It is evident, and no one can deny it, that the ways hotels are commercialized have changed and marketing strategies have also changed. But, in the meantime, has the criteria of those who make the decisions that affect this new commercialization also changed? Are we aware of the implications of the radical transformation that the digital age has brought about? Each one can analyze their known cases and reflect on the subject.
LET’S DO SOME HISTORY: THE PAST
Hotel marketing has been prosperous, adapting to a parallel global prosperity. Melding and expanding due to the corporate needs of business, the growing social needs to travel and the new facility for leisure consumption.
The hotel occupations and hotel business development initiatives were responding to the demands generated by a critical mass always directed by the fortunate presence of intermediaries with the ability to approach the final client. Let’s say that «the situation, until now, has always been working well» so it has not had to change or invent much more.
For hotels, basically until very recent dates, the option to go directly to the client was null, almost impossible, so they had to maintain their commercialization in those blessed collaborating agents, in their different formats, depending on the type of product or destination. Travel agencies in all their different modalities.
The older ones will remember that in the hotels the direct clients were called with the peculiar term of «interns». That said it all. It was impossible to consider a supposed campaign to attract «interns» for which the return on investment (ROI) would always be excessive. Unthinkable.
In such circumstances, «commercialize» meant collaborating with the before mentioned agents or players distributors of the market, which required great skills in negotiation, contracting and, of course, capacity and disposition for public relations. The good Commercial Director had to have a wide portfolio of contacts, with whom he had to maintain a very good relationship and with whom it was necessary to meet with assiduity. In person, of course. Being a good Commercial Director entailed in the total position availability to travel to meet the decision makers of the client distributors in their cities of origin and in the big events or annual trade-shows.
Given that hotel marketing was always supported by retail partners or wholesale partners that sold, in turn, with third-party retailers, any generation or promotion or brand consolidation action, called «Marketing», had to be negotiated with them, who were the ones who really put in place the necessary actions with the means of then to get «hooked» to the final clients or future guests.
True marketing campaigns, some surprising and brilliant that, by themselves, caused moments or inspirational processes in the consumer. That was the job.
In many cases, these marketing campaigns were presented with a dual shared personality that, at least on paper, was supposed to be carried out by «sharing» the investment they required. It was called «co-marketing.»
That’s how those days were and it was not so long ago.
Let’s go back to the figure of that Commercial Director of a hotel or hotel chain.
Within its commercial and contracting tasks, he or she had to negotiate also with those agents (tour operators, consortiums, or travel agencies) those marketing initiatives that were understood necessary and that were successfully achieved thanks to their excellent skills described above. Therefore, the control of the marketing budget was also implicit in the position. With which, we already had Commercial and “Marketing” Director. A heroic figure of direction, an engine of the sale, with a very good disposition and commercial and negotiation skills. And marketing skills?
NOW EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED: THE PRESENT
The inspiration or need to travel is no longer aroused by these brilliant campaigns. Not the famous Curro that goes to the Caribbean; nor the fashion actor in television; nor those ads in travel catalogs and Iberia magazines with white sand beaches full of coconut trees. The client now receives and feels the inspiration in other areas. To this day, those marketing or co-marketing initiatives are quite futile. Let’s say they serve very little, or nothing.
It is obvious that the concept of marketing has changed and that we have to immerse ourselves in it. The direct client in his concept of «intern», fortunately, has already «passed». Now it is a close, curious and interested omnipresent Internet user with a high degree of proactivity, which seems to have caught on foot changed many hotel organizations and boards of directors.
Now that heroic «orchestra man» is no longer valid. It is essential to know about marketing. Real marketing. In addition, it is another type of marketing in which the client can no longer be harassed or bombarded with messages that we believe inspire. Now it is necessary to undertake direct actions to find the curious and needy customer, who is looking for in the network to be satisfied with the perfect option to the model of travel or vacations that he himself has created with all the information received in the new areas. They are new media that have enveloped us all without exception: search engines, streaming videos, messaging, metasearch engines, social media, etc.
Those collaborating agents that supported any brand action are no longer useful to the hotels. Perhaps they have already disappeared as such or are in danger of extinction. Some have become oxidized amortized figures whose only outlet is the specialization in very specific market niches and others have been subtly changing their role as agent for the single channel, and I underline the channel because it is not that simple.
The client is now closer than ever to the hotel, at the mere distance of a click, if I am allowed the topic. The hotel must be involved in this new model of Inbound Marketing and implement all those tools and solutions within his reach to be shown as a candidate to what the client is looking for. He must know perfectly his «buyer person» and direct all efforts and budgets towards him with aim. Welcome to Digital Marketing.
Definitely, some time ago, it was time to dissociate that role of Commercial Director with people skills incorporating a true team of Digital Marketing specialists. And, with all due respect, much better if that responsibility resides in natives of the digital age instead of continuing to make use of previous generations, for many medals of other battles they may have in their file.
Many organizations should, with humility, take this courageous step and unlock a broad path of success and opportunity that would allow them to compete on equal terms with the few pioneers that are already ahead, or with the very great international chains that have understood it for years now.
We see every day the tremendous respect that illogically is given to the different options or investment opportunities in digital marketing. Even when a high and evident return on investment is demonstrated and millimeter results and traceability measurements are available that could never have been dreamed of. The only explanation is that such respect only responds to fear of the unknown. To what is not known by those who inherited the responsibility of the brand from other times and who must now decide on modern concepts for them incomprehensible that directly affect the use of a weak budget from the account of that initial marketing that no longer exists as such.
There is the sad dilemma of not taking advantage of this very clear opportunity because of the only circumstance of not understanding it. And it is worrying also that there is no intention to understand because who should decide is sedated by the constant reservations that are arriving daily from the intermediaries between the hotel and that final client, which is much more accessible than it seems.
Of course, before it was much more comfortable when the responsibility for the management and promotion of the brand fell on that partner of co-marketing; when the apparently success of those investments was only measured by the sales generated by the agencies or tour operators that were reviewed once a year through accumulated and mixed data when renewing contracts in those pleasant and long business meals.
On the other hand, now that the «prodigal son» DIRECT CLIENT has shown up, let us think whether the same traditional dynamics should be followed commercially. Definitely not.
The distributor, a former agent, now called OTA, must comply with the new rules of the game since his role has changed significantly. It is no longer the one that generates business, it has already lost that merit. Remember that it is a simple channel, that road that the client takes to get to the hotel. In many occasions, it is the easiest way to access, since these new intermediaries have excellent means and resources to present themselves first to the consumer who has started his «booking journey.» Resources that, by the way, the hotel pays through the commissions on the sale that are agreed upon. Commissions very well earned and deserved provided they are used for what they were actually hired, which was nothing more than to get access to those customers that the hotel cannot reach by their own means. Therefore, when the OTA gets in the way between the client and the hotel is seriously and flagrantly breaking the rules of the game. So that commission is not so deserved anymore.
It is odd that still, some sales agents are reluctant to address directly to the client with the explicit spirit and objective of achieving their loyalty and, consequently, their next direct booking. As it is incomprehensible that an online agency claims for itself that loyalty, which is the most sacred property of the hotel.
That client is as legitimate of the hotel, as the commission for the agency for having achieved it the first time. That’s where the deal ends.