Creativity in flight


Clever marketing strategies are helping hotels reach core customers and find new ones

Don’t let anyone tell you TikTok is just for teenagers. The legally imperiled Chinese app reached a milestone in March when it announced that it had more than 150 million users in the United States, proving that a sizeable percentage of American adults were glued to their smartphones too.

Shanna Soares, director of marketing for New York City-based Pod Hotels, recognized the potential of TikTok earlier than most and used it to supplement her one-woman marketing department. In 2022, Pod Hotels allowed six social-media influencers to live in separate Pod Pads, the company’s 45 New York City apartments that can be rented month to month.

The creators posted videos to their TikTok accounts showing off their apartments as well as New York’s many tourist attractions and activities. Among those influencers was Dylan Mulvaney, who has more than 10.7 million TikTok followers. In one post, Mulvaney takes viewers on a tour of her Pod Pad before venturing out to Times Square, a video that generated 670,000 likes.

In that post, Mulvaney gives viewers a discount code for Pod Pads, but Soares also made the code valid for the company’s four New York City hotels. To her surprise, there were more sale conversions for hotel rooms than for apartments.

Pod Hotels has had success advertising and posting on Facebook and Instagram, but as one of the only hotel companies in New York that rents rooms to 18-year-olds, “It was a no-brainer to get on TikTok,” Soares said.

“It’s a great platform to really showcase video content,” she said. “I think if something is aligned with your brand, you need to be present and take advantage of it.”

Pod Hotels has created more than 40 of its own TikTok videos. Some are meant to show that although the guest rooms are small and budget-friendly, they’re also clean and comfortable, and the amenities are well-maintained, Soares said.

High-end hotels with luxurious rooms and amenities could employ the same strategy, she said, giving prospective guests a taste of what they can expect. In the TikTok world, users tend to gravitate toward authenticity more so than highly polished sales pitches, so hoteliers needn’t invest in production value to have an impact, Soares said.

Other videos from Pod Hotels provide tips for things to do in New York, businesses that give discounts to Pod guests, and interesting places tourists typically miss. Those videos cater to the brand’s core customer – price-conscious travelers who don’t need luxury accommodations because they plan to spend most of their visit exploring the city, Soares said.

“Having branding and a [call to action]really visible on social media has resulted in us driving a lot of last-click conversions from social media, which is really good,” she said. “I think it’s because companies are stripping down their websites to make them perform better and to have better [search-engine optimization], so social media is where you get the opportunity to really showcase the hotels and being out and about in the city.”

Amid the debate about whether TikTok should be banned regarding ties to the Chinese government, Soares chose not to do a similar promotion with creators in 2023. But, next year is a possibility, she said.

“I’m glad it’s still here, as of now,” Soares said. “We get a lot of people reaching out to us on social media, so it’s important to be there and responding to the audience – not just creating the content but being responsive – and that applies to TikTok as well.”

General Manager Daniel Abrashoff said he considered a number of solid candidates before hiring Mark Hengen this past spring as the second naturalist in the history of the Weekapaug Inn. Hengen used to teach sustainability and environmental studies at Johnson & Wales University in his home state of Rhode Island, making him an ideal candidate to guide nature lovers at the hotel in Westerly, RI.

The Weekapaug Inn is a luxury hotel nestled along the Atlantic Coast, right next to a large saltwater pond and a barrier beach. It was named the No. 1 hotel in the Northeast by Condé Nast Traveler and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the inn’s naturalist, Hengen “helps guests discover and engage with the surroundings” through guided beach walks, boating excursions, biking, birdwatching, stargazing, and other activities, Abrashoff said. To do the job, you have to be able to explain the difference between a great egret and a green heron while kayaking on the Quonochontaug Pond.

Scheduled activities, led by Hengen, are free to guests, many of whom come to the hotel seeking meaningful experiences with nature, Abrashoff said. The lesson for hoteliers is, if there’s something special about your hotel’s destination, own it. Hiring a naturalist isn’t cheap, but it’s a worthwhile expense if it enhances the guest experience, Abrashoff said.

“It’s a vital position, and I see it as an amenity guests want to use,” he said. “Our guests are extremely interested in our nature activities, so we have to have somebody with the credibility and knowledge to speak about the pond intelligently. Guests want to leave here knowing more than when they came.”

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