News Analysis: Why social media is essential for hotels in MidEast

We explore why social media is now essential for hotels, and how it is an important marketing tool

Research shows that 97% of millennials will post on social media while travelling.
Research shows that 97% of millennials will post on social media while travelling.

With more than 1.86 billion active Facebook users, 284 million active users on Twitter, and more than 700 million Instagram users, the hospitality sector can no longer afford to ignore its social media marketing strategy.

Hotels need to be on social media to be more accessible and visible to travellers. Social media is transforming the way in which all businesses, including hotels, interact with consumers. 

Gone are the days when hotels and tourism boards could get away without having a variety of social media accounts.

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Now travellers want to search for the hotel, look at its website, its TripAdvisor listing, and social media pages — and, in some cases, even pick a hotel based entirely on the photographs on its public profiles.

“It’s through social media that travellers discover new hotels, restaurants, or destinations to add to their bucket list. One great photo can sell many Instagram users,” said Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar director of sales and marketing Firas Rashid, while Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort’s director of marketing communications, Hana Fuchs, believes that having a presence on social media is critical to any hotel brand’s growth.

Agreeing with this is Yasmin Collins, the marketing, communications  and PR manager of Lapita, Dubai Parks and Resorts, an Autograph Collection Hotel, who added that hotels should definitely be on all platforms. 

“Using social media, hotels can create awareness, build and strengthen relationships with guests, influence decisions, drive revenue, and ultimately strengthen brand image,” Collins said to Hotelier Middle East.

According to Collins, the internet penetration in the Middle East has increased year-on-year and, in 2017, stands higher than the global average. A majority of this audience is actively using social media platforms, so it is imperative for hotels to be on these channels too. 

Collins added: “Considering how dependent we are on social media, and the rate at which the digital universe is evolving, we can all agree that social media is definitely here to stay and is a fundamental asset for driving business to a hotel. Hotels that adapt to technological and social trends in these ever-changing times have a competitive advantage. One must move with the times.”

But having a social media presence is not enough. According to Fuchs, it is also important to engage with past, current, and future guests of the hotel, and to listen to their feedback and comments on their stay. 

“In many ways, social media is the perfect PR channel, as public relations aims to show, not sell, which is exactly what we are aiming for on our social media platforms,” Fuchs added.

Studies have found that the more ‘Instagrammable’ a hotel, the more people are prepared to pay to book a room, with a study by Internet Marketing Inc showing that 97% of millennials will post on social media while travelling, with three-quarters posting once a day.

Instagram, not surprisingly, continues to be one of the biggest social media platforms for disseminating travel content and inspiration. So it is easy to understand why even hotels in their pre-opening stage, like W Dubai — The Palm, have active Instagram accounts. Another case in point is of the ‘Instagrammable’ Riad Yasmine in Marrakech. In an interview with Mashable, the hotel’s founding duo emphasised that its blogger-focused social media strategy had reaped dividends. The website reported in November 2016 that more than 80% of guests came to the Riad because they had seen pictures of it on Instagram  and Pinterest.

Anantara Dubai’s Fuchs added: “All three platforms  — Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — are important to us. I believe Instagram is great for travel inspiration and it has very high engagement by the consumer, as they like to share visually appealing stories and experiences. Facebook serves us well when it comes to tactical promotions: rooms, F&B, and spa promotions, and special value for money offers where we can boost the offer to a specific target market. Twitter is great for instant news and interacting with the guests.”

She noted: “All this helps in building loyalty; I think the combination of all three platforms proves to be very effective.”

Most hotels in Dubai now use social media influencers to up their audience engagement. More hotels are collaborating with social media stars and they now calculate a tangible return on investment (ROI). 

In a previous interview with Hotelier Middle East, Fairmont The Palm director of marketing and communications Katerina Dixon said that “the hotel has a number of measuring tools in place including the count of hashtags, engagement, sharing, reposting, and percentage increase in traffic that comes back to the site, as well as an increase in the number of followers on its own social media channels”.

But the most important question for the hospitality industry is how social media followers can be turned into paying guests. According to Collins, one can convert followers into guests through reliable communication with attractive, engaging, and relatable content.

“Regular informational updates are key to ensure that all material is fresh, precise, and up to date. When communicating with customers via our social media accounts, we are adamant about providing a personal and more casual experience with swift response times. Using the free search tools with the right keywords on social media platforms helps to proactively monitor what guests are looking for within the travel space and, in turn, tap a potential consumer base,” she added. 

But just having a social media account is not enough. It is also important to develop the right customer-centric social media strategies. “In order to establish effective social media strategies for our pages, time is spent on understanding the demographics and psychographics of our target audience,” Collins added.

Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar has adapted its digital strategies to different content-driven social media platforms. It uses Facebook as a platform to gain traffic to its website, to direct followers to the ‘book now’ button, and to promote various campaigns,  as well as to track links to various pages and share visuals and short videos. On Instagram, meanwhile, the hotel tries to create engagement with its followers to communicate the experience that guests can expect when they choose the mountain retreat. Finally, Twitter is used to target mostly Arabic speakers, using hashtags, and for campaigns.

According to Lapita’s Collins, the more understanding the hotel has of the way its audience ticks, the more effective it will become at creating engaging content. “One has to remember that engagement (shares, referrals, word of mouth, mentions, and so on) received via social media is ‘earned’ — the ROI of social media can be measured in terms of reach, audience engagement, traffic, leads generated, sign-ups, and revenue generated. To meet ROI goals, the social media strategy needs to be constantly monitored and adjusted,” she said.

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