Michael Markarians knows a thing or two about hotel marketing. He started out in hospitality while attending university in the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas. Over 25 years later, he’s still at it.
Eight years ago, Markarians founded Tee Hospitality, a firm specializing in helping hotels and DMCs build brand awareness and enter new markets. And he gets results.
“We took one property in New York that was losing $2 million a year and two years later they netted $1.2 million. In Beverly Hills, one of our clients was able to increase room rates by 55%.”
When I first met Markarians (working for a mutual client) he was jet-setting from city to city, meeting with clients, attending events, and sweet-talking event planners and luxury travel advisors. When we reconnected recently, I was delighted that he had time available to share his expertise on the keys to successful hotel marketing.
Successful hotel marketing starts with knowing your customer
Markarians and his team at Tee Hospitality use a turnkey approach to developing sales and marketing plans for boutique hotels. For every client, they stress the importance of having a foundational understanding of what the customer wants.
“The first thing a hotel needs to ask themselves is ‘what is it that the travelers care about nowadays?’” says Markarians.
Markarians uses a proprietary tool that allows him to take a deep dive into the demographic profile of a hotel’s guests. He can tell you everything from average guest age to income and education to what airports they arrive at and what attractions they visit while in town.
This information is extremely useful for determining marketing strategies and choosing the best promotional channels. But knowing your customer goes even deeper than that.
“Now, more than ever personalization really counts,” says Markarians.
What does that mean?
“If you have a repeat guest, you need to know if that guest likes to, say, ride his bike or take long walks. Then, make sure you have everything ready for him when he comes back so he doesn't have to ask for anything.”
How do you accomplish that? Well, according to a survey conducted by Tee Hospitality, 47% of travelers will share such personal information with you, if you can offer them something they want in return.
Successful hotel marketing requires a strong digital presence
The importance of your hotel’s website cannot be overstated. To demonstrate this point, Markarians told me a story.
“There’s a property in Mexico that is really a 5-star caliber property. But when my sister was traveling to Mexico and asked for my recommendation, she took one look at their website and said, ‘Hey, Michael, this doesn’t really look so nice.’ I told her to trust me. And when she got there she called me to say, ‘It’s gorgeous. I can’t believe their website is in such terrible shape! Even the room pictures don’t match what I got.’”
One of the first things potential customers are going to look at when deciding if they’re willing to book with you is your website. Not only does your site have to be attractive with nice pictures, it also needs to be kept continuously up to date.
“I had an issue with a property where the room service was still closed [due to COVID] but the website wasn’t saying that. So that service wasn't available, and what happened? Of course, it turned into a negative review on one of the platforms. As beautiful as your website is, a small little detail like that counts against you as a negative,” says Markarians.
Successful hotels market the destination as much as the property
According to Markarians, many hotel sales teams are very good at selling their property, but they aren’t trained to sell the destination. If clients aren’t familiar with the destination, however, they aren’t going to pay much attention to the property.
“Your destination needs to be sold first. Get people excited about the destination, then start selling property. And that works 9 out of 10 times,” says Markarians.
You can do this on your website and social media. Provide pictures, videos, and blog posts that tell the story of your destination. You can also do this on sales calls, making sure you’re educating industry partners such as travel advisors, event planners, and influencers about what your destination has to offer.
Once the client has been sold on the destination, boutique hotels need to have a distinct story for themselves. Markarians says customers are drawn to independent properties for what makes them different, “otherwise they would book themselves at one of the large chain hotels where they always know what they’re going to get.” Therefore, relating your unique brand story is of the utmost importance.
Hotels need to kick this bad habit
One last piece of advice Markarians has for hotel marketing success is to reconsider extra fees.
For example, he says, “I recently sent my parents to a five star property in Las Vegas. Now, my parents are on the older side, and to be honest, the resort fee that they paid—which was almost $50 per day—only covered services they don’t use. They don’t go to the swimming pool, they don’t work out, and they don’t really use the WiFi. If you want to get an extra $50, there’s a million different ways to do it. But not by charging a couple of senior citizens for a bunch of services they don’t use.”
This is another example of the value of personalization. People will gladly pay extra for services when they benefit from them. But charging extra fees for the sake of extra fees alienates your customers.
Markarians pointed to Southwest Airlines as an example of a company that “really didn't adopt any of those bad habits, but they are a very solid company. That's because they're more customer-focused.”