Digital Marketing for Hotels: A Step-by-Step Guide (+Free Marketing Plan)

By Jordan Hollander

Last updated August 09, 2023

9 min read

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Does creating a hotel marketing plan sound as intimidating as rocket science? Whether you’re opening a new hotel, rebranding an existing one, or stepping into a new hospitality industry marketing role, tackling your marketing plan is a daunting - yet essential - task. Without a plan, you could end up maxing out your marketing budget with little return on investment, targeting the wrong traveler segments, or using less than ideal technology tools. Putting in a little extra work early on will help your hotel compete effectively and efficiently, which is crucial to your hotel’s success both in periods of uncertain and strong demand.

But how do you start your hotel marketing plan? Not to worry; we’ve built a simple step-by-step process for crafting hotel marketing strategies so it feels less like rocket science and more like building a Lego rocket. Just follow these nine steps and you’ll have a robust hotel marketing plan that will take your hotel to the stars (five-star reviews, that is).

Looking for the pocket-sized version? Here’s your hotel marketing plan cheat sheet:

  1. Create a Google Sheet with your hotel’s benchmarking data

  2. Enhance your Google sheet with competitor data to best of your abilities

  3. Prepare a SWOT analysis

  4. Analyze CRM and PMS data to understand business mix and profitability by guest segment

  5. Present findings to your cross-functional team and ask for feedback

  6. Rate satisfaction of partners and tech vendors

  7. Create an ROI forecast for each tool

  8. Add KPI status tags

  9. Put together three budgets

Let’s get started!

1. Create a Google Sheet with your hotel’s benchmarking data to set the stage for your marketing strategy

The first step in developing your hotel marketing plan is to start with your current situation, from your current RevPAR to your social media following. We recommend mapping all of the below metrics in a Google Sheet, putting your hotel’s name at the top and all of these metrics, organized by category, in the rows beneath.

  • Core metrics
    • RevPAR: Revenue per Available Room. You can quickly find this number in your property management system.

    • ADR: Average Daily Rate. This stat is also available in your property management system.

    • CPA: Cost per Acquisition - i.e. what is the average cost of each reservation? This number can include OTA (online travel agencies) channel fees and any other booking fees.

    • ROAS: Return on Ad Spend. Divide your ad spend (like Expedia TravelAds or Google Ads) by the revenue booked as a direct result of the ads to get your ROAS.

    • Marketing as % of revenue: Add up all of your marketing spend, then divide it by your hotel’s total revenue.

    • direct bookings: The share of reservations that come through your direct channels (website, reservations office) versus other booking platforms like OTAs and the GDS.

    • Brand awareness: What is your share of voice online? Different hotels calculate this metric differently but consistency is the most important thing here.  A simple calculation could be to sum up the following metrics for your compset: web traffic + review volumes across major online portals such as Booking, Expedia, Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Yelp (these will vary based on market).  Local business reviews on these portals typically equate to more traffic on those platforms.

  • Advertising budget: List your marketing budget, including your target cost per click for ads. If you’re new to paid digital marketing, you can use a return on ad spend (ROAS) calculator to help you determine your ideal spend level, like this one.

  • Social media marketing efficacy: List your follower counts and engagement rate for each of your social media profiles (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). 

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

    • Website traffic: The number of visitors to your hotel website in a given time period. You can find your traffic stats in your Google Analytics dashboard or website’s content management system.  The hotel industry is notorious for outsourcing traffic to OTAs - organic search traffic is the most profitable traffic hoteliers can focus on because it has long-term value.

    • Keywords: List your website’s top keywords - i.e. the search engine keywords where your website ranks highly. You can find them on Moz, SEMRush, or similar sites.

    • Domain authority: This metric measures the likelihood that your website will rank highly in the search results. It’s a way to measure your website’s “strength.” You can look up your hotel website’s DA on Moz or SEMRush as well.  Marketers often take this metric too literally, the important thing in SEO and online marketing, in general, is looking at metrics like this in relation to competitors.

  • Funnel performance

    • Website conversion rate: This metric compares the number of “lookers” to “bookers” on your website. Out of 100 website visitors, how many actually make a reservation?

    • Website metrics: page load speed, first contentful paint, bounce rate and time on site are critical indicators of what's happening in the hotel booking funnel.  Google's page experience update means that even if your not the best hotel you can still outrank those formidable competitors with a great hotel website.

    • Booking engine conversion rate: Similar to your website conversion rate, but this metric only looks at shoppers who have actually entered your booking engine. What percentage of them end up finalizing a booking?

    • Average basket size: The average price of a reservation added to a potential guest’s “basket.”

2. Enhance your Google sheet with competitor data to the best of your abilities

Now, let’s put your benchmarking data in context by studying what your competitors are doing. First, you’ll want to gather a list of three to five close competitor properties. These competitors should be located in the same general area, offer similar amenities, and charge similar nightly rates as you do.

Once you have decided on your competitor properties, add their names to the header row in the columns to the left of your own hotel’s column. Proceed to fill in the cells beneath with as much information as you have readily available. For instance, you can visit your competitor’s social media pages to take note of their follower counts. 

Some information will require a bit more digging. To find stats on competitor’s keywords, pay-per-click marketing, and website traffic, you can use a tool like SEMRush, iSpionage, or Google Ads’ Auction Insights. Moz and SEMRush also let you find the Domain Authority for any website, so you can simply enter your competitors’ websites to find their DA.

Other metrics, like return on ad spend, cost per acquisition, and website conversion rate, will be harder to come by. If you have good relationships with your peers at your compset hotels, you can ask your competitors if they would be willing to exchange information for educational purposes. You can also ask for insights from OTA market managers or your technology vendor representatives. Another strategy is to take demos with digital marketing agencies and ask them what metrics or performance they would expect when using their tools. For instance, if you test-drive a booking engine, they should be able to share a ballpark conversion range based on similar clients’ performance.

3. Prepare a SWOT analysis

With your competitors’ data lined up nicely next to yours, you can easily compare your performance to theirs. Using these metrics, conduct a SWOT analysis to determine how you stack up to the compset.  This exercise will help to elucidate the marketing channels that will be most impactful for your business.

SWOT analysis helps you uncover your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It may be helpful to add a new column where you can add the appropriate label to the category. For instance, if your website conversion rate is higher than your compset average, you would add “Strength” in the SWOT column.

Use these prompts to help you determine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats:

  • Strengths: What does your hotel do better than your compset? What sets you apart from your compset hotels? 

  • Weaknesses: What is your hotel not so good at? Where do you have resource limitations? For example, is your marketing budget much smaller than your compset’s budgets?

  • Opportunities: Are only a few of your competitors doing this? For example, are none of your competitors engaging with their social media audiences? 

  • Threats: Does your hotel have any new competitors? Is a new hotel opening down the street? Will changing market dynamics push your ADR down?

4. Analyze CRM and PMS data to understand business mix and profitability by guest segment

With your SWOT complete, let’s switch gears and look at your guest segments. Generate a report in your hotel CRM or PMS that shows your performance by guest mix - i.e. revenue, room nights, ADR, booking window, and similar metrics broken down by transient guests, corporate guests, groups, consortia, and any other relevant segments.  Your Hotel CRM will also calculate RFM for various guest segments (recency, frequency, monetary value) to ensure that you focus your marketing efforts on the right channels with the right marketing messages.

High-quality marketing strategies don't just think about high-level demographics when creating customer personas like age or gender - the best marketers are able to use data to understand their target audience better than the compset.  Whether you're running display ads like remarketing campaigns or email marketing campaigns the language you use) resonates with the audience it's put in front of. Personalization is the key to persuading business travelers and leisure guests alike.

Using this data, you can determine which guest segment is your most profitable, which one is the most expensive, which segments have seasonal hospitality marketing trends, and more. Understanding your business mix and profitability metrics will help you decide which segments to target in your marketing plan and which ones might not deliver favorable financial results if you were to invest more marketing dollars.

5. Present findings to your cross-functional team and ask for feedback

Of course, since you’ve only been looking at the hard numbers so far, it’s crucial to run your findings past a cross-functional team to get their take on your analysis. Bring your SWOT analysis and business mix analysis to the next leadership meeting - or call a special meeting with department heads to review your reports. Make sure to loop in sales, revenue management, and your GM so everyone can share their opinions. Give each team the opportunity to share their feedback, which can help you to validate and enrich your findings.

6. Rate satisfaction of partners and tech vendors

Now it’s time to think about how you can achieve your goals laid out in the SWOT analysis. For instance, if you learned that your website conversion is lower than your compset or the industry average, how do you plan to increase it? Your marketing partners and technology vendors can be valuable assets here, so let’s audit each one to find areas of opportunity for growth - or potential reasons to switch to a new solution. 

Make a list of your partners and vendors, then ask key stakeholders to rate their satisfaction with each one (or rate them yourself). Match each vendor with a KPI from step 1; for example, your digital marketing agency would correspond to your marketing budget and social media presence, and your booking engine would correspond to your website and booking engine conversion rates. 

Some partners and vendors to consider include:

7. Create an ROI forecast for each tool and channel

With your list of partners and vendors ready, and maybe a few items on your technology wishlist, let’s figure out the costs and potential impact for each tool. For tools you already use, you should be able to fill in cost numbers, whether that’s a commission on each reservation, a monthly fee, or a one-time investment. You can find the cost of tools you don’t already use via this very website (how convenient!) by submitting quotes to vendors on their “profile” pages.

Besides costs, you’ll want to estimate the benefits these tools can deliver. For instance, if you invest in a new booking engine, it might increase your website conversion rate by 0.5%, which could lead to an additional $10,000 in booked revenue per month. Similarly, by implementing a CRM tool, the vendor could provide an estimate of additional revenue per contact in your email database by optimizing your email newsletters. Adding up all of the costs and potential revenue uplifts will give you an ROI forecast for each system on your list.

8. Add KPI status tags

Keep up the good work, you’re almost there! Take your list of tools from step 6 (with their corresponding KPIs and ROI forecast) and combine it with your SWOT analysis. Simply match each KPI with the respective SWOT tag - strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat - to give context as to why you want to invest in each tool. For instance, if you identified your website conversion rate as a weakness compared to your compset, you would assign “weakness” as the status tag for your website developer or content management system.

9. Put together three budgets

Now let’s sum it all up! The final step is to prepare three budgets - high, medium, and low - based on light or heavy investment in marketing tools and strategies. You might want to consider three different levels of ad spend, three different website options (i.e. standard, deluxe, and fully loaded packages), and some tools that would be nice to have but maybe not totally essential. Come up with a rationale for each and why you think spending more would yield better results for ownership, then get ready to present it for approval.

Well, that wasn’t so bad! In just nine steps, you’ve created a comprehensive hotel marketing plan with not just one budget, but three, plus you’ve outlined clear KPIs you want to hit and buy-in from other hotel departments. Still have questions about your hotel marketing plan? Get started with the template below but don't feel restricted to our process - every hotel business is different so you need to customize for your individual or portfolio property needs.

Understanding digital marketing trends is crucial for effective hotel digital marketing. With the rise of the internet and social media channels, it has become increasingly important for hoteliers to develop and implement a strong hotel digital marketing strategy to stay competitive in the hotel industry. A strong digital marketing strategy can help hotels to improve their online presence through social media platforms, SEO, and search engine rankings. With the right hotel digital marketing tactics, hoteliers can attract more potential guests, drive direct bookings to their hotel website, and improve their online reputation by garnering positive reviews. Digital marketing enables hotels to target their preferred audience with precision. Understanding the latest hotel marketing strategies can help hoteliers to identify their target audience, develop marketing campaigns that resonate with potential customers, and optimise their landing pages to increase conversion rates. Effective hotel digital marketing can lead to increased hotel bookings and revenue generation. By using marketing tactics like PPC, email marketing, influencer marketing, and remarketing, hoteliers can drive more direct bookings to their hotel website and reduce reliance on OTAs like Expedia and TripAdvisor. A strong hotel digital marketing strategy can help hotels to improve their brand awareness and reputation. By using high-quality content marketing, virtual tours, templates, and loyalty programs, hoteliers can build brand loyalty and develop a unique brand identity that resonates with Millennials and other potential guests. Understanding the latest digital marketing trends in the hospitality industry can give hoteliers a competitive advantage. By using hotel digital marketing agencies and keeping up with the latest digital marketing tactics, hoteliers can differentiate themselves from competitors and drive more bookings to their hotel. Understanding digital marketing trends is crucial for effective hotel marketing. By developing and implementing a strong hotel digital marketing strategy, hoteliers can increase online visibility, improve customer engagement, and generate more revenue for their hotel business.

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Jordan Hollander
CEO @ HotelTechReport Linkedin profile
Jordan is the co-founder of HotelTechReport, the hotel industry's app store where millions of professionals discover tech tools to transform their businesses. He was previously on the Global Partnerships team at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Prior to his work with SPG, Jordan was Director of Business Development at MWT Hospitality and an equity analyst at Wells Capital Management. Jordan received his MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management where he was a Zell Global Entrepreneurship Scholar and a Pritzker Group Venture Fellow.