Woman with suitcase walking down cobble stone road in Europe

How a boutique hotel landed new guests with social media

Customer Service ChannelsTravel and Hospitality

At a farming bed and breakfast in rural Austria, hotelier Ingrid Koeck's grandmother ran a strict house, teaching her to scrub toilets and make precise hospital-bed corners. But she also taught her to see guests as people, not dollars (or shillings in their case).

When guests would arrive to inquire about a stay, "My grandmother would never say, 'we have this room for 100 shillings,'" says Koeck with traces of an Austrian accent. "She would say, 'Sit down, do you want a coffee, how was your trip?' So this is where I witnessed [hospitality] for the first time, and this is what I remember. Of course, we do it with modern technology today, but it's the same approach."

Today Koeck is part owner of Torel, a small chain of high-end boutique hotels in Portugal, where she also now resides, and she's working to bring the same high-touch hospitality taught to her by her grandmother to her clientele via Facebook and Instagram.

Adopting a social media strategy

Koeck's boutique chain is made up of its Lisbon flagship, Torel Palace, as well as a property in Porto, Torel Avantgarde, that is the city's only five-star hotel. The small five-unit establishment netted impressive global hospitality awards in 2018 and received excellent press, with features in international editions of glossy magazines like Elle and GQ.

Depite the impressive accolades, Koeck started feeling, as she put it, "jealous" of other brands' social media usage, particularly the stories they told. That's when she decided to start telling the Torel story on social media. Specifically, she wanted to achieve a high-quality brand feel, characterized by personalized attention that extended to all customer touchpoints — whether they were standing in the lobby or online thousands of miles away.

To accomplish her goals, she created a social media strategy that outlined how to approach digital interactions. Part of that approach included a narrative focused on telling a visually impressive story about the experiences the hotels offer. It also outlined an expectation for individualized responses to be sent to posters within a few hours with thoughtful text, not just a series of "hearts" and "likes."

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Personalized touches matter in hospitality

Koeck may be on to something. A study conducted by TELUS International and the Harris Poll revealed that half of Americans would be likely to recommend a brand that has an exceptional social media presence, even if they were not initially happy with their product/service.

Koeck likes to say she's not selling a room or a vacation, but rather starting a conversation — one that makes interacting with Torel a personalized experience in a way that today's consumers are craving. That high-touch type of personalized service is key to their brand. And, more often than not, when those consumers need a place to stay in Portugal, they pick a Torel location.

"We want to transmit the same feeling you get in the hotel, in our social media interactions," Koeck says. "If you write something today on our Instagram account, you will get a very personal reply from a person who is happy that you like us."

Koeck's team also sends personalized emails to all guests after they book, even if they use third-party travel agencies such as Booking.com or Expedia. Torel's messages go beyond basic booking confirmation; they also welcome the guests, ask about travel plans and inquire if there are any specific needs and preferences the customer may have once they arrive. The emails aren't sales pitches, but Koeck says they still often result in a spa booking or a restaurant reservation.

Post now, reap the rewards later

Building a brand on social media is worth it in the long run — but hospitality providers need to know how to hit the right notes with guests. As Torel's approach shows, it's not enough to simply post photos and facts on social media and then step away.

The "social" part of the phrase matters a lot to today's travelers. Building the brand — and relationships with people — will pay off over time. After all, a person who lives in Toronto, New York or Tokyo might follow a brand today for the pretty pictures. But once they're ready to head to Portugal on vacation, Torel will likely be top of mind.

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