By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown.
In a recent article I argued that it doesn’t make sense for most hotels to start a blog. Blogs are time-consuming and challenging to maintain, often starting in a flurry of enthusiasm and then fading over time. An abandoned blog is like frayed carpet in a hotel lobby: it speaks of apathy and neglect and can be off-putting when stumbled upon.
My comments prompted a minor outcry, though notably not from hotel managers but from third-party web marketers, who were quick to point out the benefits of blogs to search engine optimization. Last year, a Hubspot survey reported that small businesses with a blog receive 55% more website traffic and 97% more inbound links than small businesses without a blog.
If anyone understands the value of a hotel blog, I do. It was four years ago this month that I started the General Manager’s Blog, a first in the industry. Our then-director of marketing, Katrina, came up with the idea, and I’m still mad at her. Nevertheless, I tackled my first posts with zeal, writing in a breezy style that suggested I had banged them out between check-ins. In fact, a great deal of effort went into making them sound effortless.
From the outset I promised to give an insider’s look at the hotel business and to “leave out the boring parts”. As the manager of an independent contemporary hotel, I could get away with being a bit edgy; writing things other hotel managers think but don’t dare say. I covered taboo subjects like relocating, construction and guest complaints. I debated the pros and cons of offering sex toys in the mini-bar. And I vented about a challenging weekend in which a guest received a stream of “nieces” to his room and a drag queen gave her room a makeover … with her makeup.
In many ways, hotels are an ideal platform for a blog. We welcome a stream of new guests each day, and they bring with them unique stories, inspiration and, occasionally, drama. But while reporting on guest antics might be great for attracting blog traffic, it can also frighten travelers away. So I’ve had to walk a fine line, providing enough intrigue to appeal to readers while respecting the privacy of guests. With such a narrow scope, I’ve often found myself staring hopelessly at a blank computer screen, feeling increasingly anxious about the other duties I’m neglecting. It’s a lot more fun to swill cocktails with clients in the hotel lounge.
Given the challenges, it’s no surprise that blogs written by hoteliers are still quite rare. Some of the best I’ve seen are published like an online magazine, rich in imagery and content, with enviable resources backing them. Others are simpler, maintained by the owner or manager of a small hotel or inn, with compelling, quirky stories and an intensely personal feel.
Recently, I came across a new blog for a bed-and-breakfast whose author promised to post something every day so as “not to disappoint” her readers. All I could think was good luck. It’s only a matter of time before she resorts to writing about kittens, what she had for breakfast, and why beige is her favourite colour. I try to avoid this fate by blogging infrequently and writing long posts, exploring topics from various angles.
In this age of social media, a blog provides a platform for hotels to engage with guests. But readers rarely leave comments, and I’m often convinced that no one is listening—and that if anyone is listening, they think I’m a moron. Then, just as I’m sinking into total despair, I’ll receive a gushing comment about how great my blog is … only to realize it’s spam from a timeshare in Goa. Travelers tend to be more active in sharing content on Facebook, Twitter and, of course, TripAdvisor and other online travel communities.
What readers probably don’t know about the OPUS blog is that it’s frequently quoted and republished across the web, has been lauded by publications from Condé Nast Traveler to USA Today, and is followed by travelers, hotel employees and students around the world.
At the end of 2007, I left OPUS to focus on writing. My successor as general manager, Nicholas, a clever fellow, opted to delegate the blog to Katrina. Suddenly Katrina wasn’t so thrilled about her brilliant idea. Rechristening it OPUS Hotels’ Blog, she explored meaningful issues like hotels and the environment and healthful drinking. Needless to say, readership plummeted. (Okay, I’m kidding.) In 2008, I returned as interim resident manager of OPUS Montreal and have been maintaining the blog since, along with working on various other projects.
There’s no question, a blog can be great for SEO and can give personality to a hotel, helping to distinguish it from other hotels. If a property has the skills and commitment for the long haul, I say go for it; we need more hoteliers in the blogosphere. If not, the hotel’s scarce resources might be better channeled elsewhere.
Why does OPUS persist? The blog has become a part of our culture, drawing people to our site who might not otherwise find us and giving our guests a flavour of what to expect before they arrive. Looking ahead, we plan to integrate it further into our marketing and social media activities and to bring back some of its original edge. Our marketing director, Chella, tells me I’ve softened of late. Apparently, I was getting dangerously close to writing about kittens.
Do you have a favourite travel or hotel blog or blogging tips of your own? Share them here.