Luring Spring Breakers in a Hotel Battle Royale
“Spring break” may bring with it images of wet t-shirt contests and noisy, drunken ragers, but it is also a big time for family travel across the U.S. According to travel booking site Orbitz, 61 percent of spring travelers will be families. What are they looking for? The reliability and trust of a brand-name hotel (31% will stay in a hotel v. 4% who will book with Airbnb), which bodes well for the two hopefuls in this month’s Brand Battle.
Hotel room bookings made record progress in 2015, when Indianapolis set an annual record for total rooms booked and Houston hit a 29% year-over-year increase in business bookings. The lodging industry continues to compete mainly on pricing, but as customers ask for better service and unique options, hotels are working to create more personal connections. On-the-go consumers are increasingly looking for convenience in everything they do and hotel brands must strive to meet the demand by offering simple, fast, and most importantly mobile accommodations.
The March Brand Battle pits two affordable luxury hotel chains, Marriott Residence Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, against each other in a fight for local-mobile hotel domination as they head into the spring break season. Marriott brings more locations to the battle than Hilton – more than 655 compared to Hilton’s 594 locations – but went through a rebranding in the 1960s and then again in the early 1990s. Hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities release their students for spring break in March ever year, and Brandify’s analysis helps show where those spring breakers might go for budget-friendly luxury hotels. With a final Brand Score of 676, Hilton beat out Marriott’s score of 646.
Graph via Google Trends
The battle for hotel guests has less to do with being found in local search results, and more about an online presence that makes a point of conveying a very positive experience.
Battle round: Reviews — The first moment counts the most.
Consumers like Hilton more than Marriott. When comparing reviews of the two hotels, Hilton beat Marriott with higher scores for both overall customer satisfaction and sentiment analysis, giving the chain a score of 29 compared to Marriott’s 21. 82% of Hilton reviews included 4 and 5 stars versus Marriott’s reviews, which received 78% with 4 or 5 stars. Brandify found that for every positive review about Marriott, customers left five negative reviews regarding the keyword term “Front Desk.”
This hotel is located next to a Volkswagen dealership and next to a busy highway. The staff is not very professional and the front desk is not always staffed. They emptied the spa for the whole 4 days that we stayed. The breakfast was ok, but not well attended and the dining room floor was dirty. Overall a very disappointing experience. We love staying at Residence Inns, but this one was absolutely not up to the Marriott standards we are used to.”
– via Bing, reviewed on November 11, 2015. 2 stars.
For overall sentiment, Marriott gathered 28% negative and 72% positive sentiment from customers, whereas Hilton customers left 18% negative and 81% positive sentiments. Positive sentiment helps in more engagement and return customers. Winner: Hilton
Battle round: Engagement — Connect early and often.
Whoa: Hilton hotels boast an average check-in per location of 3,250 on Facebook and Foursquare, compared to Marriott’s average check-ins per location of 340. No surprise, Hilton hotels’ social engagement with customers beat Marriott with no contest in the engagement round, scoring 29 points overall compared to Marriott’s 15 points.
What’s more, Hilton’s affordable but upscale Garden Inn franchises have 1.2 million more check-ins on Facebook and Foursquare than Marriott. Social data collected since September 2015 showed that although Marriott’s Residence Inns had nearly double the number of fans on Facebook, Hilton Garden Inns beat them with a higher conversation rate of 9.9 to 0.8. On local social media pages, Hilton Garden Inn’s amplification rate hit 4.3 on Brandify’s social analyzer engine, compared to 0.21 for Marriott Residence Inns. Overall, Hilton Garden Inn’s local social media engagement was almost 50% higher than Marriott Residence Inns.
Even with fewer followers, Hilton’s social media engagement is 163% more successful than Marriott’s, and Hilton has a 600% higher walk-in rate than Marriott. Winner: Hilton
Battle round: Data Quality — Social before search.
This was not a trouncing. Hilton’s local presence barely beat out Marriott’s by only two points in the overall data quality round – 88 to 86 — but its data was cleaner by a good margin. On Yelp, 40% of Hilton locations were not found, compared to 30.2% of Marriott locations. On average, 66% of Hilton locations have at least one inaccuracy with NAP data (name, address, phone number) or not being found at all on Yelp, compared to 48% of Marriott locations.
But Hilton hit back hard with its success on Foursquare and Facebook. On average, 47% of Marriott locations are not claimed on Foursquare and Facebook, compared to only 9% for Hilton. 40% of Marriott locations were not found on Bing, versus 17% on Facebook, while Hilton went above and beyond claiming its hotel locations on those sites. Only 15% of Hilton’s locations were not found on Bing and 2% on Facebook. Winner: Hilton
Battle round: Local SEO — Traveler talk is not brain science.
Marriott’s focus on keyword searches changed up the results in this second round. When searching for the keywords “Spring Break Hotels” on Google, 29% of Marriott locations were listed as the first, second, or third result. Only 2.5% of Hilton’s locations returned the same result for this keyword search.
When averaging keyword searches for the terms “Hotels Near Me”, “Best Affordable Hotels”, and “Spring Break Hotels,” Marriott locations popped up 23% on position 1 on Google local search, versus only 10% for Hilton hotels. However, the Local SEO round was still a close one, where local pages and SEO efforts can help customers find super-specific local information, often when they are in transit and have little time to spend searching. The two hotels tied scores with 16 points for their website locators and scored within three points of the other for their overall websites, local webpages, and page ranks. Winner: Marriott
Battle round: Local Advertising —You can buy hotel guests.
Although Hilton spends almost $1 million on ad campaigns for both desktop and mobile, the two brands tied their scores at 13 points each for local ad copy.
But Hilton’s paid search strategy was stronger than Marriott’s, and for general advertising, Hilton beat Marriott with more than three times the points. Hilton’s ad campaigns drove 156% more average monthly traffic than Marriott, and on mobile, Hilton led with 46% more average monthly traffic.
Hilton also edged out Marriott with a renewed commitment to keyword searches in this round. On average, 82% of Hilton’s search keywords ranked in the first, second, or third position on search engine results pages (SERP), compared to 65% of Marriott search keywords. Winner: Hilton
Brandify Recommendations: Marriott
Marriott nearly beat Hilton in the data quality round and claimed victory in local SEO. But Marriott must engage more customers to solidify its local-social strategy and improve its final Brand Score of 646.
- ENGAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Marriott should step up its game by responding to the full gamut of customer reviews and comments, which will in turn inform customers of local deals and promotions and drive loyalty.
- CLAIM LOCAL PAGES. Currently, Marriott has not claimed nearly half of its hotel locations on Foursquare and Facebook. Taking ownership of these locations will bring new customers to the brand and strengthen its social engagement strategy. Marriott should also establish a local presence on Bing to reach the 1 in 5 customers using Bing search.
- USE A REVIEW MANAGEMENT STRATEGY. With a 28% negative review sentiment from customers on social media, Marriott must adopt a review management strategy to respond to customer reviews.
Brandify Recommendation: Hilton
Hilton won the March Brand Battle with an exceptional final Brand Score of 676 – but Marriott is not far behind. As such, Brandify has just a single recommendation:
- IMPROVE LOCATION DATA. To keep ahead of the competition, Hilton should review all of its online location data to ensure accuracy and completeness across all channels and especially on Yelp. 66% of Hilton locations had at least one inaccuracy on Yelp, compared to 48% of Marriott locations.
March Brand Battle Winner: Hilton
The data that emerged from this Brand Battle was produced by comparing two competing brands using Brandify‘s technology. Through the analysis on various engines such as Google, Bing, Foursquare, and more. Through this data synthesis, Brandify determines the local footprint and benchmarks it with a Brand Score for each brand.The Brand Score is calculated with an algorithm consisting of more than 250 variables over 5 core location-based areas: Data Quality, Local SEO, Reviews, Social Engagement, and Local Advertising.
Other channels used in this analysis include: Yellow Pages, MerchantCircle, Pinterest, Twitter, and Youtube.
Street Fight and Brandify will publish a new Brand Battle each month.
Brandify is transforming the way businesses connect to consumers by leveraging location technology and offering unrivaled personal service. Brandify has helped hundreds of brands understand and improve their local presence. Current and past clients include True Value, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Applebee’s, Black & Decker, and more. For more information about Brandify, go to brandify.com.