Yandex recently interviewed the Russian marketing manager of the hotel chain Grand Cruise for the latest Yandex.Direct travel success story. Thanks in large part to their online marketing campaigns on Yandex.Direct, the Anapa based hotel had great success in drawing guests. Yandex sat down with Grand Cruise’s marketing director, Sergei Pavlenko to learn more about some of his approaches for running a successful marketing strategy in the domestic tourism industry.
Tell us how your business got started.
Well, I can’t claim that the idea of opening a hotel in a resort city where there is already a vacation retreat, health spa, or hotel on every corner is particularly original. But the newest Cruise is not just another hotel. After we opened our first hotel, we set our sights on creating a place where the level of service would be on par with what one finds in hotels abroad. Anapa has a lot of advantages, and if we can compete with foreign businesses, we can attract a higher-paying clientele. That was our main impetus when we were designing our second hotel, the Grand Cruise. We dove in to the project with enthusiasm, designing new room types, rooms for children, a large pool, and animated elements. Now that we’ve opened our third hotel, La Meliya, we think that we’ve finally managed to dispel Soviet-era stereotypes about “typical Anapa service”.
How long is your season? When do you have to start advertising to ensure high occupancy rates during the summer?
The resort season lasts from May through September, five months. People start planning their summer vacation and looking for places to stay after the New Years holidays, though. So our low season, when we advertise in “background mode”, lasts from October through December. From February on we are already running all of our advertising. Interest peaks in April and May; during this period our advertising budget and marketing resources are at their maximum. Those are the months when we have to get as many reservations and deposits in as possible. The cancellation rate can be high when reservations are pouring in. Sometimes guests reserve rooms at different hotels and settle on one when they have to pay a deposit. If we accept advance bookings, we can encourage guests to act promptly by offering discounts and bonuses. Typically, 90% of guests will stay with us if they paid a deposit.
What important information did you discover about your target audience? Where do your guests typically come from? What tactics work with potential clients and which ones have proven ineffective?
Anapa is a family resort city. Our target audience is families with kids who have a budget of about 40-50 thousand rubles per person for a 10-day stay. We focus on their comfort: the children’s wants and needs are just as important as the adults. The majority of our guests come from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and central Russia. We set our sights on repeat business and attempt to hold our customers’ attention by informing them of new developments and special offers in our email newsletters and SMS’s. All in all, a third of our families come back the following year and we are, of course, always happy to see them!
Which Direct tools did you end up using consistently and which ones did you use more sporadically for particular situations?
Normally, standard campaigns work well enough to fill up our hotel rooms, but if we need to get more click-throughs, we run additional campaigns during promotional events. For example, we offer a discount to customers who make a deposit before a certain date. These type of campaigns typically yield a higher conversion rate: people see an attractive offer that is only running until a certain date and are quicker to make their decision.
Are there certain advertising channels that you decided not to use or scaled back on using after you started working with Direct?
Before working with Direct and during our first year with the service, we earmarked some of our ad budget for “new sources” and used these funds when we got interesting offers from websites. We tried advertising through travel publications (both print and on the internet) and used video- and radio-ads, as well as partner placements. But we didn’t see the sales results we needed. Now 80% of our budget is for Direct and the remaining 20% goes toward developing and promoting our website itself.
Tell us a little more about working on your site. Where did you start from and what specific goals were you trying to achieve? How do you measure performance?
We use Yandex.Metrica to evaluate how well we are able to attract our target audience: how many pages does a visitor view, how much time do they spend on the site, etc. When we first started putting together our site, we figured out that we needed to create an extremely easy-to-use tool for booking rooms; every path through the site should direct the guest to the reservation form. In three years’ time we’ve managed to add photos, room descriptions, a room booking button on every page, and even a 3D tour that lets you take a virtual walk around rooms and the rest of the hotel premises.
Do you specially track mobile traffic in any way? Did you run any experiments on managing this particular audience segment?
We quickly optimized all our sites for mobile, which resulted in us doubling the percentage of reservations made from smartphones. The share of mobile traffic is almost certain to continue growing and we are ready for it.
What are your impressions of sites like booking.com? Do you consider them to be friends or foes?
Those type of sites really just offer a different format; we have different audiences. Guests who find out about hotels on Booking.com or Tripadvisor.ru are accustomed to having a huge variety of options and don’t often click over to a hotel’s own website. Our hotel is included on both of these sites and we have a very productive working relationship with them. Some of our guests book with us directly and then leave a review on a tourist site, which is great. By the way, a lot of people start their hotel search by reading reviews. Other industries, of course, also depend heavily on reviews: almost all services, cleaning companies, educational courses.
What is your take on them and what advice do you have for other businesses in this regard?
I’d recommend that businesses pay close attention to reviews, but also be a bit philosophical about them. After all, people are more likely to go on about a negative experience. One dissatisfied client is more likely to write a review than ten satisfied ones. So there will always be negative and average reviews; this is only natural. In fact, if a company gets exclusively stellar reviews, it begs the question of whether or not they’re authentic. The most important thing is to know how to manage them; you need to respond professionally and provide feedback. We try to get to the bottom of why someone had a negative experience while remaining objective and responding to the customer when necessary. So my main advice would be to dive in with both feet, love what you do, and be devoted to your customers.