Messaging through smartphones is often considered the most direct way to engage with hotel guests before, during and after their stay.
So it may be surprising to hear that email, a much older marketing staple, is just as ubiquitous:
Leading marketing executives continue to see the value of email—45 percent of marketing leaders in a new Gartner survey plan to increase their email marketing budgets in 2017. (The full report, “Assess the Impact of Four Key Trends in Email Marketing,” is available to Gartner clients.)
Independent, boutique hotels should take note: You have an opportunity to use guest data to personalize engaging emails to great effect.
We spoke with Kath Pay, founder and senior consultant at Holistic Email Marketing, to answer a few common questions about exactly how to leverage any data you have to boost direct bookings, additional sales and customer loyalty.
Why Is Email Marketing Still Valuable for Hotels?
Email marketing, alongside direct messaging and social media management, should be a major part of your customer engagement toolbox. Here are two compelling reasons:
People are much more likely to provide their email addresses. Think about anytime you’ve been at a store checkout and refused to give up your phone number. Why is that?
Probably because you’re worried Walgreens will jam up your already packed text message inbox, ironically, with deals on Smucker’s.
Emails are less invasive and can be collected with less resistance than phone numbers. By using email, you may have more success kickstarting the customer relationship with potential guests.
Email serves as a strong engagement channel, especially for return customers. Once a customer books a stay, you should begin to reach out with messaging that matches their expectations for the trip. This helps build loyalty, and can lead to increased sales in the process.
“[Immediately after they book] you’ve got an engaged guest. Everything you do here should be customer service oriented—a transaction has taken place and now you’ll want to build upon the experience you promised them.”
Kath Pay, Founder and Senior Consultant at Holistic Email Marketing
Pay says it’s important to send a strategic number of emails post-booking—if they book a week from their arrival, you may only have time to send one well-crafted email. If they booked a month or more out, Pay suggests a minimum of three automated emails leading up to the trip.
But what should go into those messages? And how can you leverage guest data to personalize them?
How Can I Use Guest Data to Personalize Hotel Email Marketing?
Great question, and one that depends on the data you have. Even for smaller hotels, Pay says there are various sources to find data that allows you to effectively segment your audience.
1. Informed Data Helps Segment Travelers Into Large Buckets
Unless your property opened yesterday, you likely have loads of data from past guests you can use to identify important segments:
- Demographics: Sex and age
- Contact information: Email and physical address, phone number
Alone, this data can be used to spot trends about ratio of male-to-female guests as well as which regions guests tend to come from:
Let’s say this chart represents your informed data:
- You see that your biggest group of guests, by the numbers, are females from Louisiana.
- You decide to personalize your marketing emails sent to that group of past guests—while men and women generally want the same things, you can include discounts on spa services or other wellness offers, like healthy, convenient snacks available in the guest room.
2. Transactional Data Reveals the How and Why of Travel
In addition to informed data, you may have some transactional data showing what guests have purchased and how they booked. This helps reveal important pieces of the hotel customer journey.
Pay offers some examples of the data you can find:
- “Did they pay with a discount or did they pay full price?”
- “Did they book during a school holiday?”
- “Did they book a group of rooms through a corporate account?”
In combination with your informed demographic data, you can start creating more specific segments using this data, leading to stronger personalization:
Examples of insights you can pull from transactional data:
- It looks like business travelers are much more likely to pay full price for a booking, whereas singles are always seeking discounts.
- You realize single travelers may choose another hotel without some kind of discount and continue to offer them. However, you significantly reduce the discounted offers to business travelers because they’re likely to book anyway using company funds.
It’s a common marketing oversight to treat these very different guests the same, Pay says.
“Understand that there are some big buckets you can put people into, and at the very least, you should be offering them different things according to their frequency and spending,” she says. “Business versus pleasure travelers is a good place to start.”
And while the businessman may not receive many discounted deals, you should be rewarding him for his consistent bookings: Leave a bottle of champagne or a copy of the Wall Street Journal in his room, or offer a room upgrade after a few stays.
Then, entice him with these perks in your email marketing.
3. Behavioral Data Helps You Help Your Customers
This type of data can give clear indications of the guests’ preferences and travel booking behavior:
- “Have they opened your past emails?”
- “Did they begin a booking on your website but abandon it halfway through?”
- “Did they land on your website from a specific social media channel?”
If you find a significant group of potential guests have partially booked on your website, you should have their emails and can contact them with personalized messaging to encourage them to follow through.
In any kind of email marketing to guests, Pay says, focus on how you can help them meet their personal objectives, which helps you meet your business objectives.
“Instead of asking ‘what can we upsell?’, think about the customer: what’s going to enhance their visit?” she says.
“You’re helping them, and while you won’t make money from them in that moment, they will be thankful,” Pay says. “Then they’ll be more likely to book a spa package later on.”
So What Tools are Available for Hotel Email Marketing?
Email marketing takes a significant amount of scheduling to most effectively drive direct bookings and boost customer loyalty.
Hotel management systems typically include customer relationship management functionality, which can help track and segment key traveler types that make your property successful, and helps manage the frequency and timing of email marketing campaigns.
Software is a powerful tool, and some hotel technology is all but necessary today, but a personal touch is critical to great hospitality. Technology paired with a data-driven, personalized email marketing strategy is a must have combination for any hotel.