Today’s small hotelier has more to deal with than ever before. OTAs are a must… but eat into the ever shrinking margin. The flags are getting more aggressive in creating a unique experience. The technology is getting more complicated. However the future is not bleak for the smaller innkeeper who is managing a property under 100 units, be it a hotel, B&B, campground, or quaint retreat.
The technology and tools available to a smaller property rival what the major flags had just a decade or so ago and if this is you, then you need to push the limits to remain successful. If you’re not already implementing these five, cost-effective, strategies for growth, roll up those sleeves and get to work.
#1: Embrace The Cloud-based PMS
This should go without saying, but if you can’t control your inventory you’re setting yourself up for trouble. Luckily for small properties, systems like StayNTouch, Mews, and others can deliver a powerful set of tools to manage occupancy, control rate, and provide a channel management solution to connect to the OTAs, Google, TripAdvisor, and others.
Larger hotels and resorts have typically had a significant advantage in this realm due to the high upfront costs, internal infrastructure, and dedicated staff needed to manage complex systems. However now that small properties have access to powerful cloud-based PMS systems they too can manage their inventory like a pro. When it comes to a property management system, keep an eye out for these features:
- Mobile Usability: Your PMS should be as effective on a phone or tablet as it is on a desktop
- Rate Management: This should go without saying, but managing your rates and specials is critical. Even small properties should be able to quickly and easily yield rates, manage group pricing, and make on-the-fly adjustments.
- Channel Management Solutions: Booking direct is key, but you also want an easy way to share your rates with the OTAs
- Easy Accounting Integrations: Nothing is worse than spending your time in the books instead of running your property. Pick a PMS that either has a full accounting suite built in or integrates easily with your existing systems.
- An Amazing Booking Engine Experience: Your guests want to book online, make sure they can with an amazing booking engine experience. Your booking engine should be designed to grow your direct online revenue and not be a hinderance to your success. We’re a bit biased toward the Fuel Booking Engine, good thing for you is we have tons of PMS integrations and make it easy to integrate with just about anyone.
#2: Own Your Social Voice
At Fuel we talk about the importance of “owning your owned media.” That means taking proactive control of, and engaging your customers directly whenever possible. Email is a critical part of that, which we will cover a bit farther down, however your social channels also fall into owned media. Engaging your social fans and followers is an excellent way to expand your reach, build a relationship, and drive direct bookings.
How do you go about owning your owned media? The 1st thing you will need to do is make the commitment to be engaged. From there, these tips will help make your small hotel’s campaign a success.
- Choose your platform. 40% of hotel guests check out a property’s Facebook page prior to booking a room, so clearly Facebook should be on the list. However Instagram and Youtube are also excellent platforms. Pick the platforms that you know you can commit to and those that allow you to be authentically you.
- Be authentic. Is your property fun and exciting, or is it historic and refined? Either way, ensure your posting style and content is true to who you are.
- Consistency is key. You should be posting frequently on your social channels, therefore don’t commit to more channels than you can consistently monitor and engage. In addition to posting, ensure you’re making yourself a resource by engaging your fans and those interested in your area. Fast commenting, replies, and engagement are keys to social success.
We have created tons of helpful tools and tips for properties large and small. Learn why social media is important to your hotel’s marketing here, as well as listen to episode 13 of the Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast here. If you’re not sure what to post or share, we’ve got you taken care of as well with our article on 80 social media posts ideas for hotels.
#3: Get Direct With Your Guest Relationship Through Email
Email may seem like old tech. There’s so many more exciting tools out there from social, paid search, influencers, and on and on. However, look at your analytics. Email should be your number one converting tool to reach out to your guests. If you’re not sure how to launch your hotel’s email campaign you may want to start by listening to episode 109 of the podcast, Hotel 101: Sending An Amazing Marketing Email. What you’ll find by listening is that your guests who have opted-in to receive emails, really do want to hear from you. This is your chance to proactively reach out to your guests to provide value through travel information, area information, and great book-direct offers.
Small hotels have an advantage from an email perspective because they have a unique ability to create a more authentic one-to-one relationship.
- Personalize your emails as much as possible with your guests name, travel history, and behavior. This may not be 100% possible with your current email platforms or database, but it should be your goal.
- Just like your social voice, make your emails show your true personality by being authentic.
- Offer value to the guest through great content.
- Always give your subscribers a chance to be your guest through calls to action. This may be as overt as a large sale promotion or a subtle promotion to shop rooms. However, you should always give your guests at least an opportunity to book.
- Ensure your emails are mobile friendly. We like to avoid blanket statements, but here’s one for you… your guests are reading emails on their phone.
- Look beyond email. Small hoteliers have more capabilities than ever before with SMS/Text messaging, and app push messaging. Both strategies are excellent ways to engage your current guests and build a stronger, more personal, relationship.
Email marketing is a complex beast in the hotel world and we have dozens of articles and podcasts on the subject. Check out the Fuel Hotel Marketing Articles and you’ll find enough information to make you an email marketing guru.
#4: Maximize Your Free Exposure
Building your small hotel’s brand and exposure can get pretty expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of free tools your property can use to drive awareness and bookings. Each market is unique, and we suggest you find the free tools in your market, but these opportunities are sure to help you drive more guests for no out-of-pocket investment.
- Maximize your business listings. If you have not already claimed and optimized your Google My Business listing, this is the first place to start and if you need help check out our article on 9 Ways to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing. However, in addition to Google there are countless local listings and directories that will help you both grow your search traffic as well as awareness. Bing (Microsoft), Google, TripAdvisor, and even the OTAs all have business listings that you have most likely not optimized. We recommend you make a list and ensure photos are added, information is correct, and specials/offers are added if allowed.
- Stay engaged locally. Your hotel is part of your local community and being an active part of that community can pay big dividends. We recommend you attend chamber meetings, help charities, and even creating your own events to drive demand.
- Maximize your social reach. Follow step 2 above on engaging your past and potential guests on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media channels. Asking for the sale is always easier after becoming a trusted friend and giving back to those who are in your community. Gary Vaynerchuck’s strategy of “give, give, give, ask” can not only help you succeed in the social space, but also make you feel good in the process.
#5: Pay Attention To Your Competition
Your competition can be your greatest intelligence asset. Monitoring your competition is an excellent tool to understand what is working for your market as well as how you can take advantage of larger trends. For a small hotelier, your competition is not just other small properties, it is also the large flags in your destination, the OTAs, CVBs to some extent, and even properties in other destinations. In order to win as a small hotel monitoring and adjusting based on the competition is a must.
- Understand the rate structures of the competition. We have sat down with clients on several occasions where they were not proactively monitoring and adjusting their rate compared to their comp set. The result is always getting completely beat, or way under valuing the room. If you don’t have the software to make this happen, you’ll need to create a plan to do this manually.
- Look at what the OTAs and flags are doing and emulate. One of the biggest advantages the big players in the accommodations space have is their ability to test and optimize. While a 20 room property may not have a massive site optimization budget they do have the ability to take an analytical eye to the competition and emulate where it makes sense. How is the competition collecting emails? How are they nudging the user toward a purchase? What tools are they employing to engage the guest? These are all great hints for ways you can optimize your own site.
- Take a trip and see what’s working for others. Look at other destinations that are similar to yours, and then look at properties in those destinations that match your profile. Are there opportunities for you to adapt your marketing to what is working for them?
- Lastly, don’t blindly copy. Monitoring and learning from the competition is different than blindly copying their strategies. The better approach is to monitor and then create a unique solution that will work with your small hotel.
Bonus: Own the "You" That Makes You
To wrap up, the single most effective way for a small property to find success is to embrace the unique qualities that make you, you. There is absolutely something about every hotel out there that is unique and special. If you don’t know what that is about your property, start by defining your unique selling point. Are you close to an attraction? Do you have an amazing craft beer bar? Find something that makes you a bit different.
Once you know that, embrace it and go all in promoting why a guest would be crazy to stay anywhere else. From social media and email, to free promotion and events. Get busy making yourself unique because the good thing is you only have a small number of rooms to fill. The bad thing… you really need to fill those rooms.
Are you looking for more ways to make your property’s budget go farther, listen to episode 58 on How To Market Your Hotel On A Shoestring Budget.