Hotel Moment episode #61 Level up your digital marketing and diversify your guest acquisition strategy
Hotel Moment episode #61 Level up your digital marketing and diversify your guest acquisition strategy
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 61

Level up your digital marketing and diversify your guest acquisition strategy

In this week’s episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate CRO, and Ross McAlpine, Director, CRM at EOS Hospitality, tackle digital marketing and discuss ways hoteliers can vary their approach to attract guests. McAlpine offers a refreshing perspective on the role of user-generated content, and how to use that content to garner trust and facilitate guest loyalty.

Tune in and find out how to build guest relationships that last as you take ownership of your direct bookings.

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Headshot of Karen Stephens

Meet your host

Karen Stephens is Revinate’s Chief Revenue Officer and runs the sales, marketing, and customer success teams. She has more than 20 years of experience in the industry alone.

On the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen speaks with leaders to draw out their experiences and insights. She is also a Francophile and Prof K — a coach, a mentor, a guide to the people who work with her.

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Karen Stephens: Hello, and welcome everyone to the Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Revenue Officer of Revinate, and today I am delighted to be joined by Ross McAlpine, who is the Director of CRM for EOS Hospitality. Welcome, Ross.

Ross McAlpine: Thanks, Karen. Great to be here.

Karen Stephens: Well, you know what? We are delighted to have you on the show. So EOS Hospitality is 1 of our favorite customers. They use all of our products and services across their suite of hotels, so I’m really excited to dig into some juicy topics with you today, Ross.

Ross McAlpine: Sounds good. Looking forward to it. Thanks.

Karen Stephens: Okay, cool. So you know, all of our guests get 5 questions before we get going.

So excited to jump into our topic today, which is gonna be all about digital marketing, first-party data, and all the goods. But first, I’m gonna ask you our 5 questions. So first question, when did you start work in the hospitality industry and do you remember your first day on the job?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah, so first hospitality marketing role was actually with Hilton. They have an office based in Glasgow and Scotland where I’m from originally. So I’d had a few marketing positions in other industries prior to that. And I took a position with Hilton as a copywriter. So, I was working on website content, which really helped in properties across the world. I remember focusing, I think in the first couple of days, on Bora Bora, in French Polynesia, you know, the resorts that they have over the water? That’s probably what hooked me into hospitality you know, assuming that, all hotels were that nice.

So that was my very first position there. I actually left that position, it was a temp role, and moved into a position through an Edinburgh, for a law firm. But, you know, quickly realized that hospitality was, you know, something that I was really passionate about, not just because of the Bora Bora properties.

So, you know, not long after that, I moved into hotel management in the UK prior to moving over to the US. So, that was my first brush with hospitality.

Karen Stephens: Yeah, it is a fun industry, and I’m sure when you’re writing content — to write about beautiful properties, I mean, nothing wrong with that. So.

Ross McAlpine: Absolutely.

Karen Stephens: Okay, so second question. What was the most uplifting moment so far in your career?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah, so, I was fortunate to work in hospitality in the UK around the time of the London Olympics, around 2012. So that was just, you know, an incredible time for the city of London, and for the UK generally, to be involved in hotels and hospitality. And there was just, you know, such a focus in the management company I worked for on everything that was going on in London.

And I had the benefit of traveling down there. My wife and I watched a few of the Olympic events that were happening around the city, and it was just such a great time to be involved in hotels and hospitality. That was, you know, 1 of the things that really stands out from my time in the UK, was that period of sort of a month or 6 weeks of the London Olympics.

It was a great time to be involved.

Karen Stephens: Absolutely. And shout out to London. I actually lived in London for 3 and a half years. Yes, I left in 2011, so unfortunately right before the Olympics.

So, but, great town. And definitely kept in touch with all my friends who were there during that time. What a great time to be there.

So next question, so this is more of a personal question, what is the most striking experience so far for you personally, in terms of a holiday, or stay, or a food experience that really comes to mind?

Ross McAlpine: I think the most impactful experience, you know, I’ve had is, during the time honor tradition of backpacking through Thailand, and Australia, and New Zealand. I dunno, you living in London, you might have experienced that — you know, everyone from the UK goes to Australia and New Zealand, and everyone from Australia and New Zealand comes in the opposite direction to work in hotels and restaurants in London and, and the like.

So, that experience that I had, you know, over, about a year traveling through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand was just an incredible experience. You know, it just gave me so much in terms of experiencing other cultures, and travel, cuz you know, up until that point, I’d lived all my life in Scotland between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

So, that period of time, I think, you know, impacted me in such a huge way in terms of understanding how hospitality worked — really getting a bug for travel, and seeing, you know, so much more culture and life outside of Scotland is something I’ll always remember and cherish.

And there was, you know, 1 specific moment in Thailand. I was sort of traveling through Thailand, about to go into Malaysia, and I was in southern Thailand at this very tiny little, family-owned hotel. And this was just, to age myself a little bit, this was in the days of the Lonely Planet Guidebook.

This was not quite pre-internet, but certainly pre-hotel website days. So I picked this, you know, from the book, arrived there, and they, this family, you know, insisted I stay for dinner.

They cook this wonderful Thai, meal. I ate with the husband, and the wife, and the young kids there. And then they made everything from scratch. It was incredible. And then they insisted that they give me a ride by scooter the next day to the bus, to catch, and to Malaysia to continue my travels from there. So, that experience of true hospitality has always stuck with me as well as, really humbling. A great memory I have from that year.

Karen Stephens: I love that. And probably the ride on the scooter was equally a great adventure if you’ve ever been in traffic in Southeast Asia.

Ross McAlpine: Indeed — with a huge backpack on. You know, I’m quite tall. I’m 6 foot 4, so 6 foot 4 Scottish man, with a giant backpack, on a tiny scooter, was probably a sight to behold. But yeah. Great memory.

Karen Stephens: And how long was that trip? Just curious. The whole thing.? The whole tour?

Ross McAlpine: It was just over a year. All in. So yeah I moved around. Most of my time was in New Zealand and Australia — traveled around there and, had some fun jobs along the way as well.

Karen Stephens: You’ll never forget it. Kids take a gap year. That’s what I have to say about that. Do it. You’ll never forget it. It’s amazing. Fantastic.

Ross McAlpine: Although as a parent, I think I would be a nervous wreck if I recommended that to my children. But yes I would agree otherwise.

Karen Stephens: Still recommend it. Right. Okay. Cool. All right, so fourth question. Have you met any celebrities while working in hospitality?

Ross McAlpine: So I should probably admit that my hospitality career hasn’t been in so much in the trenches as maybe some of your other guests. You know, I’ve been in on the agency side, technology side, and also on the hotel management side. I did meet Jared Butler when he was in Scotland. You know, the actor, the Scottish actor.

Karen Stephens: Another tall Scottish dude.

Ross McAlpine: He’s actually not as tall as you would think, and there’s some Hollywood magic that goes into how he presents himself, much like Tom Cruise, I think. But I did meet him. And although, he is, you know, very muscly, he is not as tall as you might think. But that’s, that is probably my best brush with, Hollywood’s A-list.

Karen Stephens: There you go. Okay, and the last question for you. Who are the women at work you have been most inspired by?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah, I really love this question. My former boss, the first hotel management company that I worked for in the UK was responsible for bringing me, you know, into hotel management, first of all. And she’s the most organized manager and leader I’ve ever met. And I’ve continued, you know, some 12, 13 years on, to have retained some of her tricks as far as how you stay organized when you’ve got, you know, a bunch of different conflicting deadlines, priorities, and she was just so efficient with her time.

She built an incredible team at that management company across all of the different disciplines of marketing and e-commerce. And she was also responsible for saying yes to a US sabbatical for 3 months, which is going on 11 years now. So, she, you know, I have a lot to thank her for in many ways, but including the fact that I had the chance to come to the US for the short term, and then, essentially never left.

So yeah, so her, you know, her organizational skills, and the way she built a team are things that I’ve, you know, take taken into my career, and my leadership roles that I’ve had in the past as well. So, I think about that period of time a lot.

Karen Stephens: And what’s her name?

Ross McAlpine: It’s Yvonne, who’s still working in hotel management in Glasgow. So I will, I’ll need to send her this recording. She’s probably unaware of all of the things that she did to impact my passion for this industry.

Karen Stephens: That’s great. Well, shout out to Yvonne. Right, so switching gears. Let’s talk about passion. So you’ve spent — passion with your job anyway, right? You, so you spent over a decade in marketing, and you’ve done so much working both on the agency side, and now with EOS hospitality. So I have to ask you, what is it about marketing that, you know, gets you out of bed in the morning, and makes you excited to be working in this particular part of the industry?

Ross McAlpine: Yes, it’s such a dynamic, changing area of hospitality. You know, year on year, even sometimes, you know, month to month, things are always changing — the way that you do things, the things that you need to pay attention to. And, you know, I found it so interesting over the years how our focus areas have changed.

You know, how focused we’ve been on various aspects has changed over time, and there’s just, there’s never a dull moment. So, you know, the focus at the moment for us is a lot on, first-party data, guest data database, and owned assets as opposed to paid, and paid media.

And you know, those things are always really interesting, and it keeps you on your toes because there is always something to dive deeper into and understand, you know, “Is this the next big thing? Should we be focused on this as a management company? As an e-commerce team as well?”

Karen Stephens: Yeah, so that, you mentioned something there about first-party data, and how marketing changes. And I think 1 of the biggest shifts that we’ve seen, that we’re kind of still in the middle of here, is the shift away from third-party data. you know, and cookies, into first-party data. So can you talk a little bit about how hoteliers should think about collecting that first-party data?

If you don’t have access to the cookies and the rest anymore, how should they think about collecting that, and where are they limiting themselves if they’re not looking at that properly?

Ross McAlpine: We have a big focus at EOS hospitality on maximizing the use of first-party data. So first-party data being data you have collected as a hotel, or as a hotel group, that you have specific, you know, permission to market to those guests. So, a big focus for my role as Director of CRM for EOS is to understand all of the points at which we are connecting data, or the points of which we’re collecting data, and then how do we feed that into a central system?

And obviously, that’s where Revinate comes in as our central system, as our CRM platform. “And then how can we build up the best picture of our guests as possible?” You know, “What are their preferences, where are their preferences? Where are they coming from? What do they like to book? How can we layer on experience levels, onto their booking?”

And, you know, “What’s the journey of that guest from the moment that they start on our website, through to the booking, through to the arrival sequence, and obviously into to post-stay? And how do we encourage that 1 stay to become 2, and many stays? So a big focus for me is, you know, “What are the data platforms that we’re using to collect data, and how do we get that into Revinate?”

“How do we build up the best picture of an ideal guest? And then how do we take that picture and find others just like them?”

Karen Stephens: Okay, excellent. So you know, you talked about getting the picture of a guest together, and effectively using segmentation then to drive bookings. I think that’s kind of the bottom line, right? The more you know about a guest, the more that you can really drive that direct booking. And, I think post-Covid, what we’re seeing more and more of is, OTAs are starting to make that resurgence back into the market.

So can you talk a little bit about, I mean, I’m sure most of our listeners are aware of why direct booking is a good idea, but how you approach that at EOS, using that first-party data to make sure that the booking comes through to you in the first instance?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, I think a battle that’s familiar to probably most of your listeners, right? Is, “How do we take ownership of that guest when it comes from an OTA booking?” And, we’re doing a number of, I think, interesting tests to see how we can pair up data that we capture outside of the OTA booking, with data that we’ve collected from the booking itself.

So, to give you an idea, we’re testing some technology where Wi-Fi logins can be connected into Revinate, and be paired up with the same guest profile that may be booked through Expedia or And that might give us a really good way of bridging that gap to a direct email address, and therefore a direct relationship going forward.

So we’re testing things like that. We’re also testing, you know, “At what point should our email correspondence be sent in order to try and encourage a direct dialogue with the hotel as well?” I think, you know, the last few years, certainly for EOS, we’ve had huge growth as a relatively young hotel management company. We’ve had huge growth year on year and, I think we’re starting to see a little bit of an economic slowdown — a little bit of the revenge travel and the travel boom of the last couple of years, slowing slightly, at least in certain markets.

And we’re really turning our attention from an e-commerce and a marketing perspective to, “How do we maximize the database, and the guest relationships that we’ve already built, rather than, you know, through expensive acquisition?” Acquisition being either through, you know, paid search in media, or through OTA bookings, which is obviously, you know, far more expensive than our web direct channels.

Karen Stephens: That’s great. You know, another thing, just kind of speaking about using your guest database and lookalike travelers, I read an article where you talked about user-generated content (UGC), which I thought was really interesting. So the idea that your guests are amplifying your brand values. So can you talk a little bit about how you think about user-generated content and how hoteliers should be thinking about that to maximize loyalty and new bookings?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah, so we’re, you know, we’re lucky at EOS, first of all, that we have some incredible hotels that are Instagram-worthy, that people want to take photos of. You know, that great Instagram shot. Maybe it’s a sunset in 1 of our beautiful resorts in Key West, or, you know, a great shot from our historic hotel in Washington DC? Which was our first hotel called The Hamilton.

So, it begins with, you know, “Do you have areas within the hotel or resort that people are likely to want to capture moments and memories? And then, you know, what is the, “How do we make that visible to other guests?”

I really believe that the user-generated content that we get from those types of moments from real guests is far more of a purchase, sort of confidence in making a purchase for other guests, than stock images or images of your hotel that appear empty or quiet.

And I think that was even more the case with the pandemic where guests were concerned about the hotels that they were choosing. You know, “Is it safe? What’s the experience of other guests?” I want to know that before I travel, and user-generated content I think is a great way just to show potential guests exactly what the experience is through the lens of people that are already there.

So we make space available within our website in various ways to showcase that user-generated content. We’ve also started to use that same content within our email marketing programs through Revinate as well. And again, I just think it’s been proven to be more trustworthy, as people are making purchase decisions. And it’s become, I think Instagram especially, and probably more recently now TikTok, have become shopping and browsing platforms in their own right. And I think if you can amplify some of that on your website, you increase the trust signals, and you demonstrate the experience far better than you can with just standard images or standard video and that sort of thing.

Karen Stephens: 100%. I agree with you 100%. I think if hoteliers aren’t leveraging that channel, it’s a bit crazy. It’s great to see that you’re out in front of that because I think it does lend authenticity. You know, when people are looking, maybe they’re trying, they’re looking for inspiration, they know they need a break, and then they start to see some of those images, and it really just inspires them to make that booking.

So that’s exciting. okay. So my last question for you. Where do you see digital marketing evolving over the next year or so? You mentioned that starting to see some softness, maybe revenge travel. I think people will always travel, but I think the high ADRs, and the things that we were seeing maybe last summer starting to soften a bit. So, what are you seeing for the future of digital marketing and hospitality to the new trends coming down the line?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah. I think on the travel side, first of all, you know, we’re seeing some really, some great numbers. I think Deloitte came out with a travel survey recently that said, you know, Americans are traveling. I think 50% of Americans plan to travel this summer?

I think booking intention for hotels is up, year over year, and way above private rentals, which I think is interesting as well. And I think that talks about the experience that people are looking for. And part of that study showed that 1 in 5 people are taking summer trips to make up for getaways that they lost during the pandemic.

So I think that revenge travel has lessened a little bit, but I think it’s been replaced by a more, likelihood to travel. Part of that study showed that people are taking slightly shorter marquee trips. So that trip that might be, you know, multiple nights in a resort-type location, but are taking more trips. So slightly shorter marquee trips, but more trips overall.

You know, that’s good for our properties in those destination markets. And I think, you know, overall there is a realization post-pandemic, that people don’t want to wait for the bucket list. They wanna do those bucket list experiences now, and not wait for retirement, or wait for a moment in the future.

I think, you know, part of what interests me so much about hospitality is how much of an indicator of the economy it can be. And I think it’s so interesting to think about the impact on housing prices and mortgage rates. There’s data to show that people are now traveling more because they’re valuing experiences and travel over maybe saving or purchasing homes.

And that’s again, you know, a good good thing for hospitality and travel in the US. And I think, you know, there’s also a lot of debate as to whether the notion of the drive market, or, you know, those road trips, whether or not those will lessen now that people are flying more. I think it could go either way. Personally, I think, you know, flights are still relatively expensive, and gas prices have come down a little bit which might make people more prone to travel by car, rather than by flights, especially if flights prices go up over the summer. I think there’s a lot of likelihood that people might stay domestically rather than having that expensive trip internationally.

And again, you know, that’s good for EOS, as we have a number of outdoor hospitality properties, campgrounds, luxury yurts, and those types of products that people are still valuing the outdoors. I think on the marketing side, we are probably, like a lot of your listeners, all experimenting with ChatGPT at the moment. We are, you know, looking at how that can create some efficiencies for us in marketing and e-commerce, particularly around content and copywriting. You know, can we get to market and campaigns faster, by using ChatGPT. And we’ve got some interesting experiments and tests as to how we can plug ChatGPT into our websites, and supercharge things like our, you know, live chat, or chatbots on the website. And I’m really excited about those aspects that might become — right now for us they’re testing, and they’re novel, and interesting, but I think, you know, in the next year or so, we’ll start to really embed, AI or tools like ChatGPT will become more of our regular tool set, as opposed to novelty. And, you know, things that we’re just experimenting with.

Karen Stephens: Wow. So we’ll leave it there, and maybe make an agreement to have you back on the podcast in a year because I would love to hear the results of the ChatGPT. That is exciting. Okay, great. Well, my guest has been Ross Mc Alpine, who is the Director of CRM at EOS. And Ross, if people wanna find out more about your hotel portfolio, and all your beautiful properties, and yurts, and the whole 9 yards, where do they go?

Ross McAlpine: Yeah, thanks Karen. Our website’s, EOS Hospitality, that’s, and you can find out all about our management company, and obviously our portfolio of hotels, resorts, and campgrounds there.

Karen Stephens: Awesome. Thank you, Ross. It’s been a pleasure. Really appreciate it.

Ross McAlpine: Thanks, Karen. Great to talk to you.


Hotel Moment episode #61 quote graphic about maximizing your guest database

Maximize your guest database

Why user-generated content inspires future guests

Hotel Moment episode #61 quote graphic about the guest booking journey

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