How to market a hotel (tip: ignore star ratings)

Millennials don't care about star ratings - and neither should you. Hotelier gives our 10 tips on how to market your Middle East hotel in the new era.

Travel, Operators, Hotel star ratings, How to attract millennial travellers, Millennial travellers, Online review strategy, Reputation management, What do hotel star ratings mean?, Why hotel star ratings don't matter
Travel, Operators, Hotel star ratings, How to attract millennial travellers, Millennial travellers, Online review strategy, Reputation management, What do hotel star ratings mean?, Why hotel star ratings don't matter

It’s a fact that can no longer be ignored: leisure travellers under the age of 30 simply don’t care about star ratings. And it’s not just Millennial travellers either – anyone who’s tech-focused automatically rates user-generated content (e.g., reviews) higher than star rating.

Recently, while booking a holiday in Cyprus, I looked at many brand.com sites to find a hotel, but was quickly frustrated at a) how long it took me to trawl through each site’s description of things that don’t matter to me, and b) equally unable to find what did matter.

Most frustratingly, however, many of the brand.com sites were part of larger chain sites and thus, had the minimum of information about an individual property.

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On most sites, I couldn’t even find the pool size, let alone breakfast timings or wi-fi speed. Several sites listed the amenities they offered, such as hireable jet skis, yet failed to mention what part of the city the hotel was located in.

Defeated, I went immediately to TripAdvisor and viewed the top five highest rated hotels in my location (which I found within 30 seconds of landing on the site), and within 20 minutes of intense review, had booked the fourth one.

I’m extremely happy with my choice – between the TripAdvisor ratings and room tips, and Booking.com’s clear photos and generous cancellation terms, I got a hotel that has literally every single thing I wanted for my holiday – and I got the best price.

However, one thing that many reviewers queried was, “Why has this property, which is absolutely amazing, with great amenities and service, only been given two stars?”

From the spate of Excellent reviews and the occupancy rate the hotel enjoys, it seems as if the lack of stars hasn’t troubled any guests.

According to RJ Friedlander, founder and CEO of Review Pro, a company which provides reputation management tools, commented, “Online reviews and other types of user-generated content are influencing consumers and business travellers much more than the traditional classification systems.

“Most travellers don’t focus on star ratings”, he continues, “or other industry classifications when searching for a hotel but rather evaluate their options based on the following:

• Location (city/destination/area)
• Type of trip (business, leisure, etc.)
• Specific criteria (free wifi, buffet, parking, etc.)
• Price/best value based on above criteria
• Online reviews/reputation (overall & related to specific criteria)”

To a lot of younger travellers, a star rating is irrelevant mainly because it doesn’t accurately reflect their experience at a hotel. For example, it’s disconcerting how many five star hotels in the GCC don’t offer five star service.

Recently, when traveling to a hotel in the GCC during Ramadan, we were offered free breakfast because we are reward programme members. As a member of the team was fasting, we asked if we could convert that to a free Iftar or suhour, or one equivalent room service meal. The front desk staff checking us in was very accommodating and agreed to this.

However, when we checked out, the front desk staff refused to take the fast-breaking meal off of our bill. Imagine the frustration at choosing a five star, luxury hotel known for good service and being denied the most basic customer service.

Another experience at an even fancier five star resort in the GCC was worse – I scheduled a late breakfast meeting with a friend at the hotel. I had been speaking with the restaurant manager, (a fan of Hotelier Middle East) and we had a nice chat.

See Hotelier's top 10 tips for marketing your hotel after the jump

My breakfast companion got caught up in traffic and made it into the restaurant at 10:59am. The restaurant stopped serving at 11am. I had informed the restaurant manager that he was running late and to please be accommodating.

However, when we attempted to order, we were told in no uncertain terms that breakfast was over and that our request could not be fulfilled.

This, sadly, not uncommon disparity between number of stars and enjoyment of stay has left most Millennials obsessed with user-generated reviews before they book their stay – how else are they going to ensure they get what they want?

Friedlander comments: “The lack of a universally accepted definition of what differentiates star categories – and inconsistencies across destinations – is part of the problem.”

A lot of times a budget hotel will serve better breakfast than a four star, or the wi-fi offering at a no-frills inn will be vastly better than at a large luxury chain, where guests find they have to pay for working wi-fi.

In short: a star rating doesn’t have anything to do with offering Millennial travellers what they really want.

Hotelier’s tips for how to market your hotel to Millennial leisure travellers:

1) Offer all-day breakfast, or at least until noon or 1. Several of my friends and colleagues mentioned restrictive breakfast times as one of their pet peeves. One of them commented, “Why would a resort or luxury hotel in a holiday destination offer breakfast only until 10:30am? That’s when I wake up!”

2) Offer wi-fi. Offer it for free. Offer it everywhere. Offer it at fast speeds. And do not, whatever you do, require guests to continually log in to access the wi-fi. 

3) Service, service, service. Hotelier has already written about the disparity of service found in hotels throughout the region. And nothing will motivate a guest to take to TripAdvisor for a nasty review more than inflexible, unfriendly service. Empower your staff to go the extra mile – if you’re so caught up in following the rules that your staff are not encouraged and empowered to treat guests as unique cases rather than numbers, you will lose revenue.

4) Have detailed and specific property information on your brand.com website, including: room size; exact location map and how far the property is to public transport, landmarks, etc.; cancellation policy; link to TripAdvisor reviews; offer an option for leaving reviews on your own site and put as much effort as possible into getting guests to leave reviews on your site.

5) Use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to offer loyalty programmes, rewards and contests – though OTAs are here to stay, make loyalty and rewards programmes work for Millennial mind sets – have an online form which takes a minute to fill in, and link that to your social media, as well as to any OTA bookings (this can be done by emailing the guest as soon as the booking comes in to let them know that loyalty members get a 10% discount on all bookings, as well as ensuring that front desk staff target OTA bookings to let them know about loyalty programmes).

6) Consider an automatic enrolment into loyalty programmes that guests can opt out of.

7) Offer online check-in and check-out, especially if you’re a city hotel (Yotel’s model for this is fool-proof), but have a few front office staff on hand should guests need personalised services.

8) You’ll never beat an OTA for aggregate of information in one place, so make sure you work with them – list your property and all its offerings on as many as possible: Expedia, Hotels.com, Booking.com, Kayak, Trivago, Skyscanner, Opodo, etc. Make sure that the same details and deals can be found throughout the site – and yes, luxury properties, I’m talking to you; no one thinks less of a five star property or lush resort being on an OTA site. OTAs are the biggest marketing tool you can use, so take advantage of it.

9) It’s a no brainer but many hotels don’t have a standardised approach to it – aggregate your reviews by percentage of complaints about certain subjects and conduct targeted training to ensure issues are ironed out.

10) If there are any issues with your hotel – construction, loud local holidays, political unrest – put it on your site – if you give guests the information, you can control how it’s conveyed and put their minds at rest that your property is still safe and comfortable. One of the worst things you can do is neglect to mention it – guests will head straight for Negative Review Land if they arrive at your door and discover construction next door. This is especially relevant to GCC hotels, where so much construction occurs.

11) Offer the lowest price. You would think this goes without saying, but I’m constantly surprised at how many hotels are outpriced by OTAs. And don’t make guests find a lower price and THEN offer to match it – most guests aren’t willing to spend that time – they’ll go straight to sources they know have the cheapest prices.

After all, if guests can’t get the best deal from you, they’ll hardly view you and your online marketing channels as the best source of information.

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