Words have power.
In the travel industry, it’s easy to favor a shiny image over the written word. After all, sparkling photos effortlessly capture a traveler’s initial interest. But the visual affair is short-lived. So let’s say it again: Words have power.
After the wonder of a great photo has passed, it’s good hotel copywriting that will entice guests to stay a little longer. To click a little deeper. To disappear down the rabbit hole of travel planning.
Travel copywriting has power – the power to produce bookings. Likewise, bad hospitality copywriting has the terrible power [cue thunder, spark lightening!] to cost bookings. And unfortunately, bad copywriting is far too common in the travel and hotel industry.
Here are some of the worst (and most common) hotel copywriting mistakes I see – and simple ways you can avoid them, improve your copy, and boost the power of your words:
1. You Use Worthless Adjectives and Tired Clichés
Don’t: The hotel and travel industry is rampant with clichés: Unique. Breathtaking. World-class. Hidden gem.
Aaaaand, cue the eyerolls. How many times have you heard that a hotel is unique or that a room has breathtaking views? Answer: Too many to count. When you read those words about any hotel other than your own, you gloss right over them: they’re cliché; they’re empty; they’re overused. They’re totally worthless because readers don’t see them. Even worse, they harm your credibility.
Of course, your hotel is different, right? It really is unique, and your guest room views really are breathtaking. That may be, but you need to find better, more meaningful descriptors, unless your goal is to create “invisible” copy – words that travelers’ brains simply do not recognize. (Tip: You definitely don’t want that.)
Do: If clichés are out, what’s a hotel copywriter to do? Get down and dirty with specifics, of course. Vivid descriptions and word imagery are where it’s at, my good hoteliers. In fact, research shows that “word pictures” – vivid imagery through copywriting – trigger sensory and emotional involvement.
So instead of calling your hotel unique and your views breathtaking, wow potential guests by painting that unique and breathtaking picture with concrete imagery: A spiral staircase winds up to your turret guest suite, where floor-to-ceiling windows open onto 180° panoramic views of the Loire Valley. How many châteaux can you spot? (Guest record to-date: Eight!)
2. You Exaggerate
Don’t: Some of the worst things you can do in hotel copywriting? Exaggerate, tell half-truths, or even full-out fudge it.
Never, ever claim to be something you’re not: One inflatable beach ball does not make your hotel family-friendly. Don’t claim to offer ocean vistas if what you really have is a peekaboo view to a cliff that overlooks the ocean. One Moen faucet in the bathroom does not a luxury stay make. You get the idea.
In the age of TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other consumer-review sites, making false claims is not only disingenuous but dangerous because – guess what? – travelers will cross-check online. (Reality check: More than half of all travelers will not book a hotel before checking TripAdvisor.) And if past guests on TripAdvisor are lambasting your hotel for its one, sad beach ball – which, by the way, deflated while their toddler was playing with it – potential guests are going to run screaming for your more honest competitors. After all, if you’re not telling the truth about one thing, what other of your claims are misleading?
Do: As a hospitality professional, you know that every property has its advantages and disadvantages. Good travel copywriting highlights the former and puts a positive spin on the latter. So if you don’t have unobstructed ocean views, own it: Though tucked away behind a bluff, seemingly far from the throngs of tourists that descend daily on Hotspot Beach, our hotel is just a three-minute stroll to the sea. You can even walk barefoot down our sandy hotel-to-ocean path!
3. You Focus on Features, Features, Features
Don’t: Here’s one that confuses even seasoned hotel copywriters: features and benefits are not the same. In a nutshell, features are what your hotel has – e.g. an oceanfront locale and 800TC linens – while benefits are what those features mean to your guests.
Most of the time, your guests don’t give a fig about features for features’ sake; they want to know what they’ll gain from those features. So stop showing off your assets, and start demonstrating to travelers why your goodies are better than your competition’s.
Do: Since features (a.k.a. amenities, in hospitality-speak) are important in the hotel industry, do mention them – as a bullet list, or whatever short-and-sweet format works best for your website. Then let that be that; don’t belabor your feature set by mentioning it over and over again; instead, let your copy focus on the benefits that your features bring: One night in our plush beds, with the crash of surf lulling you to sleep, and you’ll never want to go home. [Thanks to those 800 thread-count sheets and oceanfront location].
4. You Publish Crap Headlines
Don’t: A mind-blowing 8 out of 10 people read just a website’s headline, and not the copy itself. In plain English, that means you need to write the most attention-grabbing, earth-shattering, must-read-on site titles/headlines your creativity can dream up.
The harsh reality, however, is that most hotels don’t do headlines right. Instead, they go for SEO gold – e.g. Costa Rica Arenal Hotel: Insert Hotel Name Here. Scintillating, isn’t it? (Cough, cough. Sarcasm alert.) Remember: keywords do not resonate with travelers; experiences and emotions do.
Do: Instead of enslaving yourself (and your headlines) to the Google gods, find a way to marry keywords with traveler interests. Think about your unique selling proposition (USP), and work it in. Don’t give too much info – after all, you want to tease vacationers just enough that they’ll click to read more – but do give enough that your titles are more than just a string of keywords: Volcano-View Arenal Hotel: Lava Flows at Your Front Door.
5. Wrong/Disjointed Brand Voice
Don’t: Your hotel has a personality. This is not marketing jargon or copywriter mumbo jumbo; this is a creative exercise critical to hotel bookings. Think: if your hotel were a person, who would s/he be? Rugged and adventurous or soft and romantic? Formal and businesslike or happy-go-lucky and boho? Hip and trendy or old-world and traditional?
Hotel copywriting is defined by your property’s personality: your hotel’s voice should speak loud and clear, on every page, in every sentence of your copy. So if your text fails to communicate that personality, or if your copywriting voice changes from page to page, you’re doing something very wrong.
Do: The key to a strong voice in travel copywriting is the prep-work – that creative exercise I mentioned above. Take some time to really think about your hotel’s personality. Hip and trendy hotels should have hip and trendy copy.
Next, hop onto TripAdvisor and social media, and observe the language of [satisfied] guests, as they describe your rooms, your amenities, your surroundings. Surf the web for hotel websites with copy you love, and read every line on every page. Study how they use adjectives, how they speak to guests. Make note of favorite phrases.
And my best piece of advice: write from the heart.
3 Ways to Apply This Information Now:
- Forward this post: Tap a colleague to help with your travel copywriting. Put your heads together and come up with twice the ideas for how to improve your hotel’s copy.
- Share this post socially: Ask your social networks how they’ve improved their hospitality copywriting.
- Ask questions (or comment) below: Let’s start a conversation about better hotel copywriting. Discuss challenges you’ve faced, ask for suggestions, and share the solutions you’ve discovered.