By Stephanie Smith, founder and digital matriarch of Cogwheel Marketing
A new hotel opening or changing of flags has many moving parts. As an owner or manager overseeing this transition, you are likely wearing multiple hats. Here is a digital marketing timeline to ensure you are building your website presence and a healthy channel mix that reduces OTA dependency later down the road.
1 Year Prior to Opening: FOUNDATION
- Buy your preferred domain. Develop a one-page website or temporarily redirect to a page on your management company site. This should have contact info about sales and careers.
- Determine opening budget. Be sure to include extensive photo shoot, UNAP (URL, name, address, phone) consistency, and heavy paid marketing for the first three to six months of the new hotel opening. Participate in brand promotional add-ons if applicable for year one.
- Create a fact sheet. The sales team will need something that has stock photography, amenities, and proximity to local demand generators.
- Pencil in a photographer. If you are a branded hotel, ensure you meet brand standards in case they require certain companies to shoot and also specific images. For more photo shoot considerations, visit these hotel photography guidelines.
- Choose best systems. For an independent hotel, ensure there is proper alignment between your PMS, booking engine, channel manager, and website. Make sure respective systems can integrate with a CRM down the road. Your website vendor should be on top of latest search engine optimization trends, site speed, responsive design, booking engine integrations, and Google Analytics ecommerce/goal tracking.
- Develop voice for your brand. Who is your target audience? How will you fit into the comp set? What are your goals — for digital marketing and otherwise? Pull market statistics from your CVB to properly set expectations.
6 Months Prior to Opening: WEBSITE
- Define your unique selling propositions. Consider what is unique to your hotel and location against the comp set. Also, what is unique about your sub-brand — in terms of food and beverage, pet policies, in-room amenities, and so on? This is also location based, including how far your hotel is from specific demand generators. Instead of free hot breakfast, are there any signature items? How far and are you from a college or university, and are you the closest hotel to that place?
- Find niche keywords for your on-site search engine optimization. Each page should be dedicated to a different keyword. Start with niche keywords and expand into more competitive keywords later. Your meta descriptions should include unique selling propositions again. Integrate your keywords into on-page content and header/alt tags.
- Write extensive content. Ensure your homepage lists all your unique selling propositions. Supporting pages should be dedicated to amenities, rooms, offers, and the local area — at a minimum. Include keywords strategically placed throughout.
- Have a working phone number. You probably have your local number assigned but no front desk yet, so set this up to forward calls to your corporate office or someone’s cellphone.
- Create a social media presence. Keep it minimal. Start with Facebook and plan to grow into more platforms later. Aggressive posting isn’t needed at this time, but be sure to post construction pics, job fairs, and team training events.
3 Months Prior to Opening: RATES
- Ensure rates are live. Your rate strategy should be built, and rates should be selling on your website. Submit to get your interface set up with the larger OTAs — at least Expedia and Booking.com. Audit your content and imagery on these sites, filling out as much as you can.
- Build at least one local package. It should showcase your unique selling propositions, partnerships, or proximity to local demand generators. Leverage these to get exposure on your local CVB’s and chamber’s websites. And keep the fallback packages, like AAA, points, and advanced purchase.
- Activate local listings like TripAdvisor and Cvent.
- Check GDS strategy. Ensure major GDS channels are live and pushing AAA at a minimum.
2 Weeks Prior to Opening: EXPOSURE
- Write your press release. If you are a new hotel that is a flag change, the press release will need to show the full extent of the renovation. Later, you can submit this press to TripAdvisor to wipe old reviews.
- Execute online partnerships. Your sales team should be in full force. As they are creating relationships on the ground, they need to think about how to promote the hotel online and get listed on local sites. Not only will this drive referral traffic to your site, it will help with off-site search engine optimization.
- Tweak your paid marketing budget. Does your original budget align with hotel needs and the season during which you are opening? Finalize your UNAP partner to ensure your hotel is visible on all channels with correct URL, name, address, and phone number.
Day of Opening: TESTING AND LOCAL
- Ensure working phone number. It should be ringing to the front desk.
- Do test reservations. Test inventory selling for day-of on multiple channels, and do test reservations.
- Distribute your press release. Consider using a national distribution service, but also send to local avenues to distribute, such as your CVB and chamber.
- Communicate opening on social media. Post the new hotel opening on Facebook and any other social channels you have.
- Claim local listings. This includes Google My Business, Yelp, Bing, and Apple. There is usually a phone verification involved.
2 Weeks Post Opening: PAID MARKETING, GPS, AND PHOTO SHOOT
- Turn on paid marketing. Considerations are Google Adwords, metasearch, Groupon/flash sales, social media, Waze, eblasts, travel ads, retargeting, and banner ads. If you don’t have a database yet for email marketing (as most won’t), see if you can advertise in your CVB’s eblasts or enewsletters. Most states also have a tourism website where you can advertise.
- Submit the new location to maps sources. With new builds, sometimes GPS devices don’t recognize road extensions or even that a building physically exists. Check Apple Maps, Tele Atlas, Navteq, OpenStreetMap, and Waze. Google My Business should already be claimed at this point, but be sure to submit turn-by-turn direction changes if needed.
- Prep for photo shoot. Your photo shoot should be scheduled within 30 days of opening. Ensure your landscaping looks good and that you have extra staff scheduled around breakfast and reception times, if applicable.
- Gain access to all review channels. Make sure someone has access to respond to all reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, Expedia, Booking.com, and Yelp.
90 Days Post Opening: CLEAN UP
- Distribute new imagery to all channels. Ensure consistent image storytelling on your website, OTAs, local listings, and social media.
- Listen to front desk for guest complaints. Cross-reference sites to make sure amenities and directions are not vague or misstated.
- Check analytics and reporting. Look for increased organic search impressions and clicks on Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Check Google My Business statistics. Look at your channel mix for red flags on really low channels. Tweak strategies as needed.
- Plan for grand opening party. Time to celebrate and invite your favorite and potential clients for a party. Budget for food and entertainment. Showcase local vendors specific to your area. Design custom invites and play it up on social media.
The goal should be exposure sooner than later, with an integrated plan that spends money in the right areas until base business is acquired. Also, you want to ensure that a consistent story is being told across all channels to avoid guest confusion and higher conversions.
For more insights into digital marketing, check out HSMAI’s official study guide for the Certified Hospitality Digital Marketer (CHDM) certification — Hospitality Digital Marketing Essentials: A Field Guide for Navigating Today’s Digital Landscape.
Learn more about Stephanie Smith and Cogwheel Marketing here.