There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the leisure industry for the foreseeable future.
Between the International Air Transport Association predicts that air passenger numbers won't return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024 and the news that 82% of travelers have changed their travel plans for the next six months, hotels will have to adapt to this new normal.
However, that's not to say that there's no hope for the future of hotels. While travelers may avoid air travel, driving to destination hotels for weekend getaways is becoming more of a popular vacation choice.
With that in mind, hotel marketing needs to adapt to target these new "drive travelers"who are looking for hotel staycations, to work from a hotel, or a simple weekend getaway. Because hotels can't rely on air traffic to fill their rooms, they need creative solutions to entice drive travelers who live within a few hundred miles of their hotel.
So, let's take a look at how hotels can market to drive travelers and promote their facilities to the road trip crowd.
Selling the Hotel
As every hotel manager knows, it's difficult to cater to every single type of traveler.
While some drive travelers will be looking for a hotel staycation where they can relax in their hotel room, use the hotel's leisure facilities, or go for a relaxed walk, others will be looking for a weekend getaway that offers a more active vacation.
Either way, every traveler that looks for a hotel today wants to know how COVID-secure the hotel and its facilities are. That's why every hotel's marketing needs to emphasize its COVID-19 policies to help travelers feel safe and protected.
Promoting a COVID-19 Policy
Every hotel should have a robust email marketing campaign in place and updating guests on that marketing list about an updated COVID-19 policy can be a good way to introduce special offers.
For instance, a hotel could offer COVID-19 secure deposits, in which a guest can request a refund if they test positive for COVID-19, have been told to self-isolate, or if new lockdown orders come into effect. Then, they would promote this through their email marketing around updated COVID-19 policies, so guests know that if they book, their money is secure if they need to cancel due to COVID-19.
Selling the Destination
Whether a hotel is based in an area well-traveled by tourists or frequented mostly by locals, they need to ramp up their efforts to attract travelers to their destination. However, unlike in the pre-COVID-19 world, hotel marketing needs to bear in mind that what travelers are looking for in a destination has changed.
Drive travelers are going to be looking not only for destinations that offer a wide variety of activities but ones that are also COVID-19 secure and don't pose any increased risk to themselves or their families.
After all, why would travelers choose to drive for hundreds of miles to a hotel that doesn't have any local amenities available? That's why it's important to promote not only the activities and facilities the hotel offers but also information about what's open around them.
Creative Ways to Promote a Destination
Create a Road Trip Guide
With the main bulk of hotel guests traveling by car, featuring a hotel as part of a road trip guide for a certain destination or location is both a good way to promote a hotel and other surrounding businesses.
In combination with email marketing targeted to previous guests, as well as geolocation-based advertising, a series of road trip-themed blog posts or a single road trip content page shows guests why they should consider traveling.
Hotels could also partner with local businesses to offer special deals for guests following that road trip guide, such as discounted entry to local attractions, money off a food bill, or even a combined hotel and attraction booking handled by the hotel.
Combined Hotel and Attraction Packages
With that previous point in mind, offering a combined hotel and attraction experience where guests save money vs. booking the two separately helps to promote a hotel as a good base for a weekend getaway. These packages not only give guests something to look forward to during their stay but also encourages them to explore the local area.
While hotels shouldn't discount their services too heavily to attract guests, a small discount combined with entry to another attraction can be a powerful promotional tool.
One major benefit of this is that a hotel can use both their marketing streams as well as that of the company they're partnered with, giving them even more ability to reach new guests. Plus, hotels could even make this deal exclusive to people on these marketing lists by sending discount codes or building webpages that are only accessible through a link.
Catering to Locals
With so many Americans looking for a vacation but being too cautious to travel long distances, hotels will inevitably attract people from their local area who are looking to simply get away from their homes for a short period. Tapping into the market of local travelers who want a change of scenery, or simply somewhere more comfortable to work than at their home, can be a great marketing opportunity for hotels.
Creative Ways to Market to Local Guests
"Work from Hotel" Packages
Given that many Americans will have been working remotely since March of 2020, it's likely that many are on the lookout for more comfortable places to get their work done. Hotels can cater to these guests by offering packages with everything the modern worker needs for a productive day, such as unlimited WIFI, meals and drinks packages, and discounts on more spacious rooms.
Hotels that already offer co-working or meeting spaces will benefit from already having a mailing list of people who have used those spaces before, making it easier for them to market these new packages directly to the people who are most likely to use them.
Weekend Getaway Packages
Local guests are more likely to only book short stays at a hotel, given that they won't have to travel as far and may already have knowledge of the local area. To market to these guests, hotels could offer weekend getaway packages that include everything a local guest might need for a one or two-night stay.
These could include discounts on combined hotel and spa bookings, or even a comprehensive hotel, spa, gym, meals, and drinks package that means guests have little to worry about during their stay.
To market these, hotels should consider either using geotargeted ads or mailing flyers to certain ZIP codes, which will ensure that they capture their target audience within a certain distance from the hotel.
Geotargeting and Location Marketing
One of the key things to remember when targeting drive travelers and local guests are that some online marketing isn't location-specific. While this can work for certain hotel marketing campaigns, like road trip suggestions for people driving to destination hotels, other campaigns like weekend getaway packages for locals should have some form of location targeting.
Thankfully, many forms of digital marketing come with geotargeting features. Google Ads and social media platforms in particular offer targeting tools that allow hotels to filter their target audience by their known location. While email marketing and targeted SEO efforts can help hotels to get location-based offers in front of their audience, this often isn't as fast as paying for geotargeted PPC advertising.
With that being said, geotargeting isn't the only way to advertise to a local audience. Many hotels often overlook the simple power of a traditional flyer campaign. While this only lets hotels target specific ZIP codes, cities, or towns instead of certain demographics within those areas, this traditional location campaign can be a great way to stand out against the competition.
The Importance of Tailoring Email Marketing to Drive Travelers
Email marketing for hotels is, to some extent, already geotargeted. Hotel chains have the option to send marketing emails not only to previous customers of the chain but also to guests who have stayed at a specific hotel location. They can even go one step further by identifying customers who have traveled from certain areas, or for specific purposes (like business, leisure, or to redeem a specific offer).
However, hotel marketing needs to take into account that previous attractions or businesses that they've showcased may not currently be open, so remarketing old content makes little sense in this case. Previous blog posts that discussed the best local clubs and bars may not be as relevant in this COVID-19 setting as posts that highlight local walking routes, landmarks, or natural beauty spots.
In today's world, drive travelers are likely to be looking for a hotel where they can either relax and take some time away from the world or do socially-distanced activities in a safe environment. Either way, hotel email marketing needs to take into consideration that drive travelers aren't looking for an exciting and busy getaway as much as they are one that's relaxing and away from the stress of modern life.