How Ireland and UK hotels are weathering the fallout from Brexit

The Irish and British hotel industry has faced a mixed time since last year’s decision to leave the European Union.

In Ireland, a bumper December for hotels capped off a record-breaking year for tourist levels. Yet Irish hotels relying almost entirely on business from the UK have felt the brunt of a recent decrease—almost 30% have seen a drop in UK bookings.

Meanwhile, a fall in the value of the pound has actually increased demand to British hotels. Figures by the Office for National Statistics show that UK visitor numbers in December were up 11% year-on-year, and London hotels saw a 10% increase in demand.

But in general, a sentiment of uncertainty prevails in the post-Brexit era. Despite a great end to 2016, nobody really knows what the year ahead will bring.

A recent boom in overseas tourists represents a major cause for optimism. In particular, there’s been a big rise in North American tourists driven by a fall in the pound and low-cost transatlantic flights offered by carriers such as Norwegian and WOW air.

During unstable times, a strong focus on attracting U.S. and other North American travelers could help British and Irish hotels weather the fallout of Brexit. With that in mind, here are just a few ways to tap into this lucrative market.

Get strategic with your digital marketing

As U.S. tourists flock to Britain and Ireland, a strategic digital marketing approach will help your hotel gain important online exposure as travelers search for accommodation.

An international PPC campaign can help you reach this captive audience, especially when focused on key markets that have airport hubs and cheap flights going into Europe.

Before launch, be sure to carefully research the market you’re targeting. The success of a global PPC campaign relies on having an intimate knowledge of various factors including differences in online user behavior, cultural trends, shopping habits, and the demographic you’re aiming at.

Subtleties in language and phrasing between domestic and U.S. travelers should also be accounted for. Take the time to research how your advertising copy might need to be tailored to meet the expectations of your international audience.

“Americanize” your hotel website

When a U.S. traveler clicks on your PPC ad, it’s best to direct them to a dedicated landing page. By having a landing page that works in tandem with your PPC offer, you’ll be able to pinpoint where your traffic is coming from and monitor the effectiveness of any U.S.-focused marketing.

When it comes to the actual design of your landing page, there are various ways you can optimize it to increase conversions. Crucially, it should be focused on getting visitors to do just one thing: a single call to action like “book a room” or “watch our video.” Eliminating distractions will increase the chance that a visitor takes the primary action you want them to take.

The copy on the landing page should also mirror the PPC ad. Keeping the wording consistent will let visitors know they’re in the right place and reinforce your original sales message.

To really drive conversions, think strategically about the kind of offers that will be most appealing. Cultural sights, historic tours, and visiting famous landmarks are commonly big attractions for U.S. travelers heading to Europe. By tying in room deals with exclusive experiences, you’ll stand out head and shoulders above the competition.

Geo-targeted pricing to Americans

American travelers in Europe

With geo-targeting, your hotel can market special rates and promotions at an audience in a specific location and a specific time. This gives you the ability to create highly contextual, targeted content that’s most likely to convert and lead to a higher ROI.

Using Google AdWords, ads can be aimed at an entire country, state, city, or a smaller radius around a location or location groups. You can also monitor how your ads perform in different parts of the country. If your New York ads are getting double the impressions of your Los Angeles ads, you can refocus where your money is being spent to maximize your investment.

Geo-targeted content can also be built upon popular search queries. For instance, if your primary audience is searching on terms like “boutique hotels in Edinburgh” or “sightseeing trips in London”, use those specific keywords in your paid search ads to improve your visibility.

Along with paid content, consider using tactical email campaigns or adding geo-targeting to your hotel website and booking system. This particular practice allows you to create exclusive pricing and deals on your website that are only visible to a specific audience, so you can deliver relevant deals to U.S. visitors who reach you via organic search.

Some CRS and booking engines platforms, such as Travel Tripper’s, also allow hotels to deliver geo-targeted and dynamic rates based on where users are accessing your hotel website; this allows hotels to test out certain markets with special rates and pricing. For example, hotels looking to attract long-haul U.S. visitors can offer a special discounted rate for increased length of stay, or for staying on shoulder dates when domestic visitors have gone home.

Focus on direct distribution and the direct booking channel

The good news for UK hotels is that U.S. travelers are less reliant on OTAs. In a report by Eye for Travel, figures reveal that 73% of UK travel purchases are made with an OTA, but just 4% with hotel brands. Compare that to the US, where OTAs gain a much lower 42% of direct bookings with hotels receiving 19%.

However, it’s a different story in Ireland where OTAs receive an unusually low 20% of the booking market. That said, Irish hotels naturally stand to make big gains by attracting booming numbers of U.S. tourists to book direct.

So what can your hotel do to drive the direct distribution channel?

First, make sure your website offers the best possible user experience. An easy-to-navigate design, simplified checkout, and a mobile-friendly website and booking engine will help potential guests easily browse and book with you on any device they use.

Replicating winning OTA tactics can also improve conversion rates. For instance, “rooms remaining” widgets can heighten urgency, while automatic rate matching tools will give users the confidence to know you’re offering them the best price possible—no need to shop around elsewhere.

U.S. travelers will also probably be spending extra time researching your destination. So make life easy for them. Add a dedicated destination page with must-see sights, attractions, and insider tips. By offering a resource that builds desire and helps a visitor plan their trip, they’ll spend more time on your site and be more likely to book direct.

Finally, diversifying your distribution strategy will help you cast the net beyond your own website. Aim to build a strong social media presence, partner with OTAs and metasearch sites that are strong in the U.S., and produce content on travel sites where you know your audience is carrying out research.

A golden opportunity

The Irish and British hotel industry enjoyed a hugely successful 2016. While fears surrounding Brexit still remain, the latest overseas tourism figures reveal cause for confidence. In the year ahead, targeting overseas markets (especially the buoyant U.S.) could help British and Irish hotels offset a potential downturn in domestic travel.

A proposal to force Americans to apply for visas when traveling to Europe could potentially hit U.S. traveler numbers, yet this kind of uncertainty seems to define the post-Brexit era.

All that hoteliers can do is focus on factors within their control. In turbulent times, that means remaining vigilant to changing market conditions, focusing on the direct distribution channel, and capitalizing on every opportunity to attract new guests.

Gautam Lulla

Gautam Lulla

Gautam is CEO of Pegasus and an outspoken expert in hotel technology and distribution. When he's not busy disrupting the status quo, you can find him ripping powder on the slopes. Contact him at gautam@pegs.com.

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