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WEEKLY AD

7 Tools for Marketing Your Hospitality Business

by Anne Nisbet, Staples® Contributing Writer

Ever feel like you’re standing alone on a mountaintop, shouting a message that nobody can hear? Save your voice. When it comes to marketing for hospitality, you should let your online and offline efforts do the work. Just be sure you have the following tools in your kit when marketing your hotel or other establishment.

1. Printed Marketing Materials

“Collateral” is the umbrella term for printed pieces like business cards, brochures and postcards that promote your property or service. Keep updated versions of these informational documents in a digital format for sharing electronically via emails, newsletters and your Web site.

Choose your materials based on your goals and budget. In a hotel or other lodging environment, if a full-color brochure is out of reach, try a fact sheet as a minimum must-have, preferably with high-quality photos and important information, suggests Patrick McFarlan, managing partner at Branded Lodging in Issaquah, WA. He suggests you include:

  • Number of rooms
  • Location and physical address
  • Web site and social media accounts
  • Phone
  • Dining facilities/meeting space
  • Brand statement (#1 wedding destination in Baltimore, for example)
  •  A testimonial or two, space permitting

Liz Young, owner of Culinary and City Tours in New York, Young creates handouts listing sites visited and neighborhood highlights for her tour business. She says customers find these particularly useful when returning to the area or as a souvenir. They also work as a referral when passed on to friends or family.

2. Web Site

When it comes to online, “if there’s only one thing you can do, do a Web site,” says McFarlan. It’s the best way to establish and support your brand, and start building equity with prospective patrons. Be sure to consider:

  • Look & Feel: Choose a template and high-quality photography that reflect your brand (deluxe, sporty, rustic), and keep your site up to date.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Organize your Web site and create content to maximize search results so prospective guests can find you easily online.
  • Analytics: Find out who’s visiting your Web site, for how long and what/when they buy. Use these analytics to learn more about your customer base, and update or upgrade your site.
  • Reservations & Database Management: Check with your hospitality trade group for easy-to-use add-ons or industry-specific software solutions that can help you do more business online.
  • Responsive Design: Make sure your site works just as beautifully on a laptop as a smartphone or tablet so it’s easy for prospective and return guests to engage with you online from any device.
  • Social Media Integration: Include links to your social media accounts and an email sign-up (see below).

3. Social Media

“There’s a huge need to talk to customers immediately,” says McFarlan. Often, people’s method of choice is social media — you just need to know which sites your customers use. Ask guests which channels they use when they make reservations or check in, or survey attendees at expos and events. The more you learn, the more benefits you’ll reap. For example Young researched her customers’ preferences and tracked the social media channels that drew the most business. “Facebook has been more valuable to our business,” she says. “The general profile of our customer is established and educated with disposable income. They’re less inclined to use Twitter.”

4. Events

Show off your venue so people can experience it firsthand. Gloria Kemer, owner of the Emerald Necklace Inn Bed & Breakfast in Cleveland, OH, plans one promotional event annually. Last year it was the 150th anniversary of the building housing her bed & breakfast. This year, she’s celebrating a local suffragette with a tour and tea with a historian. “Events like this get interest from media and remind locals that we’re here,” she says. Bonus: You can get photos and testimonials for use in your hotel marketing materials.

5. Promotional Items

Promotional products carry your message long after an event, overnight stay or tour. “In the spring, we get a lot of rain in New York,” says Young, “so we have logo umbrellas and ponchos for our guests to use while on walking tours.” She also provides logo shopping totes. This creates indelible marketing impact as participants promote the company while touring and back at home.

6. Email

Almost everyone has email, so it’s a great marketing channel. Rather than sending the same message to every recipient, reach specific groups with targeted messaging. “You can take a database with 10,000 entries and divide it into multiple market segments,” says McFarlan. As you gather email addresses, ask questions about specific interests, like wine tastings, shopping or local sports, as well as important dates like birthdays and anniversaries.

Email marketing can include:

  • Newsletters: Engage customers with photos and news — special events, attractions or tips from your staff and guests.  
  • Offers and Promotions: Fill rooms in the off-season with special rates, and offer mid-week or 2-for-1 deals or loyalty programs to entice guests.
  • Special Events: Invite customers to winemaker dinners, cooking classes and entertainment and specialty tours, or to celebrate their special events.
  • Surveys: What are your guests looking for? Targeted surveys can tell you what products and services your guests want.

7. Word of Mouth/Networking

Face-to-face marketing is a crucial marketing activity. Use LinkedIn to network online, but don’t forget to attend professional events in your industry and community. Carry business cards at all times. As the currency of networking even in today’s hyper-electronic world, the old-fashioned business card lives on as a quick way to exchange information. It’s a great way to raise awareness and secure reservations.

“Networking takes the most energy — meeting new people, attending events and developing relationships — but it’s the biggest source of leads we get,” says Stuart Butler, co-owner of Butler Seattle, a transportation and wine tour company in Seattle, WA. “People referring business to us know who we are and what we do. There’s conviction with a referral that goes beyond price. It’s all about service and value.” Ask guests directly for referrals and recommendations, or consider a referral program rewarding guests for bringing customers to you. Keep your eye on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, responding to positive comments with a thank-you or reward.

You can’t always be promoting your business — sometimes you have to be running it! But follow these hotel marketing trends, use the right tools and send the right message, and your marketing can do the talking for you.

Anne Nisbet has spent her career in the hospitality industry working for hotels, restaurants and caterers. She is the culinary director for the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, OR, where she lives and dreams of someday raising chickens and honeybees. You can find her on Google+.

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