Hello, my name is Shawn Paley. I am the Senior Director of Digital & Marketing Support for Marriott International and currently serve as the co-chair for HSMAI’s Digital. I’d like to personally welcome you to HSMAI’s new Digital Certification program. We hope that this certification program will assist you in learning more about digital marketing, activation and optimization from a hotelier perspective as well as introduce you to many of the areas that have an impact on our digital business.
So…what is “digital” or “eCommerce”? What do you think of when you hear those terms? Many of you will think first of your hotel or brand website. Other will consider online travel agencies such as Expedia or Booking.com, and metasearch sites such as Kayak or Trivago. Or is is customer review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp? Social media? Facebook? Or is it search engine optimization, online marketing, paid media channels? Perhaps email marketing? What about mobile apps and digital guest services?
The truth is, “digital” encompasses all of these areas - and much more - and is the fastest evolving and an ever-changing area of the hotel business. Digital now covers all phases of the customer “journey” in regards to booking a hotel (as well as staying at a hotel) and for many brands and hotels, is quickly becoming the largest single source of customer traffic and bookings.
Let’s quickly cover the 3 main “phases” of the digital customer journey:
The Acquisitions Phase – in other words, how do we “acquire” customers on our end digital chann el – our hotel website? How do potential customers find us and where do we need to engage those customers to capture their attention and bring them to our sites? Examples of these areas that will be discussed in this program include natural (or organic search), paid search, local search, third-party sites such as TripAdisor and metasearch engines, social media and many others.
The Conversion Phase - Once we capture those customers and bring them to our hotel website, we still need to “convince” them to book with us and “Convert” them into “bookers”. While, as digital marketers, we may not be able to control all guest considerations such as price and location of the hotel, we have direct control over the display of content on our website that would convince a potential guest that our hotel is, in fact, the correct choice for them. Content may include textual information about the hotel, surrounding area, maps and directions, and airport and transportation information area to name a few…as well as professional imagery that relays visual information about the hotel, it’s facilities, rooms, area attractions and more.
Other content areas may include customer reviews, social media links, benefits of booking on your channel, and more. In the end, your hotel website should serve as your “virtual lobby”…more travelers will see your web site than will ever walk through your physical doors. Also keep in mind that many customers that choose to book your hotel on other channels will visit your hotel web site to view much of the above information, either before or after their booking.
The “Stay” Phase – This is the “newest” area of digital business...how can we leverage “digital” post-booking? We have seen initial efforts into this space through engagements such as confirmation and pre-arrival emails and ancillary sales efforts…however, there are many more ways we can engage with and service our on-property guests once they arrive at our hotels. More recent and future engagement areas in this phase include mobile check-in and check-out, keyless room entry, guest service requests and chat through our apps, in-room entertainment options, guest messaging and more. This is an exciting area for hoteliers as we better leverage digital and mobile technology to provide more enhanced customer service to our guests and provide them with more streamlined digital options they have been asking for from all of us.
Let’s return to the first part of the customer journey - the Acquisitions Phase – to illustrate the many influencers that today’s digital customers are exposed to. Where are our guests going and what are they seeing as they navigate the digital landscape during their search? Why is this important?
One question I often ask hotels, franchisees and owners is “How many web sites does the average consumer visit before booking a hotel?”. The average response received is 3-6. While the answer is fairly consistent, it is also wrong. In truth, the average consumer visits 12 to 36 websites before booking a hotel. So, where are they going...and, more importantly, what is impacting their end decision?
Let’s walk through a simple example customer journey taking a family of two adults and two kids looking for somewhere to go for their summer vacation.
This family has decided they need a much need vacation. At this point, they have no idea where to go and begin their research on line:
Their first “Google” search may be for something very generic as they first need to decide on where they are traveling…say “Family Vacations” or “Best places to travel with kids”. The results may be a host of articles, travel blogs, top 10 lists, informational sites, as well as travel sites such as Expedia, TripAdvisor, brand sites among others. In this discovery phase alone, they may well visit dozens of websites.
Once they decide on a location…for this example, let’s pretend Orlando as it’s time to get those kids to Disney and Universal, the next step may be to research airfare (is this trip affordable?). They may find themselves visiting multiple airline sites as well as Online Travel Agencies such as Expedia and Booking.com to check airline prices and flight schedules. From these sites, they may also start looking at hotels or be exposed to offers, deals, and other marketing from relevant travel companies.
Once the decision is made that this is indeed a great trip destination, they may return to Google with a slightly more detailed search – “hotels in Orlando”. They begin to check hotels in the market, prices, locations, imagery and review scores. They may again visit the OTA’s, but also brand.com sites such as Marriott, Hilton, IHG and independents. They may visit metasearch sites such as Kayak and Trivago to better compare prices and availability.
Through all of this, many customers will now also engage social media. From travel information asking friends for advice, social media has become a larger influencer on the decision making process. So our family goes to Facebook to ask friends for recommendations on where to stay, what to do, etc. (possibly being exposed to retargeted and travel ads in the meantime).
Keep in mind, that this family may visit many of these sites multiple times, and during their journey, will also be exposed to marketing and advertising, offers, rate displays, targeted and retargeted ads and other influencers.
Their final visit, if not one of the above sites to make their booking, may be to return to googl e and search on the exact hotel name, again with results from many of these sites for booking options. What they see first on Google will highly depends on paid advertising (SEM or paid search), or organic rankings in search results, highly depended on SEO activities.
For the moment, let’s assume the family made this final search on Google for the hotel they decided on….and then clicked on the link to the hotels own web site. From a reporting perspective, this would be tracked as a branded search from Google and attributed to that within reports. However, the truth is that the customer visited dozens of sites and was exposed to a large amount of influencers along the way.
As we move into the following chapters of this certification program, we will discuss many of the above mentioned areas in much more detail, again illustrating the need for hotels to be active in engaged across the digital ecosystem in order to maximize the chances of “winning” a potential customers booking.
Thank you and we hope you enjoy and learn from this digital certification program.