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Many hoteliers and digital marketing specialists are unsure how to respond to the current crisis regarding their digital marketing strategy. Demand is negligible and resources are low , so difficult decisions must be made to protect the business and prepare for recovery.

The travel landscape has changed dramatically , both in the short and long term, so thinking must change significantly to adapt to this new landscape. The digital marketing of payment is no longer as simple as turning on or off ; it is part of a global ecosystem approach and should be seen as such, particularly as that ecosystem has become unbalanced.

To examine the place of paid advertising in this situation, we need to look at the old and new assumptions to see which ones remain true and which ones need to be reevaluated, while also looking at what actions need to be taken to help grow the business. again.

Probing our assumptions

Assumption 1

OTAs no longer bid for the brand, so there is no need to spend on brand protection.

True or false? While it is true that investment in OTAs has been significantly reduced, it has not stopped entirely . Ads are still visible to brand searches in a number of areas, such as long-awaited international markets and less prominent search engines like  Microsoft Advertising (Bing Ads)  (and by partner sites like Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia). They are also advertising in brand terms that show intention, for example. «Name of the hotel + reservation».

OTAs are extremely knowledgeable about marketing , so they maintain a low level presence based on the markets and segments that expect to recover first, with a view to increasing visibility as demand improves.

Figure 1 shows examples of a brand query searched on Bing, and also a search with reservation intent, showing an advertisement for a lesser-known OTA. Highlights the fact that while the big players have cut advertising spending, this has created an opportunity for others to step in as costs are now lower due to reduced competition.

Equally important, when you look at the presence of the brand on the Google search page, is the importance of Google Hotel Ads . In the absence of CPC ads, Google Hotel ads are now extremely prominent at the top of the page, particularly on mobile devices.

This gives OTAs a high probability of attracting without the need to invest in CPC ads for brand searches. Image 2 shows the Google Hotel ads that dominate the first two results screens on mobile devices. Having an active brand CPC ad will display the hotel ads further down the page and increase the chances of a direct booking.

Historically, OTAs were much faster at developing online presence and strategies than hotels , resulting in a large portion of business being diverted to them. It is important that hotels do not repeat this mistake again now that they have a real opportunity to do things differently: hotels can avoid passing the rally to OTAs if they play their cards correctly.

Assumption 2

CPC is all about ROI, so there is no point in spending until reserves and revenue are recovered.

True or false? This limited vision of CPC has been consolidated in recent years and loses the global impact of paid advertising on the business in general. New customers don’t appear out of nowhere – they must be exposed to your brand somewhere . Therefore, it is important for brands to take ownership of at least part of the customer journey to create awareness and influence. The decision matrix is ​​becoming increasingly complex, with many touch points along the way, so waiting until someone is about to book before committing to that customer makes no business sense as it reduces the likelihood of a direct booking.

There are two key factors to consider when generating new business from clients in the research phase. One is to make sure they reserve your property instead of your competitors, and the second is to make sure you get that reservation at the lowest cost, through their direct channel. Now more than ever it is time to play the long game . Invest in future bookings by engaging with potential customers now. Although the search volume may be low (see Scenario 3 below), there is considerable interest in future bookings, so put your property in front of users now. Costs are minimal right now, but the future return could be significant.

These campaigns will not necessarily generate an immediate return on investment, but will take your property into account when customers start booking in the future. In fact, some outliers with a long wait time now generate more bookings than last year at a lower cost, as can be seen in Figure 3 below.

Investment in brand campaigns in our customer base in April has fallen 90% compared to last year, but despite the low demand, they are still seeing a return of 15 to 1 , which combined with the benefits to long-term advertising makes it compelling to keep investing, even at a low level.

It is also important to note that not all campaigns should focus exclusively on room reservations right away . People are still making long-term plans and thinking about the future, so if your property offers wedding or conference facilities, or has a strong corporate foundation, then you should announce to users that they are now looking for future events. that are accumulating by the end of this year, next year or later.

Assumption 3

No one is actively searching, so there is no point in advertising.

True or false? Although hotel-related search queries have decreased significantly, with a drop of up to 85% (source: Google Travel Trends report), people are still interested in traveling in the future . Search volume is already showing signs of recovery, although different markets will recover at different rates, and it will take time for searches to turn into real reserves. Figure 4 below shows Google search volume in Ireland and Germany for ‘Hotel’ related queries in the past 12 months, with a slight rebound from mid-April 2020.

Figure 4: Google hotel-related queries in Ireland (above) and Germany in the last 12 months  Source:  Google Trends

Travel-related searches may have decreased, but overall online activity has increased significantly , with people working, reading, researching, learning, and communicating online more than ever. All of these activities provide the opportunity to reach new customers , whether through advertising on YouTube, the Google Display Network or social media.

Remember that people are looking for distraction and something to look forward to, so messages should avoid a difficult sale and be more about communication on a personal level. Google has made this process even easier, with the recent introduction of  YouTube Video Builder , which helps create videos from existing assets such as photos, text, and logos, as well as financial assistance with the introduction of Covid-19 Ad Credits for SMEs.

It must be argued that a portion of current searches are ‘negative’ searches, for example, customers looking for a phone number or cancellation details, but a well-structured CPC campaign should already be filtering out unwanted queries by using words negative key in the campaigns.

This prevents ads from triggering when certain keywords are used: examples would include “addresses” or “contact”, to which new negative keywords can now be added. Another technique is to use remarketing lists for search , in addition to targeting website visitors who have not yet booked, these lists can also be used to prevent ads from being displayed to guests who have previously booked through the website. of the hotel. Overall, the positive results of CPC brand campaigns far exceed the small amount of budget that can be diverted to guests without the intention of booking.

What’s next

It is important to understand the changes the current situation has brought about and use this time to regroup and rethink your digital marketing strategy. Some key areas to be addressed include:

1. Know your clients

Different cohorts will respond very differently when restrictions are lifted and people can travel freely, so it’s important to research your customer base and understand what they like, what they visit online , their demographics, and the best way to communicate with they. Some people will be eager to get away from it all in a remote location, while others will want to see some nightlife and hustle and bustle in the city, so getting to know your audience is vital in helping to address your goals and messages.

2. Objective

This refers to 3 main areas: geographic, demographic and online behavior . The recovery will come in different stages for different markets, but everything indicates that it will generally happen first in the domestic market. Initially, many people will be fearful of traveling abroad , particularly due to the additional risks involved with large crowds at airports and the proximity of travelers on planes. So geographically speaking, the main target should be the domestic market , with a small amount for the relevant international markets with long advance bookings.

Demographic targeting is more relevant in display and social media campaigns than in search, but it is important to segment customers wherever the opportunity arises . Ads should be targeted based on your customer research, so family-oriented properties will need a different targeting than downtown properties with a younger or more business demographic.

As with demographic targeting, online behavior is more relevant on display and social media than for search campaigns, but it is important to know where your online customers connect. The targeting tools provided by Google Ads and other online advertising platforms will help with this, but it should be backed up with research that is unique to your property. Whenever possible, talk to your guests and learn about their habits.

Use tools like Google Analytics to see which websites are sending customers to your website. Remember that the most valuable customers are those who already know you , so make sure that people who have visited your site previously see your remarketing ads while browsing online, with an important caveat: you have to make sure that nobody sees our ad more that a few times a day.

3. Message

The advertising messages and tone must conform to the current crisis and the needs of the consumer , so that instead of focusing exclusively on the sale of rooms, advertisements in search engines on display or on social networks should also focus in your clients’ main concerns, for example , what steps have we taken to protect them if they plan a future visit? Can you cancel or postpone without penalty if circumstances change? Communicating these messages can help with customer confidence , leading to better conversion.

For customers who are not actively searching, we can create advertisements with a more informative message, to encourage them to subscribe to our newsletter, for example, so they can stay up-to-date on our reopening and subsequent offers, or for updates and improvements to the property.

Social media ads could also be a temporary substitute for regular organic posting. If you don’t have the ability to create multiple new Facebook or Instagram posts, for example creating a post and then boosting it, or creating a video or carousel ad can save us a lot of time. In addition, it will help to keep our voice present until circumstances improve.

4. Budget

Not all companies are in a position to invest in CPC at this time , but it should be considered as an important part of any recovery strategy. Brand search levels are low, so investment requirements are equally low, with typical monthly expenses currently under 100 euros. A good rule of thumb is to let demand dictate spending: As searches increase, investment must increase to match.

If additional budget is available, reaching new and existing visitors through YouTube, Display, and Facebook can also be done at relatively low cost and lays the foundation for faster recovery.


It is important to maintain a certain level of visibility during this crisis to connect with customers and keep them informed. A small investment now will pay off in the long term and should be viewed on an equal footing with other standard investments, such as stocking up on supplies or paying for utilities.

As demand slowly increases, messages can change to suit the environment and budgets can be adjusted to meet that demand . Start with the local market and expand the budget as people start to travel more.

Moving away from a ROI model is important to help understand online advertising as part of an overall recovery plan, particularly when analyzing softer metrics, such as newsletter subscriptions or sharing on social media.


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