Give us a quick intro about you and your background.
Hi everyone, my name is Rebecca and I am a Marketing & Revenue Consultant for Best Loved Hotels (hotel marketing consortium), and Premier Cru Hotels (hotel management company). As far as my background goes, I have only ever worked in hospitality, starting with my first job as a waitress in a local pub/restaurant at the age of 14. From there I was encouraged to choose a degree in Hospitality Management, which started my “real” career. A key stepping-stone was completing a compulsory placement year at a highly regarded hotel, which I returned to as Marketing Assistant upon completion my studies. After this, my next role was Marketing & Sales Manager for a small group of hotels where I worked closely with the Revenue Manager, and it was clear that success was dependent on these two roles working well together, which is often a challenge in hotels. When the Revenue Manager decided it was time to move on, I applied for the role to gain a wider understanding of this side of the business. After several years using a combination of these skills, I felt in a strong position to be able to offer consultancy to other hotels, implementing strategies and procedures, without having to be as hands-on in the day-to-day operation.
Tell us a bit about your role with Best Loved Hotels.
Best Loved Hotels is a Marketing Consortium for independently owned hotels or small groups, all of the hotels that I have previously worked for were members of Best Loved, so I knew the company well, and really valued them as a marketing resource. Therefore I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to work for them.
My role with Best Loved is to promote both the brand itself, as well as the member hotels, plus I provide advice and insights to the hoteliers. For Best Loved itself, I am currently working on some key partnerships with businesses that work hand-in-hand with accommodation providers, such as airlines, train lines, and chauffeur or car hire services, with a view to them promoting the Best Loved brand to their clients. For the member hotels, I organise journalist visits, represent them in front of prime travel agents, and offer media opportunities. For the hoteliers, I stay up to date with industry trends and feed hints and tips to them via a monthly email.
Tell us a bit about your role with Premier Cru Hotels.
Premier Cru is a hotel management company, offering full management contracts or consultancy services. I offer a mixture of Marketing and Revenue Marketing support to a selection of the hotels that the company manages. Depending on the individual hotels, this can range from giving them the training, resource, and support to manage their own strategies, or I might take this on externally if they don’t have the personnel in-house.
Working across a range of different hotels has given me a broader knowledge of how to adapt strategies from one hotel to another, and also gives me greater negotiating power when it comes to suppliers and third parties.
What are your main responsibilities when it comes to marketing?
My main responsibility is to create a detailed marketing plan with goals, actions, deadlines, and accountability. Despite every hotel being different, the issues faced are often very similar, they know what they should be doing, but can’t always bring things to fruition.
As a consultant, being slightly removed from the hotels helps, as I can focus solely on the marketing strategy, without being distracted by the operation. My front-of-house background, and revenue experience also means that I have a very practical approach to marketing, compared to some marketers who aren’t as aware of the FOH constraints, or implications on the sales teams; I feel that I work for the whole business, not purely the marketing agenda. The Revenue Manager in me is also very focussed on the ROI of the time and investment put into a project. Having said that, I don’t necessarily mean a financial return, as I strongly believe that brand awareness is an area that many hotels overlook.
What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to digital marketing at present?
I think that one of the biggest challenges in digital marketing is social media, based on the number of social channels available, a misconception of how they should be used, and how quickly they can dent your reputation.
Nowadays, social media is talked about an awful lot, with owners and general managers often understanding that it is important, but not necessarily being sure why, or how to use it well. Therefore, a lot of hotels tend to post a lot of content that isn’t always relevant or interesting, and certainly isn’t generating an ROI (be that increased brand loyalty or a sale further down the line).
The other side of social media is that everyone’s got a megaphone. No longer is TripAdvisor our biggest concern, people can now share their not-so-favourable thoughts on a host of very public channels.
What is your most successful social media channel and why?
Facebook is the most successful social media channel for most hotels that I work with, mainly due to the fact that is it so versatile. Instagram and Pinterest are great, but work best for hotels that sell weddings. Twitter is good for F&B, with chefs’ personal Twitter accounts often being more popular than the company one. Facebook works well for most areas of the hotel business, and is more conversational with guests, leading to longer-term relationship marketing.
What do you see being the biggest trend or new innovation in hotel marketing in the next 24 months?
I don’t necessarily think that it will be a new trend. Apologies to my colleagues in the industry, but I feel that hospitality is always a little behind in putting things into action that other industries identified years ago. Therefore I think that the next 24 months will see a change in the overall marketing strategy, and all the things that we know but don’t do will be put into place.
People no longer want to be marketed to, they need to be engaged with, and that means a change to the whole strategy, and to a certain extent, a change in personnel. In addition, consumer led content is more trusted than brand generated content, so this also needs to be stimulated. To achieve these things, we’ll need additional team members on the floor to share real-time content with guests who are not yet at the hotel, but to also encourage the guests who are at the hotel to share their experiences, and become your brand ambassadors.
A current trend that is likely to continue is the desire to reduce commissions and target direct bookings. This makes me very nervous because I think it a goal that is unlikely to be achieved, especially for independent hotels. Unless you want to spend millions of pounds to out-brand Booking.com, you’re not going to win. Take comfort in the fact that commissions are only money-spent on a definite booking, and – given that we have identified that marketing is such a broad landscape now – I’d suggest letting the TPIs do their job and focussing on some of your other challenges. At the risk of being scorned by my peers, I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting neglecting direct bookings; I simply don’t think that you should aim to get them instead of those via a third party.
If I gave you £10,000 right now to spend on your marketing, what would you do with it?
This might be a dull answer, but I’d probably spend it on technology: I’d love to see more hotels having a fully integrated CRM system with a two-way interface to the PMS (which is where most of the data is collected), and better tracking of emails, telephone calls, social interactions and so on. Many of the hotels that I work with have a manual and lengthy process of exporting data from one place, to then upload it to another. Or, they don’t have that manual process and live enquiries don’t get chased effectively. There are also still a lot of hotels that don’t have a two-way interface from their PMS to their booking engine/channel manager, so I’d like to fix that for them. Finally, from a technological point of view (and given what we said earlier about encouraging direct bookings), I’d suggest that many hotels invest in a better booking engine. All of that will free up many hours to allow your team to focus on customer loyalty and long-term engagement rather than a one-off sale.
I’m probably over my £10,000 limit now, but once the above was all sorted, I’d invest in an amazing photographer and videographer, and some really high quality hotel giveaways such as bags or lip-balms that guests can wear or use to help get your name out there.
What’s your ultimate career goal?
I’d love my own place one day; nothing too big or grand, just a small hotel with a decent restaurant and maybe a small spa. I believe that I’m capable, and there have been a few times in my career where I have thought that I might have done something differently if I had 100% autonomy (not least on the subject of TripAdvisor review responses!). I’m very procedure led, so I’d love to take on somewhere and start from scratch with my own ideas and agenda – and I could always go back to waitressing if it doesn’t work out!
What piece of advice would you give marketers entering the hotel industry now?
I think that you have to have full understanding of what you are marketing, not least to gain the support from the team around you, so my advice would be to do your fair share of time in all departments before becoming glued to your desk.
The placement year that I did through university was a rotational program where I spent time in every single department in the hotel, and I still refer back to that experience all these years later. You learn how to coerce the chef who just wants to cook, out of the kitchen to do a cookery demonstration; you learn how to make a bed perfectly for when you have a photo shoot; and you learn what it’s like to man the phones after an e-newsletter is sent to your whole database. Finally, you’ll learn that the hotel is a 24-hour business, and that you must be too.
With the changing tides of marketing, you need the whole hotel team to become an extension of the marketing department, and if you want them to support you, you’ll have to support them too.