Remember when well-worn guidebooks, dog-eared travel magazines and a friend or travel agent’s recommendation were your sole sources of where-to-stay inspiration? As we mark our 30th anniversary as a hotel marketing firm, Tambourine takes a look at how finding hotels has changed for consumers since 1983.
Today, expanded GDS reach, loyalty programs, individual hotel websites – plus mega-sites like Google, Expedia, Kayak and Hotels.com – have made the job of finding a hotel easier and, conversely, more complicated and time-consuming than ever before. According to a report by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research, a would-be hotel guest typically makes 12 visits to an OTA website, requesting 7.5 pages per visit and spending almost five minutes on each page. (Interestingly, that same traveler usually goes to the hotel’s individual website to make an actual booking.)
…the Internet is almost exclusively their source for information gathering and trip-planning.
The job of finding a hotel can, indeed, be time consuming, but taking a leap of faith that your travel agent is going to steer you to the right spot is no longer your only option. Further, thanks to the price transparency and sheer number of travel sellers on the web, consumers are more empowered than ever before. Sites like TripAdvisor take this empowerment to another level by allowing consumers to listen to each other rather than blindly accepting messages of travel and hotel brands.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, the Internet was used by approximately 90 million American adults to plan travel last year. Among FITs (individual travelers over the age of 35 who avoid packaged tours), the Internet is almost exclusively their source for information gathering and trip-planning. In a recent survey, nearly 70% used their personal computer, tablet or smartphone to source travel information while less than 20% were tapping the services of a travel agent.
“The Internet has changed the way people shop for travel,” explains Tom Anderson, chief marketing officer of Grand Lucayan Bahamas, “creating a consumer who is empowered with information and able to make better, more informed decisions.” Not only are consumers window-shopping in advance of their trips, recent research shows that 44% of them are using their smartphones to research travel while traveling.
…a strong, engaged social media presence is a must in order to attract new guests and keep long-time guests coming back.
But online information is just part of the story. The old-fashioned (and often quickly outdated) hotel brochure has given way to a sophisticated array of digital wizardry that taps into the power of visualization. If a would-be guest can’t visual herself swimming in your pool or dining in your restaurant, your online presence isn’t working hard enough. Proving the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words,” Henry Woodman, president of ICE Portal helps hotels tell their story visually. “Generally speaking, people don’t buy unless they see good visuals and if hotels don’t have good visuals, they are doing themselves a disservice. They could be leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.” Not so long ago, good visuals meant professionally photographed still shots of a hotel’s guest rooms and public spaces; today the visual tool kit includes full-screen photography, 360-degree virtual tours and highest-quality video.
Incredibly, while the travel consumer is light years smarter and more sophisticated, she’s also being targeted with laser-like precision. Our firm and other digital marketing leaders like ICE Portal are increasingly data oriented, using what we’ve gleaned about the consumer to deliver unique, demographic-specific content that will resonate on a more personal level. “Where once the consumer might have been able to click through an assortment of property images, soon we will be able to deliver only the photos relevant to you. If we know you’re an empty nester, you’re not going to see photos of the kids club,” says Woodman.
And while Instagram-worthy images are a key part of any digital marketing package, it’s important to remember that a strong, engaged social media presence is a must in order to attract new guests and keep long-time guests coming back. “It doesn’t matter if a luxury hotel is based in New York City, Caracas, or Dubai. A strong social presence is needed to attract new guests and engage loyal customers, all of whom expect mobile updates and content from their preferred brands,” writes Skift reporter Samantha Shankman.
Tambourine drives revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide using advanced marketing technology. The firm is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. For more information, visit Tambourine.com.