Digital Marketing Strategies in Hotel Chains

Introduction

Hotels have a variety of guests and they specialize in offering services and amenities to multiple market segments such as individual, group and corporate customers, with an aim to meet the service expectations of their guests. A hotel derives its biggest competitive advantage from the reputation of its brand, and so concentrates on developing a suitable brand image. Since guests must have a good first impression for them to develop a liking for a hotel or brand, the quality of service at a 5-star hotel is usually very high.

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The underlying assumption for hotel operations is that travellers and hotel guests will exercise an independent opinion every time they use the services of a particular hotel. This is contrary to suggestions by some studies that travellers may either be swayed by marketing and prior interaction with a brand and not use their present experience for judging. On the other hand, travellers may also be independent and offer an unbiased opinion that helps a hotel to improve its offerings, and the quality of its service delivery. Irrespective of what motivates customers, hotels must ensure that they are using their resources to do their best to capture the greatest share of their target market.

The internet continues to act as a communication and marketing tool. It provides travellers with ways of planning their journeys and gives them the ability to virtually sample different hotel offerings at bargain prices for premium services. On the other hand, the internet provides hotels with an avenue to reach their target customers across the world. Hotels can understand traveller preferences and domestic clientele preferences then package their calendar offerings according to the market demand (Jobber 1995).

Hotels build guest loyalty so that they can keep earning revenue from frequent guests. Although occasional high profile visits increase the revenue of hotels, it is the loyal customer that contributes a significant amount to the bottom line. And studies show that hotels have been aggressive in implementing methods to increase their customer loyalty. For example, their use of loyalty points for frequent guests is no longer a differentiating factor in their services. All hotels are implementing a form of loyalty program and major hotel chains are already partnering with major credit card issuers to give customers additional benefits. Hotels expect that cardholders will have an additional reason to choose their hotels when they are travelling (Johnson, Whittington & Scholes 1993).

The challenge for hotels is to come up with loyalty programs that are unique and appealing to customers. They have to offer more reasons for customers to choose their establishment over the other offerings in the market, including the provision of services that customers already expect (Jayawardena et al. 2013). Given that many target customers are already conversant with digital technologies and use various forms of these technologies to work and communicate, it is apparent that hotels cannot ignore this frontier in their marketing efforts. In fact, for hotels in Singapore, digital marketing is a compulsive competitive strategy. However, this area of marketing is dynamic and still in its infancy (Wai et al. 2005). Most hotels do not have their own digital marketing agency and therefore have to collaborate with various marketing service providers (Doole & Lowe 2008; Kant 2015).

Objective

The objective of the study is to review digital marketing strategies and how they have performed in the three big hotel chains in Singapore. There are seven hotels in this study – Hilton Singapore, The Conrad Singapore, Marriott Tang Plaza, The St. Regis hotel, The W, The Westin and Sheraton Towers hotel Singapore.

Aim of study

The overall aim of this study is to understand how hotels in the hospitality industry in Singapore can utilize digital marketing strategies effectively.

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Problem statement

Few studies have explored the strategic view of social media and other digital networks as part of marketing strategy in organizations. There is a need to fill the existing gap in literature with research on actual strategies in the sector. Such information will be instrumental for comparison by practitioners in the industry. It will also assist future researchers to evaluate marketing theories and their applicability.

The study focuses on seven hotels that belong to three major hotel chains in the hospitality industry in Singapore. They are internationally renowned brands in the industry and have significant investments in the country. This study evaluates their digital communication platforms and strategies for building communities and therefore achieving their marketing objectives. These hotels are also multinational companies with global strategies for their local subsidiaries to implement. It would also be insightful to find specific strategies that local subsidiaries formulate and offer the parent company for global implementation.

Like other companies targeting digital platform users, many hotels have a community of users that they target. These communities are identified by their basic characteristics, for example they can consist of members who are current guests and of potential guests. Hotels have an interest in targeting this community because it offers the highest number of their repeat customers.

On digital platforms, social media users share experiences in the same way as word-of-mouth in the real world. However, on this platform, companies are able to participate in this sharing and can immediately monitor what is being shared. Facebook itself is a major social media platform and has the largest online communities in the world. Major hotels in Singapore have a presence on Facebook to develop niche communities. The same applies to all other major social networks in the country, including Twitter. Besides that, there are specialized online platforms that allow specific people to join and participate. The overall nature of Web 2.0 helps to identify other opportunities for community engagement.

However, with all the potential for community engagement, there is always a question of priority and a return on investment as well as the issue of community control and marketing objective guidelines. It is important to understand the relationship between participation, trust and commitment to community and the way a strategy employed by a firm leads to success. Studies show that there are different outcomes for various aspects listed above. According to Wu and Chang (2005), there is a correlation between the trust that members of a community develop for the moderator of the community and member interactions. When a community has a rich interaction, then it is likely to have a high level of trust among its members and is therefore more likely to be based on loyalty in terms of its future engagements.

At the same time, a study by Casalo, Flavian and Guinaliu (2007) indicated that trust is important, without it, member participation in an online community is almost impossible. In the service industry, the product is intangible and the industry favours feedback from consumers as a way to evaluate the quality of service offered. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that the hotel industry is rapidly developing communities online and using these communities as a marketing channel. On the other hand, consumers of hotel services that exist as small groups or individuals, have a high likelihood of sourcing information from an established community that already has information about the nature of offers available and comments about those offers. Therefore, communities serve both producers of services and users of those services (Purnawan 2011).

Members of a community gain trust in their online community when the information obtained from the online community matches their expectations and ‘appears’ to be honest. Therefore, a member of an online community visiting Singapore will rely more on information provided by the community, when the member has in the past found that his personal experience and the experience described in the online community is similar. On the other hand, hotels will seek to be the subject of discussion in communities that have a vibrant participation from members. Hotels understand that active membership is also an indication of more travel and hotel stay. Therefore, targeting vibrant communities is also a way to target potential clients. However, there is little known about strategies and efforts by hotels in Singapore to engage their relevant online communities.

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Hotel companies with a significant presence in Singapore include Hilton, Marriott and Starwood, and this study is looking at their overall agenda when engaging online communities and the role that plays in their overall marketing strategy.

Rationale of study

Marketers around the world in all industries have to come up with creative ways of developing communication techniques that will present the right product message to a target audience. On the other hand, consumerism has grown to dominate all aspects of life in a globalized world (Bernoff, Pflaum & Bowen 2008).

Research Questions

R1. What are the most popular digital marketing avenues used by Singapore hotels in this study?

R2. How are these hotels measuring their digital marketing performance?

R3. How does the digital marketing strategy perform in terms of the indicators used?

R4. What are the challenges and opportunities presented by each method used to measure digital marketing strategy formulation and execution by management?

Research method

The research method is twofold in that it first builds on previous research and academic discussions by other researchers and market reports on digital marketing. The literature review covers digital media, digital marketing, social media and strategic marketing. The second part of the study is an empirical exploration to engage the management teams at the chosen hotels with interviews and a research framework to provide answers. This helps to provide a direction on the best way for hotels in Singapore to utilize digital marketing strategies.

Findings

The findings of the study bring out the importance of utilizing digital marketing. They link the performance of hotels in Singapore as they embrace strategic marketing using various tools within the digital marketing framework. The findings also highlight important information for practitioners including strategy development, implementation process of the strategy, the process of coming up with value in a co-creation environment and performance assessment of the various activities and strategies utilized in the case studies.

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Scope and Limitations

An accepted definition of digital marketing covers a large scale of online tools. The number of tools and their uses or reach is too large for this research to cover them all. As a remedy, this research seeks to explore as deeply as possible the popular digital marketing tools in use. The tools analysed in this study are common to all the hotels, and deemed popular by their application and discussion within the digital marketing arena. The study focuses on brand and sales implications caused by the digital marketing aspects of the overall marketing strategies of the participating hotels.

Data collected in the study will be limited to what is available from published literature and any information that is provided by management in the hotels selected. Therefore, any limitations encountered in the quest to assess marketing data and sales data or strategy information from management will serve as a limitation for the overall study.

The study also focuses on a large target population as recipients of various marketing communication. All the hotels picked for the study target a global customer base. To follow the reactions of all customers and potential customers from around the world will not be possible so the study has to rely on common and easily available measurement metrics in terms of customer reach and reaction.

The final limitation of this study is that it may appear inconclusive or narrow due to the considerations made above. However, the depth of the study and its validity depend on specific factors affecting the results and only pertain to the seven hotels in Singapore. While the study is an example that could be used in other hotels and sectors, its validity testing only relies on the chosen case studies. In addition to that, there may be factors affecting the seven hotels uniquely such that they are not readily applicable to other conditions or environments of digital marketing.

Irrespective of limitations highlighted above, the findings of this study will contribute significantly to digital media marketing strategies. Various organizations will be able use the findings to enhance their brand positioning and other marketing strategies.

Hotel chains in Singapore

All the hotels selected for this study are part of global chains. There is a question of whether the hotels are able to provide brand growth as individual hotel units or they must rely on support of the global brand. Marriott and Hilton are major global brands while Starwood is a smaller chain globally. These hotels rely on their name to convince guests to book with them, and they have to compete against independents that may use their independence to convince guests of their bespoke service as a reason for booking with them.

Target customers already use a number of third party booking aids online to select and make their hotel reservations. Big brands in the hotel business own a large number of hotels and maximise economies of scale. They therefore have the biggest benefit that scale can bring in order to get the customers attention. However, on the digital platform, any hotel has an almost equal chance to market its services and gain sufficient customer attention to better its performance. Hilton and Marriott hotels operate as ‘independent’ units throughout their chain, meaning that all hotels under the chain have names that are a combination of the parent name and their location, for e.g. Hilton Singapore. On the other hand, Starwood has hotels that belong to smaller chains organised into 9 brands. These include the Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, Four Points by Sheraton and the W etc. In Singapore, they have four brands in operation- the St Regis, the Westin, the W and the Sheraton.

The following table presents a summary of featured hotels in terms of their size and affiliation.

Table 1: Seven hotels in Singapore featured in this study.

Hotel Guestrooms Affiliation
Hilton 421 Hilton
Conrad Centennial 507 Hilton
Sheraton 420 Starwood
St. Regis 299 Starwood
W Singapore 240 Starwood
Westin 305 Starwood
Marriott Tang Plaza 393 Marriott

Hilton Hotel

Hilton Hotels Worldwide has been embracing various forms of digital marketing opportunities that enable them to increase their reach to potential customers. They also formulate strategies to improve quality of service delivery by meeting customer expectations. As a renowned global brand, guests count on Hilton to deliver exceptional service. The Hilton Singapore sits in the shopping district of the country. Located on Orchard Road, the hotel offers guests a spectacular address in Singapore and a wide range of room types. Its rooms also come with all the associated amenities of luxury packages including culinary options and recreational facilities. There are 421 guest rooms in the hotel, many work areas and contemporary amenities. The hotel also has 12 versatile meeting rooms that can be used for banquets. The rooms come with teleconferencing facilities, Wi-Fi, and they connect to a standard business centre (Hilton Singapore 2015). The hotel also offers a fitness centre and a rooftop swimming pool as a major attraction. It has a shopping gallery that offers a boutique retail experience.

Conrad Centennial Singapore

The hotel sits near Marina Bay and provides excellent business facilities, personalized services and quality luxury experiences. The hotel won the TripAdvisor travellers choice award 2014. It is a part of Hilton Hotels Worldwide, has 507 guest rooms and 2 restaurants. There is a business centre and other five-star facilities and the location allows easy access for Chinatown, Raffles city, and Haji Lane, which are key attractions in Singapore.

Starwood Hotels

Starwood Hotels include Sheraton Towers Singapore, The Westin Singapore, St. Regis Singapore and the W Singapore –Sentosa Cove. Each hotel has a specific attraction in addition to luxury rooms and amenities offered to guests.

Sheraton Towers Hotel

Sheraton Towers Hotel in Singapore is located close to Newton Circus, a popular outdoor food court. The hotel has 420 rooms and 3 restaurants. Other attractions include free shopping centre shuttle and outdoor pool. Its location allows guests to easily reach the National Orchid garden and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The St Regis Hotel

This hotel has 299 smoke-free guest rooms and 3 restaurants. It also includes facilities such as an outdoor pool and fitness centre. The hotel has a 5-star rating and it sits at the heart of the Singapore shopping district.

W Singapore – Sentosa Cove

The W Singapore Sentosa Cove has 240 guest rooms and 2 restaurants; it also has easy access to the marina and a full-service spa. It is located on Sentosa Island which give it access to numerous water-based attractions like Tanjong beach and the Marine Life Park. It offers rooms from $507 for per night.

The Westin Singapore

The Westin Singapore offers rooms from $743; however, it also runs promotions for rooms with reduced prices starting from $424 per night. It has 305 smoke-free guestrooms, a rooftop terrace, four restaurants and a full-service spa. Visitors also enjoy an outdoor pool and they have easy access to Marina Bay and Thian Hock Keng Temple. The main building of the hotel has 17 floors.

Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel

The Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel has 393 smoke free guest rooms and a main restaurant together with two additional restaurants. Guests also get a full service spa, an outdoor pool, breakfast, accessible Wi-Fi on the lobby, an airport shuttle, 24-hour front desk and health club. It is located on Orchard Road.

Background of the study

People across the world are spending a significant amount of time on the internet. They are working, socializing and meeting other life obligations for a number of official and personal reasons. In fact, the online world makes the demarcation of private and public life very thin and sometimes invisible. It provides businesses with an opportunity to interact with their customers both as private entities doing business and also as personal references capable of enjoying and taking part in life activities. It also includes suggestions and provisions of conversational interactions for users and visitors, who are primary target customers, (Wertime 2008).

Human beings are inherently social by nature, and they feel a need for acceptance and fitting in as a key driver to their social interactions. As a result, many of our opinions are heavily influenced by the people around us. People are influenced most by the people who they spend time with. As a result of the advent of the internet, influencers are not limited by their physical location. Their words online are read often by their followers.

In addition to the indirect influencers online, other factors to consider are family relationships, friends, colleagues, business associates, sales persons or business representatives. These relationships merge in a complex matrix to become the overall network of influence for individual online users.

The group of people that affect a person’s likes is called a reference group, with Solomon et al. (2010) elaborating that a reference group may be actual or imaginary. It is a group created or emerging from a significant relevance to a person’s evaluations. It can also arise due to a person’s aspirations and behaviour (Solomon et al. 2010).

Marketing definitions

Communication has always been a key driver of evolution and technological advancement, and continues to shape the way people communicate. At the same time, it is changing the way people interact with corporate entities. In fact, it is almost impossible for marketers to keep up with frequent changes in technology and emergence of new marketing channels.

Marketing – an action, a process and an idea that relates to creation, contribution, communication, delivery and exchange of offers that provide value to customers. Some entities may replace customers with partners or the society at large. Many practitioners go with another definition of marketing- an art of informing a target community in story-like form. Therefore, it would be all the things, which a business does to fulfil its purpose, but the activities and strategies that go directly to inform customers of available values are at the core of marketing (Edmiston 2015).

Digital marketing – this refers to all marketing activity and ideas in the digital platform and covers everything about the internet used for marketing purposes. It includes internet/online advertising and campaigns as well as content marketing and social media marketing (Edmiston 2015).

The space of online marketing has developed so rapidly in recent times because of the infinite information potential of the internet. Just like in the real world, many people need help to find what they are looking for, in the form of suggestions that will help them achieve their objectives. One of the goals of digital marketing is to allow companies to serve as guides for their target customers so that the overall experience of fulfilling their needs is convenient (Aichner & Coletti 2013). The internet continues to overtake TV, print and radio as a preferred way of communication and access to information. Many traditional media establishments also have a comprehensive presence on the internet to provide similar albeit digital services to their target customers (Smith 2011).

Previously, marketing was a one-way channel where customers did not have a way to talk back to marketers. The task of targeting customers was easy, and many people still believed in advertisements. However, everything changed when the internet became popular and easily accessible in many countries such as Singapore. A new era of marketing began.

One of the most discussed challenges with digital marketing is that despite its reach, the availability of two-way communication and the reduction in entry costs, it is still difficult to estimate and calculate actual return on investment. Part of that has to do with marketing efforts taking longer than a conventional financial calendar of a company. For example, justifying investment in having staff work on social media channels may be impossible within a year, as effects of the channels continue showing beyond a year in terms of referrals and brand building (Li 2014).

Literature review

The next section presents key findings and theoretical or empirical information that helps to provide a research background necessary for answering the research questions for this study. The section presents peer reviewed articles that were found on various online databases using Google Scholar’s search function. In addition to the use of databases, the topic of the respective peer reviewed articles was an important selection for the section. Some prior thesis reports also provided key insights about the topic of study and they are presented as part of the literature review’s sub topics.

Marketing theory

Marketing endeavours can be distributed through a wide range of tools these days. Many of these tools aid the customer in gathering information to help in decision making. Lilien et al. (2002) described the concept of marketing engineering as bringing new knowledge to the current literature on marketing theory. Their research was instrumental in shaping and highlighting the link of marketing data and social engineering. Part of the study explains that computers and user-friendly software have been major factors in enhancing the abilities of marketers to achieve their objectives. Marketing managers have to consider prices, distribution options, sales among others things affecting the performance of their strategies. The combination, monitoring and execution of these factors affect the end-results that marketing managers achieve (Li 2014).

Managers choose to have a mental model or to build an alternative method that uses a number of decision-aiding tools (Montagna 2011). These tools include spreadsheets that correspond to a decision making model. Here, managers can determine the suitability of different options based on reach and expenditure. In addition, many instances of software already have a design that only requires basic data input. The software offers managers comprehensive reports about the uncertainty of factors and combination strategies and marketing opportunities. According to Lilien et al. (2012), marketing engineering simply refers to the combination of data, information, insight, decisions, and implementation. There are different processes for each state. Data management happens in the first stage, followed by a decision model or a mental model that is dependent on the needs of the marketer. Additional stages have judgement under uncertainty occurring through models, interception and communication. Lastly, there is the consideration and implementation of decisions with regards to financial, human and other organizational resources (Tabor & Pawłowska 2010).

With the automation of tasks, it is possible to disseminate marketing solutions to all practitioners. In addition, the volume of data continues to increase at an immense rate. Marketers must work together with other professionals who are experts in data management (Heimbach, Kostyra & Hinz 2015). At the same time, available software solutions make it easy for team members other than marketing professionals to handle duties.

As advancements in the practice of digital marketing continue, hotels have greater expectations of their marketing departments. Companies want marketing expenditures justified just as any other expenditure. This implies that marketers have to keep on matching their decisions and their investments to appropriate returns on investment (Lilien et al. 2002).

Strategic marketing

As marketers seek and implement marketing strategies on social media and other digital tools, they also contribute to the development of strategic marketing as a field. Marketing continues to shift into a strategic role that is important in the growth of the whole organization. The relationship between marketing and operations keeps improving as a result of which the business evaluates its success partly on the outcomes of marketing strategy (Li et al. 2011).

The last few decades have been significant in terms of evolution for marketing. Businesses globally have had to deal with fragmented markets and brand competitors. They also face product commoditization and short product life cycles. The ‘power’ of consumers is only on the rise as they embrace new technology. Initially marketing performance would be easy to identify, but now the benefits seem to have become vague. Overall, the meaning and the view of marketing continues to change. Without a strategic outlook, a marketer for any brand or product will find it hard to achieve objectives (Leo 2013). Consequently, definitions for marketing have also evolved to comply with changes highlighted above. Today, marketing techniques used by any organization have to work in the context of customer and stakeholder relationship management. Previously, marketing was the conducting of business activities that direct the flow of products to the consumers but the definition has become more elaborate. It now considers marketing as the activity, the institutions and the processes that create, communicate, deliver, and exchange offerings to offer value to end users. Here, customers, clients or partners are the end users (Holliman & Rowley 2014).

Therefore, in a modern context, marketing will include activities aimed at achieving a common goal, which is to provide superior value to users. Product development creates solutions for customers while supply chain management combines the use of physical and informational inputs efficiently to transform them to customer solutions. In addition, customer relationship management identifies customers, creates knowledge, builds relationships and manages perceptions of an organization and its products as held by its target consumers. (David & Sagun 2012)

Based on the roles mentioned above, strategic marketing is a broader view of marketing that allows marketers to go beyond the 4Ps of product, place, price and promotion. Efforts by marketers are transformational to the whole business, they require cross-functional teams and they should remain result oriented (Kumar 2004).

Hotels have to fully implement their marketing strategy as part of the broader strategy. Following this approach will ensure that the plan of action when using digital platforms works according to overall business objectives and expectations. After identifying and setting target groups, companies have to find the best way of reaching the group through digital tools. The implementation of these tools needs focus on all activities that are possible. This effort needs active involvement and observation such as when assessing the performance of strategic marketing, key performance indicators come in handy. These are pre-defined targets that marketers and general managers use to determine the scale of success of individual marketing strategies. A business will look at the type of shareholder value that comes from utilization of digital platforms to realize their marketing strategy. For example, when a customer expresses dissatisfaction on social media causing negative publicity, a business may think of ways to derive value by utilizing the same digital platform as part of its marketing strategy. In this case, a business can go on to address the issue or report on ways that it has addressed the issue so that other customers see it as responsible and caring for customer needs (Baird & Parasnis 2011). This is how the business utilizes the digital platform to increase customer satisfaction and improve its shareholder value.

Marketing strategies by hotels in Asia

According to a case study by Tse (2013) about ICON hotel in Hong Kong, digital marketing played a major role in making the hotel immediately visible in a crowded hotel market place. After opening in April 2011, the hotel became a major hit even becoming number one on popular traveller website TripAdvisor.com. The opening of a hotel is a mammoth assignment, more so when it is an independent hotel. The hotel has to make itself known to the world as soon as possible. It must also immediately offer services of the same or better quality compared to what is available from the competition.

An exploration of the role that digital marketing played in making the ICON hotel successful showed that the hotel relied on its website, search engine optimization strategies, online travel agencies, banner advertising, and social media for advertisement. The overall digital media campaign led to the huge initial success. Through the tools listed above the hotel was able to quickly build an online reputation and gain a large web presence. The internet allowed it to leapfrog the brand building process to match the offering and competitive advantages of its rivals, some who had a rich history of success. Use of the internet considerably reduced the marketing costs of entry; the hotel did not purchase expensive advertisements on global news channels or invest in expensive print advertisements on major global publications like its established peers did (Tse 2013).

The case study highlights the use of search engine optimization as a part of the total marketing effort. This required sustained innovation to match advances in technology. The case study also illustrated that the use of social media could be a powerful way to spread word-of-mouth. For a hotel that was building its brand from scratch, banner advertising on the internet also played a major role in directing traffic to the website. According to Ranganathan and Gunapathy (2002), key dimensions of business-to-business websites is their content and design. Any information that appears on a website is the content of the website, and the manner of its presentation is the design. In addition, the security and privacy of the websites also affects consumer interaction with it. For a study done with 1800 prospective air travel customers and nine leading hotel agencies globally, the best website for customer experience according to the study was hotels.com. On the other hand, Marriott.com was the website that had the best overall technical quality. Many respondents said that hotels.com was convenient, friendly, and helpful and these are words highlighting the user friendliness of the website (Ranganathan & Gunapathy 2002).

Overall, researchers are predicting that online sales and marketing will be the dominant frontier on the internet. Kim, Ma and Kim (2006) focused their study on Chinese users and discovered that convenience, technological inclination, and safety influenced user satisfaction and intention to purchase.

Digital marketing and social engagement

Digital media has evolved for generations and many authors define it in various ways. There are different takes on the definition of digital media by marketers and researchers and sometimes, following one definition and approach appears to depart from the opinion and approach by the other group. The best argument for the growth of digital media is that it grew from interpersonal communication, which started out as email. Nevertheless, the available literature on the origins of digital media remains scarce. Much of the research findings available are on the use of digital media and various applications such as marketing.

Today, the emphasis on digital media rests in social media and the general blogosphere. Many studies first explore the subject from a qualitative design approach. The nature of the information sought in the field requires that researchers first capture as much detail about the phenomenon before proceeding to analyse and even measure with quantitative methodologies. Therefore, hotel specific studies may embrace quantitative approaches to determine the extent of a particular effect being investigated and to determine the cause. Overall, studies show that consumers and management generally understand and appreciate the impact that digital media tools have on brand perceptions. The biggest challenge facing managers seems to be the execution of digital marketing activities. There are distinct roles of marketing communication that various digital marketing tools play (Kilgour, Sasser & Larke 2015). Though these tools play distinctive roles, sometimes their roles may overlap. As an example, internet ads act as reference tools yet they also increase publicity of a hotel. In addition, they can be interactive when matched with particular elements in a hotel’s website such as customer information collection. Understanding the purpose and applicability of a particular tool to an organization needs is a task that only successful managers execute in the right way (Scott 2007).

Characteristics of online communities

An online community in the realm of digital marketing is important because of its relevance to the reputation of a hotel. Therefore, it acts as a brand community. This is a group of people with similar interests in a brand or a product. They may be unknown to a firm or a marketer but the group plays a significant role in its consumption efforts (Muniz & Schau 2007). According to studies done by Casalo, Flavian and Guinaliu (2008) positive participation in a brand community is directly proportional to loyalty expressed towards the community. In any online community, new interactions continue to take place, with change to mingle with others being a main way for new consumer experience. Social networking sites and other digital media tools have been major channels for consumers to interact with one another and with vendors (Georgi & Mink 2012).

Something for any business to consider is the quality of its digital marketing presence even when consumers are creating marketing activities. The quality of digital marketing influences the way consumers shop and that influence keeps increasing. In this regard, companies must come to terms with the range of factors that affect their ability to use digital marketing and to develop a social identity online (Hall 2011).

Based on the technology acceptance model3 (TAM3) used by Pookulangara and Koesler (2011) factors determining perceived usefulness do not end up affecting perceived ease of use. The reverse relationship is also true, as factors affecting the perceived ease of use have no influence over the perceived usefulness. This can help in behaviour prediction. Pookulangara and Koesler (2011) used the TAM3 to estimate behavioural intention to social media for individuals whose cultural background was known to affect perceived ease. The model would allow the researchers estimate the way an individual would perceive a particular message. They also point out that digital media tools evolve in ways that eliminate the limits of individual values and ideologies as the only determinants of a person’s culture and rituals. At the same time, they have created a range of communication tools within the space of Web 2.0 (Pookulangara & Koesler 2011). The point here calls for marketers to be mindful about culture when they are utilizing digital marketing strategies because technologies and related possibilities help to create new online cultures. These cultures have the same potential as traditional culture in shaping perception towards a brand or a product (Ots 2009).

Consumer attitude

A study by Chu (2011) shows that users who are group members in Facebook have the highest potential of disclosing personal data to the group compared to non-members. This confirms the claim that participation depends on the level of loyalty placed on an online group. On the other hand, group participation and engagement with advertisements online needs a high level of personal information. Users reveal their connection with different groups or profiles on separate social media channels and they can promote advertisements when they use the products as part of their self-status seeking behaviour. Here, companies make their brands and products appear as status symbols. In return, they gain publicity when users or target customers highlight their association with products of the company. Companies achieve this objective by having celebrities endorse their products and brands. Many users pass viral content about brands to their social contacts and therefore indirectly perform a marketer’s job (Chu 2011).

For a study done only on Facebook, college-aged users were the most receptive to social media marketing and this segment also had the largest growth rate. This implies that social media is a rich area for online advertising. It would serve companies whose target marketing includes college-aged consumers (Chu 2011). In support of the above findings, Cox (2010) reported on the investigation to find the relationship between age and attitude towards online advertising formats. The study concentrated on advertising formats like blogs, video and brand channels or pages on social media networks. It concluded that there were differing attitudes across age groups. Users aged 18 to 28 are open to blogs, video and brand channel ad formats with their key motivation being the eye-catchiness, educational and amusing abilities of the formats. The 35 to 54 age group in the study had similar attitudes but also considered the placement of the format within the online page layout. The study shows that as long as online advertising formats were positive in their attributes, users would welcome them. Intrusiveness and interference with online activities in social media networks spiked the most dislike from users in the study by Cox (2010).

According to Di Pietro and Pantano (2012), enjoyment is a significant factor affecting consumers’ use of social networks when these platforms play a role in consumer buying decisions. The scholars used the TAM concept narrated earlier in this review. Their findings stated that Facebook and the opportunity it offers for suggestions appear in a way that causes individuals to pay more attention to product promotion that appears as suggestions. The social media approach is a consumer-to-consumer interaction. The marketer’s role is to influence these interactions to ensure that their products stand out. At the same time, managers and marketers have the opportunity to bring in a business to consumer approach as long as they ensure that the business end mimics the consumer end (Pietro, Loredana & Pantano 2012).

The main features that businesses have used to ensure that their Facebook pages are appealing include contests, games, interactive application and information. An increase in education about consumer attitudes increases the understanding of the way marketing strategies will work with social media (Pietro, Loredana & Pantano 2012). Individuals are no longer mere consumers. They are also active producers of business value. They do this by user generated content, which cannibalizes the opportunities for traditional marketing techniques (Heinonen 2011). An awareness of the consumer motives helps marketers create content that will influence users to take particular action about a store or a brand.

User generated content

Individuals serve as influencers in any digital marketing undertaking and technology is only a channel for exerting this influence. User generated content is a currency for marketers as it allows them to define a brand. It is a combination of all the digital tools that people make use of. In many cases, it describes forms of media content. These are accessible online and created by users. It becomes social currency as individuals share brand information and brands (Zinnbauer & Honer 2011).

Social networking allows an individual’s connections to play a role in developing brands so that they become part of a customer’s social interactions in the form of social currency. This currency is available to a brand based on its appearance on digital networks. Overall, social currency covers affiliation, utility, advocacy, conversation, indemnity and information that serve as its main components. A firm cannot have direct control over social currency because it is dependent on user activities that arise from different influences. A brand does not have to depend on all six components to create loyalty among consumers. Any component that allows a brand to integrate with a consumer’s life allowing the consumer to connect, interact or gain from likeminded users succeeds in having consumer generated advertising (Zinnbauer & Honer 2011).

According to Pehlivan, Sarican and Berthon (2011), vigilante marketing is an appropriate term for consumer generated advertising. This is unpaid advertising and marketing efforts with different options for the source and the target. Brand loyalists undertake vigilante marketing and they do it alongside traditional marketing. Businesses have to be conversant with user-generated content to understand its influence. Consumers continue to pick a range of activities that contribute to other consumer activities and therefore play a major role in advancing marketer’s intentions online.

Overall, social media users seek self-enhancement and brands and various marketing messages must allow them to achieve this objective. This is the only criteria that users all over the internet are likely to follow indiscriminately. When advertisers consider the symbolic and self-expression properties of their marketing campaigns and their target approaches, they will be able to deliver the right message. The marketing of a company requires the same interests as the target market and this implies that marketers must first study their target market online before launching any campaign (Taylor, Strutton & Thompson 2012).

According to recommendations by Zhang, Jensen and Chowdhury (2011), all businesses using digital marketing strategies must have brand presence on the most popular social media sites. The presence increases their consumer audience. Electronic word of mouth messages are capable of generating interest in a product beyond what exposure to information from marketers does. Consumers have developed an inherent urge to become knowledgeable about the product they consume. They use various tools on the internet to find more information and take part in online conversations about the products they consume. Consequently, they become co-producers of value. They can help campaigns achieve a high return on investment due to the additional brand awareness that consumers generate (Zhang, Jansen & Chowdhury 2011).

As more consumers look to online networks and affiliations as trusted sources of information, new ways for building consumer-brand relationships and viral advertising platform emerge.

Viral marketing

Viral marketing is a special capability only available with digital marketing channels and it allows marketers to communicate to a brand’s intended consumer. The concept offers marketers sufficient freedom to exercise creativity. The opportunities are in message delivery medium, which can be personalized, intuitive and intimate. These options increase the likelihood of marketing messages reaching target audiences without distortion. As an unpaid peer-to-peer communication of content, viral market serves as vigilante marketing at an accelerated pace (Pehlivan, Sarican & Berthon 2011). Unlike user-generated content, viral marketing has a sponsor for its ad message. It has an origin and a creator, while the rest of the users interacting with it only amplify the message by sharing without manipulation. The critical elements for the success of viral marketing message lie in humour, sexuality, stealth, positive experiences together with relevant factors for different target audiences. Marketers concentrate mainly on humour and sexuality to gain from viral ads. When consumers are entertained by an ad, they will likely share it because the tools available online make it very easy to share, and consumers are seeking self-status (Golan & Zaidner 2008).

Ad placement at the right sites offers word of mouth triggers that can last years. Nevertheless, viral marketing may not always succeed (Chu 2011). Over use of the same strategy by different marketers targeting the same audience causes the audience to tune out. The main reasons for ad avoidance are perceived clutter, negative experience and interruption. At the same time, many marketers fail to specify an exact target group when running advertising campaign. Therefore, their ads are not relevant to activities, expectations and behaviours of their target consumers. Consumers remain indifferent to ads after long-term exposure. The only ads that are noticed are the unique ones. Uniqueness appears in the ad being annoying or entertaining when consumed through social media.

In response, marketers are developing new strategies that allow them to fly below the consumer’s radar. Marketers ‘fool’ consumers by using brand pushers who act as consumers. This strategy ensures the social currency of a brand remains high. Strategies used in this manner seek to inspire consumer-to-consumer activities based on a brand or product. The understanding is that consumer-to-consumer communication is the lead force for circulation of advertiser-created messages (Ots 2009).

Outcomes of online community participation

When consumers are evaluating information regarding their preferred brands, they use different cognitive processes. Once they value a given brand highly, they will evaluate other brands less favourably in comparison. The behaviour of consumers online on information searching takes a defensive approach for strengthening the value of a brand that consumers have already identified. A possibility exists for consumers to accept an alternative when competing brands are similar to the valued brand.

Certain demographic characteristics can influence behaviour of online consumers. Young consumers will use the internet mostly for socializing and playing games while older consumers, beyond age 54, will likely use the internet to seek information and communicate formally. There, the outcomes of approaches targeting young users will be unique to those of older users. Gender can also play a role in the outcomes of online engagement. The genders have distinct patterns of communicating. Female members are likely to favour and gain more from participation compared to male members (Heinonen 2011).

Methodology

In this chapter, the choice of research design is described. It is useful for answering the objective of the study and research questions. This section will also present the study approach together with data collection methods and sampling used. Additional sections offer the study approach used for the dissertation and the path that led to the collection of primary and secondary data.

According to the basic structure of qualitative research, data obtained is usually in descriptive form, and can be in words or pictures. Qualitative studies serve a researcher well when there is abundant knowledge about a problem that will be the subject of examination. With the qualitative research approach, a study goes for a holistic view of the context of phenomenon being studied. In this case, qualitative data would consist of the descriptions of situations being studied or influencing participants being studied. It will also include events, people, and interactions. Moreover, observed behaviours and direct quotes from people are likely to feature as an entire section of the data collected. Overall, the data seeks to provide an elaborate case description and it can even be presented in the form of a case description.

The collected data acts as raw content that will serve as the basis of informing an empirical reality. Information often runs deep and remains qualitative throughout, with aspects that are readily measurable in units being of secondary importance. The qualitative aspect identifies, names, describes, and helps understand. A study can then move to a quantitative approach that quantifies the data collected.

Usually, a qualitative research design will include a theoretical framework that would help to understand the data being collected and the study design. In this study, the empirical aspect involves interviewing hotel managers from the seven selected hotels that serve as case studies. This study will retain the qualitative design approach throughout the inquiry and analysis of data both from primary and secondary sources. This move is informed by the need to establish a holistic view of digital marketing among hotels in Singapore and its overall performance. While the nature of the data collected may be descriptive and yet include quantifiable information, the study will retain a focus on the qualitative aspects such as the motivations and decisions made regarding particular digital marketing channels available to the hotels being studied.

Study approach

A deductive approach begins with the development of a theory or a hypothesis and then designing a research strategy that works towards testing the created hypotheses. With a deductive approach, it is essential to follow a general rule that ensures that all the work remains with the context of one interest. For studies with limited time, and resources, it is a good and economical approach (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2009).

On the other hand, an inductive approach works when a researcher is collecting data and developing a theory because of the data collected and analysed in the study. With this approach, the researcher begins the inquiry without a theory and ends up formulating a theory based on studied phenomena (Kim, Morrison & Mills 2004). An inductive approach works well with a variety of individual cases that could be having a link and the study seeks to establish the link and validate it.

Although the inductive and deductive approaches are the only methods available, many studies still use other approaches that may not fall into specific inductive or deductive categories. This study will mainly rely on the deductive approach that will interpret results based on a hypothetical overall pattern. The research will explain the interpretation in the context of new observations or cases. The original hypothetical situation comes from the secondary literature that this study has consulted to influence its opinion on the use of digital media strategies by the hotels in this study and their performance regarding marketing activities. The study then relies on primary data collected during interviews and correspondence with management at the seven hotels. Based on this arrangement, the study will use an abduction approach.

Abduction approach includes both deductive and inductive approaches in various bits and then introduces new elements that help to present a clear conclusion to a study. With abduction, the research will rely on empirical facts. However, it will not ignore induction or theoretical concepts that make it move towards a deduction approach. Based on its structure, it is possible to analyse empirical data and then combine it with a study of earlier theory that may have been introduced as part of the literature review. In this case, the theory will not apply to individual cases but to the overall study and it offers the inspiration that will allow us to understand findings (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2009).

In light of the above discussion, the study will use an abductive approach that concludes after reviewing theoretical information and empirical data that are both interpreted in light of each other. The study goes on to argue that the findings are not the absolute truth, and additional research can be undertaken in an inductive approach to determine its validity or shortcomings. Therefore, the approach of this study is crucial as it provides a basis for conducting additional studies when resources are available to offer an improved understanding and come up with specific applications of this study’s findings.

Descriptive attributes in the study

For the sake of clarifying the understanding of the problem explored in this study, the use of exploration is important. Data that seems appropriate is collected throughout the discovery process. The main motivation in this approach is the answering of the “what” question. On the other hand, a descriptive approach also comes in handy, from the earlier discussion on qualitative studies, as it presents answers to the question of “how”. From the nature of this approach and the objective of this study, it is best that the approach is a combination of both, as they will lead to a richer study experience and an elaborate set of findings. This will add meaning to both researchers and practitioners in the hotel and marketing industries in Singapore.

This study aims to describe how different hotels are using digital media marketing strategies and the performance of their approaches. It considers the effect of the strategies used on the future of digital media marketing in the hospitality industry. The study also seeks to reveal the key questions and motivations that affect a hotel’s use of digital media marketing tools in the Singapore context.

Case study as a strategy of research

This sub section explains the benefits of a case study and points out why this research picked the format as part of the qualitative research inquiry. A research strategy dictates the kind of investigation that will be performed. It also determines the kind of data that a researcher would obtain (Christesen et al. 2001). Four strategies are available for study; they include cross-sectional, longitudinal, case study and experimental approach. In marketing research, a common method used is a cross-sectional study because the approach offers a wide base for sampling within a specified period for doing research. A longitudinal approach will provide a study outcome that is quantitative, with data presented in the form of statistics. Meanwhile, a case study is ideal for qualitative studies. It is appropriate for studying small sample populations. The aim of a study using a case study should be to offer descriptive data that helps to explain a concept or finding without need for further interpretation. In this case, there is no need for statistical representation. Lastly, an experimental approach is ideal when the researcher already has an ideal conceptualization of the object of examination. The approach helps to find a causal relationship (Evans 2010; Christesen et al. 2001). With a case study, there is no need for use of dependent and independent variables that help to define a causal relationship in experimental studies.

This study picked the seven hotels in Singapore because they are the biggest in terms of reach and status. They enjoy a considerable reputation in business and leisure hospitality services to their clients. They also serve a global clientele. These hotels were picked for their use of digital marketing strategies to drive growth in visitor numbers and brand reputation. The hotels are early adopters to digital media marketing because of their global outlook, and it would be interesting to find out whether their early adoption status has paid back. The study hopes to provide ordinate answers to the research questions. It is also going to rely heavily on the qualitative research method. There will be only one interview conducted in every hotel. Therefore, there will be adequate preparation and background search to ensure that during the interview, as much information as possible will be gathered.

Sampling

The expectation is that time and resources available to collect all available data will be a limiting factor for comprehensive data collection. Sampling will offer a quick and non-biased way of reducing the data needed for analysis. It will consider data from a subgroup instead of focusing on all possible cases. Sampling as a research tool can be in form of probability or non-probability. In the first case, each unit appears out of random selection and therefore has an equal chance of being in the study. In the non-probability option, the unit or the respondent in the study is included in the sample, but in a non-predictable way. In this option, when a random sample is being studied, it does not answer questions about statistical features of the population studied because researchers have no prior knowledge of the structure of the population to inform their answers to the question.

Data collection

The common data collection methods for research are interviews, observations, and experiments in addition to questionnaires that are prevalent in quantitative studies. With interviews, a researcher has the option of going with a structured or an unstructured form. The advantage of interviews is that they give the interviewer an opportunity to bring up new issues that become relevant in the course of the interview. The likelihood of gathering a variety of information makes interviews ideal for qualitative studies. Observational studies are only about behaviour at the time of observation. Therefore, they have little to do with the respondents’ ability to know or explain the observed behaviour. Experiments on the other hand establish a reliable correlation between different variables; however, they are not suitable in this study because of its design. The study does not make use of causal relationships as the basis of exploration. In conclusion, interviews remain the most reliable and appropriate data collection tool for this study. They help to analyse the results accurately. These interviews can offer detailed information and clear answers from the chosen respondents.

Interviews

The exchange in an interview is in dialogue format. The task of the questioner is to come up with good questions that suitably probe the respondents and at the same time remain easy to comprehend. They should be respectful of the position and personality of the respondent and the respondent’s role in the research. Interviews offer a chance for researchers to listen to respondents in their own words as they explain or answer queries. The researcher serving as a questioner can even query the respondent about observed behaviour during the interview, such as answering questions in a particular way (Christesen et al. 2001).

An open interview doesn’t require the respondent to be tied to a particular structure in answering. Any information and format of delivery is encouraged as long as it yields more information for the research. On the other hand, a structured interview will contain specific information that helps the questioner to obtain accurate answers. Accuracy here will depend on the structure of the questions and the approach used to ask them. In this study, the interviews use both structured and unstructured questions. Structured questions help the interviewer to determine the context of bringing in the unstructured questions and help in the interpretation of answers.

Primary and secondary data

As with any other scholarly research, this study includes the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data. There is a primary data section and a secondary data section with the difference being the when, how and where data was obtained. As the names suggest, secondary data was obtained from existing publications and the role of this data is to help lay the foundation for interpreting primary data. The data collected in interviews with management will be the primary data. The secondary data consists also of the observations made during the study about the digital marketing strategies that are in place. Since the outcomes of the digital marketing activities are visible on the internet and have been discussed by other observers, it is possible to consider it secondary data. Nevertheless, the research questions work as guidelines to narrow down on the available data for the study.

Qualitative analysis

Given that the study will rely on qualitative design, in the analysis, emphasis will be on the deeper meaning of words used by interviewing. The context of the information provided will also play a major role in the interpretation and discussion of findings. In this study, three processes combine to form the qualitative analysis. These processes are reduction, structure and visualization. The overall analysis involves the separation of data into meaningful chunks by reducing it from its raw format into usable bits that are dependent on the informational demand of the study. The structuring formulates the narrowed down data into the meaning derived from interpretation. Lastly, visualization is clarification of data to describe a research problem.

The processes are important because not everything provided by interviewees will be readily usable as interpretation for the study. The keywords for the processes of breaking down information come from literature and study objectives and questions. This data relates to digital marketing strategies and the main hotel chains in Singapore. Aspects dealing with performance, branding, motivation for marketing strategies and challenges encountered in marketing strategy implementation serve as guidelines for interpreting the key information obtained from the keywords.

Validity of the study

There are always challenges with validity of research and this study is not an exception. However, based on the acceptable threshold for validity, this study seeks to meet every criterion. Anyone else performing this study should be able to get the exact results as long as the study parameters are the same. However, given that it is a qualitative study, it will be almost impossible for other scholars to get the exact responses from the interviewees used in this study. Based on that fact, reliability is irrelevant as its instruments of a measuring unit are not static. On the other hand, the credibility of this research reports provides its validity. This report includes inquiries into the marketing activities of seven hotels in Singapore that belong to the three major hotel companies globally. It also includes theoretical underpinnings and literature from other studies concerning performance of digital marketing.

The formula used for picking respondents, the case studies and other parts of the study, as well as the elaborate discussion of the study’s method, findings and conclusions makes this study report reliable and credible. Reliability in this case refers to the ability of other scholars to use the same approach to study a similar problem. The persons interviewed in the study are professionals whose work exposes them to the nature of digital marketing in Singapore, with their hotels being their current source of information. The interviewees hold significant positions in the hotels that allow them to access relevant data and have appropriate information necessary for understanding and explaining the data during interviews with questioners for this research purpose. Overall, the study relies on the interpretation of validity as an assessment of the researcher’s experience in the study.

Validity of sources

The study only covers reliable sources of primary data, as everyone interviewed is a member of staff who holds a management position. In addition, the secondary data used assists in verifying the primary data to validate this research, as it comes from reliable sources. These sources are current publications in every aspect chosen.

Findings/Results

The functionalities offered to customers and visitors of various digital avenues used for marketing by the seven hotels in Singapore, namely Hilton Singapore, The Conrad Singapore, Marriott Tang Plaza, The St. Regis hotel, The W, The Westin and Sheraton hotel Singapore are discussed in the following sub-sections. This is a summary of information, engagement framework and outlook on various digital marketing tools used by the hotels. The tools and their engagement characteristics are available publicly on the internet.

Hilton Singapore

Hilton Singapore is rated as number 62 out of 300 hotels in Singapore and has 1,608 reviews on TripAdvisor. The hotel’s website is descriptive at first glance. It includes information about its location and its options for loyal Hilton worldwide guests enrolled in the Hilton Honours program. It also highlights TripAdvisor ratings with a link for reading more.

The website has no link or icon to any social media site on its home page. A search on Google brings the Facebook page of the hotel. At the time of this study, it has 3629 likes and 54,081 visits. It includes the following tabs- Welcome, Timeline, About, Photos, Reviews, Videos, Events and Likes. The timeline has posts about events, celebration, insights and offerings at the hotel. It also has various likes and photos as well as videos on its sidebars with reviews bring highlighted with an option to review without going to the reviews tab of the Facebook page. The About tab includes a map showing the location of the hotel and its contact details.

The Photos tab has a grid of photos appearing elsewhere on the page while the Reviews tab has a summary of the ratings left by visitors to the page, graphically represented. The average rating is 4.2 stars out of 5 stars and comes from 698 reviews. It is possible to navigate the reviews by most recent or most useful categories. The Videos tab brings up a blank page.

The Conrad Centennial Singapore

The Conrad hotel website provides information about its services and key attractions. The design uses various graphical impressions on the rooms, the facilities for entertainment, business and restaurants. The site also highlights a comment about its excellent services left by a user on TripAdvisor. In addition, the website provides a footer area showing its affiliation with other Hilton hotels globally.

There are links to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. The Facebook page has 7241 likes and 34,739 visits. It includes the basic tabs of timeline, about, photos, reviews and more. On the reviews tab, the page offers the main Facebook review functionality where visitors to the page can leave a rating out of five and write a comment about the hotel or the page. There are 614 5-star reviews, 195 4-star reviews, 85 3-star reviews, 21 2-star reviews and 28 1-star reviews. Within the comments left by visitors to the page, some visitors have advice for others who are new or yet to visit the hotel.

The photos tab on the Facebook page include images relating to activities carried out in the hotel, there are menus, notes, guest highlights, posters, recipes, food and drinks. Some images ask visitors to take action such as liking them or leaving a comment about their experience at the hotel. A text overlay on the image delivers the call-to-action message.

The about tab on Facebook page has the map of the location of the hotel and its contact details. The timeline is populated by images and descriptions of events and offers at the hotel. Visitors like and comment on specific posts, but on the first page of the tab, there are no comments.

The Conrad advises its customers to install the Hilton Honours app on their devices as it allows them to easily check in and select their rooms whenever they are at a Hilton hotel. The app makes guests manage their room choices and offers an effective way for the hotel to collect front-office relevant information about its guests.

The hotel has 2725 reviews on TripAdvisor and a rating of 4.5 out of 5, with 92 percent of reviewers leaving a positive review. On the SG50 celebrations, the hotel has a post on Facebook with a chance to win two nights for visitors who use its Instagram page to post photos. The strategy helps increase the popularity of its social media pages and improve overall outlook of the hotel’s offerings and its brand.

Marriott Tang Plaza

The Marriott Tang Plaza hotel enjoys a rating of 4.4 out of 5 on the user-generated rating and review website tripadvisor.com. The Marriott Tang Plaza hotel website provides links to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. The Pinterest page of the hotel has several categories with pictures that provide target users with the expected engagement that they would seek on the social network. However, the links to images provided by the hotel on Pinterest are not from the hotel website. The page is a collage of interesting picture stories that are relevant to the hotels services; however, there is no direct marketing of the hotel or its offers to the visitors on its Pinterest page.

At the time of the study, the link to the Google+ page was not working.

The Twitter page of Marriott Tang Plaza has 295 follows and 935 tweets. Many of the tweets engage readers about topics that could be relevant to them, and provide links to the hotel’s website that provide more information about various topics or services. The Twitter profile also includes many alerts to hotel offers offered by the hotel. Other tweets are about stories that are generally popular with the target audience. These tweets help to personify the hotel’s brand on Twitter.

The Facebook page of Marriott Tang Plaza has 16,415 likes and 143,232 visits. The tabs available on the page are the timeline, an about tab, Instagram, TripAdvisor reviews while the rest such as photos are hidden in the ‘More’ tab. The Instagram tab includes pictures of staff, advertisements, guests and delicacies offered at the hotel. The TripAdvisor tab on Facebook highlights the hotel’s rank at 26 out of 300 hotels in Singapore. A graphical summary of reviews for location, sleep quality, rooms, service, value, cleanliness are offered. The tab also has two award statements. It shows that the hotel won the travellers choice award 2013 luxury and got a certificate of excellence 2015. The rest of the tab has a sample of user reviews mostly written in first person narration. There are links to read more, which take the Facebook page visitor to the TripAdvisor website on the page about the hotel.

The about tab has a map showing the location of the hotel and address, opening hours and website. The timeline highlights posts about the services and staff at the hotel, indulging visitors to find out more and even take part in various activities that the hotel undertakes as it delivers luxury services to its target customers. There are queries and comments left by Facebook users on the page about issues related to the page and others related to the overall business.

The St. Regis hotel

The St. Regis hotel website has information about services offered, prices, affiliations and other relevant information for guests. It also includes pictures of various attractions. The website appears similar to the one of Sheraton Towers hotel in terms of colour scheme and layout. It includes a panel of reviews from guests, which shows a score of 4.2 out of 5 from reviews left by 565 guests. In addition, there is a figure of 82 percent highlighted as the percentage of guests who have recommended the hotel to others.

The website includes a link to various social media sites and a smartphone app download link. The sites are Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, TripAdvisor, Twitter and YouTube. The Facebook page has the following tabs. About, Timeline, Photos, Reviews, Locations, Reserve a Table, Share Your Experience, YouTube, Instagram, Pins, Likes, Events and Videos.

The first page of the timeline has various posts about offers, events and attractions in relation to holidays and other celebrations. It includes likes on each post and comments on some of the posts. There are also messages left by visitors that are mainly compliments and queries. The page also mentions other St. Regis hotels around the world. The ‘Register Now’ and ‘Reserve a Table’ tabs offer a registration form and an intuitive tool for selecting your table respectively.

The Instagram tab and the YouTube tab present a summary of the content uploaded by the hotel on the respective sites; there are photos and videos respectively. There is a link to the respective sites provided as a button on the tabs. Pins, a word used to describe Pinterest posts exists as a tab on the Facebook page and includes a sample of the pins made by the hotel. The pins relate to food and drinks as well as other activities that guests generally expect. There is a button allowing users to follow the hotel on Pinterest without leaving the Facebook page.

The ‘Share your Experience’ tab on the Facebook page has the TripAdvisor page of the hotel, which shows its ranking as number 28 out of 300 hotels in Singapore. It also shows sample reviews from 1,408 users of the site who left a review of the St. Regis. The tab also highlights the hotel’s awards as the Traveller’s Choice 2014 Luxury and Certificate of Excellence 2015.

Concerning sg50 golden jubilee celebrations, St Regis Hotel did not have posts on Facebook, but it used the #sg50 hashtag on twitter to benefit from the popularity of the celebrations. Using the hashtag would make its tweets about different attractions visible to many twitter users who were interacting with the hashtag.

The W Singapore

The W Singapore has a primary website for the hotel, which includes links to three social network sites namely Facebook, Twitter and Webio. The Twitter page of the hotel has updates about new offerings in its restaurants, room service and events. The Facebook page has various tabs including About, Photos, Reviews, Locations, Videos, and Twitter, Reserve a table, Join SPG, YouTube, Instagram, TripAdvisor Reviews, Events and Likes. On the TripAdvisor tab within the Facebook page, the hotel highlights its number four position out of 13 hotels in Sentonsa Island. There are photos of the hotel and reviews left by users of the TripAdvisor rating website. The tab also shows the hotel as a recipient of Certificate of Excellence 2015.

The Join SPG tab has a form that allows guests to register and become part of Starwood Preferred Guests. The YouTube tab has various videos of the hotel ‘pulled’ from its YouTube channels and these are mainly highlights of events hosted on the hotel. On the Facebook timeline, the page has 24,257 likes and 95,170 visits. It also has several comments and likes on the first page of the timeline. On TripAdvisor, the W Singapore has a rating of 4 out of 5 obtained from 1,507 reviews.

On a recent campaign for the SG50 golden jubilee, W Singapore put a post of Facebook urging users to book two nights to get an additional night free. The post has a link that directs visitors to the hotel’s website for additional details, as illustrated in the appendices.

The Westin

The Westin Singapore has 580 reviews on TripAdvisor and it has 13786 likes on Facebook with 25,405 visits on Facebook. Its Facebook page has About, Instagram, Twitter while the ‘More’ tab has SPG, TripAdvisor Reviews, Photos, Videos, Reviews, Likes Events, Notes. The timeline has updates about new offers and current offers, it also includes posts about reports and updates from visitors. The posts on the timeline have several likes and many of them have comments. The SPG tab includes a form for visitors to join the Starwood preferred guest program. On the TripAdvisor tab, the hotel highlights its number 41 out of 300 hotels in Singapore and presents various ratings for its services. It also mentions the Certificate of Excellence 2015 has a summary of reviews from visitors to the hotel.

The Twitter tab on Facebook profile only presents a text version of tweets and hyperlinks with only options for users being retweet or favourite, otherwise clicking on the tweets leads one to the Twitter page of the hotel.

The Westin website has offers, booking forms and descriptions of the hotel and its services with links to partners under Starwood. It also includes Facebook as the only social media link provided.

Sheraton hotel Singapore

The hotel enjoys a rating of 4.0 on TripAdvisor and has 1127 reviews. It occupies number 94 out of 300 hotels in Singapore. The hotel’s website has links to its smartphone app, Facebook page, foursquare, Instagram, TripAdvisor and YouTube. On the website there is a review panel showing 3.6 rating out of 5 received from 418 guests. The mobile app connects users to Facebook, YouTube and other social channels. It also links users to any hotel in the world affiliated to Sheraton Tower and it lets users book their stay. Moreover, it allows the users to discover destinations and brand experiences as it shows other Sheraton hotel attractions. It also gives users suggestions on what they can do on their next visit to the hotel.

The hotel’s Facebook page has 4638 likes and 19018 visits. The page has a timeline, about, photos, weddings at STS and more tabs. The timeline tab includes photos and descriptions of offers, promotions and messages. It also includes messages left by visitors to the page who include both guest and potential guests of the hotel. The first page of the timeline tab includes many likes to posts. Some of the shared photos on the timeline come from the hotels Instagram page.

The about tab has a map showing the location of the hotel and it also includes contact details. On the photos tab, the photos used in the timeline posts are presented in grid format. The wedding tab has a catalogue of exclusive offers for organising a wedding with details for lunch, dinner, reception and promotional price packages. On the more tab, there is a TripAdvisor tab that brings out the ratings, photos and main reviews of the hotel as left by users on the TripAdvisor website. The Facebook page also includes a ‘register now’ tab that provides visitors with a contacts form that allows them to keep in touch with the hotel by being on its mailing list. There is an Events tab highlighting in chronological order the dates, names and times of various events held or planned at Sheraton Towers. A videos tab includes various videos that appear on the timeline of the Facebook page. There is also an Instagram feed tab that presents several photos under different hashtags with a link to view the photos on Instagram. There is a tab for Google+ but it is not in use.

The YouTube channel for the hotel has tutorial videos with recipes. It also includes videos interviews of guests at the hotel. Other videos are about events at the hotel. The latest video on the channel is 7 months old and videos are from less than a minute to six minutes long.

Findings from the interviews

There were seven interviews through phone and physically. The shortest interview was an hour and the longest lasted two hours. Respondents of the interviews were managers, all hotels preferred that their operations managers be interviewed, and there were cases where the managers hinted that they need to get more information from the online marketing personnel. This was an issue for Starwood hotels, the managers did not have complete information of the digital marketing strategies used by the parent company. Managers in other hotels could report fully about the digital marketing efforts presented in this report.

The hotels outsource their search engine optimization to service providers who offer both targeting and analytics. They also rely on third party service providers to maintain their websites, but have staff involved in the updating of the content on their website and reviewing performance. The marketing department is also responsible for managing a hotel’s approach to use of social media. Each hotel seeks to have updates on at least one of its primary social media site’s profile. From the results, the main site was Facebook for all the seven hotels reviewed.

Hotels do not link their social media pages with their websites as in the case of Westin, this is because of the sheer number of social media. The hotel wants to communicate with its audience in different ways on different channels. For example, the users on a website mainly look for comprehensive information while those on social media are mainly seeking interaction. In addition, the social media pages are accessible quite easily through a basic search.

The marketing budget comes from the overall budget for marketing specified by respective hotels. Digital marketing efforts only rely on the marketing budget and do not get funding from other sources within their establishment. The choice to hire external help for managing various platforms is made by the marketing department without inclusion of other departments or senior management. However, the departments rely on their deliverables to senior management as guidelines on the services to procure for digital marketing. While the efforts to use digital marketing are recognized as marketing activities, all hotel managers hinted that they prefer to see the efforts as a public relations attempt and were concerned more about the brand benefits of their hotels when using digital tools. The need for brand reputation surpassed the need for financial returns. However, the expectation by the managers is that a growth in the brand will automatically lead to more visitors for the hotels and more customers to their services for guests and events.

The interviews were conducted after the data on various online engagements of the hotels and their brands had already been gathered. It was possible to ask the respective managers their take on the lack of comments on their Facebook page. Many agreed that there was room to improve, however they did not have an immediate answer on how best to improve.

Analysis/Discussion of Findings

All the hotels reviewed in the study have a Facebook profile, a Twitter profile and a TripAdvisor profile. However, the TripAdvisor profile of a hotel is truly independent of its marketing efforts. Nevertheless, it aids in their efforts to ensure that their digital marketing strategy succeeds. In addition to that, the findings show that users have a great role to play in ensuring the success of a digital marketing strategy. One observation on the TripAdvisor profiles for all the hotels is that the more the people contribute to a discussion, the greater the chances of online success. The honesty of reviews cannot be readily established although TripAdvisor have controls in place to weed out inappropriate content. They also conduct an audit of all the postings before the post goes online. One of the controls is the lag time between a user posting a review or comment and this text appearing on the website. For example, they do not let derogatory remarks appear on their site. However, if such comments have somehow managed to appear online, they are deleted from the site once their profanity checker and review manager identifies text as being unsuitable. TripAdvisor are also quick to respond to any customer complaints in this regard. A hotel or guest can complain directly to TripAdvisor and they get back with a response in 24 hours.

Therefore, we can assume that most of the reviews are honest. Hotels also appear resigned to the rating they receive on the TripAdvisor platform. They report the results verbatim of their respective digital marketing tools such as their websites and their Facebook pages.

Hotels such as those in this study are informed by their corporate policies to initiate local strategies for marketing. For example, Hilton affiliate hotels have to include the Hilton Honours program as part of their marketing programs, and they highlight this offering in the rest of their digital marketing channels, especially Facebook and Twitter.

Starwood hotels rely on the support of its global marketing team to review the performance of its hotels in Singapore. The hotels under Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. report results to the global headquarters and then receive analysis, which influences their individual and regional marketing strategies.

Inter-linking various social network sites and the TripAdvisor review site as part of the tabs on Facebook is a common practice for all hotels reviewed. These hotels are using the strategy as compliance with best practices in the industry, and they are using it to promote engagement. However, Facebook timelines of the hotels are the most visible pages of their Facebook profiles and they inform a visitor the level of customer engagement. Although the use of digital media tools and the overall internet strategy for building brands is remarkable, the hotels need to understand that they also have to promote their digital presence actively. Their efforts only met the basic threshold of competitiveness, but very little, other than the specialized apps and explicit calls on their websites to leave a review, effort was exerted for an outright promotion of the digital strategy as a brand building campaign. Use of the Facebook and Twitter timelines to keep customers and followers updates on latest events about the hotel was satisfactory as a form of publicity, but without elaborate advertisement or other promotional strategies for these channels, the hotels might be missing out on additional ways of increasing their audience.

Answering of research questions

For this study, there are four main research questions. Below are the questions with answers that are based on findings and the other information reviewed as part of the exploration. Given that this was a qualitative study into the performance of the digital marketing strategy in the three big hotel chains in Singapore, the questions also receive a descriptive answer based on a clear interpretation of the question’s intention and the available information.

R1. What are the most popular digital marketing avenues used by Singapore hotels in this study?

The most common digital marketing avenues used by the three hotels chains in the case study were Facebook, Twitter and recommendations on TripAdvisor. Secondly, most hotels also relied on their websites as the number one recipients of visitors directed to the hotel from social media, search engine optimization campaigns and other independent websites such as hotels.com. Such websites are companies with an interest in promoting hotels in return for a fee. Among the five social networks presented in the Appendix section, Google+ was the least visible tool for marketing used by the hotels, followed by Pinterest. Only Conrad Centennial had a specific campaign targeting Facebook users, which was different from simplistic implementation of various features of the digital platforms available and used by the other hotels.

The following graph gives a glimpse of the popularity of various digital media tools as reviewed in this study. However, the graph leaves out websites by hotels and other companies due to lack of data.

Cumulative number of followers on various digital media channels for 3 hotel chains in Singapore.
Figure 1: Cumulative number of followers on various digital media channels for 3 hotel chains in Singapore.

R2. How does the digital marketing strategy perform in terms of the indicators used?

The hotels involved in digital marketing are doing it out of the necessity to match their competition. It was impossible, given the scope of this study to determine what hotel chain was the first to initiate the activities for others to imitate. It was also not possible to determine explicitly a campaign leader in terms of using the digital marketing platform as part of the strategy to improve overall performance of the hotels. However, there was a preliminary assessment of the performance of the various tools used to push the marketing agenda of respective hotels. This was collected based on the activity of the Facebook pages, seen as a common denominator of digital marketing for the seven hotels involved in this study. Interviews with management also helped to reveal any outcomes of the strategy. Overall, managers of all the hotels agreed that their hotel’s strategy to go with digital marketing initiatives had a positive impact. They cited this as the best low-cost way to gain recognition. With adequate coverage of their business by Facebook and the independent website TripAdvisor, the managers mentioned that they are getting mostly positive feedback.

R3. How are these hotels measuring their digital marketing performance?

The hotels under Starwood have an analytic product provided by a third-party service provide that helps in the analysis of visitor information and customer data to influence additional decisions made about the digital marketing strategy. Hilton hotels as a chain also have an overall marketing program that looks at the numbers from respective social media sites. However, engagement was not as deep as that of Starwood hotels. In both cases, the hotels found it easier to measure their numbers when their customers and potential customers used their specific apps to review or even book rooms and events. For the rest of the social media channels, the reports helped to determine the performance of a particular media channel, but they were not tightly integrated to the rest of the marketing strategy. As a result, managers of all the hotels only provided descriptive reports of their progress with various internet tools for marketing. They mentioned the ability to get numbers and other metrics that various platforms provided. However, connection of the numbers and immediate action or reaction decisions was vague.

R4. What are the challenges and opportunities presented by each method used to measure digital marketing strategy formulation and execution by management?

The most prominent challenge presented by using multiple platforms is that not all the results are combined into an aggregate result or report. In this regard, the various hotels would have to include a separate analytical resource to track and report their findings then help to alter their decisions regarding their marketing strategies on each platform. Nevertheless, the Hilton Group and the Starwood group appear to have solved part of the problem of having a centralized information capture centres through their mobile apps and use of third-party analytics services. Information regarding the same for Marriott was not forthcoming during the interview. In addition, there are many independent websites tracking performance of various social media engagement activities by different hotels and they present their findings. They include TripAdvisor.com, Hotels.com and Expedia.com, which have a rating system based on feedback left on the websites about different aspects of hotels such as guestrooms quality and service quality.

They also show ratings from other websites and give social media links to the hotels’ social pages. They also highlight popularity of the hotels on social media by displaying the number of likes for the particular hotel pages on those websites. These findings are not similar to the findings by the hotels through monitoring and evaluation of their own activities. For example, ratings on TripAdvisor differ with the ratings on the website of Sheraton hotel Singapore. While reports on trip advisor can show that a hotel is ranked low among its peers, management of the hotel give an optimistic report about their performance, which surpasses the rating as in the case of the W Singapore. Therefore, there was need to reconcile the criteria used by the various measurement tools used. Unfortunately, many hotels only reveal part of their strategy for measuring performance. This leaves much of their results to be inscrutable and not very useful for making decisions about the overall presentation of various tools to best enhance the hotel’s image to potential customers.

Conclusions/Recommendations

Based on the challenges faced by hotels in online marketing, it is difficult to say if they are getting significant returns from their digital endeavours. Even if they were, it is difficult to find a ‘tangible’ success story. However, hotels are implementing most of the digital marketing strategies revealed in literature as a way to sustain their reputation and publicity with the limited feedback they get from the market. In this regard, the study concludes that the objective of the hotels is to conform to industry practices and seek efficiencies in their manner of conforming.

Adequate room exists for additional investment in targeted digital marketing for all these hotels. Online marketing is increasingly becoming targeted. Many people are embracing enhanced digital experiences in Web 2.0 through cloud computing, uses of software-as-a-service, and as a result, they are finding it easier to align their efforts with available online solutions. Digital marketing must therefore move beyond the use of social media to increase the presence and capabilities of their mobile applications. They should also seek more integration with other business tools that reach the same target customers even though they may not be hotel-business centred. For example, collaborating with educational institutions to have their services and packages featured would ensure that they gain prominence in niche audience like researchers and student travellers; this could be part of the strategy for ‘low season’ as these groups would not generally be big spenders.

The following table shows the most notable tools for use in digital media, according to their performance capabilities in the big hotel chains in Singapore. The appendix page titled Social media profiles for the seven hotels helps to justify the following conclusion on the most important digital media tools for hotels to use.

Digital media tool Remarks Rank
Facebook Facebook has high number of users. It offers multiple forms of engagement allowing one to embed other digital media tools on its page. Offers numerous engagement options. 1
Twitter Allows hotels to ride on popular topics to build their image. Helps to highlight attractions without requiring much involvement from twitter followers. Offers a quick feedback option for hotel and customers 3
Official website Allows hotel to highlight offers and products in detail. 2
YouTube Offers video and comment options to increase virtual guest experiences. 5
Pinterest Picture sharing platform for word-of-mouth marketing 6
Instagram Picture sharing platform for word-of-mouth marketing 4

With sustained implementation of digital marketing strategies, the next frontier is data analysis to support marketing efforts. Building capacity for better analysis, perhaps through an increased headcount in this area, will play a major role in boosting the competitiveness of hotels. According to the resource based view theory, firm’s competitiveness will come from resources that are rare, organisable, valuable, and not easily imitable. An elaborate analytical capacity of market trends and results from digital marketing strategies will ensure that the business retains a top performing position or grows to achieve it. The industry is still young in Singapore, as seen from the analysis of the hotels in this study. Therefore, there should be more investment in better integration of the data obtained from the various digital marketing tools.

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Appendices

Social media profiles for the seven hotels

Marriott Hotel Tang Plaza
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 16431 likes, 143,473 visits
Twitter Yes 295 followers, 935 tweets
Pinterest Yes 14 followers, 17 pins
Instagram Yes
Google+ No
Conrad Centennial Singapore
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 7263 likes, 34,922 visits
Twitter Yes 154 followers, 179 tweets
Pinterest No
Instagram Yes
Google+ No
Hilton Singapore
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 3644 likes, 54,160 visits
Twitter Yes 2 followers, 3 tweets
Pinterest No
Instagram Yes
Google+ No
The W Singapore
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 24257 likes, 95,170 visits
Twitter Yes 2236 followers, 3684 tweets
Pinterest Yes
Instagram Yes
Google+ No
The Westin
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 13,808 likes, 25,417 visits
Twitter Yes 195 followers, 305 tweets
Pinterest No
Instagram Yes
Google+ Yes
Sheraton Hotel Singapore
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 4661 likes, 19, 157 visits
Twitter Yes 675 followers, 1525 tweets
Pinterest Yes
Instagram Yes
Google+ No
St. Regis Hotel
TripAdvisor Yes
Facebook Yes 12,196 likes, 72,807 visits
Twitter Yes 611 followers, 1803 tweets
Pinterest No
Instagram Yes
Google+ No

Campaign by Conrad Centennial “When My Mum was My Age” on Facebook

Campaign by Conrad Centennial “When My Mum was My Age” on Facebook

The W Singapore post on SG50 golden jubilee offer

The W Singapore post on SG50 golden jubilee offer

Landing page on W Singpaore website for the SG50 golden jubilee offer

Landing page on W Singpaore website for the SG50 golden jubilee offer

Conrand Centennial Singapore SG50 campaign on Facebook

Conrand Centennial Singapore SG50 campaign on Facebook

St Regis Singapore Twitter #hashtag campaign on sg50

St Regis Singapore Twitter #hashtag campaign on sg50

Interview questions

  1. Please share the digital marketing philosophy of your company? How do you adapt this into the strategy for online marketing locally?
  2. How do you react to your competitors online?
  3. What is your main aim in using digital strategic marketing tools?
  4. What is your experience of using online tools and what is the motivation for using these?
  5. What control measures are in place to ensure everything goes as planned with an online campaign?
  6. How are you tracking user experience with your digital marketing strategy?
  7. What resources do you rely on to achieve your digital marketing objective?
  8. How do you collect customer feedback? How does the feedback help you analyse and make decisions?
  9. How is the use of digital strategies for marketing helping achieve the marketing objective of the hotel?
  10. Please could you help us understand the challenges and opportunities you encounter when dealing with digital marketing.

Interview transcripts themed based on results of questionnaires

challenges How do you build sustainability into the strategy you are using for increasing your digital presence and how does it pay off? Do you feel like the conversation you are getting from your target audience is adequate, and what can you do to improve it? How do you structure marketing activities, do you rely on your marketing department, sales department or consultants? How are your hotel staff members contributing to digital marketing strategy and how does that measure in your reach and feedback How does being independent or part of a hotel group help or impede your marketing efforts with social media and other digital mediums
Marketing has to happen in a longer period than the ordinary financial year and this make measurement difficult. We try to teach our digital marketing strategy as part of employee orientation and we also use job rotation in marketing department I think we are doing a good job and we can improve We combine internal and external resources Our staffs spread the word to clients It’s both an advantage and disadvantage. We are limited in what we can do independently although we enjoy support from the group Hilton
There are new products and options emerging and it is difficult to determine the most relevant one By having employees continuously learn from experts on best ways to use social media to serve customers There is always room to improve I will need to ask further on the issue to give a certain answer Staffs also answer queries from customers on digital platforms It gives us high standards to achieve and satisfies our customers Conrad Centennial
Staff turnover affects strategy over a long time We have a plan of updating out social accounts frequently Yes, although we can exert more effort External services help us achieve our digital marketing goals We have staffs using Facebook and other accounts actively Affiliation helps to sell our name online Sheraton
Sometimes the pressure for business performance is too high and no time for waiting for marketing results Our application helps us to build sustainability in marketing We need more money to increase our presence After getting our accounts set up, we manage them in-house We are still training them so that they take part in social media marketing We are readily recognized by customers around the world St. Regis
Employees are the biggest challenge due to coordination of activity problems We have combined customer relationship targets and marketing targets to make it easy to manage Improvement is possible There is a team appointed and it decides on the strategy to use The help of staff has been instrumental I increasing our conversions Group affiliation helps in brand building especially on Facebook W Singapore
Eventually a tool becomes dated and you always have to start again with another one We are constantly looking at the competition and see what they are doing We are always innovating and repeating our successes It depends on current needs and opportunities so we mix all options Staffs are the face of the hotel and they drive our messages Being part of Starwood gives us room to be creative with our strategy Westin
People are not easily persuaded to market online and that affects supervision and management of digital marketing efforts We rely on global network of marketing consultants that know what goes around in the industry Things can be better as we improve. There are always times when we rely on our employees, especially during campaigns They are our brand representatives interacting with customers to confirm our offers Our brand helps to drive users to our social sites Marriott Tang Plaza
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