Emotion-Driven Messaging and Other Priorities for Hotel CMOs

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As part of Road to Recovery 2020, HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for hospitality chief marketing officers in partnership with Clairvoyix and Google on Sept 30.

Roundtable participants choose the topics that they wanted to focus on; participating companies included Aqua-Aston Hospitality; Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Extended Stay Hotels; Outrigger Hotel & Resorts; Preferred Hotels & Resorts; Radisson Hotel Group; RLH Corp; Sonesta; and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Here are key takeaways from the group’s discussion:


Marketing professionals have been debating how best to focus their messaging throughout the pandemic as their strategies have evolved. One roundtable participant said that at this point, her company is seeing the best results from messaging that comes from the heart instead of focusing on logistics.

“What’s resonating with guests right now is the aspects that are more emotional,” the participant said. “They want to see the commitment of our staff and concern for guests. They want to know that we will take care of them when they stay with us. Earlier on it was convincing people that they would be safe, but over recent weeks, we are seeing higher impact from the more emotional angles.”

Another participant said that the pandemic has resulted in more experimental messaging because of the many unknowns involved. “We’re trying to home in on groups that we don’t necessarily have a lot of data on,” the participant said. “We’re looking more at where people are from a mental state, or people who have kids at home, or business travelers who can’t travel.”


As companies continue to cut positions for budgetary reasons, human resources are still limited, which is a concern. “You have to have more of a generalist in any position, who can hold things down until recovery happens,” one participant said. “We have to be very selective and strategic going forward.”

Another participant said that because the pandemic has changed everyone’s job so much, marketing has become more crucial to other teams, such as sales. “In the absence of going out and selling, those teams have to rely on the support of marketers to provide other assets such as virtual materials,” the participant said. “There’s a need for big thinkers in each discipline who can connect across the organizations to leverage opportunities.”

Several participants questioned what to do if an organization needs support from a certain discipline but can’t afford to hire someone full-time. “We need to create support services to support a hotelier’s talent pool,” one participant said. “Someone may not be able afford a full-time marketing director, [but] they may be able to afford 25 percent of one. We need to address this in a realistic way.”

“There’s a lot of talent on the street and a great opportunity to create firms that address all of those issues,” another participant said. “Smart entities will recognize this as an opportunity.”


One of the biggest struggles that many hoteliers are facing is how to keep employees motivated during a time when jobs and salaries are being cut and recovery feels like a long way off. One roundtable participant said that her company is focusing especially on social responsibility, which has helped employee morale by making them feel like they are a part of something bigger.

“We’ve really ramped up on corporate social responsibility,” the participant said. “We’ve gotten heavily involved in facilitating voter registration. We’re given all employees paid time off to vote. I see a real-time impact on engagement and a more motivated workforce because we’ve amped up our efforts to make everyone feel connected to something bigger than themselves.”

Another participant said that she has seen a company that was forced to cut salaries motivate employees by giving them a revenue share for business brought in over a certain threshold. “With all the other increases that stopped and incentives based on goals that don’t exist anymore, I thought this was a very thoughtful approach,” the participant said.

Another participant said that the pandemic creates an opportunity for employees to expand their roles, which can be good for morale. “They are seeing growth, and when they see growth, they are more engaged,” the participant said. “We have a period to keep our most valuable employees engaged and give them the opportunity to expand their skillset. Announcing promotions internally shows that we still are committed to recognizing and rewarding talent.”

(Read takeaways from HSMAI’s previous CMO virtual Executive Roundtables, held on March 31 and June 25, here, here, and here.)

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Categories: Marketing
Insight Type: Articles