A new hotel opening or changing of flags has so many moving parts. As an owner or manager overseeing this transition, you are likely wearing multiple hats. Here is a hotel pre-opening marketing plan and checklist from a digital standpoint to ensure you are building your website presence. This should lay the foundation for a healthy channel mix that has reduced OTA dependency later down the road.
1 Year Prior to Opening: FOUNDATION
- Buy your preferred domain. Develop a 1-page site or temporarily redirect to a page on your management company site. This should have contact info about sales and careers.
- Determine opening budget. Be sure to include an extensive photo shoot, UNAP (URL, Name, Address, Phone) consistency and heavy paid marketing for the first 3 to 6 months of the new hotel opening. Participate in brand promotional add-ons if applicable for year one.
- Create a fact sheet. The sales team will need something that has stock photography, amenities, and proximity to local demand generators.
- Pencil in a photographer. If you are a branded hotel, ensure you meet brand standards in case they require certain companies to shoot, and also specific images. For more photo shoot considerations, visit these hotel photography guidelines.
- Choose the best systems. For an independent hotel, ensure there is proper alignment between your PMS, Booking Engine, Channel Manager and Website. Make sure respective systems can integrate with a CRM down the road. The website vendor should be on top of the latest search engine optimization trends, site speed, responsive design, booking engine integrations, and Google Analytics eCommerce / goal tracking.
- Develop a voice for your brand. Who is your target audience? How will you compare against the competition? What are your goals, for digital marketing and otherwise? Pull market statistics from your CVB to properly set expectations.
6 Months Prior to Opening: WEBSITE
- Hopefully, your website is live or being built and these points are considered.
- Define your unique selling propositions. Consider what is unique to your hotel and location against the comp set. Also, what is unique about your sub-brand, in terms of food and beverage, pet policies, in-room amenities. This is also location-based and how far your hotel is from specific demand generators. Instead of free hot breakfast, are there any signature items? If you are close to a university, how far and are you the closest hotel to that place?
- Find niche keywords for your on-site search engine optimization. Each page should be dedicated to different keywords. Start with niche keywords and expand into more competitive keywords later. Your meta descriptions should include unique selling propositions again. Integrate your keywords into on-page content and header/alt tags.
- Write extensive content. Ensure your home page lists all your unique selling propositions. Supporting pages should be dedicated to amenities, rooms, offers and the local area, at a minimum. Include keywords strategically placed throughout.
- Have a working phone number. You should have your local number, but likely no front desk, so set this up to forward to your corporate office or someone’s cell phone.
- Create a social media presence. Keep it minimal and just start with Facebook then you can grow into more platforms later. Aggressive posting isn’t needed at this time, but post construction pics, job fairs, and team training events.
3 Months Prior to Opening: RATES
- Ensure rates are live. Rate strategy should be built and rates should be selling on your website. Submit to get your interface set up with the larger OTAs, at least Expedia and Booking.com. Audit your content and imagery on these sites with this OTA checklist and fill out as much as you can.
- Build at least 1 local package. It should showcase your unique selling propositions, partnerships or proximity to local demand generators. Leverage these to get exposure on your local CVB and chamber websites. If you are hitting a roadblock on packages, these package ideas may help.
- Activate local listings like TripAdvisor and Cvent.
- Check GDS strategy. Ensure major Global Distribution channels are live and pushing AAA at a minimum.
2 Weeks Prior to Opening: EXPOSURE
- Write your press release. If you are a new hotel that is a flag change, the press release will need to comprehensively show the volume of the renovation. Later, this press release will be easier to submit to TripAdvisor to wipe old reviews than some other documents they accept.
- Execute online partnerships. Your sales team should be in full force. As they are creating relationships on the ground, they need to think about how to promote the hotel online and get listed on local sites. Not only will it drive referral traffic to your site, but it will also help with off-site search engine optimization.
- Tweak your paid marketing budget. Does your original budget align with hotel needs and season you defined earlier in pre opening? Finalize your UNAP partner to ensure your hotel is visible on all channels with correct URL, Name, Address, and Phone number.
Day Of Opening: TESTING AND LOCAL
- Ensure working phone number. It should be ringing to the front desk.
- Do test reservations. Test inventory selling for day-of on multiple channels and do test reservations.
- Distribute your press release. Consider using a national distribution service but also send to local avenues to distribute like your CVB and chamber.
- Communicate opening on social media. Post the new hotel opening on Facebook and any other social channels you have.
- Claim local listings. This includes Google My Business, Yelp, Bing and Apple. There is usually a phone verification involved.
2 Weeks Post Opening: PAID MARKETING, GPS AND PHOTO SHOOT
- Turn on paid marketing. Considerations are Google Adwords, MetaSearch, Groupon/Flash Sales, Social Media, Waze, Eblasts, Travel Ads, Retargeting, Banner Ads. If you want cost-effective exposure via Facebook, check out this article about how to run Facebook ads for hotels. If you don’t have a database yet for email marketing (as most won’t) check with your CVB to advertise in one of their eblasts or enewsletters. Most states also have a tourism website that you can advertise.
- Submit the new location to maps sources. With new builds, sometimes GPS devices don’t recognize road extensions or that a building physically exists. Check Apple Maps, Tele Atlas, Navteq, OpenStreetMap and Waze. Google My Business should already be claimed at this point, but do submit turn by turn direction changes if needed.
- Prep for the photo shoot. Your photo shoot should be scheduled within 30 days of opening. Ensure your landscaping looks good and you have extra staff scheduled around breakfast and reception times, if applicable.
- Gain access to all review channels. Make sure someone has access to respond to all reviews on TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, Expedia, Booking.com and Yelp.
90 Days Post Opening: CLEAN UP
- Distribute new imagery to all channels. Ensure consistent image storytelling on your website, OTAs, local listings and social media.
- Listen to front desk for guest complaints. Cross-reference sites to make sure amenities and directions are not vague or misstated.
- Check analytics and reporting. Look for increased organic search impressions and clicks on Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Check Google My Business statistics. Here are the top 10 digital marketing KPIs for hotels.
- Plan for Grand Opening Party. Time to celebrate and invite your favorite and potential clients for a party. Budget for food and entertainment. Showcase local vendors specific to your area. Design custom invites and play it up on social media.
Follow this hotel pre-opening and post-opening checklist to ensure you are on track during the critical path. The goal should be exposure earlier in the hotel pre-opening phase and integrate a plan that spends money in the right areas for your new hotel opening until base business is acquired. Also, you want to ensure a consistent story is being told across all channels to avoid guest confusion and higher conversions. For assistance in executing on this timeline, contact Cogwheel Marketing for your hotel digital marketing needs.