Case Study: Hotel Chain’s Hyperlocal ‘Microsites’ Increase Online Bookings

RLMerchant: Red Lion Hotels
Size: 50+ Properties
Location: Western U.S. and Canada
Bottom Line: Hyperlocal marketing tactics can help national brands establish themselves as unique businesses in their local communities.

In an industry filled with homogenous hotel chains, Red Lion is hoping to separate itself from the pack with a recent push into the hyperlocal space. Spurred by industry research showing that today’s travelers are more interested in creating memories than receiving discounts, Red Lion has launched a hyperlocal initiative that involves developing local “microsites” for each of the company’s hotel properties, along with localized menus, new transportation signage, and even employee nametags that offer localized tips for guests.

“Everyone who has ever taken a trip wants to come back to tell their friends about an experience or a story,” says Harry Sladich, executive vice president of sales, marketing and distribution. “We said, there are many, many experiences and stories in every destination, whether it’s a small town or a big city. How can Red Lion become a portal to the community, to really give somebody the insider’s scoop?”

Sladich and his team used research from the U.S. Travel Association, along with focus groups, to craft the company’s latest hyperlocal initiative, which has been dubbed the Local. Wise. campaign. Sladich says he considers the campaign to be a “brand deliverable,” versus a “brand definer,” because it’s just one of many things Red Lion is doing to better define where it fits in the marketplace.

“It’s creating a differentiation for Red Lion, which is what we needed,” Sladich says. “We needed to differentiate our brand from everybody else, because we couldn’t win on the wars of ‘I’ve got the best bed,’ and ‘I’ve got the best shower.’ We all have the same beds and the same showerheads.”

Sladich wants each Red Lion hotel to be viewed as a local property, as opposed to a piece of a larger chain, and says the Local. Wise. campaign wouldn’t have worked if hotel staffers hadn’t been willing to get on board with the program. Employee training, and understanding of the goals of the campaign, was integral to the success.

“How many times does someone come up to the front desk and say, ‘Tell me where there’s a good Italian restaurant?’ We just kicked it up a notch and told everybody that works for us that on their nametags they needed to have whatever they know best about the community. So [a staffer’s nametag might say] ‘Ask me where the best martini is,’” Sladich says. “It’s fun because it creates this interaction with our guests.”

Another integral part of the Local. Wise. campaign is a series of hyperlocal microsites, each with local information unique to the community where the hotel property is located. No two microsites are exactly alike, and each is populated with recommendations that came from hotel staffers themselves. Red Lion has also changed out the images on hotel vans, which now include photos of unique local attractions.

“When you go on to our maps, run by Google Maps, you’re going to find that the only restaurants that are populated, the only nightclubs that are populated, are the ones that are truly really cool. You won’t see an Applebee’s. You won’t see an Olive Garden,” he says. “By no means do we have anything against those experiences, but they’re not genuine and they’re not local.”

Although Red Lion’s microsites were just launched last fall, Sladich is already seeing positive results. Measuring the success of the campaign by looking at the number of reservations made through Red Lion’s own websites—as opposed to reservation engines like Hotels.com—Sladich says more guests are choosing to book directly with Red Lion as a direct result of the Local. Wise. campaign.

“Our website traffic had been static for probably three years. Once we launched this program, we started to see some movement in the right direction,” Sladich says. “It’s been very exciting to see that.”

Sladich sees a natural link between hyperlocal campaigns and social media, even though the Local. Wise. campaign doesn’t currently include a formal social media component.

“The ground is very fertile for video content, and talk about content rich. This type of thing is phenomenal for social media,” Sladich says. “We’ve even talked about having a monitor in the lobby that is actually posting Twitter feeds about the experiences that people are having at their destinations in real-time.”

The Takeaway
Red Lion is capitalizing on the trend toward travelers wanting more local, unique experiences with its Local. Wise. campaign. Through the initiative, the company has found a way to give its guests the experience of staying at boutique hotel properties, with personal recommendations from hotel staffers based on their local knowledge. These same initiatives are also helping Red Lion differentiate itself from competing national hotel chains, without resorting to steep discounts that could negatively impact the bottom line.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

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