E-mail Marketing - Electronic Relationships with Guests

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October 01, 2005
CounterPoint
Rebecca Wyatt

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© 2005 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

We live in a brave new world. Approximately 80 percent of the population in the United States has access to the Internet. New industries with creative ways to get messages out to existing and potential customers are cropping up daily. Never have so many businesses had more opportunity and desire to take advantage of a single channel. Never has a marketing channel with this kind of reach been so inexpensive. And never have consumers felt so bombarded.

Legal requirements vary from country to country and state to state making it significantly more difficult for national and international companies to manage e-mail correspondence appropriately; not to mention a Web site and to some degree e-mail addresses have no borders. In the United States CAN SPAM and other e-mail marketing laws have created a line between marketing and non-marketing e-mail messages, hoping to find the sweet spot between protecting consumer wishes and allowing businesses access to market.

Those who are frequent Internet and e-mail users use spam blocking, but somehow still wind up deleting unwanted messages daily. At the same time, there are some companies we want to hear from with messages we are happy to see and online businesses that we want to get through the clutter.

The Hilton Family closely reviews both guests’ desires and the legal environment to find the right balance. Our review is made more complex because we are largely a franchised company with individual hotels and management companies that also provide service to the same guests.

This continuous review process has led us to several principles:

  1. If anyone within the Hilton Family offends a guest with objectionable online marketing, they will vote with their feet and stay elsewhere.
  2. Guests do not understand nor do they care about the difference between a franchise and a company managed/owned hotel. If they tell us they don’t want to hear from one of our brands anymore, they assume that means all of the hotels in that brand.
  3. Guests will not tolerate a large volume of messages or graphically heavy messages that fill their inbox.
  4. Guests respond to messages and offers that are meaningful to them. Just like traditional retail, if they receive something of interest, they are willing to open and consider. If they are bombarded by messages that don’t interest them, they will opt out in droves, precluding any online marketing.
  5. Transactional messages that move the purchase process along are meaningful by nature.
  6. The Internet isn’t just about the lowest price–it’s about finding what you want and finding a good value for your dollar.
  7. Protecting a guest’s personal information is critical, and if it requires creation of a user name and password in order to ensure that there is adequate protection, most guests understand and will do so.

Based on these principles, the Hilton Family believes that e-mail is a viable and meaningful way to communicate with guests. Hilton delivers confirmations via e-mail for both online transactions and for other forms of reservations upon request. Hilton provides pre-arrival e-mails confirming stay details and allowing guests to contact hotels to make more detailed arrangements or pre-order particular services. By the end of the year we will introduce electronic check in features for our HHonors Diamond and Gold guests that will rely on e-mail to confirm details. Post stay information such as folio detail and past and future stay data is available online for guests with a user name and password. Guests may also receive a post stay e-mail thanking them or asking for feedback on their stay.

Guests may opt in to receive various brands’ newsletters with offers and information of interest. HHonors members may elect to receive various communications, including marketing offers and statements online. Brands and hotels may e-mail messages of interest to guests through a central desk which manages guests' communication preferences and e-mail frequency.

Over the next year, messaging from the Hilton Family will become more personalized, allowing guests even more control over the types of messages that they would like to receive from us. Do your guests want to hear about golf packages, beach vacations, offers from particular cities or what HHonors bonuses are available?

Hilton continues to work on ways to allow our hotels and brands to convey relevant information to guests in a way that will provide true value to both the guest and the business. Follow the guests' desires. If not clear, think of the future of e-mail communications as the electronic golden rule: E-mail others as you would like to be e-mailed yourself. If we strive to live up to those principles, we will continue to retain our loyal guests and this highly effective channel of communication will remain a viable option into the future.



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