With the ever growing hotel industry in South Africa, there is often concern expressed by smaller establishments like boutique hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts, about competing with the larger hotels and international hotel groups. So, how does the web level the playing field for small hotels to effectively compete with large hotel companies?

Small establishments and large hotels definitely have different audiences. Their potential guests follow different behavior patterns when it comes to searching for and booking accommodation. While the small hotel audience relies more strongly on offers and recommendations via platforms such as TripAdvisor, Facebook and blogs, the hotel audience tends to be loyal to hotel brands, they are encouraged to visit the brand’s website where they are rewarded with points and savings.

Small establishments should understand and embrace this difference, there is plenty of room for successful digital marketing campaigns no matter the size of the property or the budget, as long as it’s placed and marketed correctly.

The best advantage small establishments have is being able to give a more personalized service and overall experience to their guests. Small establishments should therefore focus on the experiences and the memories they provide. Determine what your property’s unique selling point is and promote it constantly! If it’s the location, make sure you inform your potential guests about any and every event that could interest your guests. Fill your website with information on things to do, keep this information fresh and updated. Bloggin is ideal for this purpose! It it’s food and wine, organize regular events and packages (wine and whiskey tasting, tasting menus, gourmet weekends, cooking classes ), if it’s the spa, promote wellbeing as well as the spa treatments and packages.

If it’s your property’s interior design, architecture or art collection promote exhibitions for local artists, invite well-known specialist bloggers and professionals that can write about these features, promote the property as a venue for photo shoots and independent movies. If it’s the service, have a blog in your website talking about good service in hospitality, engage the staff so they can post tips on Facebook. Make the property a benchmark for excellence by offering special training to members of the industry and workshops. There are endless options for every case.

Reward the returning guest as well as your fans and followers. Share important news with them first (not with the media), give them a discount or something extra on every return and every time they recommend the hotel to someone. The more they recommend the more they can get in return.

Engage the local community offering local products in your hotel, establish partnerships with local businesses, promote them so they can promote you in return.

Small hotels don’t have the same marketing budget large hotels do. Sometimes there is no marketing budget at all. It’s important that small hotels take advantage of every opportunity they can get to promote the property, starting from digital marketing. There is plenty that can be done when it comes to organic SEO and digital marketing. If there is no budget, look for small hotels that have achieved what you would like to achieve and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Other hoteliers can become your friend and mentors, you can help each other too because two properties are never the same, each can be marketed differently. Maybe what you do best is their weakness and what they do best is yours.

One of the problems small hotels face is consistency throughout different seasons. Marketing should be done during all seasons, just because you are in the high season and the hotel is busy it doesn’t mean that you can relax. The low season is just around the corner. Marketing & PR are like housekeeping, they must be done daily (and if not daily, weekly). Make sure your marketing campaign is consistent throughout the year, careful with brand awareness, don’t change the property’s image to see what happens or you will lose all you have achieved (as well as your returning guests).  Your marketing strategy should last for at least the whole year.

  • See the esatblishment as an individual: with personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. Work with what you have. Just like with people.
  • Don’t try to act as a large hotel, your guests will get confused.
  • Make the guest experience as wholesome and unique as it can be.
  • Give guests more than one option so that they feel the need to return to the property to experience the other options or activities they didn’t have the chance to experience.
  • Listen to what the guests ask for.
  • Focus on social media as a customer engagement channel, sales talk will not grab their interest and attention. Sales will come as a result, but should not be the main focus.