Since 2011, Jenn Zajac has been helping both independent and branded hotel operators boost their direct bookings with her creative, compelling content marketing. We got a chance to chat with Jenn to know not only about her journey into hotel marketing but her useful insights on how digital marketing can help hotels during the COVID-19 recovery phase also.
1). What inspired you to be a hotel digital marketing expert?
Right off the bat, I’ll say that I don’t believe any of us are truly experts. As a digital marketer, you’re never not learning – channels and platforms change constantly, so part of our job is simply keeping up.
I studied marketing and communications at university, then found my first job as a marketing coordinator for a luxury hotel in Boston. I hadn’t set out to specialize in hotel marketing, but I fell in love with the hospitality industry and enjoyed tackling the unique creative and analytical challenges that came with it.
2). How can hoteliers leverage digital marketing channels to increase direct bookings?
I think the most important thing to do is build an email list. Engaging directly with the customer is key – hotels with a loyalty program should absolutely tap into that database to nurture their interest with useful Top of Funnel content, provide personalized and timely offers, then retarget “abandoned cart” visitors.
No single digital marketing channel works on its own. Direct booking campaigns must fire on multiple cylinders to touch the customer at all stages of the booking journey.
3). What shall be digital marketing strategy for small hotels during COVID-19 recovery phase?
My advice will vary by property, market, and so many other external factors. Again, I think building an email list is very important for all hotels right now, big or small.
If your property is closed or your destination is not accepting travellers, you can still engage long-term with email and social media content, while allocating more resources to locally-driven revenue streams like F&B or day use room rates.
4). Why shall hoteliers include influencers marketing in their hotel marketing plan 2021?
It depends… I don’t think that every hotel should engage influencers. There are so many variables that must be considered… and right now, with so many people around the world unable to travel, I would question whether hosting an influencer would provide any value in the short- or long-term.
I’d encourage hotels to approach influencers responsibly. If you want to reach your domestic audience with a great offer, perhaps look to local bloggers/tastemakers who can help you tell the story of a safe staycation or “exploring a bit closer to home.” Be proactive about what YOU need, rather than simply react to THEIR request for a free stay.
5). How can hoteliers target the local tourists with search engine optimization (SEO)?
Hotel SEO is not nearly as complicated as some think. All Google wants to do is give the user the best possible answer to their question. So how can your hotel be that “best possible answer” for a potential guest?
Figure out what questions people have about your destination. Research a few long-tail keywords to target, ideally with relatively high volume/low competition. Publish helpful content around those keywords on your website. Distribute that content via multiple channels: social, email, PR, etc. Rinse and repeat.
At a minimum, hotels must keep their local listings up-to-date and complete, in order to capture more traffic from “____ near me” mobile searches.
6). How can digital marketing automation help hotels during COVID-19 recovery phase?
Generally speaking, automation tools like Zapier can connect different web apps and software to automate your day-to-day marketing tasks.
Two other things I recommend: First, hotels should be collecting email addresses constantly. The best way to do this is to use what’s called a lead magnet. You’re giving something valuable away in exchange for the customer’s contact information and permission to email them more in the future. I want to stress that 10% off your best available rate is really not as enticing as you think it is… some hotel lead magnet ideas could be:
- Curated itineraries for your location (tailor these to your audience personas);
- Family travel ebook (again, super-specific to your destination and only if relevant for your audience)
- Local language cheat sheet with useful phrases
- Seasonal packing guide (particularly for a resort destination)
- Wedding planning checklist
- Trend report or case study (B2B)
- Interactive quiz (Which of our resorts is right for you? What’s your travel style? Etc.)
The other form of automation I recommend right now is a chatbot. Messenger bots can streamline and greatly improve your hotel customer service at every stage of booking, from pre-arrival planning to on-property requests. Simply set it up to address your most Frequently Asked Questions.
7). How can hoteliers leverage Instagram stories to attract more website traffic?
Unless you have 10k followers and unlock the “Swipe up” feature, you really can’t. Instagram works very hard to keep its users inside the app so in my opinion, “driving traffic from Stories” doesn’t seem like a valuable use of your effort.
My question in response would be: Why do you think you need to use Stories this way?
Not every social media post should be a “book now” message. Sometimes the best thing you can do is engage, converse, and build community. I think hotels using Instagram should strive to create content that users want to save for themselves or share with others – people are still “dreaming” and “planning” not necessarily ready to book. You’re trying to create brand awareness and brand recognition at this stage – for hotels, Instagram should be looked at as Top of Funnel.
8). Which are digital marketing channels the hotel shall focus on to increase website traffic?
Different channels may work better for one hotel than another. In my experience, SEO is one of (if not the) biggest. At a minimum, you must own your brand name on the search results page. Having a hotel blog is a great way to build up your traffic for more long-tail, non-brand keywords.
Paid social can also be a highly effective method for generating traffic, though I do suggest being quite specific about your audience. If budget allows, a reasonable setup would be pairing a more general Top of Funnel campaign, like a local destination guide on your website, with a retargeting campaign designed to bring the user deeper into the funnel.
While not limited to digital, PR is another valuable channel to use. Be consistent about building good media relationships and sharing your (newsworthy) content in order to gain coverage on (and traffic from) high-quality websites.
About Jenn Zajac
Jenn Zajac is a hotel copywriter and content marketing specialist, currently based in Bali after too many winters in Boston and London. She once represented the world’s most famous hotel dog on social media and can’t resist a room service breakfast. Jenn writes for and about hotel websites while teaching hoteliers all things digital marketing at fivestarcontent.co.