Make no mistake: 2017 is as great a time as ever when it comes to digital marketing for luxury hotels and resorts. There’s a dependable, merit-based framework for new customers to find you (search engines), a cutting-edge method for capturing and retaining both new and returning visitors (content marketing), and countless ways to distribute your message once published (social media, paid search, email, and more).
Yet despite all this, two repeat suspects seem to scare marketers and hoteliers alike into thinking that hotels are harder to market than ever before. One is OTAs, the pesky saboteurs who cannibalize direct bookings, and the other is private rental platforms (like Airbnb or VRBO), the hotel industry’s equivalent of Uber and Lyft.
Since we already discussed OTAs extensively last year, I’d like to dive deeper into Airbnb, VRBO, and the sharing economy. Airbnb, to give some context, is coming off a staggering year of growth—revenue increased over 80% to an estimated $12.3 billion—and offers well over 3 million listings in more than 65,000 cities across the globe. Needless to say, hotels can ill afford to stand by and watch as valuable market share gets funneled into private homes and daily rentals.
Having worked extensively with luxury hotels and resorts, here are my recommendations to keep marketers ahead of the game:
1. Market the Experience
Private rentals appeal to travelers who want to immerse themselves in a certain destination. They can live like a local, avoid tourist traps (or being surrounded by them), and experience the destination from an insider’s perspective.
To compete with this, hotels have to leverage what they have and private rentals don’t: local expertise and curated experiences. Luxury hotels are admittedly designed for tourists, but designed in such a way that tourists can authentically experience their local surroundings. Be it cultural immersions, culinary events, expert guides, or personalized travel recommendations, the key is to market these offerings through online content, social media, and email.
There are many reasons, for example, to write a story about the revival of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood or the art-infused new metro line in Los Angeles, SEO being the primary. But you’re also endearing yourself to guests who want to feel like they’re traveling, not just staying somewhere. And chances are, those are the same lifestyle-oriented guests who are also considering Airbnb or VRBO.
2. Make Guests Feel At Home
For large families (or groups of friends) who want to stay together under the same roof, a spacious private home, available through Airbnb or VRBO, seems like the perfect fit. The job of a luxury hotel is to disrupt this commonly held belief, proving that private residences or large suites can be just as, if not more, accommodating than private homes.
To do so, create content-rich, image-based residence pages and target long-tail keywords like “residences for families…,” “family accommodations…,” and “private residences in…” Run stories on the layout or design of your residences, including expert insights from the designers themselves, as well as stories highlighting multi-generational experiences from dining to exploring. Or, create special packages targeting extended families and friends, offering incentives and ideas for staying with larger groups.
Your main message: What’s better than staying together as a group in a place that feels like home? Staying together as a group in a place that feels like home, with the added luxury of five-star service, gourmet dining, expert concierge, exclusive amenities, and much more.
3. Create a Streamlined and Reliable Reservation Process
The problem with the likes of Airbnb and VRBO is that you typically can’t reserve a home with the click of a button. You have to request the dates of availability, wait for the owner’s approval, then finally reserve your stay a day or more later. In short, it’s far from a convenient process for travelers wanting to guarantee availability and reserve immediately.
Hotels, of course, have a huge advantage in this area, but don’t just settle for the bare minimum. Implement a user-friendly, streamlined booking engine that lets guests choose dates and see real-time availability in one step, then easily customize and finalize their reservation on the very next page. My agency has made this a priority for many of our clients, resulting in not just drastically improved year-over-year conversion rates, but extra incentive for consumers to remain loyal to hotels.
4. Ensure Seamless User Experience
Thanks to its five-star service and hospitality, a quality luxury hotel will inherently have a better offline experience than a private home. Done right, it should also be much superior online.
An Airbnb profile, for example, can only tell you so much about the home and its possibilities—like basic location, features, amenities, and a general vision of the home, often using photography that’s not exactly sparkling. Luxury hotels, however, have the bandwidth to feature professional photography, captivating content, unique details of every room, insider information that guests would want to know about, and customer service for any remaining questions. Most importantly, their sites should be easy to navigate, simple to understand, and quick to operate.
It comes down to this: Since many online consumers are undecided whether they want a hotel or a private home, oftentimes the winner is the one with better information and easier user experience.
5. Promote Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs are many hotels’ primary tactic against OTAs, but they work just as well—if not better—against Airbnb. The reason being, while Airbnb (and its counterparts) has yet to establish any form of loyalty rewards, hotels can incentivize guests with a wide variety of benefits, from upgraded rooms to resort credits. Use them well and use them often, whether as a notable page in your site navigation, a dedicated email send with personalized promotions, or even as a featured component of your paid search ads. It’s a true trump card and one of your best options for swaying consumers back into the reservation book of your hotel.