Sitting down with our Marketing Director, Hollie McHugh

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With everything changing so rapidly, it can be hard to take a breath, sit down and wonder: what direction are things actually going to go in for the hospitality industry? It’s probably harder than ever before to make predictions as to the future of our industry, but it’s comforting to have seen many hotels across Europe and the US experiencing a successful summer, and very positive news that international/corporate travel is certainly not gone forever.

As these fast and unpredictable updates progress, we here at Net Affinity have been busy bees, trying to do the best for our clients behind the scenes, keeping a close and watchful eye on our own data and beyond, to try and predict what the future holds. We’ve also been working remotely since the beginning of lockdown back in March 2020, and while it initially presented some challenges (like all offices) for the most part it’s worked very well. Our communication with staff and clients alike is healthy and we’re happy to say that having a culture built on trust is serving us all well.

Recently we sat down with our wonderful Marketing Director, Hollie McHugh, for an overview of how she’s dealt with the last year and a half – and where she sees things going in relation to the hospitality industry and marketing.

So, firstly – how long have you been working for Net Affinity?

I have been working for Net Affinity for over 11 years!

To me, it doesn’t really feel like 11 years. Having worked with fantastic team members and a brilliant boss over that time, it’s made me gain so much experience, which in turn has helped shape my career.

How have you found working remotely over the last year and a half?

I love remote working. It allows me to strike a healthy work/life balance, which suits both me and my family. Initially, though, 100% remote working was challenging – however I’ve adapted to it very well and I know that anyone I need to speak to is just one call away!

Initially, the main challenge for me was the lack of social interaction. Now though, I now allow myself time for those mini water-cooler moments by having 5 minute catch ups before or after a meeting, just to check in and see how my colleagues are doing – how the kids are settling into school or to ask what’s for dinner!

Having, developing and nurturing strong relationships with my colleagues has allowed for better communication and understanding overall – which we all know is very important.

How have Net Affinity supported you in your remote working journey?

Like thousands of companies across the world, Net Affinity had no choice but to commit to working remotely as soon as COVID 19 restrictions kicked in. Luckily, as a company, we were already quite prepared for remote working, and had initiated a work from home policy not long before the pandemic came to be.

I’ve found Net Affinity to have been extremely supportive. They’ve truly provided me with a flexible and inclusive remote working experience, which I’m thankful for.

The biggest challenge to start off with was communication, and getting into the flow of things. How do you replicate those special little water-cooler moments that, in the before world, were the pockets that held our days together? Over time, we’ve managed to achieve really effective communication channels, and if anything, I think as a company we have never worked this efficiently before.

In regards to marketing, where do you think hotels should focus their efforts over the next year as we continue to slowly recover from the pandemic?

The next year will bring its own challenges – something we are all aware of. Having (hopefully!) come through the worst effects of the pandemic on the industry, hotels are still in recovery mode. Some of our clients are yet to fully re-instate their marketing budgets and activity, due to multiple factors, but this in itself is a challenge. The next few months will be critical for hotels to find their feet after an incredibly busy summer.

From my perspective, hotels need to be thinking about their strategies for 2022. They need to ask themselves: do we want to target international visitors again? What mix of business would we like to achieve, and how will our marketing support this?

There is still a lot of uncertainty about what the next 6-12+ months will bring to the hospitality industry, and we’re still unsure as to when full consumer confidence will be restored in travel. To combat this, hotels will need to be agile and willing to change their direction and marketing strategy in line with fluctuating consumer demand.

Are there any marketing trends that particularly interest you currently?

We have seen very strong performance across our client portfolio on the Google Hotel Ads Platform, and with the addition of Book On Google, I really do believe that this is slowly changing the marketing mix within our industry.

Whilst meta search is not a new channel by any means, we have certainly seen a significant shift in business over the past 3-4 months, with some clients generating over 10-15% of their Google Ads return from their Hotel Ads campaign alone. This, in conjunction with the sustained growth of mobile, is where I see the mix developing. Consumers now have confidence in booking their stay directly from Google Search results, and the results speak for themselves.

What do you recommend to clients in regards to the perfect marketing mix?

Naturally, we always fall back on the 4 P’s because they are the solid and reliable foundation for a hotel’s successful marketing mix: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.

Getting all of these right, especially in the current climate, is an ongoing challenge. However, having the right mindset and knowledge combined with a willingness to adapt to market demands absolutely deliver results. We see it all the time with our clients! The ones who are active and who continually challenge themselves, and us, are the ones who deliver the best performance.

How do you think the pandemic has affected the way hotels market to consumers? 

Many hotels have had to adapt themselves over night to meet the demands of their customers. Some hotels have had to adapt significantly in order to appeal to the staycation and family markets, which as we all know has been key to the industry’s survival over the last year or so.

The feedback we have been receiving from hotels is that customers are more demanding than ever before. We know that consumers are changing, and perhaps their standards are higher than they have ever been. This is due to a combination of factors linked to the pandemic.

Everything needs to be pre-booked, and Covid protocols have to be adhered to. Likewise, when customers are making a booking, it looks like they’re demanding more information about what they can expect during their stay. Hotels have worked hard to prepare protocols and to provide their customers with the information they need, but it is an ongoing battle for them.

From a marketing perspective, many of our clients have had to make significant adjustments. If we take family staycations as an example, it has been particularly tough for hotels that would not have catered to this market before. They’ve had to make changes to room configurations, amenities, their use of language and imagery on their website, and generally, have had to change their messaging across their marketing campaigns and platforms to appeal to this market.

I think hotels have done a commendable job and I truly think the last year and a half has proved how strong, determined, resilient and wonderful the hospitality industry is. If we can make it through the last year and a half, we can make it through anything.

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