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PR & Marketing Tips for Smaller Hotels from Renata Parolari Fernandes

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Every once in a while, we like to bring in guest experts to provide you with another perspective and some fresh ideas. Today, Renata Parolari Fernandes, the founder and director of Five Star Magazine, an award-winning publication about unique luxury hotels, shares her experience about small hotel marketing. Enjoy!

How does the web level the playing field for small hotels to effectively compete with large hotel companies?

Small hotels and large hotels have different audiences. Their potential guests follow different behaviour patterns when it comes to searching for and booking accommodation. While the small hotel audience relies more strongly on offers and recommendations via platforms such as TripTdvisor, laterooms.com, lastminute.com, Groupon, Facebook, and blogs, the large hotel audience tends to be loyal to hotel brands, they are encouraged to visit the brand’s website where they are rewarded with points and savings.

Small hotels should understand and embrace this difference, there is plenty of room for successful digital marketing campaigns no matter the size of the property, as long as it’s placed and marketed correctly.

What are the unique competitive advantages small properties have, and how can they leverage this ….especially online?

The best advantage they have is being able to give a more personalised service and overall experience to their guests. While large hotels tend to focus on the property facilities, small hotels should focus on the experiences and memories they can provide.

Find out what is your property’s USP, explore it and promote it consistently. 

If it’s the location, make sure you inform your potential guests about any and every event that could interest your guests. Fill your website with information on things to do, keep this information fresh. If it’s food and wine, organise regular events and packages (wine and whisky tasting, tasting menus, gourmet weekends, cooking classes),  if it’s the spa, promote wellbeing as well as the spa treatments and packages. Become a source of information for spa lovers.

If it’s your property’s interior design, architecture or art collection promote exhibitions for local artists, invite well-known specialist bloggers and professionals that can write about these features, promote the property as a venue for photo shoots and independent movies. If it’s the service, have a blog in your website talking about good service in hospitality, engage the staff so they can post tips on Facebook. Make the property a benchmark for excellence by offering special training to members of the industry and workshops. There are endless options for every case.

Make sure you create different marketing and PR campaigns for each of the property’s strengths (one for the food targeting food bloggers and journalists, one for the spa targeting spa lovers, one for country pursuits for the outdoor activities lover, and so on). Run the campaigns concomitantly but separately or the result won’t be as effective.

Reward the returning guest as well as your fans and followers. Share important news with them first (not with the media), give them a discount or something extra on every return and every time they recommend the hotel to someone. The more they recommend the more they can get in return.

Engage the local community offering local products in your hotel, establish partnerships with local businesses, promote them so they can promote you in return.

What are the unique needs of smaller hotels when it comes to marketing and PR?

Small hotels don’t have the same marketing budget large hotels do. Sometimes there is no marketing budget at all. It’s important that small hotels take advantage of every opportunity they can get to promote the property, starting from digital marketing. There is plenty that can be done when it comes to organic SEO and digital marketing, it’s more time consuming than paying a company to take care of everything but it can be done. If there is no budget, look for small hotels that have achieved what you would like to achieve and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Other hoteliers can become your friend and mentors, you can help each other too because two properties are never the same, each can be marketed differently. Maybe what you do best is their weakness and what they do best is yours.

Never believe that paying a lot for marketing and PR means making sure you will have great results. A lot of times you could just be paying a lot. Ask for at least 3 or 4 quotes when looking for professional marketing help, a good small company can sometimes deliver twice what the big company does, for half the price.

If a digital marketing professional says that ROI in social media can’t be measured, this is not true. It can and it should be. Never pay for something you can’t see, there are many software tools and platforms out there to help you.

One of the problems small hotels face is consistency throughout different seasons. Marketing should be done during all seasons, just because you are in the high season and the hotel is busy it doesn’t mean that you can relax. The low season is just around the corner. Marketing & PR are like housekeeping, they must be done daily (and if not daily, weekly). Make sure your marketing campaign is consistent throughout the year, careful with brand awareness, don’t change the property’s image to see what happens or you will lose all you have achieved (as well as your returning guests).  Your marketing strategy should last for at least the whole year.

  • See the hotel as an individual: with personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. Work with what you have. Just like with people.
  • Don’t try to act as a large hotel, your guests will get confused.
  • Make the guest experience as wholesome and unique as it can be.
  • Give guests more than one option so that they feel the need to return to the property to experience the other options or activities they didn’t have the chance to experience.
  • Listen to what the guests ask for.
  • Focus on social media as a customer engagement channel, sales talk will not grab their interest and attention. Sales will come as a result, but should not be the main focus.

What have you seen work best? Any best practices for the social web for small hotels that you would like to pass along?

The best campaigns we have done and seen were done organically, without paying for Facebook advertisements, or pay-per-click ads on search engines.  As described above, they were about engaging the right audience and sharing more than just offers; sharing information and things that interest them. Having 10K fans on Facebook doesn’t mean having 10K potential guests reading your posts. Your actual guests are the most valuable fans you have, ask reception to engage with guests, use QR codes and ask them to like your Facebook page, then nurture them!

Always remember who is your audience and what audience you want to target. That the type of fans and followers that you attract through Facebook competitions, for example, are not always the ones that will pay full rates. Ideally, you want to attract guests that appreciate your hotel for all that it has to offer, not for offering a cheaper rate this weekend.

In your experience, what role does social media monitoring and reputation management play in the context of smaller, boutique luxury hotels?

It plays a very important role. We recommend ReviewPro to all hotels, small and large. Having a marketing & PR campaign and not monitoring what is being said about your brand is like inviting journalists and critics to your play then not reading the newspapers.

You need the feedback to see how effective your strategy is and how well you and your staff are doing your work. Bad reviews on a small hotel are much more destructive than bad reviews on large hotels, it’s a numbers game. More people visit large hotels so we automatically take the odd negative review with a pinch of salt. Because small hotels offer a more personalised experience and are visited by less people we automatically take bad reviews more seriously. Receiving bad reviews every now and then is normal, we can’t please everyone no matter how careful and attentive we are, it’s how we deal with the negative reviews that matters. A negative review that is handled well can have the very opposite effect and leave a very positive image.

In your view, what do you see as the biggest opportunities in social media right now?

The biggest opportunities are in better serving your costumers through social media.

We were able to provide room service via Twitter through one of our accounts and that opened our eyes to how much could be done via social media in terms of guest services. I would like to see more hotels providing concierge services via Twitter and Facebook 24/7 soon.

Google Plus hasn’t been given a lot of credit by the hospitality industry and it could become a major channel for hotels. You could invite friends and family to join you whilst you are having dinner in your hotel room, they could all be hanging out in the hotel room’s TV screen. Hotels could use hangouts to target specific groups of people according to their age and interests and broadcast global events or make live video posts from the hotels – great for raising awareness.

Thanks, Renata!

ReviewPro enables hoteliers to increase guest satisfaction and online revenue by more effectively managing their online reputation and presence in leading social media sites. After rapid growth in the European market, the company has expanded internationally and quickly grown its client roster to thousands of hotels in 70 countries. To learn more, request a demo now.

You may also enjoy this case study: How the 15-suite ABaC Hotel improves service and guest satisfaction with ReviewPro

[Photo credits: ABaC Hotel and Heather Cowper]

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