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Webinar Recap: Recovering Revenue – A Tactical Guide for Hotels to Get Ahead in 2021

Mar 19, 2021   |   Guide, Hotel, Webinar Recap
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Webinar Recap: Recovering Revenue - A Tactical Guide for Hotels to Get Ahead in 2021

In this webinar Tammie Carlisle, Head of Hospitality at Milestone, and Nancy Johns, Senior Vice President, Integrated Marketing + Digital Solutions at Crescent Hotels and Resorts, discussed recovery strategies for hotels in Q2.

They addressed digital discovery and digital experience and where the best opportunities lie in the recovery and growth phase of the pandemic.

Key topics in this recap video

  • What tactics to apply for the weddings and other celebrations starting in Fall
  • How are you preparing your hotel for what is next?
  • What should hotels be doing to communicate with their guests right now?
  • How do you get media budget when you have a hotel or owner that is hesitant to spend?
  • How do you measure different programs’ success?
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Here is the complete webinar transcript:

Recovering Revenue - A Tactical Guide for Hotels to Get Ahead in 2021



Tammie Carlisle

My name is Tammy Carlisle, and I want to thank everyone for joining us today for the webinar on recovering revenue, a Tactical Guide for Hotels to Get Ahead in 2021. Along with me today, I have Ms. Nancy Johns, who is the senior vice president of integrated marketing and digital solutions at Crescent, hotels, and resorts, and also a dear friend of mine. And I am thrilled, agreed to let me put her through this and join me on the webinar. So Nancy, thank you so much for being with this, 

Nancy Johns 

Tammy. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate you and Milestone inviting me. Maybe I’ll start off by just telling you a little bit about myself so that everyone can get to know me. I started my career at the front desk. Like many of you probably did. If there’s other folks out there that at the front desk, give me a shout out in the text box, love to hear from you. That is an amazing job if you had never get it. I’ll tell you it’s one of those ones where you must be a master of all and then ready to resolve just about anything a customer could possibly come up with. So we all have lots of good stories. As I started my career and moved on, I stayed in the operations side. That’s really where I, grew up the guests and I had the opportunity to move into revenue management. 

And anyone who knows anything about me knows there isn’t a number I don’t like. So I love more data. So that was definitely a plus for me. Then I have the opportunity to move into marketing and digital. And this was my niche. I really found my space. I felt like everything I learned in operations and revenue management. So like comes to where this is. I had the opportunity to work with some great companies, such as Starwood Expedia Pyramid, but I really found this amazing home at Crescent, hotels and resorts. And I’m incredibly blessed with the team that I have there. They make me proud to be a part of the team every day. And I’m just honored to be here with you today. 

Tammie Carlisle 

Awesome, Nancy again, thank you so much for joining me. And I agree, it’s funny. I also was not a front desk, but an ops churn sales and marketing person. And I agree that having kind of that route well-rounded experience, I think really helps seeing that big picture. So again, thrilled to have you today. And I know for the audience, we’ve, we’ve put a lot of thought into really trying to give you guys some technical tips, ideas, strategies. And so we’re going to kind of go forward in more of a QA format and kind of a conversation and a discussion. And, and I won’t say see where it takes us, cause we have some ideas where it’ll take us, but I think there’s some great content today. And I know Nancy we’ve talked leisure is definitely one of the segments poised to recover first, but we both agreed that we’ll get to that, but let’s start with a slightly different tact and really the group of meetings, sides of things. And so I’m gonna start with kind of what are you seeing in weddings today? 

Nancy Johns 

Absolutely. So one of the things that have gone well during the pandemic is weddings. Weddings were happening throughout the pandemic and are continuing today. What we’re seeing right now is really shorter term, smaller weddings, but as different areas start to lessen their COVID restrictions. What we’re seeing is those gatherings are getting larger. New York, Texas, Florida, where there are restrictions that are being a bit, a little bit loosened and we think that’s going to continue. Last year also many couples actually decided to go ahead and have their weddings right away, even if they were going to be small with 10 people. But they are planning those big receptions and those parties to celebrate soon with all their friends and families. So that’s something to watch out for. And I think that’s something that you should be anticipating if you’re you’re in a hotel that has that type of opportunity. 

I mentioned celebrations, I’ll tell you, there are so many big celebrations out there that all of us miss during COVID. Right now my family is planning a trip to do a surprise for my dad. All of us are gonna get together when it safe and be able to share. So lots happening with, with those celebrations. We’ll talk about that in a little bit, but as you think about weddings and celebrations and big miss birthdays and anniversaries how can you tell your customer that you’re ready at your hotel to share in this celebration with them? So really look at those pages with an extra set of eyes. When we step back and look at, take a minute to look at something through the customer’s point of view, with the new eyes of this post COVID situation you may find that you have some information on there that needs updated. It might be just some simple content. It might be that you want to do some additional things like add some packages or landing pages. Maybe you want to do some social media marketing or, or use some marketing dollars towards the segment that is traveling right now. Tammy, I know that Milestone gets quite a bit of information on groups and weddings too. You want to share a little bit from the Milestone side? 

Tammie Carlisle 

I think you’re so spot on, on celebrations. , we’re all kind of the windows group gonna come back and, and, and weddings because some of them are still happening. this cause we’ve talked about it, but my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in December and they celebrated alone because obviously COVID or she’s knocked down. So thinking about how do, how do we, as we’re coming out of this and all of those things we miss, there’s a lot more than just weddings and groups. I know on the Milestone side, one thing we’ve seen a lot of properties do very successfully is kind of tap into that micro wedding trend. The small weddings, and even as restrictions are lifting in a lot of States, they haven’t completely lifted. 

So they’re still very much caps on how many people you can have, especially for an indoor event or indoor things. And as one property in particular that did some great content around micro weddings, they, they retooled the website, added some additional content, added some things on the homepage, the banner and landing page. So to your point, really kind of looking through and tweaking the content the needs of the day, and, and then combine that with an email marketing effort, a social media content effort you can do on the wedding side, a lot of paid advertising on like Facebook and for example, where you’re targeting , engaged folks and trying to get them back. And what was interesting, this particular property, they also were picked up in the media. Now this was, this started early on during the COVID days, but think about what are the kinds of things you could do that are unique and catchy that you could get PR coverage on as well, that’ll help even drive more visibility to your hotels. 

Leisure demand will return back - through Micro Weddings

So that’s just one example. , one of the interesting things we’re seeing on the group side is group is definitely starting to pick back up. I was Christy white with Nolan was kind enough to let me show this as an article that went out recently and I will, in the recap, share a link to this. This is the USA breakdown of the meetings by market segment for February. And I thought it was interesting that corporate was such a large percentage, given that a lot of peopler like corporate’s not traveling. Corporate’s not booking, but there are a lot of corporate meetings. They tend to just be smaller. They’re a bit more regional. You’re but you’re still, your association, your Smurf, your weddings, other things are still happening. And the other interesting thing is the markets where they had the most growth in the month of February, which I thought was really interesting. 

Cause they’re very diverse markets. You look at something like Daytona beach versus Boston versus Columbus, Ohio, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, and , definitely some interesting delineation of markets. I think Boston, I think very different, different things as far as the marketplace. So it’s nice to see the group businesses showing signs of improvement. And we’re definitely seeing that in the end, the the, that our customers are getting both in the number of RFPs, as well as we’re seeing some increases in the amount of attendees. And we’re seeing a couple of different things. You’re seeing that short term that like, especially on the corporate side, we want to do something in the next, two to four weeks, or you’re seeing the much farther out, right? 

The meeting planners, a lot of the association events that we’re on a three five-year out booking cycle are still looking and booking for those three to five years out. So making sure that you’re taking advantage of that. So definitely seen some really interesting things on the meeting side , Nancy, one of the things. So we talked a little bit about leisure, obviously COVID cases are decreasing, fingers crossed we’re on the down slope and not going to go back up again, more and more people are getting their vaccines. I think that, I don’t know if it’s eternal optimism or, or hopeful or it’s really going to happen, but the expectation is that travel is definitely going to increase this year. How are your hotels preparing for that and preparing for what’s next? 

Nancy Johns 

Well, Tammie, first, what you said on group, this is spot on. I mean, it is starting to come back and I just, I, we can’t, I think everyone is so grateful and excited to see that. So but on the leisure side offering, it really depends on the hotel. Obviously if you’re in, you’re in New York city and what’s happening there with restriction versus Florida or Texas, where things are more open or a ski property in Colorado, I think it really makes a difference as to where you are. So what I say is maybe for each of us to take a minute to kind of under step back and understand your customer, who’s coming today and who’s coming his drinking to come next. And how can you be prepared for that business? When it comes right now, as we know, it’s majority of leisure, but I’ll tell you, there is some business travelers in there that are starting to venture out and get out into the business.

Hotel demand recovery plan should be market specific

Nancy Johns 

So thinking about that customer and can I go back to a story that I was traveling a couple of months ago and was heading to Miami got delayed. And by the time I got to Miami, there was no food left in the airport. It was very late at night when I arrived at the hotel and there was, there was no food available. So thinking about your customers, even if it’s a quick grab and go lunch, is there something that they could grab as they are traveling? Really important because that business traveler that’s traveling now is definitely going to continue to travel and also probably share their experience, not only with their coworkers, but likely with their friends. So make sure that you’re thinking through how can we make it better for that traveler that that’s coming up next. But I will also say one of the other things that I think that everyone should take a look at 

And I think a lot of people may have forgotten is at the beginning of a pandemic, we really talked about our cleanliness standards and our safety protocols. And that’s what message was, as a community as, as, as hospitality. And how many people have gone back and looked at those messages? Are they up-to-date, are they current with what’s happening in your hotel today and what you’re bringing across is there potentially a message out there that was probably really on target? In the past that maybe we want to look at it and modify. So I’m going to tell you that I think that there is a network for everyone probably call it too much work for everyone. But there’s a lot of opportunity out there and right now, is time for you to set yourself up for success for the future and really be thinking about that? 

We’re going to talk a little bit more about communication in a couple of slides. But I just want to make sure that everyone takes a moment to stop and look at what they’re doing. Look at their hotels with a fresh set of eyes. So that situation and be able to say, Yes this is going to communicate to a customer. Exactly what I want them to know today. I will tell you like looking at it at a site the other day and they had some information on their, their COVID response information and you could immediately tell it with data and I’m actually trying to book a trip for myself. I wasn’t work-related I had to pick up a phone and call the front desk. I mean, that corporate desk is probably incredibly busy, but I had the answer and get my questions answered to see if this was a place I wanted to stay until to travel to. So take a minute to do that. It will not only make probably customers that, that are coming to you. I’m looking today closer to, to closing that booking, but also probably prevent some of that front desk traffic that’s coming in via the phone. because I think that’s a huge issue to try and right now. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the changes that are happening with Smith and the new core vitals that are, that Google is going to be implementing soon? 

Tammie Carlisle 

A couple important things to think about as your as, as we’re looking for that recovering growth stage, right. We, we kind of went through the crisis last year. Now we’re, we’re onto the recovery and in some markets, the growth phase, and as you think about SEO, I talked to a lot of hotels that last year when they completely gutted their paid, right, they, they turned off paid know into March and they just disappeared completely. Yes, the volume of search was lower overall, but even within the volume they weren’t being found. And that’s because they’d focused so much on just the paid marketing side of the point. And weren’t really thinking about search or they were thinking about search in very old dated ways 

So a lot of people still want to fixate on a key word, right? Like, why am I not ranking for XYZ keywords or the old model that text driven strategy that worked back in 2020 and over the years , and I’m using Google, but all of them have made a lot of updates to really take the, the idea from the keywords to in conversations or whole documents and really understanding and making the whole user experience better. And I won’t go through the whole Google zoo, but some of the newer things are related to voice or related to you, probably heard of the Burt update. And the ability to, like I said, really understand you as a business or an entity. So if you think about it, your business, your hotel and your website is the same entity as your profile on TripAdvisor and is the same entity is your profile on Facebook. And it’s the same entity as your Google, my business listing. And how do the search engines tie all of that together? So those are big things that are happening. Two things I think that are very important for hotels to be mindful of one that literally just rolled out in the last week is the Smith update or the passage update. So I’ll talk just briefly about that in kind of simple terms if you, before Smith. So, and I’m going to use a bench tool example because , ot hotels, vegetables, they’re the same.

Google Algorithm - Smith Update

Before the update, if you had a website that was really heavily focused on one topic, right? Or a page on one topic, and then you had another website that had page that maybe had just as much or even better content around that one topic, but also had like multiple some vegetables versus just tomatoes. The site with the tomatoes tend to all else being equal tended to rank better. And of course there’s a lot of factors. And I like to say that search is like a jigsaw puzzle and trying to put it together. And the more pieces you have, the easier you see it, but before Smith, that tomato site tended to rank better after Smith, the passage update, Google understands that even though this website or this page contains multiple content topics on that page, that particular passage, that particular piece of content that is , on that page matches a query really well. 

So it’s gonna rank it as well as it would a page just about tomatoes. So again, all else being equal, they’re going to be much more equal now, whereas before there was more weight given to the one that was just about that topic. So what does that mean for hoteliers? That means that you’ve got a lot more, I think, opportunity to have enhanced content on your pages that are going to rank well, versus having to always break out little snippets and have, the idea of having lots of pages with each page, with just maybe a paragraph or long one topic that might be better for SEO, but not as great for a user. That’s trying to get all their information a little bit more consolidated that mean create one page hotel sites, but it means that you have, I think, a lot more opportunities to to kind of streamline your approach. 

Now, the other thing that’s big is the core web vitals update and Cor Web vitals is really all about these are experience. This actually Google first announced this last year in may of going from remember, we were all going through the pandemic and may last year and they said, Hey, when we decide, we’re going to give you the tools now to measure. But when we decided to actually make this a big deal, we’ll give you six months. Notice. I don’t know about you guys. Anytime Google gives a lot of notice. They usually don’t, it’s typically a big thing in November. They released on their blog. I noticed, they said, Hey, surprise. Here’s your six months notice in may when we’re going to roll this out. And really the whole idea is they’re trying to make the user experience an important part of the ranking factor. 

So there’s lots of technical things. I’m just gonna focus on one here and that’s the visual stability or the cumulative layout shift because it’s one of my favorites. Most of us have phones. Most of us on when we’re on a phone, you’ve all been to that website where, as it loads, the buttons move around or it kind of comes into play. , it does all this kind of dancey stuff. And right before is you’re going to hit a button. It moves slightly before it fully loads. That’s called layout shift. And it’s a poor user experience in Google is going to you for it. So there are certain things you want to do. And there’s a great free website from Google that the page speed insights that will not only tell you a speed ranking score according to Google, but we’ll tell you if you pass the core web vitals assessment, and I will tell you not many hotels right now are passing this assessment. 

The good thing about it. If you can get your you’ll work with your web developer, this is not something you as a director of sales at a hotel can just flip a switch and fix on your own. You have to work with your web developer, but if you can get to pass core web vitals, people are less likely to abandon your site. And according to Forrester research, people are likely to pay more. They’re not going to switch brands as much, and they’re more likely to recommend you and your product. So really important. We’re seeing , definitely there’s going to be SEO benefits to doing this. So these are just a couple of things. There’s a lot of content and articles on our blog. There’s a recent one around the Smith passage update that I think is, really has a lot of great information for people that want to know more. But in the interest of time, I want to kind of shift gears and tech kind of go back. , we were talking about communication and you’re talking about outdated information on the website and conversations with our customers, from your perspective, Nancy, what kind of things should hotels be doing right now to communicate with their guests and their potential customers? 

Nancy Johns 

My point of view, more than ever, relationships are everything. And whether that relationship is with a sales manager, that’s working with a client, whether that’s a marketing team or revenue manager, or setting up information for a potential leisure guests communication is everything. And I think it’s going to make a huge difference on what you’re doing. I think, as you’re looking at the different promotions, you’re trying to offer programs that you have, or maybe the things nearby that your customers might be coming to your area for traveling to whether they just want to pool. They’re going to do some hiking, there’s a beach nearby, how do you have all that information in the journey and how do you make sure that the customer has that? And so there’s a lot of different tools that we have available to us, but that I would immediately look at. 

And one of them would be email communication. Whether you, whether you have a full big CRM with artificial intelligence in it, or you have a very simple email marketing system, all of us have opportunity to do some things a little differently. I know that in the past, there was a lot of secure to send us out to the whole database. So they should be over. You really want to stop and think what is my customer that’s coming to me or that I want coming to me, want to know how can I communicate that information to them and really share where they’re going to go. So really segmenting and looking at customers and making sure that you’re providing the right audiences, the right information for each customer and making sure that’s going out, you will get a much better take rate and you will see more profitability by doing that. 

I’ll tell you social listening is more important than ever. When I talk about social listening and really talking about seeing what your customers are saying, not just what they’re saying in your reviews, but what are they saying online? What are they saying in social? What are they talking to you about? Take a minute to say, gosh, when someone says something we can improve on, that’s really an opportunity, right? Where do we take that opportunity and turn that potential negative into a positive that we could fix for that guest and future guests? Because right now there is so much changing in every hotel and resort. I can think of that. There’s probably a few things that people have have opportunities to do better. Let’s listen to those customers and let’s make sure we’re communicating with them. I think that is going to be key. 

Now, if you’re talking about meeting planners, you may have some that are dreaming or not quite ready to book today. There are quite a few starting to book, which is exciting. Starting to book again as we go into the later half of 2021 and what we’re seeing for 2022, but think about that customer, what do they need right now? That’s going to, to help them close that sale. What if they’re not ready to travel yet? Your imagery is incredibly important, your photography, the way you’re sharing your information, whether you have virtual tours or whether it’s just your photos, the more you can show a customer, what you have available. The better that to say picture was worth a thousand worlds. I going to say, it’s worth a million. Now make sure that photography is expressing what you want it to express. As we kind of close out, one thing I would say is if you have a customer on your site, have cart, abandonment have retargeting. This customer has intent to book with you right now. They’re telling you, they’re interested by being on your site. Don’t let them go to your competition, make sure you’re closing that sale. 

And Tammie I know you do quite a bit of quite a bit on the sales side. Maybe you can take a few minutes and give us some pointers. 

Tammie Carlisle 

I know in the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of folks that, that were around or kind of reaching out the, doing the, are you okay? But I think a lot of that has stopped and some of it is let’s be real. We’re all zoom fatigued. We’re all dying, dying to get out in person. I know I was at the HSMAI top 25 awards and I mean, it was virtual on Tuesday, but just being able to talk to people and kind of network on their platform was so reinvigorating and I’m an introvert. 

And I was just like, Oh my gosh, this is so awesome. I can’t wait to see people in person. So start thinking, can you, is it safe for you depending upon who you are, where you are to, to start trying to do a socially distance coffee, depending upon your market, that may make sense. But reaching out to your customers, getting to know about them, getting to know more than work, know that, they have a dog or you see their cat walking across the screen and talk to them about what they’re thinking and to Nancy’s point a lot of your meeting planners are starting to look to come back or at least gather info, even if they’re not ready to book, right. The second, the more you’re in touch with them now and can give them information. The, the easier, the more likely it is that they’re going to book you when they’re ready to book. 

So I’d say for the marketers on the call, right? So it comes back to all the things that Nancy said is, does your teams, do your teams have updated information? Is the website updated? Are you putting information out on your social channels? That’s relevant to where the hotel is at now? I talked with someone yesterday, that’s looking to refresh their websites and new general manager, amazing property. You said, I, I took this job. I walked in the hotel and I was like, the website does not reflect our hotel at all. You walk in and it’s amazing. Our website does not tell that story. Even with all the things they’re doing so many different things that aren’t being communicated on the site. So it’s a good time, as I say, to kind of step, take a step back and think about how do you set yourself up for success. 

The other thing, and Nancy, I know you’re hearing this too. Everyone is, is, so busy, busy, I’m going to, almost as a badge of honor, but we’re, we’re all like I’m talking to directors of sales that are also managing front desk shifts and helping strip beds and just doing everything we can right now to survive. And I will say this too, shall pass, hang in there, but think about what are the things you can do to make your life a little bit easier. Can you , can you automate some things, can you create some things that I’m using tools like calendar link let you share a calendar link and make it easy for people to book on your calendar and you can set up specific things that 15 minute connects and I’ve done, Hey, let’s get together for coffee virtually because I’m in California, right? 

Like can’t do a whole time yet. Although that’s getting better. And , I, I actually, the other day sent somebody a Starbucks gift card and said, go get coffee before we meet. And let’s just sit down and chat virtually. So there’s a lot of different things you can do from the communication front, from a sales side of things. And I would say, like I said to the marketers, just make sure you’re helping the sales team with the content, the information, the communication they need to be successful. 

Nancy Johns 

Perfect. Thanks Tammie. One of the things that I’ve heard about lately, and this came out very recently is the new Google free booking links. So wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that when I hear in the community, people are the big questions are, do I need to action something? Is there something out there that that I need to do? Is it gonna be done for me? How would that work? Can you tell us a little bit about those links? 

Tammie Carlisle 

Sure, absolutely. So, yeah, so Google rolled out the, the free the hotel ads option. I think they’re calling it free booking links, a hotel booking links, and just shoot, I guess, last week, right? I mean, just over a week ago and traditionally there were only the hotel ads were the only options. So you had to participate in meta. You had to do the hotel ads to, to have any kind of placement in that section. And what they’ve done is they’ve opened up this, this free option. So you’ve got the top four paid links, and then below that they’ve got the free listings what we’re seeing, first of all, I haven’t, I have not personally yet seen any major communication from any of the brands, but I’m almost won’t, I won’t guarantee, but also willing to guarantee that they are all over it, working with Google and that if you are a branded property, I would definitely connect with your brand on what is the strategy. But I’m going to assume that most of the branded properties that will be taken care of for you at a brand level, because most of the brands do participate in Meta, in the hotel prices, API, hotel ads, something along those lines for the, for your independent properties that are out there. My recommendation is if you’re currently working with an agency and you’re doing any kind of meta, so in that case, they probably have the hotel prices, API, hotel ads, things of that nature. 

Tammie Carlisle 

Be part of, to be mindful though, because one of the other questions I get asked is I’ve been asked a couple of times already is, Hey, with this free program, does that mean I can either stop my Meta or the other, the bigger question is how will that impact my spend? Can I actually lower my budget? Right? beause we’re all trying to find ways to save money this year, because that, that seems, we all just trying to find the ways to save money. And what I would say is this, I think it’s too early to make a determination that you’re going to slash your paid budgets because you’re participating in this free program. I do think in the short-term, there may be some cost savings as more people sign up for the free and there still are a lot of people that aren’t doing any type of pay today. 

I think in the long run. Now, if you think about what Google is trying to accomplish, I mean, look, Google’s a for-profit company, just like everybody else. To me, the idea is that those four paid listings are going to become even more competitive and over time the bidding price for those are going to go up and they’re going to make more money on those ads in the long run. I mean, that’s my theory not necessarily the Milestone, but so I would say at this point it’s a little too early to say, Hey, you can slash that budget. You make those savings, but be mindful and kind of watch what’s happening over the next few months. But I would say for, for those of you, and we’ve got a link here to the announcement from Google or regarding this program with some basic details on, our team is working on a thorough article that should be out in the next within the next week on the topic. 

But I would say if you are not participating in the ads, we currently go to the hotel center account or work with your agency to go in there and get yourself set up because it is free. And it’s definitely something I think that could could help or help you get more business. Now, one other thing to be mindful of is how are you going to track this? If you are doing any kind of media today, you really want to make sure that your your results, your reporting, that you’re looking at these as two separate things, whether you, whether you look at it holistically or not, you do want to be able to break out and say, Hey, the paid meta drove this much revenue and that free listing drove this much revenue. So you should have two different tracking links you should have. If you’re working with an agency, they should be able to help set that up for you so that you can track those two things separately. And I would think that yes, Meta will play some role. Even if you do end up getting a someone to click on the free listing, but be mindful of that. Don’t just assume that it’s all one bucket, make sure that you’re really looking at it, for those of us that geek out on data and more data, it’s nice to have that spliced out. 

Nancy Johns 

That’s something we asked for when we were talking with our, with our different vendors, make sure that we have a clear understanding of what’s coming through Meta today and what these freight links are doing. beause it’ll really give us much more insight. And I told everybody I love data. So 

Tammie Carlisle 

I’m like, I definitely, I know you love data. So on that note, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about I guess maybe using data or , how are we, how do we get these marketing dollars, right? But we all, we all know that if we’re not spending any money or not making any money, but that marketing getting out there is that key to growth. So how, how are you getting, how do you get media spend? How do you get marketing dollars move, have a hotel or an owner that’s actually hesitant to spend anything, right. 

Nancy Johns 

Well, I’ll tell you, number one, every single one of us should really care about costs and this environment and what we spend should be really mindful and thoughtful and have a plan. So but I will tell you that I’ve talked to some counterparts and there are some, some hotels or some, some companies that aren’t able to spend right now because of that, watching the dollar. So I would say if it was, if it was one of my hotels, what I would immediately do is say, let’s put together a proof of concept. Let’s, let’s show you what we can do by putting together a small spend and get and make sure you get returns on it. So when I put together that proof of concept and in my world, I set up a plan. I looked at all my distribution channel. 

Nancy Johns 

I see not only what’s coming into me, but what’s coming into my content, where are the fish that we can go fishing in the right location? I have, we take that distribution channel. Then you set up your plan and I would say, watch your results depending on where you are. You may find that that one program is working much better than another. They’re not consistent across the country today. And I would say, make sure that you adapt to look, look at your results regularly, make changes, measure remeasure, check again. Again, I told you I like numbers, so that’s part of this. But I think that’s really important to really understand what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Because with most marketing today, you can make changes on the slide. Even if you’re getting great results, I’d say there’s probably something you could do to make it even better. 

How to get marketing dollars

Nancy Johns 

So you should constantly be looking at that. And those adjustments are really important. Overall it, I think if I try to keep PPC as a standard there’s a lot of different ways that people can do pay per click. You can buy keywords that are your exact hotel name branded search. And those are gonna probably show you a better return on investment if you’re just looking for that better return on investment. So I say, you really need to look beyond that keyword, right? You need to say, is this just pulling in the revenue of someone who was already looking for me? And I’m not saying there’s a value in being in branded search, there absolutely is, but what am I doing to actually capture additional revenue and bring it, bring it to my hotels. So I think you’ve got to look at the branded terms as part of a larger process while you’re also looking at those non-branded terms and pulling people in, whether you pull them in with a long tail or whether you pull them in with, with different searches, specific to your area, hotels near XYZ. 

I think that’s really important that people do that. But I would say if you have a, if you have a situation where you’re not being able to get the marketing dollars, offer a proof of concept, show them what you can do, have a plan, well, your plan make adjustments. And then once that’s successful, it’ll be much easier to get more marketing dollars because we all could use more revenue occupancy right now. . I know you guys do a lot of measuring at Milestone with them. If you want to share some things that you’re doing. 

Tammie Carlisle 

You can run brand all day long and you’re going to see a high return, but is that truly going to get you a wider funnel? And again, to your point, not saying don’t do brain search, it’s, it’s very valuable as part of your overall strategy. So one of the things when we’re looking at success, and I think if you’re white, it’s really important to have a plan and your goals and know what success looks like before as you get started. And of course, sometimes you move the goal posts just because that’s the way that this world works right now. , things are changing that the digital transformations are so quick. Sometimes you, you just have to adjust quickly, but really knowing what you’re, what you’re hoping to accomplish. 

So we I was talking to a person that took over asset management recently for a large branded hotel that had just spent 20, like, like five figures, like in the $20,000 range on a social media campaign. And the only metrics they had to show for it were around engagement, right. Or impression. Anyway, it wasn’t even engagement. It was more about impressions and like people like, what the heck, but now if the goal had been to build awareness, that that might actually be a great thing. But for, in this case, we’re like, well, what about this, this that, no one had talked about and no one had really clear cut, defined, like what does that success look like? And so one of the things we’re doing a lot of is really trying to look at it from that full funnel perspective. 

And then there’s a couple of great articles on our blog recently are our director wrote one about tying the the STR reports to marketing. That was, I thought fantastic. But really when you’re thinking about, as a marketer, that customer journey and thinking about building that awareness and all the way down, everyone focuses on that bottom layer, right? We all have talked about this multiplier, is it, we all want more money, show me the money, get your conversion. But if that’s the only layer you’re focused on, chances are you’re missing out. I know you’re looking at bookings and different travel trips as fingers crossed and right now, one more in that, that exploration and that consideration phase. And we’re trying to figure out where to go, what to do if you’re not there. If you’re not in front of me now, when I’m thinking about it, when I’m ready to book, whether that’s tomorrow, next week, or shoot, if Europe doesn’t open next year, please open up. , then you’re going to miss out. You’re going to miss out on the opportunity to, to book me in. Okay, nice. Okay. Who cares? It’s just Tammie, but there’s a lot of travelers right now. There’s so much pent up demand. If you look at Google trends we did a webinar my colleague did a webinar last week for CHLA and the, the, the trends for things like travel in California and things around Disneyland with them reopening were skewed. So how do you capitalize on that? And so we’re really trying to look at the, the overall and, you oftentimes hear omni-channel, but looking at your holistic strategy and mapping it to make sure how are you maximizing conversions? Because if you’re only focusing on that bottom layer, your top of funnel is going to be small. And the smaller, the top of the funnel is the smaller, the funnel that leaks down into you. 

How to measure success

Tammie Carlisle 

So just some some really cool thing and, funnel versus intent. And then you had mentioned earlier, things like shopping cart, abandonment, retargeting. So what are you doing there? And then how are you measuring how that, that is improving your wallet mix? I’ve seen hotels generate, $60,000 a month just by having some kind of shopping cart, retargeting new abandonment tools on their website that helps capture that guest that otherwise would have left and maybe never came back. So really fun stuff, data I know we could probably spend the next few hours talking about data, but in the interest of time, I’m gonna switch gears to another hot topic in the industry right now. And, ADA privacy, huge concerns, loving just a little insight on what you’re hearing about some of these topics. 

Nancy Johns 

Absolutely. well, I’ll start with, I just recently attended a great HSMAI session where we heard Greg speak. He’s the principal and chair of hospitality, travel and tourism practice for foster Garvey. And if you haven’t heard him speak, he’s actually very interesting. I love hearing him speak easily. He’s one of my favorites. But we talked about what’s going on in our industry and what we should anticipate when it, when it comes to unfortunately, lawsuits that happened. And this is one that is expected to grow as far as ADA and accessibility. And I’ll tell you if you’re not, if your sites aren’t in compliance today, stop what you’re doing. Take the time, work with your vendor and get them fixed to really, as soon as possible. I’ll tell you, there are some things that are just quick things that you should consider using the word accessible versus ADA is really important. Making sure that you have that, the all the words can be read and the pictures can be read by reader devices and the newest and latest things that is happening is PDF and making sure that the PDFs are accessible. And I know that even some of the brands have stopped accepting PDF new PDF if they aren’t acceptable if they aren’t already accessible. So I know Tammy, you guys do a lot of work in this area. Maybe you could share a little bit about what my son’s doing. 

Tammie Carlisle 

Yeah, no, absolutely. And I’ll talk a little bit about on the PDF front, but I also want to kind of piggyback on your comments around accessible, right? That’s such an important word from a, just from an accessibility on the website for all, but I’m also seeing as I’m doing, from an SEO perspective where you search like Google trends, for example, on things like accessible hotels versus ADA hotels. And in most markets I’ve looked at accessible actually has a higher traffic volume. So not only are there benefits all the way around, right? There’s the SEO benefits. Plus the accessibility benefits to all of our customers, the PDF front has been quite interesting. There’s, there’s a lot of things you have to do to make a PDF conform to the WCAJ guidelines and a lot of different steps. 

What I have seen most companies are taking one of a couple pronged approach. I actually know one management group that has basically said we will not have any PDFs on our website at all. We’re pulling in the down. I think we’ve mentioned a couple of the brands are taking that tact as well. Because it’s not, it, it, there are steps. You can do it, you can make your PDF accessible, but there are stats. So one of the tactics I would suggest now is to look at, does that PDF have to live on your website? And if the content needs to be there, can it be in a different format? Like we’ve worked with a lot of restaurants to take menus that weren’t a PDF format and create them in an HTML version on the website instead that not only then limits that exposure to PDF and makes things accessible for all. 

But it also has been incredible and indexable by the search engines and actually has a greater impact from an SEO perspective. If, I know this is a hot topic in the industry. We are actually doing a webinar next week, March 25th. We’ll make sure that the link to register for that, if you’re interested is in the recap. But it’s on top tips to manage ABA conformance in 2021, while it will not be hotel specific. Obviously this is a huge issue for the industry and there will be a lot of content and information on that as well. , like I said, it really comes down to what makes the most business sense for you. But I would say the first step would be to look through and do we have to have this PDF? Can we replace it with content on the website itself to help from an ADA conformance standpoint, Nancy? So again, interested in time, we’ll, we’ll kind of shift gears a little bit and if you could only do one or two things right. Pay non-paid, what would you tell the audience? Where should they be focusing time right now? 

Nancy Johns 

Well, I’ll give a couple of ideas of, of what I do, and hopefully some will ring true for each of you. One thing is it is expected over the next 18 months. As things as things start to change is really going to be people are going to do that go big and not stay home travel. So I think you need to be ready for that, and you need to be looking forward to what’s. What’s gonna be important with that piece. I will tell you that since we’ve all been staying at home and got, got accustomed to Amazon arriving at our house and giving us exactly what we want very quickly we want choices. We want to understand what the choices are. We want the options. We want to be able to find the option. That’s the right option for us. 

Nancy Johns 

I will tell you that people are not going to like being put into advanced purchase or, or non flexible plans. I think free cancellation and changes are going to stay for a while. I think they had to stay in the hotel industry for a while. It’d be better to stay in the airline industry for awhile. Because I think customers have gotten used to that. And I think it’s going to be hard to get them out of that mindset. I’ll, I’ll tell you distribution matters. And I said this earlier, and I’ll say it again, cause I think it’s incredibly important. Understand where the demand in your market is coming today, not just to you, but to your comp set, then find out and look and see what you can do to make sure that share’s going through your hotel and not to someone else. 

This is an easy one. It costs nothing, but I’ll bet you that a lot of us haven’t done it in a long time. I know that my, my team acts, but I would say pick up your phone, go book your own hotel, booking on mobile, see what it looks like, where there any barriers in the way, was there information that you felt was missing? How do you update that information to get the right information to a customer? The, the amount of bookings happening on mobile right now are tremendously higher than before in 2019. And it was already big. Then you need to spend that time and make sure that it’s customers looking you, whether it’s on a brand app or whether it’s on, don’t just assume that it looks exactly like your, it doesn’t take the time to make that time, make that booking. 

Nancy Johns 

I would say sustainability, I believe is going to be very big going forward. I think if you’re a hotel that has any green initiatives, eco-friendly no footprint trends have like those now and have them ready that this is going to come back and I think it will come back very large. So I think there’s a lot of things in there that don’t cost a dollar that you can do to really increase. But I would also say right now marketing is less expensive than it used to be in 2019. So take a look at where you should be spending our money and make sure you’re spending it lively. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. 

Tammie Carlisle 

Okay. I see those are great, great ideas, great suggestions, great tips. And you’re right. The, the Amazon, I can have it now. Vulture is so one options and choices and I want it now gone are the old, I’ll wait for two minutes for the dial up to, to show up and give me my choice. And I liked me talking about mobile you’re right. And we, we really is. We were putting this together, obviously you and I like, so we could have probably done three hours on this topic, but so we really didn’t talk much on mobile, but that is such an important piece in your ear, right? And the trends have kind of bucked me logically, like everyone’s at home, they’re going to be on their desktop, but I’m still finding mobile traffic is going up. And people are, as we’re getting more accustomed to using the target app or the Chick-fil-A app or the Amazon, the app on our phone, we’re getting more actual STEM to that or shifting that, those, those trends into travel as well. So these are great ideas I think, and tips for, to focus our time. Just a couple more questions. I think one, what’s your prediction for 2021? I know we, we’ve been asking this in January of 2020 point have all been wrong, but what’s your prediction and what should hotels you’re doing right now to make that a reality? 

Nancy Johns 

Well, I wish I could predict the future and I would’ve won the lottery to be fantastic, but I will tell you that this is what I think is going to happen. I’m obviously listening to a lot of very smart people and their friends and, and, and I will say the first thing is be prepared for anything. We’ve all learned that lesson, right? None of us were prepared for a COVID. There were so many times that we all changed and pivoted and pivoted again, and modified information and shared being ready to go ahead and understand that change is going to happen again and be ready for that change and be welcoming it and know that everything is going to get better. We are going to get out of this is really important. I’d say, really think through your segments, who might’ve changed, what customers might be behaving differently as you move forward. 

And, and think about business and travel. And, and I told you the story of when I was going to Miami, like think of customer what’s important to them. And what could you do to make sure that not only are you doing that, that item, but you’re communicating that it’s available so they know to pick your hotel over someone else’s. And then I just say stay creative, because I think that if you continue to do the same thing, you’re never going to win. So I, I liked jumping out there doing something different and putting some really new creative spin on some things that we’re doing here. 

Tammie Carlisle 

Last question. What’s next on your travel list. 

Nancy Johns 

That’s the easiest question of the day. Thanks, Tammy. So probably the most important one is getting together with my dad. I have not been able to see him in over a year and it breaks my heart. So we are getting our entire families together. We’re going to surprise him. So that’s probably the most important visit. But I, as I mentioned, I have been that dreamer and I have been looking at travel and trying to decide where I’m going to go next, because I cannot wait for that big travel to happen. And I have a trip I have already booked a trip to Hawaii, and I have a trip to New Orleans to see the jazz festival. So hopefully that’ll happen in October and the jazz festival. And that’d be a lot of fun. What about you, Tammie? You going anywhere fun? 

Tammie Carlisle 

We’ve got a lot of ideas. The only thing we currently have booked, which unfortunately probably won’t happen is we were hoping to go to Europe in July. And that’s still obviously on the fence as to whether or not the open up. We’re looking at a few different options. I definitely, I would love to go San Diego and , meet new socially distant somewhere for coffee or lunch. I think that’d be fantastic. I got poo-pooed on the Hawaii for, for right now. I got overruled in the house, so we’re looking at a lot of stuff here in the state of California and possibly some uncouple East coast trips. So, but I think, to the point everyone is dying to travel. I haven’t taken a big vacation in, this’ll be year three if , dying to travel. 

So what can you do? How can you be creative and how can you get out in front of those people so that when they’re ready to book, they’re booking you. So like I said, Nancy, thank you so much. I’m going to walk through just some quick key takeaways for everyone. And then I would say we’ve got a couple of questions in the Q&A box, but if anyone else has questions, please feel free to put them in. Now I want to kind of combine them first to growth is on the way. So we’ll keep hopeful, but also be prepared. Think through how can you capture that growth weddings group they’re coming back. Maybe they’re not quite where we want them to be or where they were in 2019, but they are coming back. If you’re not getting any of that share, get on it. 

Key takeaways

Tammie Carlisle 

SEO is such an important factor, really knowing, getting that visibility, especially when, when you’re trying to cut costs. And like I said, I know so many people that cut their they’re paid dollars and just disappeared. Communication super important, take advantage of any of the new things that are out there that are free. Like Google, the hotel booking links or any other channels or sources that you can be on that are gonna help get you more exposure and possibly more reservations, know your goals, figure out how you’re going to measure success. What does that look like? Obviously revenue, but what else? And then I think, two point we’re not, we’re not gonna use the word pivot because ever no one wants to think of Ross and friends, but adopt adapt, right? 

How do you be creative? Things are gonna change and the more you can be creative and adopt to that. That’s the key. So again, Nancy, thank you so much. 

One of the questions I got, which was kind of interesting was that the person in their hotels near Disney Disneyland, and obviously say like Disneyland’s opening April 30th, so excited. Okay. what are some things that I can do now to help prepare for reopening? So I think their hotels not open today, but we’ll be reopening in the next, probably the next month as Disney opens. And you want to add a few things I can chime in as well? 

Nancy Johns 

Sure. I guess they number one, we’re excited to have California opened back up. I’m here in California too. So it’s, it’s good news. And, and I know it’s been a long time for those folks that have been there, Disney that is such a great market. I would be looking number one, I take advantage of this opportunity is if you have, if you have a vanity site set up to have muscle and look at it, this this for you, I think that’s the one thing that you can get ahead that doesn’t cost you anything. I would also say, look at, look at your customers. The people that are gonna come back to Disney first are going to be the people like Tammie, who absolutely loved Disney and are wanting that connection. How do you connect with that customer? Do you put together some packages that might really call through to them and say, this is a perfect spot for me because it may not all be about price anymore. 

It may be not the price people aren’t price sensitive. They certainly are. But like, how could you, how can you communicate? This is where you’re going to get the best experience. You are going to have a great time with your family, with your friends, with whoever that may be coming with. So I would really put, put some time and effort there to make sure that you have something for everyone available. Maybe, maybe you’re giving away a little plush toy. I mean, something that just really makes the day special would be really where I spend my time. Tammie, go ahead. 

Tammie Carlisle 

I love that idea. And I think, I think you’re right, obviously in this case where you turning Disney, but for anybody whose hotel is not open today, that’s going to be reopening. You should have a 30, 60, 90 day out checklists, so you, you have that, but in the reverse, right? So 90 days before we’re opening our hotel, 60 days, almost like you’re opening a brand new hotel and think through those strategies, the advantage you have is you’re not a brand new hotel. So you have past guests and in a lot of markets, not just in near Disneyland, the first people to come back are your guests that have stayed with you before. And so how do you communicate? How do you pull those people in and leverage? And then obviously I would say, it’s great that Disney’s open opening, but even so they’re opening it at what 15% I think is the capacity right now. 

So the numbers are not going to be where they were as USA for July 4th in 2019 or Christmas time in 2019. And so what can you do to get out in front of and capture that particular guest versus any of the other hotels in your market? What makes you unique? What makes you special and how do you communicate that it’s going to go a long way towards getting those guests to you? So really my recommendations I’m really, it’s about the digital experience. It’s about making sure that, that that guest in that customer spiel like jail special, you’ll have that connection. And yes, we’re all price sensitive to a degree, but I have found that a lot less, like there’s, there’s variants of that, but I think a lot of people are a little less price sensitive right now just because they haven’t traveled in so long. So they, those dollars that they would’ve spent on travel last year, got put aside and saved up and now they have even more. So at least that’s what I’m seeing with a lot of the hotels we’re working at. So on that note, in the interest of time, we’ll go ahead. Any other questions we will answer on the blog, but Nancy, again, I just want to thank you. I so appreciate you and really, really value our friendship, our relationship. And I’m just so happy that you were able to join me today. 

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