It will take time for long-distance travel to rebound and group business to recover, but in the interim, now is the time to update your offerings and shift some of your hotel marketing efforts to winning business from local and regional travelers by offering, and promoting, drive-to meetings and events.
By focusing marketing efforts on gaining the attention of these drive-market business travelers and planners looking to host drive-to meetings and events, hoteliers have an opportunity to increase their bookings and boost their business. In this blog post, we cover eight essential tips for increasing your drive-to business, both now and in the long term. We also take a look at a couple of ways planners and venues are taking extra precautions to make in-person meetings and events happen right now.
Of course, hoteliers, planners, and everyone else involved should take all the necessary steps to ensure that these drive-to meetings and events are as safe as possible. Check out our safe meetings and events playbook for more information.
What are drive-to meetings and events?
Events geared toward people within a drivable radius of the venue where the meeting or event is scheduled to take place. The definition of drivable varies from person to person, but think of it as anything within a reasonable distance — that is, any meeting or event that can be driven to in a day or less.
Discover 8 ways to grow your drive-to meetings and events business:
1. Focus your SEO for the local market.
One of the basic ways to improve your search engine optimization (SEO), according to Google, is to make sure your content follows E-A-T guidelines – Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. Focusing on these three areas will not only help you create better, higher-quality content, but you’ll also increase your odds of ranking higher in search engine results. To attract drive-market business, develop content that shows you’re an expert in hosting safe meetings and events – like blog post recaps of past events or planner testimonials.
Link building – linking to other sites with relevant information – is another way you can optimize your site for the local market and improve your SEO. Linking to outside sources will also increase your chances of getting links back to your own site, which Google likes to see. Neil Patel, entrepreneur and Forbes-recognized marketing expert, writes in his blog: “When you’re at the forefront of your industry, creating useful content, and linking to authoritative blogs, you’ll find that more people will link to you naturally.”
Feature local businesses and attractions in your content and link to their websites. Link building is about the quality of the site you’re linking to, not the quantity of links. Focus on a few authoritative sites rather than many of lesser quality. Linking to high-quality sites with relevant information will establish you as reputable, and it might also win you some inbound links from other sites.
Also, don’t forget about optimizing your images. Google has an entire tab of search dedicated solely to images. If users search for “outdoor venue space in Chicago” or “small meeting rooms,” for example, make sure your images show up in results by including relevant keywords in your image names, alt-text, and captions. Also be sure to reduce the file size so the photo doesn’t affect your page load speed.
2. Create relevant, thought-leadership content.
The most important rule of creating the best content is to write for humans first. Forget about writing for the robots that will crawl your website. Using keywords is important for letting Google, and readers, know what your content is about, but be cautious of keyword stuffing. Avoid unnecessary and unnatural keyword repetition throughout your page or content. It can both hurt your ranking and create a bad user experience. To determine what keywords you want to optimize for, use a tool like Google Keyword Planner. You can use it to find new keywords and look up search volume and forecasts for how the keywords might perform in the future. This will help you as you’re planning and writing new content.
The focus of your content should always be on the reader and providing them with useful and relevant information. Publish your content consistently, and make it consistently awesome. Make sure each piece of content is unique and helpful. For grabbing the attention of planners looking to host drive-to events, create a page on your website dedicated to local and regional meetings and events. Fill it with blog posts about nearby attractions attendees can safely visit, ideas for socially distant room layouts, checklists for what makes a successful small meeting, and best practices for hosting drive-to meetings and events. Content like Q&As with your event team and an FAQ page are also good ways to showcase your authoritativeness and expertise.
Interactive content is another way to differentiate yourself from your competitors – and give your audience a fun experience. Interactive content is anything that prompts a reader to take an action, like quizzes. Ebooks, infographics, and landing pages can also be made into interactive content, like changes in the copy as the reader scrolls or hovers over certain parts, like this survival kit from Hibu (but make it a “small meeting survival kit” for planners!).
3. Use geotargeting in your paid search ads.
Geotargeting is an advertising strategy that allows you to choose the geographic location where your ads appear. It can be areas within a country, a radius around your property, or location groups — like nearby attractions or specific demographics. You can then create different ad content depending on the geographic location. It’s a good way to advertise locally and attract drive-to business.
Google Search Ads are different than Google Hotel Ads. Search Ads bump your hotel up to the top of a Google search; Hotel Ads appear in Google’s hotel module that shows photos, prices, reviews, and available dates and rooms. This platform is designed to increase your hotel’s direct bookings. But no matter which ads you choose, there’s the option for refining by location so you can reach your intended audience.
4. Partner with local businesses.
Partnering with local businesses is another way to attract planners and event attendees to your area for drive-market events. By developing a co-marketing strategy with local businesses, you can collectively harness the power of your community and showcase all your city has to offer. It gains your hotel exposure to a new clientele, and it brings new business to your local partners, which lifts the community and benefits everyone.
Ask local businesses to mention you in their next blog post or give a shout out on social media, and you can do the same for them. Consider partnering with a local restaurant and offering cooking classes or an exclusive dining experience for your hotel guests. Work with local farmers to provide locally-sourced ingredients and produce in your hotel restaurant. Local shops can offer discounts to hotel guests while promoting your hotel through mentions on their website or social media. Set up a monthly rotating art exhibit where local artists can feature their work, and you can host a small gathering on opening day.
On your website, make sure to call out specific places in the vicinity of your hotel that business travelers and event attendees might want to know about, like coworking spaces, work-friendly coffee shops, convention centers, frequently-visited job sites, public transportation, and so on. It’s a great way to plug local businesses and forge that mutually beneficial relationship.
5. Build rapport with locals on social media.
The locals in your area are a powerful source, as their approval and support will boost your credibility. To build rapport with locals on social media, promote restaurants in the community or post about local sports teams or things of value and importance to your city. This will give locals the chance to chime in and provide their support.
If you’re drawing a blank on how to be relevant and communicate your message on social media during this time, take a look at what your competition is doing. Analyze posts from other hotels, restaurants, and venues and see what they’re doing to accommodate in-person events and how they’re marketing their abilities. Have they launched any drive-market campaigns? Are they providing special packages for drive-to events? How are they connecting with the community? See what tactics are working for them, and how you can adapt that to fit your own strategy. The idea isn’t to copy them — it’s to use your research to inform your own strategy and make it work for your brand. And, it’ll provide insight for how to set yourself apart from your competition.
6. Use email marketing to share your latest updates.
Now is prime time to use hotel email marketing to reach out to planners and travelers about new offerings and safety regulations at your hotel. Emails are a great way to boost your brand awareness and promote new content about your on-property cleaning and health safety protocols, safe meetings and events, and local, weekend travel. Focusing on creating engaging and informative emails will keep your hotel top of mind for planners and travelers when they’re ready and able to venture out again and meet in person. If you don’t have the design capabilities or a team devoted to creating emails, email marketing templates are a good resource that take out all the complex work needed to make your emails.
In your marketing emails, make sure to provide content on how you’re prepared to accommodate in-person meetings and why drive-to events are a good option for planners. Highlight your updated cleaning and safety protocols and provide suggestions of things to do in your city that are socially distant. Your marketing email can also take the form of a newsletter, with updates on your property, the status of your city and what places are open or will be opening, and any events that have been hosted in your city or at your venue.
Email content, subject lines, personalization, and responsive design are important, but so is segmenting your email list. This means dividing your contacts based on whatever factors you deem important. If you want to target contacts within driving distance, you should segment based on geographical location. In those emails, you can include region-specific information. You can also choose to segment based on industry, previous engagement with your brand, job title, and much more.
Perfecting your email marketing strategy takes a little guesswork and experimentation. Pick one thing to change — like the subject line, the call to action, or images — and see if your numbers improve. You can even do some A/B testing — this involves two versions of an email, each with different subject lines, for example — to see what performs best and improves your open rate.
7. Use video marketing to demonstrate your expertise with drive-to meetings and events.
Video is no longer confined to just one platform or channel — it spans across all of them, and it’s especially important to include video on social media. According to HubSpot, more than 50% of consumers want to see videos from brands they support, and four out of the top six channels where consumers watch video are social channels. If you aren’t working video into your marketing and social media strategy, you could be missing out and falling behind. Nowadays, it’s even easier and more cost-effective to shoot high-quality videos yourself — you can do it right from your smartphone.
So what kinds of videos should you make and where should you post them? Instagram and Facebook both have similar video features. Both platforms offer stories, where you can post short video snippets and photos for 24 hours. They also both have live options, where you can do a livestream to share with your followers. Instagram offers IGTV for longer-form content, which allows you to share videos up to one hour in length.
YouTube is the quintessential video platform. It’s the second-most visited site in the world, after Google. Viewers on YouTube care more about the relevance of the videos they watch rather than the production value, so you don’t need to spend a fortune making an elaborate video. Figure out what your audience needs or what kinds of questions they have and create content focused on helping them achieve their goals.
Livestream behind-the-scenes as your staff is setting up for a small in-person meeting to show your preparation and everything that goes into making the event happen. You can also do a live Q&A session with your planning team and encourage viewers to ask questions in real time. Consider featuring interviews with staff members or other event experts. Interview planners you’ve worked with in the past or attendees who stayed at your hotel and ask them what they most enjoyed about their experience. Shoot videos of your city and all it has to offer to inspire weekend travelers and entice planners and event attendees to make the drive to your area.
8. Provide virtual visits.
Include virtual tours of your hotel on your website and on sourcing networks, so planners who are looking to schedule drive-to meetings and events know that your hotel is an option. These virtual tools not only save time, but also show that your hotel is adaptable and is using the latest technology. Include video walkthroughs of your available meeting space and show how planners can host a socially distant event at your property.
Consider investing in a 3D tour platform, like Matterport or 3DVista, that will enable planners to navigate each space and virtually explore it at their leisure. You can also offer custom tours and consultations through Zoom, so you can give the planner one-on-one attention and personalize the virtual visit to fit their needs and address all of their questions. If you’re able, provide photos of past socially-distant events you’ve held and link to any video footage of the event space. Help planners envision the possibilities your venue can provide for their drive-to event.
Discover how planners and venues are adapting to make in-person events happen right now:
Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center hosts socially distant trade show.
The Orange County Convention Center in July hosted the Together Again Expo as a hybrid event containing an in-person and virtual audience. Temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing, socially distanced booths, increased sanitation, and 50 percent capacity in exhibit halls are just a few of the precautions that were taken to make the in-person event possible. The Orange County Convention Center is a GBAC Star-accredited venue, which means it is certified by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council for having the proper procedures and training to “prepare for, respond to, and recover from infectious diseases such as COVID-19.” And, a new partnership with Visit Orlando and Orlando Health will provide medical services for all events held at the property in 2020.
As states reopen, venues across the country adjust to host in-person meetings.
With travel resuming, some states are able to hold in-person events with smaller guest lists. Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in June held a hybrid event with 20 in-person attendees and 80 virtual attendees. Masks and temperature checks were required, and the hotel provided sanitizing stations, social distancing floor markers, and overnight disinfecting foggers for each conference room. At an annual board meeting hosted at the Margaritaville Orlando Resort, the 26 attendees were seated at individual tables six feet apart with sanitizers located at every entrance. In Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg Resorts accommodated a 45-person meeting. The venue installed plexiglass barriers at contact points like reception, check-in, and coffee stations, to name a few. The venue staff did a walk-through of the event beforehand from the attendee perspective to make sure everything would run smoothly and to address any issues before the event took place.
Start boosting your drive-to meetings and events business today!
Up next, check out some of our favorite hotel amenity ideas that will wow your guests.
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Megan Boley is a published web writer and editor with a passion for crafting stories. She specializes in planning and creating content across all platforms for brands and organizations, with a focus on demand generation. In her free time, she's a voracious reader and a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu.