Once, hotel marketing teams saw the promotion of key talking points and new offerings as the selling point, which were evenly distributed among an array of platforms including events, print and social media.
The COVID pandemic has further skewed the use of social media to promote a hotel’s marketing strategies. The travel and hospitality industries are highly visual-driven. Most travellers now use online and social media content to find inspiration about destinations they want to travel to and plan every aspect of their travel.
Recently, STR and Tourism Economics made a special forecast, which predicted a significant decline across demand, occupancy, ADR, and revenue per available room (RevPAR in 2020. However, the market is expected to recover in the latter part of the year or early next year.
Given the forecast, hoteliers across the globe are implementing short-term cost-saving measures to keep their businesses afloat. They have also begun to re-evaluate and refocus their marketing communication and strategies to garner guest confidence and recover business.
We spoke to some of the leading lights from the industry to better understand how COVID has influenced their marketing communication and what strategies they are adopting to navigate through these tough times.
Why Social Media is an important Marketing Tool
Key trends, as noted by Datareportal in their ‘Digital 2020 July Global Statshot’ report, produced in partnership with We Are Social and Hootsuite, revealed:
• More than half of the world now uses social media.
• 4.57 billion people around the world use the internet. Of those, 346 million new users have come online within the last 12 months.
• 5.15 billion are unique mobile users.
• Many digital habits formed during the lockdown have endured, despite the easing of restrictions.
• Instagram has reached a big new audience milestone.
• Search behaviour is evolving, with important implications for brands.
Digital marketing takes centre-stage
The past couple of months of the lockdown period have seen people increase the time spent on their mobile phones in a bid to consume digital content.
Datareportal recently released a report studying the key changes in the social media usage pattern during the COVID-19 lockdown phase. As per the report, being cooped up at home resulted in a monumental increase in online and digital activities.
GlobalWebIndex’s research also pointed to a similar trend. People are considerably spending more time using connected tech than they did in the first two months of 2020. Social media users are spending an average of two hours and 24 minutes per day, multi-networking across an average of eight social networks and messaging apps.
According to tech solution company Akamai’s research, the global internet traffic has reported a growth of as much as 30% this year. The above statistics are enough to justify the findings that digital, social and online content appeal to a large set of audiences.
Apurva Chamaria, Chief Revenue Officer, RateGain
“According to data provided by Expedia,” says Apurva Chamaria, the chief revenue officer of travel and hotel software company, RateGain, “in Asia, 55% millennials were basing their booking decisions on social media.” He believes this number will go up further as guests look at social media for details on property openings and understand safety measures.
As per BCV, a RateGain Company’s data quoted in Skift Research, 40% of social media users are already asking about property openings and 20% are interested to know about mask restrictions, clearly indicating that social media would be the first place a prospective guest would go to, to understand how their experience is likely to be.
Passion-oriented online activities
Given that travel businesses were shut owing to the imposition of a lockdown, most hotels have started rolling out passion-oriented content to keep the communication going.
“With more time on their hands, people have been exploring avenues to keep themselves active, pick up new interests or pursue old forgotten ones. And this is where brands like us have stepped in,” says Anand Ramadurai, Vice President – Marketing, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL).
— Taj Hotels (@TajHotels) April 14, 2020
All hotels under IHCL have shared several experiences through their social media channels. “We have shared exclusive recipes from our chefs that people can cook easily at home, wellness and yoga techniques from experts at Jiva Spa, and more. Such innovative initiatives have helped us keep our audience engaged and drive brand recall, despite guests being unable to travel and stay at our hotels,” he adds.
“In the initial lockdown phase,” says Kerrie Hannaford, VP – Commercial, Accor India and South Asia, “we initiated the ALL@HOME campaign through which we wanted our guests to continue living their passions in the comfort of their own homes. The unique digital experiences and content were brought together by Accor Live Limitless [ALL]. Our economy brand, ibis, curated online ibis Music gigs, taking ahead last year’s offline campaign to an online space. Some of our hotels conducted online classes around food, yoga and wellness. Our hotels forayed into food deliveries, takeaways, and some hotels launched innovative DIY kits. All of these were being showcased through online videos or live on our social media platforms.”
From sport to music, ALL is bringing exclusive experiences to you. Let’s look back at the activities that took place last week and join us on https://t.co/LMgSy4viAf for more! #StayHome #ALLatHome #ALLtogether #ALLmusic #ALLsport #ALLfood pic.twitter.com/kB93hlX0ib
— ALL – Accor Live Limitless (@All) May 4, 2020
Roseate Hotels & Resorts’ social media pages showcased several engaging online sessions. “Our social media had many live sessions with chefs demonstrating easy-to make recipes as well as some guests’ favourites from the menu, apart from rewarding contests to keep users engaged,” avers CEO Kush Kapoor.
In April 2020, Ascott launched its social media campaign #Stay-HomeWithAscott to rally the global community to curb the spread of COVID-19 by staying home. Ascott encouraged its online community to share photos or videos of their culinary adventures or creations in their home kitchens through Instagram while tagging them using the hashtag #StayHomeWithAscott.
“For each pledge, CHF promised to donate US$10. By 15 May 2020, we had crossed our target of 10,000 pledges on Instagram. CHF donated a total of US$200,000 to Save the Children campaign,” claims Vincent Miccolis, Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, The Ascott Limited.
As we crossed our target of 10,000 pledges earlier this week, here’s featuring a colourful spin to #StayHomeWithAscott, contributed by a group of young leaders in @CapitaLand‘s Graduate Development Programme. Thank you to everyone for the contributions! #Ascott #StayHomeWithCLTM pic.twitter.com/XVizMhgX1E
— The Ascott Limited (@Ascott_ltd) May 16, 2020
Marketing strategies to navigate through the crisis
While it is not ‘business as usual’, hotels are devising new strategies to set themselves up for speedy recovery. They are carving their business and marketing campaigns around the theme to convey new measures and initiatives, right from the lockdown to the Unlock-phase. From venturing into the food delivery space to offering workcation and staycation packages and announcing concessional offers to hosting virtual events, among others, hotels are ensuring they strike the right chord with audiences through their marketing pitch and campaigns.
“The lockdown translated into a decrease in hotel bookings and hence, room revenue. IHCL was agile and we launched Hospitality@Home in April—a contactless takeaway service that offered customers an opportunity to get their hands on curated gourmet and wellness hampers, besides, to set menus from select Taj hotels across cities,” says Ramadurai.
These services have steadily gained popularity and traction over the months across their digital channels. Moreover, with dining at restaurants still not accessible and the need for the highest standards of safety and hygiene, IHCL recognised a growing consumer demand for online gourmet food delivery. This led to the inception of a new tech platform.
“We recently launched Qmin—a repertoire of culinary experiences that bring signature dishes from the company’s iconic restaurants at guests’ fingertips, offering them an opportunity to enjoy Taj@Home. Guests can now order from iconic and celebrated restaurants across Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, with Qmin’s services to cover five other markets in India over the next couple of weeks,” added Ramadurai.
#Qmin brings you a variety of signature Quisine.
Order from your favourite restaurants.
Now delivering in Mumbai!
Call to order: 1800 266 7646
— Taj Hotels (@TajHotels) June 27, 2020
For the ease of use, IHCL has launched a Qmin mobile application, which is currently live in Mumbai and will roll out in nine other cities including Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai in the coming weeks. Another campaign gaining popularity among IHCL’s customers is of the 4D proposition—‘Dream, Drive, Discover and Delight’ travel. “This unique travel experience offers guests opportunities to embark on driving holidays with families and friends to discover, unwind, and be one with nature at our resorts and hotels across the country, and it is finding resonance with our customers,” states Ramadurai.
Delighted to announce the @QminApp has Arrived!
Savour signature dishes from our iconic restaurants in Mumbai now available on our app!
Google Play store: https://t.co/XprqTQPYdx
App store: https://t.co/SpCiL8MwXW pic.twitter.com/Tr3qMgMztf
— Taj Hotels (@TajHotels) July 25, 2020
Similarly, IHCL’s Urban Getaways proposition provides consumers who wish to take a break, an opportunity to enjoy a mini-vacation within the safety and comfort of their resident city. The company is connecting with consumers through their channels— website, social media and direct marketing.
Take a relaxing break from the new routine, enjoy a luxurious Staycation in your own city,
Check in to a home, not too far away from home, for a mini-vacation with irresistible perks.
— Taj Hotels (@TajHotels) July 13, 2020
The pioneers of ‘Responsible and Sustainable’ luxury hospitality, ITC Hotels have amped up their digital marketing initiatives. Through their Food for Thought’ series, the chefs at ITC Hotels introduced some immunity-boosting recipes. The series was launched on their social media platforms and WelcomZest Epicurean (ITC’s gourmet website), where guests can access these recipes.
Virtual Dinner was an interesting initiative launched by ITC hotels in Mumbai. “The idea was to keep guests engaged while the restaurants are closed to dine-in guests. To celebrate the recently launched responsible dining initiative, Gourmet Couch, the chefs and leadership team at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai, virtually led a group of guests who were regulars to their speciality restaurants,” states a spokesperson from the hotel.
A three-course meal hamper of Gourmet Couch was delivered to the homes of those who signed on and they were instructed to reheat the food using a heating manual. Once diners logged in, chefs demonstrated a few dishes from the menu at a live cooking demo. There were a total of 12 participants on the call, including the hotel team.
Accor’s marketing strategy during the lockdown revolved around communicating every single step they took. “Since most of the hotels were shut, it was imperative to keep the conversation on with guests and create experiences for them,” says Kerrie Hannaford, VP – Commercial, Accor India and South Asia.
Even in the Unlock phase, the hotels under Accor have ensured they give out every minute detail in a transparent manner. “We are providing various offers and discounts, starting from our friends and family offer for our healthcare professionals, to ‘Holiday Plus’ Vouchers for our Accor Plus members. As part of our ‘Let Us Take Care of You’ campaign, we are providing offers to promote domestic, staycation and weekend travel.
In its DIY kits, Accor hotels are dishing out unique difficult-to-source ingredients. “Guests can hone their culinary skills at home using these kits. Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity, Grand Mercure Bangalore, Novotel & ibis Bangalore Outer Ring Road, and Koox at Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road are sending out innovative DIY kits.” Hannaford informed that hotels providing F&B services have received tremendous response in these uncertain times.
Kush Kapoor,CEO, Roseate Hotels & Resorts
Roseate Hotels & Resorts have introduced innovative user experiences. “We have been hosting FB and IG live sessions with a focus on wellness and culinary experiences, given there was higher traffic on our pages. We also created video content, with the highest views and engagement for our “Care by Roseate’’ programme. We have been running multiple contests across our hotel pages that have fared well since our users have a strong connect with the brand and are keen to explore more,” says Kapoor.
According to Kapoor, the campaign received the highest engagement due to increased focus on the highest level of safety standards. Other campaigns that garnered rave reviews for Roseate included online takeaway menus from their restaurants such as Chi Ni, Kheer, DEL, Kiyan and Roasted by Roseate.
The ‘Mithai by Roseate’ campaign focused on immunity-boosting ladoos and sugar-free sweets, resulting in high sales.
“The ‘Mithai by Roseate’ offering, with immunity booster ladoos and health-conscious sweets, has been grabbing attention and resulting in the high number of a sales order. We are actively promoting these campaigns on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube platform,” states Kapoor.
Vincent Miccolis, Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, The Ascott Limited.
Despite the lockdown, Ascott properties in India remained operational, effectively communicating every step they have taken to stay safe. “While travel was on pause, we used social media to showcase our ongoing guest service activities; how we were supporting our staff on the frontlines; easy recipes and fun activities. We used social media to update our followers on hygiene measures and sanitisation practices we were implementing at the properties,” says Regional General Manager – Middle East, Africa, Turkey & India, Vincent Miccolis.
To keep communications relevant and transparent amid COVID crisis, the team at Ascott has thoroughly planned their marketing strategies in three phases. The first phase involved communication while travel was on pause, second as the lockdown eased and domestic travel resumed, and the third phase—as international travel resumes and life returns to normalcy.
In addition to the #StayHome- WithAscott CSR campaign, Ascott launched a slew of offers and initiatives in India to garner customer confidence. The #AscottCOVID19Heroes Facebook campaign featured staff from various departments, along with a quote on what motivates them to continue serving on the frontlines even during the pandemic. It was widely appreciated as it helped the brand to humanize and showcase the frontline staff, who are taking care of long-stay guests and are contributing to keeping the properties operational.
Upon easing of the lockdown and resumption of domestic travel, Ascott began featuring special packages and exclusive offers. Special packages were also created for healthcare workers, wedding groups, those travelling to Chennai for medical purposes, and professionals who are looking for a comfortable space to live and work remotely.
To target FITs and other target audiences who are resuming travel, Ascott also launched an advance purchase promotion. This will allow customers to plan their future stays at the property with attractive rates and flexible booking terms when they book directly. “Through the Ascott Star Rewards programme,” says Miccolis, “we are offering bonus points to reward customers for planning their stay with us. Additionally, for reservations made before 20 April 2020, when guests had to cancel due to travel restrictions, we have updated our policy to allow refunds in Ascott Star Rewards (ASR) points.” What’s more, members will be awarded a 20% bonus on top of the reservation value in ASR points for their refund, bringing them more flexibility and options for future stays.
Shatabdi Dutta, Senior Marketing Manager, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts
Sarovar Hotels & Resorts have based their marketing campaigns on two criteria i.e guest’s safety and offering value-for-money through services. Shatabdi Dutta, Senior Marketing Manager, Sarovar Hotels and Resorts highlighted that they are continuously updating their sanitization and hygiene protocols under a campaign ‘Thinking of you and caring for you’. The initiative assures guests a worry-free stay at all Sarovar Hotels.
“Our VFM offers include lucrative deals and discounts with flexible validity. Also, we are offering experiential offers such as #Carcation. The campaign promotes packages that are tailor-made so that guests can feel free to drive down to one of our properties for relaxed carcations. Through our social media campaigns, we have emphasized the visuals and the experiences they can enjoy in the resorts,” adds Dutta.
Another campaign, ‘Leave your worry and wallet at home’, offers guests all-inclusive deals, including complimentary hotel transfers, meals and a lot more. Through the ‘Break from Home’ campaign, Sarovar Hotels are promoting a flat 25% discount on the best available room rate. The offer includes meals, among other facilities.
“We have exclusive wedding packages for intimate weddings that start at Rs. 125,000 all-inclusive. We are connecting with our guests through various blogs, social media channels, brand website and other online travel agents,” avers Dutta.
Hotels will have to be highly efficient with marketing campaigns and spend at a time when businesses are hitting rock bottom. Earlier assumptions of ROIs will no longer be relevant since consumer behaviour has changed.
IHCL is targeting highly segmented sets of the audience instead of addressing the mass as an entirety. “Certain geographies that are seeing better traction are in immediate focus. Similarly, consumer trends such as driving holidays have to be picked up on for marketing campaigns. From partners such as Google, we get insights into search trends and destinations that consumers are looking at. These help us sharpen our communication and optimize our campaigns,” says Ramadurai.
Ascott properties in India are making a conscious effort to carve cost-effective campaigns. “We will be reducing our budgets on ATL advertising activities and optimize our Search Engine Marketing campaigns and social media activities. We are investing in marketing tools that will make us self sufficient by helping us in our day-to-day tasks as we adapt to business practices to the post- COVID19 era,” states Miccolis.
Social media has emerged as the biggest platform for hotels to reach out to their clients, rope in new ones and create an atmosphere of confidence.