Hotel marketers are up against it these days. They face ever-increasing competition and squeezed margins from resellers and OTAs (online travel agents). On another front, they have to deal with a range of challengers – everyone from Airbnb to the YHA – who are redefining for consumers the whole concept of leisure (and business) accommodation.

‘A site that stands out from the crowd on the internet will be more successful at attracting guests and reducing acquisition costs by encouraging direct bookings,’ write Carly Thorp and Sarah Harkness in this helpful piece for Hotel News Now. ‘The property’s website needs to offer a distinct impression and presentation that creates a unique public persona and differentiates it from branded websites and online travel agencies.’

So what can hotels do to face down their competitors and create or retain a point of difference? Here are a few ideas and examples…

  1. Make the most of your local knowledge

    One of the big issues with travel content is its tendency to resort to cliché – all those meaningless descriptions about ‘unspoilt beaches’ and ‘something for everyone’ and ‘ticks every box’. The big aggregators often have to resort to generic messaging because of the massive scale of their property content. But people want to feel their break or stay is personal, so copy that feels fresh and individual and distinctively yours will always strike a chord.

    Social proof plays an important role here too. ‘Rather than oversaturating the site’s copy with generic SEO terms,’ advise Thorp and Harkness, ‘develop authentic copy that will play into your overall market differentiators and drive qualified guests to the site. This can be achieved through integration of blogs, guest reviews, user-generated content from social media and press. All of these things are easily updated and will keep the site fresh and in the moment.’

    On the Boundary blog, for example, local residents share their recommendations for places to eat, walk, drink and more.

    Image of Boundary Hotel website page: A local's guide to Shoreditch
    The Pig Hotel near Bath, meanwhile, uses a gallery of great images, plus local knowledge, an events calendar and oodles of personality to convey the sense of a hotel that will be as much a part of your travel experience as whatever else you’re coming to the West Country for:

    Image of The Pig Hotel website gallery
  2. Pick a theme…

    If you have several hotels to showcase, it’s always a challenge to find fresh and inventive ways to talk about a group of them without the content feeling generic or contrived.

    Classic British Hotels address this challenge well with pieces like the one shown, which celebrates some of Britain’s finest literary landscapes. There’s lot of research, great imagery, some unexpected gems – and of course lots of good places to stay. This kind of thematic ringfencing could easily have seemed clichéd and bland, but it’s the level of detail and knowledge that really brings it alive.

    Image of Classic British Hotels blog article of finest literary landscapes
  3. Team up with local partners

    Image of Boundary hotel webpage_Stay, shop, save
    If you stay at a hotel like Boundary in London's Shoreditch, there’s every chance you’ll want to enjoy that hip neighbourhood’s nightlife and shopping. Boundary capitalises on this with a key card scheme, which offers discounts at a range of popular hangouts . In this way your hotel isn’t just a place to sleep; it becomes an informed and generous curator of your experience of the area, all of which adds to the visitor’s sense of anticipation.

    Every hotel has local partners they could work with to mutual advantage, through referrals, contra deals or shared spend. You might showcase advice or inspirational content from a local wedding shop, for instance, or pool resources to host a wedding show. Or you might offer a discount for guests at a local hairdresser’s or restaurant.
  4. Don’t be all things to all people

    The best partnerships will be realistic about the sort of people who use the hotels  offered and the reasons they stay. Ifyour hotel is convenient for access to a hospital or airport, for instance, special rates and pre-booked journeys to such destinations via a local taxi firm could be a boon for prospective guests. It’s vital to be realistic about the key reasons people visit your hotel, and not try to be all things to all people.

    ‘No matter where the property is situated, a large portion of what is being sold to the guest is the location and the local culture,’ Thorp and Harkness remind us. ‘Keep this in mind while designing the hotel’s website and show the property’s strengths, both interior and exterior, through photos, maps and sample itineraries or activities that feed into your target market’s reason for visiting.’
  5. Use email to seed exclusivity and loyalty

    What can you do with your own growing database of guests, to encourage repeat visits and recommendations?

    D&D London, which runs several upscale restaurants and a hotel, has a sophisticated email programme full of events, high-quality imagery and first-look announcements which give the subscriber a sense of exclusive access. A weekend break can be a spontaneous last-minute decision, which means regular, impactful appearances in the inbox have a great chance of sealing the deal in your favour.

    Email snapshot of South Place SessionsEmail snapshot of D&D London subscriber email


    The monthly newsletter from Ovolo Hotels – 'omg!' – is a gossipy mix of shout-outs and fun stats and freebies, all designed to communicate personality and build community:
    Email snapshot of Ovolo monthly gossipEmail snapshot from Ovolo Hotels
  6. Encourage feedback through reciprocity

    A hotel that asks its guests to comment on their stay through Trip Adviser is confident that people will have positive things to say. Ovolo Hotels goes out of its way to elicit comments with a simple reciprocity nudge in the form of a special guest return offer. (You don’t have to give feedback to get the discount, of course, but why wouldn’t you?)Email snapshot from Ovolo Hotel – thank you for booking
  7. Pay attention to the details and show you care

    A colleague emailed a hotel in Iceland – Hotel Leifur Eiriksson – to enquire about gluten-free breakfast options. They didn’t do them as such, but the helpful response spoke volumes about the kind of place they had chosen:

    Email reply from Hotel Leifur Eiriksson in Iceland
    This kind of personal touch is precisely the sort of thing that the mass-volume, cookie-cutter approach of chains and OTAs struggles to emulate. Why not compile a set of really granular FAQs based on real queries to your hotel?
  8. Be specific

    Another way to engage people is to focus on really specific needs or benefits. Many parents, for instance, might not consider any villa hire – however well-equipped or beautifully located it is – unless they’re satisfied the pool is totally child-safe. So, why not make that prospect filter the theme of an email newsletter, as Villas du Monde does here: 

    Email about holiday villas with child safe fenced pools
  9. Add a dash of humour and personality

    This clever message at the end of a Halloween-themed email from Travelodge gets recipients thinking about Christmas in a way that’s cheeky and engaging:

    Travelodge email snapshot about HalloweenAnother hotel chain with a distinctive voice and personality is Citizen M. Here hotel design, graphic design and artlessly hip language combine seamlessly to offer the user not a mere accommodation solution so much as an attitude or even a lifestyle:

    Image of Citizen M Rotterdam Hotel WebpageImage Citizen M Rotterdam landing page
    These weekend break ideas from Airbnb help us to see familiar destinations afresh thanks to the high-quality, informative imagery and the mischievous captions which seek not so much to inform as to intrigue.

    Image of Airbnb snippet