It’s funny how the phrase “back-to-school” moves from cringe-inducing to exciting as we move from being a student to an adult.

As an adult, back-to-school means no more long days of keeping your kids entertained and no more irregular schedules. And while hotel marketers are also gleeful to hear the words back-to-school, it’s for an entirely different reason.

Back-to-school season, one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year, means families are in bargain-hunting mode and often looking for one last chance at relaxation and summer fun. For hotel marketers, this is the equivalent of striking gold, and it’s better to start strategizing sooner rather than later.

Put these marketing tips to use at the start of the summer to see big payoff before classes start:

Amp Up Your Social Media Efforts

Parents looking to take their kids on a last minute summer vacation don’t automatically default to the summer road trip anymore. People want activities the kids will get excited about, and stuff the adults can enjoy too (poolside bar, anyone?), all without breaking the bank. Make it clear on your website why your back-to-school special is unique and fun.

StaySky Suites I-Drive Orlando emphasized shorter lines and less crowds with this Orlando Deals special, which is appealing to families who have dealt with the much longer theme park lines throughout other times of the year.

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Promote your hotels packages and bundles through Facebook—one of the most commonly used social platforms for those with a case of wanderlust—and make use of sponsored posts. As social media scrollers, we’re inclined to peruse other people’s summer adventures on social media. Come up with your own compelling campaign, and you’re tapping in to an already captive audience.

Don’t ignore your other social networks, either: Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ are all essentials for hotel marketing. You want to ensure that you’re reaching your entire audience with your special offers, not just one segment.

Nothing speaks to people more than charitable efforts. Give your campaign the little boost that it needs by supporting a good cause related to going back to school. Loews Hotels & Resorts partnered with DonorsChoose.org to donate money to public schools for various projects, and they promoted it on their social channels. How did the audience respond? Shares, Likes, and lots of engagement overall.

The key isn’t just to get your followers to take a last minute family vacation—it’s to encourage brand loyalty and to get them involved in something they believe in.

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Also, don’t forget the older students. Not all summer vacations are of the kid-friendly variety. Think about colleges and universities in your market who have students looking to have one last big party or adventure before responsibility sets in again.  Cater to your audiences by offering alluring deals and spread the word.

Your Three Best Friends: PPC, SEO and remarketing

Approximately 48 percent of consumers get a head start with online back-to-school shopping about three to four weeks before classrooms open up, and about 31 percent start two months beforehand. This means your PPC campaigns and SEO strategies should have been employed yesterday.

With SEO, 3-4 weeks of lead-time is recommended for any activity that attempts to gain rankings that target back to school audiences. Do your keyword research early to find out what people are watching and what’s of interest to them.

Take your efforts a step further by remarketing to potential customers who may have looked in to your hotel over the holidays or during spring break. They may not have had the ability to invest in a trip then, but putting out a great back-to-school travel deal via social networks could be the winning ticket. 

Back-to-School Campaigns and Revolutionized Tech

With the majority of shopping taking place via mobile device, having a mobile-friendly campaign is crucial for success regardless of the time of year. According to Social Media Today, 40 to 50 percent of moms purchased apparel, books and electronics from a tablet, and we can guess travel purchases are no different.

Extend your back-to-school campaign to smartphone and tablet apps such as Instagram to get your message in front of more back-to-school deal browsers. Red Lion Hotels, for example, recently used their “RediscoveRED” slogan as the official hashtag for followers to enter a summer Instagram contest for four free nights at one of their hotels.

Any simple campaign such as this is perfect for audiences who are relying more and more on mobile devices. Younger crowds are more plugged in than ever and hold a lot of purchasing power in the household, so utilize all social apps such as Instagram, Vine, and even Snapchat. Don’t underestimate the power of a hashtag, a retweet, or any other feature that puts interaction in the hands of your followers.

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Even though it may seem too soon to think about the fall season, it’s never too early to get your tactics together for how you’re going to rule the back-to-school crowds.

Research what kinds of bargains people are hunting for, pull on heartstrings through social media and get mobile. If you work hard early in the summer, you’ll be reaping the rewards once school’s back in session.

Emily is a proud University of Florida alum, a Digital Media Analyst for webdesignWorks, and the truest of social media junkies. When her eyes aren’t glued to the computer screen, you can find her at the beach with friends, reading a good book or playing with her golden retriever, Mia.