Fancy a career in online marketing for the hotel industry?
By Jitendra Jain
Thursday, 14th June 2007
If you've always loved computers and the internet, have worked in the travel industry and have a flair for the creative and a passion for marketing..... then a career in online marketing & distribution in a hotel may be just the thing for you!

The role, often referred to as e-commerce, e-business or online marketing & distribution (though these are quite disparate terms) usually pertains to a growing niche in the hospitality industry. It's often confused with revenue management, public relations and worse still…IT, but the focus is really quite simple…and it isn't rocket science.

Online marketing & distribution would be best described as a combination of traditional marketing, PR and sales taken to a whole new level on the Internet platform. 


Firstly, to clear up some misconceptions regarding the terms often used to describe the role. E-Business is the broad term that usually encompasses the entire value chain from purchasing, supply chain management, customer communication, business to business interactions, etc with the help of automated information systems on the Internet, World Wide Web, Intranets or Extranets (or a combination of these).

 E-Commerce falls under the e-business umbrella and usually involves using the Internet or World Wide Web to add a revenue channel, improve efficiency and interaction with customers or partners (often the hotel's websites are the first "touch-point", where a customer experiences the brand and web 2.0 features are making this interaction more and more sophisticated). E-Marketing on the other hand, involves an electronic or digital marketing focus, using disciplines like Search Engine Optimization, Paid Search Marketing, Banner Advertising, Email Advertising, Advergaming and so on.


Before you get turned off by all the technicalities surrounding the terms though, you should know that this article mostly pertains to careers in hospitality e-marketing, which is the area most hotels are increasing their focus on. A lot of the e-business and e-commerce infrastructure has been (and continues to be) maintained at a corporate level for purposes of consistency, cost-efficiency and strategic management. This holds true for most if not all hotel companies, small and big.

E-marketing is a whole new ballgame though – aside from the dictates of brand guidelines, the specific marketing demands of different geographic regions and cultures just can't be standardized or met quickly enough to pro-actively tackle the needs of today's discerning customer. This is why many major hotel chains allocate resources for e-marketing at various levels ranging from divisional to regional to area…and a rare few even at the property-level.

Facts and Figures:

So what's the big deal? Why is e-marketing suddenly so important? Consider this…at present, about 17.2% of the world's population is using the Internet – that's roughly 1.13 Billion people! The growth rate in internet usage from 2000-2007 has been phenomenal, averaging at 214%, with Africa and the Middle East leading the way in terms of penetration growth and North America leading in terms of penetration, with 69% of the population already connected to the Internet. (Source: Internet Usage and World Population Statistics as of June 10, 2007 – internetworldstats.com)

And what does this indicate? Merely this…as more people get on the Internet, overcoming the initial learning curve and become comfortable with applications other than email and the occasional browsing for information, we're set to see a lot more purchases / bookings made online, customer reviews, critiques, stories, videos, blogs, social networking and gaming on the internet. In fact, in most developed parts of the world, this is already the norm…and savvy companies have realized and tackled this head-on.

The current trend:

Back to e-marketing for hotels…the emerging trend in the industry, especially with hotel chains who've embraced the online revolution, is to increasingly focus on the role at the property, hotel complex and area levels. In the Middle East for example, the concept was almost non-existent just a few years ago.

A case in point is Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which had about 4 to 5 property level online marketing executives / managers in 2005 in the Africa & Middle East region – today this same number is over 13 in the Middle East region alone!

The revenue contribution of the Internet as a distribution channel has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, with some hotels in high internet-penetration divisions like North America reporting as much as 50% of their revenues generated on the Internet. Hotels in the Middle East have seen modest revenue channel contributions of 5-10% but the growth year-over-year has been extremely positive and the future looks very bright.

Overall, looking at the top 21 hotel brands worldwide, TravelCLICK's eTRAK reports that the Internet accounted for 38.3 percent of 2006 brand hotel bookings, driven by a 20.2 percent growth rate compared to 2005. As hotels continue to shift marketing funds from offline to online, more bookings will be made directly through hotels' own websites (at present, many customers also tend to research their stays online and book offline, hence the Internet is a strong indirect booking influence too).

Given this strong new revenue stream, changing guest booking behaviour, cost benefits and the ability to respond quickly to soft spot marketing needs, early-adopters have realized the value of having someone in-house focusing on this role full-time. Others are focusing on the role but choose to be more cautious about exploring this new territory, often combining it with other responsibilities like revenue management, field marketing and in some cases even public relations.

I'm not a ‘techie'…how do I get in?

The good news is that with tech infrastructure employed by the larger hotel companies out there, being a great online marketer in the hotel industry does not necessarily require you to be a tech-guru. Smaller chains and hotel companies may still require the help of an expert in the e-marketing field to maximize their ROI on the position, especially in the absence of well-developed online marketing tech tools and guidelines.

Bigger chains, though, have developed advanced e-marketing tools that allow anyone to run professional email, banner, search and web campaigns that fit branding guidelines as well as employ internet marketing best practices…all that's needed is the willingness to learn and an active interest in the internet with a knack for marketing & hospitality.

The perfect example is my own career in online marketing & distribution – having completed my education in hotel & restaurant management, followed by a Swiss degree in business, I worked in hotel operational-areas like Food & Beverage Service, Night Auditing, Marketing, Purchasing & Operational Controlling, etc. I have always had a passion for computers and the internet, but never had the formal ‘e'ducation to go with it.

So after years of solo tinkering and online experiments, I was delighted when a new opportunity in ‘e-commerce / online marketing' with Sheraton came along. I went for it…and have never looked back…for me, the field has been the ideal marriage between my passion for technology and my background in hospitality. But fear not…even those colleagues not quite inclined to tinkering away with computers into the wee hours of the night have found a great career in online marketing & distribution.

Many have migrated from sales…others from revenue management…and some from PR & Field Marketing – the role happens to offer a little bit of everything, including sales, marketing, public relations, branding, revenue management and more…all bundled together with a unique adaptation for the evolving online world. Even hospitality graduates can find a great career launch-pad as executives and coordinators in the field of online hospitality marketing & distribution.

What exactly does an online marketing & distribution person do exactly?

So now you're all excited about the role…but just what would you be doing at work, you ask? Of course, the responsibilities may vary considerably, depending on the size of the company, tech infrastructure in place, training offered and the part of the world you're going to be working in.

Since the role is quite new and has some technical associations (and misconceptions too), one very important function is creating an online culture at the property by creating a good system of communication, reporting, education and interaction for management and operational teams related to what you do. Some other common elements tend to stand out, no matter what company you may work for, like helping preserve the integrity of the hotel/chain's brand feel and message in your online marketing and communications, applying the ‘Best Rate Guarantee' if used, ensuring text & photo content online is optimized for marketing & search engines, conducting soft spot marketing campaigns, visual and online search advertising where necessary and dealing with direct (hotel / chain websites) or indirect (3rd parties like Expedia, Travelocity, etc) distribution issues online.

What does the industry have to say?

"We've just begun our e-marketing efforts this year at the Mina, and we're already seeing great results in terms of online revenues and visibility. The key challenge with the growing popularity of the Internet and the intense competition out there is how to drive people to your sites and maintain exposure and interest…having a person concentrating on this full-time is an absolute must!" says Michael Scully, the GM of the popular Le Meridien & Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi complex.

This confidence in the role is echoed by Andreas Plum, Online Distribution & Field Marketing Manager for Starwood Hotels in the Middle East, who states "The Internet is a distribution channel hotels can no longer afford to ignore – the website presence is more important than the traditional brochures and a good online marketing & distribution strategy is vital to success in today's dynamic, fast-paced business environment. In a few years online travel spending will outpace offline travel channels by far – that's a fact. Hotels need to gear up their activities now to not miss out on future opportunities."

Further re-enforcing this are comments from Dr.Dimitrios Buhalis, Leader eTourism Research at the University of Surrey, who I recently had the pleasure of meeting at the European Travel Distribution Summit in London: "All future hospitality marketers will need to understand the online environment and the challenges and opportunities it brings.

A testament to this fact is the small, but growing number of eCommerce managers in the hospitality and tourism industry (or eTourism experts) that bring together marketing, technology and management expertise to lead their companies through the transformation of the marketplace."

To sum it all up:

The future promises to be bright for this growing niche in the hotel industry…so if you're among the rare breed of hospitality professionals that gets a glint in your eye every time the Internet is mentioned…you may just want to consider hopping on to the online marketing bandwagon!

About the author: Jitendra Jain (JJ) is the founder of The Talent Jungle, a hotel, hospitality and tourism base created in 2003 for industry professionals, students, educators and alumni, with a focus on sharing best-practices, hospitality education guidance and networking. He is a Business Graduate (specialized in Tourism & Hospitality) from HTW Switzerland and also holds Swiss Higher, Indian and American Diplomas in Hotel Management, with specializations in Rooms Division Management, Food & Beverage Management and Human Resources Management. He is currently engaged with a Global Hotel company as an E-Commerce Manager.

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