When it comes to the hospitality industry, what is “digital marketing?” Many hotel professionals might think of their property’s or brand’s website. Others will consider online travel agencies such as Expedia and Booking.com, and metasearch sites such as Kayak and Trivago.

Or is it customer-review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp? Social media? Facebook? Or is it search engine optimization, online marketing or paid media channels? Perhaps email marketing? What about mobile apps and digital guest services?

The truth is, digital encompasses all these areas — and many more — and is the fastest-evolving area of the hotel business. Digital now covers all phases of the customer journey regarding booking a hotel (as well as staying at a hotel), and for many brands and hotels, it is quickly becoming the largest single source of customer traffic and bookings.

With that in mind, it’s incumbent on every hospitality professional today — working in marketing and every other area — to understand the four main phases of the customer journey, as outlined in HSMAI’s “Hospitality Digital Marketing Essentials: A Field Guide for Navigating Today’s Digital Landscape.”

Acquisitions phase:

How do we acquire customers on our end digital channel — our hotel website? How do potential customers find us, and where do we need to engage those customers to capture their attention and bring them to our sites? Examples of these areas include natural (or organic) search, paid search, local search, third-party sites such as TripAdvisor and metasearch engines, social media and many others.

Conversion phase:

Digital now covers all phases of the customer journey... it is quickly becoming the largest single source of customer traffic and bookings.

Once we capture those customers and bring them to our hotel website, we still need to convince them to book with us and then convert them into bookers. As digital marketers, we may not be able to control all guest considerations such as price and location of the hotel, but we have direct control over the display of content on our website that would convince potential guests that our hotel is the correct choice for them. Content may include textual information about the hotel, surrounding area, maps, directions and airport and transportation information, to name a few possibilities, as well as professional imagery that relays visual information about the hotel, its facilities, rooms, area attractions and more.

Other content areas may include customer reviews, social-media links, benefits of booking on your channel and more. In the end, your hotel website should serve as your virtual lobby. More travelers will see your website than will ever walk through your physical doors. Also keep in mind that many customers who choose to book your hotel on other channels will visit your hotel website to view much of the above information either before or after their booking.

Stay phase:

This is the newest area of digital business. How can we leverage digital post-booking? We have seen initial efforts in this space through engagements such as confirmation and pre-arrival emails and ancillary sales efforts. However, there are many more ways we can engage with and service our on-property guests once they arrive at our hotels. Recent and future engagement areas in this phase include mobile check-in and checkout, keyless room entry, guest-service requests and chat through our apps, in-room entertainment options, guest messaging and more. This is an exciting area for hoteliers as we better leverage digital and mobile technology to provide enhanced customer service to our guests, including the more streamlined digital options that they have been asking us for.

Post-stay phase:

This is the period in which you attempt to build a long-term relationship with guests. Even if they booked through a third party, if you can get their email address, you can directly talk to them and engage them, and the next time they look to book, they will likely book direct. While we can’t get every guest to book direct, the holy grail is being able to ensure that the second time they book, they book direct.