Hotel Marketing Challenges

Winters can be rough for tourism on the Olympic peninsula. Seattlites tend to shy away when the days get shorter. They stay out of the rain or head to the Cascade mountains to hit the slopes. When one tourist on TripAdvisor asked about visiting the peninsula in January, a reply cautioned that this time of year, “especially November and December, can be intimidatingly dark and rainy.”

“Vacation rentals would love your business this time of year,” the answer said.

Further, some high roads in the Olympics are closed, cutting off some of the peninsula’s best sights.

“It’s depressingly wet,” said one tourist we met while sloshing through the Hoh rainforest in the fall.

Indeed, few make their way across the peninsula after the summer high season. Small hotel managers and owners are left to wonder how they can continue to enchant weekenders from Seattle.

Hotel Marketing: Keeping the Lights on with Groupon

Robin Hood Village Resort was one such scenic spot with 16 unique cottages built by The Adventures of Robin Hood (the 1938 Errol Flynn movie) set designer Don Beckman. And while Beckman knew bald eagles, orcas, and stunning sea caves were just as wonderful in the winter, he was unable to book rooms consistently. The current owner knew marketing the hotel was the key. He wisely engaged with digital marketing giants like Groupon and Little Hotelier. Like many small business owners, he put his faith in Groupon — a group-buy coupon site that promises low prices because a large number of purchasers must participate in each deal. Ideally, the site means an influx of customers for hotels, many of whom will become fans and return after their Groupon stay is over.

In reality, criticism abounds that Groupon sucks the value from great getaways and strains small hotelier budgets to breaking. On the other hand, Little Hotelier allows independent hotels to sell their own rooms, but it does not necessarily drive people to the property like Groupon does.

Groupon Keeps Businesses Fragile

Robin Hood Village Resort hoped increased exposure from Groupon would mean more bookings. Yet the site had strict requirements, forcing Robin Hood to discount rooms 50% and turn over another 28% to Groupon. While the increase in occupancy helped revenue, gross profits tumbled from $150 to $70 per room. Groupon encourages new people to try things they wouldn’t otherwise try. This has made it appealing for small hotels like Robin Hood Village Resort in the dreary winter months. However, Groupon users filled up the cabins on weekends.

Content Marketing for Hotels

When the existing ownership couldn’t increase profits using Groupon, they realized they needed not just exposure but increased leads and profit. Saffron Key, a Seattle marketing agency took over content marketing. They simply wanted to book more of their own reservations at the full price, instead of the twice-discounted Groupon price.

At first, the battle for more traffic seemed futile. When searching for Robin Hood Village Resort, would-be vacationers saw Groupon’s ads and site first. They booked with Groupon, lowering the hotel margin significantly. This meant more Groupon bookings but fewer regular bookings, lowering profits even more.

To end the addiction and keep or increase bookings, Saffron Key founder Ben Weagraff deployed content marketing. This approach focuses on getting seen, known, and loved. Ultimately, it lets hotels build a loyal following of real fans. Both the ownership and Saffron Key knew this approach would take some time, but it would pay dividends in the end.

“We looked at what people were searching and reverse engineered the website to give them what they wanted,” Weagraff said.

That meant using what Weagraff calls “content marketing as a service” (CMaaS) – a digital strategy for small business owners to grow visitors online and through social media at the same time by publishing lots of content that both Google and customers want.

Making Content Changes Boosts Search and Social Media Traffic

First, the Robin Hood website got a facelift. “Weekend romance packages” had to go. It was replaced with “romantic getaways” – a more search engine friendly term. This simple tweak added several hundred new website visitors each week. Seattlites are very likely to search the term “Romantic Getaway”, but not “Romance Package.”

Other content additions followed. “Kayaking Hood Canal” and “Hiking Hood Canal” articles showed potential guests how to enjoy the peninsula in the winter. The cabins started getting traffic from city folk who may not have otherwise considered Hood canal. The hyper-local approach and emphasis on content marketing for the hotel worked. Several other hundred web visitors followed each week.

While website traffic normally drops off in the winter 60%, this year it has only been 20% lower and is rising every week.

Social media channels were added and the new articles were used to increase followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Social referral traffic the first week in September was 406. By the “low” season the week of January 2, traffic from social had jumped to 983 social media interactions per week.

Website conversion changed as well. In September, it was .74%. When Robin Hood Village Resort pulled the plug on Groupon, site conversion was 2.52%.

Digital Marketing Results for Hotels

Thus, Saffron Key had added over a thousand new website visitors each week. These visitors were buying a room directly from the site 3% of the time. This translated into an additional 30 full-price transactions per week within 4 months. Thus, the decision to shut off Groupon was an easy one and it happened faster than Saffron Key and Robin Hood Village Resort expected. In addition, these transactions were on average $170/night instead of $72/night. In the hotel industry, that’s all profit. This translates into several thousand dollars of recurring profit since engaging with Saffron Key and using Content Marketing as a Service. With a steady influx of tens of thousands of dollars each month, the company is considering expanding their offerings, upgrading their facilities, or looking to acquire other properties.

Building up a steady stream of web traffic and social media fans is not instant. But it’s also not hard, and can be replicated for small hotels everywhere trying to get better results for their marketing efforts. With content marketing as a service, Weagraff and his team were able to hone in on local keywords that meant all the traffic from local tourists went straight to the cabins. Adding social media followers added website traffic, too. It also captured search engine surfers interested in local adventures offered nearby.

Even when they were not ready to book, the new content helped them keep tabs on Robin Hood on social media until their next getaway.

“Local presence is the key to content strategy for local hotels”, says Weagraff.

With the content marketing as a service funnel, promotions, newsletters, and social engagement has led to running more effective campaigns anytime Robin Hood Village Resort wants – without the limits of the Groupon format.