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Hotel Marketing : Why I Feel Sorry for Chain Hotels

collection of chain hotel logos
Why would anyone feel sorry for chain hotels?  Aren’t branded hotels the ones with all of the fancy programs and the big advertising budgets?  Wouldn’t chain-affiliated hotels have clout that independent's can’t compete with?

Yes, to a certain extent, they do.  But the chain advantage is eroding.  The internet has leveled the playing field with independents.

According to a June 2010 DemandGen Report, 78% of B2B buyers check out potential suppliers online before they pick up the phone.  This might be on the supplier’s website, through third-party sites or even social media.  And increasingly buyers are looking for brands with personality and unique appeal.  This is where chain hotels are increasingly at a disadvantage.

(Note: the names of specific brands have been omitted to protect the innocent and perhaps the not-so-innocent…).

Chain hotels rarely can have custom content on their website.  It doesn’t matter which brand you look at.  Hotels must fit the corporate mold, filling in the blanks so that information is presented on the corporate website in a uniform manner.

  • If individual properties offer unique programs, anything that would differentiate hotel A from hotel B, it is rarely available on the branded hotel’s page.  A meeting planner has to call a hotel to get that information emailed to them.
Case in point: I was visiting a wonderful Chicago hotel last November, and the sales manager who walked me through the site inspection had great knowledge of their hotel’s unique banquet production and cooking system.  She gave me excellent examples of how this gives them a competitive edge in their local catering market.  Is there any mention of this on their website?  No!  Unfortunately, the hotel has no flexibility to include this anywhere on their corporate-sanctioned website.
  • If any chain hotel has a blog (a rarity), they are not allowed to connect it to their hotel page. 
  • Many chain hotels, regardless of brand, are told social media is the purview of corporate headquarters.  If a hotel has a Twitter account it is often used strictly for leisure purposes (e.g. “come check out our weekend rates”).  Heck, I’ve even heard of corporate HQ types trying to “control the messaging” of some of their “field” Tweeters by issuing “guidelines”.  Did these corporate types not hear what happened in Egypt and Libya?  Contrast that with independents who have real personalities and even know how to have fun (check out the Drake Hotel on Twitter and The Lord Elgin’s bed-jumping video on YouTube).  
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is often entirely leisure-driven because it is controlled by corporate HQ marketing types whose job is only leisure and image focused.  Intelligent B2B marketing, with rich content generation that can generate leads, is rarely on their radar screen.
  • Because they operate with clunky legacy systems like Delphi and Opera SFA, most hotel companies cannot run efficient lead nurturing campaigns with marketing automation tools that connect with their website interface and their CRM or PMS. 
We often hear hotels complain about the pressure on their rates and how the market is so competitive.  And unless they can differentiate their local flair and offer proof that they can be more than cookie-cutter buildings, chain hotels are doomed to suffer the highs – and lows – of the commodities they are becoming in the eyes of meeting planners everywhere.

Would love to hear from the hospitality sales & marketing pros out there!