Editor’s Note: With OTAs and big brands all but shutting out independent hotels and small groups from both paid and organic search results, content marketing has grown in importance as an effective and affordable means of gaining visibility and traffic. Recently I read a smart article on Tnooz by Matthew Barker called SEO is Alive and Kicking in Travel, and I asked Matt to prepare this piece as part of Reknown’s guest post series. Enjoy! – Daniel E. Craig
By Matthew Barker, Founder, I&I Travel Media
In a recent Skift interview, Gray Shealy, executive director of the Master’s of Hospitality Management Program at Georgetown University, discussed how hotel chains could follow Airbnb’s lead to better connect guests with the local neighbourhood and provide a more immersive stay in the area:
“…what Airbnb allows a user to do is really have an accessible localized experience… People are looking to relate to people… and get away from the touristed restaurant establishments and things like that.”
Shealy argued that hotel groups should aim to provide a similar degree of connection to their locality, as an extended, hyper-local concierge service. In his view, hotels should become a “knowledge hub, a place, a resource, a library for the traveler.”
The interview was primarily about major hotel groups trying to improve their appeal against the onslaught of Airbnb-style competition. But we’ve been saying exactly the same thing to smaller, independent hotels for many years.
With their intimate local knowledge and expertise, these companies are much better placed to provide true connections and insights to their surrounding areas.
Not only that, but this knowledge can also be used as a powerful marketing asset to drive new bookings.
Think about it: when we talk about “local knowledge hubs” no one knows their patch better than independent hoteliers. While the Sheraton may give its guests a free mobile app to explore the neighbourhood, local hotel owners already have the vital info right there in their heads, on hand for whatever their guests need to know.
The best restaurants within 10 minutes walk… family friendly establishments… gluten free cafes… how to catch the tram to the museum… the bus to the train station… the reliable taxi company… the list goes on, and hotel owners don’t need fancy apps – they’re a true tourist information service with unparalleled knowledge accrued over many years.
Although hoteliers understand the usefulness of this information for their guests, most don’t realise its enormous potential as a cost-effective marketing asset to help generate new bookings.
Converting that expertise into a digital format – for example a guide to the local neighbourhood – creates a magnet that we can use to bring new visitors to the website.
When a traveller is searching Google and looking for information on the neighbourhood, the content will help bring them to our website. When they ask their friends in the area for recommendations, perhaps someone will share our guide with them. We can even run cheap ads on Facebook and Twitter, targeting users who may be planning a trip to the area.
For a good example see this guide to bird watching we recently published for a family-owned lodge in Peru. The guide provides expert content based on the owner’s many years experience, and it quickly became effective at bringing new visitors to the website.
After all, if someone is going to the trouble of downloading content this specific, it’s a safe bet they’ll be considering making a booking before long.
Once the audience has downloaded and engaged with the content, we’re able to follow up with retargeting ads and high quality email messages, making sure we remain fresh in their minds and that they come back to the site when they’re ready to make a booking.
This journey to purchase can be easily summarised with the following diagram:
In the long run this can become one of the most cost-effective sources of new bookings – significantly cheaper per booking than the approximately 15% commission that many hotels pay to online travel agencies (OTAs).
Hotels that are able to package their expertise into creative digital formats can tap into a huge demand for high quality, local information and use that as a driver for online bookings.
The success of all content marketing efforts rests on the quality and reliability of the raw material – and independent hotel owners are often the gold-plated, definitive source of local knowledge.
Have a think about your hotel, your audience and your own expertise. What knowledge assets are locked up in your business that we could unleash onto the web?
With a background in PR, Matthew Barker has been doing “content strategy” long before it became fashionable. He has spent a decade in travel marketing, living and working in four continents first in-house for an OTA, later as the co-founder of I&I Travel Media, a content marketing studio specialising in travel campaigns and turning great content into leads and sales.
See also A Quick Guide to Content Marketing for Tourism Businesses and Hotels by Mark Hayward.