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As we march into a new season, it's time for us to spring into action.

I'm sorry - I couldn't resist...

Calendar puns aside, now the mercury's rising and the sun's out for longer, it's clear that spring's just over the horizon.  As the packed agenda of festivities begin to creep closer to us, it's time to give your hotel marketing strategy a bit of a spring clean.

Here are 5 tips to increase your hotel's bookings this Spring.

Rejuvenation and Rebirth

It might seem like a bit of a cliché, but Spring's all about rebirth and starting anew.  Maybe it's time you freshened up your website and email marketing templates.  I'm not suggesting you turn them all green and add daffodils just because it's Spring.  However, a new look might just renew the interest in your subscribers and social followers and encourage more people to book directly.

You could even use your rejuvenated image to tease some guest-generated content.  A simple: "What do you think of our new look?" campaign might stir your market into action.  It can generate traffic to your new website, and have them tweeting in response.

Remember your Mother, Patrick and the Bunny

With Spring comes a lot of exciting marketing opportunities.  Mother's Day and St Patrick's Day both happen in March.  You could use Mother's Day as an excuse to get people sat in your restaurant.  St Patrick's Day promotions involving Guinness and Jameson's whiskey might bring a few more people to the bar.  How about an Easter Egg hunt in April?

Not only are these good times to hold promotions, but they are also events searched for by your target market.  Make good use of your email marketing, website and social media to draw attention to your hotel over these important dates.

What's Going on in Town?

You're probably sick of me droning on about destination marketing.  It's sort of becoming my 'thing'.  So I'd better not let you down.

What's going on in town?  Is there a Spring festival happening?  Will there be flower shows, local parks and farms having fun days?  How's Spring enriching the area around you?  Working with the organisers of local events will increase your reach, and make you a central part of everything that is going on.

Perhaps you could offer a special discount for any frequenters of the local festivals and concerts that'll inevitably be springing (he he) up around your area.

Start Looking to Summer

On average, travellers book 34 days ahead of their stay.  A quick sum reveals you'll therefore be a month into Spring when people will be considering their Summer bookings.  It won't hurt to get a little bit ahead of the game.

This will really come in handy when you're getting closer to Summer, because finding time to do any marketing is more difficult once the kids are off school anyway.  Look at the many ways you can draw people into your hotel throughout the Summer and be ahead of the competition.

Keep an Eye on the Competition

As much as I would like to imagine that I'm a one-of-a-kind true original hotel guru, the chances are that other people have already looked at their calendar.  There will be some that began their marketing back in January, but that doesn't mean you have lost.  In many cases, it gives you some time to react.

Make good use of your PMS and OTAs to see what the competition is doing, and then devise a killer room rate to match.  As more and more people start to flock to your area, make sure your competitors don't price you out of the market.  Perhaps consider a fresh new offer if you find your nearest rival has a room rate that's difficult to match.

Wrapping Up

Spring to me is a dress rehearsal for Summer.  It's the time the party people start to slowly come out of hibernation and throw on a couple of village fetes.  It still presents many opportunities to march a few customers over your threshold.

What marketing techniques are you considering this Spring?

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The future of guest experience

You can be forgiven for acquainting the idea of "change" with the word "radical".  Often change is punctuated by a glitter cannon.  In software terms, innovation is celebrated, advertised, and delivered with a great big neon arrow.  Yet, when we think of innovation, we rarely think "hotels".

But that doesn't mean that hotels aren't evolving.  In fact, the guest experience is constantly being transformed.  Here are 3 things that subtly change the hotel experience.

The eco-friendly guest experience

You can say a lot about millennials.  You can (if you’re that way inclined) ridicule their dress, their music, and their outlook on life.  But there are two things that are important to remember:  they’re the future customer of every industry, and they tend to care a lot more about certain aspects of modern life – particularly when it comes to the environment.

Travelers are acutely aware of their carbon footprint.  Moreover, they're consuming products that openly offer the same values.  That includes the hotels they book.

Hotels that responsibly source recyclable goods, or make an obvious effort to conserve energy in rooms are making an impact.  Expect more air-conditioning units that turn off when you're absent from the room.  Don't be surprised by paperless hotels and downloadable restaurant menus.

The good news? An eco-friendly guest experience is desirable.  It's also cost effective.

The fully connected experience

It starts with those Wi-Fi-media-infused coffee machines.  You know the ones - they tell you the latest on Trump's wall whilst you’re waiting for your latte.  It's a small addition but its' an important one.  The guest experience is only augmented by more connectivity.

Some hotels are already using smart televisions to deliver special offers to their guests (whether they’re in their room or busting reps in the gym).  Now the hotels are wrapping their loving arms around the technological revolution, it will move in leaps and bounds from here.

I’m not suggesting toasters that play Radio 1.  But it stands to reason that we may see tablets installed on tables wherein you can place orders, or play Angry Birds.  Technology, in all industries, is becoming more prevalent.  Subtly, the hospitality industry is putting more and more of the guest experience online.

The "more personalisation, please" experience

It's becoming a buzzword isn't it?  Personalisation.  Somehow, the world is automating everything to the point that we only see a human when they’re running back from the bathroom.  Yet, we crave a more personalised experience.

PMS platforms are working hard to make sure that they’re offering a service that indulges the nuanced idiosyncrasies of their guests.  In the office, behind the singular receptionist, the PMS is humming and clicking.  Using the data that their system harvests, hotels are now working towards creating as many guest experiences as there are bookings.

Smart televisions provide rooms with engaging and targeted content aimed directly at the individual guest.  Expect more of this.  Expect recommendations rooted in the online experience and brought to life in your hotel experience.

Wrapping up

You’ll notice that there’s nothing radical above.  Hotels are already moving into the future. And there are no flying cars or AI driven androids.  That is the art of the guest experience; a hotel’s motivation and direction summed up in one word…

Seamless.

Nothing glamourous.  No glitter cannons.  These changes are drawing hotels into providing an experience that can't easily be separated into distinct clunky steps.  Just one fluid experience that relaxes the guest.

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We can write teaching-gran-to-suck-eggs articles about being customer focussed on repeat until they become white noise.  And it stands to reason; your hotel's warm and friendly experience will always be top priority.  However, you can't provide warmth or friendship if there's nobody booked in to experience it.

You're still running a business, after all... right?

Those doors need to swing open; heads need to hit pillows.  Your hotel may have a parade of loyal customers coming back to you every time they're in the area, but how often do they visit?  You still need a murderously good room rate strategy for your hotel.

Here are a few ideas to get as many guests as possible through your door.

Adopt Pyschological Pricing

This might just be the oldest trick in the book - but still one of the best.

We know there's no tangible difference between £99 and £100.  When you have time to weigh it all up and talk about it, there isn't a lot of value that can be found in the £1 you're losing.  But when people are comparing prices, £99 looks a lot cheaper.

In fact, it looks almost £10 cheaper!

Keep an eye on the competition

If your hotel's struggling to get people through the door, there's a good chance that it might be happening to other hotels in your area, and some of them may have tried to counteract the quiet period by creating low rate strategies.

It's always good to know what your competition are doing.

By using your PMS, researching OTAs, or by using social listening techniques on Twitter and Facebook, you can keep tabs on them.  If a competitor's basic room price is lower than yours, then combat it.  Can you lower your price to match?  Can you add something of value to your own room to capture the interest of potential guests?

Offer packages

Is your hotel just a building full of beds?  Does it have a restaurant in which you could add a set price for a meal? A free breakfast, perhaps?  If your hotel can add value to the customer's stay, then go ahead and create the ideal package for your guests.

Even if there's little extra you can offer, you can create great experiences by partnering with other businesses in the area.  Between you and the local golf course, for instance, can you work together and create a package with great value?  And what about local attractions and museums?

There's always opportunity to add value to your customers stay, whether you have extra facilities or not.

Implement a length of stay strategy

Is your hotel in a bustling city?  Is there a local festival or attraction happening?  Could it be that there is so much to do that it might just take more than one night to make the most of the trip?

A convincingly low price on multiple nights might just tempt your guests into elongating their visit.  Even if this sounds like you're losing money on the room, you may just make up for it at the bar and restaurant.

Wrapping up

For some hotels, standard room rates are as much a fixture of the hotel as that great big tree in the car park.  However, some things shouldn't be quite so immovable.  By using real-time data, and creating tantalising offers you could still drag people through the door.

Look at your pricing strategy often.  In fact, look at the OTAs and GDSs on a near daily basis to see what's happening in the market.  I am sure, with one of these strategies, you'll be filling your hotel in no time!

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A question for you: is your hotel the main reason for guests to be visiting your area?  Perhaps you have a spa and run relaxation weekends.  Maybe you host major events.  It would be nice to think that your venue is the epicentre of your guests' weekend, but for many, it's probably more a matter of convenience.

Sorry.

This is why destination marketing is important.

Outside the swooshing doors of your lobby lies a town or a city worth visiting, and to help you sell rooms, it makes sense to highlight this to potential guests.  Here are 3 reasons to make your surrounding area the focus of your marketing.

Destination marketing creates local partnerships

Your area probably contains a rich environment of activities and facilities.  Is there a local museum, or art gallery, that is open to the public?  For the more rural locations, perhaps there are local walks and parks that are worth traipsing around, or local produce that can only be bought from your area.  If that's the case, tell everyone and demonstrate the pride you have for your community!

On the face of it, this might seem like you're giving other businesses and attractions column inches for nothing.  However, by bringing the culture of your area into your doors, you're actually creating invaluable partnerships.  For instance, that venue down the road hosting the Sheryl Crow concert might have space for you on their website, and local suppliers might be inclined to recommend you in their own marketing materials.

Let your destination marketing strategy be the leader in a small community that strives to increase profitability, together.

Let PPC drive traffic to your website

It's always tricky looking for the right keywords for your search engine optimisation and Google advertising.  As a hotel, there's probably many search variations and keywords that you're already bidding for, but do you have a specific keyword group created with your local area in mind?

If you aren't using pay-per-click (PPC) as a channel, it's still worth considering doing so just for your local area, because someone's "booking a trip to Northampton" Google search might drive traffic to your website.  For whatever reason they're in your area, your facilities and comfortable beds might just be the thing they need to complete their visit.

As long as your landing page is relevant, and your website up-to-date, there's a higher chance they will convert.  Sure, on your website sits all of your promotions and those tempting photos of clean sheets and succulent breakfast muffins, but if you add some locality to your PPC strategy, destination marketing may bring a fair few additional guests through your doors.

Build relationships with your guests

Every hotel is always looking for that opportunity; to create a memorable moment perhaps, or to deepen the relationship with their guests.  A cynic might suggest that this is only for a cheeky upsell, while others will recognise that a memorable stay encourages loyalty.

By being knowledgable about your local area you'll build trust with your guests.  Recommending another business isn't sending someone to the competition -  it's building a rapport and demonstrating that you're more interested in their break.  So, don't be afraid to suggest they take lunch at a specific café; the guest response to a good suggestion for what to do while staying at your hotel could lead to greater loyalty with your brand - and that's a very good thing indeed.

Wrapping up

We would all like our business to be the focus of any marketing campaign - it's natural.  We're a competitive species that's territorially motivated and passionately protective of our businesses.  However, the reality is that for many people, your hotel is perfectly located for a good night's sleep, and  that location may just be the key to getting more people through your door.

So, what's going on in your area that we should know about?

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Increase your hotel revenue

Hotels are about the people.  The people booking in for a comfortable stay.  And, the people who work to make that stay memorable.  Moreover, it is the personal touches that are remembered.  Excellent and personable staff increase your hotel revenue with excellent salesmanship. And of course, by creating a desire to return to the hotel at a later date.

This is all well and good.  However, the world has become technologically driven, and it stands to reason that your hotel must cater for that.  Without a deeply-functional PMS, a hotel has its work cut out.  There are many ways that a PMS will increase your hotel revenue.  Let me walk you through the top 5.

1. Administering the customer experience

If there is a member of your team hugging a desk, shuffling papers, or performing some other thankless administrative task, then they represent a hole in your customer experience.  Nobody wants to be juggling bookings in a dark room, especially when they can make a difference out on the floor.

A PMS will free your staff up to interact with your guests.  By taking on the clerical elements of a hotelier, they create the opportunity for customer interaction and help you build connections in a way that carves out memorable moments for guests. It's these moments your guests will consider the next time they need to make a booking in your area.

Increase your hotel revenue

2. Increasing your hotel revenue online

If there is one place you want to be as a hotelier, it is online.  Whatever your geographical location, or additional facilities you offer, your guests are all the web.  To increase your hotel revenue, your PMS needs to be capable of managing your online presence.

Most hotel guests are in your area for a reason beyond staying in a nice room for the night.  They may be there to see Slipknot at your local concert venue, for instance, and those sweaty, tired rockers may not have been aware of your hotel.  That is, until they were online looking for a place to stay - and it will have been your PMS that will have lured them conveniently through your door.

3. Distribution Management

A PMS with a channel management function is hugely beneficial.  You can market yourself across all the OTAs and GDSs, as well as retail travel agents.

With such carnivorous competition in your market, creating partnerships in these channels is imperative.  It's important for survial, let alone increasing your hotel revenue.

It might be time to change your PMS if you are still manually updating the OTAs.

4. Transparent communication

Your PMS provides easy and clear communication between the various departments in your hotel.  With your hotel functioning efficiently, your hotel is able to save time and offer guests a more personalised experience.

Importantly, your PMS is able to bypass unnecessary kerfuffle.  Thus, you have the ability to craft moments for guests, because you will have built an environment for up-selling.  Remember - transparent communication enables you to respond to the whims and desires of your guests.

5. Profitable decision making

Revenue and rate management in a modern PMS uses existing data to help identify trends and create profitable, enticing rate plans.  With availability and competitor rates data available at your fingertips, you'll find yourself equipped and ready to react to the market.

With such information at your disposal, you can drive higher occupancy rates and implement a competitive room pricing strategy.  Manipulating this data and adjusting your rates accordingly will inevitably result in your hotel's revenue increasing - it's that simple.

Wrapping up

Yes, the hospitality industry is heavily influenced and manipulated by the human condition.  But without a PMS installed into your hotel, your resources will be stretched beyond their ability to create a personal customer experience.

If you are a hotel owner, we'd love to hear how you increase your hotel revenue with your PMS.  Comment below if you fancy sharing your best practices!

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In-room hotel entertainment used to be remarkably simple. A TV with access to terrestrial channels and pay-per-view movies was about as far as it stretched until tablets, streaming and a desire to link home devices to in-room tech began to emerge.

The Caterer recently published a round-up of what it expects to be the in-room entertainment of choice for hotel guests during 2019, and it caught our eye. If you haven’t read it yet or would like it summarising, we’ve done just that (you can thank us later).

“Casting” will be the new buzzword

If you’ve invested in a Google Chromecast for home entertainment purposes, you’ll be acutely aware of how wonderfully convenient it can be to beam video content from your smartphone or tablet to the TV.

If ‘Chromecast’ means nothing to you, think about the number of times you’ve found a YouTube video on your phone but have become frustrated by the small screen’s inability to immerse you in the content when you have a perfectly good (and big) TV sitting opposite you.

Devices like Google’s Chromecast enable users to transfer video content from a handheld device to the television, and with more hotel guests wanting to watch their Netflix accounts while staying away from home, offering them the ability to do that at your property could result in plenty of favourable reviews.

WiFi: as essential as hot water

Just as they’d expect running water from taps upon entering the bathroom, modern hotel guests expect WiFi to be available immediately and for free. What’s more, they won’t stand for a weak, slow connection - much like they wouldn’t stand for a lukewarm shower.

In the Caterer article, marketing manager of Airwave, James Grant, explains that “WiFi is at the bottom of it all”. He also points out that, beyond WiFi, guests are increasingly expecting the same level of tech comforts at hotels as they enjoy at home.

Thankfully, rather than a complete overhaul of your in-room systems, this might simply mean implementing stronger, free WiFi and the ability to ‘cast’ (see above) content from personal devices to the TVs you provide in each room.

Familiar EPGs

How many times have you checked into a hotel room only to be frustrated by the infinitely-confusing TV menu system? Imagine, instead, turning on the box to find the familiar sight of Sky’s EPG.

Bliss!

Sky Select is Sky’s centralised HD distribution system for hotels, and it’s starting to make its presence felt in rooms across the UK.

But that’s not all. Savvy hoteliers are beginning to use management software than enables TVs in public areas such as the bar to display special offers and hotel-specific advertising. Imagine being able to signal the start of happy hour during the half time of a big game!

Audio expectations

It’s not all about visual stimulation when it comes to the modern hotel guest. With more and more bringing colossal music collections on their smartphones thanks to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, the ability to play their favourite tracks on decent hotel room speakers will go down very well indeed.

Thankfully, speaker technology has accelerated to the point where a great sound can be produced from a particularly diminutive device, with some - such as Amazon’s Alexa - even incorporating speech recognition and digital assistant capabilities.

Wrapping up

Perhaps the best news about in-room tech expectations in 2019 is, as we’ve alluded to above, the fact that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune for the hotelier to implement.

Technology is reaching the point where services, hardware and software platforms that were once only available to those with deep pockets is now democratised. Guest expectations might be on the rise, but exceeding them won’t break the bank.

What in-room hotel tech are you most looking forward to implementing this year?

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The signs that you need to change your hotel’s property management system (PMS) aren’t always that obvious.

This is because the PMS is a tool which is deeply embedded within your operation, and even if it’s gradually falling apart by the seams, staff will probably accept its increasing number of foibles and assume that’s just how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future.

That’s just not good enough. And not on your team’s part, either; if your PMS is slowly dying or increasingly out of step with modern guest expectations, it’s no longer doing the job for which it was purchased.

Here’s five common but often hard to identify reasons that you need to change your PMS.

1. Your staff keep shouting at your current PMS

Why does it crash every time you click on the arrivals list? Why on earth do you have to keep doing that really complicated workaround just to place a deposit on a future booking?

If members of the team are continually shouting at the PMS or banging their fists on the table in frustration when it doesn’t act as it should, don’t assume it’s because they’re using it incorrectly or need training. While that might be the case, there could be something much worse at play.

Speak to the team and find out what it is that frustrates them the most about the PMS.

2. You’re still updating OTA sites manually (and you hate life because of it)

It’s the task on your daily to-do list that you’re always pushing to the bottom. It’s tiresome, laborious and nearly always results in you making mistakes because you just can’t be bothered.

In 2019 there’s absolutely no reason at all to update OTAs with rates and availability manually. Your PMS should connect directly to the likes of Booking.com and Expedia and do all of the hard work when it comes to ensuring every website knows how many rooms you have free and what your latest rates are. It should sort out the incoming bookings for you, too, thus removing any chance of the dreaded double booking.

If it doesn’t do any of this, you need to find a PMS with a brilliant channel manager.

3. Another guest has complained about the bottle of wine they didn’t drink

Not again!

How many times this week have guests complained about their room bill or queried certain items on it? And how often are those transactions related to the bar or restaurant?

Chances are, this is because you’re still manually transferring charges from the F&B side of the business to room accounts. Did you know there’s a much better way of doing this that pretty much eradicates human error?

A modern PMS should be able to connect to a host of POS systems. In doing so, it’ll enable bar staff to automatically post food and drink bills to room accounts. Some will even transfer across the POS sales data into your main PMS accounts reports!

Imagine that…

4. Very few guests bother to return

Tempting guests to return to your hotel isn’t easy, even if they had a brilliant stay with you the first time around.

In order to build great relationships with your customers that result in plenty of return bookings, you need to nurture them with email marketing and personalised guest correspondence.

Can your PMS send pre- and post-stay emails and SMS messages automatically? Are you able to export a list of customers that can then be imported into a modern email marketing tool?

If the answer is “no” to any of those questions, it’s time to get a new PMS - it’s that important.

5. Your competitors are wiping the floor with you

What gives? Your competitors’ room prices seem to flex more than yours and, as a result, they appear to know the secret sauce that draws in more guests.

Why can’t you do the same? And why do you never really know what level to set your room prices at?

Guess what - your competitors are probably using modern PMSs that enable them to flex rates strategically based on market conditions and work from actionable, insightful data about past performance.

Do you really want to be lagging behind because your system is no longer up to scratch?

Wrapping up

The best news? Property management systems no longer cost an arm and a leg. Well, some do, but choose the right one and you’ll pay a manageable monthly fee that enables every staff member to use the system no matter where they are or what device they have to hand.

Is it time you replaced your PMS?

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Hosted by TripTease in February, the Direct Booking Summit is the first event of its kind devoted to helping hoteliers increase the number of direct bookings they receive.

The fact direct booking now has its own summit is a clear indication of how big a challenge it is for hoteliers (particularly independents) to drive bookings through their own websites as opposed to the commission-based alternatives.

The good news? If you’re an independent hotelier, there are five things you can do in 2019 to maximise your direct bookings - and they’re easier than you might think!

1. A blatantly-obvious online booking button

We’ve offered this tip so many times in the past, but there’s no harm in reiterating it.

When you have a new website designed for your hotel, it’s easy to get lost in everything but the most important element - the call-to-action (CTA).

For a hotel, that’s the ‘book now’ button. If yours can’t be found immediately (i.e. without scrolling, or pinching to zoom on your phone [see tip 5]), you’re missing out on direct bookings - simple.

2. Nail the user experience

A beautiful website isn’t necessarily a functional website or one that’s a pleasure to use.

Given the visual nature of this industry, we’ve seen far too many hotel websites where there has been too much time spent on the design, leaving the user experience to chance.

You need beautiful, original imagery and video if you’re to engage potential guests, but you also need to make it easy for them to navigate. Here’s our user experience golden rules:

  • Make it easy to book (see tip 1)
  • Put all of the important information within the upper-third of each page
  • Create a simple, clear menu

That’s it. Easy, right?

3. Make security a priority

Understandably, there’s a lot of nervousness about data protection and cybercrime these days, and your hotel website needs to give its visitors the confidence to hang around.

You can do this by investing in a PCI-compliant online booking system for their credit card payments, and by ensuring that you have an ‘https’ security certificate for the website. The latter displays the little padlock icon in most browsers and is an industry-standard form of security.

These little things will add credibility to your brand and encourage people to hang around long enough to book.

4. Rate parity

If you’re advertising rates higher or lower on your website compared to the OTAs, you’ll be both breaking their rules and confusing guests.

Sound odd? Not really. Guests want transparent pricing, and finding multiple prices for the same room at the same hotel across multiple websites including your own doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Why are they different?

If you have price parity across all of your online channels, the choice of booking method for the guest will usually come down to whichever website they land on when they’re at the buying stage of the customer journey. If yours keeps them engaged and makes it easy to book, why would they head back to an OTA?

5. Mobile compatibility

Test your hotel website on your mobile phone.

Most of the people who visit your website will do so on their smartphone. And that means everything should auto-adjust to fit any screen size, while keeping that all important CTA (re-read tip 1!) front-and-centre.

Whats the experience like? Painful?

You’re missing out on direct bookings!

Wrapping up

You’ll never achieve 100% direct bookings for your hotel. If you do, we’d love to hear from you.

But you won’t - sorry.

That doesn’t matter, though, because by using our tips above, you’ll significantly increase the portion that originate from your own website and in turn establish a brand that people want to return to again and again.

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