Creating pre-opening buzz: Q&A with Dan Fernandez

A hotel is available to the public well before it even opens its doors. The digital world is booming with social media apps, third-party platforms and online influencers—it’s almost impossible to keep news about an opening out of the public’s reach.

Hotel Business spoke with Dan Fernandez, VP of digital marketing for Concord Hospitality Enterprises, who gave us insight into how hotels can create successful pre-opening digital marketing strategies, exciting both prospective guests and businesses.

What are the goals of a pre-opening strategy for a hotel? What’s realistic and what’s not? There are sales goals and operational goals as part of a pre-opening digital strategy. Our primary sales goal is typically to support occupancy and make sure the hotel has rooms booked from day one. But other sales goals might be more abstract, such as generating or growing a social media following or driving awareness among in-market travelers and making sure our hotel is in their consideration set.

Operational goals are more project management related. These goals include getting photography distributed across the website and all third-party resellers, claiming social media pages and handles, and ensuring all of the information around a new hotel and amenities is accurate and consistent across all sources, among others. Not meeting your operational goals can have a detrimental effect on your sales goals—failure on one side often translates to failure on the other.   

What is typically not realistic is having “real” photos available online at the outset of your grand opening date. While we try to schedule photoshoots the week of the grand opening to minimize the time we are using renderings, it is not realistic to expect these images to be on page one of Google from day one, day two or even day 60. SEO is a long-game strategy, and it can take months to climb to the top of the search engine results page.

What digital platforms should a hotel focus on and why? The obvious is first-party platforms such as your brand and vanity websites and, to an extent, your social media pages.

The less obvious is all of the third-party platforms. This includes not only Expedia and, but also TripAdvisor, Kayak, Google and Bing business listings, convention and visitor bureaus sites, Yelp, Cvent, The Knot and WeddingWire. The list is close to endless these days as there are so many third-party platforms that can showcase a property page or listing for your hotel. It is a worthwhile initiative to identify the top ones for your hotels and consistently monitor and update them even after launch.

What should a hotel property be sharing online pre-opening? What’s too much information and what’s too little? Renderings, amenities, wedding packages, catering menus, event space capacity charts, rooms types, the hotel’s “story” and theme are all great elements to begin sharing online. These help lay the groundwork for sales and bookings.

Sharing your grand opening date too early is not recommended. These dates can be pushed due to unforeseen circumstances and, sometimes, once that date is in the wild, it can be difficult in reign in and reset expectations.

Sharing photos of the construction site and hotel development can be hit or miss. Sometimes, it can be an interesting behind-the-scenes sneak peek, but often it is a messy, debris-ridden picture that can hurt perception more than help it.

How should hotels be engaging guests on social media pre-opening? At Concord, much of the early “pre-opening” social media engagement we typically experience is from the local audience. Knowing this, we tailor that engagement to be informative and welcoming, answering frequently asked questions and inviting them to follow us on social media. The biggest thing you can do here is just respond and engage—too often, early social media engagement goes unanswered.

How should hotels engage the local community, businesses and potential stakeholders online? First, engage the local CVB as they are often a great resource and connection to those influential local businesses and stakeholders. They can help facilitate that initial handshake and introduction. From there, a hotel can work to develop unique packages, special rates and co-op campaigns, all of which should be promoted online. Engaging with a public relations agency to connect with local newspapers and identify local influencers is also crucial to get your hotel some much-needed regional awareness. One tactic that is often overlooked is reciprocal link building—this has a great ancillary benefit by helping your hotel’s SEO ranking.

What are some current challenges hotels face on social media during the pre-opening phase? How should they overcome these? Internally, the most common challenge is not dedicating time to develop a structured content strategy with specific goals. Sporadic posting cadence, inconsistent community engagement and poor picture quality are some of the symptoms of this challenge to combat. Choosing your social media champion early in the pre-opening phase can help overcome this. Additionally, I would recommend hiring a social media agency. Negotiating a dynamic scope of work can help mitigate the cost to the pre-opening budget.

Another common challenge is finding good photography, and engaging social media is often built around interesting visuals. Sourcing photography from the local neighborhood, attractions and events can help alleviate this during the pre-opening phase as the property is usually reliant on renderings at that time.

How should hotels create excitement on social media? What are some creative ways to do this? Grand-opening contests, influencer campaigns, countdowns, teaser campaigns, hotel team introductions, special offers and packages are all good ways to create some excitement and engagement on social media. A mix of these should absolutely be part of your social media strategy and schedule.

What about paid social media campaigns? How should hotels be using these? On average, an organic social media post will be seen by less than 5% of your community. Paid social media is absolutely necessary to get your message in front of your audiences, and it can be laser-targeted to reach the viewers you want to see your content. A hotel should be using a mix of behavioral, in-market and geographic data to make sure your message is getting in front of a relevant audience. Paid social should also be utilized to kick-start and build your community.

What are some advantages of pre-opening online strategies? A pre-opening online strategy ensures your hotel hits the ground running, drives early occupancy and starts its digital presence with a strong pace. It is a 90- to 180-day head start to your digital marketing efforts, which may position you ahead of competitors and ensure your property is poised for success.

Make a cognizant effort to learn from each hotel opening. Find time for a postmortem meeting to optimize your strategy and process. If you are constantly opening hotels and each opening feels like it’s the first time, you need to take an honest look at your pre-opening digital strategy and checklist and make the necessary changes to ensure efficiency and success. HB