Learn all about hospitality marketing, including the channels commonly used, current trends, and how to define your own strategy.
When was the last time you took a flight? Stayed in a hotel? Ate at a restaurant?
We might not get away on jet-setting vacations as often as we’d like, but if you’re anything like me I’m sure you’ve eaten at a restaurant or ordered takeout at least once within the last few weeks.
When you think about how often we do those actions, and how many other people do them too, it’s easy to see how the hospitality industry was worth $4,390.59 billion in 2022. And it’s projected to reach $4,699.57 billion in 2023.
These numbers show us that the industry is growing, which means if you’re in the hospitality sector, now is as good a time as ever to promote your brand. How to do that? Hospitality marketing of course.
That’s what I’ll cover in this article. We’ll look at why hospitality marketing matters, some challenges it poses, how to develop a strategy, and some trends in the industry.
What is hospitality marketing?
Hospitality marketing is the process of promoting hospitality businesses (food and drink, accommodations, travel, tourism, etc.) to the public. The general goals of marketing are to:
- Raise awareness and consideration of the business and its products or services
- Position the brand in the market by highlighting its unique selling propositions (USPs)
- Drive customer engagement.
- And often, increase revenue by encouraging sales of the brand’s products or services.
Hospitality can mean a lot of things, and a big hotel chain and a local restaurant are guaranteed to develop marketing different strategies. But hospitality marketing across the industry always has one thing in common: it focuses on the customer experience that the brand can offer.
Why does hospitality marketing matter?
Hospitality marketing is all about creating and nurturing positive customer relationships, from the time they first learn about your brand through to after they’ve already used your product or service.
Due to this, and also to the somewhat cyclical nature of the hospitality industry (it’s something most consumers repeat at various times throughout the year), hospitality marketing is an important component in ensuring that consumers find your brand and stay engaged.
If you want to attract more customers, and retain the ones you already have, you need to effectively advertise your brand on various digital channels that your target audience is tuned in to.
Hospitality marketing channels
Let’s run through some of the common channels for hospitality marketing.
Your website is your brand’s central hub in the digital arena. If all roads lead to Rome, then all your other marketing channels lead to your website. Think about it. Search ads lead to your website. CTAs in email newsletters lead to your website. Everything leads to your website.
So, it’s important to have a great one. If you can hire a web designer, great. If not, try out a tool that lets you build your website on your own. Webflow is one of my favorites, because you can build beautiful websites without knowing any code.
Your website should clearly communicate your brand’s unique selling propositions, so customers understand why they should choose your product or service over a competitor.
You should also make it as easy as possible for visitors to find the information they need. So for example, if you’re a restaurant, you’ll want to post your menu in an easy-to-read format so people can find out if you serve the type of food they like. Or if you’re a hotel, make sure you have a user-friendly reservations system so people can check available dates and prices without any headaches.
Something all brands should do is conversion rate optimization. This means testing different elements on your website to see which cause more visitors to convert, or perform the action you’re trying to persuade them to perform (e.g. book a room, make a reservation, etc.)
A/B testing is a common way to do this. In an A/B test, you test 2 variations of the same thing, and show each variation to a portion of your website visitors. This helps you see which variation leads to better results. You can A/B test things like website copies, button colors, images, and so on.
Email is a pretty old marketing channel, but it’s still relevant. Email is a great way to update your audience about changes to your products or services, send out special offers, and just remind them from time to time that you exist.
For the hospitality industry, email campaigns might be useful during key dates and seasons when consumers are more likely to be spending time traveling or going out. Think summer vacation, Valentine’s Day, Spring Break, and so on.
Email is also a great way to gauge customer opinion. You can send surveys to your email list to ask for feedback or even for a public review (see more in the Reviews channel below). This strategy provides valuable insights to your team, and can also help you build your brand’s reputation online.
To get started in email marketing, Mailchimp is a good option. And if you want to create beautiful surveys simply, I recommend Typeform.
Content marketing is a great way to create a deeper connection with your audience. If you can educate and entertain them, they’re more likely to think of you as a reference when they need to solve a problem, like booking lodging or hiring a tour guide.
Content also helps you build authority and trust within your sector, both with humans and with search engines. The higher your content ranks on search engine result pages, the more people you can attract to your web domain as the answer to their search queries.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is this process of finding out what your target audience is searching and writing content that answers those questions. It’s not difficult, but it does take some practice. Here are a few best practices to get you started:
- Use an SEO tool to do keyword research (for example, Moz, which has some free tools). Search for keywords related to your service or product that your target audience would be asking. Keep in mind that each keyword has a search volume (how often people search for it) and a difficulty (basically, how hard it will be to rank your content for that keyword).
- Write your content to include that keyword. It’s best if you can include it in the title, in some of the subheadings, and at various points throughout the content. Just remember it should fit in naturally!
- Include relevant links in your content to trusted sources. A good way to do this is to include statistics, quotes, graphics, or charts from sources that already have authority on the topic you’re discussing.
Paid search ads
Most people turn to Google or other search engines when they want to answer a question or solve a problem. They might need information, to answer something like “how much do trains cost in Italy?” Or they might want to fulfill some need, like going out for a meal, by searching “restaurants near me.”
In any event, paid search ads can help your business get in front of the people asking those questions. Google Ads and its peers lets you set up ads for your brand that show up when users search certain keywords that you target. So if you have a Thai restaurant in Philadelphia, you might want to target “Thai restaurants in Philadelphia” as an example.
Paid ads are their own world and can be a bit confusing at first. But Google has lots of free courses to teach you how to use Ads, and the important thing to keep in mind is that ad campaigns are meant to be analyzed and optimized over time so that you better reach your target market and at a lower price.
Social media marketing helps generate awareness about and engagement with your brand. And for many brands, it’s the frontline for connecting with younger consumers. 54% of Millenials and 55% of Gen Zers report social media as their number one channel for discovering new brands.
@milkbarstore on Instagram.
Social media is definitely at the top of the funnel when it comes to marketing. It’s a channel for the awareness and interest stages, where you can explain what your brand is all about and try to direct the audience to visit your website.
From What is a marketing funnel? by Intercom.
But, social media can be a powerful engagement tool too. 80% of US consumers use social media to engage with brands. For most Millennials and Gen Zers, who are digital natives, sending a DM to a brand on Instagram is more comfortable than calling a service number and waiting on hold.
So make sure you have someone actively monitoring your social networks. You want the audience to get to know your brand on social media. But you also want to follow through and answer any questions they might have.
Apart from this, social media ads can also be great for promoting your business. These are paid ads that appear as users browse social media. Most platforms allow you to target certain geographical areas and groups of people, which helps you pinpoint your target audience. You can then analyze your results and make adjustments as needed. You may even learn new things about your target audience that you didn’t know.
Influencer marketing is a great way for hospitality brands to reach new niche markets. Influencers can connect you with engaged audiences who trust their opinion.
Here at Heepsy, we’ve seen that hospitality is one of the campaign categories that works best when it comes to attracting influencer collaboration proposals and closing successful deals.
And it makes sense given that hospitality brands offer very Instagrammable products and services. Who wouldn’t want to get a free stay at a beautiful hotel or a free meal at a trendy restaurant?
Influencer marketing success depends on working with an influencer who ticks three boxes:
- They connect you to your target audience.
- They align with your brand’s mission and values.
- Their followers are authentic and engaged.
Heepsy lets you take advantage of both inbound and outbound influencer strategies at the same time. You can search for and contact influencers on your own, but your campaign also gets posted to the Heepsy marketplace. This means influencers can find and send proposals to you, too. You then decide which proposals to accept, reject, or negotiate.
Getting inbound proposals on Heepsy.
Finding your target influencers can be tricky, but there are lots of tools to help you out. Heepsy for example, asks you for your unique criteria when creating your campaign. It then guides you as to which influencers meet those criteria.
An example of how Heepsy shows you which influencers meet your criteria.
Another marketing channel for hospitality brands is review sites. Sites like TripAdvisor, TrustPilot, or Google reviews add social proof to your brand.
Think about how you yourself relate to hospitality products and services. If you want to go out to dinner, the deciding factors are probably the cuisine type, the location, and whether or not the restaurant has good reviews.
To put numbers behind this, the total number of reviews on TripAdvisor has been increasing since 2014, with about 1 billion aggregate reviews in 2021, 13% more than in 2020.
TripAdvisor's hotel booking system showing top-rated hotels in Iceland.
With so many people leaving reviews, getting your brand good ones can give you a leg up against your competitors. The best way to do this is to ask for reviews at the right touch points in the customer relationship, like shortly after a hotel stay or tour activity.
You can also incentivize reviews by giving customers a special discount or advantage if they leave a review. Maybe you offer them a coupon to use on their next meal or stay. Just make sure that when offering incentives you still encourage reviewers to be honest. Offering incentives for specifically good reviews generally breaks the community guidelines of review sites.
Word of mouth
Last but not least, word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing across all industries, especially for something like hospitality, which is bound to come up in natural human conversations.
Friends might not spend time discussing the tools and services they use at work, but you can bet they’re going to talk about the trips they’ve taken and the food they’ve eaten. And when a trusted friend tells you how good a restaurant or hotel is, you’re more than likely to check it out too.
It’s hard to control what people say about your brand when they’re with family and friends. To steer the conversation to the positive, just try to give every customer the best possible service. And remember that while you might not be able to fix every problem or accommodate every person, how you communicate goes a long way in leaving a good impression.
How to develop a hospitality marketing strategy
To put together your hospitality marketing strategy, start with the basics.
Why is your product or service unique?
I mentioned USPs at the beginning of this post. The first thing you have to do in any marketing strategy is decide what makes your product or service special. What makes it different from other similar options?
Here, there are a few different paths you can take. You can position yourself as the very best in the overall market, or you can try and corner a subsection of the market. Finally, you can also try to develop a new market that doesn’t yet exist in the minds of your potential customers, though this last option is arguably the hardest.
So, you might not be the best or most luxurious option out there. But what sets you apart? Maybe your service is a hotel that caters specifically to surfers. Or a vegan restaurant that is also completely gluten-free. Maybe you operate tours for people who are deaf. Don’t be afraid to lean into what makes your brand unique.
Who is your target audience?
Who is your product for? Think about your buyer personas, or ideal customers. You should create profiles that explain who these people are. Think about things like:
- Where do they live?
- What age are they?
- What is their income level?
- What are their interests?
- What are their pain points and needs?
- What provides value to them?
From How to define your target audience by LinkedIn.
Establishing these details helps you understand who to target with your marketing efforts so that you don’t waste time and resources reaching out to people who won’t be interested in your brand.
What should consumers expect from your customer experience?
You also want to think of the experience you provide to customers. Apart from the details of your product or service, how do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand?
Establishing a brand personality and brand values can help you ensure that each customer receives a similar experience, leading to better cohesion when it comes to your brand’s reputation.
Likewise, you’ll want to mirror this personality in your marketing efforts. If your customer experience is based on sincerity, your marketing materials should read as sincere, too. On the flip side, if you offer customers an edgier, cheekier experience, your marketing should also include a bit of edge.
Where can customers access your product or service?
Think about where and how customers can access your product or service. Is it limited to a specific geographical area? Can they purchase it online?
Having this clear affects your marketing. A local restaurant and a worldwide hotel chain don’t afford customers the same type of access. And this affects what marketing channels to use, plus how you structure the CTAs in your marketing efforts.
What is your price point?
How much does your product or service cost? Is it something that is accessible to most of the public?
Your price point speaks a lot about your product and affects how people perceive your brand. It also drastically affects your target audience and how you should be marketing to.
What is the visual identity of your brand?
What does your brand look like? What are your key colors, your choice fonts, elements of your logo? The visual identity of a brand is extremely important for raising awareness. And above all, it should be cohesive.
That means that any marketing campaign on any channel should use the same visual guidelines. This way, customers recognize your brand more easily.
Think about Airbnb. Wherever we interact with the brand, we can expect to find the same visual elements.
Airbnb’s interface with its trademark pink and black colors and recognizable logo.
What channels will you use for hospitality marketing?
You already learned about some channels to use in hospitality marketing. After answering all the other questions above, think about which channels can help you connect with your target audience and share the message you want to send.
If you’re just starting out, it’s better to start with a few channels instead of everything all at once. Make sure to track your results so that you can see if each channel works for you. For example, if you do email marketing, but no one opens or clicks your emails, maybe it’s not a channel you should invest more resources in.
Likewise, if you start a social media account and see that your follower base grows organically, and people interact with your content, that’s probably a channel you want to invest more time and resources in.
6 trends in hospitality marketing
So, how are other brands doing hospitality marketing? Let's look at six current trends in the industry.
A new emphasis on safety and hygiene
In our post-COVID world, safety and hygiene have found new footing in the hospitality industry. It’s more important than ever to highlight how your brand handles safety procedures, hygiene policies, and other decisions that protect your customers.
You might want to talk about your extra cleaning, how you space your tables and chairs according to social distancing guidelines, whether or not customers must wear a mask on your premises, and if you offer contactless payment.
The important thing here is to make this information clearly available to customers before they book or buy. Having or not having this information could be the dealbreaker when a customer is comparing your brand to a competitor.
Related to the above, flexibility has become another trend in light of the pandemic. We now all have a heightened awareness that plans can change at any time.
Many brands have rethought strict cancellation policies to allow customers peace of mind when booking. This way, if something goes wrong, they know they can make changes without a lot of hassle or added fees.
Having a flexible policy and an understanding personality can help your brand stand out from the rest, perhaps more so even than price. I know that I’d rather pay a bit more to have peace of mind than get the cheapest deal but stress if I need to change something.
Short-form video, like TikTok and Instagram Reels, has blown up in recent years. People are captivated by this easily-consumable, entertaining form of video.
Tiktok and Reels offer you a wonderful opportunity to do hospitality marketing. You can show accomplish a lot of things with these short videos, like:
- Show off your product or service
- Introduce viewers to your team, or do “behind the scene”
- Explain your cancelation policy or loyalty program
- Educate people about topics in your industry
- Launch challenges to engage with your audience
- Entertain by putting a hospitality spin on memes and trending topics
Similar to the above, user-generated content (UGC) is another way to market your hospitality brand. UGC is content created by users who are not directly affiliated with your brand. That means they’re not employees or stakeholders.
They’re also not exactly influencers. When you work with an influencer, they create content to upload to their own social channels. UGC creators, on the other hand, create content that’s more anonymous than what influencers usually create. And the key difference is that you are the one to upload that content to your own channels, whether it be your TikTok feed or paid ads.
Educational and inspirational content
Another trend that works well for the hospitality industry is educational and inspirational content. With this, you’re not just promoting your business.
Instead, you’re providing your audience with valuable information that can help them solve a problem or get inspired. Ideally, that process includes buying your product or booking your service.
The Booking.com blog offers readers a wealth of travel information and inspiration.
A few ideas for this type of content?
- Top trending destinations this year
- How to navigate Italy as a vegan
- The countries where Americans can get most for their dollar
- Basic sayings for your next trip to France
This content provides value to your audience. And if you do it well, people will take note and mentally create authority for your brand. This means that they’re more likely to look at you as a solution when it’s time to actually make the purchasing decision.
In short, hospitality marketing is important for communicating your product or service’s unique edge to potential customers. But how you do it depends completely on your brand and target audience.
Remember to thoroughly prep your strategy and choose a few channels that make sense with your goals. And when in doubt, look to big names in your sector to see what trends they’re following.