Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast: Episode 124 – What Independent Hotels Can Learn From The Flags

Independent hotels can learn a lot from branded hotels. Once you understand their strategies and limitations in the digital space, you can compete with them. For this episode of the Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast, the Fueligans enlisted the expertise of Stephanie Smith from Cogwheel Marketing to tell us about what the brands are up to and how we can outperform them. From SEO to Social, there’s a little something for everyone.



Check out the original blog post from Stephanie here or read the outline below:

  1. UNAP: Most major brands (Marriott, Hilton, and IHG) use Yext for UNAP and content delivery. This helps distribute content over their API to their knowledge network on a large scale. It also helps with duplicate suppression if you have issues with multiple listings.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Use some platform, ie Moz Local or HotelPort or similar to compet
  2. Reputation Management: Most major brands (Marriott, Hilton and IHG) use Medallia for reputation management. It pulls in all their in-house surveys plus 3rd party reviews into one place, including TripAdvisor, Google, Expedia, Booking.com, etc.  It allows for easy trend analysis and aggregate sentiment across multiple channels. They also have strict rules in regard to response times. You can also leverage for capex needs with owners.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Use some platform to make it easier to manage online reputation and set goals to respond to all reviews within 48 hours.
  3. OTAs: Each brand have negotiated very good commission rates negotiated with major OTAs.  But, they are restricted on which OTAs they can participate with.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Pay attention to renewal dates and leverage sister properties for better rates.  Take advantage of flexibility for lesser known OTAs for exposure.
  4. Facebook: Each hotel brand sets up parent/child relationship with each individual hotel, so even if you post nothing, the parent posts filter down to hotel level. Otherwise the brand does nothing for individual hotels.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Leverage your hotel’s uniqueness and personality to differentiate yourself from branded hotels
  5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Optimization on the branded hotel’s platform is limited (in most cases) in terms of defined static pages, no blog, and standardized H1s. You cannot add landing pages at whim, or even elaborate on content.  Their CMS has strict character limitations and most headers cannot be changed.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Build landing pages around demand generators, keep an active blog and customize header strategy to match title/meta strategy.
  6. Loyalty: Loyalty programs are huge with the brands, but the details of specific loyalty members are hidden and not available to market to directly.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Leverage a CRM and customize your messaging towards your past and future guests.  Use access to data to define niche targets and to better understand your guests.  Develop a loyalty program, or use GuestBook or similar.
  7.     Metasearch: Brands participate at the corporate level with metasearch sites and develop strategies for the hotels to shift share from OTAs and drive direct bookings.  These metasearch sites include Tripadvisor, Google Hotel Ads, Kayak and Trivago.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Not sure the independent hotel platform for this?
  8. Retargeting: Brands have relationships with remarketing providers like Sojern and Adara to retarget customers. Cookies are placed once a visitor goes to the brand website, but does not book.  Ads are placed via social channels and other websites to target in-market travelers.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Talk with your agency provider to get the tracking and cookies set up
  9. Reporting: Branded hotels have access to basic information around digital marketing, but it is only provided monthly.  Brand provides high-level digital reports on traffic and channel mix but not real-time analytics access or details on rankings.  Select brands provide referring domain data.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Independent hotels have a wealth of knowledge in terms of data.  Utilizing a system like Google Analytics to understand source traffic, demographics, heat maps, conversion funnel, etc are priceless. If you are having issues with performance, there is great data in your booking engine reports as well.
  10. Website design: Branded hotels (except Choice and some IHG brands) are no longer allowed to have vanity websites.  This means they are forced into a box when it comes to design and content on their website.
    • Independent Hotel Takeaway – Independent hotels can tell better stories via better hotel website design and UX.


Stephanie Sparks Smith is Founder and Digital Matriarch at Cogwheel Marketing and partner at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. Her focus is helping hotels drive incremental exposure and revenue to their websites and online channels through digital marketing and advertising. The expertise of Cogwheel Marketing is openings and conversions along with knowing the intricacies of the brand systems of Marriott/Starwood, Hilton and IHG.


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