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Learning from the experts: a conversation with Thor Harris

Recently I had a chance to speak to the CEO of Percepture, Thor Harris. Percepture is a digital marketing company. Their clients include hotels, cruise lines, tourism boards, even a railway! They have one big hostel client right now, but for most hostels, hiring Percepture would be like using a flamethrower to light a cigarette. Regardless, even a little hostel can learn from what a travel industry leader has to say, so read on!

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Valuable real estate

An open opportunity

Byron: "What do you see as the biggest opportunity for hostels in marketing?"

Thor: "Creating visibility on search engines is an open opportunity right now because there aren’t many hostels focused on it currently. For example, if you wanted to rank in the top results for  “hotels in Los Angeles” it’ll be very difficult because hotels are voraciously competing to acquire the digital landscape. Everyone wants to be on that first page of Google. The opportunity to create more visibility for hostels is pretty easy. It’s an open opportunity because few hostels are clamoring to capture the real estate."

BackpackerBiz: Is your hostel doing anything right now with the aim of climbing up the Google search results? It doesn’t take much. Simply keeping your website fresh with a blog and ensuring that you’re using the right search keywords in your content will give you an easy leg-up if your competitors are doing nothing.

The importance of search

Byron: "A lot of hostel travelers never visit Google. They go directly to the Hostelworld app on their tablet or open up Booking.com on their phone and start from there. Is there any point in trying to be at the top of Google?"

Thor: "Yes, there is a segment of travelers that are going to the OTAs, but there’s also a segment that’s going to Google. Especially if you’re traveling to a place you’re not familiar with you’re more likely to use Google. You have to understand your audience.

That’s something leading companies do better. They know their customers, where they’re coming from, what time of year they come. You need to know your customers and how they research their trips so you can learn how to target them. For example, let’s say your hostel is very popular with Chinese travelers. Instead, of trying to be the top hostel search result on Google, you focus your efforts on Baidu, the biggest search engine in China. Instead of using Instagram, which isn’t as large in China, you might also use Weibo, the largest Chinese social media platform."

BackpackerBiz: What are you doing to know your customers? It’s not enough to just see what passports gets passed across your reception desk and noticing what site they booked on. Start asking more questions to find out who your guests are and how they came to book your hostel. It’ll make great warm-up conversation while you’re finding their key or typing in their ID number and you can use this information to make better decisions.

Social influencers

Byron: "What do you think of all these digital influencers, Instagram celebrities who want to stay for free in exchange for creating exposure for the hostel?"

Thor: "2 words: incredibly powerful. Instagram influencers really do influence people’s behavior. We advocate that all our clients do it. Besides the direct impact from Instagram, there are indirect benefits. You can use the photos from Instagram influencers on your website and in your marketing materials."

Byron: "Imagine you work with an Instagram Influencer. He comes to your hostel and takes lots of pictures hiking the trails near the hostel, but it turns out that his 100 thousand followers just enjoy looking at nature photos and never have any intention of booking a hostel, and so it doesn’t help sell any beds. What then?"

Thor: "Then you picked the wrong influencer! We have a very detailed vetting process. They have to have the right messages, the right audience, the right ability to blend marketing messages with completely authentic messages."

Backpacker Biz: If you’re a small hostel, the Instagram celebrities that email you might not have in-depth knowledge of their own audience, which country their audience is from, how old their audience members are, how engaged they are. In this case, there are two options: Either decline their offer, or, if you still work with them, put all those pretty pictures on YOUR Instagram, not theirs. As Thor suggests, just because someone has 80,000 followers doesn’t mean they’re the right audience for your hostel.

Importance of digital marketing

Byron: "Any closing remarks, Thor?"

Thor: "I’m a huge proponent of digital. It’s a very cost-effective, timely method for brands. The hostel space could definitely use more focus on digital."

BackpackerBiz: Couldn’t agree more. It’s important for every brand to use digital marketing, but it’s even more important for the hostel industry. Our customers are digital natives. They live and breathe through their internet-connected devices. Digital marketing is also your best strategy against the OTAs.

About the Author Byron Bunda

Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!

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