some of our clients to share their top digital marketing resolutions, and put together our own top ten resolutions based on our 2017 client portfolio insights and trends for the upcoming year.

1. Stay competitive with the OTAs: Ensure that potential guests are being reached at every touchpoint of their travel planning journey in order to stay competitive with the OTAs.

One way to combat OTAs with a larger share of voice is to increase brand recognition. Not all hotel brands have the funds to run every initiative, but hoteliers can ensure that their digital strategies cover multiple channels, especially the channels where consumers are researching and price shopping. Hoteliers should reintroduce MetaSearch into their marketing mix through MetaSearch platforms such as TripAdvisor Meta and Google HPA, where hoteliers can stack up against the OTAs with their brand logo. Being present throughout the consumer’s path to purchase is important, especially in the research phase so consumers know that they have the option to book direct.

2. Blend SEM & SEO: Make sure your SEM and SEO efforts are working together to achieve a delicate balance between paid and organic in search engine results.

By blending the right mix of SEO and SEM, hoteliers have the ability to achieve the highest returns from their marketing initiatives. For example, for our client, Virgin Hotels, we utilize bidding strategies combined with search engine optimized copy on the website to create a cohesive digital marketing approach.

“In 2018 we are really focusing on better blending our SEO and SEM marketing to ensure a delicate balance between our paid and organic efforts. We believe when these marketing initiatives are closely aligned, it results in much higher property and brand visibility across the Google ecosystem. For instance, for highly competitive keywords driving traffic and bookings, we can boost our paid efforts to increase visibility. On the other hand, for keywords that are achieving high visibility in organic search, we can adjust our bidding strategy on paid search to be more cost effective. Overall, the power of these two initiatives combined with one cohesive strategy will ultimately drive incremental direct bookings and increase year over year returns.” – Doug Carrillo, VP of Sales & Marketing, Virgin Hotels

With search engines fueling large portions of the travel planning journey, this initiative is extremely important in order for hotels to get in front of their best potential guest. Hoteliers need to adopt a similar strategy as Virgin Hotels to capitalize on visibility and drive direct online bookings.

3. Invest in video: Tell a meaningful story to connect with guests, or run the risk of getting left behind your competition.

It’s no secret that video content is dominating online, with travel video being in high demand. Hotels are in a unique position to create meaningful content for their target audiences which can not only increase brand perception and awareness, but also lead to an increase in loyalty and direct online bookings. Additionally, having video content live on YouTube will help with SEO, as 55% of Google search results contain at least one video.

4. Focus on online travel planning behavior: Go beyond demographics in 2018 and focus on travel consumer behavior. This means not only building lookalike audiences for campaigns, but also act-alike audiences where you reach new guests that have similar online travel planning behaviors.

Hoteliers in 2018 will continue to look for new initiatives in order to lower their cost of sale and increase website conversions. For example, we are collaborating with our client, Viceroy Hotel Group, to build lookalike and act-alike audiences based on their CRM data to ensure that we are reaching the right guest at the right stage of the booking funnel.

“In 2018 it is a top priority to increase direct bookings and lower cost of sale by executing more efficient and cost-effective digital strategies. One big way we aim to achieve this in 2018 is to focus on personalization based on our top customer segments and their travel intent. To ensure we are getting in front of the right audience at the right time, we are planning smarter targeting strategies like lookalike audience building and campaigns focused on travel intent that will help us reach potential guests in digital moments lower in the booking funnel.” – Eve Tronson, VP Distribution, Viceroy Hotel Group

Advertising on platforms such as Sojern and Adara can create act-alike audiences to reach a more qualified customer segment. With the ability to pinpoint at which stage online users are in their travel planning journey, ads will be served to highly qualified leads, leading to higher conversions.

5. Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index: If you haven’t already, prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index and launch a fully-responsive website design with cohesive content across devices.

Google’s Mobile-First Index is an update to the way websites are ranked on the search engine results page. Google will now consider your mobile website to be the “real” version. To ensure your website is ready for the change, make sure your content is consistent and that you’ve launched a fully-responsive website with a mobile-first design serving the same content across all screens.

6. Do not treat your book direct strategy as “set and forget”: Continuously brainstorm new packages, rate codes, content, and multi-channel campaigns.

If there is a book direct package in place that is not producing, encourage your team to brainstorm new book direct packages that will resonate with your target audiences. With experiential travel on the rise, instead of just promoting free Wi-Fi, consider including two tickets to a local attraction, a $15 gift card to a nearby department store, or a complimentary bike-share. Take it a step further by creating a closed user group, which allows hoteliers to show rates lower than the OTAs.

Hoteliers should also be planning and launching multi-channel campaigns to answer seasonality and key business needs in order to get the most out of their marketing dollars. Be proactive and plan campaigns around special events or holidays to capitalize on initiatives.

7. Optimize your website for voice search: The popularity of voice search is growing fast—optimizing now will set your property apart from the competition.

Voice search is one of the fastest growing trends to keep an eye on in 2018. Hoteliers should be aware of this and begin to strategize an action plan to adapt to the changes that result from this trend. Optimizing can be done by making sure the most important content is on the first page of your website. Another easy way to accommodate voice search in 2018 is to incorporate questions and answers on the hotel website (for instance an FAQ section) from which voice activated devices can pull answers.

8. Treat content as fuel for the travel planning journey: Invest more heavily in the creation of meaningful content in order to reach potential guests at the best time in order to influence a booking.

According to a Google study, the average consumer encounters close to 39,000 digital micro-moments over the span of two months. Hoteliers need to stand out by not only using SEM, GDN, and Smart Data to increase their brand’s share of voice, but also investing in the creation of content such as social media, video, and blogs to elevate their brand perception. Develop a content calendar and outline a strategy as well as a brand voice. From the dreaming phase to the booking phase, ensure that your content is influencing the consumer at every stage of the travel planning journey.

9. Make customer loyalty a priority: Map out a loyalty program and ensure that CRM emails are visually appealing with engaging content that encourages upsells.

Customer loyalty is more important than ever. Guests want to feel a connection with your brand and expect personalization and special treatment for choosing to stay at your hotel time and time again. In fact, 75% of consumers say loyalty programs play a role in their relationship with brands, and 73% of loyalty members are more likely to recommend brands with good loyalty programs. Begin mapping out a loyalty program by having conversations with every area within your organization to determine how they will be integrated, and setting goals and expectations for the program overall. Identify what makes the property unique, whether the loyalty program will be perks or points based, and other key loyalty program features in order to build a foundation to identify a CRM provider that fits your needs.

Additionally, a large component of a loyalty program is CRM emails sent to members. Make sure emails are meaningful and personalized to guest demographics and needs in order to upsell on different services, room types and more.

10. Understand the importance of website technology and your CMS: Don’t just follow design trends with your website. Having a beautiful website is important, but it should be backed by the right technology in order to garner a healthy conversion rate.

Make sure your site is backed by the best technology with an innovative CMS that utilizes modules such as content personalization, real-time rates, promotional tiles, and more. These modules work together in order to turn website visitors into bookings and revenue, all while showcasing your property. Investing in the right technology can transform your website beyond the standard.

Overall, as you begin executing your 2018 digital strategy, it’s important to prepare for key digital trends in the New Year, while ensuring the foundation of your strategy is strong. Using these key resolutions as your “2018 success checklist” can help ensure that your strategy is on the right track and informed by important trends that will affect website performance and your overall book direct strategy.