8 Jul 2011

Content marketing: Driving sales to your hotel

Content is the new advertising. In many, if not all, industries, online content is not only helping drive online traffic to websites, it’s significantly impacting sales, online and offline - a trend that is emerging in the travel industry as well.

Content—what is it?
Text, image, video, audio, animation or a combination of some or all—there are many ways to describe content: social, user-generated, professional, mobile, promotional, educational, viral and so on. What ties all of these characteristics of content together? Content (and I’m talking only about online content) is always available and always evolving. We owe this to technology and the Web.

Any content placed on the Internet for your hotels is advertising (whether on purpose or not). Travel shoppers want to visualize hotels and understand what they’re booking. This is why visual content is particularly effective for advertising hotels online and why it helps to increase look-to-book conversions.

More players, shifting mindsets
Traditionally, hotel chains and representation companies were the only players, managing photo distribution for their hotel properties. But there has been a shift. More players have joined the game—hotel properties themselves and travelers.

Mindsets also have shifted. In the past, hoteliers concentrated on brand.com and their own hotel websites, ensuring their content was attractive, brand strength and perception was strong and the booking process was easy. Then, third-party websites like online travel agencies were born and hoteliers realized it wasn’t just about distribution, it was about marketing and the third-party channels were digital front doors to their properties. Things became more complex. The complexity hasn’t stopped since.

New channels and technologies
Today, new technology and channels such as mobile and social media are creating opportunities to expand, reach and convert even more consumers with content. Getting hotel photos out in front of hotel shoppers around the world, around the clock, on a variety of sites and devices is more imperative than ever before.

The process has become increasingly convoluted as travel shoppers go on complex journeys through multiple websites before making their hotel-booking decisions. Throughout this process, they’re seeing photos from the corporate offices, properties and guests, which are available online on disparate sites, channels and devices.

Blurred lines
Changes in consumer behavior are blurring the lines between sites that travelers use primarily for booking and sites that travelers use for research. They’re becoming one in the same as travelers hop from Travelocity, to brand.com, to TripAdvisor to Frommer’s and then to the hotel’s website to book directly.

Regardless of whether it’s brand.com, mobile or online, app or direct, every single site a travel shopper visits is a gateway to your hotels. How you present your hotels impacts perception of not just that property at that point in time, but your brand, now and in the future. This impacts bookings.

Travelers want richer content
When electronic distribution first came to be, consumers were demanding photos. Now, photos are “price of entry.” Although travelers are more engaged with a hotel’s listing when photos are present, that engagement level increases even further when rich media (virtual tours and video) is available.

Consumers want more and richer content. Virtual tours can satisfy that need, but video is what is really in demand. As Forrester Research says, “2011 is the year of video.” The dynamics of content distribution must change to meet the demands of travel consumers. With video and “untraditional” channels in the mix, photo distribution must evolve to media syndication and visual merchandising. If you want shoppers to pay attention to your hotels, your content needs to be compelling and engaging.

As content becomes richer, more available and impactful on consumers’ hotel choices, challenges arise for the players in the industry. Those that rise to the challenge and meet travel shopper demands with richer visual experiences using multi-media and delivering and displaying it across different devices, platforms and channels will thrive, while others may just survive. Which will you be?

This article was written by Louise R. Meyer and first published 28th June 2011 on HotelNewsNow.com.
Louise R. Meyer is vice president - hotels: Europe, Middle East & Africa for VFM Leonardo, Inc. and sits on the HEDNA Board of Directors. HEDNA U is a one-day seminar to help educate hotel personnel about electronic distribution topics including content. HEDNA U sessions will be held in Dallas, Las Vegas, Toronto, Singapore, and London during 2011. For more information on HEDNA U, visit the HEDNA website or email HEDNA at info@hedna.org.