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Takeaways from our webinar, “Tapping into the power of authentic travel experiences for hotel marketing”

During a recent webinar, we discussed how to tap into the power of travel experience to improve hotel marketing. Three industry experts from Travel Tripper, Arrivedo and Flip.to provided insights and advice in the following areas:

  • How to inspire new audiences during planning & booking
  • The impact of translating local knowledge into digital guides
  • Storytellers: Helping your travel brand inspire new audiences

Click below to listen to a full recording of the webinar or download our presentation here, and read on to see a list of the top takeaways from our discussion.

Inspire new audiences during planning & booking

Earning trust from customers happens over time and with repeat engagement. No one just wakes up one day and decides to visit Bali without ever having thought about it. People need to have had some previous awareness or engagement with a destination before they visit.

The desire to visit a destination might have come from a friend who talked about a life-changing experience there, or an incredible photo on social media. After this initial interest in an destination, numerous interactions lead to a person finally booking to visit.

With that in mind, a hotel website needs to understand how to build desire and provide information as travelers move from spark of inspiration to final booking. This process can be split up into four distinct areas.

1) Be there
A hotel website needs to inspire the dreaming, planning, and booking stages. You want customers to feel like they can have the experience they’re imagining, which is where the art of storytelling comes in.

With carefully chosen photography and words, you can showcase your destination in a way that feels inspiring yet realistic.

Below, the photo on the left from the website of Gale South Beach in Miami aims to capture the stylish and tropical feel of the destination. It’s slightly abstract nature is all about creating a mood.

Example travel experiences on two hotel websites

The photo on the right from the website of Casa Madrona in Sausalito is about creating a relatable scene. Here, potential guests are encouraged to imagine enjoying dinner in this gorgeous bayside setting. In both instances, the intention is to reveal an experience that a traveler could be having.

2) Be relevant
Being relevant is about anticipating travelers needs through copy and design. To help users find what they’re looking for, your website needs to be easy to navigate, promote your USPs, and feature a clear Book Now button on every page.

The site also needs to speak to the guests’ wants and needs. What are the latest trends in the area? What experiences are guests interested in? What questions might they have? Each of these points require consideration.

The Gates Hotel in Key West realize a lot of people visit their location because of the island’s perpetually great weather. So they feature a real-time weather chart on their website.

Example of live temperature widget on Gates Key West Hotel website

This shows guests what they want to know and confirms they’ll get the experience they’re after. This example shows how being relevant involves knowing your audience and addressing their questions and desires.

3) Be inspiring

One point that can’t be stressed enough is the importance of visual content. When executed well, website design, photography, and copy can take customers on a visual and emotional journey of your property.

Hotel websites have a distinct edge over OTAs here because they can deliver visual content and copy in a singularly branded way. Kenwood Inn & Spa does a great job of this by combining enticing copy with beautiful imagery.

Example hotel website Kenwood Inn & Spa

The descriptive copy on the left describes the hotel’s unique setting, while the photos on the right evoke a feeling of escapism and tucked-away luxury. Together, they invite guests to imagine themselves enjoying these moments and inspire them to book.

4) Be easy to use

When customers are ready to book, it needs to be easy. Increasingly, that means ensuring your website is optimized for mobile. Today, 46% of travelers who research on mobile say they make their final booking decision on mobile, but physically book on another device because of mobile booking friction.

Switching devices involves a delay, providing a window for someone to get distracted, reconsider their decision, or book elsewhere. For that reason, your mobile sites needs to be fast, frictionless, and feature everything users need to make a booking decision.

For instance, having a price checking tool on your website will let people compare your rates with the OTAs and prevent them from having to leave your site to find this information out.

The impact of translating local knowledge into digital guides

More and more travelers want to immerse themselves in the destination they visit. At least half say they’re open to receive destination inspiration, giving hotels an opportunity to position themselves as local experts.

A study by Expedia found that activities and experiences were the top three factors that affected travel decision-making.

Expedia study on activities and experiences

So by supplying destination-based content, hotels can encourage more bookings. One of the best ways to achieve this is by turning the local knowledge at your disposal (e.g. your own staff) into a powerful digital tool.

Here’s a brief step-by-step guide on how to do that:

1) Organize your voice as a local host: Identify members of your hotel staff that have the most local knowledge. Interview them to find out everything they know: their favorite routes, experiences, restaurants, activities, and insider tips.

2) Curate a digital guide: Arrange for influencers and travel writers to organize these notes into a digital neighborhood guide. This should include maps and routes that show guests how to travel from your property to each featured place.

3) Share it with guests: Finally, spread the word! As well as featuring a neighborhood guide on your website, you could automate emails so that guests automatically receive a copy of your guide when they book and check-in. This capitalizes on pre-trip excitement to increase the likelihood your guide gets read.

To make your guide even more effective, invite guests to add comments and personal suggestions, like the example below.

Example of Arrivedo digital guides

Along with adding validation and transparency, this will improve the guest experience and build your reputation as a local host.

Storytellers: Helping your travel brand inspire new audiences

Hotel companies are now competing for share of attention on a scale never seen before. Storytelling is a way of standing out from the crowd. However, to communicate your story to the masses, you need to leverage the influence of storytellers.

Storytellers are travelers who become brand evangelists by way of sharing their experiences with others. They are people your audience knows and trusts, enabling you to make connections in a more natural way.

Social media is where conversations take place and a primary source for trip inspiration.

It’s where people chat with friends about the amazing travel experiences they’ve had.

But you can’t just shoehorn your way into the dialogue. This is where the storyteller comes in, enabling you to make an authentic introduction around your hotel and destination.

Turn images into stories
Photographs alone only tell part of the story. On its own, the image below shows a lady and girl on a beach. But with the added description, it has context. You get the story that comes with it.

Traveler storytelling example

The result is emotional engagement and a relatable experience that others may want to replicate.

In addition, stories are great at providing contextual information. For instance, your website could promote your best features via bullet points on your Amenities page. Or you could have a page full of stories that provides guests with that same information in a far more engaging way.

When guests see other people like themselves enjoying your amenities, it confirms the property they’re looking at is the right fit.

Own your area
Hotels have a huge opportunity to become the go-to source of information and inspiration in their area. While a New York City hotel can’t hope to become a city-wide expert, they can become a fountain of information on their own neighborhood.

The key to achieving this status as a local authority? Through the experiences of your guests. By encouraging them to share favorite moments about their trip on social channels, your property will naturally feature in their stories. In turn, you’ll reach new audiences that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.

Tell the right part of the story
Storytelling also requires thinking about your audience and their stage in the travel journey. A person in the early dreaming phase might just want to know about attractions near your neighborhood. By providing them with the information they want (instead of trying to push them straight into a booking), you’ll earn their trust and naturally encourage them along the path to purchase.

The homepage of The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee demonstrates this subtle approach. Customers aren’t bombarded with rates or requests for information. Instead, stylish images and content convey what the hotel is all about.

Iron Horse Hotel website example

Images of food feature prominently (studies have shown people love seeing pictures of food), and there’s an “our stories” section that links to a dedicated “our stories” page. The “Book a Room” button is prominent but not dominant, while attention is drawn towards the “Milwaukee Hotel Experience” section.

This approach is based on the realization that the bulk of people who initially visit the site are looking for inspiration, not room rates. Instead of a hard sales message, visitors are sold on the experience and encouraged to explore the site in an easy, frictionless, way.

The benefit of this strategy is that once a person freely buys into the idea of staying with you, price isn’t going to be quite as relevant.

The power of experiences

Nobody starts dreaming about a trip by looking for hotel rates. They start with a desire to visit a destination, based on an idea about an experience they’d like. This journey is given momentum by conversations on social media, travel blogs and review forums. Hotels can also influence where this journey ends.

When visitors find your website, you can instantly grab their attention with a content-rich site full of engaging images, insightful tips, destination guides and traveler stories.

Together, this can persuade guests to book based on the experience you’re selling, rather than the rates you’re promoting. True, people will always want the best price. But they also want to be inspired and informed. Show a desire to help them have the experience they’re looking for, and the decision to book with you will inevitably come more easily.

Kate Bielamowicz

Kate Bielamowicz

Kate Bielamowicz is a Digital Strategy Manager at Pegasus with expertise in content and strategy for e-commerce platforms. In both work and play, she is driven by an insatiable curiosity, a love of words, and a passion for bridging disciplines. Contact her at kate.bielamowicz@pegs.com.

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