Hoteliers face hurdles in personalized marketing
Hoteliers face hurdles in personalized marketing
08 FEBRUARY 2019 8:54 AM

Sales and marketing experts in the hotel industry said hoteliers need to improve on delivering more personalized marketing messages to potential guests, but the industry remains a ways away from realizing true one-to-one marketing.

NEW YORK—One-to-one marketing is the idea that each consumer should receive messages and pitches that are specifically tailored to them and their desires and needs. And while digital marketing experts in the hotel industry say this is a standard they must reach, obstacles remain in making it a reality.

Speaking at the 2019 HSMAI Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable, Aimee Cheek, director of e-commerce for OTO Development, said online travel agencies are better equipped financially to invest in personalized marketing, and Dan Wacksman, SVP of integrated marketing for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, said OTAs do a better job “aggregating that kind of data.”

“They can target much more effectively,” he said.

Within the hotel industry, the big brands are in the best position to make progress in terms of personalized marketing, said Jay Hubbs, SVP of e-commerce for Remington Hotels, but that doesn’t mean owners and operators would necessarily benefit in the same way.

The defensible assets for personalization is certainly through apps,” he said. “I feel they could do a good job and be nimble with it. … But my confidence that they’d expose management companies (to that data) is low.”

He noted there are “definitely ways to do it, but (the brands) haven’t shown willingness to relinquish that data.”

GDPR and data
Another complicating factor is the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which puts strict parameters on the handling and use of consumer’s data.

So far, digital marketing experts have said the impacts from GDPR have been not as severe as some worried, though.

“It’s kind of Y2K-ish,” Wacksman said. “We jumped through all these hoops to get as compliant as we can, and I think we’ve got one person who reached out and asked to be removed (from our systems). And it was a U.S. citizen who the rules didn’t even apply to.”

Hubbs said his company has yet to receive any inquiries to their GDPR-specific email.

But Ryan Walker, VP of e-commerce and digital strategy for Dream Hotel Group, said his company has specifically scaled back marketing in the EU to avoid potentially running afoul of GDPR.

“Until we get a better opt-in process set up, we’ve just decided to limit email marketing to the U.S. for now,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a long-term rebuilding of our website platform, and we’re hoping to have better touchpoints for opt-in. We also want to have guests opt in at the point of check-in to have that on record. But right now we’re not actively marketing toward Europeans.”

Leaning on user-generated content
One path to high-ROI marketing has been user-generated content. Cheek said it has been “incredibly valuable and also insightful” in her experience.

“It’s insightful to see what people think of your property and capture those insights,” she said.

Wacksman said in many cases user-generated content is more effective, and significantly less expensive, than traditional marketing content.

“We’ve done tests displaying user-generated content as opposed to professionally shot content, and it tends to do better,” he said. “Now we go to our professional photographers and say ‘try to look more like an influencer.’”

Paolo Torchio, VP of e-commerce and digital for Two Roads Hospitality, said the two hang-ups with user-generated content are you have to be careful to do everything legally—because hotel companies don’t hold the copyright to it---and it can’t be overly curated.

“It loses its authenticity if you do too much filtering, so it can be a little risky,” he said. “You have to take the good with the bad.”

*Correction, 11 February 2019: This story has been updated to correct a misidentification in the photo's caption.

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