Online arena helps hotel marketers track ROI

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—As the channels by which hotel rooms are marketed and sold continue to evolve—and inherently move from traditional to digital platforms—experts are embracing the ability to track and measure efforts.

“Digital marketers are no longer holding on to print or TV or radio impressions,” said Bill Carroll, senior hotel and hotel analyst for PhoCusWright. “It’s a new world, and it’s a world where we’re spending considerable amounts of funds on digital media.”

“Before it was all about impressions, but now we can observe click-stream behavior.”

Carroll led a Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International webinar earlier this month where panelists outlined three key trends in the hotel digital-marketing space: having a simple framework for measurement; knowing what to measure; and creating a compelling case for investment in measurement tools.

Framework for measurement
“The key to having a successful measurement framework is making it as simple as possible,” said Tim Peter, managing director of Tim Peter Associates, a full-service, ecommerce and Internet marketing consulting firm. Once that’s accomplished, the next step is to “engage the team in making the analytics work for you.”

Peter suggested that one way to keep things simple is presenting measured metrics in percent-change form, rather than in absolute numbers, so it is easier to track big-picture trends.

He also sees many cases where hoteliers have installed the proper tools to measure website metrics (Google Analytics, Adobe SiteCatalyst, etc.), and yet the tools are not being used in the proper way.

“It’s not that (the tools are) not capable, it’s just that they’re not setup in the right way,” Peter said.

Rather than look for an all-inclusive chart packed with information, it is best to narrow measurement to metrics that are timely, accurate and easily measurable, he said.

“They need to be simple enough to look at it and say, ‘I get what’s going on here, and I know what to do,’” he said.

Peter said he once worked for a large hotel brand that had the best tools producing plenty of data but none of it was actionable. “If you have 50 key performance indicators, you don’t have any,” he said.

The company was forced to adjust and place more emphasis on having the right people to act on the data.

“Ninety-percent of the value comes from understanding the tool; 10% from the tool itself,” he said. “The people who are able to take action are the people that should have access to the data.”

What to measure
For hoteliers, the most common digital-marketing measurements are:

  • increasing revenue;
  • increasing incremental visits;
  • building greater retention;
  • increasing length of stay;
  • improving average daily rate;
  • increasing loyalty club membership;
  • improving leads for group business; and
  • improving website traffic overall.

“Those are the key indicators,” he said.

Hoteliers can use a wide variety of measurements to determine the return on their digital-marketing initiatives. However, “a whole bunch of the reports are kind of useless,” said Michael Hayward, executive VP and chief strategy officer for Acronym Media, which provides digital-marketing solutions for hotels.

Hayward said it’s more important to know about trends than measurements that aren’t actionable.

Availability checks (travelers checking to see if there is availability at your hotel) are often the most important measurement because those users can be deemed a qualified visitor to the site, he said.

“There’s a pretty good chance that person was intending to take a trip,” Hayward said. “That’s a real customer.”

He said if the goal is simply to increase visits, a search-engine optimization agency could help but might not drive the right kind of traffic.

Other important measurements are conversion rates, changes to itinerary and pre-arrival activities.

When redesigning a website, Hayward suggested building the capability to measure those things into the site.

Approaching ownership
Because hotel operators are typically negotiating digital-marketing budgets with the hotel owners, Loren Gray, director of ecommerce at Ocean Properties Limited, said it is important to determine how to best approach ownership.

“You need to understand what kind of ownership you work for in determining how to answer their questions correctly,” he said, adding there are detail-oriented owners, owners who only care about the top line and owners who are most concerned with the next best thing.

“The most challenging is the owner who just wants to know the cost and the (return on investment),” Gray said.