Interview: How to do hospitality marketing during a pandemic

Published: 19 September 2020 - 3 a.m.
Hotel and destination marketing, whether in-house or external, has become tricky business during the pandemic.

With the lingering coronavirus, guests expect a list of health and safety measures as long as a hotel’s pristine beachfront and as easy to understand as the room service menu.

With the old playbook thrown out, marketers have had to come up with ways of bringing guests to destinations. Nadege Noblet, the founder and managing director of Nanou Destination and Hotel Marketing is one such example of the new breed of marketers.

Hotelier Middle East sat down with her to talk about launching a company during the pandemic, how marketing has changed and how the industry can move forward.

Launching Nanou
Launched just two months ago, Nanou is a UAE-based company offering full service tourism and destination representation. The twist, however, is that Noblet is working with underrepresented hotels and international destinations, helping them catch the attention of the GCC tourism market.

Noblet explained: “Nanou Destination Hotel Marketing is not only PR, it encompasses sales, marketing, PR and solutions for the hotel industry. It's a bespoke service - it's very personalised. It focuses on bringing in the GCC traveller to lesser known and international tourism destinations.”

Hospitality and its offshoots has been one of the hardest-hit markets, with established industry titans burning through their reserves each month to stay afloat. Imagine, then, how challenging it would be to launch a hospitality marketing firm right in the middle of this annus horribilis.

Thankfully Noblet has had an impressive stint in hospitality, leveraging 20 years of networking to help launch Nanou with a bang. She has worked at Le Méridien, Hyatt Regency, IHG, Emirates Hotels and Resorts and Hospitality Management Holding (HMH) before taking over as exhibition manager and business development manager at Reed Exhibitions for Arabian Travel Market (ATM).

She says: “The way I like to work is to understand the client's needs and objectives, what are their targets and what do they want to achieve. Nanou creates a specific action plan with a timeline, ensuring that we hit the right target audience. This is done through targeted sales. We could work with tour operators, travel agencies or wholesalers, equally we could work corporate companies, business groups and wellness firms.”

New destinations
According to Noblet: “In the Middle East, the GCC traveller like take several close-by holidays throughout the year and one or two more distant holiday spots.”

Outside of these neighbouring nations, GCC travellers tend to travel to well-known European hotspots. In the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s (UNTWO) GCC Outbound Travel Market Report, it was found 40 percent of GCC holidaymakers had been to the UK, along with 39 percent to France and 35 percent to Germany.

For Noblet, the mission is to show GCC travellers the appeal of other destinations. “Central Asia, which is very close by – Uzbekistan, for example. Additionally, I'm currently in talks with a client for Peru, starting in 2021. I'm hoping that I will be able to open this new route for the GCC travellers and high-end travellers to discover Latin America. ”

Many GCC travellers tend to only visit capital cities, with UK’s London bringing in GCC travellers thanks to its array of tourism spots, cultural offerings and famous shopping districts. Noblet meanwhile has sights set on other parts of the UK. “Looking at retreats, for example, we potentially have a client in Cornwall who is looking to serve yoga travellers and wants to organise a yoga retreat for Middle Eastern guests.”

Nanou’s list of interesting destinations is set to expand as the company grows its reputation and contact sheet. It’s a smart move for these lesser-known tourism destinations, too, as Noblet highlights how GCC travellers tend to have greater spending power.

“In my eyes, GCC tourists are made up of two different groups, two campaigns. One are the expatriates and the other are the GCC nationals. Both campaigns are very much advantageous to these destinations but do differ. In terms of the nationals, they have a tendency of having a higher spending power, and also tend to travel in families and for longer periods of time. The revenue spend is much higher than most expats, making GCC tourism a must for many destinations.“

Marketing in a crisis
In her own words, Noblet “launched Nanou right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” though she didn’t let it stop her, she looked for the new opportunities from it.

“I see opportunity because right now destinations and hotels are going to need to work with specialists in order to market and sell to customers again.

“I'm looking at where I can contribute and where I can help and support destinations and hotels with my expertise to promote themselves as being ready to welcome back travellers. More and more people actually starting to search again for their next holiday destination and where they can travel to. People clearly want to go back to normal and there's a demand to go back to kind of normality also,” she added.

A new trend in the hospitality marketing world has been the rise of ‘bringing the destination to the traveller’. In lieu of flight bookings, destinations have adapted by using online technology to virtually transport guests. Though sitting by the infinity pool with a sundowner can never be replaced virtually, Noblet praised the effort for bringing the industry together.

“It's been unusual and something nobody has ever experienced before, so naturally there has been a learning curve for everyone. Everyone has looked at ways to cope with and manage situation, various destinations have creating videos and campaigns to bring the destination to the traveller rather than the traveller to the destination.”

“This has been achieved thanks to innovative Instagram campaigns but also doing things like online cooking classes, doing dance classes dances, yoga classes. It's been very fast the way destinations have turned things around and all banded together to overcome the challenges of the coronavirus.”

Talking about what hotels must do to start reassuring travellers again, she said: “Communicate to your target audience. Be very be transparent and authentic. Understand that customer behaviours have changed. Before customers were used to really value how they interacted face to face with staff. Now, what matters most to them is health and safety standards. They want brands to be able to communicate with them what the measures are being put in place, but also they want hotels to be true to their words. For example, an airline had had actually turned around and landed back at the airport because there were passengers who refused to wear a mask. This is something that customers’ needs to know - that when brands say they are taking your health and safety very seriously, it's not a marketing message. It's something that we are seriously meant to do.”

“It's also important to go back into your data and understand who your customers are and what your customers want. A customer now doesn't want to receive generated emails. Now they expect the brands to know what want, value and need. Messages need to be more targeted and tailored to each guest.”

“Also, what is paramount for today’s customers is for hospitality brands to offer more flexibility on price, choice and value through their waiver policy for their reservations. They need to ease the worry of bookings in such uncertain times by offering 100 percent money back guarantee or the opportunity to change the dates without charges.”

“In a nutshell, hotels must know their audience above all else.”

Wrapping things up, Noblet had one simple message, which is that the pandemic shouldn’t freeze hospitality marketing: “We don't need to wait until everything is reopen to spur interest again.”

Seeing opportunities where other see challenges and taking a risk when others might wait… They seem like the actions of someone intent on making their business a success. With this attitude and an enviable contacts book, Noblet and her firm should be just fine, pandemic or no pandemic.

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