When it comes to planning a holiday – it’s no longer enough to flick through a brochure or browse a hotel website. 

Now, with so many people heading online to search and discover travel inspiration (long before they even think about booking), it’s up to hospitality brands to stand out from the crowd.

Content marketing remains a key way for hotels to do this, typically being used to grab attention and engage users throughout their online journey.

Here are some good examples and the reasons why they work.

InterContinental Hotels – podcasting

Podcasts have become hugely popular in the past couple of years, with a number of brands using the medium to connect to consumers and drive consideration.

With its ‘Stories of the InterContinental Life’ podcast series – set in three different locations around the world – InterContinental Hotels explores different emotions in relation to travel, including fascination, worldliness and empathy. The aim is to encourage listeners to go on their own travels, all the while driving consideration to its hotels. The podcasts are supported by a microsite, which also includes additional videos and written content.

The reason this particular podcast deserves a mention (as opposed to Marriott’s Behind the Design, as another sector example) is that it focuses far more on a natural narrative rather than brand promotion. The hotel is only mentioned in passing, with no unnecessary or shoehorned references. In turn, this helps to build authority for the brand, with listeners more likely to invest in this type of high quality content.

Four Seasons – online magazine

Online blogs are a classic content marketing strategy for brands of all kinds, used to capture interest from consumers looking for relevant information around a core topic. The Four Seasons Magazine is one of the best hotel blogs out there, mimicking the style of a luxury travel mag.

With compelling headlines and well-researched, high quality writing – it offers consumers a slice of inspiration as well as valuable information for people staying at its international hotels.

Another point to note is how the magazine effectively (but subtly) prompts further action. Users can search for room availability direct from the blog homepage without having to click through to the main website. There’s also the option to click through to specific hotels from articles. This is particularly effective for increasing dwell time, especially when it comes to people arriving from search or social.

Four Seasons Magazine

SBE & Morgan’s Hotel Group – niche content

Morgan’s Hotel Group (which was acquired by SBE in 2016) takes a similar approach to content marketing as Four Seasons, using an online blog to build authority and awareness of the brand.

However, it takes a much more niche approach to the content it produces, creating articles specifically targeted to ‘creatives’. This often involves interviews with people in the arts or creative industries, as well as dedicated content about fashion, food, music, and art.

As a result, ‘Back of House’ feels like more of a general lifestyle publication than a brand blog, effectively drawing in an audience that might also appreciate the attributes of its hotels.

Best Western – virtual reality

While virtual reality has been touted as a gimmicky marketing ploy by some, the technology can provide real value for consumers – particularly when it comes to researching travel. This is because it allows people to visualise places in a much more immersive (and therefore realistic and compelling) way.

This was the thinking behind Best Western Hotels’ VR tours, which allows potential visitors to have a nosey round its hotel suites. The videos are available to view in 360-degrees, with the added element of virtual reality for those watching with headsets. Users get a sense of the size and scale of the room, even the texture of furniture and other design features. With consumers often spending lots of time finding out this information on hotel websites, the VR videos provide it in a way that’s instantaneous and easier to digest.

Of course, the content relies on people owning headsets in the first place (or viewing it in a context where they’re accessible). However, while the market is small for now, research suggests that interest in VR from a consumer perspective is growing. In a survey, Greenlight VR found that travel, tourism, and adventure is number one category of interest, cited by over 70% of respondents.

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Loews – user-generated campaign

User generated content is a great way to showcase advocacy for a brand.

In 2015, Loews Hotels and Resorts used it as the basis of a social-first advertising campaign (and an accompanying microsite). Instead of using professionally-shot photos in its ads, Loews selected a number of Instagram photos taken by hotel guests.

The ads themselves further encouraged user generated content, asking people to tag their own photos with the hashtag #travelforreal. All photos were then curated on a microsite under the tagline: “Because nobody tells our story better than you”.

With research suggesting that up to 93% of consumers find user-generated content helpful when making a purchase decision, the campaign aimed to offer visual reassurance for consumers (alongside general online reviews).

Meanwhile, by sharing user-generated content, Loews is able to make customers feel valued and recognised, which in turn helps to continue the cycle of advocacy.

Gleneagles – Timely storytelling

Gleneagles hotel in Perthshire is famous for its three championship golf courses. This naturally informs the hotel’s branding and USP, meaning it already has a hard-won opportunity to target golf enthusiasts.

When the hotel was the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup, it grabbed this opportunity with both hands, creating a whole host of video content before, during, and after the event.

From ‘Preparing the Course’ to ‘Gleneagles Guests’ – it produced an array of short videos designed to capture interest from fans and visitors. It certainly succeeded in generating a spike in engagement – Ryder Cup-related videos are the most-watched on the brand’s YouTube channel.

Another piece of content worth mentioning is the ‘Gleneagles Hotel’ short film, directed by acclaimed director James Bell. Capturing the hotel’s stunning surroundings and proud heritage, it uses evocative and emotional storytelling to great effect.

Marriott – short films

Marriot Hotels is serious about content marketing. So much so that in 2014, it opened a dedicated studio where it creates and produces a myriad of content for its global brands.

As a result, this list could be jam-packed with examples from Marriott, but if we’re limiting it to just one – the ‘Two Bellmen’ series is a clear stand-out.

There have been three original and scripted short films in the series so far, each one depicting Marriott employees going to great lengths to perform their duties as hotel bellmen. With duration increasing with each film (the third is 35 minutes long), they are designed to appeal to viewers in the same way as on-demand television content.

There is the danger that it could feel like one big long advert, however, Marriott’s high production value and focus on quirky, engaging storylines ensures that this is not the case.

With the third instalment generating nine million views on YouTube to date, users have certainly invested in the story, and as a result are likely to be more engaged in the Marriott brand.

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