The Death of In-Room Marketing


Hotels have had a long love affair with In-Room Marketing. Hotel guests, not so much. For hotels, the captive audience of a guest in a hotel room means they can be bombarded with promotional messages. For hotel guests, the myriad of tent cards, door hangers and hang tags on everything from the bottled water to the bathrobe are downright annoying.

Talk to most hotel General Managers and they’ll probably tell you the future of In-Room Marketing is digital. Five of the last seven General Managers I have spoken to about this tell me they’re doing away with tent cards and flyers and going digital. Why? Because the traditional in-room collateral is expensive, messy, environmentally unfriendly, ineffective and not what guests want. All pretty valid points.

Digital in-room marketing will probably be cheaper, at least in the long run, after the initial equipment and setup cost is covered. Alleviating the mess and Going Green is also more easily achieved with digital. But to assume guests want digital in-room marketing or that it will be more effective, is a bit naïve.

Permission Marketing

A critical concept that is often missed in this conversation is that of Permission Marketing. Marketing guru and all around smart fella, Seth Godin, is credited with coining the concept. Indeed, Seth wrote the book on it – Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers. The idea, quite simply, is that you should be marketing only to those people who have given you permission to do so. These are your real potential customers. They have already said, ‘Yes. I like your stuff and I’d like to know more.’

Godin’s book was published way back in 1999 – five years before Facebook was founded. Interestingly, the recent data privacy concerns around Facebook and the subsequent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), make Godin’s principles perhaps more important now than ever.

Just because I’m sleeping in your hotel room, does not mean I want to hear about your restaurant dinner promotions. Maybe I’ve already eaten in your restaurant and I don’t like your food. Or maybe I’m a vegan and you don’t have vegan options in your outlets. It may even be that I am just too busy as every night of every trip is filled with dinner meetings outside the hotel. Regardless of the reason, according to the principles of Permission Marketing, unless I have specifically agreed to it, you shouldn’t be spamming me. And remember, Spam, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

BYO Device

Several hoteliers over the years have proudly shown me their in-house TV channel which promotes the services and facilities. These days, they’re regularly showing off their in-room iPads or smartphones that have all the information (and promotions) any hotel guest could ask for (or not). Of course, there’s one big problem here…I never turn them on. I’ve got my own devices with the apps I want and all the content that I’m interested in. We all want what we want and when we want it, in terms of content. So, we don’t need to turn on the TV.

As for the tablet with hotel services and information, I might use it. But if you start peppering me with promotions and marketing messages, I’ll put it down pretty quickly. If I really need some information, I’ll just pick up the phone. Or, I’ll send you an SMS or WhatsApp message, as a number of hotels are encouraging in-house guests to do these days.

Subtle Value

So, if we don’t want clutter up the rooms with tent cards and assorted collateral and the digital alternatives aren’t really effective, what’s left for In-Room Marketing? In my mind, it’s all about delivering value. Subtle Value.

The good news for spas is that the two primary reasons for staying in a hotel – Sleeping and Bathing/Showering – are a natural fit for us. So, it’s not much of a stretch for us to find ways to subtly promote our services.

Bathing and In-Room Marketing

When it comes to the bathroom, it’s really simple. The soap, shampoo, bath gel, etc., should all be branded with the Spa name. Some hotels prefer to use a known skincare brand for these in-room amenities. I get it. They feel like it helps create a perception of luxury. But what it does not do is help promote your spa. Unless the spa is using the same brand of skincare. Not so long ago, this was the norm, especially in higher end hotels. These days, however, I’m seeing more and more hotels at the upper end selecting largely unknown boutique brands as their in-room amenity brand. Again, I get why they do this. They see it as a USP. But let’s be honest, it’s not likely to be a USP that generates any additional revenue. So why not use this as a subtle promotional opportunity for your spa.

If you want to take it a step further, a little Spa Bath Kit by the bathtub might be a good idea. A small pack with Lime Bath Salts and Bubble Bath, nicely packaged, again with your spa brand, is something of value. Done right, you could even put a price tag on it and generate some direct revenue. Replace the Lime products with Lavender and that same Spa Bath Kit could be part of the Better Sleep Kit too.

Sleeping and Drinking too

As mentioned, sleep is a good fit for spas too. The Better Sleep Kit could bedtime snacks and teas, sleep enhancing pillow spray, cooling eye pillow, pillow menu, etc. Once again, this is something that could add value to my night in your hotel. Thus, if it carries the spa brand, this can be a great form of subtle in-house marketing.

Bottled water is another one. It’s common in many hotel rooms around the world. And this represents another subtle branding opportunity for your Spa. There’s no point in your water bottle carrying the hotel brand on it. You’re already in the hotel. You know that. But if it carries the brand of the Spa, it then becomes a promotional tool. Another example of providing something of value and simultaneously subtly promoting your spa.

Value in lieu of Permission

Granted, these few examples are not adhering to the principles of Permission Marketing as espoused by Seth Godin. However, they are the next best thing. They are subtle ways in which you can provide value to the hotel guest whilst also promoting your spa.

The future of In-Room Marketing is not just a matter of going digital. Rather, it is about bringing real value first. Promotion is a secondary consideration. Without real value, you’d better get my permission if you want to market to me.