Despite most hotels having to put their group business on hold for the past year, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for hotel marketers and hospitality professionals to take stock of their digital marketing strategies and retool to come back even stronger in 2021.

As Francesca Vereb, vice president, marketing, at Cvent explained, “The pandemic dealt a huge blow to the meetings and hotel industries, but it has also accelerated the digital transformation of a historically analog industry. It’s proved that hospitality professionals must think digital-first across their sales and marketing efforts.”

From first customer contact to sustained loyalty, digital marketing touches every step along a buyer’s journey. Cvent recently published a comprehensive eBook to help hotels and venues build a digital marketing toolkit to stay relevant as the meetings and events industry bounces back. 

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Here, we preview five digital marketing trends that hotel marketers and hospitality professionals should be thinking about to attract and engage prospective planners and customers.

1. VIRTUAL WALKTHROUGHS AND TOURS

When social distancing became standard practice, the hospitality and meetings industries embraced virtual tours to replace in-person walkthroughs. According to Google Trends data, searches for “virtual visits” surged in March 2020 and have remained at high levels ever since.

The properties that take the extra step to help potential customers imagine how the space can fit their needs will be the ones that will stand out. Consider options like 360-degree and 3D tours to provide immersive experiences via smartphone or a laptop. With this technology, users can move the video in any direction to explore a property more thoroughly while navigating at their leisure.

“Planners are now looking for a new level of skills and know-how to bring their events to life. Digital virtual tours and photorealistic 3D renderings can make that easy to achieve,” Vereb said. “The right technology can help hoteliers automate manual processes, enhance their sales and marketing efforts, and streamline collaboration practices.”

A property’s best features can be showcased using video via social media as well. In addition to Facebook and YouTube, newer platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels can host short videos that don’t expire, unlike those hosted on Instagram Stories and Snapchat.

2. DISPLAY ADS FOR LEAD GENERATION

Using a combination of organic and paid search is essential for both lead generation and conversion. According to NextGuest Digital, exposure to a display ad shows an average lift of 49 percent in site visitation and an increase in 40 percent in brand name searches.

Vereb explained, “Display advertising on search engines, targeted sourcing sites, and social media channels is a powerful way to deliver promotional and brand messages and attract new visitors to a hotel, venue, or destination organization’s website.”

For example, CSN Advertising allows a venue or property to stay in front of planners all over the web while they’re sourcing, as they visit websites that use Google’s Ad Network. On the Cvent Supplier Network (CSN), Search Ads, Competitive Market Ads, and Suggested Ads can highlight and promote a venue the moment event planners conduct searches in a specific market.

3. IMPROVING LOCAL SEO

A solid digital marketing strategy consists of both organic SEO and paid efforts. The important thing to understand about organic SEO is that it’s a long game, but a necessary one.

If a hotel or event space operates at a local level, using Google My Business (GMB) — which is free — can help improve local presence and tap into community tourism in the wake of the pandemic and beyond. GMB contains vital information about your hotel, like business address and hours, reviews, location on Google Maps, and your business website — a>ll of the information to help planners at a glance. Creating a GMB listing can greatly increase a property or venue’s local awareness, and it’s essential for showing up in “near me” searches.

“In today’s climate, with drive-to destinations being prioritized given lingering safety concerns, venues may be competing more directly with each other on geographical or locational-based search terms and phrases. Hotels and venues that get SEO right will see a quicker recovery and lay a strong foundation for their digital marketing strategy,” Vereb said.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA ETIQUETTE

As Vereb explained, “Social media marketing is about inspiring authentic conversations and telling memorable stories to bring your event professional audience together as a community.” Social media posts and ads can generate demand and inspire potential buyers to seek out more content on a property’s website.

Engaging with local audiences via social media can also help boost a property’s standing in the community or a destination’s credibility. Tactics to build rapport can include posting about local sports teams, promoting local restaurants, and other topics that matter in a venue’s city. Conversely, engaging on other local social media accounts can help as well, as long as the content isn’t overly self-promotional.

It’s also key to be responsive on social media. That includes commenting back quickly on posts, thanking a customer for their business if they tag a property in their post, and answering promptly if a user asks a question via social media or direct message.

Being open to feedback from followers is important as well. They can provide valuable insights on new promotions or features, though this also goes for the other side of the coin: complaints. These should be responded to in a transparent manner, so potential customers can see that their concerns and feedback are being taken seriously.

5. CREATING ENTICING EMAIL CONTENT

Properties and venues that engage prospective planners and customers with creative and informative emails will have a leg up when they’re ready to venture out once again and meet in person. “It’s critical that emails are thoughtful, deliberate, and include purposeful content. Each email should be an opportunity to build a lasting relationship with your customer by having a conversation with them,” Vereb said.

There’s no question that consumers love getting deals, so consider offering a limited-time promotion or event package. According to Google, 76 percent of business travelers and 70 percent of leisure travelers book with a specific brand due to price.

Beyond good pricing, planners and travelers alike are also amenable to personalization. Use subject lines or travel suggestions based on a traveler’s or planner’s past behavior. Similarly, loyalty program members can be enticed by offering a chance to gain some extra points to put toward a future stay or other perks.

Emails can also highlight content like destination guides, upcoming local events, or travel tips to sell a city, as well as how it’s prepared to handle health and safety. Customer reviews can also be turned into email content by including testimonials about safety upgrades to meeting spaces or new social distancing protocols.

STEPS YOU CAN TAKE NOW

  • When creating a video walkthrough, choose a unique offering or specific aspect of your hotel that you want to market and create a video story around that idea.
  • Get certified: Improve your venue’s online presence, create winning proposals, and improve RFP conversion rates by earning your Cvent Supplier Network certification.
  • Be responsive in your social media marketing. Make sure you’re not just posting content, but also commenting and responding promptly to others.
  • Think about your audience and create emails aligned with their needs. Every sentence should focus on the planner’s success, not yours. When applicable, include personalization in email copy and subject lines.
  • After checking to see if your hotel already has a GMB listing, set up your GMB profile and make sure to include your business name, address, and phone number, as well as website URL, hours of operation, reviews, photos, hotel amenities, and Q&A.

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This content was created collaboratively by Cvent and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.