How Airbnb, Yelp Are Changing Hotel Marketing

Big brands go local

As the lodging industry grapples with Airbnb, TripAdvisor and other locally oriented services, major hotel brands are increasingly taking a back seat to the surrounding neighborhoods. “Our facility is no longer the destination,” said one hotel executive. “Now we are a portal to the community around us.”

About half of travelers want to explore the local area while on a business trip, according to a 2013 survey released this week by Millward Brown. For business travelers, “discovery” now ranks higher than “escape” or “indulgence,” per the survey.

“Consumers have overcome their fears and discomfort from being in a new place, since they now have access to lots of information from Google Maps, review sites like Yelp and social media,” said Oscar Yuan, vp at the Millward Brown Optimor brand consultancy. Home-sharing services such Airbnb show how much people are open to having a local experience, he added.

As a result, instead of hotel brands positioning themselves as familiar, quiet refuges from the outside world, more chains are offering unique settings and stimulating local experiences. Examples include Red Lion Hotels, which cater to middle America and the boutique Hotel Indigo chain, owned by InterContinental Hotels Group.

For Red Lion, with more than 50 hotels in the Western U.S. and Canada, going local is a way to get out of the discount trap. Harry G. Sladich, evp of hotel operations and sales, said the company’s current rebranding initiative—“Local. Wise.”—grew out of industry research that showed travelers want to go home with memories and stories to tell their friends. More specifically, “we found that the millennial group cares more [about a place] being interesting than being comfortable.”

As part of the rebranding, Red Lion launched locally oriented microsites for each hotel property seven months ago. Since then, bookings made on the sites have nearly doubled, Sladich said. The local message is also communicated via content marketing, localized menus, on-site events and even employee name tags that offer personal, local tips.

Upscale Hotel Indigo has a similar take. All 55 Hotel Indigo properties around the world reflect the history and culture of their areas and many are located in converted buildings. This winter, the company is rolling out in-hotel touchscreens that list the staff’s favorite neighborhood attractions and eateries.

The chain’s advertising, mostly digital, always has a local spin, said Mary Winslow, director of Americas brand management. “For example, an ad about breakfast could mention that we serve locally-sourced and locally-inspired food and drink.” Individual hotels also market themselves through local events, like “Canine Cocktail hours,” where local residents are invited to the hotel for an evening with their pets, she said. “It’s about becoming part of the neighborhood.”