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GDPR Countdown: How will the new EU data protection laws affect hotel marketing?

Proposed new restrictions to EU data protection laws will soon limit how tech companies such as Facebook and Google collect customer data. As a result, hotels with EU customers could see their own marketing efforts stifled.

Set to take place in May 2018, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is designed to provide EU citizens with greater online privacy by limiting how their personal data is collected and used.

Under new laws, companies will still be able to collect data in order to offer services that consumers ask for. But using personal data for other purposes won’t be permitted unless consumers give their explicit consent.

Both Google and Facebook collect data through a wide variety of ways, but they won’t be able to simply offer a blanket opt-in option to cover all of their services. According to analytics firm PageFair, they’ll instead be faced with the far more complex task of having to request consent or offer an opt-out choice “at different times, and for different things.”

In all likelihood, a lot of consumers won’t want to opt-in to have their data used for marketing purposes. This leaves the likes of Google and Facebook in a unique position where they’ll soon need to reevaluate how they generate ad revenue.

The impact on hotel marketing

These new data restrictions will create new challenges for hotels looking to market to EU guests through Google and Facebook ad services. To illustrate which core products will be affected and how, PageFair have created a GDPR scale:

GDPR scale

Many Google and Facebook services that will be affected fall into the 4th category—requiring “opt-in” consent, but with little incentive for the user to do so.

The table below indicates how several of Google’s own ad products stand to be affected, including personalized advertising across Search, YouTube, Maps, and the Google Network.

GDPR scale: Google

Only if AdWords removes all of its personalized features will it be able to continue without the need for any form of user consent.

There is, however, one potential exception to this restriction. If users have already “signed in” on Google Search or Chrome, Google might contest that these users are receiving services that are “compatible” with what they originally signed up for. In these instances, users may instead need to “opt-out” instead of “opt-in.”

Based on the upcoming restrictions, we’ve outlined some of the core Google products that are most likely to impact hotel marketers.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

Google’s Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs) target users who have previously interacted with your website. Rather than being displayed while browsing the web, RLSAs are only shown to a person when they conduct a specific search intent, such as searching for your hotel name or any keywords you’ve bid on.

This form of advertising relies on cookies stored on a user’s computer. Most sites around the world use them with implied consent, meaning that the usage of the site (or a message that says “By using this site, you accept cookies”) is permission enough to add cookies to the user’s browser.

The new GDPR rules will greatly restrict cookie usage, requiring EU users to give explicit consent that must be as easy to revoke as it is to give permission. The extra hurdles could mean less customers opting into cookies, ultimately making RLSAs and other remarketing tools less effective.

On a more encouraging note, Google’s research has found that 69% of online consumers agree that quality, time, or relevance of an advertising message impacts their brand perception.

As hotel marketers rethink their cookie opt-in forms on their website, they may want to consider being very explicit yet very positive about what the cookie data could potentially be used for. Explaining that cookies will be used for personalizing relevant offers and deals may increase the chances that users accept them.

Customer Match

Sparking great excitement when it first launched, AdWords Customer Match is a form of remarketing that enables advertisers to upload customer email addresses to create highly specific PPC ads. These ads can then be displayed across the Search Network, Google Shopping, Gmail and YouTube.

By segmenting email lists into demographics such as “family travelers” and “business travelers,” hotels can target customized campaigns at specific audiences, including existing customers and new prospects that share similar profiles.

Similarly to RLSAs, Customer Match faces restrictions due to it being a form of identity-based marketing that collects emails for the purposes of advertising.

While Google has been extremely cautious about the way Customer Match uses personal data (only accepting email addresses acquired through first-party means), new EU regulations will still require that consumers “opt-in” to receive marketing content through this tool. Hotel marketers will need to be very explicit in explaining to guests from the EU that any emails collected by the hotel may be used to advertise offers at a later date.

GDPR Impact on Facebook

Facebook also faces significant restrictions that threaten to curtail its booming ad revenue. According to PageFair’s GDPR scale, both Facebook Audience Network and WhatsApp advertising will fall under category four, heavily limiting targeted marketing opportunities for hotel marketers.

In the case of Facebook Audience Network, personal data is collected from Facebook users in order to allow advertisers to market to them on other websites. It’s therefore considered unlikely that this means of data collection will be regarded as “compatible” with a user’s original activity.

GDPR scale: Facebook

New legislation will also restrict Facebook’s recently launched Dynamic Ads for Travel, an industry-specific platform that automatically re-targets anyone who has shown recent interest in a business website or mobile app.

Advertisers will still have opportunities for targeted marketing via Facebook’s NewsFeed ads. This will include the freedom to segment audiences using filters such as location, age, gender, and personal interests. In these instances, Facebook will only be required to give consumers an “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” choice.

However, personalized ads won’t be able to take advantage of “special” personal data, including an individual’s ethnicity, political opinion, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs.

Given the sweeping changes afoot, hotels may wish to start exploring Facebook’s growing range of business-focused features to maintain a strong social media presence.

For instance, tools such as Facebook Live and an expanded version of Facebook Messenger are providing exciting new ways for businesses to communicate with consumers and build relationships through a more natural, less commercially driven form of engagement.

What do the changes mean for your hotel?

The sweeping data security changes due to affect Europe will only affect your hotel’s EU customers. So depending on your primary market, the coming reforms may not be a great cause for concern.

However, if your hotel does receive significant amounts of traffic from the EU, now’s the time to start speaking with your digital marketing and website agency to ensure that your hotel website is equipped for the new regulations. By planning ahead, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re fully compliant with the new laws before they go into effect next May.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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