Pre-Opening Digital Strategy

The Smart Hotelier’s Pre-Opening Digital Strategy - By Garrick Lee

HeBS digital

Opening a new hotel requires an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. From checking the allowable voltage for hairdryers to staging rooms for test shots and much more, there’s an endless list of tasks to complete. Unfortunately, the most critical part of a pre-opening strategy oftentimes gets lost in the shuffle: the new property’s digital presence and strategy.

In today’s landscape, hoteliers cannot afford to forgo a pre-opening digital strategy, as this missing piece will lead to lost bookings and revenue not only for the first opening months, but will set the hotel up for over-reliance on the OTAs in the long term. Conversely, a hotel that has a strong pre-opening digital strategy will enjoy better transient and group business on the books upon opening. Having more direct business from the get go allows the property to build a receptive audience and better engage and retain past guests thus decreasing the need for over-exposure on the OTAs.

Supply is increasingly ahead of demand in most major U.S markets (STR Global). As more travel consumers in international markets have higher levels of disposable income, new hotels are opening in anticipation of this demand. Further, competitive metropolitan cities will experience tremendous increases—Downtown Denver will see a 20% increase in inventory with 1,848 new rooms; Miami will see 2,215 more rooms as 14 new hotels are slated to open; and New York will see an increase of 7,000 rooms, bringing total inventory to over 114,000. Not to mention, Airbnb alone is taking 10 to 12% of travel demand in New York City, Paris, London, and other major global metropolitan areas. This increase in supply makes a pre-opening digital strategy for any new hotel, especially in these markets, a must.

Hoteliers on pre-opening teams need to go beyond reactive solutions and relying on the allure of being a new hotel once the construction crew packs up.

What should a hotel include in its pre-opening digital strategy? Proper planning of brand education and market positioning leading up to the opening date will set the property up to win direct bookings, decrease overall distribution costs, and reduce its reliance on the OTAs. Here’s how to do it.

Solidify the Vision for the Brand and Future Hotel

Before a hotelier can begin to build their online presence, there needs to be a realignment of the vision for the brand. While the hotel concept may have started in one place, there is a good chance it developed over time with input from both new and existing stakeholders.

A review of Brand Objectives should come first.

This poses such questions as “Who is the target audience,” “What are the customer personas,” and “Have the brand pillars evolved?” The images, copy, and overall tone of marketing used to promote a hotel will shift along with its evolution. A strategic digital marketing agency will want to build out initiatives and campaigns as close to the current state of the brand as possible. For example, if a new hotel wants to enter the market as approachable and creative while reaching the well-traveled consumer with a higher disposable income, SEM ad copy and GDN banners would focus on communicating the experience, versus solely relying on a lead-in rate.

Outline Digital Performance Goals

Outlining the goals of a new hotel will help the pre-opening team and ownership align expectations of results. There are two phases of focus:

  1. Generate awareness by focusing on KPIs such as impressions, unique website visitors, domain link building, and generating a following (Email and Social).
  2. Capitalize on awareness by focusing on website traffic and engagement, including metrics such as bounce rate, bookings initiated rate, time on site, and conversion rate.

Additional goals introduced later could include building loyalty and lowering distribution costs.

It is important to distinguish between these two goals, since the first goal will not immediately generate revenue or ROI. However, generating awareness is necessary because it builds buzz and educates the target audience about the future hotel. The second goal then becomes the primary focus approximately three months from the confirmed opening date, at which point there will be a shift to revenue-driven KPIs.

Understand Unique Selling Points

Identifying what separates an upcoming hotel from the market is critical for an effective, revenue-generating website. Following the alignment of brand objectives and goals, the hotelier should begin to list out the top ten unique selling points that will resonate most with customer personas. In doing this, it’s important to think beyond “luxury amenities” or “close to nearby attractions.” More explicit selling points could include “every room has a balcony” or “a 5-minute walk to Madison Square Garden.”

These features will become the crux of future marketing initiatives, dictate the merchandising call-outs on the website, and be the driver for crafting special offers or messaging.

Build Digital Presence with the Right Technology and Design

To begin building buzz for an upcoming hotel it is important for the hotelier to spark their online presence with a landing page or ‘teaser minisite’. A pre-opening parallax website will provide the opportunity to excite future guests, information on the brand mission statement, career opportunities, as well as the most recent news on the development. For the Sales Manager candidate looking for more information, the potential local partner looking to understand the brand, or the future guest wanting to see when the hotel opens, hoteliers need to ensure that they have a digital presence the moment the domain URL and brand guidelines have been aligned.

Ensuring that the landing page is backed with a flexible content management system (CMS) will be crucial as the hotelier needs the ability to easily and quickly update information. Through the development and maturity of the hotel build and concept, the hotelier will need the ability to quickly adjust the website’s content of available amenities, room names, and more.

From a technical standpoint, as the pre-opening parallax website begins to gain the young domain URL ranking on the search engine results pages, it builds the foundation for future successful rankings when a fuller and more robust site launches down the line.

Phase 1 Digital Marketing: Generate Awareness 

A hotel’s pre-opening digital strategy should be a two-phase approach and in line with the outlined goals. The goals of this phase are to generate awareness for the hotel, and reach the right consumer. Now that the vision has been aligned and unique selling points identified, the hotelier should leverage known information about the destination, such as top feeder markets, to help inform the targeting of each initiative.

Phase 1 Initiatives:

  • Launch a 30-day Pre-Opening Sweepstakes: Generate buzz and awareness around the new property and award travel consumers with daily prizes (Ex. Free room night at the new property) plus a VIP Opening Prize (Ex. VIP Weekend Suite Prize)
  • Create a Grand Opening Special Offer or Package and promote it through the pre-opening website, SEM, display and Retargeting, Social Media, etc.
  • Search Engine Marketing: in the case of a hotel that has no brand awareness yet, these campaigns should leverage destination keywords to a much greater extent compared to a more established property, and hit users at the top of the purchase funnel. Doing so will spark interest in a future stay and introduce those users to the name of the upcoming hotel.
  • Google Display Network: These campaigns should be setup with interest category or in-market audience targeting. It is important that the campaigns leverage HTML5 banners over other ad types to help achieve the most reach. These banner types are more widely accepted by ad servers, have better readability, and cannot be blocked by ad-blockers. Lastly, the banner set should highlight a unique selling point with mass appeal.
  • Gmail Ads: The focus of this initiative will be to reach not only new users through interest category targeting, but also target users with emails from competitor domains. The tandem of having Gmail Ads and Google Display Network reaching the same interest categories will allow the hotel to reach users at multiple touchpoints.

Phase 1 initiatives should be set live as soon as possible after the pre-opening parallax is complete, and at minimum six to eight months in advance of the projected hotel opening date.

Create Special Offers or Value-Add Packages

Prior to setting up phase 2 initiatives, the hotelier will want to create special offers or value-add packages so that they can be highlighted on relevant channels.

As a best practice, when creating offers and packages for a hotel, we recommend adhering to the following general guidelines:

  • Aim for 3 to 5 public offers live at a time: Both too few & too many offers can cause user abandonment; Qualified/Membership Rates (e.g. AARP, AAA, Gov’t & Military) are good to have, but should be grouped into one category on the hotel’s special offer page
  • Push offers that de-commoditize the hotel product: Use on-page copy to explain offer benefits and details by incorporating unique selling points
  • Update unique specials quarterly; keep content fresh & unique

Having an Advance Purchase package, along with AARP, AAA, and Gov’t & Military discounts, are almost always necessary. Beyond that, the hotel should have at least one special offer incorporating a unique selling point that will begin to position the property to future guests. The example below is a new hotel in Miami, which is leveraging a unique selling point of being just 10 minutes from the Port of Miami. With consumers typically staying in Miami before or after a cruise that was planned months in advance, the package is capitalizing on a unique selling point to generate revenues and position the upcoming hotel as a go-to accommodation for pre- and post-cruise experiences.

Phase 2 Digital Marketing: Capitalize on Awareness:

Shifting into phase 2 at least three months in advance of opening, the hotelier should continue to leverage all phase 1 digital marketing initiatives, with a concurrent shift in targeting and messaging according to the new offers or packages.

  • Smart Data Marketing: These campaigns will leverage first party data from airlines and travel partners to reach users with travel intent to the destination. The first flight should utilize HTML5 banners showcasing “book direct” messaging or a unique selling point.
  • TripAdvisor Display: This media buy will reach consumers in the travel planning process, on the largest travel research platform in the world. Banners should run on the destination pages for where the hotel is located, the property page of the hotel, and on competitor pages. If the hotel does not run banner ads on its profile page, another advertiser will showcase their ads in that placement.
  • Native Ads: These ads will blend into the website, with editorial content speaking to the fact that the hotel is opening soon and boasting that the hotel is the new premier accommodation in the destination.

Screenshot: Native Ad to increase awareness of spa and wellness amenities and drive interest and traffic to the wellness section of the resort’s website.

The first few months of running digital marketing for any new hotel will be a time of learning and constant optimizations as a hotel marketer will begin to understand the type of user who is engaging with their ads. They need to be open to running new initiatives, and recognize that while some initiatives are seemingly the same, the targeting and phased approach make them different.

Launch Grand Opening: Revenue Driving Campaign 

In the last couple of months prior to opening, the foundation of brand education and unique selling points have been communicated to the target audience. Further, digital marketing initiatives are set up and optimized, (without overly high expectations for bookings if the booking window is too great, especially for a new hotel with no reviews).

To give an extra push and build occupancy base to allow for greater revenue management strategies in the future, hoteliers need to craft a multichannel grand opening campaign that will be supported by an offer that is enticing—especially to the local or primary feeder markets. Some general best practices for crafting a multichannel campaign include:

  • Building Customer Personas: determine the target audience and deep dive into their online behavior in order to reach more qualified audiences.
  • Mapping the Path to Purchase: based on marketing insights, map the path to purchase and determine key micro moments to reach customers at each touchpoint throughout the travel planning process.
  • Determining Campaign Messaging: brainstorm and promote a cohesive campaign theme that will resonate with the audience and align with the brand voice.
  • Launching Campaign Initiatives: utilize multi-channel, cross-device initiatives in tandem and determine initiative timing to reach and engage audiences across multiple touchpoints.

Click here to read more about how hoteliers can jumpstart their direct bookings through multichannel campaigns.

Through conversations and strategy sessions, a proactive digital marketing partner will present a multichannel campaign based off the best practices above about four months from the opening date. Hoteliers will need to allow about two months for strategically building the different marketing assets, as well as an Interactive Application that will serve as the focal point of the campaign and engage users.

The launch of a multichannel campaign should take place at least two weeks prior to the opening date and run for an average duration of two weeks.

Case Study: The Numbers Don’t Lie

With the recent opening of the next premier boutique hotel in New York City, LUMA Hotel Times Square and Hebs Digital collaborated to create a grand opening multichannel campaign with the goals of building awareness, generating revenue, and driving ADR.

By following best practices and having accomplished all of the steps mentioned in this article, these hoteliers were able to garner a 1,812% ROI over a two-week time period. For a 130-room hotel with no brand awareness, with no reviews and entering a very competitive market, an 18:1 return is an excellent start.

Additional highlights and successes from the Grand Opening Multichannel Campaign include:

  • The grand opening rate generated 69% of total revenue during the time period.
  • Leveraging an opening campaign strategy with no blackout dates helped build compression for future months and contributed to the rate type garnering a high LOS of 3.94.
  • Users were able to easily complete a booking upon visiting the website, as illustrated by the website’s 2.23% conversation rate – which is on par with benchmarks.

In conclusion:

Opening a hotel is no easy feat, but hoteliers on pre-opening teams need to have a well thought out digital strategy, and a strong investment in their digital presence in order to ensure success. Without the proper planning or launch of the right campaigns and initiatives, a new hotel will open with minimal occupancy and be reliant on the OTAs.

To-do lists will overlap, the opening date will shift, and there will be times that hoteliers will not know what to do. The below table helps to outline the path needed in order to ensure success leading up to the opening of your hotel:

Countdown to Opening Date

  • 9-12 months out: Align Brand  |  Determine Goals
  • 6-8 months out: Launch Teaser Mini-site  |  Launch Phase 1 Digital Marketing
  • 5 months out: Align Unique Selling Points  |  Create Special Offers
  • 4 months out: Determine Grand Opening Campaign
  • 3 months out: Launch Phase 2 Digital Marketing  |  Begin Building Grand Opening Campaign Assets
  • 2 weeks out: Launch Grand Opening Campaign  |  Optimize and continue running Phase 2 Initiatives

About the Author & HeBS Digital

Garrick Lee is Marketing Manager for HeBS Digital. Through its Smart Guest Acquisition Suite, including the smartCMS®, Smart Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and full-stack digital consulting and marketing solutions, HeBS Digital helps hoteliers drastically boost direct bookings, lower distribution costs, and increase lifetime value of guests. Founded in 2001, the firm is headquartered in New York City and has global offices in Las Vegas, London, Europe, Singapore and Auckland. A diverse client portfolio of top-tier luxury and boutique hotel chains, independent hotels, resorts and casinos, franchised properties and hotel management companies, convention centers, spas, restaurants, DMO and tourist offices across the globe are all benefiting from HeBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Part of Hotel360 Technologies, HeBS Digital and Serenata, the most comprehensive hotel CRM platform today, are launching the hospitality industry’s first Fully-Integrated 360-Degree Guest Engagement & Acquisition Platform. HeBS Digital’s technology, website design and digital marketing services have won more than 400 prestigious industry awards, including World Travel Awards, HSMAI Adrian Awards, Stevie Awards (American Business Awards), Travel Weekly’s Magellan Awards, and more. The HeBS Digital team is comprised of thought leaders, a diverse team of experts comprised of over 33 nationalities speaking over 22 languages. Contact HeBS Digital’s consultants at 1 (800) 649-5076 (North America), +44 (0) 7730 779 213 (London), +64 (0) 9 889 8489 (Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific), +65 9005 1589 (Asia), or success@hebsdigital.com.



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