Wouldn’t it be nice if business was thriving year-round? Unfortunately, with seasonality and market conditions, most businesses witness an inevitable slow period. For hotels, the dreaded slow period is evident when there are many more room vacancies than occupancies. Although the slow period will differ from hotel to hotel and reasons may vary, nearly every hotel is affected by it at some point. If you review your hotel’s forecast for the year and identify times that occupancy is consistently low, you can carve out strategies to boost revenue and increase occupancy throughout that time of the year. In this blog, I will provide several targeted strategies for increasing occupancy during your hotel’s recurring need dates.
Create Targeted Hotel Need Date Strategies in Advance
The first step to success is advanced planning. When you anticipate need dates in advance, there is more time to develop effective strategies to drive room bookings during your need date periods. Whether you have been at the hotel for several years and are familiar with the hotel’s ebbs and flows of occupancy, or you have analyzed your hotel’s annual forecasting reports, you should be familiar with which weeks, weekends or even months your hotel tends to be slow each year. Now, look at some of the obvious need periods that are at least 60-90+ days out and bring your marketing team into the conversation to begin some market research! Below are some questions to consider as you begin researching the local area and market:
- Are there any local events happening during this need date period? Look on your local CVB’s website for an annual event calendar and search on Google for upcoming music festivals, state fairs, restaurant weeks, and parades. Compile a list of key events that cater to your hotel’s target demographic and determine which of those events fall within your need date period. How can your hotel leverage these events? Perhaps the hotel can offer a special deal specific to event-goers, such as a discounted rate. Simply have guests show their ticket stub or receipt from your chosen local event to receive the discounted rate. Since your guests most likely booked online in advance prior to attending the event, you can offer them a credit on the room upon checkout. Chances are your guests are visiting your city to explore local events, so encourage them to choose your hotel by offering an amazing deal. A local event partnership will not only encourage visitors to choose your hotel over your competitors, but it will also fill need date vacancies.
- Are there any popular attractions celebrating anniversaries or offering special exhibitions during this need date period? As you are compiling the above list of local events, note any special occasions or happenings that may offer unique marketing opportunities. For example, is the zoo is celebrating their 50th anniversary or is the museum bringing in a special Egyptian exhibit? If so, you can reach out to the attraction and inquire about becoming the “official hotel” of the attraction’s celebration. You will most likely have to pay for this type of sponsorship, but partnering with a popular attraction during a big celebration will get you a link on the attraction’s website as their “preferred hotel” or “official hotel”. As the “official hotel” of the special event, your hotel will also receive additional advertising exposure through collateral used to promote the celebration. While the website link and advertising exposure will be valuable, it is important to take it one step further and create something that will really drive potential guests to your hotel. For example, your hotel could offer free roundtrip transportation to the attraction or discounted tickets available for purchase at the hotel. Be sure to get ahead of the game and research these key anniversaries in advance, before competitors swoop in and grab the “official hotel” title.
- Do you have a lot of repeat or loyal guests? If so, create a “Refer a Friend” special offer during this need date period. Whether it is due to the excellent customer service and amenities at your hotel or your hotel’s proximity to a local attraction, your guests who visit multiple times are coming back for a reason. Develop a promotion that will encourage guests and their friends to want to stay with your hotel during a specific time period. Create a “Refer a Friend” promotion where previous guests can refer a new guest and receive a discounted rate on their next visit for doing so. The new guest will also receive a discounted rate during the specified period. Make sure to specify that blackout dates may apply, giving your hotel the flexibility to only offer the discounted rate during need periods. Creating a “Refer a Friend” need date strategy will encourage repeat guests and word-of-mouth referrals, which will ultimately fill rooms during your need date period.
Through first-hand experience, established connections within the area, and market research, your hotel will be able to maximize revenue by taking advantage of special local events, new exhibits, or important anniversaries and celebrations. Keep in mind that it is essential to plan ahead and give your entire team enough time to develop targeted strategies specific to the market and local area.
Effectively Market Your Hotel’s Need Date Strategies
Now that you’ve developed a targeted need date strategy to drive business during your slow period, it’s time to effectively market your hotel’s strategy to your intended audience. It’s important to utilize multiple online marketing channels, including: your hotel’s vanity website, PPC, social media, and email marketing to get as much visibility as possible.
- Use the real estate on your hotel’s vanity site. While brand sites have the same standard pages for all hotels within that brand family (dining, rooms & suites, amenities, etc.), vanity sites provide more flexibility for hotels to create landing pages with unique content. A landing page offers more opportunity for your hotel to target a niche audience by focusing on a certain topic specific to your hotel or local area. For example, if your hotel is pet-friendly and you receive a lot of questions on the topic, you may find it valuable to create a pet-friendly landing page on your vanity site that hosts all of the pertinent information, including: size restriction, fees, available amenities, and nearby parks. This pet-friendly landing page would ideally target a niche community – guests that bring their pets on vacation and actively search for pet-friendly accommodations. When a guest lands on the niche page that highlights the hotel as a pet-friendly property and serves as a one-stop shop for pet lovers, it will likely have a high-conversion rate. This same logic can be applied to your need date strategy. Create a unique landing page to market the hotel’s attractive offering, whether it’s the official hotel partnership or your new “Refer a Friend” program. Be sure to promote your new landing page on your website with a compelling banner on the homepage to increase visibility and reach more potential guests. The screenshot below shows a hotel using their vanity site’s prime real estate to maximize exposure for the unique gas card promotion. The large banner ad on the homepage points to a page containing more information, drawing the user further into the vanity site.
- Invest in a targeted pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, which will drive quality traffic to your new landing page, and will ultimately lead to bookings. A hotel PPC campaign allows you to get in front of online shoppers that are searching relevant queries and direct them to any destination on your website. You select the relevant keywords to target, and you can also narrow down the ad’s reach by factors, such as type of device (mobile, tablet, PC) or location (zip code, state, country). Since you only pay for the ads people click on, PPC is a very cost-effective yet targeted way to reach the right audience. It can take time for Google to index your new landing page and rank it high in the SERPs organically, but PPC ads will allow your new landing page to appear in top placement in Google’s results right away. Therefore, it’s highly beneficial to launch a targeted PPC campaign solely focused on the hotel’s new special deal for a need date period to drive quality traffic to the landing page immediately!
- Promote your need date strategy to your loyal following on social media. By posting on your hotel’s Facebook and Twitter pages you will be able to quickly reach your hotel’s followers, with the potential to reach many more people through likes, comments, and shares. The social media posts can announce your new local partnership or “Refer a Friend” program, or share important information on the specific need date strategy. The screenshot below displays a hotel utilizing social media to market a special package in order to direct interested followers to the hotel’s website to book their stay. Without spending any money to boost the post’s reach, this post organically reached 785 people that may not have known about the package otherwise.
If your hotel is looking to reach a larger audience, consider putting money towards boosting a specific post or creating Facebook ads. Facebook ads provide incredible targeting capabilities, allowing you to stretch your hotel’s budget and only reach your hotel’s desired audience. Through Facebook ads you are able to target people who live in a certain area or who have certain interests. So, if your hotel was a sponsor for the city’s Gay Pride festival, you could create Facebook ads proclaiming your hotel’s Pride partnership and target the ad to reach the LGBT community within 25 miles of your hotel. By utilizing Facebook posts, boosted posts, and advertising you will be able to market your need date strategy to a targeted audience that is more likely to convert.
- Increase exposure within a targeted audience through email marketing campaigns. For example, if your hotel is looking to promote your new “Refer a Friend” program you could create a visually captivating design with thorough copy describing the “Refer a Friend” incentive. Since the point of this need date strategy is to have returning guests refer their friends to stay at your hotel, consider using hotel pictures and guest testimonials to enhance your campaign. After you have created a visually appealing and informational email campaign, send it to your hotel’s email list. Since they have opted-in to your hotel’s emails, they should be eager to learn about deals and discounts. Make sure your email has a clear call-to-action, such as a “book this weekday rate by May 5” or “enter promo code X for 20% discount” so that recipients understand what you want them to do upon reading it. Email campaigns are the perfect way to get your new need date package directly in front of your loyal guests.
We know that slow periods are exhausting and often inevitable, but it’s important to look at your new need date period as an opportunity to get creative and explore new possibilities, local partnerships, and marketing strategies. If you are able to provide your hotel’s sales, marketing, and revenue teams with enough advanced notice about looming need periods, you will be able to research, develop, and implement effective and targeted strategies to increase occupancy during slow periods.