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Dear hoteliers,

When I discuss email marketing strategies with my clients, they often tell me the same thing: “My customers don’t like getting email, they don’t want to be harassed.” 

There’s a fine line between spam and email marketing. However, when we look closely, Booking is THE champion email marketer. Its booking confirmations, pre-stay emails, pre-check-in emails and offers from other nearby hotels just keep coming. But that doesn’t prevent millions of travelers from making reservations on the website, far from it. 

That’s why it’s essential to build a coherent email marketing strategy, to find the right balance. How? Why? This article will give you all the keys to optimizing the emails you send to your customers.

Happy reading!

Email marketing for a hotel: What’s the point?

Email is an effective communication tool. But don’t confuse email marketing with transactional emails. Transactional emails target a specific recipient and focus on a transaction that is pending, has just been completed or is happening now (a booking confirmation, pre-stay email, satisfaction survey, etc.). These are two very distinct types of emails that need to be disassociated. I will be focusing on marketing emails here.

Adopting a good email marketing strategy raises the issue of loyalty, which is of fundamental importance. It’s an imperative that Booking, Tripadvisor and Expedia have taken to heart, because it has proven its worth over and over.

  • It builds customer loyalty: A hotel that uses email marketing is twice as likely to see its customers return.
  • It inspires word of mouth: A hotel can turn its guests into ambassadors by creating a community around its brand. If your emails are consistent, targeted and interesting, they’ll be talked about.
  • Emails can bring back happy memories for your customers to make sure they don’t forget you, and remind them of your hotel’s advantages.
  • On some occasions, they can even anticipate a customer’s needs. For example, if a customer regularly celebrates Mother’s Day at the hotel, anticipate their request by emailing them two months beforehand to recommend an appropriate offer.

How do I keep being a welcome sender?

Internet users often talk about “spam” and “email harassment.” There’s only one small step between a company that sends commercial emails and a company that spams its recipients. How, from a human point of view, can we avoid going to the dark side of the force? (Note: the legal side of spam is also addressed here)

The common definition of spam is “the repeated sending of an electronic message, usually advertising, to a large number of Internet users without their consent.” 

It places central importance on the notion of consent, making this a fairly catch-all definition. If we consider the human side, not just the legal side, everything doesn’t fall directly into the category of “spam” just because we haven’t given our consent. So instead, let’s focus on how interested we are in the content of the email. It’s a matter of personal perception; whether an email is considered spam or not depends entirely on how interesting it is to its target. 

For example, a hat collector gets an email offering a special limited edition Indiana Jones hat. They’ll be thrilled! And yet they don’t know the sender. They have never seen him, and they never gave him permission to send the email. Does this fall into the category of spam?

An Indiana Jones fan who gets the email will go right to the website and sign up, whereas someone who couldn’t care less about Indiana Jones will classify the sender as a spammer without even looking.

Therefore, an email qualifying as spam depends entirely on the recipient’s perception, which makes the definition intangible and subjective.

Customer experience, the heart of your email campaign

First of all, remember that customer experience is not what the person actually experienced, but how they perceived what you offered them. As an example, here’s something that happened to me a while ago:

A few days before leaving on vacation, my car started making a weird noise. It was the middle of August and all the mechanics were closed, so for lack of a better option I went to Speedy. Everything went well. They fixed my car, and I left on my vacation without giving it another thought. I received emails from Speedy from time to time, and I hit delete without reading them.

Maybe a year and a half later, I received an email letting me know it was time to have my car serviced, with a link to make an appointment. I checked, and realized that they were right; it was nearly time for my regular auto service. So I clicked on the link and made an appointment with them.

I never asked them to send me that email. And yet, it met a need that I hadn’t yet expressed, and it was useful to me. What may seem like spam to some people wasn’t spam to me.  

That’s exactly what email marketing is all about: getting the customer to come back, building their loyalty. And there’s proof it works!

So what’s the connection with the hotel business? The quality of the email.

Many hoteliers fill page after page with events near the hotel, because it’s easy. But that’s not the best approach. Why not? If a customer is interested in your local museums or events, chances are they’ve already subscribed to their newsletters. If the customer isn’t interested, they will see the email as spam.

So what should you talk about?

Content and target

Mass emails are out of style. Long live personalized emails! 

These days, emails have to be designed with a specific goal in mind, and for a defined target. Easy! Just use data from your SCV (Single Customer View), collected during each customer’s stay. This information will help you segment your subscribers and create highly personalized content. 

Once you’ve defined your audience, ideas for content will come logically. For example, emailing a promotional offer to your corporate customers will generate no interest, since their companies pay the bill. On the other hand, recent improvements to your Internet connection and WiFi might interest them.

In that case, an email announcing a new service is a great way to catch their attention and maintain the customer relationship.

How often should you send out hotel marketing emails? 

I hear the same questions over and over: How often should I email? Is it intrusive to send too many emails? How many email campaigns should we do per month?

To all these questions of email regularity and quantity, I have only one answer: There is no predefined frequency.

I usually recommend that my customers send one marketing email per month, but that’s more of a general guideline than a specific rule. 

Send an email when you have something interesting to say. It’s better to err on the side of caution to avoid annoying the reader and being seen as a “spammer.” On the other hand, you can send several emails per month if your content is truly interesting. It all depends on the customer’s perception and the segmentation of your database.

The unsubscribe rate for your email campaigns is a good indicator to help you find your frequency. An increasing rate indicates that your frequency is too high, or your content isn’t appealing. Analyze your results, and don’t forget to delete inactive recipients.

Hotel marketing emails and the pandemic

If there’s one thing this public health crisis has taught us about email marketing, it’s that context is an integral part of the audience. Segmentation of your customer base has to take into account the current situation.

Here’s a very recent example: Corporate digitalization has shown its true value during the pandemic. Hotels in particular have been strongly affected by lockdowns and border closures; when people can’t travel, they stop staying in hotels. 

Maintaining customer relationships has never been so important, which is why Experience Hotel has provided its email marketing solution to its clients during the crisis.

The world has never seen quarantine measures of this magnitude before. We soon began noticing unprecedentedly high email open rates and customer responses. There is one simple reason for these incredible results: the lack of social interaction. 

However, an email featuring a hotel special wouldn’t have caught the attention of an audience stuck at home. The emails with high open rates were the ones that struck a more human tone.

The pandemic isn’t over yet. Hoteliers must take this international health crisis into account when contacting their customers. 

Conclusion

As you can see, the concept of spam is also about your audience’s perception of your email. So don’t fall into the trap of saying, “My customers don’t like spam.” Instead, ask yourself, “What can I send to my customers that won’t make them feel like I’m spamming them?” This little mental exercise isn’t easy, but it will make all the difference in the end!

Of course, your content will vary quite a bit depending on the style and location of your hotel, and your understanding of your clientele. 

If you have things to tell them, your newsletters can be very interesting. 

Of course, you’ll still need to target your recipients by segmenting your customer database, to personalize your mailings and draw your readers in.

That’s what makes our specialized email marketing tool for the hotel industry so helpful ☺

Thanks for reading.

Tony LOEB
Author

Tony Loeb started his career in Hotel marketing in 2001 as a webmaster, then quickly became the Technical Director of a web agency specialized in the hotel industry. Passionate about the tourism sector and attracted by the idea of taking on new challenges, Tony took over the management of a team of hotel consultants until 2014, when he decided to make hotel marketing his core business. In 2014, he co-founded the company Experience Hotel and is now responsible for its international development and deployment, improving tools for automating and optimizing customer relations, from booking to customer loyalty.

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