Hotelier Email Marketing Challenges & Solutions

by Marianne Cellucci

Email marketing is an excellent tool for hoteliers to stay in touch with their guests and prospects. Travel related email campaigns retain a loyal audience and create direct revenue opportunities with past, present, and future customers. This article consolidates a series of posts that originally appeared on our blog to address common marketing challenges hoteliers face and explore how email is the most effective solution to meet these challenges.

Whether you are new to email marketing or looking to refine your email campaigns, learn how you can use email to drive action and increase profits.

Increase Revenue Through Higher Room Bookings

Challenge: Wanting to improve hotel sales through direct room bookings
Solution: Use email marketing as a sales and relationship nurturing tool
Benefit: Attracts more guests and increases profits

Email marketing in hospitality makes sense because it is a top sales performer and an excellent relationship building tool. Staying in touch with your past guests and your prospects can be one of the most effective ways to deliver revenue growth to your hotel. Hotel marketers can use email marketing campaigns to:

  • Send relevant campaigns that drive conversions. Send highly targeted personalized offers to very different audience segments to drive responses.
  • Re-engage guests with triggered email. Use email as an automated sales force (a series of emails can be set up—timed and trigger-driven—to attract more guests); once configured and automated, your campaigns are executed without effort.
  • Boost recurring revenue through up-selling. Use email to sell related products and services that deliver value to your guests (e.g., chilled champagne, room upgrades, etc.) within transactional email communications.
  • Enhance customer engagement by cross-selling. Partner with local retailers and offer exclusive discounts to your guests (e.g., snorkeling packages, golf packages, etc.), providing a great value-add to the stay.
  • Reinforce your hotel’s brand with timely messages. Use email to build top-of-mind awareness by sending timely content that reinforces a favorable guest experience.
  • Establish and nurture guest relationships. Send a pre-stay welcome email prior to their arrival; a post-stay thank you email; and, to loyal guests, personalized communications notifying them of exclusive offers, new amenities, or special packages.

Communicating via email is simple, fast and cost-effective. If used properly, it can generate significant ROI for hoteliers because it helps you create a dialogue and build relationships. The key is to make your emails stand out by delivering messages that are timely, relevant and personalized. It is not a broadcast medium where you can just “batch and blast” out messages, but one when carefully crafted and segmented can deliver highly compelling and contextually-rich messages that drive people to act time after time.

Improve Customer Retention

Challenge: Low customer retention rates
Solution: Use email as an automated awareness and retention tool
Benefit: Effective tool for creating top-of-mind awareness and increasing repeat business

Out of sight, out of mind! The best way to increase customer retention is by automating your guest retention program to keep in front of your customers even after their checkout. Automated emails keep your inn or hotel in the forefront of your customer’s minds, and once they are setup they are deployed without any effort from your staff.

Here are 5 tips to improve customer retention:

  • Keep them engaged throughout the year. Even if your guests are only likely to visit you once a year, keep in touch with them throughout the year so that when it comes time for them to book their next trip, your hotel or inn is firmly in their mind.
  • Ask for feedback on their stay. Do you know if your guests were truly satisfied? Send them a post-stay survey to gather feedback on their stay. Invite comments on the quality of their experience, the services offered and any suggestions for improvement.
  • Reward their loyalty with special offers. As you begin to learn more about your customers, you can segment them by the amenities they value, their demographics, stay patterns and room preferences. A well-timed, customized message could include a special offer and may be just enough to have that guest re-engage with your hotel.
  • Gain a deep knowledge of their needs, behavior, and preferences. Listen to what’s important to your guests; understand them by capturing lifestyle data and tracking personal preferences. Are they business or leisure travelers? Do they like a particular room? A particular amenity? Leverage this feedback to send them targeted marketing messages about what they value and to build loyal customer relationships.
  • Give them something personally relevant. In advance of their arrival, send guests pre-stay emails reconfirming their bookings to make them feel welcomed. Ask them for any preferences they might have for their stay. For example, if you can make dinner reservations for their first night or if they have dietary restrictions. Note their birthdays and anniversaries, and invite them back to your hotel or inn with a special promotion.

By engaging guests and gathering feedback, you’ll gain a better understanding of their needs and motivations, allowing you to strengthen your brand by presenting them with relevant, timely and personalized email communications. Done the right way, email marketing can help hoteliers build brand awareness and create direct revenue opportunities with past, present and future guests.

Integrate Data Systems

Challenge: Not being able to send personalized emails because of lack of consolidated customer data
Solution: Integrate data systems to personalize your automated email communications
Benefit: Ability to send highly targeted offers in real time

Seamless integration between your email marketing system and your internal databases eliminates the need to manually upload Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data and email tracking data. By synchronizing your email marketing data with your external database, you’ll be improving guest communication and marketing efficiency. Hoteliers should consider integrating their data systems to:

  • Retrieve email marketing activity information quickly. By using a single interface, hotel marketers can quickly gather information from various sources rather than having to log into different applications resulting in greater ef?ciency and productivity.
  • Send automated messages in real-time. Instead of having to export lists from the CRM and import them into your email marketing platform, the email marketing platform can be used to query the database directly, allowing you to schedule regular promotional campaigns to send to an automatically updated customer database in real-time.
  • Create an enhanced customer experience. Send a dynamic email template for reservation confirmations that are populated with personalized, custom offers and delivered to each recipient immediately following a booking.
  • Seamlessly target campaigns through greater segmentation. New email campaigns can be segmented based on the click-through results of prior campaigns. More relevant content means more highly targeted messages and fewer unsubscribes.
  • Better manage subscription data. Manage a contact’s preferences for various types of personalized communications (e.g., special seasonal promotions, spa packages).
  • Gain an understanding of the effectiveness of the campaign. Email campaign data (opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, etc.) will go directly into the CRM so you can track which campaigns are most effective in driving visitors to your website.

By integrating email with your CRM data, you can identify your most influential and profitable customers and create, manage and send out highly targeted promotions to extremely specific customer lists. Trigger-based campaigns can be set up to capture additional revenue by automatically delivering up-sell and cross-sell offers to guests before they arrive. In short, you drive increased revenue into your hotel or inn by getting the right messages to the right audience at the right time!

Transform Transactional Email into Revenue Opportunities

Challenge: Missing key opportunities to build revenue
Solution: Transform service-based messages into revenue opportunities 
Benefit: Potential to upsell and cross-sell current clients

Hotels and inns can use transactional messaging to fulfill an important role in maintaining prospects’ and guests’ opinions of your brand, reinforcing your value proposition, and boosting revenue. According to Forrester, confirmation emails are 17% more likely to be opened than newsletter or promotional emails, and customers are 20% more likely to click through on them. Confirmation emails are often read multiple times and are usually last to be deleted.
Transactional emails are automated service-based emails that are sent based on pre-defined triggers or specific actions your prospects or customers have taken. Transactional emails usually come in a series and the primary purpose is to convey information regarding the action that triggered it. For example, a hotel or inn could generate automated:

  • Customized confirmation email receipts. A real-time communication is triggered whenever someone makes a reservation (confirming details, how to get there, and things they might do when they arrive) that includes relevant related products and services.
  • Reservation reminders directly related to their stay. The welcome email is sent a week before a confirmed guest is due to arrive, with pertinent details that include (within the body of the email) targeted promotions and upsells for room upgrades, spa services and extra amenities.
  • Thank you email with feedback survey after they depart. The post-stay thank you email is sent a few days after the guest has departed, that includes a satisfaction survey asking for feedback on their stay to help you enhance your guests’ experience.
  • Cancellation emails that include special offers for a future stay. A cancellation could trigger a special "we’re sorry you won't be staying with us" email offering a special rate if the recipient decides to book with you at a later time; or a value offer like an in-room welcome gift or complimentary late check-out. If you operate a chain of hotels, this might be a good opportunity to share details about a sister property that might better suit their needs.

Both the pre- and post-stay emails can automatically trigger other communications based on your pre-determined business rules. For example, if an email doesn't get opened, it could trigger another email with a more compelling subject line and message. Additionally, you can follow-up with promotional emails letting guests that just stayed with you know about upcoming availability and special discounts.

Since transactional communications receive a high level of audience engagement because they contain essential information and are anticipated and welcomed by recipients, they provide a wonderful opportunity to boost revenue. Treat them as valuable customer touch points and ensure that you keep to the 80/20 rule: this is where 80% of the message is transactional or service-based in nature, and 20% is promotional in nature.

Maximize Inbox Delivery

Challenge: Poor inbox delivery
Solution: Regular maintenance and good email list hygiene
Benefit: Maximizes deliverability and enhances performance
Over time an unmaintained mailing list can result in complaints from recipients resulting in an Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocking your email from your recipients’ inboxes. Good list hygiene practices will help you avoid spam traps and keep your bounce rates low—both of which are key drivers of your sender reputation. To maximize email deliverability and performance, follow the best practices for list maintenance and hygiene below:

  • Evaluate if inactive users should be deleted. If a recipient has not opened a single email in the last year, try re-engaging them with a win-back campaign. If this method fails, they should be removed from the list.
  • Remove generic addresses. Sending to generic addresses, such as sales@company.com or info@company.com, very often results in unintended people receiving email and oftentimes generates complaints with the ISPs.
  • Correct misspelled domains. Look for bounces from recent campaigns and correct misspelled domains. Simple typos such as alo.com for aol.com, gmal.com for gmail.com, and .con for .com can be easily corrected.
  • Institute a stricter opt-in process. Sending an “email blast” to recipients who have not participated in a permission-based “opt-in” campaign will seem intrusive and they are likely to either unsubscribe or not engage. Get permission before sending email.
  • Add a whitelisting request. Ask recipients to add your email address to their safe recipients or safe senders list (whatever the name may be in their email client). Whitelisting your email address keeps their email security system from filtering out your message. Place a simple link at the top of each email (e.g., reservation confirmation, welcome email, etc.) where it will catch their attention. You can also add this request to your join form.
  • Don’t use noreply@domain.com as your From address. Using a 'no-reply' email address can prevent you from achieving maximum email deliverability. ISPs (such as Yahoo! and Gmail) take into account their users' engagement and reply habits within their spam-detection algorithms. If a user actively replies to a specific address often enough, it will automatically be added to their list of trusted senders.  Generally, messages from senders that appear in the recipients’ contacts list won’t be marked as spam, and will reach their inbox.
  • Remove duplicate addresses. Use a service that will automatically remove undeliverable email addresses and duplicate addresses from your database and, before sending an email campaign, do a search for people who unsubscribed and add them to your suppression list.
  • Ask subscribers to confirm their email address. Asking the subscriber to enter their email twice will significantly reduce typographical errors, and signals to the subscriber that you are taking steps to ensure data quality.

The most effective way to increase deliverability rates and increase your ROI is to practice good email list hygiene and regular data maintenance. The better your email deliverability, the more trusted your email sender reputation becomes, resulting in more opened emails, click throughs and conversions...all of which impact your bottom line.

With takeaways from this article hoteliers will better understand how email marketing is an effective tool for building customer relationships, growing brand loyalty, retaining customers, and increasing bottom line profits. For more information on email marketing solutions provided by Net Atlantic call our experienced Account Executives at 877-263-8285.