How to succeed in digital marketing, one social share and app at a time

Gone are the days of mailers and email blasts. With a rising number of social-media channels—enough that you can now count on two hands—hotels are just beginning to realize the potential of digital marketing.

“We’re very fortunate to market a product that our customers love to share and is already visually rich to begin with—sun, sea and sand,” said Brett Warbrick, VP of brand marketing & partnerships at Unique Vacations, an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., the worldwide representative of Sandals Resorts.

This December, Sandals Resorts embarks on its fourth “12 Days of Sandals” campaign on Twitter and Instagram, asking users to answer questions about weddings and honeymoons. In 2015, 3,000 people entered the contest to win prizes like a three-night honeymoon, but it’s the social-media traction that was a hit: 11,817 hashtag mentions, a reach of 10.2 million and over 55 million impressions, reported Warbrick.

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“For an industry that thrives on the concept of hospitality, social media has really allowed us to have a voice and a touch point with the guest,” said Kevin Scholl, director of Red Roof Inn’s digital marketing.

Consider the "Red Roof Luvs Pets" Facebook page. It has 150,000 members that are frequent Red Roof guests traveling with pets. “We want our communities to feel like they’re a part of this journey. It can’t just be a single-sided conversation,” said Scholl. To that end, each social-media post is signed by a Red Roof employee, for complete transparency.

Red Roof also partnered with Disney in 2015 when it released “101 Dalmatians” on DVD. Guests uploading photos of their pets to a micro social-media site, using a campaign-specific hashtag, were entered into a drawing for a copy of the movie and free hotel nights. “It brings in an outside audience. We are not an ‘impulse-buy’ industry,” said Scholl. “But when they’re ready to book we are going to be top of mind.”

Easy Approach

The beauty of launching a digital campaign is that social-media users are doing all the heavy lifting by liking, sharing and posting. “Being active on social media gives us the power to listen and find out what our customers are thinking and feeling about their experiences with our brands and properties,” said Diana Plazas, VP of brand, marketing and digital for Caribbean & Latin America, Marriott International. “Nearly 5,000 guests have posted more than 8,000 posts from our 115 properties in the Caribbean and Latin America in the last seven days, reaching more than 26 million people online.”

That’s also what Commune Hotels & Resorts found when it launched a summertime campaign in June for its three brands: Thompson Hotels, Destination Hotels and Joie de Vivre Hotels. “Rather than just sharing an offer, we decided to create a theme,” explained Fiona Boyce, director of social media and brand content for Commune.

The campaign asked users to post photos of their summer on Instagram. Each brand had its own theme, such as “Slow down and savor summer” for Destination Hotels, and users added hashtags. The winner received four free hotel nights. Commune partnered with social-media influencers in cities where the properties were located. “It’s been fun to engage with our guests more than just pushing out content and marketing,” said Boyce.

Tapping "Influencers"

Other hotels have found influencers to be pivotal. In August, CasaMagna Marriott Cancun—one of the first resorts to work with video bloggers, winning several awards surrounding its 2012 “Viva La Vloggers” campaign—hosted a “Kidfluencers in Cancun” press trip designed to promote its new “Just the Two of Us” family-travel package. Four sets of “mom and me” influencers posted 50 photos on Instagram throughout the trip, resulting in four million impressions with the hashtag #casamagnakids.

“These digital influencers each have a strong, loyal and engaged following, so hosting them at our resort in exchange for social exposure was a way to tap into their social klout and plant the seed inspiring travel to our Cancun Marriott resorts,” said Christopher Calabrese, VP and GM at CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa.

Similarly, JW Marriott El Convento Cusco hosted a press trip in June that resulted in a YouTube video by vlogger Joshua Johnson called “Cusco for Seekers.” “This video…now becomes a powerful marketing tool that can be leveraged across any and all digital and social platforms with endless sharing potential,” said Clavel Garibay, director of sales and marketing at the hotel.

The power in images posted by hotel guests and potential customers hasn’t gone unnoticed. In October of 2015, Hyatt Regency debuted branded Snapchat (an app that creates self-destructing images and videos) filters for every day of the week. For example, Monday offered a “New Week, New Goals” theme while Wednesday brought the “Out of Office” hump-day camel image. The 90-day campaign ended in mid-January, with Friday and Sunday the most trafficked days.

W Hotels’ latest branded Snapchat filters were released this past summer. Partnering with artist Baron von Fancy, the three exclusive filters in honor of LGBT PRIDE featured playful sayings like “I Am What I Am” and “Love Won.” “The filters were applied to photo and video snaps 19,893 times during the month of June and viewed within snaps more than two million times,” said Suzanne Cohen, director of brand marketing for W Hotels Worldwide. Partnering with influential Snapchat users, such as the Human Rights Campaign, increased the energy. “Given the fun, disruptive nature of the platform, it is the perfect fit for us,” said Cohen.

Hotels can also turn to social media to quickly push out a philanthropic message, as Omni Hotels & Resorts did with its “Unite to Hunger” campaign in June. For each direct booking, Omni donates to a local hunger organization. Through Facebook and Instagram, 6.2 million people were reached and three million meals were donated by the end of August. “From a brand-DNA standpoint, we’re definitely a niche player (Omni has 60 properties in North America) and have to show why we’re different,” said Peter Strebel, Omni’s corporate director of marketing.