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Virtual Coffee Chat — Key Takeaways from April 15

On April 15, Pegasus hosted its third coffee chat with hoteliers from EMEA/APAC and the Americas to discuss the topic of social media marketing. We want to send a big thank you to Jessica McDonald of Voyage Travel Marketing, Bryan LoLordo of Sprout Social, and Nate Lane, our Sr. E-commerce Director at Pegasus for their insights. Read on for our key takeaways:

Social media content does not have to be complex or costly. 

Though most hotels have deeply cut their marketing budgets at this time, social media remains one of those channels where you can still have a presence at very low cost. As Jessica explained, it is easy to create high-quality content with your smartphone. She shared some examples from Tranquility Bay Resort in the Florida Keys, which included:

  • Inspirational video. If you have someone on property, you can have them shoot various shots of your rooms, pool, and dining areas (even if they’re empty) and do a simple edit on iMovie. You want the tone to be soft and inspirational, with a simple message like, “Hi there, we’re thinking of you. We can’t wait to welcome you back.”
  • 360-degree images and virtual tours. The costs for creating VR-style content has come down significantly. Facebook offers an extensive guide to 360 photos and videos, but the simplest way of creating one is using the panorama setting on your smartphone.
  • Time-lapse videos. This is also something that you can easily do with a smartphone or GoPro camera. You’ll need a tripod for your camera, but those are also relatively inexpensive.
  • Live webcams. If your hotel has a great view of the city or landscape, consider mounting a webcam and running the feed through your social channels.

Hotels should also look to partner with the local CVB or tourism board to access destination content to share. Although your hotel may be lovely, people typically fall in love with the destination first—tap into that sentiment and get your followers dreaming about the next time they can visit your destination again.

If possible, you can also tap into the historic aspects of your property. Perhaps you’re located in a historic building or district, or your hotel is a multi-generational family-owned property. Look for archival photos, old news clippings, or historical dates and facts that you can share with your followers, and maybe do some side-by-side “then and now” comparisons.

Keep the messaging soft, inspirational, and authentic. 

The tone throughout this crisis period and in the initial stages of recovery should be soft and lighthearted. Even after things start reopening for business, there’s going to be a slow ramp up, and travelers may not be ready to book right away, so don’t necessarily go for the hard sell.

Think of ways you can tie your marketing messaging to the reality of today’s situation. Recipes, for example, are a great way to connect with all those stuck in lockdown that are looking for things to cook or make. Doubletree by Hilton recently created a video recipe on its famous chocolate chip cookies, which has since seen over 400,000 views and has been tested by quarantined travel bloggers around the globe.

While many hotels may not have the strength of Hilton’s marketing, PR, and social team, other travel organizations are proving that you don’t need a lot of resources or experts to have an impact on social. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma put Tim, its head of security, in charge of its Twitter account as it remained closed. A complete newbie at social media, Tim’s amateur mistakes (“HashtagTheCowboy”) and dad jokes have sent the Twitter account’s followers skyrocketing, from less than 10,000 followers in mid March to over 300,000 followers in mid April.

Use social channels to drive active engagement with your followers.

Not all social media content needs to come from you directly—think of engaging ways that you can inspire user-generated content about your hotel, such as asking for past guests to share experiences, photos and memories of your property from their past trips. With their permission, you can turn some of these comments into future content.

Other ideas include asking open-ended questions to engage potential travelers (e.g. “What sight in our city have you always wanted to see?”), running a fan poll or survey (e.g. “Tea or Coffee?” or “Cocktail or beer?”), or running a contest or giveaway with a prize being a hotel voucher. Many travelers are looking for ways to engage at this time, so you might find that the response is more than you had expected.

Facebook Groups, where you can organize a group discussion or forum around a common theme, can also be a great way to engage your audience and create a community. The Group topic doesn’t just have to be your hotel, it can also be the destination or some other theme where you feel you can facilitate a lively discussion between group members (e.g. wedding planning ideas or meeting planning tips). Keep in mind that the business strategies for Groups is quite different from Pages, so be sure to have a plan for what you want to do with it first.

Management platforms like Sprout Social can help you manage your messaging and content across various social accounts, while also tracking for key engagement statistics. Hotels looking to try out a new platform can access Sprout’s 30-day free trial.

Community management is crucial during this time.

Community management refers to the way we communicate with customers that might ask questions on social media, whether it’s through Facebook comments or on the Messenger app, Instagram, or Twitter. During this time, good community management is vital to building relationships with your customers, particularly as many of them may be reaching out regarding cancellations. However, they will be the first ones that come back when this crisis is over, so maintain a good relationship with them.

Even resources might be tight at this time and your social media manager may be on furlough, try not to resort to chatbots or automated tools. Travelers would much prefer to speak with a human at this time. However, it’s fine to have templated responses to common scenarios; Voyage Travel Marketing has developed a few crisis community management responses that hotels can adapt for their own use.

Whenever possible, reply to the comments you receive on social media instead of simply hitting the like button. Your followers have taken the time to engage with your content and have shown that they care about the brand, so show a bit of love back. This can really help leave a memorable impression.

Start developing your crisis recovery plan now.

Think about your recovery plan in phases:

  1. Current response, which is what you’re communicating now during the crisis period.
  2. The “slow rise” period, right after travel restrictions are lifted and your hotel begins to reopen. The temptation will be to hit the ground running with strong sales messaging, but you may want to hold tight. Everyone has gone through a tough period, so messaging should still remain light. You’ll likely be focusing on domestic and local business, past guests, and maybe a regional drive audience.
  3. Demand growth, which is where you’ll see growth outside of your drive markets. Leverage analytics from your website and CRS to understand where demand is coming from; this can help you to better target your marketing budget.
  4. The “new normal,” where we see the situation begin to normalize, although it’s unlikely that we’ll see a return to the environment we knew from before. We will need to adapt to a new reality and rethink what success is going to mean for our property.

Even if hotels are currently closed or running at severely reduced capacity, hoteliers should start planning now for the next “slow rise” or reopening phase. Keep in mind that although you may not know exactly when you’ll reopen (or the date might change), when it does come time to get back to business, everything will move extremely quickly. You’ll likely need to “turn on” everything that you’ve turned off (e.g. informing OTA channels that you’re reopen, updating your website), you’ll need to bring furloughed staff back up to speed about any new policies, and you’ll need to start communicating your new marketing messages. Make a checklist for yourself and for your teams to ensure that you don’t miss any any tasks.

You’ll also want to start forming your rate strategy and planning offers you’ll want to reopen with. Some great offers to consider:

  • Best flexible rate promotion: As travelers have less appetite for risk, push the flexibility of your rates as an advantage. IHG has two categories of flexible rates, including its Best Flexible Rate and a “Book Now, Pay Later” rate that has a 1-2 day cancellation window for an additional 5% off.
  • Regional rates: Develop special promotions for your local domestic and drive markets, such as a state resident’s rate (show your resident card for a discount) or a parking special (free parking for your stay).
  • Hometown heroes rate: Your hotel may already be housing healthcare workers, but consider developing a special rate for local healthcare workers and first responders that extends beyond the pandemic. This can be your way of supporting your community and saying thank you for the work that they do.
  • Value-adds: To help protect ADR, look for ways to add value to your rate by adding in complimentary upgrades, dining credits, or other special amenities. Remember that travelers will be placing a priority on health and safety in their future travels, so you can even consider ways to add value through amenities that promote your property in that light.

Join us on April 22 to talk business development for business travel

Interested in participating in the discussion? Next week we will have guests Elaine Kennedy, VP of Hotel Market Planning at Pegasus, and Allison Ahrens, President at Hospitality Revenue Solutions LLC on our next virtual coffee chats. We’ll be talking about how to plan for the return of essential business travel. Click here to learn more, or get a head start now by reading our latest article on how hotels will need to adapt Duty of Care policies for the coronavirus pandemic.