As many hotels attempt to chart a course into the uncharted territory of post-pandemic hospitality, Vienna House, the Austrian hotel group that is all about endless exploration, the European zeitgeist, and modern hospitality, has forged ahead, setting an example for others in the industry to follow. The trick to their success? Holding strong to their values of “being yourself, sharing your talent, making it simple, and taking initiative.” These values are certainly visible in their digital strategy, as directed by Adrian Schmidt, Vienna House’s Corporate Director Commercial Marketing & Digital Strategy. We spoke with Adrian to learn more about their marketing strategy as a tech-forward, early-adopting boutique hotel group in the DACH region, overrated and underrated tech, and what it takes to succeed in hotel marketing in 2022. Read on to learn more about what a modern boutique hotel group marketing strategy looks like for 2022 and beyond.
SHIJI: What does a boutique hotel group marketing strategy in Europe have to look like to succeed today?
SCHMIDT: That’s a really difficult question to answer in a short way. In comparison to OTAs, direct marketing has become more difficult. When you spend money on ads today and you get a cancellation later, you have a problem.
With that in mind, in recent times, every booking could potentially become a cancellation later on due to country lockdowns – it’s more unpredictable than ever before. Hotel marketers can’t really trust data as much as they used to be able to, so you have to make more assumptions and test more frequently to prove or disprove those assumptions. I also think you need to rely more on organic traffic and an organic SEO strategy to make things sustainable.
A technically sound website will rank better, but many hotels don’t have one. It’s important to invest in a proper website and proper UX, more user-friendliness, and mobile-friendliness. Content is also crucial, so make sure that the important content is very easy to find on your website.
What would you say potential guests are looking for the most these days? And has this changed since five years ago?
Yes. Five years ago? Of course. Everything has to be online on your website. It has to be easy to find for the guest. It has to be quick. All the information needs to be there and has to draw the viewer’s attention.
Vienna House adopted mobile concierge technology back in 2016, which is a lot earlier than many other groups. What’s been your approach to technology as a way to either improve the guest experience or in a broader sense, just improve the marketing strategies you have?
There are two ways you can use new marketing technology in hospitality. You can either save money on the payroll side, which I don’t prefer to be honest, and automate things to cut down labor costs, or you can use new technology to add value to your existing hotel experience. And this is the way I prefer. I think there are a lot of ways to automate the boring stuff, which the guest does not want to do, like standing in line for their bill. They are waiting in line, which is not fun, and they are paying a lot of money, which is also not a good experience. You can use technology to give them the option to pay or check out before they leave and give the guest a good experience. You need to really optimize in this direction to offer added value, and not optimize things just for the sake of cutting down labor costs.
This is our approach at Vienna House. How we think about such digital journeys is focused on adding value, improving guest performance, and not necessarily just on saving costs.
Is there any technology within the hospitality space that you think people are maybe too excited about?
SCHMIDT: Everyone talks about data science and big data and the truth is – yes, you need it, you need to collect data from your guests, you need to analyze it, and you actually need to use it. However, many companies collect data and just put it in a silo and nobody uses it. In reality, hotels fail to use the data fully, overspending on collecting data rather than utilizing it.
SHIJI: On the other hand, is there any technology that you think has a lot of potential?
Yes, the whole open API and Low Code thing. When you have open APIs, you can build on your systems to, for example, create custom reports based on what you need to know. For instance, forecasting breakfast services and knowing what supplies you need to buy or measuring food waste.
There are a lot of reports you can build in this way. Currently, there are a lot of systems out there that are kind of locked and you can’t access your own data. If you look at other industries, like the digital marketing industry, there are newsletter tools and CRMs which are not industry-specific but have open APIs. You can also automate things using tools like Zapier or Microsoft Power Automate. I have a feeling that some technologies are changing on the provider side.
This movement towards open APIs, to build things on your own, maybe hire your own developers, is finally attainable for medium-sized, even small hotel chains.
It’s a shame that I have to say this, but the last update for Vienna House marketing, tech-wise, is A/B testing. It’s a bit more sophisticated with statistically optimized A/B tests. Then, based on the results, we use the perfect version of our website for certain guests. It’s obvious, but still necessary.
Maybe ask me again in a year or so, as we have some things in the pipeline. We’re going with a non-industry-specific solution for our web marketing and hope to connect that with our PMS system to make one ecosystem.
Do you have any advice for people in the industry that are looking to get ahead of the curve in their hotel marketing today? Any tips you can give them?
Try to connect systems so you can get real insights, and not just clustered systems with clustered data. Know what the real cost is, the real output. And focus on getting first-party data, because the times are changing, especially in Europe.