by Courtney Eckerle
, Manager of Editorial Content
Prior to the recession in 2008, four-star boutique Caribbean hotel Jamaica Inn was riding the wave of prosperity in the years leading up to the economic downturn.
"Jamaica Inn had been profitable and everyone was happy. And then the bottom fell out," said Kyle Mais, General Manager, Jamaica Inn.
Jamaica Inn is family-owned with only 153 staff members, most of whom have worked there for 25 years, some more than 50. Because of this, Jamaica Inn prides itself on treating guests like family, and "our primary goal is to consistently deliver the highest level of customer satisfaction to each and every guest," he said.
Occupancy and revenue took a major hit. With the recession, the customer base for Jamaica Inn was shoring up and staying at home.
Then, after bouncing off the low point in February 2010, it seemed as if the family-owned hotel would be able to start on a noticeable and promising recovery.
"But then, we went into an 18-month stall without much gain in either occupancy or revenue. It was at that time when [Co-Owner] Peter Morrow decided to conduct a marketing audit and found marketing support was not in line with the needs of today's hotels," he said.
It became clear that a big issue was that while Jamaica Inn was doing very well in sales through wholesalers and travel agents, it needed to focus more attention on marketing directly to past guests or prospects.
To solve this issue, in October 2012, the team decided to completely revamp marketing efforts to reach a goal of increasing occupancy and revenue by 10% in a year.
It was decided to maintain the sales efforts at existing levels but add a separately funded integrated customer relationship marketing initiative, which Mais explained was a "a bold decision at the time."
There were four main goals, he said, each of equal importance in this campaign:
- Revitalize sales
- Create a program and culture that would put Jamaica Inn at the forefront of marketing among independent luxury hotels in the Caribbean
- Ensure the program accurately communicated the essence and culture of the hotel
- Develop a marketing program that was engaging for guests to build stronger relationships and loyalty
In October 2012, Jamaica Inn launched an integrated digital marketing program to build and strengthen relationships with past guests, prospects and travel agents.
Jamaica Inn never had a very large budget for marketing, according to Mais, so most of the marketing efforts were new, including:
- Positioning and tagline
- New website
- Database and email marketing initiative
- Pay-per-click marketing
- Significantly expanded social media presence
The overall goal of the campaign was to clearly convey the value of Jamaica Inn across a user-friendly and visually engaging website, launch an email marketing program with personalized communications, and increase social media presence.
Step #1. Convey value to customers
From the beginning of this campaign, at the insistence of the owners, Mais and his team instituted weekly meetings to discuss the status of every project.
"For the first nine months, at least one [owner] was present to ensure work was progressing to their satisfaction and the four goals were being met," he said.
In these meetings, it was decided that the team's first project was to position the marketing campaign to clearly articulate the primary value Jamaica Inn has to offer its guests.
"We concluded that Jamaica Inn offers the ultimate in relaxation. We are situated in a cove with our private beach, oftentimes referred to as the best in Jamaica. There are no TVs or radios in the rooms to distract our guests, although we do offer resort-wide Wi-Fi for those who need to be connected," Mais said.
That decision led to the development of a campaign tagline: "Jamaica Inn, It’s Time." The tagline allowed the hotel to promote various aspects of its value using the same theme, for instance:
- The Resort — It's Time to Unwind
- Dining — It's Time to Indulge
- Activities — It's Time to Explore
- The Spa — It's Time to Unwind
The tagline was used in all of the value promotions and was integrated with a similar look, feel and message. It was focused on selling the message of relaxation and romance, with strong calls-to-action for guests to call the hotel, book online or contact their favorite travel agent.
Step #2. Grow database information
Over the years, Jamaica Inn collected the names, addresses and email addresses of past guests and agents the sales force had called upon, but they had not fully utilized this database.
"We had good data on more than 4,000 past guests and another 4,000 travel agents, which now serves as the foundation for Jamaica Inn's integrated [marketing program]," Mais said.
The integrated marketing program was designed to move people along the customer lifecycle "from awareness to brand advocacy. A marketing database serves as its foundation and all the components of marketing work together to reach and motivate consumers to advance along the customer lifecycle," Mais explained.
The team was happy with the current information, but in order to grow the prospect database, it was decided that an email address capture would be added to the main webpage to collect contact information.
A larger database was needed to build up a new comprehensive email marketing effort driving traffic to the new website. The team also wanted it to be a main communication line to consumers in order to convey the new look, feel and message of the overall marketing efforts.
Step #3. Implement the new website
Jamaica Inn's website prior to this effort was outdated and not fully search engine optimized for the current Google algorithm.
A new website was developed and launched in October 2012. The ability to sign up to receive Jamaica Inn's newsletter and promotions was featured prominently on each page of the new site.
"Search engine optimization is now an ongoing activity for the team. We need to stay current with all of the constant changes that Google and the other search engines make to their ranking algorithms," Mais said.
In the first year, traffic to the website increased 50%, providing Jamaica Inn significantly more opportunities to have guests book a vacation. A new booking engine on the site made the process simpler and easier to track.
Prior to the launch of this new campaign, Jamaica Inn had dabbled in PPC, according to Mais, but the channel never experienced a prolonged effort. The previous booking engine could not provide proper tracking mechanisms, which made it impossible to evaluate performance.
In July 2013, the hotel launched a concerted PPC program to drive traffic to the new website. To see a true picture of the ROI, a telephone call tracking system was instituted that allowed the team to measure both online bookings as well as calls for reservations as a result of the PPC program.
To date, the ROI on the PPC campaign for room revenue has averaged a ratio of 21:1, according to Mais, and when looking at total revenue — including food and beverage, spa and ancillary revenue — the ROI is 35:1.
"As our PPC program evolves, we are learning more about what works and what does not. As a result, we expect our return on investment to increase," Mais said, adding that the team's plan is to allocate more funds to PPC strategy in the months ahead.
Step #4. Begin an email marketing program
One of the first things the marketing team did was to “start an email marketing program to stay in touch regularly with subscribers and begin to build stronger relationships,” Mais said.
The hotel now markets to past guests, travel agents and prospects through email. In addition, Jamaica Inn has a separate database of local residents that is used to promote spa treatments and a monthly beach-side Sunday Brunch
The email program consisted of:
- A bi-monthly newsletter — The newsletter contained information about the hotel, staff, milestones, Jamaica activities and several special offers.
The email newsletter was named "Time to Unwind" to reflect the new marketing message positioning and highlighted the hotel’s value proposition. Each email was personalized, signed by the general manager, and written to an individual to reflect the unique personal service of the Inn.
- E-postcards — The e-postcards were sent periodically to promote specific need periods and promote a new special offer.
- Special mailings — These included messages the hotel wanted to send out that were specialized, such as holiday greetings.
In designing and writing each email, the team used copy tailored to the three distinct audiences — past guests, travel agents and new prospects.
Elements of a Jamaica Inn email
- Header — Each email included a narrow header with the Jamaica Inn logo in the upper left-hand corner and relevant copy to the right, such as the name of the newsletter ("Time to Unwind") or the name of the promotion ("September to Remember").
"The reason the header is narrow is to make sure recipients can see a photo of the hotel when they see it in their email preview window," Mais said.
- Photos — "Jamaica Inn has wonderful photography we use to draw readers in and entice them to take action — call or book now," he explained.
- Salutation — "One of the main objectives of our marketing program is to build deeper relationships with guests and prospects. Therefore, every email is addressed to an individual," Mais said, adding that the general manager signed the e-newsletter as a personal element.
- Copy — The copy was written with "a warm Jamaican charm reflective of the hotel experience," Mais said, which the team believed would encourage subscribers to take action, visit the website or book a vacation.
"Unlike many — most hotels that view email strictly as a promotional sales tool — we view it as a relationship building vehicle. People want to do business with people they like, so as we build those relationships, sales follow," he explained.
Currently, Jamaica Inn’s property management system (or accounting program for the hotel) and the email marketing client are two separate systems and do not talk to one another, Mais said.
"We are planning on adding CRM software, which will allow for much tighter integration and automation of our marketing efforts. It will allow us to send more relevant messages to past guests and better understand our return on investment," he added.
Step #5. Expand social media efforts
"Jamaica Inn has made a major manpower and time investment toward increasing our presence in social media. Having talented individuals on-property managing social media allows us to post engaging content that fans and followers like and share," Mais said.
Jamaica Inn had a presence on Facebook and Twitter with all content being handled in-house. The team believed in the growing importance of social media for the hospitality sphere, so during this campaign, the hotel additionally launched Pinterest, Google Plus and Instagram accounts
The visual aspects of these social media platforms made them an ideal place to convey the value of Jamaica Inn to prospects.
"[Co-Owner] Eric Morrow manages Instagram and is having fun in the process. Needless to say, he has a seemingly endless source of photos including some of a Marilyn Monroe
and many of the celebrities who have frequented the hotel," Mais said.
Jamaica Inn also added a blog link on the main page, and adds new posts at least once a week. Topics about hotel amenities and events, such as spa treatments, a new fitness center and Mother's Day Brunch, are featured with compelling photography.
Also, to highlight the personal aspects of the Jamaica Inn experience, hotel staff are occasionally highlighted, such as a post on the executive chef
"Marketing is a team effort. It doesn't matter how good a program looks on paper, it will never realize its full potential unless everyone involved, from top management down, works closely as a team," Mais said.
He added with its dedicated staff and ownership, "Jamaica Inn is fortunate to have complete buy-in to its integrated marketing program."
The results Jamaica Inn has been able to garner from this undertaking show the journey taken from the recession in 2008, all the way through the effect this marketing effort has had on speeding up recovery.
After a drastic 30% decrease in revenue from 2008 to 2010, Jamaica Inn was able to see:
- A 52% increase in revenue during the length of this campaign
- A 50% increase in website traffic in the first year
- An averaged ratio of 35:1 for total revenue ROI on the PPC campaign
The marketing performance from this campaign has had ancillary benefits as well, Mais added. For instance, the staff shares in the gratuity pool, so as more guests stay at Jamaica Inn, the staff's share of revenue is higher, "which leads to happy employees and happy guests."
Because performance in the first few months of the campaign was so impressive, Jamaica Inn decided to keep the hotel open in September for the first time in more than a decade. Usually, he added, hotels in the Caribbean close down during that month because of low demand.
“Keeping the hotel open in September benefited our October occupancy since we had business in-house and didn't have to build occupancy from a standing start,” he concluded.
- Local email
- Jamaica Inn newsletter
- Jamaica Inn Instagram
- Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller Instagram post
- Executive chef blog post
- Revenue index
Campaign TeamJamaica Inn
Kyle Mais, General Manager
Nicole Henry, Director of Sales and Marketing
Eric Morrow, Co-Owner
Peter Morrow, Co-OwnerMP&A Digital and Advertising
Harshad Methrath, Associate Creative Director
Madigan Pratt, President
Catherine Smagala, Account Supervisor
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