The motivation behind travel has changed, says Ivy Esquero, director of integrated marketing, sales, and product enablement at Hilton Hotels.
Ahead of the inaugural Spikes Asia Academy, a three-day (four-hour/day immersive bootcamp from September 14-16, 2022) called The Next, launched by Spikes Asia, the region's oldest and most prestigious award for creative advertising, the marketer from Hilton shares her insights and approaches the hotel used to pivot with new creative strategies and attract customers during the peak of the pandemic.
Esquero talks to Campaign Asia-Pacific about the need to future-proof the industry "because nothing will be the same again."
Tell us about your scope of work at Hilton.
I lead the brand and audience strategy for Hilton in Asia-Pacific. I am responsible for identifying opportunities to drive deeper relationships with Hilton’s customers and prospects, drive efficiency and impact for marketing activities and develop test-and-learn agenda around platforms, formats and content.
At next month’s Spikes Academy event you will be speaking on the ways brands can develop a future-forward strategy based on customer needs. Elaborate on what to expect from the session.
The theme is 'What's Next'. It will be fun to explore how the metaverse can transform the travel industry. There are some fantastic new and immersive ways that brands and consumers are starting to engage in, and I want the current generation of creative teams to start thinking about how travel and hospitality brands can embrace the metaverse to better their offerings.
At the heart I want brands to think about future-proofing travel marketing: think where the consumers are going and what their needs are? How are these needs evolving as technology evolves and what are the other fascinating ways we can get more in terms of experiences from technology.
Will the metaverse change the future of travel marketing?
Well, there is a lot of potential for brands in the metaverse when we get to wider adoption. The ability to have more fun with the brand, for example, by gamifying interactions. You can be creative and visceral about how you show up when the interaction is more two-way. Building anticipation for the trip and extending your enjoyment, via communities and virtual spaces could be beneficial for both brands and consumers.
The hospitality industry learnt it the hard way that things can go bad quickly and revenue can dry up in a second. What are your marketing tips to future-proof the industry?
Covid may have confined many people to their homes, but research suggests that these limits did not stop people from wishing to travel. That said, we have to accept that the pandemic changed consumer behaviour for good. Travel is now a more inclusive affair. Local, culturally engaged, and purposeful travel is the key deciding factor when it comes to pinning on a destination. Environment and sustainability are also important considerations when people zero in on a travel plan.
After being grounded for an extended period, people are ready to step out of their comfort zones and try new experiences. As a marketer, it is really important to cater to these changing customer trends with a holistic integrated action plan and to be present in all the platforms and channels the customers are engage in.
Tell us about the strategies Hilton relied upon to navigate the challenges during the peak of the pandemic.
We weathered the storm by staying true to our brand purpose, putting the spotlight on our customers, and looking for meaningful, authentic ways to engage. A big part of it was trying to re-introduce us in ways which people didn't know about. For example, we’re one of the biggest restaurant operators in APAC with almost 1,000 restaurants in Asia-Pacific—a lot of people don’t know about this. We steered our marketing efforts to drive F&B traffic.
During the peak, the campaign sentiment shifted from far-flung, exotic travels to hyperlocal trends. We saw a spike in domestic customers who never engaged with us before. We started highlighting the local attractions in our backyard.
The vineyards of France, a visit to the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon is all but a beautiful dream, but let’s say, if you are in Perth or Sydney and cannot travel with Covid restrictions, checkout the vineyards in your city. We had a similar marketing strategy throughout APAC—tickle the wanderlust without necessarily pushing people out of their comfort zones. Indulge, but stay safe and that strategy really helped us grow.
Loyalty is royalty—the launch of the cobrands Hilton Honors American Express Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Premium Card in Japan was a big perk for our customers and solidified our commitment to delivering an exceptional customer experience even in uncertain times. These cards are designed with both frequent and occasional travellers in mind, whether they are looking for a short stay, a change of scenery near home or saving up for a big international trip, once they feel it is safe for their health–we continued to aspire and inspire the wanderlust for travel.
Travel is on the road to recovery but certain Asian markets like Hong Kong and China are still way behind. List three post-pandemic travel marketing trends in this light.
1) Hyperlocal is still going to be big. Different markets have a different pace of recovery. Hong Kong and China are coming out of some levels of lockdowns. Travel in Japan is still largely domestic. The focus will continue to be on experiences and destinations that are close to home, or that are easy to get to.
2) Leisure marketing. We’re seeing across Asia-Pacific that people might not necessarily return to old business travel but opt for a mix of business and leisure. Travel is still a big hassle with changing Covid requirements in many countries. Business travellers will be extending their trips so that they can maximize the travel time and opportunity with family fun.
3) Consumer first party data. The key will be personalisation. I think, it has a lot of implications for creatives and it's something that brands are starting to pay a lot more attention to. In my view, this is going to accelerate one-to-one communications with customers and also make them want to share more with brands.
The interview has been condensed for length and clarity.