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There are plenty of articles telling hoteliers how to spend their money right now. However, we know the COVID-19 travel pandemic has left devastating effects on marketing budgets. Branded hotels under flags like Marriott, Hilton, IHG or Hyatt have even more limitations.

Each brand’s marketing approach is different, and their systems each provide different features. But there are common approaches hotels can take to use their brand resources, including:

  1. Leveraging what the brand has already crafted in terms of cleanliness guidelines and cancellation flexibility
  2. Leaning into social media (even if your brand tells you not to)
  3. Focusing on community opportunities and leveraging existing relationships
  4. Starting newsletters and sending to your group database
  5. Spending money wisely and finding ways to target drive-market audiences

Below, let’s dive deeper into each of these approaches:

1. Leverage the Brand

While independent hotels will struggle to formalize and communicate new cleanliness guidelines, the major brands have already done that for you. And, they have put quite a bit of public relations efforts into what your hotel can further take advantage of. To further maximize what the brand has already done, consider highlighting the new standards via the following:

  • On your website. For Marriott, you can attach a PDF via eFast, and for IHG you can link a PDF in a Limited Time Feature.
  • Post on all social media channels
  • Via signage in your lobby and/or elevators
  • In your e-newsletter to groups
  • Add to your group proposals

Additionally, the brands have been generous with cancellation policies and extending loyalty and reward options. This is a headache a branded hotel doesn’t have to worry about, or at least doesn’t have to decide. These are constantly changing, so check resources frequently.

Lastly, highlight if you have any digital key solutions that will allow for less contact at the front desk.

2. Lean into Social Media

The most active travelers right now are in your drive market. And, people are spending more time at home, thus more time on social media. 

Hilton is recommending to reference the brand page and sharing its messaging for consistency, as well as amenity updates. Marriott, on the other hand, is still suggesting that hotels stay dark on social media. 

We recommend posting on social, but be aware of brand voice and stance on any controversial topics. Any time you can take the opportunity to inspire future travel or just share a heartwarming experience, that will go a long way. Remember to showcase your cleanliness procedures and cancellation updates as noted above.

3. Focus on Community and Local Relationships

Restaurants and other businesses that rely on tourism in your city are hurting now, too. Now is the time to come together and cross-promote. Your hotel’s social media channels will have different followers than local restaurants and other demand generators. Reach out to them and offer to do posts about each other, tag each other and request they do the same. 

Here are some potential partners to have conversations with:

  • Local restaurants. Even better if they have local owners.
  • Convention and visitors bureau. See if they are doing any campaigns that you can help with.
  • Demand generators. Anything that offers activities for families is key right now. Communicate their opening date and policies if they have restrictions around tickets and timing.
  • Community organizations. While funds are limited, has your hotel or company done anything to contribute, such as volunteering or donating leftover food?
  • Create unique packages with the above partners. Here are some other ideas for creating unique packages to appeal to drive-market travelers.

4. Group E-newsletters

While most brands have restrictions on targeting past transient travelers from the PMS, you can target your group travelers. It is important to not be overly aggressive with strong group offers as it will likely have a negative impact. That is why we suggest a “newsletter” style approach to email marketing versus a blatant e-blast that doesn’t contain a human element.

Some ideas of content that will be better received:

  • Update on cleanliness and cancellation policy – See No. 1
  • Community involvement and supporting local businesses – See No. 3
  • Staff highlights – This can be favorite family recipes to stories about how individual staff have welcomed new family members during this time (births or marriages).
  • State regulations – It is difficult to keep up with each state and county/city mandate. Communicate what is going on in your area related to retail, restaurants and other businesses opening.
  • Capacity charts – Consider soft selling by communicating your proactiveness toward creating new capacity charts that showcase proper social distancing.

Most hotels use sales systems that export a group sales database. If you have HotelSalesPro, STS or Delphi FTC, this is an option. If you are using CI, you might need a partner like TopLine to assist. Feel free to reach out to Cogwheel Marketing for systems assistance on how to do this.

We also suggest you scrub your database with BriteVerify or similar before using any systems like Mailchimp or Constant Contact to send the database. 

5. Where to Spend Your Marketing Dollars

First, you need to understand who is traveling. You will generally not be able to create demand or make people travel who do not feel it is safe to do so yet. 

Insert keywords into Google Trends (free) to see if your market is on the upswing. Consider inserting a variety of terms like “+city hotels” to see the trends. When you are seeing multiple weeks with a positive uptick, you want to restart your marketing with dollars behind it.

In order, here are areas where we suggest your branded hotel focus your limited time and resources toward getting in front of the right market:

  • Expedia Travel Ads. Use this strategically to target dates or by travel window (Weekdays versus Weekends and Inside versus Outside 21 days). Talk with your Expedia Travel Ads manager to see what is going on in your market. Where many have paused their efforts, your dollar could go further. 
  • Social Media. After constructing an organic strategy, start formulating plans on who to target in strategic markets. Here is more information on how to run Facebook ads for hotels. Note: Future brides are still hitting the pavement and the Facebook RFP system can be utilized.
  • E-newsletters. This should be a low-cost option if you need to engage with an agency like CLE Content.
  • Google Adwords. Expedia and paused most of their Google Adwords campaigns. This means that cost per clicks can be achieved substantially cheaper than pre-pandemic. This is not generally a high ROI channel so it may be short-lived until the big players are back and spending dollars again.