In the tough year that 2009 is turning out to be for hoteliers, it is crucial to know where every marketing dollar is being spent. When reevaluating marketing plans – as most of you have had to do this year - hoteliers also need to consider whether or not they should shift marketing dollars from offline to the more measurable online initiatives, what their peers are doing, and how they can evolve with the industry without wasting valuable dollars on unproven tactics.
How are hoteliers budgeting for their Internet marketing this year? Are they focusing on Web 2.0/Social Media initiatives in this recession? What percentage of business should be coming from your website?
In the 3rd Benchmark Survey on Hotel Internet Marketing Budget Planning and Best Practices in Hospitality, HeBS set out to answer these questions and identify trends in online marketing in hospitality. The purpose of the survey was to assess hoteliers’ 2009 Internet marketing priorities and strategies in order to compare with the responses received last year, and to provide the industry with insights on how internet marketing strategies for the hospitality industry are developing.
Who Participated in this Survey?
The survey experienced global participation, with almost half of respondents from the US and Western Europe. Hospitality executives included general managers (20.6%), sales and marketing directors (49.6%), e-commerce managers (13%), and revenue managers (29.8%).
The full spectrum of hospitality and travel verticals are represented in this survey, including boutique hotels, upscale hotels, budget, mid-scale and luxury franchised properties, major brands, real estate groups, resorts, hotel management companies, casinos, and more. Most participants were hoteliers from independent properties; however there was a heavy influence this year of franchise/hotel brand hoteliers.
Main Findings from the 3rd Benchmark Survey
•Hoteliers strongly believe that Internet marketing produces the best results. We asked hoteliers whether they thought Internet marketing, traditional marketing, or a mix of both produces better results and 55.7% said Internet marketing (up from 49.2% in the 08 survey and 37.7% in the 07 survey). Hoteliers are right on target as the online channel will be the only growth channel in hospitality in 2009-2010.
• Even in this current economic environment, 63% plan to increase their Internet marketing budget in 09 - and a majority of hoteliers are planning on raising their online budget more than 15%. A larger percentage of respondents this year (33%) will be keeping their 09 budget at 08 levels. Where is the money coming from for hoteliers that are increasing their Internet marketing budget? Fifty-three percent of respondents are shifting money from offline marketing budgets.
• In the 2009 survey, we introduced ‘the economic environment’ as one of the multiple choice options when we asked hoteliers what factors they will consider in planning their 2009 budget. Not surprisingly, 81.6% of respondents said that the economy will affect their budget planning for 09. We also saw that ‘what my peers are doing’ and ‘industry averages’ had less of an influence on hotel budget planning this year.
• The types of Web 2.0 marketing initiatives planned for 09 vary greatly from 07 and 08. In previous years, hoteliers selected Surveys and Comment cards as the Web 2.0 initiatives they were planning. This year, hoteliers selected advertising on Social Media sites (i.e. TripAdvisor), creating profiles on social networks and a blog on the hotel website.
• Almost half of all respondents believe their property does NOT conform to industry’s best practices in terms of Internet marketing. While hoteliers are getting more educated about the direct online channel, many of them do not have the internal resources, bandwidth or knowledge to deal effectively with this highly dynamic field.
• This year, hoteliers overwhelmingly responded that they thought website optimization produced the best results and the highest ROIs (81.6%). Search optimization – organic search was next at 60.9%. Indeed, both website and search optimizations are the most-cost effective initiatives for hoteliers in this economy.
• This year, 85.6% of franchise/major brand hoteliers respondents said they did not find there to be major restrictions in online marketing due to brand restrictions. This percentage is increasing over the years (81.8% in 2008 and 76.2% in 2006) as more and more franchisees embrace best practices and launch local Internet marketing initiatives that complement their brand efforts.
• The percentage of hoteliers who are participating in Paid Search increased from 50% in 2008 to 59.8% in 2009. The use of Meta search and local search is also increasing year after year. Also, Web 2.0 Paid Search (e.g. TripAdvisor) was big this year as 32% of respondents are spending marketing dollars on this initiative. These responses are in par with industry practices and show that hoteliers are aware that as much as 60%-80% of traffic and bookings on hotel websites originate from the search engines.
The survey results show that hoteliers really are “Getting Back to the Basics” in this tough economy – read HeBS’ article on the subject. While there were some interesting results, such as an increase in hoteliers planning on advertising on social media sites, hoteliers are shifting budgets from offline to online, focusing on Internet marketing initiatives that have been proven, are becoming savvier at monitoring their hotel reviews on their own, and in general are embracing the Internet as their most cost-effective, revenue generating tool.
All industry forecasts indicate that in 2009-2010 the travel industry in North America will experience a major decline. GDS contribution is also projected to decrease by several percentage points. And yet, online travel bookings in 2009 are expected to grow by 10.5% and reach $116.1 billion due to channel shift, and an additional 11% in 2010 to reach $128.9 billion (eMarketer).
In other words, this year the Online Travel Channel will be the only growth channel in hospitality and, as the survey shows, many hoteliers clearly understand that. Here at HeBS (hospitalityebusiness.com), we firmly believe that a comprehensive, ROI-centric Internet marketing strategy is one of the perfect “survival tools” for hoteliers in the current economic environment. The direct online channel can help smart hoteliers generate incremental revenues, improve marketing ROIs, attract more affluent travelers and out-smart the competition. For the past 14 years, our experience shows that Internet-savvy hoteliers with robust Direct Online Channel strategies are the winners in economic downturns like this one.
You may read the full survey results on the HeBS website.