The Evolution of Hotel Grand Opening Strategies

By: Nikki Little

For those of us working in hospitality marketing and public relations, it feels like there is a new hotel opening every week. This past December, Marriott International Announced that it will open 40 luxury hotels in 2018. Here in Detroit, we’ll see three major hotels open this year. All this activity makes for exciting times, and hotel marketers and public relations pros are often moving from grand opening to grand opening.

In the past, new hotels would take a relatively straightforward approach to generating media awareness and excitement around a grand opening. Properties would send out a standard press release to local media outlets and hospitality trades. Outside of the dim glow of that limited media spotlight, the only extra step would perhaps be a grand opening promotion or soft opening event.

Modern hotel grand opening strategies, however, are very different.

As technology continues to play a more critical role—and the way people consume their news now includes a multitude of channels—a small event or press release is just not enough.

So, what are those other components? What new marketing and PR opportunities are out there, and what does a multifaceted hospitality grand opening strategy look like?

Exclusive Sneak Peek

It’s not enough anymore to settle for media coverage only on the day of the grand opening. Hotels now offer exclusive first looks to target media outlets before opening to the public—typically the week before. An exclusive sneak peek is a great way to get coveted members of the media, not to mention potential guests, interested and excited leading up to the official grand opening.

For example, while supporting the grand opening strategy for the recently opened Hyatt Place Ann Arbor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Identity secured an opportunity for MLive to visit the property a few days before opening to get the first sneak peek into what the property offers—complete with a photo gallery and a detailed description of hotel amenities and décor.

Influencer Engagement

Influencer engagement is an increasingly important component of many hotel grand opening strategies. Social media can be a particularly effective way to use the power of influencers to reach target audiences in a way that shapes perceptions and drives behaviors. Bloggers’ loyal followers love reading about their experiences visiting a new place or trying something new.

As part of Hyatt Place Ann Arbor’s grand opening strategy, Identity knew forming partnerships with social influencers would be a critical component in reaching consumers. We identified and secured several local bloggers to receive a free one-night stay and a food and beverage gift card at the hotel in exchange for a blog post review and shares on social media. This specialized outreach led to six blog posts chronicling what it is like to stay at the new property, in addition to hundreds of likes and comments.

The challenging part of navigating the influencer waters is how to negotiate compensation. Hotel marketers should expect to budget costs for complementary stays, food and beverage credits, and additional compensation given the reach and following of a content creator. However, this investment can go a long way.

Hotel Activations

Special events specifically designed to create an experience, activations are a great way to bring people to the hotel and provide a memorable moment. The grand opening is an ideal opportunity to get the most out of those activations—not just on the day of the official opening, but for days or weeks surrounding the event.

Showcasing dining facilities or other noteworthy amenities is a good idea, and creativity goes a long way (perhaps inviting local bartenders to a competition in the hotel restaurant to see who can create the best drink).

The best activations are carefully tailored to target a specific audience, and while an activation may require more of an up-front investment, they also have a potentially bigger payoff. The trick with activation planning is understanding what is “enough” and what is “too much.” You want to get people interested and excited, but you also want to leave them wanting more.

Digital & Social Media Marketing

First and foremost, don’t neglect to take advantage of any brand resources that may be available to you. Many hotel brands provide social media toolkits to owners and operators, which might lighten the load and stretch available bandwidth. We’ve seen toolkits include grand opening creative, instructions on how to maximize ads or even direction on how to receive support from brand social media channels.

We’ve reached a point in hotel marketing where creating a social media presence is almost a non-negotiable. Social media platforms allow you to build an audience long before the official opening date, providing updates, delivering messaging and creating a sense of momentum leading up to the big day.

Digital marketing also allows you to go deep in terms of who you want to target with carefully crafted messaging. Maybe it’s just a straightforward grand opening announcement, or perhaps it’s a special offer or limited time promotion surrounding the grand opening.

There are a variety of digital channels and mediums that can be utilized and tailored based on target characteristics: frequent travelers, or specific demographic segments who fit the guest profile based on job or travel habits, age, location, or personal interests.

Grassroots Efforts

Grassroots efforts can pay off handsomely—not only on the day of the grand opening, but for many years to come. Building partnerships in the community—perhaps building relationships with community groups, establishing strategic partnerships with local businesses, or reaching out to the chamber of commerce—is not only a great way to create buzz and make a splash around a grand opening, but it can also generate lots of great opportunities for productive and mutually beneficial engagement going forward.

Hotels today look very different than they did even just 10 or 20 years ago. Apps, RFID room keys, chic, sophisticated dining and social amenities, and dramatically enhanced in-room entertainment options have all either become industry standards or are well on the way to becoming so.

Hotel grand opening strategies should also be keeping up with the changing hospitality landscape.