The Opportunities and Challenges of Relationship Marketing in the Hospitality Industry

Having worked in the hospitality industry over the last 10 years, I’ve been lucky to have stayed in some wonderful hotels − from Ritz Carlton to Four Seasons to Kimpton. As expected, the level of service at each of these hotels has been great – some more extraordinary than others – but, there’s one thing that rings true across each experience: the connection with the on-site team and, ultimately my connection with the brand, ends once I leave the property. 

Why is that? Understanding the traditional challenges of relationship marketing in the hospitality industry is critical to turning these challenges into exciting opportunities for hospitality brands. Incorporating principles of relationship marketing will help.

 

Irrelevance = Missed Opportunities

Sure, I’ll still occasionally open an email from the brand when an interesting destination is listed in the subject line or when I need to feel a little travel inspiration/escape/dream. However, more often than not, I ignore them. My inbox is packed with unopened, non-relevant emails. Sadly, hospitality doesn’t have to be this way. There is an opportunity to connect the very personal relationship that is built when I’m on-site to the post trip, off-property world. 

How should hotels take the customer-centric environment experienced on-site and extend that across the organization? 

Challenges of relationship marketing are in taking these on-property principles of hospitality, applying them to off-property contact points, and then reinforcing these principles during future visits. Fortunately, most of these steps are already in the hospitality industry DNA. 

1. Remember who I am. 

It needs to start with remembering who I am. If I have traveled with you – you have learned something about me. Capture those key points about who I am. Some brands do this well and key insights are remembered and applied during my next stay. Yet, this information is not leveraged in all of the other touch points that happen between each stay. In many ways, this maxim captures what it takes to overcome the challenges of relationship marketing.

2. Off-property touches should be as personal as on-site ones. 

Using the key principles of relationship marketing, market to different customers differently. Families with young kids are going to look for a different hotel experience than empty nesters. Business travelers are looking for a different experience than leisure travelers. Market to me about what I’m interested in – not what your editorial calendar dictates (new property opening, promotions, etc.). 

3. Pick up on my cues. 

Anticipatory service is what every top hospitality brand pushes to deliver. It starts with watching customers, putting yourself in their shoes and delivering. The same idea translates to the off-property world. If I’m on your digital properties (web or mobile) and I’m spending time on beach destination pages, then communicate with me about beaches. If I just returned from a trip, follow up with me about other destinations that I might like for future trips (based on my profile!). On my one-year anniversary after a trip, send me an email reminding me where I was a year ago.  Take advantage of the digital cues I’m leaving and, in combination with what you know about me, follow up with me appropriately. 

4. Differentiation should extend to offers and customer experiences as well. 

Most hotels I’ve visited have shown a knack for this. There is a level of service that is expected for all guests – but some customers receive a little more. Your most valuable customers – based on what they spend today and what they will spend in the future – should be your most cherished and protected resource. Consider the treatments that will truly stand out for them. Are they driven by getting the best deal? How important would it be to save time by having a seamless check-in and check-out process? Or does a bottle of Johnny Walker Black in their room with a cheese plate resonate?

 

Learn how to take action on customer relationship marketing. 

So, how do we start overcoming the challenges of relationship marketing? Know your customers and know what drives them with a relationship marketing strategy

  1. Get buy-in. We’ll need leadership support to drive these changes. Moving to a customer-centric environment will not just impact marketing campaigns. Overtime, it should drive resource alignment, company objectives, etc. 

  2. Define a cross-functional team that includes representatives across all parts of the organization that collaborate and socialize. Ensure that there’s an on-property contingency. They are critical to the success.

  3. Build a roadmap using the key principles of relationship marketing. Establish success milestones along the way. This will hold the team accountable.

  4. Start small. Identify pieces that can be done relatively easily and give the team quick wins and early learnings. 

  5. Share and celebrate the wins. Communicate company-wide what’s working and what next steps are. 

  6. Ensure a closed-loop that involves your customers and course-correct as needed.

  7. Identify the key customer segments and test versioning. Build on the learnings and add more complexity only if needed. Work with the on-site teams to ensure communications have authenticity and personality. Bring communications to life through the on-site voice. 

Because other hospitality brands have experienced their own challenges in relationship marketing, the bar has been set so low that success is really pretty easy. Who is going to be the first luxury hospitality brand to step it up? Who is going to match that same personalized experience off-property as they do on? I’m ready to pick one brand and stick with it…who wants me?