Brand and Marketing Strategy for Independent Hotels

During the 10 years of my hotel marketing consultant experience, hoteliers often asked me about what is the best online marketing strategy.

To this question, I always respond:

  1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your hotel product
  2. Know who will like your hotel the most
  3. Create an attractive hotel product presentation
  4. Make it easy for your guest to find your hotel

This is a super simplified answer, but in essence, this is the formula to market anything. Be it a hotel, resort, bungalow, or luxury private island, the process is the same.

Why do independent hotels struggle with online marketing and brand development?

So if it’s so simple, why do so many hoteliers screw it up? Why there are so many hotels that need to charge well below market price to maintain occupancy? Why are there so many hotels out there that hardly get any bookings on their website? Meanwhile how come some other hotels become super famous overnight?

There are countless reasons for poor hotel marketing performance. In plain English, there are many ways to screw things up.

  • Most hotels do not have a digital marketing strategy at all
  • Other hotels have a digital marketing strategy but don’t follow it
  • Meanwhile, some other hotels diligently follow flawed strategies
  • Only a few hotels follow a really good marketing strategy

Before discussing what is a good hotel marketing strategy, let us take a moment to understand what is not a strategy.

Hotel marketing “strategies” that you should not take seriously

If you look up “hotel marketing strategy” in Google, you will find tons of articles from booking engine providers, hotel marketing consultants, and other hotel-specific software and technology vendors.

Many of these are worthless. Advice from these articles include generalized recommendations, like:

  • Post daily on Facebook
  • Content marketing is important
  • Have a nice hotel website
  • Advertise on social media 
  • Blah-blah

You get the idea. I am sure that you have read many of these. Now let’s get serious and talk about how to create your very own marketing strategy for your independent hotel.

1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your hotel product

Good products don’t need too much marketing. Meanwhile, not even the best marketing can sell a shit product.

Before getting started with crafting your hotel marketing strategy, the first thing to do is assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your hotel or resort. You want to be as realistic as possible. 400 palm trees or luxury door frames made of organic Swedish wood will not impress anyone. Start assessing and evaluating the hotel product from the perspective of your guests.

  • How many pools does your hotel have?
  • How big are those pools?
  • How large are your rooms, suites, or villas?
  • Do your hotel rooms have any extra features?
  • Is there anything special guests can do other than sleeping and eating?
  • Is the food you serve better than in nearby hotels? 
  • How does all this compares with competing hotel brands in your destination?

Evaluating your hotel or resort qualities needs to be a highly critical process, eliminating any wishful thinking or bias. The purpose of this exercise is to identify features that can be the basis of meaningful differentiation.

2. Know who will like your hotel the most

Once you are ready with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your hotel, it is time to understand what kins of guests will like it the most.

Quite a few hotel management teams we talked to said that they want to be attracting all types of guests. Families, groups, couples, and solo travelers. From a revenue perspective, the type of guest does not make a difference, and limiting marketing to certain groups of guests does not sound good. That is true, we can agree to that. This is how most hotel management teams think.

We cannot say that specialization is a viable strategy for every hotel. 

  • There are hotel brands that traditionally focus on business travelers, like Hilton, Hyatt, or Ritz-Carlton.
  • Other hotel brands and soft brands like Novotel or Best Western are focused on travelers on a budget.
  • Sandals Resorts is known to be a hotel brand dominating the Caribbean with all-inclusive resorts tailored for couples and honeymooners.

Independent hotels can choose to be “adults only”, a party-focused hotel for youth, a family-friendly hotel, or a wellness hotel – among many other options.

The main advantage of specialization to particular segments of your market is to attract that group more efficiently. Hotel specialization is a powerful demand generator, but on the other hand, it will reduce demand from other segments.

The most recognized international hotel brands, as well as landmark hotels all around the world are highly specialized ones. Think about the New York Ritz-Carlton, The Plaza managed by Fairmont. With nightly rates starting over $900, those hotels are known as places for wealthy individuals. This is how they maintain status and exclusivity – and this is what makes them unimaginable and iconic.

There are no set rules and best practices regarding how to pick a guest segment to specialize your hotel for. Depending on your hotel or resort concept, market characteristics, competitive set, and demand for the destination, the scope of specialization has to be determined on a case-to-case basis.

3. Create an attractive hotel product presentation

If you did the hotel product assessment right, and already have an idea about which groups of guests would like your hotel or resort the most, then it will be relatively easy to craft a winning product presentation.

Shit hotel marketing consultants will tell you that “all you need is good photos and videos”. This is obvious – but good for whom?

A hotel room picture that you like might not be attractive for a couple looking for a sexy getaway. A series of perfectly taken food photos showing pork and seafood dishes will alienate most Muslim and Jewish guests. Similarly, a video of guests drinking will not win the liking of guests who prefer peace and serenity for their relaxation. Showing your tiny pool as an attraction might make your hotel look stupid if other hotels nearby have bigger and better pools.

As you see, crafting a great product presentation that is attractive for most of your target guests requires a level of specialization.

Many hotels make the mistake of leaving the creative aspects of photography and videography to the commissioned artists. In an ideal situation, when the photographers arrive, you should already have specific ideas about what to capture and create. 

The emotional contexts, moods, stories, visuals – these should be all precisely defined before getting started with a hotel photoshoot.

Aside from photos, there are more elements to a successful hotel product presentation:

Emotional factors

Depending on your target guests, giving an emotional charge to your hotel product presentation will make it a lot more attractive and relatable. Show romantic moments for couple-focused resorts, show the ease of work and comfort in the case of business hotels, or express peacefulness and mindfulness for hotels that are about total relaxation.

Storytelling

Regardless of cultural preferences, people love stories. Stories are engaging – an excellent tool to get the attention of your potential guests. Stories allow people to connect with your brand, to learn something interesting. This will ultimately result in a stronger connection between your guests and your hotel brand.

Differentiation

Product presentation should be the manifestation of all the aspects your hotel differs from the competition. Do not leave too much for the guests’ imagination. Be bold and showcase all the unique features your hotel has.

Present facts

To make your hotel product presentation more authentic and informative, using facts is highly recommended. There are situations where every hotel should include accurate facts – such as the size of rooms or distance from important locations.

Other than these, supporting your marketing claims with facts is always a nice touch that makes a hotel product presentation credible and attractive to guests.

Show results 

What results a hotel brand could show to win the trust and liking of potential guests? 

  • Awards
  • Reviews
  • Celebrity stays
  • Mentions in reputable media
  • The hotel was used as a location for filming

4. Make it easy for your guest to find your hotel

Having a great product presentation with an optimal amount of differentiation is already a great success. Now it is time to let people know about your hotel – preferably people would love to stay there and experience all the service and features your hotel has to offer.

There are two main approaches to hotel digital marketing:

  • Let your guests find your hotel (inbound marketing)
  • You find your potential guests who will book (advertising)

Inbound marketing for hotels

Enabling your guest to find your hotels easily requires a strong online presence on OTAs such as Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda, and all the other hotel booking portals.

In search engines like Google, Bing & Yahoo, your hotel brand needs strong SEO optimization to show up for brand keywords and related searches. This requires consistent content marketing, regular press releases, and targeted online PR efforts.

Hotel online advertising

To reach potential travelers online and attract them to become your hotel guests needs advertising. Online advertising is an important part of any hotel marketing strategy. 

Besides driving revenue, it has superb brand-building potential, as your hotel brand will be exposed to large amounts of people during the process.

Most hotels use Google Ads for search engine advertising, YouTube for video content ads, and Facebook Ads to be present on Facebook & Instagram. Recently TikTok is gaining popularity among hotel marketers. 

It is important to understand that advertising on its own is not marketing. It’s advertising only.

Conclusion

Each hotel’s marketing strategy is unique. We cannot generalize and use one-size-fits-all solutions. To create a successful brand and marketing strategy, you need to do the below four steps right.

  1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your hotel product
  2. Know who will like your hotel the most
  3. Create an attractive hotel product presentation
  4. Make it easy for your guest to find your hotel

There are millions of details, tricks, and optimization opportunities to make a hotel strategy work, marketing planning and activities and priorities should follow these.