Marketing management

Reaching the right prospects at the right time using the right channel is a growing challenge for the marketing department. A combination of modern technology and a bit of creative thinking can help marketing managers to get the hotel’s message across

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By  Sarah Gain Published  May 20, 2006

|~|screenshotsL.jpg|~|The hotel’s website needs to be a sales tool, not a scrapbook. |~|In a fast-paced and competitive environment such as Dubai, standing out from the crowd becomes more challenging by the day. Ultimately, every marketer's goal is to make consumers feel something about their brand that they do not feel about any other. Starting with a core truth about the product, the marketing team must first concentrate on developing a strong vision and positioning the brand. “Park Hyatt distinguishes itself as a small, world-class, residential-style hotel with international flair. We look for a cultured, refined and exquisite brand experience,” explains Maria Warner, marketing communications manager, Park Hyatt Dubai. “Our creative positioning is that the hotel is for the discerning guest to find a sanctuary and I have to target my marketing efforts in accordance with that clientele.” Statistical breakdowns of the hotel’s visitor numbers by factors such as nationality, age, gender and purpose of visit are invaluable when it comes to identifying a hotel's feeder markets. Understanding these target markets is vital to identifying the most effective media mix for targeting specific groups of current and prospective customers, according to Warner. “When I look to use direct marketing to target the feeder markets for our rooms business, we pitch ourselves with the high-net-worth brands,” she says. “If we were to advertise in an in-flight magazine, for example, it would only be in the first- and business-class magazines.” For Lars Gericke, director of sales and marketing at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Dubai Media City (DMC), understanding the local, regional and international business drivers is the key to winning business. Due to the DMC property's location, the majority of its rooms business comes from the corporate market, as he explains. “We are surrounded by a lot of big companies so our client mix is 80% business travellers. We get a lot of our corporate business from within the GCC and the Middle East as a whole, as there is a lot traffic from around the region to companies with regional headquarters in DMC and Dubai Internet City (DIC). Because of the international corporations in the vicinity, such as HP and IBM, we also get a lot of overseas guests,” Gericke explains. “There are a lot of young professionals that work in DMC and DIC and we're adapting to that clientele,” he adds. Since opening, the hotel has focused mainly on direct marketing, dropping fliers in the surrounding office blocks, advertising in a daily newspaper and running a two-week campaign on local radio. Food and beverage marketing has been the main challenge, however, and through its “Dine in Style” and “Chill Out in Style” promotions, which emphasise the unique, ultra-modern design of hotel and its venues, Gericke hopes the hotel will be able attract the young business crowd into its food and beverage outlets for after work drinks and dinner. “There are so many good restaurants in Dubai already — It is very competitive and F&B marketing is always a challenge. Because we were one of the first outlets to open in DMC, we had to make people aware that there was something here,” says Gericke. “Building a reputation always takes time. Even for major hotel brands like the Radisson, which is well known here, it is still important to build relationships with customers when a new property opens.” Positive PR Most hoteliers still tend to think very traditionally when it comes to marketing, and generally regard it as an expense item rather than as a return on investment. While spending the hotel's marketing dollars on advertisement placement is certainly one important way to communicate the company's facilities, message and unique selling points, this may not always be the most efficient way to get your message out there, as Park Hyatt’s Warner points out. “You cannot always get your message across in an advert. Different markets often interpret a different meaning from a picture. Sometimes, for example, the GCC audience will take one message from a certain advert or image, while a Western audience might interpret it completely differently,” she points out. “What works more, especially with a new hotel, are endorsements from respected editors.” Press relations events and familiarisation trips help in building relationships with key members of the press, but successfully and effectively placing stories involves more than simply sending out routine press releases. Understanding a publication's target audience, whether it is consumer or trade, is the key to guaranteeing column inches, advises Warner. “I try to understand the magazine and pitch accordingly. I have a focused approach to editorial coverage and I try to give editors newsworthy and relevant information in press releases. By coming up with creative ideas I am able to add weight to a story and turn it into something the journalist, and their readership, will be interested in,” she says. “For instance, I might want the editor of Tatler to write about my hotel, but they're not just going to do it for the sake of it. Instead of simply trying to convince them how wonderful the property is, I’ll sell them a relevant concept, such as a ‘hen weekend with a difference’, which might include a number of activities around town — desert safaris, skiing and so on — followed by a package of treatments in our spa and a stay in the hotel,” Warner explains. “This way, the hotel still gets the coverage, but within a context that will interest Tatler's readers — there is a wider angle and it's a more credible story,” she adds. Being as active as possible within the local community and hosting a variety of special events also helps to generate media coverage, and raises a property's profile in the process. “We have an excellent relationship with the media and involve them in each and every event, but having a physical presence everywhere, from cocktail evenings, meetings, tradeshows, conferences and exhibitions also plays a major role in the promotion of the hotel,” says Sherif Ezzat, rooms division manager at the Millennium Hotel Abu Dhabi. “By participating in, co-ordinating and sponsoring various events in conjunction with other companies, we are able to reinforce the hotel’s brand image,” he explains. “Creativity is important here too. We concentrate a lot on food and folklore festivals, and hold art exhibitions every two months — these different events appeal to different sections of society.” Jebel Ali International Hotels targets all market segments, taking business, leisure and MICE clients from across the regional, international and local markets. Senior marketing executive, May El Souki, believes that high visibility is the secret to creating awareness of the hotel among this varied audience. “In order to reinforce our brand image, the company sponsors a number of events throughout the year. By associating the hotel's name with prestigious local events such as the Dubai Desert Classic and the Dubai World Cup we are underpinning our brand proposition of ‘A Tradition of Hospitality and Excellence’,” she says. For the marketing and communications team of Al Murooj Rotana Hotel & Suites, the primary objective is to find the most efficient promotional vehicles for a particular message, according to Olga Akinitova, the property’s marketing and communications executive. “The combination of various media types depends on the particular promotion. We have a ‘Summer Wedding Package’, with an array of special offers, including trip to Beirut or Sharm El Sheikh for the newly weds. This package only appeals to a specific audience, and we have to use a specific media mix to reach those people,” she explains. “On the other hand, we are also currently working on a couple of new theme nights in our Pergolas Restaurant, such as an Italian buffet with unlimited selected beverages included in the price. For this, a diversified media mix is one of the key factors to success, using radio, editorial and advertorial coverage in consumer and trade publications, together with online media, to reach a wide audience,” Akinitova adds. E-Marketing While the power of public relations is a reliable and cost-effective method for promoting a hotel, in recent years the internet has also gained recognition as one of the most powerful tools for successful marketing. E-mail blasts have become one of the quickest and most cost effective ways of communicating with target markets. Whether the hotel is part of a major chain or a small independent property, e-mail is an affordable way to reach a large, international audience all at once. In their report entitled The Newest Spokes in the Wheel of Hotel Marketing, HVS International's Leora Lanz and Eydie Shapiro advise marketers to make the effort to collect guest e-mail addresses and use them to stay in regular contact with loyal guests. “80% of your business generally comes from 20% of your guests, so it's critical to talk to the people who have indicated that they want to hear from you,” the pair writes. “When guests share their e-mail address with your front desk or through your website, they are giving you permission to contact them in the future.” Most hotels nowadays now have their own web site, and as web penetration increases globally, these sites are becoming equally as important as other promotional media. Studies of travel buying behaviour are showing a shift towards online booking and TravelCLICK, a leading provider of hotel business process management solutions, recently revealed that the number of reservations booked through hotel websites climbed 33.4% in 2005. Despite this growing trend, however, many hotels still need to smarten up their act when it comes to the design and text content of their sites, according to Neil Salerno of the website Hotelmarketingcoach.com. “The way I see it, many hoteliers still don't get it. While hotel sites are getting more attractive, many simply ignore the basic requirements to be a searchable and functional web site,” he says. “Site optimisation includes the ability of your site to convert ‘lookers’ to ‘bookers’,” he adds. Many hotel web sites tend to become a collection of disjointed, unrelated fragments of information due to the hotel's eagerness to include as much information as possible, while others continually display information that is out of date due to simple neglect. “Sometimes less is more,” advises Salerno. “A web site is not your hotel's online brochure; it's a continually evolving sales tool.” For optimum efficiency, Salerno also insists that all hotel web sites must provide the instant gratification of an online booking engine. “Most hotel site visitors will not be satisfied with waiting for a fax or e-mail confirmation of their reservation,” he warns. “I simply cannot understand why there are still so many hotel sites that don't have the ability to accept an online, real-time reservation. Many booking engines are seamless and easily affordable; the return on this minor investment is huge.” Ultimately, a hotel’s strategic marketing plan should reflect the company's vision and mission statements and, no matter what the message or the media mix selected to convey it, persistence is fundamental to the success of any marketing campaign. “Patience is required when it comes to putting your key message and brand positioning out there. Do not abandon these too soon. It can take a full two to three years for the public to associate and retain your special messages,” advise HVS International's Leora Lanz and Barbara Wiener in a report entitled, How Should I Spend My Marketing Dollars in 2006? “Behind the scenes, you may be bored with the messages, but they still may be working to build relationships and create awareness, and ultimately converting leads to sales.”||**||

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