Loyalty cards are vital to promote F&B outlets like the Claypot, says Challapalli. Loyalty cards are vital to promote F&B outlets like the Claypot, says Challapalli.

Just about every major hotel operator in the world is expanding its mid-range market footprint in the Middle East. According to Christopher Hewett, associate director, TRI Consulting, core regional markets such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will see room rates come under pressure as a slew of mid-market hotel openings put pressure on five-star property performance.

With GCC governments making travel and tourism a major component of their economic diversification strategies, the hospitality sector is set for long term growth. But in a crowded market hotel brands will have to amplify their marketing efforts if they are to win the hearts, minds and money of budget travellers.

According to David Henry, vice president sales, marketing & distribution hotel services Middle East, Accor Hotels, success will come down to visibility and engagement. “The core of the battle is on the web, where visibility can be achieved [through] search engine optimisation (SEO),” he says.

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“Engagement is key in terms of marketing — hospitality is all about engagement, emotions, and the experience, and this is what we have to deliver,” he comments.

Accor currently has 33 mid-scale hotels in the Middle East market with its Novotel and Mercure brands, and a further 14 on the way. It also has 15 Ibis and Ibis Style properties, with a further 19 in development. Regardless of the category, however, the goal for the company is to engage with every customer, at each stage of their journey.

“We engage around, for example, the destination guides that are featured in our app. Our aim is to maintain that engagement right through booking, on to when the customer reviews their stay on TripAdvisor,” says Henry.

Local firm, Hospitality Management Holdings (HMH), achieves engagement by deploying a cross-platform marketing strategy to promote its ‘halal-friendly’ USP. The company’s portfolio across the MENA region includes Coral Hotels and Resorts, Corp Hotels, targeting value-conscious business and leisure travellers, and the ‘no-frills, economical and ecological’ B&B concept ECOS Hotels.

“Digital and social media is our key focus,” says Laurent A. Voivenel, chief executive officer, HMH. “We don’t have thousands of hotels all around the world, but when it comes to communications and social media, we are as sharp as – or maybe even sharper than – many of the [bigger chains]. We have to work harder, faster, and smarter to be visible and present, and it takes a lot of work.”

Premier Inn Hotels concentrates its efforts on social media, according to Tania Mitchell, the company’s yield and digital marketing manager. The business, which in the UAE is a joint venture between Premier Inn’s parent company, Whitbread PLC, and Emirates Airlines, has six hotels in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

“As Facebook has got quite strong capabilities for businesses to use, we focus heavily on that, and we use it for three key things,” says Mitchell.