Social media is fundamental for independently-owned boutique hotels to maintain customer relationships, but this platform needs to be used in the right way. According to Mark Jones, vice-president at Luxury Hotels Group, “Too many hotels use social media to broadcast, not to interact.”
This opinion was shared by Youri Sawerschel, consultant at Bridge.over group, who added: “A lot of boutique hotels share irrelevant information on social media. Know your customers and use relevant channels.”
Pitching in the discussion, Andrew Sangster, editor at Hotel Analyst, warned that this type of marketing requires staff and resources, potentially giving easier access to chains.
The social media debate started at the annual summit in London yesterday was echoed by Twitter followers, who did not take long to react.
Boutique hotels don’t always capitalise on social media for marketing, and have a real opportunity to translate their online interaction into increased bookings if they use it well. Sangster added: “What matters is not how many Twitter followers you have, but what you do with them.”
Platform like Twitter or Facebook can help hotels have personalised interactions with customers, which in turn can increase loyalty.
Bill Walshe, CEO of the Viceroy Hotel Group, gave a series of recommendations on how to make customers more loyal, including using the younger people in the organisation to talk to millennials. “You need to motivate customers to come back on the base of experience and emotional connection,” he said, adding that loyalty programmes should recognise individual preferences.
Walshe went on to discuss the challenges presented by online travel agents (OTAs) despite the crucial role they now play in the sector. We all focus on fees, but OTAs are helping us reach a bigger and further customer base and are here to stay. However, personalisation is hard to reach with OTA customers, and discounted room rates can lead to bad reviews when people are faced with the hotel’s normal prices on extras during their stay.”
For that reason, Sawerschel suggested using the hotel’s existing customer base and growing from it. “You can’t win the Expedia war. The deal chasing mentality is here to stay but there are ways to incentivise customers to come back. It’s time to bring the fun back to loyalty as the attention span of customers is ever-decreasing.”
Advocacy was also mentioned as something to be rewarded in loyalty programmes, as even one-time customers can help spread the word on hotel services. “Advocacy is more important than repeat business in the age of TripAdvisor,” said Frank Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Avvio.
Another topic discussed at the event was how to increase booking conversion from boutique hotels’ websites. Red Carnation Hotels vice-president of marketing Suzie Wotton’s tips included adding options to talk to someone and find out more about the hotel on the booking page, but she warned that direct bookings are not always the best option. “Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to use a third-party provider due to the marketing costs associated with direct business,” she said.
More than just social media, it was technology as a whole that was debated at the event’s panel. While traditional furniture such as desks and wardrobes are becoming obsolete, hotels are jumping on the technology bandwagon, but must be careful not to overload facilities with technological options.
Capital Hotel general manager Kate Levin was joined by Timothy Griffin, general manager at The Hoxton, in saying that technology in the rooms should be kept simple, though Wi-Fi is now a prerequisite. “You need to let people choose their own level of technological interaction,” Levin said.
Markus Lehnert, vice-president of international hotel development at Moxy Hotels, also warned about the danger of overdoing it on technology, but pointed to a change in behaviour influencing room design: “Wardrobes and desks are not necessary anymore. What people want is multiple power plugs for their multiple devices.”
Check out BigHospitality's guide to social media success for hotels.