|How to Successfully Open a Hotel (the Martin Soler Way).|
By Josiah Mackenzie
Thursday, 12th May 2011
Martin Soler and his team at WIHP mastermind some of the most successful hotel openings in Europe, such as Hotel Seven.
This weekend, I sat down with him in Paris to discuss digital communications in hospitality.
Our conversation covered a broad range of topics that we’ll share with you in the weeks ahead, but the focus of this article will be the marketing approach he uses during the crucial months surrounding a hotel opening.
"Know your purpose”
Clarify what you are trying to achieve with your pre-opening marketing.
Defining your brand positioning is critical during the early stages of planning. Your brand positioning will affect the messaging and tactics you use at each step.
"Showcase the designer”
Design plays a huge role for the hotels that Martin typically works with. For many hotels, the link between design and revenue is closer than it may appear- which this is a topic we’ll discuss in a separate article.
The reality is that if you have a unique product, the chances of people talking about your brand increase dramatically. Great design always generates more buzz.
Martin believes at least 40% of a hotel’s marketing value comes from its design. Because of this, he asks who the designer will be before taking on any hotel opening project.
The bigger concept here is to showcase the inventors, artists, and builders behind the product.
What makes your brand unique? Is it the concept? The way in which it was built?
Each of these areas can play a role in differentiating your property, making it stand apart from the competition.
It takes time to build an engaged, authentic online community. In order to have a substantial group of fans and followers by the time you open, starting to build this community early is important.
Martin tries to build online pre-opening buzz at least 6 months before opening. With Hotel Seven, this took the form of using Facebook as an exclusive content distribution channel.
The community building approach you use will go back to the positioning goals for the brand, but getting an early start is beneficial regardless of platform.
"Build a next-generation website”
Just as beginning to build an online community early is important, creating a compelling website as early as possible is important as well. For hotels, the website is their professional presentation, while social media acts as the more informal communication channel. Both channels play important roles that complement one another.
A “next-generation” website is comprised of several key elements. Martin believes in the extensive use of photos and rich visuals. At the same time, the website must be fast and accessible on a wide range of devices. The hotel site needs to be “social” – integrated with as many other relevant external networks as possible. And above all, it must sell.
"Guard first impressions”
While some social media agencies have experimented with showing construction in progress as a way to build pre-opening buzz, Martin typically advises against showing the work in progress. Showing an unfinished product could give your community the wrong first impression.
Instead, the primary objective in the pre-opening phase should be to sell the dream of what the property will look like. This is best done through building a prototype of your design or concept, and then releasing previews of that.
"Use social media to get attention offline”
Hotels that generate a lot of buzz in social media tend to be covered by journalists writing stories for offline publications and traditional media. The media is always looking for stories that will interest their audience. If a blog post is generating hundreds of tweets, for example, that indicates strong story potential. For this reason, Martin sees social media playing a key role in obtaining crucial media coverage during a hotel’s opening period.
“Give away lots of rooms.”
Giving away room nights is a key pre-opening strategy that Martin recommends. Letting journalists and bloggers stay in the rooms of a soon-to-be-opened hotel helps them experience the product, which is crucial for building early online buzz and back links.
This strategy is not limited to journalists. The owner of the Seven Hotel even gave away room nights to staff members and other key people involved in the project. Everyone had to experience what it was like to be a guest at the hotel so they could do a better job of selling it and providing service.
Whether you decide to give away rooms or not, the key lesson here is to involve as many media producers as possible in your project at the beginning. Generating some early buzz is crucial for building awareness and your web presence.
“Setup distribution partnerships”
Instead of viewing distributors as adversaries, Martin recommends setting up as many smart reseller partnerships as you can. But there are two things to keep in mind as you set these deals up:
1) Make sure you only pay a commission on reservations. Avoid websites that charge a large fee up front to list your hotel, unless you know they have the huge potential they are promising.
2) Make sure you’re generating enough direct bookings through your website. Making 20% of sales through online travel agencies is healthy, but if 80% of bookings are coming through third parties, that could be a danger sign.
“Measure and track everything”
Martin and the team at WIHP make a point of tracking a wide range of numbers: from the website traffic to social media activity to online reputation. Performance metrics are extremely important to guide the direction you take during the hotel opening process. Don’t be afraid to abandon whole sections of your strategy if you see it isn’t bringing qualified visitors that buy room nights.
As the saying goes: If you can’t measure it, you can’t track it, and if you can’t track it, you can’t manage it.
If you want Martin’s expertise to guide your next hotel project, you should visit his hotel marketing website, and learn more about WIHP.
All hotel photos from the Seven Hotel Paris: www.sevenhotelparis.com
About the author
This blog is written by Josiah Mackenzie, who enjoys exploring the relationship between emerging technology and the hospitality industry.